Dorothy Day in bold strokes

“The violence of war cannot be reconciled with the gospel of peace.”

That’s a strong statement coming from Dorothy Day when she worked in her day to eradicate war! Scholar Robert Russo shared his knowledge this past Thursday, Sept. 21 on the pacifism and the work of the corporal works of mercy by Dorothy who died in 1980 and was known as the “radical conscience” of the Catholic Church in the United States. Although Dorothy often said “Don’t call me a saint. I don’t want to be dismissed that easily,” the Vatican in 2000 officially recognized her cause for canonization, the first step in possibly one day calling her St. Dorothy. She wrote at one point “We are all called to be saints, and we might as well get over our bourgeois fear of the name,” but she never envisioned herself being called a saint. Of course, her life and example of charity and justice appeal are meant not only for Catholics but for people of any denomination and any background.

Dorothy lived a life that bore witness to her deep conviction that there is no such thing as a holy war. Nor did she take lightly the Gospel imperative that Christ is in the disguise of our neighbor: the poor, the rich, the “enemy.” She said we must love “unreasonably, profligately unto the cross, unto death.”

Her efforts to set up Catholic Worker Houses in the slums of the large cities and in rural areas appealed to many workers besides the people whose lives were broken by the streets, by life’s blows, by broken relationships of all kinds. Young and old people who wanted to work with the people on the streets came to be part of Dorothy’s work. At one point, she met and then worked in association with Peter Maurin whose life was lived with the people who had nothing. He was a person who drifted from one place to the next and embraced poverty, caring little for his own comfort, sleeping wherever he could find a bed. Nevertheless, he worked tirelessly to convince others of Catholic social philosophy. The main problem with society as Peter saw it was that society, economics and politics had all separated from the Gospel. Maurin believed that the purpose of the Gospel was to help the person develop into the full person he/she was intended to be. He envisioned the society to be a place where “it is easier for people to be good.”

Together Dorothy and Peter produced the “Catholic Worker” paper filled with stories and teachings to help readers live out the Social Gospel more strongly. From their time until now the paper continues to sell for 1 cent an issue. Day and Maurin saw that if people have a purpose for life, are in touch with the land and are willing to live according to ethical practices, then “one ft. at a time” (as Dorothy would say) culture will shift toward greater peacefulness for all.