Tag Archives: Dorothy Day

Saints and the spirit of the poor

Blessed are the poor in spirit, theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

When I tried to think of holy men and women who exemplified poverty of spirit and even actually poverty, I found myself overwhelmed by the vast majority of saints who exemplified this virtue. But today I want to mention two holy women and a man.

DePorres

Today is the feast of Saint Martin de Porres, a Dominican lay-brother who lived in Lima, Perú. Born of a Spanish nobleman and a freed black woman, he was disinherited by his father. Trained as a barber and a surgeon, he entered the Dominicans. There he served in the most humble task but soon his gifts of healing were recognized. But he also cared for the poor and sick outside the Dominican friary. He would bring them to his cell and care for them. But his superior ordered him to stop this practice. When Martin continued caring for the poor in his cell and was reprimanded, he responded: “Forgive my mistake, and please be kind enough to instruct me. I did not know that the precept of obedience took precedence over that of charity.”

He was truly, as his contemporaries noted, a “father of the poor.”

The second saint I thought of was Saint Clare of Assisi. Though she was from a rich family, she followed Christ, in the footsteps of Saint Francis, much to the consternation of her family. She was soon followed by other women who lived together by the church of San Damiano outside Assisi. These “Poor Ladies” sought to live in poverty – by the works of their hands and begging. They did not want to take up the practice of benefices and property that many convents of nuns had. She fought for this all her life and only shortly before death did she received confirmation from the pope for the Privilege of Poverty.

She not only advocated poverty but lived it. When the sisters came back from begging, she would wash their feet.

Clare-washing-the-feet-of-the-nuns

The third exemplar of poverty is not yet officially canonized, though Pope Francis spoke highly of her before the US Congress when he visited the US. Dorothy Day started out living a radical and bohemian life, but a life committed to justice. After her conversion, she sought to find a way to live out her faith and her commitment to the poor. After meeting Peter Maurin, they formed the Catholic Worker, first of all starting out with a newspaper. Later, they welcomed the poor. Catholic Worker houses of hospitality still dot the US landscape, serving the poor and marginalized in many ways.

Meditating on the lives of these three holy people of God, we may be able to discover how we ourselves may be called to live out the beatitude of the poor in spirit.

Transfigured or vaporized

In the Catholic liturgical calendar August 6 is the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, recalling how Jesus showed himself to three apostles in a radiant light, revealing the glory of God.

August 6, 1945, is a day that should live in infamy. On that day, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, not a military target. More than 90,000 were killed almost immediately. Many continued to suffer the effects of radiation for many.

On August 6, 1978, Blessed Pope Paul VI, died. He had called the bombing a “butchery of untold magnitude.”

In 1981, Pope Saint John Paul II said, when visiting Hiroshima:

“To remember the past is to commit oneself to the future. To remember Hiroshima is to abhor nuclear war. To remember Hiroshima is to commit oneself to peace. To remember what the people of this city suffered is to renew our faith in humankind, in their capacity to do what is good, in their freedom to choose what is right, in their determination to turn disaster into a new beginning. In the face of the man-made calamity that every war is, one must affirm and reaffirm again, that the waging of war is not inevitable or unchangeable. Humanity is not destined to self-destruction.”

Two years later, in their 1983 pastoral letter The Challenge of Peace, the US Catholic bishops noted the importance of changing the climate of the US, so that it might “express profound sorrow over the atomic bombing in 1945.” They then wrote:

“Without that sorrow, there is no possibility of finding a way to repudiate future uses of nuclear weapons or of conventional weapons in such military actions as would not fulfill just-war criteria.”

A few days after the dropping of the bomb, the French novelist and philosopher Albert Camus, who had resisted the Nazis, wrote:

…Before the terrifying prospects now available to humanity, we see even more clearly that peace is the only goal worth struggling for. There is no longer a prayer but a demand to be made by all peoples to their governments – a demand to choose definitively between hell and reason.

In September, Dorothy Day poignantly wrote in  The Catholic Worker:

Everyone says, “I wonder what the Pope thinks of it?” How everyone turns to the Vatican for judgement, even though they do not seem to listen to the voice there! But our Lord Himself has already pronounced judgement on the atomic bomb. When James and John (John the beloved) wished to call down fire from heaven on their enemies, Jesus said:

“You know not of what spirit you are. The Son of Man came not to destroy souls but to save.” He said also, “What you do unto the least of these my brethren, you do unto me.”

The resiliency of the Reign of God

DSC08133I have a small tree in a pot on my terrace. It was large at one point, but nearly withered. Then it grew back, but something happened  a few weeks ago and the whole top of the small tree broke off. I thought it was dead, but I left in out and even watered it when there was no rain.

The tree is growing back.

While preparing for preaching this weekend I ran across the last verse of the first reading, Ezekiel 17:24:

[I, the Lord,] make the withered tree bloom.

But I first read it in a Spanish version:

…reverdezco el árbol seco.

Loosely translated,

“I make the dry tree green again.”

There is so much going on to dry out our souls these days – not only the news about separating families of immigrants in the US, the deaths of so many from violence and poverty, the war on the poor that is happening in so many places in the world. How many are feeling dried and drained by worries about their children, by trying to make ends meet, by so many squelched dreams? And then there is the personal dryness – Where is God? Why do I feel so helpless about all this? Is there anything one person can do?

In the midst of this, God promises to make the dry tree green again, to refresh our thirst-plagued spirits.

And we are reminded by the parables that God works through little things, like grains of mustard.

As Pope Francis writes in Gaudete et Exsultate (16), “This holiness to which the Lord calls you will grow through small gestures.”

And we can remember the wise advice of Dorothy Day:

“Young people say, ‘What can one person do? What is the sense of our small effort?’ They cannot see that we can only lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time; we can be responsible only for the one action of the present moment. But we can beg for an increase of love in our hearts that will vitalize and transform these actions, and know that God will take them and multiply them, as Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes.”

I remember especially these words from prison of Blessed Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian peasant martyred in 1943 for his refusal to serve in Hitler’s army.  cThey can both challenge and sustain us, to be resilient workers in the Reign of God:

“Today one hears it said repeatedly that there is nothing any more that an individual can do. If someone were to speak out, it would mean only imprisonment and death. True, there is not much that can be done anymore to change the course of world events. I believe that should have begun a hundred or even more years ago. But as long as we live in this world, I believe it is never too late to save ourselves and perhaps some other soul for Christ. One really has no cause to be astonished that there are those who can no longer find their way in the great confusion of our day. People we think we can trust, who ought to be leading the way and setting a good example, are running along with the crowd. No one gives enlightenment, whether in word or in writing. Or, to be more exact, it may not be given. And the thoughtless race goes on, always closer to eternity. As long as conditions are still half good, we don’t see things quite right, or that we could or should do otherwise….
“If the road signs were stuck ever so loosely in the earth that every wind could break them off or blow them about, would anyone who did not know the road be able to find his way? And how much worse is it if those to whom one turns for information refuse to give him an answer or, at most, give him the wrong direction just to be rid of him as quickly as possible?”

Hannah Arendt – a woman in dark times

hannaarendtsudomenica16ye8October 14, is the birthday of Hannah Arendt, philosopher, social thinker, great woman. Born in Germany in 1906, she died in New York City on December 4, 1975.

I had her for classes and seminars at the Graduate Faculty of the New School for Social Research in the early seventies. I chose that school over others because of her presence. I was not disappointed.

Her book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil had a major impact on me when I read it in the mid-sixties. Not only did it reinforce my concern for standing up against injustice, in a strange way that I cannot now explain, it moved me toward active nonviolence.

I consider her essay “Thinking and Moral Considerations,” with its references to Eichmann and Socrates, as one of the best essays to understand our times – and I mean 2016 and beyond in the US. When I taught the course Introduction to Philosophy, I often used that essay at the end of the semester, together with Ignacio Ellacuría’s essay “What is philosophy good for?”

But what I most remember about her was that she was a real person who was open to others.

At the end of the semester, she opened her apartment to the seminar students where we ate, drank, and talked. She loved the interplay of ideas. I was struck when I read of her death. She died entertaining people in her home. She died as she lived.

I also remember the time when, before class began, a young man came into the room with a Resistance button. This was during the Viet Nam War and the Resistance button was often worn by those who resisted the draft. She gave him a warm welcome and, if I remember well, hugged him.

But what happened at a speech in an unlikely place proved to me that she was a great woman, a great human being.

In 1972 Arendt received an honorary degree from the University of Notre Dame. AT the same ceremony Catholic Worker co-founder, Dorothy Day, received the university’s Laetare Medal.

As a result Hannah Arendt was invited to speak at one of the New York Catholic Worker’s Friday night Clarification of Thought presentation. This was not the first time, Hannah Arendt had a connection with the worker. When her husband died in 1970, she donated his clothes to the Catholic Worker.

The Catholic Worker was in the Bowery. The Friday night meetings drew a wide range of people – Catholic Workers, people of the street, activists, and this evening a bunch of philosophy grad students from the New School.

I have no recollection of her topic. But what I do remember was one of her responses during the questions after her talk.

The Catholic Worker Clarifications of Thought could attract some very vociferous questioners, some not altogether coherent. One man began questioning Arendt and continued doing so with great vehemence. The woman leading the evening tried to get him to shut up – though her request was very respectful. But he insisted and the woman – was it Eileen Egan? – again tried to get him to stop his line of questioning. But Hannah Arendt broke in and said that he could and should continue his questions.

I don’t remember her exact words but she said them with such respect for the person and such openness to dialogue – no matter how heated. She was truly a woman who listened.

I remember that night with an appreciation of a woman who lived the search for truth, who lived as one who truly believed in thinking as the dialogue of the self with the self, a dialogue that ends up being open to others.

Hannah Arendt, I miss you. i would love to hear your thoughts on the reality of the world today.

May your writings continue to bring light to a world “in dark times”.

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.

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?