Tuesday, March 30, 2010
In Praise of Dorothy Day
This is my fourth “in praise of …” posting, and I am now happy to be able to pay tribute to Dorothy Day (1897-1980), a person I have long admired and recently learned a lot more about.
Last week I finished reading Love Is the Measure: A Biography of Dorothy Day (1986) by Jim Forest. It was a very helpful book that greatly increased my understanding of Day’s life, thought, and actions. On the evening of the same day, I enjoyed seeing “Haunted by God: The Life of Dorothy Day,” a one-woman performance by Lisa Wagner-Carollo staged in the Mabee Theater at Rockhurst University.
Dorothy Day is best known as the co-founder (in 1932) of The Catholic Worker—a newspaper that from the beginning has sold for one cent a copy—and the Catholic Worker (CW) movement, which has established houses of hospitality for the poor in many American cities. When June and I visited the CW-related Holy Family House on E. 31st Street in Kansas City a couple of years ago, we were quite impressed with the loving service being rendered there.
I have long admired Dorothy Day because of her commitment to the poor and mistreated people of the world. Forest points out that she often said, “Those who cannot see Christ in the poor are atheists indeed.” And then he remarks: “She was a Christian missionary, not to heathens but rather to fellow Christians, hoping to convert them to a faith they thought was theirs already” (p. 105).
Dorothy Day was not baptized as a (Catholic) Christian until she was thirty years old, but she increasingly became a believer who tried to live out what she understood to be the teaching of Christ and the Bible. She often cited the words of St. John of the Cross, “Love is the measure by which we shall be judged,” and the title of Forest’s biography of her was from that statement.
I also have long been a “fan” of Dorothy Day because of her unswerving commitment to pacifism. Forest reports, “Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the U.S. declaration of war, The Catholic Worker published a banner headline which indicated that Dorothy’s pacifist commitment was unshaken” (p. 102). The headline was,
WE CONTINUE OUR CHRISTIAN PACIFIST STAND
As I was reading Day’s biography while at Windermere (see the previous posting), during the (to me) offensive general session, I was thinking not just WWJD (what would Jesus do, or say) but WWDD (what would Dorothy do, or say). Although I was not able to come up with a good answer to my questions, I am sure she (or he) would not have been silent in face of what seemed to be the glorification of war.