Skip to comments."To Hell With It" - Dorothy Day (Kinda interesting article from the *bad* NCR)
Posted on 12/06/2012 10:00:52 AM PST by Mrs. Don-o
We continue our series of considering Catholic identity today by looking at Dorothy Day. Monday, I set the tone for the week by recalling the response of Flannery OConnor to a group of erudite Catholics who thought the Eucharist was a great symbol: Well, if its just a symbol, then to hell with it. Then, I examined the counterfeit of faith known as civil religion. Yesterday, I looked at the Vatican new motu proprio regarding the Catholic identity of our charities and a different counterfeit form of Christianity, a reduction of the faith to a social justice ethic. Today, we examine Dorothy Day, to whom, assuredly, the adjective counterfeit has never been applied.
Robert Cole begins his short, brilliant biography of Dorothy Day by recalling the first time he met her. He went to the Catholic Worker House on Mott Street. He opened the door. Dorothy was sitting at the opposite end of the room with a distraught woman. In a flash, she signaled Cole to a chair near the door, and then returned to her conversation. The woman was severely intoxicated and quite hysterical and Dorothy was trying to calm her down. Just when it appeared that some measure of calm had been achieved, the woman would explode into a new fit of hysterics. This went on for several minutes until finally the woman was at some peace. Dorothy took her leave of the woman and approached Cole. She asked, Were you waiting to speak with one of us?
I first read that account several years back and, appropriately, it brought tears to my eyes. I still cannot tell that story now without my eyes welling up. Everything you need to know about why Dorothy Day was a saint is contained in that little word us. She was incapable of dismissing the dignity of another human person, even for a second, even for someone who would not have cared. If Levinas is correct that our human conscience is more than a prod to do right and avoid wrong, if it is deeper, about the moral challenge of the face of another, Dorothy Day had a very finely tuned conscience. And it is that, not our works, that gains us heaven.
That us shames all the rest of us who are not so saintly. It should make our souls tremble. She spoke of love as harsh and dreadful. No burlap banners in the sanctuary for her. She was the real deal.
I thought of that us when I read this account of the canonization process in the New Yorker . The author follows the typical narrative that has emerged, that it is somehow strange that this woman who is understood as a champion of the left has been embraced by the conservative Cardinal-Archbishop of New York. Of course, Dorothy was no ordinary leftie, and Cardinal Dolan is more complicated than the designation conservative suggests. It does not surprise me in the least that he is championing her cause because I think he grasps the power of that us.
The article makes much of Dorothys radicalism, and surely she was radical. But, it does not see how Dorothys radicalism after her baptism was not ideological any longer because it was not rooted in an idea. It was rooted in an event, the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. It was rooted in the person of Jesus whom Dorothy worshipped each morning at Mass and throughout the day in the poor with whom she came into contact. It was rooted in the community of faith, the Church, where we encounter the risen Lord still. Dorothy was not a conformist, she was a radical, precisely because she so obviously, so tenaciously and so heroically conformed herself to Christ.
Everyone wants a piece of Dorothy. Thus it has ever been with the saints literally. We want their relics near us, we venerate those relics, we want to be close to them. Since the issue of Dorothys canonization caught the nations attention when Cardinal Dolan consulted with his brother bishops in Baltimore last month, both the Catholic Left and the Catholic Right claim her as one of their own.
A few thoughts for the Catholic Left to consider. Do you try and conform the Church it us, to our wishes and wants, or do you try and conform yourselves to Christ and the Church? Do you experience authority within the Church as liberating, which is exactly how Dorothy experienced it? Do you hold on to your solid, well-informed, liberal opinions more closely than the tradition of the Church? Do you reduce the faith to good works?
A few thoughts for the Catholic Right to consider. Do you recognize how counter-cultural Dorothy was? Do you let yourselves see what she saw, that one of the things that holds us back in our commitment to faith is this dirty, rotten system? Do you equate the faith with moral probity and conventional values? Do you look at sinners and see someone to dismiss or person with a future, even with the potential for sanctity in their future? Do you love the poor and make that your criterion for evaluating your own economic decisions and that of your society?
Dorothy had gone to God by the time Pope Benedict delivered his famous Christmas address to the Curia in 2005, in which he confronted the hermeneutic of rupture regarding Vatican II and proposed, instead, a hermeneutic of reform, emphasizing both continuity and discontinuity. Dorothys life could have been the Holy Fathers Exhibit A. I am not a scholar of Dorothys life, but I have read many of her collected letters. I do not discern an enormous difference between Dorothy before the Council and Dorothy after the Council in those letters. Certainly, she did not need to wait to read about the people of God in Lumen Gentium to recognize her baptismal call and its significance. She was certainly committed to social justice long before Gaudium et Spes was drafted. Robert Blair Kaiser has suggested that Vatican II changed everything. I do not see that it changed Dorothy.
To everyone the question looms: Would we have said us to Robert Cole? Here is the true radicalism of Dorothy Day. That may not be evident to a writer at the New Yorker. It may not be evident to those on the left or right who are trying to claim Dorothy as an adherent to their causes, rather than try and adhere their cause to Dorothys cause. It certainly is not evident to me when I am dismissive of others as I often am. But it is in that us that we discern Dorothys radicalism, the radicalism of total abandonment to Jesus Christ, the radicalism of total commitment to the poor, the radicalism of total allegiance to his Church, in sum, the radicalism of sanctity.
I imagine Day still had "ideas" even after her baptism and many of these were radical.
Joining Cesar Chavez in his "cause" shows her radicalism was still very much alive.
Ah well. As Oscar Wilde said: "Every saint has a past. And every sinner has a future."
Day doesn't seem to have rejected her radicalism. The bohemian lifestyle, yes, but not the philosophy of Gov't.
We believe that social security legislation, now hailed as a great victory for the poor and for the worker, is a great defeat for Christianity. It is an acceptance of the Idea of force and compulsion. It is an acceptance of Cain's statement, on the part of the employer. "Am I my brother's keeper?" Since the employer can never be trusted to give a family wage, nor take care of the worker as he takes care of his machine when it is idle, the state must enter in and compel help on his part.
Of course, economists say that business cannot afford to act on Christian principles. It Is impractical, uneconomic. But it is generally coming to be accepted that such a degree of centralization as ours is impractical, and that there must be decentralization. In other words, business has made a mess of things, and the state has had to enter in to rescue the worker from starvation.
Of course, Pope Pius XI said that, when such a crisis came about, in unemployment, fire, flood, earthquake, etc., the state had to enter in and help.
But we in our generation have more and more come to consider the state as bountiful Uncle Sam. "Uncle Sam will take care of it all. The race question, the labor question, the unemployment question."
We will all be registered and tabulated and employed or put on a dole, and shunted from clinic to birth control clinic. "What right have people who have no work to have a baby?" How many poor Catholic mothers heard that during those grim years before the war!
She also refused to pay Federal tax.
She spoke out against capitalism and this is what she said she wanted society to be:
We would like to see a country made up of farming communes, agronomic universities, hospices, unions, cooperatives, small units of all those necessary institutions to be preserved, and a doing away with luxury in order to have the essential which is ownership of house and field and job, and the responsibility which goes with that ownership. We wish to abolish the proletariat state, rather than establish the dictatorship of the proletariat, abolish the wage system which provides men with luxuries but not the essentials.
She was a radical leftist...but more in the form of anarchy, not communism.
Please ignore the spelling errors.
Yes, that’s probably it. Not state-centered, but Anarchist. Not ideological, but Personalist. Not coerced or demanded, but Voluntary. And not Marxist, but Christ-centered.
The doing away with luxury and eradication of a wage system Christ-centered? Really?
No, these are Marxist ideas. But worked out into an anarchist framework instead of communist (no central Gov't).
Sure, really: as long as it is voluntary and not controlled by the state and other coercive mechanisms.
This is not to say that a wage system,for instance, is immoral. It is not condemned in the Scriptures, which assumes wages, and demands just wages.
The Prophets of Israel, the Gospels, and the Fathers of the Church all condemn luxury, and, for that matter, covetousness and usury; which would certainly cut the legs off of modern captialism, powered as it is by advertising and consumer credit.
A free society which respects private property (which Day also supported) will also respect a diversity which makes room for distributism, communitarianism and even monasticism. Freedom would mean you can go and come with that, as you judge best.
No,they did not condemn luxury in toto.
They only condemned luxury enjoyed at the expense of the poor. There are times in the Bible when God himself blesses beyond the essentials (condemned in the statement by Day).
Of course the Scripture assumes wages. To labor for a wage is moral. Eradication of a wage system is not Christ-centered but Marxist. To advocate a system where there would be no wage for labor is to advocate injustice which God abhors. And, no, Day doesn't says this would be voluntary. And only in utopian thinking (the thinking of anarchists) would one consider that it ever could be.
And what Jesus said about camels going through the eye of the needle: even if that meant going through a small gate into the city, they'd have to be divesed of all their cargoes before they got through. It was a warning: wach out! Don't make your salvation difficult!
A valuable warning against the acquisition of riches.
And don't get me started on usury!
They did not condemn luxury completely.
Of course they did when it was being used to exploit the poor. However, as I said God also blesses with plenty. Other Scriptures can be cited supporting this.
You seem to be missing the point.
I look to myself on that one. It's a hard examination of conscience, one which I am not comfortable about at all.
Reads as if she took many of her economic ideas from Chesterton. You know that Commmie Fink/s
2) Her authority, which she had by example only, rested in this: that there was not an ace of difference between what she believed, what she wrote or spoke, and the way she lived her life. It was nothing but the gentle personalism of traditional Catholicism: personal obligation of looking after the needs of our brother, daily practice of the Works of Mercy.
And no skin off of your nose or anybody else's.
Exceptionally good journalist (or I could say "diarist") as well. ANybody would be enriched by reading her for twenty minutes a day. She is as good as bread.
Thank you for finding and posting this.
Yes,Dorothy Day called herself a “propagandist” and an “agitator.” She insisted that the early Christians’ and religious orders’ cooperative efforts were a form of “Catholic Communism.” She declared more than forty years after becoming a Catholic: “Fortunately, the Papal States were wrested from the Church in the last century, but there is still the problem of investment of papal funds. It is always a cheering thought to me that if we have good will and are still unable to find remedies for the economic abuses of our time, in our family, our parish, and the mighty church as a whole, God will take matters in hand and do the job for us. When I saw the Garibaldi mountains in British Columbia ... I said a prayer for his soul and blessed him for being the instrument of so mighty a work of God. May God use us!” (”Hutterite Communities,” “Catholic Worker” [CW], July-August 1969).
Despite Cardinal O’Connor’s claim that she left behind her Communist friends and beliefs, she did neither. She told Robert Coles (not “Cole”) that in her youth, most of her friends were “Communists and Socialists. (I think I called them radical friends in the section of ‘The Long Loneliness’ where I discuss my Chicago days.)” (Robert Coles, “Dorothy Day: A Radical Devotion,” 1987, p. 27). On April 9, 1959 she wrote, “My work in the labor field, and with the radical group was very much in accord with my conscience—that is why I still love them all” (”All the Way to Heaven: Selected Letters of Dorothy Day,” 2010, p. 252). She maintained a lifelong friendship with Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, who became the head of the Communist Party USA. In her diary (”The Duty of Delight,” 2011) Day notes on December 23, 1958: “visited Gurley Flynn and her sister who has been ill” (p. 248). In her September 16, 1964 diary entry, Day wrote: “Dreamed last night of writing speech for Gurley Flynn’s memorial service at Community Church next Tues. They called me up about it and I told them I would write a letter” (p. 361). Day’s letter praising Flynn was read publicly at the memorial service by CW Tom Cornell, and also published in the November 1964 CW as “Red Roses for Her.” Flynn had already had a State funeral in Moscow’s Red Square with Khrushchev present, as Carol Byrne notes in her essential “The Catholic Worker Movement (1933-1980): A Critical Analysis,” (2010, p. 6). Day also maintained a lifelong friendship with Mike Gold, a former “radical” boyfriend who became a columnist in “The Daily Worker.” For more details, see Carol Byrne’s book and its “Complete Supplementary Notes.” These notes are available at the blog “Dorothy Day Another Way.”