On the Front Page

Although she died in 1980, Dorothy Day made the front page of  The New York Times yesterday.   Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbiship of the New York Diocese, has been talking about this divorced mother, journalist and social activist.

How did a woman with a “bohemian” youth,  including an abortion, who rejected religion find her way to God? And possibly sainthood?

“She completely trusted God’s love for her and did not wallow in guilt over the mistakes of the past”. (Stephen J. Krupa, S.J., America Magazine)  Her path to God is one of joy and love, chronicled in her autobiography, From Union Square to Rome.

The birth of her daughter, Tamar Teresa, catapulted Day into God’s arms.

Day could think of nothing better to do with the gratitude that overwhelmed her than arrange Tamar’s baptism in the Catholic Church.  “I did not want my child to flounder as I had often floundered. I wanted to believe, and I wanted my child to believe, and if belonging to a Church would give her so inestimable a grace as faith in God, and the companionable love of the Saints, then the thing to do was to have her baptized a Catholic.”

(from A Biography of  Dorothy Day, by Jim Forest)

Day was already committed to causes of social justice, labor rights, and poverty.  This experience offered her another path into God.   Day so identified with the poor that she co-founded the Catholic Worker Movement, and voluntarily spent her life in poverty, operating ‘houses of hospitality’ for the needy.

The mystery of poverty is that by sharing in it, making ourselves poor in giving to others, we increase our knowledge of and belief in love.” (Dorothy Day)

A post-election political angle was picked up by the NY Times.  Day is of interest to both poverty-motivated (left-wing) and right-to-life driven (right-wing) Catholics.  Cardinal Dolan calls her a “saint for our time”, and a woman whose journey inspires.

For us, her faith journey is very well documented, and an inspiration to those of us, who, like her, live in a modern world.  Her faith was the basis for her life, and her life is a testament to God.  

“Your love for God is only as great as the love you have for the person you love the least.”

Whether she ends up titled ‘Saint’, or not, Dorothy Day is a model of strength and justice, especially in this Year of Faith.   Most of us will never make the front page for our spiritual journey or charitable efforts.  No need to.  Our job is to keep God on the front page of our lives.

Sins of the Saints

Saints were not always saintly.  What sins did our models of holiness commit before turning to God?  Where did they start?  If they were able to grow beyond their weaknesses, can we?

You may have heard Augustine’s famous quote: “Lord, give me chastity.  But not yet.” Augustine (354 -430 a.d.) wrote an entire book of Confessions.  He fathered a child with his concubine, drank liberally and lived a hedonistic lifestyle for many years.

As an intellectual, he studied philosophy and religion. Inspired by his study of St. Anthony of the Desert, and a mystical voice telling him to “Pick up and read,” Augustine converted to Christianity in his early 30’s.  As his knowledge grew, his grace and relationship with God grew too.  Augustine became a Bishop and Doctor of the church. 

Thomas Merton (1915-1968)  a Trappist monk and one of the most influential modern spiritual writers of the Catholic Church (including the best-selling autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain) is said to have fathered a child during his ‘worldly’ youth, before he entered the priesthood.  Merton converted to Catholicism while at Columbia University.

Known for his commitment to non-violence and plain-spoken theological reflections, Merton is not a saint yet, but he is a great inspiration.  One of his many famous quotes:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. (Thoughts in Solitude)

Dorothy Day half-length portrait, seated at de...

Dorothy Day half-length portrait, seated at desk, facing right (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dorothy Day (1897-1980), Servant of God, worked for social justice and peace, and founded the Catholic Worker Movement.  As a young adult, she had an abortion.  Later, after the birth of her daughter and her newfound passion for the gospel, she lived a life that many call saintly.  Quote:

“Don’t call me a saint — I don’t want to be dismissed that easily.”

St. Ignatius (1492 -1556) was a passionate soldier and a man admired by women.  His sins are not clear, but he spent years atoning for them.  While recuperating from a battle injury, he was given a book about the life of Jesus instead of a book about romance, which could not be found.

He discovered that thoughts of, and from, God filled him with peace and tranquility; other thoughts might excite him briefly, but left his heart heavy in the end.  Ignatius went on to found the Society of Jesus, as well as give us the Spiritual Exercises which are still in wide use today.

(Note:  this post neither condones nor invites you to do all those sinful things you’re thinking about!  But you knew that.)

These people made a decision to follow God.  We consider them holy.

Their lives did not change in one lightning-strike moment.  They thought, they prayed, they learned about God and studied their faith.  Day by day, year by year, they grew closer to God.  As this relationship strengthened, so did their awareness of goodness and their desire to do what God asked of them.

You too can walk these stairs.  Just take it one step at a time.  Use the Year of Faith as an impetus to begin.  Do one thing today.

Pop into church (temple…) for a prayer.  Bow your head and ask God for his help (remember, you already have his love.)  Ask for forgiveness, and grace.  Get that spiritual book you’ve been meaning to read.  Check out  Sacred Space.  Open the Bible and read a few lines.  Write the prayer that comes to your mind. Find something for which you are grateful.

Just start. Just one thing. It can lead to wondrous places.