Thursday, February 12, 2009
Will Dorothy Day Be Beatified? [UPDATED]
As some of my readers know, I have a special devotion to Dorothy Day (above, with her daughter Tamar). I am a member of her guild, and pray every day for her beatification, as well as for her help and guidance in my life. There are certain salient things we share that make her a natural intercessor for me: the left-wing background, the reckless bohemianism in New York City, the abortion, the divorce, the conversion.
At the same time (barring proven miracles), I have my doubts about her beatification coming within my lifetime, just because her ethos is so other in today's Catholic world. As everyone knows, this is a time of great struggle and polarization in the Catholic Church, not only over the usual issues (ordination of women, the administration of the sex abuse scandals), but also over overarching issues of the tone that the Church should adopt in the twenty-first century. While liberals want women and married men to be ordained and grave sins to be converted in the Catholic imagination into lesser ones, conservatives long for a return to the more clearly defined relationships between faithful, clergy, and country of the pre-Vatican II era. While liberals loved John Paul II for re-emphasizing Leo XIII's championing of the rights of workers and the poor, they were uncomfortable with his unstinting opposition to abortion and the commoditization of human life (as if such a stance were something new for the Church), and his suppression of liberation theology in the Third World. Likewise, while conservatives love Benedict XVI for his vocal defense of human life, his articulate othodoxy, and his lifting of the general restrictions against the Latin Mass, they try to downplay his harsh criticism of capitalism, which goes even further than that expressed by John Paul II in the 1981 encyclical Laborem Exercens (Benedict wrote, for instance, in his 2003 book Jesus of Nazareth of "the cruelty of capitalism that degrades man into merchandise" and "the dangers of wealth").
In my experience, which I'll blog about more when I get back to my "There and Back" series, Catholics in America -- mistakenly, I believe -- tend to align their commitment to their faith with their political beliefs, with both sides (i.e. liberal and conservative Catholics) feeling as if they're under siege according to the current sway of temporal political power in the nation. Right now, for instance, some conservative Catholics are hinting at impending victimization and ideological martyrdom under the Obama administration. Will it happen? God knows I hope not. I understand that they believe Obama's statements and actions on abortion while a state legislator and a senator betide the worst for Catholic doctors and laypeople. But I also know that it's human nature to impute unusual virtue and specialness to outsider and even victim status. It's early days to be making these prophecies.
But I'm interested here not in parsing the relationship of Catholics to the Obama administration, but in musing about my patroness, Servant of God Dorothy Day. Will she be beatified?
The late John Cardinal O'Connor, Archbishop of New York, was a great admirer of Day's, and vigorously promoted her cause. But how many Catholics today would be comfortable with a saint who tirelessly protested all and any wars, who was jailed many times, whose mission was not only to comfort the afflicted but also to afflict the comfortable? I do not mean this in any way to denigrate the valiant work of the pro-life movement to gain the rights of full personhood for the unborn, but it strikes me, in thinking about Dorothy Day, that it's a lot easier to love innocent babies than it is to love the unlovely, broken-down poor that she strove to love and serve. And yet this is where Day was doing Christ's work. Christ also afflicts the comfortable -- that is all of us -- by challenging, or, more accurately, commanding that we love those whom we're at best disinclined to love, and at worst horrified by. Love is very, very difficult; it's a lot easier and more fun to hate. Hate gives us the warm feeling of self-justification (or is that warmth really a hint of the fires of hell?). Love forces us down onto the level of those unlovable ones whom Christ commands us to serve. How many of us want to go there?
I remember slipping into a pew during Mass at Saint Patrick's Cathedral one day in 1991 during a lunch break from Sak's Fifth Avenue, where I was working as a cosmetics girl. Cardinal O'Connor was fulminating against the newly-begun first Iraq War. "This is NOT," he thundered, "a just war." How many American Catholics agreed with him then -- agree with him now? How many agree with John Paul II's and Benedict XVI's strong condemnation of the second Iraq War?
It would do us well to remember that being an orthodox Catholic has nothing to do with being politically conservative (or liberal, for that matter). To be truly Catholic confounds those positions utterly. Dorothy Day was a daily Mass-goer who was completely in line with the Magisterium. She was, by this definition, a conservative Catholic.
May Servant of God Dorothy Day intercede for us.
UPDATE: For those who are interested, monthly Masses are held one Saturday each month at 9 AM in the Lady Chapel at Saint Patrick's Cathedral in New York City for the intentions of the Guild for Dorothy Day. The remaining dates this year are February 14, March 14, April 18, May 16, June 20, July 11, August 8, September 12, October 10, November 14, and December 12. If you are unable to attend, you may wish to unite with the Guild in prayer at those times.
Toby Danna has linked to this post and also to an essay by Paul Likoudis, news editor of The Wanderer, who makes the case that not only should Day be canonized, she should also be acclaimed as a Doctor of the Church. Read it here.