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Radical Christianity
by Lynn Goodman–Strauss

Certain assumptions about Catholic Workers are made regarding our relationship with the Roman Catholic Community. These assumptions seem to be predicated upon the mindset of the person making them rather than any objective evidence.

Although some of our Houses of the Works of Mercy are not particularly (Roman) Catholic, it also is true that the practice of the Works of Mercy stems from Catholic Social Teaching, usually in the form of Encyclicals, which are based on Scripture. The Catholic Church sees itself as "in the World", as a guide and inspiration of Christian people, with special emphasis on the Bible. Thus our concern about injustice and poverty.

In practical terms, the Church should be concerned with the poor people of the world, for She consistenly has allied herself with government and business interests in Europe, and later, the Americas and Asia. In the Americas, Spanish missionaries instituted the encomiendo system of slavery for forcibly baptized Indians. Many bishops have allied themselves with dictators who enrich themselves on the backs of the poor, often sharing in the largesse as they live in palaces and enjoy the benefits of wealth.

This explains exactly why so many Catholics to this day live in destitution and ignorance. But the Church, hierarchical and lay, also knows about redemption and repentance and atonement (penance). We Catholics spend huge amounts of money on behalf of victims of war, greed, and natural disasters. It is not enough, of course, and the hierarchy worldwide has been diffident at best when confronting local systemic injustices.

Dorothy Day, herself a devout and orthodox Catholic, wrote of the "scandal" the Church shows itself to be. I, like Mary at the Tomb of Jesus, find myself saying, "They have taken away my Lord and I do not know where to find Him," when I hear of Bishops who refuse communion to politicians of differeing parties, or when the hierarchy of a country ruled by dictators ally themselves with those who would murder, rape, and pillage their poorest citizens. It is easy to remember that I, too, am a sinner, contributing to the world's misery through my dependence on oil and other habits. My confessor often reminded me that Peter was the first Pope and a royal pain to Our Lord at once, serving as the prime example of human frailty transformed by God's will through grace and love.

For several decades, I was imbued with the notion of a corporate-inspired net of social services administered by the State. The War on Poverty quickly became a quagmire of paperwork, theories of highly educated social scientists, practitioners who never had been poor or marginalized in any way, and soaring administrative costs. It quickly became apparent that the clients were not receiving the money for social services— the salaries of caseworkers and bureaucrats did and do!

In 2003-4, the Federal Government mandated that all cities with homeless populations form committees of homeless advocates to end homelessness in ten years. Austin Catholic Workers opted not to attend most of these meetings, as no homeless people would be invited to share their experience, strength, and hope.

When I went to the third to last meeting in the hope that housing would be discussed, I discovered this was not to be! Until the last twenty minutes, when I asked all those directors of homeless agencies about housing, the talk was focused entirely on how to get money for more caseworkers! The reaction to my quaries was similar to the reaction I would have received had I urinated on the floor! (We did not return.) Literally billions of taxpayer dollars have been spent on homeless agencies and programs, but people are still homeless. I like to think how many housing units, including real houses, all those billions of tax dollars could have purchased. Now, Jesus offers us the solution to all this: end hunger by feeding the hungry; end thirst by offering water; end isolation and homelessness by welcoming the stranger, visiting the prisoner, and comforting the sick; end nakedness by offering clothing. And he tells us that, at the final Judgement, those of us who did these Works of Mercy would be with Him in heaven, and those who did not do them would be cast aside. (He did NOT mention homosexual marriage, abortion, or even premarital sex as crieteria!) Love requires direct action. The solution to homelessness is... homes, not paper pushers and theorists and meetings and programs with lots of employees.

Pepper often says that Faith is a verb, not a noun. If we lived as Jesus did, we would not engage in violence, not even war. We would share and we would love everyone everywhere. The Kingdom of God, jesus said in Matthew 25, exists whenever we do these things for the least of our brothers and sisters. Faith without works is dead.

The root (from radix, meaning root in Latin, which gives birth to the English word radical) of our faith lies in the life and death of Our Lord. The most radical, jundamental acts of love are the most practical and the most difficult to perform in a world of computers and theorists and books and corporate modeling. How tragic that the richest country in the history of the world will not feed, clothe, and house the very poorest among us. How very unchristian it is to reduce these needs to political battles. How very basic, i.e., radical, are the Works of Mercy. I surely hope and pray that all Christians be radical!

It is difficult to be a Christian in this society. Politicians who claim to be good Christians are promoting legislation which would prevent people of faith from giving food, water, clothing and shelter to our immigrant brethren who are "undocumented". American bishops have defied these politicians, affirming our prophetic calling to serve each other. Abortion is not the only way to end human life. Life does not end at virth. Two dangerous situations concern us and we must speak out.

(1). You read the story of Jesus in the first issue of the year. He lives with us now, still pretty sick. Brackenridge clinics refuse to reverse his colostomy because it is not necessary to save his life anymore. Jesus' wife is going blind in Mexico and he cannot return because medical care, even colostomy bags, is not available to the very poor. Every poor person faces healthcare challenges in Austin. Read on about only one of the horror stories: The young man's voice was frantic when he was referred to us by the Diocese on a Friday afternoon. A lapsed Catholic, Tim had called "the Catholic Church" because, he said, he knows our faith community cares about human life. His story was so bizarre that I thought he surely did not have correct information. Six days previously Tim and the swim team he coached had rescued a homeless victim of a vicious sexual assault. Tim claimed that Angela was to be discharged that very day, without meds, in great pain and constipated, and without street clothes because the police had taken hers for evidence. She was to be discharged with serious injuries, including, amongst other injuries, two broken arms, a broken back, and a deep laceration where she had been impled on a small tree when she jumped off a cliff to escape being shot!

All of Austin knew of the crime and herioic rescue, as the media had reported this crime for a couple of days. When I arrived at Brackenridge, our public hospital and the regional trauma center, late that Friday afternoon, it was clear that everything that Tim had said, and more, was absolutely true. After speaking to Angela's doctor, I realized that the only way to get Angela the help she needed was to go to the press. So I nformed the director of Brackenridge that a photographer would be at the door as Angela and I were being arrested for trespass if Angela were discharged. Two minutes later, the director of the Trauma Unit and a social worker appeared in Angela's room — to ask us what they could do to keep the press away.

Five days later, Angela could eat, was free of pain, had her meds, was able to walk with special cruthc, and had follow-up appointments at specialty clinics. We brought her to Mary House but had to return to Brackenridcge Hospital twice — Angela almost lost her leg to infection and hospital personnel refused to allow a second opinion. When she was discharged a third time without antibiotics with a ten-inch long, five-inch deep wound oozing green pus, we appealed to a Catholic surgeon friend who informed us that the standard treatment of such wounds was exactly the opposite of the "care" she had received. He saved her leg.

This and other egregious incidents — including those with paying patients — are paid for by our tax dollars. (It cost three times as much to NOT care for Angela than if her medical needs had been addressed the first five days.)

Guess who administers Brackenridge? The Daughters of Charity, who own and operate the most profitable healthcare system in the country, including a large local— and competing— system! The good sisters profess no responsibility or interest in this situation per their vice president for local healthcare. You do not have to go to Mexico to die of neglect.

(2) We discovered that women in Austin are protected neither by the Austin Police nor SafePlace, Austin's center for victims of domestic violence. Again, OUR tax dollars pay for salaries — and a huge apartment complex next door to SafePlace, Grove Place, which was built with OUR money for victims of violence and abuse. SafePlace is very proud of its complex and assures its clients of their safety.

Kendra, our third Catholic Worker, was forced to move from Grove Place into Mary House with her 14-year-old daughter after several years of stalking. Kendra had been a guest of Mary House, after weveral years of poor health were followed by years spent caring for her terminally ill father, mother, and fiance. Only Kendra, out of six children cared for their parents. Kendra's mother still lives in great pain (we pray for her and beg your prayers).

Immediately after Kendra's father died, curious things began to happen. In a spurious custody case, court documents prove that Kendra's friends, under oath, testified to stalking, stealing mail, and slanderous lies about Kendra's mental health. A slanderous and perjerious affidavit, claining that she is a prostitute who deals, uses, and manufactures drugs was signed under oath by a brother in another county in an effort to bolster a plea for change of custody. (One judge rebuked the opposing party's attorney; another judge called the case a "vendetta".) Kenra won, although Mary House incurred a huge legal bill on her behalf which is being paid gradually by special donations.

At Grove Place, people followed Denra onto the grounds in cars we have identified. Person/s have destroyed the furniture, professional machines and equipment, clothing, and art work in the apartment — someone entered almost every time Kendra left the complex. Investigating police officers have taken fingerprints and witnessed the damage and the fact that someone from the apatment across the breezeway literally has worn a path to her apartment through the attic. We have followed the stalkers, and Lynn has spoken with several. Photographs have been taken.

Officials of SafePlace made no real attempt to stop these crines at Grove Place. The managers have harassed Kendra and even had her car towed from her parking place! Appeals to the SafePlace supervisor of the operation of the apartments have goone unheeded — when Kendra went to move out of Grove Place, the apartment had been robbed and items destroyed once again. Because it was not safe to be there, Kendra's lawyer requested that SafePlace move her out, that its personnel sign a statement that Kendra is not liable for the very real damage done to the carpets and counters and walls — and, even more important, that SafePlace will undertake immediate changes in security and reports of security breaches. They should do no less, for many residents are victims of domestic violence and abuse. SafePlace refused all of these requests!

The detectives responsible for investigating domestic crimes have lied to us, refused to investigate, and lied to Internal Affairs and the Police Monitor. We have given tapes of our conversations with them and all other evidence to the FBI, which is impressed by the sheer volume of our information. Tax dollars are at work in all these situations! Mary House remains in the forefront of these events as we photograph, witness, and document all this. The FBI is investigating the Police for denial of equal protection under the law, a civil rights violation.

These issues cry out for justice. We pray truth prevails. We can no longer remain silent. Ours is the voice of marginalized people, disregarded and ignored. Ours is the voice of the citizenry who pays for safety, and healthcare, expecting entirely different results.

Jesus, too, spoke Truth to Power. Like Kendra, He too was the victim of slander and theft. Like Angela, He was ignored and threatened.

At Mary House, we pray that we, too, can die to self as we speak Truth to Power and grow in God's voice. Pray for us, that we may love as Jesus loves.

—Lynn Goodman–Strauss

When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.
—Dom Helder Camera, Brazil

© Jeremiah's Stutter, a publication of Mary House Catholic Worker, Inc. All rights reserved. Citation information is as follows:

Goodman–Strauss, Lynn, Radical Christianity. Jeremiah's Stutter: A Publication of Mary House Catholic Worker, Inc., Vol 16, no.2, 2006,

Jeremiah's Stutter
a publication of Mary House Catholic Worker
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Volume xvi, No. 2, Ordinary Time, 2006