Monday, 29 November 2010

Not-Yet-Saint Dorothy Day's Day

Imagine a woman--a journalist, a feminist and a socialist--who has been drawn all her life to Catholicism. She thinks the Traditional Latin Mass is the most beautiful thing she has ever seen. She watches Catholics of all ages praying in their silent candlelit churches and loves them. She would be Catholic, too, if it didn't mean having to give up her zeal for social justice and her anti-marriage live-in lover, the father of her child.

But then she discovers that the Catholic Church is on the side of social justice. In fact, the Catholic Church has a pile of documents on the subject. Although Catholics seem to loathe communism, they love the poor. In fact, quite often they ARE the poor.

The woman has her baby baptised. And then, sadly, because she knows this means she must say good-bye to the man she loves but will never marry her, she leaves him and becomes a Roman Catholic. She becomes, in fact, Dorothy Day.

I love Dorothy Day. I think she was a latter day female St. Francis of Assisi. And there is something in Day for everyone to love. When it came to God, she demanded everything for God. When it came to the poor and to peace, she demanded everything for the poor and for peace.

Conservative or liberal? She simply could not be shoved into boxes. She protested the behaviour of a Cardinal Archbishop of New York towards diocesan workers, but she wouldn't allow her co-workers to insult him as he was, and I quote, "the Vicar of Christ in New York."

She was the editor of The Catholic Worker and with Peter Maurin, to whom I frankly think she always gave too much credit, she founded the Catholic Worker movement. And at the same time, she loved the Eucharist so much that when a trendy priest said Mass at the Catholic Worker using a coffee cup, Day buried the coffee cup in the back yard so that it could never be used for a mundane, profane purpose.

She was a radical, a complete peacenik, a marcher in the streets, and yet she lived a life of complete chastity after her conversion, refusing even to see her daughter's father, as she feared this would be an occasion for sin.

Dorothy Day was a modern woman with a checkered sexual past before she converted to Catholicism and brought her personal life in line with her zeal for social justice. Like many saints, she was appalled by the idea that she might be "made" into a saint, and certainly her not-quite-so-loyal-to-the-magisterium Catholic Worker friends and followers made no move until recently to set a canonisation process in motion. (To be fair, it is expensive and Day herself would have kittens that money that could have gone on the poor is being spent on that.) But I think she is a saint. For decades she dressed only in the horrible cast-offs sent to the Catholic Worker for the poor, and this thought alone always makes me want to cry.

Dorothy Day is a marvellous model for any single woman, I think, but particularly for any single mother, divorced Catholic woman, or even just a woman who is unhappy about her sexual past. Today is the 30th anniversary of her death, which I am relatively sure is her birthday into heaven, and I think the best way to celebrate is to encourage all my dear readers to read about her adventurous and eventually holy life.


sciencegirl said...

Lovely. I remember being confused through my teen years about how this terrific woman could have had time for all this charity and poverty between her glamorous life as a movie star playing in Hitchcock movies. It all makes so much sense now.

dark but fair said...

Thank you for the post, Seraphic! Dorothy Day is amazing! I really hope she does get cononized! It is always exciting when more modern saints are cononized. It reminds people that we are all called to be saints and that holiness is not easy no matter what age you live in, but it is possible.

Pedantic Classicist said...

"We have all known the long loneliness, and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community." -Servant of God Dorothy Day

Amen, sister. A good quote for this blog! This was a lovely tribute, Seraphic. I was inspired to go back and listen to the chapter on Dorothy Day on my audio version of Fr. James Martin's (SJ) My Life with the Saints (a great book; unfortunately, I can't recommend everything Fr. Martin writes :( but his books are pretty great). There are many good insights there.

Haha, my word verification is "boaggion" which, as near as I can tell, is pidgin Classical Greek for "St. Shouts-a-lot" (!)

Sciencegirl, you stole my joke!! ;) (honestly, I remember having the same problem as a boy: too bad Hitchcock never had a chance to make a movie about Dorothy Day starring Doris Day: I'd pay full price for that!)

Thwarted Throne said...

You see? Real Commies like the TLM, not guitar-infested "folk" Masses.

some guy on the street said...

There's an "In Communist Russia... " joke in there somewhere, but I don't want to look.

Peregrina Gadelica said...

Yay Dorothy Day! Have recently been reading The Long Loneliness for the first time but didn't realize it was her anniversary. AND she was a Benedictine oblate, wasn't she? What a woman!

Shiraz said...

Thwarted Throne -- Tee hee! Although SOME of us Commies also like a nice Latin Mass in the newer incarnation. Is there an acronym for that?

Also, Dorothy Day rules. (Seraphic, I wish I could bulk buy that Dorothy Day image as a proper icon and give it to all of my hippy leftie friends. Real Commies also like Byzantine-style icons.)

theobromophile said...

What a lovely tribute, Seraphic!

And then, sadly, because she knows this means she must say good-bye to the man she loves but will never marry her, she leaves him and becomes a Roman Catholic. She becomes, in fact, Dorothy Day.

Perhaps, had the love of her life married her, Catholicism would not have held the appeal for her that it did.

Is there a saint or almost-saint for capitalists who (small voice) aren't really into movies?

Seraphic said...

Well, yes it would, actually, for she had first been drawn to it as a child catching her neighbour at her prayers.

Saints for capitalists who don't like movies.... Hmm... St. Francis of Assisi had a father who was a capitalist.

berenike said...

Euw, you don't really want to be spreading around the work of br Robert Lentz.


(him, not you)

Pedantic Classicist said...

Agh, Berenike, my eyes! I was about to ask how you managed to get all of Br. Lentz's creepy images on one page (does Trinity have the internet equivalent of a seedy "back room"?), when I noticed the tag "Images that challenge" on the page. Now that just reminds me of that goofy "Voices that Challenge" hymn by Haas [sorry, now I've reminded all of YOU about it; shall we puke together?]

Anyway, I do like several of Lentz's icons (like St. Ignatius, Catherine of Siena, and of course the one of Dorothy Day), so I dunno. I guess it's kind of TrinityStores to put the more "out there" ones on a separate page.

Thwarted Throne said...


Gives a whole nother meaning to the term "gay icon".

::seriously creeped out::

Seraphic said...

I agree that some of the images are ludicrous (and that "gives 'nother meaning to gay icon" is a good joke), but I am just pushing in to remind readers that some readers are Single because they are NCBs and NCGs with SSA.

I jumped a mile when IA_ introduced the word "gay" into the combox because I want this blog remain a place where Catholic Singles and other Singles of good will who do have SSA feel like part of the community.

Oh dear. I remember listening to a lovely and devout lady enthusing about the film about Harvey Milk and trying, as gently as possible, to point out that it was propaganda.

Pedantic Classicist said...

I don't find the "gay" icons so much a problem (there isn't anything "creepy" about the image of Harvey Milk, stricto sensu) as the MUCH weirder attempts to fuse Christ with pagan/pre-Christian images. I mean, you can make a theological argument for Christ present in every human heart and in some fragmentary way in primitive religion, but I think Lentz's approach here is just too weird and disturbing (partly BECAUSE it's iconic: Christ as "Lord of the Dance"? yuck!)

berenike said...

Our Lord with the antlers and moustache?


I was intrigued by some of his icons, then I looked him up, and burnt, in the kitchen sink, the little "holy card" versions I had.


Alisha said...

Dorothy Day is definitely someone I should know more about...I needed to read this today.
I think you should also post on Catherine Doherty, founder of Madonna House - she is another example of a strong woman, who lived every vocation: single life, married and eventually consecrated :)

The Crescat said...

Dorothy Day is a marvellous model for any single woman [Check!], I think, but particularly for any single mother [Check!], divorced Catholic woman [Check and Check!], or even just a woman who is unhappy about her sexual past [Sigh. check].

I am reading a biography of her, having been confused about her starring movie roles for so long, and am now coming to love this woman with a deep deep passion.