On November 8, 1897, Dorothy Day was born.
Her life, her conversion, and her founding with Peter Maurin of the Catholic Worker have moved many to devote themselves to the poor.
A few nights ago I finished the collection of her diaries, The Duty of Delight, which provide a glimpse of the complexities of this woman.
She was not a plaster saint. In fact, she regrets her impatience and reveals how difficult it was for her to live with some of the Catholic Worker guests – and staff.
She was fairly critical of some of the staff and guests, especially in sexual matters. But this came not from a puritanism but from a deep sense of the marriage act as sacramental – to the surprise of some people.
She was also remarkably open to young people, though not in an uncritical way.
But what comes through in her diaries is her delight.
“Find beauty everywhere,” she wrote on December 29, 1976.
She found it in nature: “Nothing is more beautiful than the soft sound of waves on the beach.” (December 12, 1953)
She rejoiced in music, listening to operas on the radio.
She loved to read. The works of Dostoevsky especially appealed to her.
She loved to pray – especially the Psalms, which nourished her daily life.
She loved to travel – visiting the Catholic Worker houses and speaking across the US. as well as visiting Rome, Cuba, India, and other parts of the world.
And she wrote. The Long Loneliness is a classic, in which she writes of her conversion. (She, however, was rather insistent that it was not an autobiography.) She also wrote a regular column in The Catholic Worker, until the last months of her life.
Hers was not an easy life. But she found a joy in it that opened her to God, and a relation to God that opened her to joy. As she wrote on December 25, 1961,
It is joy that brought me to the faith, joy at the birth of my child 35 years ago, and that joy is constantly renewed as I daily receive our Lord at Mass.
And in a long meditation on June 26, 1971, she reiterated the source of her joy:
If it were not for Scripture on one hand and Communion on the other, I could not bear my daily life, but daily it brings me joy in this sorrow which is part of our human condition, and a real, very real and vital sense of the meaning and the fruitfulness of these sufferings.
She found joy amid suffering, living among the poor. Robert Ellsberg very fittingly chose The Duty of Delight as the title of this compilation. It reflects the spirit and spirituality of Dorothy Day. In fact, she had thought of this phrase from John Ruskin for the title of a sequel to The Long Loneliness.
This duty of delight is indeed a challenge, but a challenge that brings joy. It was a challenge for her, too. Her February 24, 1961, diary entry notes:
I was thinking, how as one gets older, we are tempted to sadness, knowing life as it is here on earth, the suffering, the Cross. And how we must overcome it daily, growing in love, and the joy which goes with loving.
May we learn to live the duty of delight, the joy of love, the holiness of sharing in the suffering of all God’s people.