Friday, October 28, 2011

Dorothy Day

I finally received my copy of Day's diaries, The Duty of Delight, edited by Robert Ellsberg.  I've always liked Dorothy Day, even if sometimes I 've been suspicious of that period in her life when she was a "Marxist bitch" as I uncharitably referred to her on occasion.  That was mean, I know, but I never really liked leftist/activist women, though I've usually preferred them to their opposites.  I often find them cold, humorless and rather dykie.  But my attitude softened a great deal after meeting several nuns over the years, from Day's era, who remained faithful to Roman Catholic Church teaching/spirituality and their religious vows - some in monasteries, others in what used to be termed semi-cloistered convents with a direct apostolate to the poor.
These nuns, several now deceased, told me of the days they either worked with Dorothy Day, or met her, and some even had her to dinner in the convent.  Others met and got to know several of her proteges, such flamboyant characters as 'The Baroness' Catherine Doherty; as well as religious celebrities like Thomas Merton, the Berrigan brothers, and others.  Dorothy and Mother Teresa also met/knew one another.  Through these sisters good example and stories of the early days of the Catholic Worker, as well as the vitality of Catholic activism combined with solid Catholic devotion which animated the Church before the Council, I got to appreciate the real Dorothy Day.  She no longer 'scared' me.  The woman really had abandoned Marxism for the Faith, although many continue to regard she and her movement suspiciously.  I like her - of all candidates for sainthood in modern times, Dorothy Day especially reminds me of St. Catherine of Genoa - another humorless yet deeply mystical social activist - albeit from a different era.
Day has her staunch defenders and promoters of course - I'm neither of those.  I appreciate her spirituality and intuitive, albeit traditional understanding of the Gospel.  In fact, I like reading about the good Catholics who lived the Catholic faith generously in the first half of the 20th century - right through the 1950's, '60's, and '70's!
I find it strange when people like John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter suggests that there is something totally new and unexpected happening today in the Church with what he calls the 'new' Catholic Evangelicals - who are living the faith so radically, while more or less condemning, or at least dismissing the pre-Councillor Church as made up of dull and non-participatory 'pray, pay, and obey' zombies.  How absurd when one considers movements such as the Catholic Worker and holy people such as Dorothy Day and numerous others who contributed to the propagation of the Faith.  It is this type of self-exulting, myopic arrogance that really annoys me these days.  The highly educated, half-baked intellectuals of our day dismissing one another as well as those who have gone before and actually paved the way for them to get to where they are today.  Mistakes are made in every generation.  Wait and see.
Anyway - I look forward to reading more of Dorothy Day's more candid reflections and getting to better appreciate her deep, traditional Catholic spirituality.  Recently I read something Benedict XVI had asked Mother Teresa while he was Cardinal Ratzinger.  He asked her something like what she thought the Church must do to attract souls, and Mother Teresa replied, "We ourselves must change."  I find that beautifully echoed in something Day wrote, "We are not going to attract the masses to Christianity until we live it." - July-August 1961
Some of our more smug brothers and sisters like to bring up quotes from the Holy Father regarding how at ease he seems to be in suggesting that it is not a bad thing that the Church becomes smaller - remnant-thinkers imagine he is talking about a pure, more exclusive Catholicism, a Catholicism where 'not all are welcome'.  I disagree completely.  I think it more reasonable, if not faithful to the Gospel, that Benedict XVI is referring to external realities - Catholic influence falling apart due to government intrusion and legislation which limits religious freedom.  As in times of persecution, such limitations account for the inevitable loss of property and perhaps institutions, as well as the various foundations that rely so much on private fund raising and marketing to promote their 'apostolate' and provide income for management and staff.
I may be wrong, but I'm convinced the Holy Father could never envision a smaller Church as regards souls - like Christ and his saints, the Holy Father wants the Church to be filled to overflowing. 
PS:  The Wanderer is referenced in the diaries.  I know!


  1. When I was a child in the 1950s, a tomato was something God made that we may enjoy sustenance.

    Today, a thing resembling a tomato, being genetically modified that it become ‘better’ than the tomato God created, is eaten by people thinking it to be sustenance, or that it is actually a tomato.

    Corn, which is used in millions of subsequent products, has been genetically modified to have, among other things, birth control properties.

    We are physically no longer eating things God created; we are eating things man has modified.

    These modifications not only are made to food, they also include humans.

    In 1960 the chemicals for human modification were introduced and touted as a way to increase fertility.

    They later became known as birth control.

    The effects of women chewing these chemicals have been to modify the human condition as well as control population. One side effect is these chemicals are now in our water and waste water, affecting even those that do not want to participate in this sin.

    The short term effect has been to kill babies, the long term to kill us all.

    When I was a child in the 1950s, people were Catholic.

    We went to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and were taught the Gospel during the sermons; we were catechized.

    Protestants were always wrong in the protestations of Christ and His Church.

    In 1960, a Council took place that modified Catholicism as it had been practiced for two thousand years.

    We wound up no longer being Catholic, and the Protestants now knew more than us Catholics.

    They are still wrong for being heretics, but our modification has caused them to surpass us in areas such as Creationism and the wrongness of believing in Theological Evolution.

    The old time Catholics that were rich and/or famous, were always placing themselves at the forefront of Catholicism.

    It was a cute show, but anybody Catholic in those days knew the Catholics that held sway were the little old ladies that walked among us with their Rosary beads hanging from their waist, or in their hands (they prayed while doing their girl chores).

    People in the news for being important or powerful were looked upon as entertainment.

    Kinda like Laurel and Hardy, or Kukla, Fran, and Ollie.

    Catholicism in the pre-1960 Church brought forth much life; families with 6, 8, or 12 kids, people that knew their Catechism.

    A lot of people when I was a kid thought to be a Catholic was to be a sourpuss, but we pretty much ignored them.

    We knew Jesus had said "Suffer the little children unto me", and anybody likes kids aint no sourpuss.

    Pray for the souls that you remember. You can also give a Priest a stipend to say a Mass for someone, even Miss Day.

    Pray for the Holy Father.


  2. The priest I most look up to in this world never met Dorothy Day personally, but he knew about her and loved her so much, that he went to her funeral, the first and only "celebrity" funeral he'd ever attended. "The bag ladies had to lend her a dress to be buried in," he told me.

    St. Therese talked about sitting at table with sinners. I agree with you about your thoughts concerning a smaller, "purer" church. It seems incongruous with what the great Saints believed, whatever some Catholic bloggers think.

  3. Pablo, you do realize that corn, tomatoes, or any vegetable or cows and chickens for that matter are not at all "as God created them", even before gene technologies were invented. There is nothing resembling maize in nature - American Indians "genetically modified" it over the centuries. Any food that came from a farm, even hundreds of years ago, is not "as God made it".

    As far as theistic evolution and creationism, or geocentrism for that matter - the Catholic Church is not as diametrically at odds with science as you think - why should truth contracdict truth? Thomists since the 19th century have written on the issues, and Pius XII settled it in the 1950s. I'll stick with the popes - they are Catholic enough for me.

  4. A few years ago I was doing research in the archives of Fr Thomas Verner Moore at St Anselm's Abbey in Washington, DC. Moore (d. 1969) was a psychiatrist and chairman of the psychology department at Catholic University. In the archive, I found a letter to him in Dorothy Day's own hand asking advice on a mentally ill guest at the Catholic Worker House. Holding her letter I felt like I was handling a relic!

  5. "I'll stick with the popes - they are Catholic enough for me." - Me too Mercury.

    stpetric - I would have been tempted to steal the letter.

    Little Way - I'm glad you agree.

    Pablo - in every age - every generation, God raises up saints.

  6. I read her auto bio "The Long Lonliness" a few years ago...I know next to nothing about the Catholic Social Justice movement so I really couldn't get into her head and how what she was doing was so important...



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