ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Dorothy Day has been proposed for sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church largely because she took seriously the teachings of an itinerant rabbi called Joshua ben Joseph, known to the Greeks as Jesus of Nazareth.
That is to say, the argument for her sainthood is largely that Dorothy Day, the co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, was an uncommonly determined pain in the neck.
Jesus taught that flawed, frail human beings, meaning all of us, have but two obligations: to love God and to love one another. It was a small matter of feeding the hungry, comforting the troubled, sheltering the homeless, caring for the sick and visiting the prisoner.
Unlike nearly everyone else, Dorothy Day did it, and did it all.
Jesus hectored the rich, the sanctimonious, the comfortable and the powerful. He said that we cannot worship both God and money, that the meek, not the mighty, will inherit the earth, and that the proper way to follow him was to begin by giving away what we have to those in need.
Dorothy Day was world-class when it came to hectoring.
Jesus preached peace. Dorothy Day opposed World War I, World War II, the Cold War, the Vietnam War. Any war. She spent many days and nights in jail as a consequence of her opposition to war and her insistence that Jesus was serious when he said we should love our enemies.
Day would have hated the sainthood campaign. She once told an interviewer, “Don’t call me a saint. I don’t want to be dismissed so easily.”
Day was born in Brooklyn in 1897 and raised in Chicago, where her father was a newspaper sports editor. She dropped out of the University of Illinois in 1916 and moved to New York to write for socialist and Catholic newspapers and magazines. She was imprisoned in 1917 for the first time, but hardly the last, for demanding voting rights for women at a rally in front of the White House.
After covering a hunger march in Washington in December 1932, one of several such marches organized during the Depression to seek jobs and help for the unemployed and their families, Day said, “I offered up a special prayer, a prayer which came with tears and anguish, that some way would open up for me to use what talents I possessed for my fellow workers, for the poor.”
The next day a former monk, Peter Maurin, arrived at her door, sent by one of Day’s editors. They decided to start a newspaper, the Catholic Worker, that would promote Catholic social teaching and the peaceful transformation of society. They started publishing in May, and by December, 100,000 copies were printed a month, sold for a penny a copy.
Maurin wrote in the paper that the old Christian practice of hospitality for the homeless should be revived and that every home should have a “Christ room” to receive “ambassadors of God.” The homeless began appearing at Day’s door. They found a bed, food, clothes and love. Catholic Worker began opening houses and farms all over the area, then all over the world. There are two Catholic Worker houses in Albuquerque today.
So, just a nice, charitable woman who didn’t mind crowded apartments? Hardly.
Day hated charity. She wanted to know what sort of a system could allow willing workers to go without jobs, hungry children to go without meals, luckless families to go without shelter. She loved, but it could be a furious love.
She wrote in 1949, “We believe in loving our brothers regardless of race, color or creed, and we believe in showing this love by working for better conditions immediately and the ultimate owning by the workers of their means of production. We believe in an economy based on human needs rather than on the profit motive.” She disagreed with “political parties who are trying to maintain the American way of life. We don’t think it’s worth maintaining.”
She said she wanted “to make the rich poor and the poor holy, and that, too, is a revolution obnoxious to the pagan man. We don’t want luxury. We want land, bread, work, children and the joys of community in play and work and worship.”
“Our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system,” she wrote. It would be overthrown, she said, by “a revolution of the heart.” By love, in other words.
“Love and ever more love is the only solution to every problem that comes up,” Day wrote. “If we love each other enough, we will bear with each other’s faults and burdens. If we love enough, we are going to light a fire in the hearts of others. And it is love that will burn out the sins and hatreds that sadden us. It is love that will make us want to do great things for each other. No sacrifice and no suffering will then seem too much.”
Dorothy Day died on Nov. 29, 1980, a vexing and demanding woman in the service of a vexing and demanding God whose incarnation in the person of Joshua ben Joseph and whose message of love, no matter how vexing and demanding it is, we are invited to ponder this day, if we dare.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Winthrop Quigley at 823-3896 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal