"Are we prepared to promote conditions in which the living contact with God can be reestablished? For our lives today have become godless to the point of complete vacuity. God is no longer with us in the conscious sense of the word. He is denied, ignored, excluded from every claim to have a part in our daily life." - Alfred Delp, S.J.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

That's what she said.

One of the reasons I want to write is not only to get the help for myself which comes of writing about such things, also to try more and more to see them in the light of faith. - Dorothy Day

It's interesting - I took that quote from Day's diary, The Duty of Delight - The Sixties.  At that time, the most common difficulty priests encountered were related to alcoholism.  In the same entry, immediately following the above quote, Dorothy Day describes the 'fallen' priest:
''When I think of this or that alcoholic priest, so fallen from so high estate, so filled with self-justification, so well dressed, well-fed, driving the latest model car, enjoying all the luxuries and comforts of a modern rectory, in a wealthy suburb ... I can only forgive him for his banal talk and most boring presence by suddenly seeing him as a victim soul."
I know!  Is she nuts?  A victim soul?  She continues:
"I'm sorry to use these old fashioned expressions but I do not know how else to speak of it.  He is suffering for the vast accumulation of self indulgence and luxury of the priests and lay people who 'can take it' and don't let it drag them down.  Whenever I see or hear of these well-stocked bars, I cannot help thinking of the cost of liquor and tobacco, and remember Fred on Skid Row, too much the thieving drunk, the brawling drunk to have in the house.  Another victim." - Dorothy Day, February 3
That's why she's considered a candidate for sainthood, I guess.  


  1. BS. If that's true, then pervert priests are victim souls of the sexual revolution. Real victim souls are like Jesus Christ--the lamb that was slain. That's why some of them had the stigmata.

    Men steeped in their own sin are casualties of the world, the flesh and the devil, and so they are victims in a sense (as the allegory of the man beaten by robbers/good samaritan attests.

  2. I suspect the term was out of use and out of favor during the time she wrote this. It is more then a little bit of a stretch to compare alcoholic priests to victim souls. Her saintliness however is based more on her work with the marginalized and her own deep spirituality.

  3. I doubt, if pressed, she would spiritually or morally equate a pudgy, boring, alcoholic priest with a mystic stigmatic whose sufferings are not a direct result of character flaws. This sounds like self-protective charity to me. Maybe you've done this: you see someone with deep flaws and you think of a reason/excuse for these flaws that you know is "too charitable" and, when looked at objectively, might not fully make sense, all as a means of keeping yourself from judging the flawed person (usually because the flaws in question are particularly repugnant to you). I don't know if doing this is an entirely good thing (because it can involve moral laxity) but maybe it's better to fail in this way than in judgement.

    I'm no Doroty Day expert, but I'd guess she was tempted to personal judgement when faced with sated, clerical bourgeoisie.

    1. Stop slamming Z. What?

    2. You maka me laugh, Nanina!

  4. I didn't mean to slam her by asking if she was nuts - the way I see it she may have simply been searching for an appropriate, albeit charitable term - I really rather think she considered them victims of circumstance - or victims of alcoholism/drugs, and so on - not the redemptive type of victim. In fact, I had a comment in the post I removed expressing my opinion along those lines - I also added that Dorothy was actually the victim soul, suffering the same deprivations as those she cites, without the self-indulgence. She showed hospitality to both the fallen priest and his compatriot, the annoying skid row alcoholic. Hope that helps.

    Likewise - I wanted to share the quote to show the priest situation back then had its problems just as it does today.

    Oh! Oh! I also liked her reasoning as to why she writes - it's kind of the same with me.

  5. I thought the passage was similar to those philosophical puzzles the ancient sophists used to propose (Zeno's paradoxes), where there's both the ring of truth and a kernel of error. Fascinating stuff. So I actually went to bed and woke up thinking about it.

    The kernel of error is that God never cooperates in moral evil. Victim souls are asked to cooperate in redemptive suffering not in personal sin. There have probably been countless cases of innocent girls (and boys) who have been victim souls as sex slaves (even now in ISIS areas). They are the victims of sin and share in Christ's redeeming work (maybe even for their captors), but they do not partake in personal sin.

    One other thought. While the saints are timeless, they are also products of their time and so their writings may contain the exaggerations/errors of their age. Many of the great saints had strict readings of "Outside the Church there is no salvation" or were convinced that most people go to hell. I don't find either of those propositions plausible. In the second half of the 20th century and beyond the reigning error is a loss of the gravity of personal sin, and I've seen that in Dorothy's writings from time to time.

    1. Good points.

      I still don't think she meant it in the literal or classic sense.

      One of the things I've discovered in Dorothy is her determination to avoid judging the state of soul - she will lament the moral failing - but she conscientiously avoids condemning the person. From time to time she failed at that - but her diary reveals that struggle. I doubt she ever really expected her diary would be of such interest to others, since she never saw herself as a saint.

      I'm writing something else she said which is very interesting. She had a very traditional spirituality.

    2. Can it be both/and here? She doesn't say the priest's sufferings are entirely not of his own making, just that there is a reflection of the sins of those around him in his sufferings.

      For example, four friends in college drink heavily and party hard together. Three grow out of and are married with kids by the age of 30, living tame lives. The fourth is an alcoholic, can't hold a job, and already divorced by 30. The fourth suffers greatly, both as a result of his own sin and as a result of the encouragement he received from the three friends who "made it," or as DD put it, "could take it and not let it drag them down."

      Or another example, this one from my own life: a priest friend, after spending his adult life (~20 years) isolating himself and binging on a steady media diet of immoral TV and movies, tells me he lost his faith and is leaving the priesthood to seek happiness as an out and about gay man. He is definitely suffering because of his own poor choices and habits, but he's also a victim of the cultural tsunami that's been pushing farther and farther inland for the last couple decades.

      I think your reference to philosophical paradoxes is apt. These matters are paradoxes. We are personally responsible, yet a product of our environments. We blown this way and that, yet must answer to God for where we are blown.

      Heady stuff!

    3. My comment above was in response to Scott's.

    4. Thanks Joshua - hey - your namesake is mentioned in the first reading for Mass today.

      I just want to add that my next post may help explain DD's mindset, and her charity in regard others.

    5. I missed that. I skipped the mass this morning. Our parish has a 6:30 on Tues. and Fri. and one or two of my sons usually wants to go with me, so I have extra motivation to get up. Today the rest of the fam was out of town so I slept in. How's that proverb go? "The lazy shall not experience the glory of hearing their own names at mass"?

  6. The father of the prodigal son wasn’t in the least bit interested in hearing where his younger son had strayed or got blown, this way and that; just happy to see his son return home from his wandering in the wilderness.

    He set no condition for his boy to enter the house, nor for the elder sibling. It was the father’s desire that both sons should enter his house, their home.

    When war rages, parents want their sons and daughters to return home from battle in one piece. That is their prayer. As the war continues and they see that some kids don’t make it back, the prayer changes and becomes less conditional: “Just bring them home… crippled or not, wounded or not, maimed or not, alcoholic or not, priest or not; we just want our kids to come back, and we will accept and still love them whatever condition they are in.”

    Unlike Thomas who insisted that Jesus show his wounds, the father in the parable of the two sons had no need to make demands in this way.

    The younger son suffered “because of his own poor choices and habits”. The elder sibling suffered because he was unable to love his brother in the way that the father loved both sons. Yet neither son was rejected by their father.

    1. Sometimes I don't always get you - but this is beautiful said. Thanks BG.

    2. I meant 'beautifully' said - I'm missing a few keystrokes lately.


Please comment with charity and avoid ad hominem attacks. I exercise the right to delete comments I find inappropriate. If you use your real name there is a better chance your comment will stay put.