Saturday, November 7, 2015
Teresa Forcades: "Weil and Day help us make a commitment without losing freedom or self-criticism"
October 22, 2015
The passion for Dorothy Day and Simone Weil, two key women in social Christianity, led this physician, theologian and Benedictine nun to accept Editions HOAC's charge to write a no less exciting book -- Por amor a la justicia ["For Love of Justice"]. In this interview, we talk about these two Christian workers, so inspiring today.
What attracted you about these two great women you talk about in your book? What do you have in common with them?
I'm attracted by their courage, understood as the ability to be oneself and go against the current if necessary to defend one's own ideals and plans. Socially, culturally, ecclesiastically, it wasn't easy for a woman at the beginning of the 20th century to assert herself as the agent of her own life. Dorothy Day and Simone Weil weren't afraid to be free. They both paid a high price for that; both show us that it was worth paying.
I live in the 21st century in much more favorable circumstances for women at the social as well as at the cultural and ecclesiastical level. But the challenge to be free still stands. Finding one's own way and doing it, as they did, from solidarity with marginalized people.
At one point in the book you acknowledge that, like Weil, your childhood was also marked by certain expectations of femininity that made you uncomfortable and limited you...Did you find in religious life what you longed for the most?
Yes, but I'm still looking. "What I most long for" has an open, transcendent structure. St. Augustine called it the "restless heart" -- "Thou hast made us for thyself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee." I recognize in myself a yearning for the Absolute that cannot be resolved in time and space. In monastic life, I've found a space and a community turned towards this unattainable Absolute that is at the same time "more intimate to me than I am to myself." I'm quoting St. Augustine again.
Weil is perhaps more intellectual and Day more of an activist, although both were inspired and heartened by their experience of the Christian God. Are there followers of these two "schools" within Christianity today?
Pedro Casaldàliga, emeritus bishop of the Brazilian diocese of Sao Felix de Araguaia, although being a bishop and, therefore, a pastor, has an original, thoughtful and profound style that reminds me of Weil, while Oscar Romero would be more like Day. The parish priests of Entrevías and Joan Chittister, the American Benedictine nun known for her books on spirituality, are also more like Day. It's clear that the Church needs both charisms.
How was Weil influenced by her contact with the YCW ["Young Christian Workers"]?
Weil met the YCW in Marseille and was impressed by their authenticity. She said it was the only place where the young worker was valued as a person, beyond party or union slogans and beyond any manipulation. Valued for their individuality, fragile and precious in God's eyes. Weil was disillusioned with her political experience and was surprised to find in the YCW an organization with thousands of members that hadn't lost its soul.
Before being Catholic, they were very actively engaged with the struggles of their time. What did this deep spirituality bring to their commitment and how did their previous commitment influence the living out of their spirituality?
The encounter with Jesus is an outright turning point for both of them. Their previous experiences are encompassed in what for them means having found a meaning to life. Both find themselves loved unconditionally in Jesus and this inner conviction, which they experience as a gift, is the secret of their strength. At the same time, their commitment to social justice and workers' struggles before their conversion, allowed them to sense the world of revolutionary syndicalism as their own, and friendships were born there that probably wouldn't have been possible for them if they had been Christian believers from the beginning. Weil and Day lived between two worlds -- the workers' struggle and the Christian community -- that unfortunately have often viewed one another as enemies. They integrated them and lived them from their faithfulness to the gospel.
Why is work so important in the lives of these two women? What is shared and different in the views they had of the world of work?
Work involves personal fulfillment, discovering that I can transform the world outside me through my intelligence and my ability to plan, and it involves recognizing and accepting the inevitable resistance that the outside world will exert to maintain its inertia and not let itself be transformed. Manual labor is the best school of life. Day learned from an early age the value of effort and work well done by assuming responsibility for housework and then she spent her whole life embodying her ideals of justice in the bodily care of marginalized people -- washing them, feeding them, accompanying them in times of despair or when they were intoxicated by drugs or alcohol, healing their wounds. Weil temporarily substituted working as an unskilled industrial worker for her chair in Philosophy. Both realized the vacuum that limiting their experience to the mental side generated in people; they realized the therapeutic and spiritual value of manual labor.
The experience of the Christian God, the experience of Jesus as they lived it, inevitably led them to a public social commitment to justice. Is that now obvious in Christianity or do we still have a long way to go?
In the Church today, commitment to the poor and the pursuit of social privilege and the protection of the powerful of this world continue to coexist. It's a contradiction that smothers the Spirit. Francis of Assisi, from whom the current pope took his name, is still the best example -- his radical poverty, his humility and utmost simplicity have been more powerful in transforming history than all the powers of this world. In the dialogue with Islam, for example, the way that Francis opened remains more effective than wars and confrontations. Liberation theology has put the need to be consistent with the Gospel at the social and political level back on the table. Jesus already named the problem: to be a Christian, you should be ready for persecution. Easy to say, not so easy to put into practice.
The social justice perspective made them very critical of messianism and utopianism. Weil would be the first leftist intellectual to break with Soviet communism while Day would always be deeply critical of power and institutions. Aren't these very contemporary traits?
Both Weil and Day were eminently critical people, of themselves and of others. What makes them so appealing is that they combined criticism and healthy skepticism with radical commitment -- they were able to commit to the point of giving their lives without being fanatical, keeping their eyes open to their own shortcomings and contradictions and those of the projects with which they were involved. I think you could apply this slogan to them: We will make the revolution and then do it again. They are distance runners, mystics with open eyes. They can help us to relativize without being paralyzed today, make a commitment without losing inner freedom and self-criticism, knowing that there's no definitive homeland on this earth.
How was their relationship with the institutional Church? How did they preserve their freedom of conscience and action?
Day was baptized after her conversion, but she always rejected submission to the ecclesiastical authorities. Instead of submission, which she considered unworthy, she always sought a dialogue between equals, understanding and free cooperation and, when there was no other remedy, resistance. Her refusal to remove the adjective "Catholic" from the masthead of her newspaper as the Archbishop of New York ordered her to do after the newspaper supported a strike against the diocese, is well known. At the end, it was the Archbishop who had to give in. Weil was never baptized, since she rejected as contrary to the gospel, the Church practice of considering that unbaptized persons were excluded from paradise after death. She was a pioneer in that regard. Thirty years after her death, the Second Vatican Council ended up agreeing with her.
In the book, you address the major issues that these two women faced in a set of comparisons and differences. What is the advantage of this method for those who read it?
Interweaving their lives and thoughts was fundamental to me so as to flesh out the ideas and contrast them with the lives of these two women characterized by their consistency. The scope of their ideas cannot be understood without knowing their vital commitment.
You came to present yourself to preside the Generalitat...Was that anything like the experience of Weil, a French government collaborator in the Resistance until she chose to leave?
To remain true to my ideals, I wasn't a candidate in the Catalan elections on September 27th, although I don't rule out the possibility of doing so later. I view my political involvement as a temporary contribution to popularizing Procés Constituent. Weil tried it and it didn't turn out well. For me, for the moment, it's not that it's going very well for me either, but if I fail, at least I can say I put my all into it.