Dorothy Day still a radical

Jordan, Patrick

PATRICK JORDAN THIS MONTH marks the fifth anniversary of the death of Dorothy Day. At the time of her passing (November 29, 1980), the historian David J. O'Brien wrote in these pages (December...

...Jesus Christ had gone well beyond mere natural ethics, and even beyond the precepts of the Old Dispensation in the matter of violence and war, teaching nonviolence by his very life...
...AS IT SOMETIMES happened, in opposing the institutional church Dorothy seemed relegated to the fringe...
...Instead of two working men of different races united by the risen Jesus before his cross, the new logo pictures PATRICK JORDAN, a former managing editor of The Catholic Worker, is an assistant editor of Commonweal...
...The luxury of a weekend of prayer and reflection...
...Perhaps too expansive an appraisal, particularly in calculating her influence, and one O'Brien tempered later in his article...
...He called it, "Still a Rebel...
...After all, we are all members or potential members of Christ's Body...
...No doubt she would have found much to applaud in the 1983 pastoral letter, The Challenge of Peace...
...In Maurin's stark language, today "Nobody drives the money lenders from the temple because the money lenders have the mortgage on the temple...
...Indeed, it is like falling in love...
...The film was an arresting presentation of her charm and bite...
...She died on the Saturday evening before Advent...
...Unlike William E. Simon who recently declared at Notre Dame that, "There isn't any contradiction between my Catholic faith, and the principles of American life . . .", Day would point out their very real disjunction: "We are un-American...
...It was this ability to get to the point that always left people a little uncomfortable with what might be coming next...
...Because of her great love of the church, Dorothy Day always felt the freedom and responsibility to criticize it...
...Day protested that the issue was not one of dogma...
...When John Cort first met Day at a talk she was giving in Boston in 1936, he remarked at her "quality of humor and laughter that seemed to reach down to the secret, hidden places of the soul, promising at any moment to explain the mysteries of life and human striving...
...It was that last phrase that threw not only many national priorities and policies into question, but even the use of violence for those revolutions she supported and considered legitimate...
...It is ironic that Dorothy and the women's movement passed each other by...
...The teaching of the church in regard to marriage and its indissolubility demands over and over again heroic sanctity...
...Shall we ask him, with the unbelieving world, to come down from the cross...
...And Dorothy Day's message is as radical and prophetic as when she expressed it herself...
...The primary creative responsibility for any change, Dorothy implied, lay in our own hands...
...According to social historial Mel Piehl, "Only a few liberal bishops, social reformers, and liberal publications like Commonweal and The Catholic Worker stood against the tide...
...The number of Catholic Worker houses and farms is today more than seventy-five, perhaps the movement's all-time high...
...The Corporal Works are to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to ransom the captive, to harbor the harborless, to visit the sick, and to bury the dead...
...The various houses produce their own independent papers and newsletters, often of considerable vigor and quality, and are supported through generous individuals in their particular locales...
...Yet there is a distinct usefulness to the Catholic Worker's espousal of an economics as if people mattered, one that employs Christian principles for determining the ends and means of production, and sets the goals of economic life.' 'The stink of the world's injustice and the world's indifference are all around us," wrote Day...
...On the other hand, she made it clear to those who shared the work that she never seriously entertained the possibility...
...So we are urging revolutionary change...
...Her advice: If we are not being persecuted for our beliefs and life, there is something wrong with us: "May the Lord direct our hearts and bodies in the love of God and the patience of Christ" (2Thess...
...She never betrayed her composure...
...We cannot even see our brothers in need without first stripping ourselves," wrote Day...
...She frequently quoted Romano Guardini: "The church is the cross 29 November 1985: 667 on which Christ was crucified...
...When it came to being a woman in the church, Day likened herself to John Wesley's wife who was occasionally allowed to preach...
...It is one based largely on a negative criticism of materialism in its present capitalist and Marxist formulations...
...Dorothy's only comment on the way home was, "If the church can survive priests like that, it just goes to prove God must be with it...
...Day held in honor those who had advanced the place of women, once inscribing a book to Sister Luke Tobin by simply thanking her "for all you have done for women...
...But the guiding leitmotif of the Catholic Worker movement has consistently been the parable of the wheat and the weeds...
...One reason may have been Dorothy's anecdotal way of talking...
...It's my own sins that give me such clarity"), and yet she could revel that where sin once abounded, grace prevailed...
...Tawney, Lewis Mumford, and E.F...
...Those living in its houses and farms have sometimes worn out their welcome because of violent acts, sexual misconduct, or substance abuse...
...The injunction of Saint Basil underlines the vision: "To the starving belongs the bread that you store away, to the naked belongs the cloak that you keep in your cupboard, to the barefoot the shoes that rot in your possession, to the needy the money that you bury away...
...The class structure is of our making and by our consent, not His, and we must do what we can to change it...
...She believed Spellman was too American to do such a thing, and she was right...
...and she stands as one of the most basic of radicals...
...Monsignor Patrick Scanlan, the New York archdioceCommonweal: 668 san censor, told Father Joseph McSorley, Day's confessor and advisor to The Catholic Worker, to have her tone down the paper's support for the amendment...
...She wished to induce others to daily Mass, Scripture reading, and the practice of the presence of God.'' Prayer is the answer...
...There was in it not a little of what Baron von Huge...
...She never again accepted one of Steere's invitations...
...We are unalterably opposed to armed resistance and armed revolt from the admittedly intolerable conditions all through Latin America as we ever were...
...We want God to teach us love...
...Such a tenet is one present-day Christians, not to mention Catholic Workers, will have to continue to ponder, a very clear dividing line between absolute pacifism and other approaches...
...Hoping to hear Dorothy's dry, ironic voice, I replayed the tapes of that conference and found that her story had been removed...
...And yet, according to Cort and many others who met her,' 'This woman was getting a lot of fun out of life...
...What she wanted to promote was personal responsibility, both in the church and in society...
...The church on Staten Island where she was baptized burned down several months ago...
...When it came to the great matters of war and peace, Day and The Catholic Worker took this cooperative insight about human nature and staked it to a divine revelation...
...Dorothy was in her early seventies at the time, and by then was not a particularly skilled driver...
...On matters of lesbianism and homosexuality, she said she stood with Saint Paul...
...The beaches where she used to walk so freely are now being converted into millionaires' enclaves...
...The audience seemed not to know what to make of this story and passed it by with polite applause and no response...
...I heard her speak on a panel at a large conference on women's liberation and the church in the early '70s...
...But at the heart of it, she would have found its deterrent premise less than the Gospel truth...
...So you commit as many injustices as there are people you could help...
...She had no illusions that it was going to be easy to accomplish...
...She hoped to find her books on bus station racks all across the country expounding the message of Peter Maurin and the Catholic Worker...
...She was trying to teach that we live better when we know the real source of our daily bread...
...When she returned home on Sunday night she looked exhausted...
...She saw change in the church coming generally not from theological reformulations, but from groups of people living differently...
...One delightful change has occurred in the paper's makeup...
...one could not separate Christ from his cross, and one must live in a state of permanent dissatisfaction with the church...
...The Catholic Worker remains on the margins of church and society, precisely where it should be...
...The understanding of human nature expounded by the Catholic Worker has its basis in Christian personalism...
...There is a common misunderstanding that holds if Cardinal Spell man had told Day to shut down The Catholic Worker, she would have...
...The second: She could be very indirect in answering a person's query for advice, but if you were listening hard, it was there...
...Christians who resorted to violence, she said, were like those who asked Jesus to come down from his cross...
...Much has been made of the paradoxes in her life, and much should be...
...Faith, hope, love are acts of the will:'' Every act of faith increases your faith,'' she said...
...The Catholic Worker was (is) a different economic school because it locates itself in the poorest pockets of society...
...She had a way of making you adjust to some purpose she had set out for herself...
...She told of the organized life at the Worker, saying that the cook was the only authority there...
...What nonsense...
...Hers was a quiet but commanding presence...
...No one really knows until the final judgment which is which...
...Such an understanding is more likely to occur where poverty is esteemed...
...The option has returned as an easy one many times since...
...The Catholic Worker maintained that the church's ancient tradition of condemning usury in all its guises should be dusted off and reinstated...
...They rely on the English Distributists and a return to a rather uninviting medievalism...
...Part of that change was to disavow a system based on money-lending at interest...
...Both Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day were taken by the writings of Nicholas Berdyaev and Emmanuel Mounier, and both were influenced by the "anarchist prince," Peter Kropotkin...
...She would quote a Portuguese proverb in this regard: "Do whatever you want, but pay...
...Five years after her death, it would be a mistake to mainstream Dorothy Day...
...At seventy-five, Day radiated that...
...Dorothy Day had a zest for such things, a great deal of common sense, and the desire and concern to discern what those "implied teachings of Christ" might be when it came to world events as well as the situation down the hall...
...On the fiftieth anniversary of the paper's logo (May 1985), artist Ade Bethune created a new one, updating her original version...
...It is, after all, a matter of opinion...
...some church officials continue to confuse the process with dogma But the chief gift of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker, to both the church and society, was the creation of a community from which it is practically impossible to be expelled...
...To those with whom she worked, she was constantly giving prayerbooks, psalters, the Scriptures, C.S...
...I have my doubts whether she ever was...
...MORE challenging yet is the Catholic Worker approach to economics...
...a migrant woman with child, a laboring man of differing race, and Christ joining them all...
...It was a scientific attempt to prove that cooperation among the members of a given species is as much a factor in survival and evolution as were Darwin's concepts of competition and the survival of the fittest...
...The sinner will always be welcomed back, seventy times seven...
...It seemed to me a parable for women, telling us we must not needlessly confront authority, for it is sometimes useful particularly in feeding people...
...Sally Cunneen {Cross Currents, Fall 1984), tells of an incident that underscores Day's relation to the women's movement...
...It is the clasp of the hand, the joy and keen delight of the consciousness of that Other...
...Lewis's Reflections on the Psalms, or Charles de Foucauld's Spiritual Autobiography...
...Yet the fact is that in the five years since her death, Dorothy Day has been mentioned as a possible candidate for canonization, she and the Catholic Worker movement have been cited in drafts of both the U.S...
...Christian economics means producing and distributing what is adequate to meet society's legitimate needs...
...Yet in all the recent studies that deal with Day (and the same will hold true here), the passages that invariably stand out for their notable insight, clarity, and grace are those from her hand...
...When given the opportunity to present an observation, she asked those assembled why they had allowed Solzhenitsyn to be expelled from their group...
...In 1972 Bill Moyers conducted an interview with Day for public television...
...Or shall we joyfully . . . 'complete the sufferings of Christ...
...Catholic Worker farms were meant to provide the productive economic element of the movement's program...
...Day reminded her readers of what Jesus said of his followers who wished to call down fire on the Samaritans: "You do not know of what spirit you are...
...Some have said that Day offered little vision for democratizing the church...
...As Ammon Hennacy wrote years before her death in his study of American radicalism, "Dorothy Day chose that difficult way of battling inside an autocratic and corrupt organization [the Catholic church] and by her life encouraging others to fight their battles in a peaceful way...
...Her writing was always related to her person...
...As an anarchist (she never voted, and did not have a social security number), Day had little truck in assenting to majority rule...
...We are Catholics," she editorialized in 1949...
...3:5...
...He was influenced by closely observing such religious communities as the Dukhobors, which likewise had a deep effect on both Maurin and Day...
...One would be hard put to suggest anyone whose purpose, deeds, and being were so completely integrated...
...One might be tempted to judge that just as the church has entered the mainstream of American society, so the notoriety that has come to Dorothy Day since her death has had the effect of temporizing and mollifying her prophetic life and vision...
...They settle for less than they should by lobbying for reform rather than urging the adoption of a fundamentally different economic entity, one based on a Christian social order, which would foster not merely a well-satisfied acquisitive society, but a holy people...
...She said that going on retreat was the hardest work one could do...
...Day wrote herself of these places: "As farmers, perhaps, we were ridiculous...
...The pastoral fails to encourage a "disposition toward poverty," one that would allow the church to think and act in radically different terms about its own investments and our militarized economy...
...While visiting the Soviet Union in 1971 she was invited to attend a gathering of the Soviet Writers Guild...
...She implored her government and readers of The Catholic Worker to "permit us to continue to use our paper to 'preach Christ crucified.' " She said later, '' We confess to being fools [for Christ], and wish that we were Commonweal: 666 more so...
...This led to the terrible injustices of the capitalist industrial system that lives by war and by preparation for war...
...She had spent the weekend listening to and advising others...
...We want more than a weekly wage," she said...
...Several of our old editors have accused us of giving up our pacifism...
...Having spoken positively of the Cuban Revolution in the early 1960s, she wrote to clarify the matter of revolutionary violence in September 1962...
...Her repeated admonition was: pray and endure...
...I remember hearing a particularly pitiful sermon from a monsignor, one of those performances that leaves you nauseated and angry, a not uncommon experience for most churchgoers...
...She and her message remain there, awaiting the season of expectation...
...The poor will always be with us.' But I am sure that God did not intend that there be so many poor...
...It would be hard to characterize the Catholic church in the United States today in that fashion...
...Today we refer to such incidents as the application of prudential judgments...
...In 1935 when the Child Labor Amendment was short eight states for passage, most of the Catholic hierarchy and the diocesan press were arrayed against its adoption...
...She chose only pure weapons...
...29 November 1985: 665 called "that tenderness in austerity, and that austerity in tenderness , which is the very genius of Christianity...
...Catholic bishops' recent landmark pastoral letters on peace and the economy, and she and the Catholic Worker have been subjected to something of a publishing renaissance: the reissuing of two of Day's own books, the publication of her "selected writings," a major biographical effort, two fine studies of her social, religious, and journalistic significance, several children's books, a score of magazine articles, and a growing number of dissertations, scholarly convocations, and film documentaries...
...After all, she literally said so herself...
...I recall her looking forward to one to which the Quaker elder Douglas Steere had invited her...
...The stand we take is also the stand taken by Monsignor John Ryan," she pointed out...
...On the other hand, she could ask very direct and unsettling questions...
...While there would be much in the present draft of the bishops' economic pastoral that Day would support (the dignity of human labor, the emphasis on the common good, the right of workers to organize, the so-termed preferential option for the poor, the encouragement for cooperatives, and the letter's condemnation of materialism), there would remain fundamental disparities...
...At the time of her passing (November 29, 1980), the historian David J. O'Brien wrote in these pages (December 19, 1980) that she was "the most significant, interesting, and influential person in the history of American Catholicism...
...She wrote with a point of view, and admitted to being didactic...
...apply the candlelight of common sense where the flaming heat of the sun of justice was what is needed.' 'What is worst of all is using God and religion to bolster up our own greed, our attachment to property, and putting God and country on an equality...
...Two divergent examples: I remember being driven in her Volkswagen bug to the Tivoli Farm, about a hundred miles north of New York City on the Hudson...
...Yet history and theology have generally vindicated her...
...People want peace," Day wrote, "but not the things that make for peace" the daily, dedicated practice of the'' works of mercy.'' Day listed these works in a 1949 article for Commonweal, "The Spiritual Works of Mercy are: to admonish the sinner, to instruct the ignorant, to counsel the doubtful, to comfort the sorrowful, to bear wrongs patiently, to forgive all injuries, and to pray for the living and the dead...
...The bishops do not, in Peter Maurin's phrase, blow the dynamite of the church...
...While the Catholic Worker failed to develop a practical alternative of its own to these systems, the broad outlines for doing so have been present from the movement's inception...
...Schumacher, and experiments in communitarian socialism, worker ownership, and cooperatives...
...What a remarkable realization of freedom this grants...
...Day called nonviolence "a great ideal to be worked toward...
...The artist Rita Corbin later contrasted the works of mercy and the works of war, effectively evoking the Catholic Worker's basic insight into the means of promoting and sustaining peace...
...dear God, please enlarge our hearts to love each other, to love our neighbor, to love our enemy as well as our friend...
...No one can be separated from the love of Christ, neither by principalities nor powers, by church or state...
...29 November 1985: 669...
...Many have left the Worker, it is true, for ideological reasons, and many more because they couldn't stand its failures...
...His Mutual Aid appeared in 1902...
...Had it actually happened, she believed someone else would have carried on the work, either by not paying attention to the cardinal, or by moving across the river to a different diocese...
...We buy not cheap in this market.'' She called it heroic virtue in the life of a family to welcome each child as from the hand of God, to practice continence or celibacy within marriage...
...She seemed to have experienced nearly every human failure of the untamed life ("I see only too clearly how bad people are," she wrote...
...The meeting broke up rather quickly thereafter...
...Such a disposition toward radical trust in God, the sharing of goods, and the simplification of needs would offer support to families and communities trying to live the fullest aspects of the Gospel...
...The Catholic Worker has championed the insights of such economists and historians as R.H...
...Dorothy Day said that when it comes to economic matters, economists (and even prelates...
...That remains to be seen, but in the time since 1980 it has generally done so...
...Her writing has come under criticism of late for being unstructured, discursive, of uneven quality, and according to one author,'' the bulk of it is ephemeral...
...The paper's circulation has remained constant at slightly over a hundred thousand...
...Yet in another it widely misses the mark...
...Steere had divided the large group of retreatants and assigned half of them to Dorothy for spiritual direction...
...She was derided for this, and felt the wounds of rejection from those within her own household...
...She preached the cross and suffering voluntarily undertaken for the sake of others (' "The most effective action we can take is to try to conform our lives to the folly of the cross...
...She was...
...When it came to matters of sexuality and changing the church's teaching, Day was reticent but adamant...
...In January 1942 she took The Catholic Worker, and those who cared to remain with her, into the anomalous and unpopular stance of opposing American participation in World War II...
...As for Dorothy Day's newspaper, The Catholic Worker, O'Brien raised the question whether it could maintain its remarkable integrity and continuity without her presence...
...When Dorothy Day entered the Catholic church as a convert in 1927, she said it was because (among other things) she wanted to enter the church of the poor...
...She would point out to Catholic Americans that a nuclear deterrent policy which relies on the threat of annihilating others could only be considered unjustifiable...
...I think it is best summed up in the first line of what are known as the Catholic Worker Positions: "The general aim of the Catholic Worker movement is to realize in the individual and in society the expressed and implied teachings of Christ.'' We don't hear many people taking that approach, talking that way, much less trying literally to live accordingly...
...Kropotkin believed in the regeneration of human society through personal responsibility and the creation of cooperative, communitarian structures...
...She used every experience, negative as well as positive, to foster her belief...
...In one sense this is quite true...
...For very good reasons these farms have become instead islands of refuge for the poor fleeing the alienation of industrialized society, asylums of hospitality on the land...
...For me, Christ was not to be bought for thirty pieces of silver, but with my heart's blood...
...It is five years since the death of Dorothy Day...
...DOROTHY DAY saw her primary work as that of a writer...
...Surpluses are to help those who remain in need, not to enlarge one's acquisitive drives...
...After a number of harrowing experiences that culminated in her nearly driving us under the body of a moving semi, she asked, '' Would you like to say the rosary?'' I was out of practice at the time, but it was easy to respond in the affirmative...
...From there, it has a very different perspective of Wall Street...
...Its managing editors at the time of Day's death assumed the editorship, and while there has been some change on the editorial masthead, there has been surprisingly little for a movement characterized by its general fluidity...
...This two-edged sword is a source of consternation to those who see sin and injustice in the church itself...
...Yet it had been the only thing I remembered...
...In whom, she would ask, do we place our trust...
...Dorothy Day was so steeped in the lives of the saints that she had no fear of unsettling clerical sensibilities...

Vol. 112 • November 1985 • No. 21


 
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