Tag Archives: Dorothy Day

The blood of the poor

One way to keep poor is not to accept money
which is the result of defrauding the poor.
Dorothy Day, May, 1952

Saint Ignatius of Laconi, Sardinia, was a Capuchin brother who died on May 11, 1781, noted most of all for his begging. While begging he not only gave people a chance to share but he also brought about reconciliation between peoples and converted sinners.

A notorious merchant in town, Franchino, was enraged that Brother Ignatius never stopped at his door to beg alms, because the merchant had built his fortune by defrauding the poor.

Franchino complained to the guardian of the Capuchins who ordered Brother Ignatius to stop and beg from the merchant. Brother Ignatius agreed but said, “Very well. If you wish it, Father, I will go, but I would not have the Capuchins dine on the blood of the poor.”

What happened next is extraordinary – but true to the reality of the situation.

As Dorothy Day wrote:

“But hardly had Ignatius left the house with his sack on his shoulder when drops of blood began oozing through the sack. They trickled down on Franchino’s doorstep and ran down through the street to the monastery. Everywhere Ignatius went, a trickle of blood followed him. When he arrived at the friary, he laid the sack at the Father Guardian’s feet.  “What is this?” gasped the Guardian. “This,” St. Ignatius said, “is the blood of the poor.”


The quote from Dorothy Day is found in Robert Ellsberg’s By Little and By Little: The Selected Writings of Dorothy Day, pages 108-109.

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Touching the Word today

What we have touched
1 John 1: 1

How often we lament that we do not have direct personal contact with Jesus, that we cannot touch him, hear his voice, and sit down at the table and eat with him.

In today’s first reading from St. John’s first letter, John recalls that he has experienced the Lord. He heard him saw him, touched him with his hands. But he realizes that this was not for his personal satisfaction. His experiences of the Word of Life were given him to share with other, to announce to others.

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life—for the life was revealed; we have seen it and testify to it and announce to you eternal life… what we have seen and heard we now announce to you, so that you too may have community/communion (koinonia) with us… (1 John 1: 1-3)

Thanks to Saint John and the other evangelists and writers of the early church we have accounts of this Jesus who came to save us.

But still we might long to the chance to see Jesus, to serve him, to be with him.

This morning I came upon a column of Dorothy Day in The Catholic Worker, thanks to a Facebook post of a friend, Jim Forest, who has written an incredibly beautiful illustrated biography of her, All Is Grace: A Biography of Dorothy Day.

In Dorothy Day’s column, found here, we hear her call upon us to make room for Christ:

It is no use to say that we are born two thousand years too late to give room to Christ. Nor will those who live at the end of the world have been born too late. Christ is always with us, always asking for room in our hearts.

But now it is with the voice of our contemporaries that he speaks, with the eyes of store clerks, factory workers and children that he gazes; with the hands of office workers, slum dwellers and suburban housewives that he gives…

We can do now what those who knew Him in the days of His flesh did. I’m sure that the shepherds did not adore and then go away to leave Mary and her Child in the stable, but somehow found them room, even though what they had to offer might have been primitive enough. All that the friends of Christ did in His life-time for Him we can do.…

In Christ’s human life there were always a few who made up for the neglect of the crowd.

We can do it too, exactly as they did. We are not born too late. We do it by seeing Christ and serving Christ in friends and strangers, in everyone we come in contact with. While almost no one is unable to give some hospitality or help to others, those for whom it is really impossible are not debarred from giving room to Christ, because, to take the simplest of examples, in those they live with or work with is Christ disguised.….

For a total Christian the goad of duty is not needed–always prodding him to perform this or that good deed. It is not a duty to help Christ, it is a privilege….

If that is the way they gave hospitality to Christ it is certain that is the way it should still be given. Not for the sake of humanity. Not because it might be Christ who stays with us, comes to see us, takes up our time. Not because these people remind us of Christ, as those soldiers and airmen remind the parents of their son, but because they are Christ, asking us to find room for Him exactly as He did at the first Christmas.

May we see Jesus and respond with love.

The poor, ointment, and diamond rings

There should be no poor among you.
Deuteronomy 15:4

Today’s reading about the anointing of Jesus by Mary in Bethany (John 12: 1-6) has been twisted so much that we may find it hard to see Jesus in it.

Mary shows her great love by an extravagant gesture – anointing the feet of Jesus with aromatic nard. It is a gesture of love a gesture of giving to the Beloved.

Judas objects that the oil could have been sold and the returns given to the poor.

Jesus responds that “the poor you have always with you…”

A good Jew would know that this quote from Deuteronomy 15:11 is part of a longer passage which entails obligations to the poor. In fact, the full quote of verse 11 (from the New American Bible translation) reads:

The needy will never be lacking in the land, that is why I command you to open your hand to your poor and needy kinsman in your country.

The verse could be considered a condemnation of the failure of a nation to care for the poor. It is not a call to resignation in the face of the needy.

As I reflect this morning on poverty and extravagance, I recall the story of Dorothy Day that is related by Jim Forest, in an article.

A donor visited the Catholic Worker and gave Dorothy a diamond ring. Later a woman who was a regular visitor to the Worker came in and Dorothy gave her the ring.

As Forest notes:

Someone on the staff said to Dorothy, “Wouldn’t it have been better if we took the ring to the diamond exchange, sold it, and paid that woman’s rent for a year?”
Dorothy replied that the woman had her dignity and could do what she liked with the ring. She could sell it for rent money or take a trip to the Bahamas. Or she could enjoy wearing a diamond ring on her hand like the woman who gave it away. “Do you suppose,” Dorothy asked, “that God created diamonds only for the rich?”

I wonder if what Jesus wants us to do is to anoint the feet of the poor with anointment. Their feet are worn and cracked as are the feet of this man who carried a cross in our parish Stations of the Cross last Friday.

DSC07193

How can we be extravagant in our love for each poor person – not for a nameless mass of poor people, but for a real poor person we can meet, embrace, and share love with each other?

Love awakened

In this is love: not that we have loved God,
but that he loved us
and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.
1 John 4:10

Love is essentially God’s gift. Our love is a response to that gift and should reflect God’s love.

Today’s Gospel shows the love of God, Jesus full of compassion, feeling in the depths of his being for the people, without a shepherd. In his love he sought to feed them – but not without the cooperation of the disciples.

ShantiDas

Shantidas

Thirty five years ago today, on January 5, 1981, Lanza del Vasto died. An Italian he studied philosophy but really didn’t find his meaning in life until after going to India and meeting with Gandhi and other holy men. His pilgrimage is related in Return to the Source.

Gandhi gave him the name “Shantidas,” the Servant of Peace. Later, he and his wife Chanterelle, with others founded the Community of the Ark, as a kind of Noah’s Ark in the midst of the violence of the times.

The community eschewed many modern conveniences and sought to live a nonviolent life, finally establishing a community in a beautiful and isolated valley in southwest France. They lived without electricity (except to grind their wheat), families and single people, with a regimen of work and prayer.

But they did not isolate themselves from the world. Lanza del Vasto and the community participated in many nonviolent campaigns in France. He also went to Rome in the early sixties to fast for peace; he was given an advanced copy of Pope John XXIII’s peace encyclical, Pacem in Terris.

When I visited the community in 1973, I participated in the daily life of the community, praying and working in the garden. But the last day and evening I spent with community at a demonstration in the nearby Larzac, where the people were fighting against the militarization of their lands.

Shantidas’ message was not an easy one, but I think it was based in his deep faith in Christ, a faith which opened itself to all faiths.

An example of this is noted in this short description of love from his Principles and Precepts of a Return to the Obvious:

Learn that virile charity that has severe words for those who flatter, serene words for those who fight you, warm words for the weary, strong for the suffering, clear for the blind, measured for the proud, and a bucketful of water and a stick for the sleepers.

Love should wake us up to feel with the compassion of God and be of service to God’s people.

it is not easy – as Dorothy Day reminds us by her citation from Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov:

Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thin compared to love in dreams.

May we wake up and love!

 

Dorothy Day and Advent Love

May the Lord make you increase and abound
in love
for one another and for all.
1 Thessalonians 3:12

Dorothy Day died thirty five years ago today, November 29, 1980.

An ardent pacifist and advocate for the poor, she was an anomaly in her day – and even now. She combined a deep love of God and a profound piety with a life of commitment to the poor and to peace.

So it is astounding that Pope Francis noted her in his address to the US Congress a few month ago:

In these times when social concerns are so important, I cannot fail to mention the Servant of God Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement. Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints.

Her message of radical personal and social change was clear and rooted in her faith. In June 1946 she wrote:

What we would like to do is change the world—make it a little simpler for people to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves as God intended them to do. And to a certain extent, by fighting for better conditions, by crying out unceasingly for the rights of workers, of the poor, of the destitute—the rights of the worthy and unworthy poor, in other words—we can to a certain extent change the world; we can work for the oasis, the little cell of joy and peace in a harried world. We can throw our pebble in the pond and be confident that its ever-widening circle will reach around the world.
We repeat, there is nothing that we can do but love, and dear God —please enlarge our hearts to love each other, to love our neighbor, to love our enemy as well as our friend.

In the midst of the violence and the cries for war, in the midst of poverty throughout the world and the masses of refugees fleeing war and unrest, her message of Gospel love is so needed.

So this Advent is a time to open our hearts to love and to commit ourselves to see the face of Christ in all – friend and foe – and love them in deeds and in truth.

Rich and poor

we want to make “the rich poor and the poor holy,”
and that, too, is a revolution obnoxious to the pagan man.
Dorothy Day, November 1949

Servant of God Dorothy Day was born on this day, November 8, 1897.

In today’s Gospel, Mark 12: 38-44, Jesus is contrasting the religious leaders and the rich with the poor, especially a poor widow.

The religious leaders “devour the houses of widows.” In the days of Jesus, the Roman and the temple taxes would have made life difficult for the widow who had little or nothing to live on and depended on her children and the kindness of others.

But, according to Jesus, the religious leaders often do not note the poor.

But Jesus does, sitting in a place in the Temple where he can see how people give.

In this he notes the poor widow who gives just two small coins. “She, from her poverty, has given all she had, her whole livelihood.”

Whether she was giving because she had to and was thus using up all her resources, which were being devoured by religious leaders or whether she was giving all she had out of her sense of gratitude to God for all she had received – little though it may have been, Jesus sees her as a sign of the reign of God.

She is the one who gives all she has and, hopefully, lets God and the community support her.

Would that we who have much can learn that poor widow – how to give to God all we have and all we are, trusting in the providence of God and finding in the community the source of all we really need.

In such a way we can change from being the rich who devour the homes of widows to being the “poor” who share all we have.

God and country

…if anything is more than utter atheism,
it is this attempt to equate God and country,
and to make God serve our own purposes.
Dorothy Day, June 1956

Yesterday the United States celebrated its independence from British colonialism. Independence from any imperial power is something to celebrate – even though the Declaration of Independence and the subsequent Constitution did not give immediately independence to blacks or women.

But I think that we should also be mourning.

There is still racism in the US, as seen in recent events in various parts of the US.

But worse, the United States is not seen as a beacon of liberty in the world.

All too often it is seen as a military and economic force that brings a new type of colonialism and imperialism.

Many do look to the US but as a place to escape the poverty and violence that they encounter – poverty and violence that are often related to US policies.

And so I didn’t celebrate Independence Day. I didn’t seek to find other people from the US for fireworks. I didn’t eat hot dogs and hamburgers (mostly because I’m a vegetarian.)

What will I do next year?

Probably spend time in prayer and service to the poor around me.