Dorothy Day: A Saint For Our Time
During the recent US Catholic Bishops’ meeting in Baltimore, the bishops voted unanimously to move forward the process for the canonization of Dorothy Day – a decision that should challenge the Church and all of us to our core.
Dorothy died in 1980 and this month she would have been 115 years old. She was the cofounder of the Catholic Worker Movement and 32 years after her death, there are more than 200 Catholic Worker Houses- mostly in the United States, with some sprinkled across the globe – devoted to communal living, simplicity, prayer, taking care of the vulnerable, fighting for workers, saying no to racism and calling for an end to war. In Washington DC, we see them running soup lines on Thursday and holding a vigil in front of the White House on Fridays.
She is for me, as for many US Catholics, the single most important Catholic practitioner of our time. When I was a young Catholic Worker at St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality in Rochester, New York, Dorothy’s life inspired me to understand that we have a moral obligation to stand with the vulnerable, the poor, the worker and the victim. She moved me to organize and wrestle with the many tools of social change – including civil disobedience. I remained tied to the Catholic Worker Movement for more than 20 years and have been able to get to know Dorothy from the many people that knew her.
I cannot adequately describe the life of this very human and extraordinary woman better than her own words can. One famed quote, “Don’t call me a saint, I don’t want to be dismissed so easily,” was more than humility – it was Dorothy Day reminding us that living the Gospel is not easy, but we are still called to follow its imperatives. Dorothy is a Saint of our day – a Saint for our time. She has much to say about the world we live in.
After surviving the presidential election, her words are a clarion call for action. Far right conservatives failed when they told Catholic voters that the Republican candidate was the most in line with Catholic teaching. However, if we take Dorothy’s words with us to the polls, they are far more challenging. Her words are the very opposite of the voice of Ayn Rand. Pulling from her writings, which are bold and not politically correct, here are some words of wisdom she would have for us:
Dorothy on the institutional Church:
Though she (The Church) is a harlot at times, she is our Mother.1
Women think with their whole bodies and they see things as a whole more than men do. 2
What she’d say to lawmakers negotiating the budget and the fiscal cliff:
God meant things to be much easier than we have made them. A man has a natural right to food, clothing, and shelter. A certain amount of goods is necessary to lead a good life. A family needs work as well as bread. 3
I firmly believe that our salvation depends on the poor. 4
Instead of gearing ourselves in this country for a gigantic production of death-dealing bombers and men trained to kill, we should be producing food, medical supplies, ambulances, doctors and nurses for the works of mercy, to heal and rebuild a shattered world. 5
We are the nation the most powerful, the most armed and we are supplying arms and money to the
rest of the world where we are not ourselves fighting. We are eating while there is famine in the world. 6
The legal battle against segregation is won, but the community battle goes on. 7
On practicing and living our faith:
Living the liturgical day as much as we are able, beginning with prime, using the missal, ending the day with compline and so going through the liturgical year we find that it is now not us, but Christ in us, who is working to combat injustice and oppression. We are on our way to becoming "other Christs." 8
When you love people, you see all the good in them, all the Christ in them. God sees Christ, His Son, in us and loves us. And so we should see Christ in others, and nothing else, and love them. There can never be enough of it. 9
Messages to all of us:
Our problems stem from the acceptance of this lousy, rotten system. 10
As for ourselves, yes, we must be meek, bear injustice, malice, rash judgment. We must turn the other cheek, give up our cloak, go a second mile. 11
I believe that we must reach our brother, never toning down our fundamental oppositions, but meeting him when he asks to be met, with a reason for the faith that is in us, as well as with a loving sympathy for them as brothers. 12
“People say, what is the sense of our small effort? They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time. A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. Each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that. No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do. 13
1 Day, Dorothy. "In Peace Is My Bitterness Most Bitter". The Catholic Worker, January 1967, 1, 2. The Catholic Worker Movement. http://www.catholicworker.org/dorothyday/Reprint2.cfm?TextID=250.
2 Day, Dorothy. "Beyond Politics". The Catholic Worker, November 1949, 1,2,4. The Catholic Worker Movement. http://www.catholicworker.org/dorothyday/Reprint2.cfm?TextID=166.
3 Day, Dorothy. "Articles on Distributism - 2". The Catholic Worker, July-August 1948, 1,2, 6. The Catholic Worker Movement. http://www.catholicworker.org/dorothyday/Reprint2.cfm?TextID=160.
4 Day, Dorothy. "Beyond Politics". The Catholic Worker, November 1949, 1,2,4. The Catholic Worker Movement. http://www.catholicworker.org/dorothyday/Reprint2.cfm?TextID=166.
5 Day, Dorothy. Our Stand. The Catholic Worker, June 1940, 1, 4. The Catholic Worker Movement. http://www.catholicworker.org/dorothyday/Reprint2.cfm?TextID=360.
6 Day, Dorothy. "In Peace Is My Bitterness Most Bitter". The Catholic Worker, January 1967, 1, 2. The Catholic Worker Movement http://www.catholicworker.org/dorothyday/Reprint2.cfm?TextID=250.
7 Day, Dorothy. "Fall Appeal - 1956". The Catholic Worker, November 1956, 2. The Catholic Worker Movement. http://www.catholicworker.org/dorothyday/Reprint2.cfm?TextID=712.
8 Day, Dorothy. "Liturgy and Sociology". The Catholic Worker, January 1936, 5. The Catholic Worker Movement. http://www.catholicworker.org/dorothyday/Reprint2.cfm?TextID=296.
9 Day, Dorothy. "On Pilgrimage - April 1948". The Catholic Worker, April 1948, 1, 2, 11. The Catholic Worker Movement. http://www.catholicworker.org/dorothyday/Reprint2.cfm?TextID=467.
10 “Money and the Middle Class Christian” National Catholic Reporter Feb. 18, 1970
11 Day, Dorothy. "Love and Justice". The Catholic Worker, July-August 1952, 1, 2. The Catholic Worker Movement. http://www.catholicworker.org/dorothyday/Reprint2.cfm?TextID=635.
12 Day, Dorothy. "Beyond Politics". The Catholic Worker, November 1949, 1,2,4. The Catholic Worker Movement. http://www.catholicworker.org/dorothyday/Reprint2.cfm?TextID=166.
13 Day, Dorothy. The Long Loneliness, 1952 Harper and Row Publisher, Inc.
This article first appeared as a Common Good Forum in the Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good website. Distribution and reproduction of this article is permitted where the source is credited. For more Common Good Forums, visit www.catholicsinalliance.org
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