Wisdom from a Catholic Radical

Dorothy Day started the Catholic Worker Movement, which is most known for the Houses of Hospitality (www.catholicworker.org/) She ran with Eugene Debs, Lucy Parsons, the Haymarket martyrs and other IWW’s (Industrial Workers of the World). She witnessed the framing and killing of dear friends during the frenzy of the red scare. As an atheist, she also got burned out fast. Her conversion came as a result of 30 days of solitary confinement for a hunger strike, leading her, eventually to the Catholic Church.

She came to embody a radicalism that was sustained and founded on orthodoxy and love for the Church, one that inspires and gives me hope today. It was precisely her love for the church that fueled her desire to change the Church. And when I come to places where I am burned and frustrated with the Institution, with decisions like the one made recently in the Lancaster Conference to deny women ordination–decisions that deny imago Dei, that deny humanity to God’s children, I turn to the authentic voices of people like Day. And I am able to rejoice once more in this life, I am able to hope once more, and I am called once again not to leave, but to remain–I am reminded that my love for the Church only intensifies the pain of exclusion and injustice carried out in the scandals of the church. The Church is indeed that which brings “Christ to humanity…enabling us to put on Christ and to achieve more nearly in the world a sense of peace and unity.”

Her prophetic voice is not one spoken over and against the Institution, but right at the center of it. A voice, and more importantly a life, we can all learn from:

“I loved the Church for Christ made visible. Not for itself, because it was so often a scandal to me. Romano Guardini said the Church is the Cross on which Christ was crucified…the scandal of businesslike priests, of collective wealth, the lack of a sense of responsibility for the poor, the worker, the Negro, the Mexican, the Filipino, and even the oppression of these, and the consenting to the oppression of them by our industrialist-capitalist order–There was plenty of charity but too little justice. And yet the priests were the dispensers of the Sacraments, bringing Christ to humanity, all enabling us to put on Christ and to achieve more nearly in the world a sense of peace and unity…”

“I pray because I am happy, not becuase I am unhappy. I did not turn to God in unhappiness, in grief, in despair-to get consolation, to get something from God. I was praying becuase I wanted to thank God. No matter how dull the day, how long the walk seemed, if I felt sluggish at the beginning of the walk, the words I had been saying insinuated themselves into my heart before I had finished, so that one the trip back I neither prayed nor thought, but was filled with exultation…My very experience as a radical, my whole make-up, led me to want to associate myself with others, with the masses, in loving and praising God.” (The Long Loneliness, 133)

Comments (4)

  1. Hootsbuddy

    I’m so glad you have discovered Dorothy Day. I came across a discarded issue of The Catholic Worker some forty-five years ago and became a subscriber from then to now. They have about played out, I think, but at one cent per issue it was one thing that I could afford as a student. Her “On Pilgtamage” columns were an inspiration to me and the Catholic Worker has been a touchstone of my faith since.

    I am not suitable material to be her kind of radical, but I have nothing but the deepest respect for the causes and thinking that she (and you guys as well) advance. If you have not already done so, you might want to read Robert Coles’ excellent biography of Dorothy Day, A radical Devotion. Coles is a student and intellectual heir to Erik Erikson, another great mind who tried to make sense of the madness of our time.

  2. ST

    Angie, I am going to bounce off of your article into what happened last week at the Southern Cone conference.

    Thanks for this.

  3. Pingback: In a different spirit » Young Anabaptist Radicals

  4. Jason

    How strange I should find this post. Today I am questioning my religious affiliation. Weird. Most people wouldn’t even question something like that. Most people would not even consider Christianity an “affiliation”. But today I questioned it. Being Catholic I often wonder: Is the Roman Catholic Church being true to the teachings of Christ? Peace, justice, love and care for the sick, poor, and those in prison? You answered my question. It is with the individual Christian (the parts of the body of Christ) that we find the evidence. So now I question myself (and not my denomination). Am I being true to Christ?

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