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Nov 27

Not Dismissed So Easily

Cardinal Dolan is trying to champion the cause for Dorothy Day’s sainthood and score one more Catholic saint for the great city of New York, where Day founded the Catholic Worker, an organization that still exists today all over the world.

Day once said that people shouldn’t call her “a saint”. “I won’t be dismissed that easily” was her famous line, which always makes me think that it must have been a hoot to live in community with her. Her curmudgeonly line makes me smile every time I hear it. She often chided people who had boundless optimism about working with the poor, reminding them how difficult working with the poor can truly be. They can be difficult people and when you’re dedicating your life to their service, that comes with the territory.

She took on Bishops who called her a communist and didn’t want the word Catholic associated with her organization, but in the end she stuck to her mission and won out. The Catholic Worker, like Dorothy, have been far from perfect. While they open their doors to anyone who comes seeking their aid and they treat them as if they were Jesus himself, many find themselves linked more with anarchy than with the Catholic Church. I suppose at times, they’ve been treated not as Jesus would have been treated by members of the hierarchy or others within the institutional church and their rejection of “all things organized” can sometimes grab my sympathy.

But I do wonder what Dorothy and her followers today would think of the church considering her sainthood. My best guess is that they don’t need some kind of imprimatur to make it so. They know that Dorothy was and is a saint already.

And perhaps that is what Dorothy was driving at when she asked people not to call her a saint. After all, Dorothy believed that this was work that we are all called to do. We are all called to take care of the vulnerable from the moment of conception to natural death. Dorothy agonized and repented over the times she did not do this in her life and that inward experience changed her deeply. She wanted to emphasize that this work of hers was not a choice, but rather was the demand of the gospel and if we all cared for just one person in the way she cared for so many–we wouldn’t have a need for an organization like hers.

Calling her a saint, indeed does dismiss not her, but us, far too easily. However, her sainthood gives us all something to emulate, not simply adore and that may just be worth the journey of canonization. Maybe we need to take some time this advent to ask ourselves not how we can admire someone like Dorothy, but rather, how can we challenge ourselves to be more like her?

Dorothy Day would demand nothing less. She wouldn’t dismiss us as saints when we do all the things we do. Instead she’d honor us by living with us, giving of her own heart to those in need and to those nearest to us without measure nor need for rewards or fancy titles.

No. Dorothy would say that being a saint is simply doing all the things that you’re supposed to do anyway. It is the way to avoid sin, the absence of God in the world, that makes one a saint. And the fact that many go hungry and thirsty and that babies die of malnutrition and that the need for safe drinking water places too many in harm’s way, is more than enough evidence that we are a sinful people. Dorothy wouldn’t stand by and watch that happen to her brothers and sisters and she held the government and the church to a higher standard as well.

If that’s not being a saint, well…I’m not sure what is. But Dorothy wouldn’t stand for that. Instead she’d probably call each one of us St. Mike or St. Fran, or St. Marion and challenge us to live up to that title and thus dispense the arrogant need we might have for reward and simply appeal to the fact that we’re supposed to live the kingdom of God and that this is reward enough. What more would we want? Each time she sought more she’d immediately catch herself and bring herself back to that more contemplative space…that long loneliness that she knew so well.

When she met with her heart’s deepest desires she knew how often even she fell short of her own ideals, not lofty ones, although we consider them that. Dorothy Day knew better. She knew we all want more, but are often too frightened to live in pursuit of such radical happiness. We seek comfort and domesticity far more than we seek true peace in our hearts. We claim order when we have our own affairs in order and fail to see the disorder in the world where too many inequities exist. We move easily between the haves and the have nots and all-too-often don’t notice the difference.

Dorothy wouldn’t be having all this talk of sainthood. She’d probably tell the good Cardinal and each of us that if we want to make anyone a saint we should start with ourselves.

And in doing so, we’ll have no need for titles or possessions. Instead God’s love and God’s grace will become all that we’ll ever need.

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1 comment

  1. Gunther

    Excellent and thoughtful reflection.

    The big question is how Dorothy Day’s sainthood will be presented.

    Some years ago, the late Fr Bud Keiser produced a film about Dorothy Day which was rather disappointing in that it placed an undue emphasis on her evolution from abortion-procuring woman of fairly easy virtue to redeemed celibate.

    I don’t think Dorothy would want a sainthood predicated on a modern twist on the Mary Magdalen tale (well, slander, really). But for her work for and with the poor, and her willingness to stand up to obtuse authority she could be a welcome patron saint for all manner of things. It is that aspect of her life we must celebrate, as you have done here so well.

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