Tag Archives: war

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

The World Trade Cross

I’m not sure what they’ll do with the Cross at St. Peter’s Church on Barclay Street,  salvaged from the ruins of the World Trade site after September 11, 2001, but it would be sad to lose the wisdom that mystery offers. We need it.

After Jesus Christ crossed over to the Garden of Gethsemane that Thursday evening centuries ago, he began his hard journey to death by praying in the garden.  Jesus faced  “the primordial experience of fear, quaking in the face of the power of death, in terror before the abyss of nothingness that makes him tremble to the point that, in Luke’s account, ‘his sweat falls to the ground like drops of blood.’ (Luke 22,44)”

He faced an unnatural death that caused a “ particular horror felt by him who is Life itself before the abyss of the full power of destruction, evil, and enmity with God that is now unleashed upon him, that he now takes directly upon himself, or rather into himself, to the point that he is ‘made to be sin’ ( 2 Cor 5.21)… Because he is the Son, he sees with total clarity the whole foul flood of evil, all the power of lies and pride, all the wiles and cruelty of the evil that masks itself as life yet constantly serves to destroy, debase, and crush life.” (Jesus of Nazareth, Part 2, Benedict XVI)

The World Trade Center Tragedy wasn’t caused by an earthquake, a hurricane, some natural cause. Human beings caused it, just as human beings were responsible for the passion and death of Jesus.

Jesus disciples took up their swords when his enemies came to arrest him in the garden, but he told them, “Put your sword into its place. Those who take up the sword will perish by the sword.” After ten years of wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan, it might be time to put up our swords too.

You can’t fight evil by violence.

We live in a time that has largely forgotten the Passion of Jesus, but it’s still the wisdom and power of God. We shouldn’t put the Cross aside.

Veterans Day

Today is Veterans Day, honoring those who fought in our country’s wars. It was originally called Armistice Day celebrating the end of fighting between the Allies and Germany on November 11, 1918. The United States lost 116,516 troops in the 1st World War; other countries lost millions more. The wars that followed added to that count.

Our church calendar today celebrates the Feast of St. Martin of Tours, the great 5th century saint, who is remembered especially as the soldier who gave a beggar half of his cloak on a freezing day at the gate of that city. Son of a Roman officer, Martin chose to become a monk, a man of peace, instead of a soldier. He died on a peace-making visit to a squabbling church in the diocese where he had become bishop.

As a bishop, Martin lived a noticeably poor life; he lived and dressed as a poor man, his biographers say.  Poor in spirit, he identified with the poor. Evidently, the beggar he met at the gate of Tours had a lasting effect on him. In a dream that night, Christ told him he was the beggar Martin clothed that day.

It was customary in Europe for farmers to put away meat for the winter on St. Martin’s feast. They were also urged to put away a portion for the poor this day too.

In Martin’s time as bishop, a group of Christians were following a teacher named Priscillian, who was convinced that the evil in the world was so ingrained in life that only severe ascetical practices could root it out. Other bishops convinced the imperial authorities that the leaders of this heretical group should be executed. Their execution marked the first attempt by Christian leaders to stop heresy by killing those suspected of it.

Martin was against the execution. He believed you didn’t deal with people with wrong ideas by killing them; you had to live with them. You need to have a soldier’s heart to do that.

Pope John XXIII was an admirer of Martin of Tours. I think he wrote a thesis about him. After he was elected pope he wanted to go and pray at his shrine. Another soldier of a sort.