Dorothy Day: a saint with "something to offend everyone"
As someone who was never afraid to speak out for her beliefs, Dorothy Day would make a perfect patron saint of activists.
January 4, 2013
Thomas More, the statesman who would not compromise his faith at the behest of King Henry VIII, was elevated to sainthood during a time when Stalin, Hitler, and Mussolini were rising to power. Now, as the United States seems to be locked in a red state/blue state quagmire, the Catholic Church may elevate to sainthood Dorothy Day, a servant of God who could not be pigeonholed as a liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican, or libertarian, and chose to wear no other label than that of Christian.
Last month during their annual meeting, the United States Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) voted to support Dorothy Day’s cause for sainthood. To steal a line from Peter Kreeft about his heroes Jesus and Socrates, Dorothy Day certainly has something to offend everyone.
Founding the Catholic Worker movement during the Great Depression, Day and her colleague Peter Maurin farmed, fed the poor, and published a newspaper to protest wars and the unjust treatment of workers. Although Day is widely accepted by the religious left because of her antiwar stance, as well as her dedication to civil rights, workers’ rights, and the poor, Day has met with a cool reception from many on the right. A host of conservatives, from Rush Limbaugh’s callers to Glenn Beck, to writers and commenters at conservative websites and blogs, have opined that Day was a Communist who flouted Church teachings. These conservatives never provide proof, but only make statements to the effect that she was trying to push the Church in a Communist direction.
This is a shame, as Day’s life has a lot to offer the orthodox Catholic. “Dorothy Day constantly lived her life according to a ‘higher obedience’ that was not subject to political instrumentalization,” said Dr. Chad C. Pecknold, assistant professor of historic and systematic theology at the Catholic University of America, and author of Christianity and Politics: A Brief Guide to the History (Cascade, 2010). “Advancing her cause—especially in the wake of the recent presidential election in which the Catholic vote was divided by a political calculus that her life rejects—is providential for the Church in America.”
Tom Cornell, a deacon assigned to St. Mary’s Parish in Marlboro, New York and co-manager of Peter Maurin Farm, served with Day at the Catholic Worker when he was a young man. In fact, he calls Day his matchmaker, as he and his wife, Monica, literally met over a Catholic Worker soup pot. He agrees that the bishops’ push for Day’s canonization is providential. “Dorothy is a bridge between the so-called left and the so-called right in a polarized church.” He adds, “I don’t think the labels are very helpful.”
Robert Ellsberg, the publisher of Orbis Books and editor of All the Way to Heaven: The Selected Letters of Dorothy Day, knew Day the last five years of her life, and agrees that she is a bridge figure. “She is a symbol of common ground whose witness could bring together people,” he said.
“She didn’t just communicate with Catholics,” Ellsberg added. “She was in touch with Protestants, Jews, and unbelievers, and trying to seek common ground.”
Day continues to be something of an enigma to many. One of the widespread legends about Day is that she was a Communist, a bit of “history” that simply isn’t true. Around the time of her conversion, she worked for the Anti-Imperialist League, which was a Communist front organization. According to Cornell, Day felt a lot of unease about this and talked to her confessor about it.
“He told her, ‘You have a daughter to support—until you can find something else, keep working there,’” he said.
Source: Catholic World Report
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