Tag Archives: American saints

The Long Loneliness

On our retreat this week on the American saints I recommended Dorothy Day’s autobiography “The Long Loneliness.”  I have the original edition with Fritz Eichenberg’s haunting illustrations from 1952, reprinted in 1981 with an excellent introduction by Daniel Berrigan. I wrote about Dorothy before.

The Long Loneliness is filled with stories of ordinary people Dorothy met during her early years, like the poor elderly lady in bed in Kings County Hospital when Dorothy was a nurse there. The woman demanded her wig.  Easy to dismiss the woman, since she was well cared for, Dorothy writes, but more than love, the woman wanted respect. ( p 88) Dorothy was certainly at home with humanity, broken humanity. I hope this book lands in many people’s hands as a result of new interest in her.

Her separation from her companion after the birth of her daughter, Tamar, offers an heroic picture of faith, stark faith. (138 ff.) It’s one of the highlights of the book. “Diligo” “To love” means also “to choose” she writes.  I found her description of Foster, falling apart as he loses her and sees some of his secular hopes dashed, a touching picture of the darkness unbelievers face. She doesn’t dismiss or belittle him.

Dorothy wasn’t a solitary person. She needed people:

“I had heard many say that they wanted to worship God in their own way and did not need a Church in which to praise him, nor a body of people with whom to associate themselves. But I did not agree to this. My very experience as a radical, my whole make-up, led me to want to associate with others, with the masses, in loving and praising God.” (139)

I also recommended “The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day, edited by Robert Ellsberg, Milwaukee University Press, 2008.

Ellsberg chose that title for her diaries from her entry from February 24, 1961. ‘Today I thought of a title for my book ‘The Duty of Delight’ as a sequel to “The Long Loneliness.” I was thinking how, as one gets older, we are tempted to sadness, knowing life as it is here on earth, the suffering, the Cross. And how we must overcome it daily, growing in love, and the joy which goes with loving.”

That phrase is also found in the lovely postscript of “The Long Loneliness.”

Besides the books, The Catholic Worker website www.catholicworker.org  offers a wealth of information about this wonderful woman. Worth looking at, and following.

Talking About Saints

I’m beginning a four day retreat for seminarians at the Jesuit retreat house in southern Maryland today.  I’ll be speaking to them about American Catholic spirituality as we see it in our saints and other important figures of our church.  I’ll use the US Catholic Catechism for Adults as a basis for my talks. One of its features–which I’ve commented on recently– is its insertion of stories of the saints and others into the catechism to illustrate its teachings.

You can’t expect the short biographies in the US Catholic Catechism for Adults to tell you everything about these personalities of our church and their impact on our church and our world, but they are a start.

As I see it, writings about the saints has changed in recent times. For one thing, saints are more than people we pray to for some favor or miracle-workers we marvel at. They tell us how to live in this world.  They are part of the communion of saints. “From their place in heaven, they guide us still.” (Preface of the Apostles)

Recent studies on the saints tend to dwell on the world they lived in and how they helped to shape that world. That’s also our task: to live in this world and to prepare it for God’s Kingdom that’s coming.

You can’t understand someone like Dorothy Day, for example, without looking at the social history of the United States from the 1930s onward. She reacted to the problems of her time, and so should we.

Recent studies on the saints tend to be less panegyric. Saints are not perfect. Writing on the saints follows the recent trend in biography which tries to tell as much as can be known about figures in the political or social or intellectual or religious worlds, their faults and failures as well as their virtues and accomplishments.

I hope to talk this week about Elizabeth Seton, John Neumann, the Jesuit Martyrs, Dorothy Day, Pierre Tousaint, Mother Cabrini and Theodore Foley.