Sunday, August 23, 2009

Because Dorothy Day Was a Catholic

Dorothy Day was more my political cup of tea: a hunger-striking, pro–Civil Rights, anti–Vietnam War, out-on-the-picket-lines kind of gal. Funny that I didn’t know about her in the 1960s, but only discovered her as a fellow convert last year.

A radical socialist writer in her twenties, Day ended her first pregnancy with an abortion she later regretted deeply. When she became pregnant again, by a man she loved, she chose to have the child baptized in the Catholic Church even though it meant losing her (atheist) lover. When a nun told her that she herself should convert if her child was going to be a Catholic, Day agreed—and began a lifelong journey of faith.

Committed to the working man and woman, she combined social activism with Christian devotion by founding The Catholic Worker, a newspaper that sold for one cent. Its mission was to lure workers away from communism (this was the 1930s) and to show them that the Church had a viable social program for them as well. Inspired by the itinerant evangelist Peter Maurin, she opened the first Catholic Worker House of Hospitality in New York City a year later.

Her autobiography, The Long Loneliness, is one of the great spiritual memoirs I have read. Day’s cause for beatification and canonization was formally opened with Vatican approval in 2000.

Here is a beautiful bit from Dorothy Day’s book Loaves and Fishes:

Someone once described me in an interview as “authoritative.” Later, listening to a tape recording of a talk I had given on the plight of agricultural workers, I had to admit that I did sound didactic. . . . If I am didactic it is because Peter Maurin was my teacher, because he gave me principles to live by and lessons to study, and because I am so convinced of the rightness of his proposals.

“How can you be so sure?” Mike Wallace once asked me in a television interview. He spoke with wonder rather than irritation, because he felt my confidence was rooted in religion. I told him that unless I felt sure I would not speak at all. If I were ever visited by doubts—either religious ones or doubts about my vocation in this movement—I would accept it as a temptation, as a great suffering that I must share with so much of the world today.

Even then, deep within, I would be sure; even though I said to myself, “I believe because I want to believe, I hope because I want to hope, I love because I want to love.” These very desires would be regarded by God as He regarded those of Daniel, who was called a man of desires, and whom He rewarded.