It takes a deep faith in Jesus to speak the truth about Jesus, and only one with the deepest of faith will dare to speak the truth that Jesus spoke. One who did was Dorothy Day [1897-1980] who founded the Catholic Worker Movement and is a current candidate for canonization.
Author Jim Forest knew Dorothy as a coworker and friend and his recent release, “ALL IS GRACE: A Biography of Dorothy Day” draws from Dorothy’s personal letters and diaries to presents us with a ‘saint’ who knew herself to be “a mean impatient soul” although others called her holy.
In her early twenties, Dorothy hung with playwrights, socialists, communists, anarchists, bohemians, chain-smoked, drank and wrote an autobiographical novel based on her passionate love affair that broke up the day she had an abortion and rebound into a marriage to a man sixteen years her senior that broke up when she realized she was using him.
Not long afterwards, as an unwed mother she shocked her progressive friends when she announced she was entering the Roman Catholic Church and from the inside, she also began to critique it and agitated church as much as state in The Catholic Worker newspaper she founded in 1933.
In her penny a copy paper, Day publically proclaimed her faith and commitment to the poor, to seek social justice and struggle for a green revolution and new society “where it is easier to be good.”
Day understood that only the works of mercy could lead to justice and peace and she readily challenged the works of war.
The works of mercy include feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the needy, visiting prisoners, sheltering the homeless and caring for the ill.
Day is famous for noting that “all our problems stem from our acceptance of this dirty rotten system” and it disturbed her deeply that more was done to provide a degree of relief for victims of social evils then was ever done to rid society of those evils.
“There were day nurseries for children, but why didn’t fathers get money enough to care for their families so that mothers would not have to work? Men with all their manhood drained out of them by industrialism [and debt.] Where were the saints to try to change the social order, not just minister to the slaves but to do away with the slavery?”
Dorothy is also famous for proclaiming, “Don’t call me a saint, I won’t be dismissed so easily” meaning she believed we are all called to be saints and all a saint is, is anyone who attempts to follow Jesus and live according to the Sermon on the Mount.
Dorothy Day understood that God is Love and “Love is not the starving of whole populations. Love is not the bombardment of open cities. Love is not killing. Our manifesto is the Sermon on the Mount, which means that we will try to be peacemakers.”
Dorothy used labels like “pacifist” and “anarchist” in describing herself. By pacifist she meant a rejection of all war and by anarchy she meant taking personal responsibility and NOT expecting the government nor needing the state to solve our problems.
Dorothy’s concept of anarchy was a “religious one stemming from the life of Jesus on earth who came to serve rather than be served.”
For this struggling Christian anarchist, anarchy for me means Rebellion against UNJUST laws.
The Yang/male force of anarchy resists authority and causes disorder and is socially and politically incorrect by the norms of the status quo for it seeks the higher ground of justice.
The Yin/feminine force of anarchy births a new order out of the chaos and chaos is creativity in action.
Dorothy also called herself a “personalist” a term coined by cofounder of The Catholic Worker Movement, Peter Maurin who defined it as a person seeking to reform himself and not one seeking to reform the state.
Gandhi knew one had to become the change one wanted to see in the world before the change can come and Maurin instructed, “Don’t criticize what is not being done. See what there is to do, fit yourself to it, then do it.”
Maurin also wrote that he “was not afraid of the word communism” but that it should not be imposed on anyone. Maurin proposed a green revolution in the 1930’s to encompass “houses of hospitality where works of mercy could be practiced to combat the taking over by the state of all those services which could be built by mutual aid; and farming communes to provide land and homes for the unemployed.”
In his series of “Easy Essays” published in The Catholic Worker during the Depression, Maurin provoked comfortable Christians as he challenged the state:
People go to Washington asking the government to solve their economic problems, while the Federal government was never intended to solve men’s economic problems.
Thomas Jefferson says, “the less government there is, the better it is.”
If the less government there is, the better it is; the best kind of government is self-government…
People who are in need and are not afraid to beg give to people not in need the occasion to do good for goodness sake.
Modern society calls them beggar bum and panhandler and gives them the bum’s rush, but the Greeks used to say that people in need are ambassadors of the gods.
As God’s ambassadors you should be given food, clothing, and shelter by those who are able to give it.
Mohammedan teachers tell us that God commands hospitality. And hospitality is still practices in Mohammedan countries.
But the duty of hospitality is neither taught nor practiced in Christian countries.
Maurin and Dorothy challenged the corruption of the gospel [good news] that Jesus taught was non-negotiable for his follower’s: that one must forgive to be forgiven and love-even those who do not love back and to always remain nonviolent.
Both worked “as though everything depended on” them and prayed, “as though everything depended on God.”
ALL IS GRACE tells the story of how after years of struggle Dorothy gave up her addiction to cigarettes via persistence in prayer. For decades Dorothy’s day had begun with lighting up and her big sacrifice for Lent had become quitting smoking for 40 days. But because her deprivation made her incredibly irritable everyone around her would be praying she would go light up and inhale deeply. One year a priest urged her not to give up smoking for Lent but instead to pray, “Dear God, help me quit smoking.”
Years went by without any impact on her addiction until one morning as Dorothy reached for her first cigarette of that day, she realized she didn’t want it and never smoked again.
ALL IS GRACE also sheds more light upon her addiction to Forster Batterham, the man she called her husband although they never legally married.
Battherham was as rigid in his anarchy as he was in his atheism and although he loved the daughter he and Dorothy shared, he refused to marry and Dorothy finally ended their passionate sexual encounters because of her Catholic conscience, but their friendship and love endured their lives.
Dorothy said anyone who failed to see Christ in the poor was an “atheist indeed” and that a saint who inspired her was Joan of Arc because Joan was a “saint of conscience” and it was Dorothy’s conscience that led her to speak out after Pearl Harbor, when even “the most committed pacifist might have been forgiven for maintaining a discreet silence…There was nothing discreet about Dorothy Day.”- Erwin Knoll, The Progressive, 1994.
On the day after the Japanese attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor Day stood at a microphone and announced:
“There is now all this patriotic indignation about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and Japanese expansionism in Asia. Yet not a word about American and European colonialism in this same area. We, the British, the French, and others set up spheres of influence…control national states-against the expressed will of these states-and represent imperialism.
“We dictate to [all] to where they can expand economically and politically, and we declare what policy they must observe. From our nationalistic and imperialistic point of view, we have every right to concentrate American military forces [everywhere we chose].
“But I waste rhetoric on international politics-the breeding grounds of war over the centuries. The balance of power and other empty slogans inspired by a false and flamboyant nationalism have bred conflict throughout ‘civilized’ history.
“And it has become too late in human history to tolerate wars which none can win. Nor dare we quibble about just wars
“All wars are, by their very nature, evil and destructive. It has become too late for civilized people to accept this evil. We must take a stand. We must renounce war as an instrument of policy.
“Evil enough when the finest of our youth perish in conflict and even the causes of these conflicts were soon lost to memory. Even more horrible today when cities go up in flames and brilliant scientific minds are searching out ultimate weapons.
“War must cease. There are no victories. The world can bear the burden no longer. Yes, we must make a stand. Even as I speak to you, I may be guilty of what some men call treason. But we must reject war: Yes, we must now make a stand. War is murder, rape, ruin, death; war can end our civilization. I tell you that within a decade we will have weapons capable of ending this world as we have known it.”
In the spring of 1955, a New York state wide civil defense drill “Operation Alert” was announced with a warning that anyone refusing to take shelter-such as going into subways, basements, or under school desks-during the drill would risk a year in prison and a $500.00 fine.
Day was among a few other pacifists who converged in front of City hall in lower Manhattan on the day of the drill, “In the name of Jesus, who is God, who is Love, we will not obey this order to pretend, to evacuate, to hide. We will not be drilled into fear. We do not have faith in God if we depend on the Atom Bomb.”
As 679 warning sirens wailed and millions of New Yorkers ducked and covered, Day and a few others who dissented from partaking in a rehearsal for a nuclear war pretending that such a war would be survivable, were arrested and bail was set at $1,500.00 for “defying the White House, Pentagon, governor, the national mood, the habit of war and refusing to get ready for war.”
Dorothy said, “Silence means consent and we cannot consent to the militarization of our country without protest. Since we believe that air raid drills are part of a calculated plan to inspire fear of the enemy [instead of the love which Jesus told us of] we must protest these drills. It is an opportunity to show we mean what we write when we repeat over and over that we are put on this earth to love God and our neighbor.”
Dorothy and others were arrested annually, growing numbers of individuals and groups throughout the state refused to comply and the press finally reported the war drills were “an exercise in futility” before Civil Defense officials and politicians admitted defeat and ended the compulsory drills.
Dorothy was a prolific writer who knew how hard writing is “because you are giving yourself away, but if you love; you want to give yourself. You write as you are impelled to write, about man and his problems, his relation to God and his fellows…The sustained effort of writing, of putting [words down while] there are human beings [with] sickness, hunger, sorrow…I feel that I have done nothing well, but I did something.”
I know that feeling and doing something is one of my mantras. One thing I have done is spin the Christian Manifesto;
The Sermon on The Mount for the 21st Century this way:
About 2,000 years ago, when Christ was about 33, he hiked up a hill and sat down under an olive tree and began to teach the people;
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.”
In other words: it is those who know their own spiritual poverty, their own limitations and ‘sins’ honestly and trust God loves them in spite of themselves who already live in the Kingdom of God.
How comforted we will all be, when we see, we haven’t got a clue, as to the depth and breadth of pure love and mercy of The Divine Mystery of The Universe.
God’s name in ancient Aramaic is Abba which means Daddy as much as Mommy and He/She: The Lord has said, “My ways are not your ways. My thoughts are not yours.” -Isaiah 55:8
Christ proclaimed more: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
The essence of meek is to be patient with ignorance, slow to anger and never hold a grudge. In other words: how comforted you will be when you also know humility; when you know yourself, the good and the bad, for both cut through every human heart.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, they will be filled.”
In other words: how comforted you will be when your greatest desire is to do what “God requires, and he has already told you what that is; BE JUST, BE MERCIFUL and walk humbly with your Lord.”-Micah 6:8
“Blessed are the merciful, they will be shown mercy.”
In other words: how comforted you will all be when you choose to return only kindness to your ‘enemy.’
“For with the measure you measure against another, it will be measured back to you” Christ warns his disciples as he explains the law of karma in Luke 6:27-38.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they see God.”
In other words: how comforted you will be when you WAKE UP and see God is already within you, within every man, every woman and every child. The Supreme Being is everywhere, the Alpha and Omega, beginning and end. Beyond The Universe -and yet so small; within the heart of every atom.
“Blessed are The Peacemakers: THEY shall be called the children of God.”
And what a wonderful world it would be when we all seek peace by pursuing justice; for there can be none without the other.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires, theirs is The Kingdom of Heaven.”
And one fine day the lion will lie down with The Lamb and man will make war no more; and create a sisterhood of man.
PS: The only ‘sin’ is selfishness.