Mission: To renew Catholic culture by restoring families on the land
(a) Assist Catholic families and individuals onto the land
(b) Train Catholic families and individuals in the arts of farming
(c) Publish texts relating to Catholic culture and rural life.
(d) Establish a New Catholic Land Movement Institute
(e) Culivate Catholic culture on the farms of members.
(f) Establish a funding and farm-link service to assist Catholic families and individuals
in transitioning to rural life.
The following question is often asked today of those seeking information regarding the New Catholic Land Movement: What is the New Catholic Land Movement and what are its motives and goals? It is also often questioned whether such a movement is necessary today. It is believed by the advocates of the New Catholic Land Movement that such a movement is central to the restoration of Catholic rural life and culture. What follows is a brief history of the movement as it was once known in Great Britain and the United States at the start of the Twentieth century as well as the motives and goals for the movement and the need for its re-establishment today.
The Catholic Land Movement began in Great Britain in the early Twentieth century as a response to the ever growing industrialization happening in that country. This movement sought to restore Catholic families on the land not for the sake of profit, but for the sake of the family. During the 1920s and 1930s England was hit with high unemployment. At this point many Catholics had left the land in search of the promised wealth of industrialization in the cities. What these families often found in urban areas was squalor, decadence, and vice that would have been unimaginable on the farms they once owned. It was this injustice that caused Pope Leo XIII to write in his Encyclical Rerum Novarum: “In any case we clearly see, and on this there is general agreement, that some opportune remedy must be found quickly for the misery and wretchedness pressing so unjustly on the majority of the working class.” It was at this low point in history that the Catholic Land Movement was established in hopes of repopulating the countryside with Catholic farmers unfettered from the bonds of factory work and urban destitution. It was hoped that man, when freed from these burdens of wage slavery, would be happy providing primarily for his family on the land and only secondarily selling the surplus to provide what he could not provide himself. The movement established training farms and founded several Catholic Land Associations across Great Britain. There was some level of success, but ultimately the movement was doomed to fail for a variety of reasons that will be explained below.
The Catholic Land Movement was a practical application of the economic theory often called Distributism, which was promoted by G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, Fr. Vincent McNabb O.P., and other influential English Catholic thinkers. Distributism is an economic system based on the family rather than on the individuals (Capitalism) or on the Society as a whole (Socialism). It is an alternative to the twin evils of Capitalism and Socialism that concentrate wealth in the few and make servility of the many. Most importantly, it is a Catholic Economy that builds up the family rather than destroying it.
The premises of Distributism are rather simple and straightforward: 1. Real Property, or the ownership of the means of production, ought to be as widely distributed (hence the name Distributism) to as many people as possible. i.e.- No monopolization, chains, etc. 2. Farmers and Craftsmen ought to form guilds to protect their rights to real property and maintain the system. These guilds protect against monopolies and chains and assist those of the same profession in setting prices, standards of quality, qualifications for the practice of the trade, etc. These set prices, for example, then make competition based on quality rather than extortion, which is often the case in the big box stores. 3. The principle of subsidiarity, whereby the responsibilities of a given authority are not usurped by a higher authority and vice versa, should be practiced to properly order society. These are the three basic tenets of Distributism. It was the aim of its promoters to form an economic system that upheld family life by allowing men to have control over their own property and to stay put to work with their families rather than selling their labor to work on property owned by others.
Distributism is often swallowed up in the Catholic Land Movement because this economic theory is dependent on the existence of a large group of landowning families and craftsmen. The Catholic Land Movement ultimately was doomed to fail, and its main remembrance in history is through the essays written by its founders. The reasons for its failure were many, but the greatest amongst these were the following. Its greatest proponents were lost during the outset of the movement: G.K. Chesterton died in 1936 and Fr. McNabb died in 1943. Hilaire Belloc suffered a debilitating stroke in 1941 and died in 1953. The Voice of the movement was suddenly silenced. Without the guidance of these leaders it was only a short time before things began to unravel. This untimely loss of leadership was coupled with a general lack of material and spiritual support. If you add to these setbacks the onset of World War II, you have an almost insurmountable obstacle to the movement’s success. The last of the training farms closed during the beginning years of World War II. Nonetheless, the movement did not fall from the history books and today it is more needed than at its founding. The original movement’s greatest fault may have been that it was simply premature. The scourge of materialism was nowhere near what it is today, and many people simply had not tasted enough of its poison to be sick enough to seek an antidote. Thus ended the saga of the original Catholic Land Movement, but let us move forward to our modern day and learn why the Catholic Land Movement is needed now.
III. Why the Catholic Land Movement is Needed Today and What is its purpose?
Over seventy years ago the last of the training farms set up by the Catholic Land Movement closed, and the movement was largely forgotten in the aftermath of World War II, which followed directly. Yet, today many voices again are speaking up about the need for a New Catholic Land Movement. Pope Benedict XVI once remarked that “This is the moment for the re-evaluation of agriculture.” If indeed the initial Catholic Land Movement failed primarily due to its prematurity, then indeed the problems unresolved then have matured and borne much rotten fruit. Both Capitalism and Socialism have done their share to destroy the family and expel them from the land. Socialism confiscated lands while Capitalism made farming unprofitable with its constant focus on income and the industrialization of the fields. It is then duly noted that a living out of Distributism could indeed have many positive effects for families. Distributism is not based on the constant need for expansion and profits, but rather based on higher Catholic spiritual principles. It is believed that independent communities of small farmers and craftsmen could form a basis for the restoration of all Catholic life. However, until now there has been no one to lead this charge out of the cities and into the fields. Without leadership and vision often families find themselves alone on a farm working to make ends meet, and unfortunately all too often the farm is second to some other job. Families in cities and suburbs experience a similar isolation and loneliness even while being surrounded by many people. Below you will find motives, aims, and means for the restoration of the Catholic Land Movement to address these concerns. It should also become clear what the movement is, what it wishes to accomplish, and what means it will use to accomplish these.
Love of God, the Church, the Family, the Land, and Catholic Culture
• No movement has ever been successful that did not have as its first motive love for God. The New Catholic Land Movement is motivated by and derives all its motive force from God Himself. We seek simply that in all things God would be glorified. It is hoped that families leaving our modern materialistic culture to live in rural community with other families will best be able to serve Jesus Christ and His Bride the Church. As Christ makes it clear in the Parable of the Seed and the Sower, only the seed that falls on good ground will bear good fruit. The Catholic Land Movement seeks to provide good soil by founding and building up rural Catholic communities that are as independent as possible. This then would allow families to remain on the land to pray and work together while preventing the dismantling of family life so common today.
1. Restoring the family as the basis for society
• Our current Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI once stated: “The rural family must regain its place at the heart of the social order.” Individualism is at the heart of many of the woes seen in today’s society. The Catholic Land Movement seeks to remedy this by providing the conditions necessary for families to grow together in holiness through work and prayer. A family that provides for itself most of its own necessities can live peaceably on the land without some modern conveniences. Too often the cost of this modern materialism is the soul of the family.
2. Stewardship of Creation
• Stewardship of Creation is one of the tenets of Catholic Social Teaching and is something that must not be left to the secular order. Christians need to step in and be the leaders by living in ways that counter the modern materialistic mode of life. The Catholic Land Movement seeks a simpler ideal where the family provides as much for its own needs as possible and is dependent on the other families in the community for much else that is needed. In this way family independence and security are ensured and not subject to every economic high and low. The father (and mother often) is no longer forced to leave the home and become a mere money provider. Rather this simpler mode of life allows the father to remain physically present on the farm and remain in his place as the spiritual leader of the family. This then allows the mother also to have an important economic role in running the farm and taking care of the home and the children. This order is restored and the insanity of the modern way of life is combated in some small way.
3. Building Catholic Community
• Today many Catholic families feel isolated and alone in the larger cultural milieu. Often times there are many fears and anxieties as these families seek to keep the purity of the children’s minds and bodies intact. Catholic community is essential for living out our Catholic faith in its fullness. In true Catholic community charity is the rule of life and children can be raised without the negative pressures found in the larger culture. Christianity is not meant to be lived alone. We are members of one Body and it is the movement’s hope that rural Catholic communities one day again will thrive.
4. Restoring Catholic Culture
• In many rural places in the West there are still traces of Catholic rural life from an era when Catholic rural culture flourished. If Catholic culture is to be revived it will happen around the hearth in homes filled with love for Christ, in quiet evenings of singing Christian hymns, reading good books, and filling the home with authentic Christian Charity. The Catholic Land Movement seeks to restore Catholic culture in rural homes everywhere. When again families live out and celebrate the great feasts of the Church and kneel together again for family rosaries then Catholic rural life will be well on its way to a true restoration.
• The motive force behind any active movement must be prayer. No movement whatsoever would be pleasing to God if it did not rely on His aid constantly. The Catholic Land Movement then seeks to set up an apostolate of prayer for the success of the movement. Members of the movement will be asked to pray daily for the success of the movement. Especially recommended prayers are the Rosary, the major hours of the Divine Office, and mental prayer. It is even more fitting if the prayers can be said together with the family. The only requirement will be one of prayer, but as to the mode and amount of prayer, that will be left to the participants.
• The New Catholic Land Movement seeks first to get the ideas of the movement to people rural and urban. Through educational pamphlets, talks, conferences, articles, books, etc. the movement will be spread first intellectually in hopes of preparing people to make great leaps of faith in order to live out the vision of an authentic Catholic family life. The movement will seek to establish a newsletter and eventually a press to disseminate ideas and to provide for the promotion of the ideas of Distributism and the Catholic Land Movement.
3. Organizing Catholic Land Chapters to promote the ideas and form Community
• In order to organize the Catholic Land Movement, chapters will be established wherever there is a steady group of people willing to make sacrifices to advance the cause of Catholic rural life. The goals of these chapters will be to form authentic Catholic rural communities or to build up those already existing.
4. Establish a Catholic Rural Life Institute
• As interest increases it is the goal of the movement to establish a Catholic land training apostolate and Catholic Cultural Center to aid families in gaining the skills necessary to live a Catholic rural life based on the principles of the New Catholic Land Movement. It will also be a place where families can come to not only learn about farming and rural life skills, but to experience and learn about Catholic rural culture with other families. It is hoped that such an institute will also spawn authentic Catholic culture and community.
5. Work toward building Catholic Rural Communities
• The ultimate goal of the New Catholic Land Movement is to restore Catholic rural culture by building Catholic rural community and building up those which already exist. These communities would be a bulwark of strength for families against the tides of secularism that arise on all sides in our day. The communities would work to live out Distributism and have a variety of craftsmen and small farmers providing for one another’s daily needs.
VII. The Creation of The New Catholic Land Movement
The New Catholic Land Movement is greater than just returning to the land. The New Catholic Land Movement can have a large impact on Catholics around the country and even the world, not only by helping families directly move to the land, but also by teaching about a fuller Catholic way of life that is bound up with this move to the land. In general, this means living a way of life that is radically directed by the Catholic faith. Land fits into this because man is hylomorphic and so has essential ties to the physical, material, and earthly. We have almost completely eclipsed this aspect of our lives in the modern world. It could be said that we are no longer living a human way of life and this makes it almost impossible to live a Catholic way of life, because grace builds upon nature. This is the key foundation of the land movement, to return to a more human and grounded way of life, to heal our souls and our culture. This has to be more than the action of the few who can and are willing to make an actual move. What about everyone who is “left behind”? The New Catholic land Movement can be a general impetus toward evangelization and a renewal of culture.
It is our hope that the Catholic Land Movement will receive Church approval to move ahead with our Mission: “Restoring the family on the land to work and pray as one.” It is hereby declared that the founders will be obedient to the Magisterium in all matters and as the inheritors of this movement we will seek to live out the ideas of the founders of this venerable tradition. May the Holy Family of Nazareth be our constant example and guide.