Dorothy Day is a complicated gal. She is a controversial woman, some have called for her beatification, some have decried the thought. She was an atheist and then a convert to Catholicism; a lifelong social activist who lived with and served and advocated for the poor. She was no ‘goody two shoes’ who floated among us, she got cranky and was tough. Her politics were controversial; but really they were simple – they were the politics not of a machine but of Christ and His Church. She was devoted to her faith and the Church and the sacraments, her daughter and grandchildren; she struggled to live a life of humble service to others.
In this, she is a good role model, she tried to persevere even when she was ill or irritable or filled with worry. Like the more familiar Mother Teresa, she struggled to see Christ in those she encountered. She was the founder of the well known Catholic Worker Movement, and frankly, was known and still has the reputation of being something of a troublemaker.
She is in good company. Many of our great saints have been irascible, difficult people. I have read of, and spoken with, people who have met Mother Teresa and they too have said, she was a “pistol” and was a force to be reckoned with. It is a saccharin stereotype to think all saints are or were sweet, kindly, easy, and compelling. Sometimes, I suspect God calls those who are willing to be less popular, who can take the heat, with determination. It gives me hope for us pushy folks.
Dorothy was a voracious reader, something else I like about her. I have been reading her diaries, “The Duty of Delight,” (see below) and they are worth your time – though they are slow going. Slow because they are the sort of reading where you scan the entries of everyday life and then a line jumps out and sears you; you have to close the book and catch your breath and think, soak it in for few minutes.
She has a number of famous quotes. But here are one or two of my favorites:
Dorothy quotes Dostoevsky (from the Brothers Karamozov): “Love in practice is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.” (By Father Zossima, in Bros Karamozov) and then she goes on to say:
“Our lives must be a pure act of love, repeated many times over.”
“Life itself is a haphazard, untidy, messy affair.”
Dorothy Day searched for Christ in the men and women she served and struggled to love. Mother Teresa did the same. This is the appeal of these women to me: how they spent their lives in the struggle to serve, to love, better and more; and how in that very attempt, despite failures, frustrations, and frailties, they found their purpose and joy.