Sunday, 6 April 2008

The Duty of Delight

On 23rd April 2008 the diaries of Dorothy Day, edited by Robert Ellsberg, will be published in America by Marquette University Press. I am excited! Dorothy Day is one of the most 'normal' holy women I have come across. She was full of contradictions having a reputation for attending daily Mass, saying the Rosary and praying the breviary and getting arrested for acts of civil disobedience.  I like her.

Day was raised in the Episcopalian Church, but in her early adult years was agnostic towards her faith. She attended the University of Illinois, but dropped out and never graduated. She moved the New York with her parents in  1916 and pursued a career as a revolutionary journalist on the Communist left wing. She had many different lovers as a young woman, became pregnant by one and underwent an illegal abortion. Shortly after this she married Berkeley Tober, but this only lasted one year. Later she lived with her lover Forster Batterham, a committed atheist, and together the couple had a daughter called Tamar in 1926, but split up in 1927. She fought bravely with loneliness and is recorded with the saying: We have all known the long loneliness, and we have learned that the only solution is love, and that love comes with community.

Day converted to Catholicism, but she maintained her radical nature and committed herself to living a life in which she treated all people equally even if that meant making great sacrifices herself. 'Our faith is stronger than death, our philosophy firmer than flesh, and the spread of the Kingdom of God upon the earth is more sublime and more compelling. As for ourselves, yes, we must be meek, bear injustice, malice, rash judgment. We must turn the other cheek, give up our cloak, go a second mile.'  Day struggled with the Church, vehemently disagreed with it at times, and famously quoted Augustine's description 'she's a whore, but she's my mother.' But, her faith was her inspiration for the work that she did, and she recognized in the Church her salvation: 'Without the sacraments of the Church, I certainly do not think that I could go on.'

I think Dorothy Day is most famous for living a life radically true to her convictions and without compromise. She was notoriously stubborn to work for. She founded the Catholic Worker Movement, and gave hospitality to many of the poor and homeless who came to her in need. She wrote all her life, in newspapers and in journals, and only put her pen down a few days before her death on 29th November 1980. Having lived a life of voluntary poverty Day left no money for her funeral which was paid for by the Archdiocese of New York. 

Dorothy Day was very clear how she wanted to be remembered; 'Don't call be a saint. I don't want to be dismissed so easily.'

The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day will be published on April 23rd 2008. It was anticipated in the lead article of The Tablet on 5th April 2008

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