Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Blind Instinct

The ability to oppose the ideological blandishments of her time to choose the search for truth and open herself up to the discovery of faith is evidenced by another woman of our time, the American Dorothy Day. In her autobiography, she confesses openly to having given in to the temptation that everything could be solved with politics, adhering to the Marxist proposal: "I wanted to be with the protesters, go to jail, write, influence others and leave my dreams to the world. How much ambition and how much searching for myself in all this!".

The journey towards faith in such a secularized environment was particularly difficult, but Grace acts nonetheless, as she points out: "It is certain that I felt the need to go to church more often, to kneel, to bow my head in prayer. A blind instinct, one might say, because I was not conscious of praying. But I went, I slipped into the atmosphere of prayer ... ".God guided her to a conscious adherence to the Church, in a lifetime spent dedicated to the underprivileged.

In our time there are no few conversions understood as the return of those who, after a Christian education, perhaps a superficial one, moved away from the faith for years and then rediscovered Christ and his Gospel. In the Book of Revelation we read: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, [then] I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me"(3, 20).

General Audience, February 13, 2013

Reflection – It’s kind of nice to have the Pope talking about Dorothy Day, isn’t it? Probably most of the readers of this blog have at least heard of her and of the Catholic Worker movement she founded. She has an honored place in the history of Madonna House and Catherine Doherty’s life. At a key moment of crisis, when Catherine’s work in Toronto had been shut down by a vicious whisper campaign of gossip and the withdrawal of ecclesial support, a devastating blow to her, Dorothy took her in briefly and gave her help re-establishing herself in Harlem.

Catherine always considered Dorothy a true saint of God, and it does seem like her cause for canonization is proceeding nicely. Papal approbation in a general audience certainly carries some weight.

Meanwhile, here’s you and me in the Lent of 2013, with a pope retiring and the world in a mess. What are we going to do about it? The option of ‘politics’ is always before us. By that, I don’t necessarily mean politicking, radicalism, or getting involved in the local branch of your preferred party. I certainly don’t mean obsessing over the makeup of the College of Cardinals and actively campaigning for the papabile of your choice (have you noticed that I have sternly ignored that topic on the blog? I will continue to do so.).

No, politics is a much broader field than all that. It means finding the solution to the world and its problems, my life and its problems, in the external manipulation of events, people, situations to my favor. Politics is from polis – city – and politics is all about getting the city shaped up and in order according to our best ideas of it.

Politics is not evil—some things do need to be organized, and God does ask us to take care of them—but what of Dorothy Day? What of this blind instinct to pray, to bow the head, to turn to God? What of this God who stands at the door and knocks? ‘Politics’ in its various expressions is the outward visible course of the world; faith and prayer are like a subterranean spring running along beneath the surface of the world. But without that spring, the world is in a terrible state of thirst, of drought.

Without faith and prayer, our politics tend towards self-serving avarice and vainglorious pride. It is prayer that continually orients us away from self and to God and neighbor. It is prayer that turns our hearts towards the poor, towards deep concerns for justice and charity. It is prayer that humbles us, that tenderizes us, that makes us cry out to God for wisdom and mercy in the face of a world that is in deep trouble and distress.
It is Lent 2013, Tuesday of the first week. How’s your prayer going? How’s mine? It is this turning to God that is so utterly crucial in our world today, racked by petty politics and self-seeking, by unmanned drones and death panels and folly of all kinds. Dorothy Day prayed, and gave her life to the service of the poor. So pray… and see what God asks you to do about all of it.


  1. It was actually Dorothy Day, in a sense, that led me to Madonna House. After reading her books and praying about service to the poor, Rose and I quit our jobs and went to work at an Apostolate, Unity Acres, that was greatly influenced by the Catholic Worker movement and Madonna House. I did my first Poustinia there after reading the book POUSTINIA. We went to Cana Colony a year later (1979) and the rest is history.

    1. Well, hurray for Dorothy Day, in that case! Hope you are well, and can make it up this way this year.

  2. Dorothy Day has always been my Hero. Although she was very busy she always answered her mail. And what guidance she gave. It would be lovely for her to become a saint of our time but she definitely would not have like it at all. My hero.

    1. Yes, she really was something else. Well, the only reason we 'make' people saints is so that their lives can be known to the world, so let's hope she gets there, even if she wouldn't like it too much;).

    2. Father Denis,
      I do not think Dorthy Day was very much interested in politics either...I do not ever remember her expressing strong partisan views...she was critical but not partisan.
      Probably, her pacicism most clearly demonstarted her politics- because she often quoted passages from the sermoin on the moount "love your enemies, dogood to thise who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who calumniate you. And to him who strikes thee on on cheek, offer the other also, and from him who take away thy cloak, do not withhold thy tunic also"
      Her basic idea was that Jesus went beyond ethics and he meant for peace and love to be a way of life. In this way she and Catherine were very much alike. Ithink it was a MH person who told me that Catherine was there in Rome with Dorothy praying/welcoming Pacem in Terris. Dorothy went back to Rome after John 23rds death, but before vatican 2 ended to pray and fast..again trying for words for this pacificism. Gd gave both Dorothy and Catherine a messgae for the whole church
      They both loved the little flower too- although they enfleshed her words differently.
      i do not think she ever believed that she had a catholic mind- and I rmmber her writing that is why God gave her Peter Maurin. That idea of catholic personalism. I loved her even more for that.
      Here is one of my favorite quotes from Dorothy..it is from my journal- from On Pilgrimage I think: "To love with understanding and without understnading. To love blindly and to folly. To see only what is lovable. To think only on these things. To see th best in everyone around, their virtues rather than their faults. To see Christ in them." She was always tryng to say that love is more than the experience of it, its grace is in what is accomplished by means of it, in the work of love.
      Sorry, I guess I sort of got writing here...
      Bless you.


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