Tag Archives: Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day

When Fr. William Bausch ended his service as pastor of St. Mary’s, Colts Neck, NJ, some years ago, he gave the parish a gift– a statue of Dorothy Day, which is outside the main entrance to the present church. She’s an elderly woman sitting quietly on a bench.

Her quiet appearance may throw you off. The Jesuit poet Daniel Berrigan wrote at the time of her death in 1980: “Those of us who knew her in her later years were tempted to regard her, I think, rather thoughtlessly…She seemed to always have been as she was: serene, graced with her aura of piety and pity.”

Actually, Dorothy Day who dedicated herself to championing the poor was one of the most dynamic and challenging figures in the Catholic Church in recent times. In 2013 the Catholic bishops of the United States voted unanimously to push her cause for canonization as a saint.

Some might not consider her a candidate for sainthood. She was born in Brooklyn in 1897. Her father was a journalist and her family  moved from place to place– the West Coast, Chicago– and she became of journalist too.

As a young woman in the 1920s she was part of the bohemian scene in New York City, a rebel with “a passion for freedom to the point of waywardness.” (Daniel Berrigan) She had a failed marriage, attempted suicide, had an abortion. After the birth of her daughter, she became a Catholic and then founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, which worked for the poor and social justice, was critical of capitalism and against war. With that kind background, I wonder how many Catholic parishes would invite her as a speaker today.

I’m delighted the bishops are pushing for her canonization. Saints are antidotes to the poison of their time. Dorothy counteracts a lot of poison. There’s the poison in the way we look at the poor and the weak in our society, for example; in our trust in war, in our belief in our political systems. She questioned those positions.

What’s more, she’s an example of the power of faith. Many today, of course, write off the Catholic Church and religion in general, as irrelevant. As a young woman she read a lot, from the Communist Manifesto to the bible. She wanted to reform the world, but as a young woman the church put her off. Christians looked like everyone else, she said:

“I did not see anyone taking off his coat and giving it to the poor. I didn’t see anyone having a banquet and call in the lame, the halt and the blind…I wanted everyone to be kind. I wanted every home to open to the lame, the halt and the blind…Only then did people really help their neighbor. In such love was the abundant life, and I did not have the slightest idea how to find it.”

Yet, remarkably, through the disguise, in the dirt that so often hides it, Dorothy found the pearl of great price. She embraced the Catholic Church.

I think Dorothy Day also contradicts the belief that people no longer search for God, that God is irrelevant. She writes in her autobiography “The Long Loneliness” “All my life I have been haunted by God…A Cleveland Communist once said, ‘Dorothy was never a Communist; she was too religious.’ How much did I hear of religion as a child? Very little, and yet my heart leaped when I heard the name of God. I do believe every soul has a tendency toward God. ‘As soon as someone recalls God, a certain sweet movement fills his heart…Our understanding never has such great joy as when thinking of God.’” (St. Francis de Sales)

She reminds us the “long loneliness”–that’s the title she gave to her autobiography–  is the search for God that goes on in us all.

There’s a lot poisoning our times; Dorothy offers an antidote to it. “It is a great pity that there are not many more like Dorothy Day among the millions of American Catholics. There are never enough such people, somehow, in the church. But, without a few like her, one might well begin to wonder if we are still Christians, her presence is in some ways a comfort, in some ways a reproach.” (Letter from Thomas Merton)

 

Her autobiography “The Long Loneliness” is worth reading and rereading.  The Catholic Worker has a blog at http://www.catholicworker.org .  Here a short video from CNS

26th Sunday: A Pope Visits Us

Audio homily here:

I’m always surprised at the way our current Mass readings throw light on what’s happening now. Pope Francis is ending his visit to our country. He’s hard to miss, a genuine celebrity, tying up traffic in three major cities and drawing immense crowds and media coverage. If he were running in our presidential elections, he might get elected.

He’s a leader, no doubt. But look at the way leadership is described in today’s readings: a kind of leadership Francis exemplifies. Our reading from the Book of Numbers (Nm 11,25-29) says the Lord blesses Moses with power, but also takes “ some of the spirit that was on Moses and bestows it on the seventy elders.” Then, when two others, not of the seventy, seem to have that same spirit, some tell Moses to stop them. They don’t belong to our group.

But Moses wont stop them. Are you jealous? he asks. “Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets! Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!”

The gospel from Mark (Mk 9, 38-48) offers a similar situation. Some are exercising a power like Jesus and his followers try to stop them. Let them be, Jesus says, “Whoever is not against us is for us.” Whoever is working for the same good cause is working with us.

The lesson, of course, is that a real leader doesn’t want power for himself or herself. Power is meant to serve all. “Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets! Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!” Moses says. In his strong address to our Congress the other day, Francis called them to be real leaders and work for the common good. Work together, not in a spirit of partisanship, or for your own gain, but for the good of all and for the good of the world, he said. Don’t be afraid to face the big challenges before us.

Of course, we might stop there and say we need better leaders, better politicians; let’s pray for a good president and a good congress that can work together for the good of us all.

But our readings seem to suggest that power is not just in great leaders like Moses and Jesus. We all have power which we’re called to use for the common good. The same partisanship and selfishness, the same lack of vision we complain about in our leaders can also be present in us.

The pope addressed our bishops before he met with congress and he told them too to be good shepherds of the gifts of God. “It’s wrong,” he said to look the other way or to remain silent.” They need to face the many challenges before them.

That challenge is addressed to us too.

Addressing congress, the pope pointed to four Americans who worked for the common good: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. Only one of those was a politician, an elected leader. The rest were people who served society using their unique gifts.

So it was not just politicians in Congress or bishops or representatives of the nations at the UN the pope challenged these last few days. He was challenging all of us to face the world today, to confront the issues before us, to work together, to follow the Golden Rule. “Do onto others what you would have them do to you.” That’s what God wants us all to do.

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.