URC Daily Devotion Monday 17th April 2023 Dorothy Day
Monday 17 April 2023 Dorothy Day, Servant of God
Photo Mottke Weisman, Loaves and Fishes
Dorothy Day (November 8, 1897 – November 29, 1980) was an American journalist, social activist, and anarchist who, after a bohemian youth, became a Catholic without abandoning her social and anarchist activism. Raised in a nominally Christian home she started to attend an Episcopal Church as a child and was drawn by the liturgy and music being baptised and confirmed in 1911. She graduated high school but dropped out of university and moved to New York to work on various socialist periodicals. She celebrated the Russian revolution and became active in the women’s suffrage movement. She had an unhappy affair which led to an abortion and in 1920 entered into a civil marriage which lasted only a year. In the mid 1920s she took another lover and had a child with him but, at the same time, became more and more interested in Catholicism. Her partner refused to marry her due to his antipathy to organised religion and they split but remained lifelong friends. Day was received into the Catholic Church in December 1927.
The effects of the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression led Day to wish the Catholics would organise on behalf of the workers like the Communists did: “I could write, I could protest, to arouse the conscience, but where was the Catholic leadership in the gathering of bands of men and women together, for the actual works of mercy that the comrades had always made part of their technique in reaching the workers?” She met the French radical Peter Maurin and, with him, founded the
Catholic Worker – a cheap newspaper designed to help the working class organise and to promote radical Catholic social thought. In this newspaper, Day advocated the Catholic economic theory of distributism, which she considered a third way between capitalism and socialism. Despite its uncomfortable radicalism the hierarchy supported the paper as a useful, to them, buffer against the Communist, Daily Worker.
Day, and the Catholic Worker, adopted a pacifist position meaning their circulation and popularity dropped during the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War. Day’s pacifism was a hallmark of her campaigning and writing for the rest of her life. She praised the reforms of the Second Vatican Council particularly its declaration that nuclear weapons were incompatible with Christian teaching. She was very critical of the counter cultural hippie movement of the 1960s and 70s seeing them as middle class people who had not really suffered. She was intolerant of the promiscuity and drug use she perceived in that movement. She died in 1980 of a heart attack and was declared a Servant of God (the first step on the path to sainthood in 2000.
Reading James 5: 1 – 5
Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.
Sainthood is a funny old thing. We think of the saints as holy folk whose lives of heroic virtue inspire us to live more holy lives. Of course this is part of what the Church does in declaring someone to be a saint. The Church also controls the narrative, and its interpretation, when it comes to saint making. Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is remembered more as the holy virgin who said ‘yes’ to God than the radical revolutionary who sung of God’s power to deny the rich and exalt the poor. By declaring Dorothy Day a Servant of God the Catholic Church has started her on the road to sainthood. I wonder if this is because it is uncomfortable with her.
We might gently sneer at the idea of the Church declaring someone to be a saint – after all saints are a bit like left luggage in our Reformed tradition with some churches dedicated to them and the occasional observance of All Saints Day – if it happens to fall on a Sunday. We’re as good as the Catholic Church, though, at trying to control what makes us uncomfortable. How many times have we:
heard sermons on our passage from James?
realised that the Church isn’t good at organising to help the poor and the dispossessed?
understood that we don’t challenge the government enough – despite regularly reciting the powerful assertion in our Statement of the Nature Faith and Order that civil authorities are called to serve God’s will of justice and peace for all humanity.
There again Dorothy Day is a funny old saint (to be). A strong socialist, yet obedient daughter of the Church. A youthful libertine, yet impatient of the sexual revolution of the 1960s. A challenger of cardinals in labour disputes, yet dogged insister of correct vesture for priests who celebrated mass on Catholic Worker farms. She’s a contradiction, a holy woman who makes us uncomfortable – just as James makes us uncomfortable too.
What we do is very little. But it is like the little boy with a few loaves and fishes. Christ took that little and increased it. He will do the rest.
What we do is so little we may seem to be constantly failing. But so did He fail. He met with apparent failure on the Cross. But unless the seed fall into the earth and die, there is no harvest.
And why must we see results? Our work is to sow. Another generation will be reaping the harvest.
The Rev’d Andy Braunston is the Minister of Digital Worship and a member of the Peedie Kirk in Orkney