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.

UPDATE, 2/13/09:
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.

28 comments:

Karinann said...

I sure hope she will be beatified. She was an amazing woman with whom I, too, have much in common-abortion, divorce, re-version/conversion. She truly saw Christ in the poorest of the poor-much like Bl. Mother Teresa. Thank you for the reminder to pray to her and for her cause. We need her help in today's society.

Marianne said...

I think there's a basic problem with Day's political leanings that are a source of concern re her canonization. The problem is that, in her writings at least, she came across as a bit too comfortable with, for instance, the likes of Stalin, Castro, and Che Guevara. Her writings also display more than a whiff of moral equivalency. Just do a bit of searching on the Catholic Worker website to see what I mean. Surely a person’s attitude toward 20th-century Communist regimes, once the horrors they encompassed became known, must reveal something about that person’s spiritual state. Or not?

Pentimento said...

Marianne, can you direct me to any writings in particular?

Unfortunately, the Catholic Worker movement has, in many ways, deviated from her example.

Marianne said...

Here’s a bit from a 1956 piece on Stalin:

“There will no longer be any official, good natured stories about Stalin. And I might have believed that the present era of self criticism was a sincere attempts to admit past mistakes, past sins, and gigantic ones at that, if it were not for the latest news story yesterday which stated that Stalin was suspected of murdering his second wife, and keeping a harem of young girls! Now everything has said that can be said! If the murder charge won’t stick, then ridicule may do the trick. An old politician becoming senile, with not one "Peaches Browning" with whom to relax after a long day of sentencing old Bolsheviks to be tortured, executed or sent to Siberian wastes (which are no longer wastes, of course) but a harem of them. A touch of the East here, the Oriental despot motif.

I want to take a longer view of history. When Fritz Eichenberg started the job of illustrating The Idiot last year, he found in a second hand store a wonderful book of travel, illustrated, about a journalist’s trip through the Siberian prison camps, and what had started out as a white wash (else it would not have been permitted) turned out to be a damning and terrible indictment of the cruelty of the prison system under the Czar. I want to remember the history of the French revolution, and the revolution of 1848 and the uprisings after the Franco Prussian war, and the more recent persecution of the Church in France in 1905 when again religious orders were suppressed. And I want too, to study more intensively the history of my own country with its glories and its crimes, its ideal and its failures, its virtues and its sins. Newspapers disclose to us the temper of the day, the mind of the day, but the story played up on the front page one morning is often denied on the back page on the next morning.”

And here’s a link to a piece recounting a trip to Cuba in 1962. To me, it sounds as if it’s written by a person who knew nothing about what had happened in the Soviet Union.

Dave said...

Great stuff again, Pentimento.

Pentimento said...

Thanks for the excerpt and the link, Marianne, and for taking the time to find these documents.

I'm not sure what to make of them, but from what I can tell they aren't conclusive in revealing much about Day's political bent, whether orthodox or heterodox. It's impossible to guess at her tone in the excerpt -- is it facetious? Is it sincere? -- perhaps because it's out of context. Does it suggest that she was a fellow traveler? Does it suggest that she was a naive idealist? I can't really tell.

As for the link: again, I don't think it shows anything definitive about Day's political beliefs. In 1962 -- I could be mistaken about this, so please correct me if I am -- there was still reason to be hopeful about the Cuban revolution, wasn't there? Castro had not shown himself to be a tyrannical dictator yet, or at least the press wasn't reporting on it. And what many around the world saw was a great improvement in the lives of Cuba's poor after deposition of the Batista regime.

I'm not sure that these writings show that Day was a communist sympathizer, though perhaps she was. I'm sure that the Vatican officers who are investigating her cause will sift the evidence and decide fairly when the time comes.

Pentimento said...

Thank you for your kind words, Dave. :)

Dave said...

Dorothy Day's life work is crystal clear testimony against the horrors of communism. She could not have known. She may have been duped, but that on its own is no mark against one's spiritual state.

Pentimento said...

Who is a saint? These things, in some cases, are tremendously mysterious. Surely saints have made mistakes in their lives; in fact, we know that they have. (As for politics, Josemaría Escrivá's seeming support for Spanish fascism didn't stop his canonization, which suggests that it had little bearing on his acclamation as a saint.)

At the same time, there is the phenomenon of saints being taken out of context. Saint Francis of Assisi is the traditional example. The evidence suggests that Dorothy Day's followers in the Catholic Worker movement may be doing the same to her.

One of my favorite novels, incidentally, Graham Greene's The End of the Affair, is about an unlikely saint.

Marianne said...

I certainly don’t want to paint Day as being an evil Commie. She was a remarkably brave woman, both in her personal and public life, and a totally committed Christian. But she was also highly intelligent and very well read, so she must have known what was happening in the world. To say she was duped is, I think, an insult to her. Castro showed his true colors very soon after he took power in early 1959 (see Wikipedia for details). Did she do spiritual harm by supporting him, or at least by painting a sympathetic picture of him? If she did, would this weigh into the Vatican’s decisions? Anyway, you really should read the complete articles at those links I gave you to get a better "feel" of her thoughts.

Pentimento said...

Thanks, Marianne - I didn't notice that there was a link for the first excerpt! I will read when I have a bit more time.

Pentimento said...

I don't think that it is insulting, by the way, to suggest that a highly intelligent person like Day might have been "duped" by rosy images of communist regimes. It's human nature to see what we want to see. Certainly many intelligent people were duped by the Potemkin Village P.R. of twentieth-century communism; my grandmother was one, and the ranks include many prominent intellectuals.

Dave said...

I just now realized that you were asking about the *first* Iraq war. Count me among those Catholics who think it a just one even while I think the second is a clear example of the opposite. That is a thoroughly unstudied opinion, and I'm open minded.

The blood-for-oil thing is certainly a concern, but we freed a nation unjustly occupied with unusually little direct harm to non-combatants. Then we left.

Pentimento said...

My question was more rhetorical than literal -- I simply wanted to demonstrate how being truly Catholic usually means confounding expectations of black-and-white political alliances.

I also think Marianne has brought up a complicated issue of one's own culpability in being misled. If Day was misled in the way she approached totalitarian regimes, was she culpable simply because of her intelligence? I would have to say no, categorically. If she was mistaken, she was mistaken; she certainly did not consciously choose to support evil. Being mistaken is not necessarily an indictment of one's spiritual state.

Phil Runkel said...

In addition to Day's articles on her trip to Cuba, see entries in The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day(Marquette University Press, 2008),in particular that of 2 September 1962..

Pentimento said...

Thanks for commenting, Phil. Is this excerpt available through Google Books or otherwise electronically, so that readers here can easily access it?

Maclin said...

I am certainly no expert on these things, but I don't believe political views, within some pretty broad limits, would be a barrier to canonization. I don't think the Church expects perfect political judgment from saints. Personally I've always felt a bit distant from DD in part because of her politics, particularly her pacifism, but that's not a judgment about her sanctity (regarding which I don't have an informed opinion). I certainly have a lot of respect for her.

Of course there are practical political considerations--I'm sure a lot of human prejudices get involved in canonization proceedings. There could be cardinals for whom a certain leftist leaning could be attractive, others who would object.

All that said, I must admit that the excerpt from her Cuba trip has a definite air of the dupe about it. The Russians were constructing sites for nuclear missiles at the same time Day was there (the crisis erupted a month or so later).

Pentimento said...

As I said, I don't think it's an insult to suggest that Day was duped; as we know, many good people were. The mistake is to believe that those people were consciously trying to abet or advance an evil system. That is just not true. This is probably fodder for another post, but I think we can be pretty confident that the majority of 20th-century American communists and their sympathizers truly believed that they were working to advance the ends of justice and compassion. As my mother said of my grandmother, she believed that this was the way that America would truly be able to live up to its promise of democracy for all people.

Mac said...

Certainly--I think that pretty much goes without saying, or ought to. But it does raise questions about their judgment. Did I ever tell you about my brief correspondence with Pete Seeger? This was in the early '80s. As far as I know he is about as nice a guy as could be (that's certainly the way he came across to me), but he still didn't really believe the truth about communism--to him it was about "jobs and peace" or something. I wonder if I still have that letter. (He wrote me, out of the blue, because he had seen something I wrote in a Catholic paper saying that communism had actually killed more people than fascism.)

Pentimento said...

Wow - Pete Seeger wrote you? Cool! Like all good left-wing families, we had his children's records growing up.

He's still alive, and he's involved now with trying to clean up the Hudson, a worthy cause. But he is one man who was -- and, according to you, is -- hopelessly naïve about communism.

Marianne said...

One of the problems for me in this discussion is that I wonder when a person’s political stance becomes something more than simply “political.” Does this happen when something huge like the repression (and worse) in the Soviet Union is taking place and a person, who happens to be a writer among other things, ignores it? Would not a saint be required to bear witness to its monstrosities in the way, say, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (who, of course, did much more than that) did in Nazi Germany?

Pentimento said...

This is an excellent question, and it raises even more questions about what characteristics qualify one for sainthood. Don't forget that Bonhoeffer lived under Nazism and saw its horrors first-hand. Day, however, had no such experience. As to whether saints are required to bear witness to the evils of totalitarian regimes that exist in their time -- I don't think that is a requirement. Once again I offer the example of Saint Josemaría Escrivá, who offered no such witness against Spanish totalitarianism and in fact seems to have been quite comfortable with it.

American Communists believed the Soviet Union was just and good. Period. No one said, "what an evil system - let's support it." (I know I've said this before.)

Did you read Paul Likoudis's piece?

Janet said...

This is rather tangential, but during the time when there were two (or finally 3) claimants to the papacy, there were Saints on both sides of the issue. Some of them, of course, were very mistaken. This is a different situation, but it does show that Saints can be mistaken in some very vital areas.

AMDG,

Janet said...

The thing that endears Day to me is that her life seems to have been the get-up-in-the-morning-and-do-the-next-right-thing sort of endeavor that most of us have to slog through much of the time with not many bells and whistles or extraordinary spiritual experiences. I have to say that it's been a long time since I read The Long Loneliness and I have only read bits and pieces about her since, so I am no Day expert. But,it's this everyday faithfulness that ends up being heroic that the world always needs and seems especially to lack at the moment, although I suspect it's always lacking.

I mentioned somewhere on Toby's blog that I find it interesting that Day, along with Percy and O'Connor, seem to be loved by those in both conservative and liberal circles. I'm not sure what this signifies, but it seems hopeful.

AMDG, Janet

Pentimento said...

It does seem hopeful that a former communist would be promoted for Doctor of the Church by the editor of the Wanderer!

Jim & Nancy Forest said...

I knew Dorothy quite well, and in more recent years have written a biography of her, Love is the Measure.

I can say without hesitation that she had no kind words to say about Stalin or any other tyrants. (But, as she writes in her autobiography, The Long Loneliness, in her youth, at the time of 1917 revolution in Russia, she had been among the many who had great hopes for that event.) During her one and only visit to Russia, she spoke up for Solzhenitsyn and prayed at the grave of Dostoevsky.

As regards Cuba, she never attempted to meet Castro or others in the government when she went there but sought to find out how ordinary people were faring at the time and to what extent the Church was being restricted. Traveling on her own by bus, with no government minder to arrange things, she managed to see a great deal and to converse with many people -- a kind of pilgrimage.

Was she a perfect person? Did she always get things right? Definitely not. But were we to limit the calendar of saints only to perfect people who always got things right, perhaps Mary would be the one saint left.

Jim Forest
www.incommunion.org/forest-flier/

* * *

Pentimento said...

Amen to that. Thank you so much for your comment, Jim, and for clarifying these points.

Pentimento said...

By the way, the Mass for the Guild is taking place right now at the Cathedral, just in case anyone is reading this and wants to join with them in prayer . . .