An Embarrassing Hero

I saw Dorothy Day at a Mass one afternoon. She sat in a front pew with her head bowed in prayer. I had the same contradictory reaction to her that I do now, forty years later.

Her uncompromising belief in pacifism inspired everyone I worked with in the Catholic Left, activists who worked for the end of the American War in Vietnam, and for a shift in America’s attitude toward war. She is best known for her work with desperately poor people, opening Houses of Hospitality to feed and house the most marginalized in Depression America, and after. She constantly confronted the Catholic hierarchy in their neglect of the Christian message of social justice. Her stand for pacifism was absolute. Christians, she said, had no other choice.

That afternoon, what I saw in her bowed head was a piety and submission to authority that made me cringe. She once said that if the Cardinal told her to stop printing her Catholic Worker newspaper, she’d shut it down immediately. The idea of totally obedient and will-less devotion to a religious authority is a destructive medieval hold-over. It is an infantile approach to church. She was devoted to that obedience.

However, to categorize Dorothy Day as totally obedient or will-less or infantile verges on the ridiculous, and counter to everything we know about her life. So Dorothy Day, enigma, paradox, embarrassing hero, haunts my spiritual life.

This year, when a pastor was arrested for feeding homeless people outdoors in Fort Lauderdale, I swear I could see her right there. She goes to Palestine with Sherrill; she’s in jail for acts of social justice next to Paki. She is working at the Food Pantry. She is insulating walls with Richard to protect the creation she loved. She is striking with fast-food workers for a living wage. She is an unfailing guide for social justice.

But, a spiritual guide? Yes: “How can you not believe in God when there are so many beautiful things?” she asked her lover. Her beliefs about the sanctity of voluntary suffering? No. Her rigidity about women’s roles and about divorce? No. Her humbleness before church authority? No. Her humbleness before God? Yes.

I gave up this year. The only way to deal with a ghost is to face her. I’m reading what she wrote and what is written about her. I’m sitting next to her before God. The result: her paradox is becoming more pronounced – not what I was hoping for. Now the paradoxes in my own soul are clearer to me. Wandering in the celtic knot of Dorothy’s life is making me recognize the knot of my own life. Celtic knots are mysterious and beautiful, however unsettling to live with.

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Who is the Most Communist Catholic? Catholic Opinion Divided!

“I quote the Gospel, they call me a Communist.” 

Pope Francis

Websites dedicated to the idea that Dorothy Day was a Communist agitator are easy enough to find.

Pope Francis and Dorothy Day are neck in neck for the title of The Most Communist Catholic. Francis took the lead when Fox News reporter Stuart Varney called him “the Obama of the Catholic Church.” To him, that’s even worse than being a Communist.

carl-marx-and-Obama conservative papers.com.

conservativepapers.com

Trying to stick a political label on Dorothy Day is futile. Feminists who came to see her were disappointed, Communists were disappointed. Because one Catholic Worker headline proclaimed “Feed the Hungry, Starve the Bankers,” probably the bankers were disappointed. She was outspokenly anti-communist. Communists believed that the good of the “masses” mattered more than the good of the person, an idea she strongly opposed. Also, they were atheist.

She kept her eyes focused on God and the “Body of Christ,” feeding poor people, caring for the most marginalized.

One thing is for sure, state control of the economy would be an anathema. Much of what she said about unemployment insurance and other programs would be hailed by Rand Paul.

If Day had any ideology, it would be, using her word, “personalism.”  Personalism is the opposite of communism and popularized in the Church by John Paul II. He summarized it as, “persons are not to be used, but to be respected and loved.”  “ (Redemptoris Missio)

Debates about Dorothy Day’s ideology already fill books and websites. They miss the point.The center of Day’s thinking was her beliefs in God, Christ living in every person, in every moment. She read the Bible every day. Whoever advanced the vision of the primacy of The Beatitudes was her companion, regardless of affiliation. She writes:

“The truth is the truth, writes St. Thomas, and proceeds from  the Holy Ghost, no matter from whose lips it comes.”

Currently there are only four communist countries in the world. Granted, China is pretty big, but it is also turning more toward capitalism. So declaring the supposed communism of gospel-inspired people is a waste of time. It detracts from the message of the kinship of all people.

These two Catholics can call themselves Aquinas-ist, aquinas pixVincent dePaul-ists, or Ezekial-ist ezekial picor Amos-ist, or Zachariah-ist, or best of all,

dd jesus volto-cristo-bologna                                                             Jesus-ists.

These are the teachings on social justice that Dorothy Day held dear.

But Communist? Marxists? No.

Political label?

She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.

Proverbs 31:20:NIV

Simple as that.