Dorothy Day died 32 years ago, on November 29, 1980. The last entry in her diary was dated 9 days earlier and filled with the minutiae of visits from friends and the lunch menu. A card found inserted into her final journal contained this prayer by St. Ephraim the Syrian:”O Lord and master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth , faintheartedness, lust for power and idle talk. But give your servant rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love. Yes, O Lord and King, grant me to my own errors and not judge my brother, for You are blessed from all ages.”
Dorothy adds: “I found this prayer years ago in a book called ‘The Humiliated Christ in Russian Thought’ by Gorodetzky. It was a prayer of a political prisoner during the Czar’s time. Also in that book was the story of a pious peasant or serf, a girl who loved dancing. An accident crippled her for life, so lay a helpless invalid for the rest of her life but was content because she ‘rejoiced that she was counted worthy to suffer for the Lord’.”
Day’s diaries, like her books, reflect her professional training as a journalist. She is not inclined to embellishment or flowery phraseology but states, sometimes starkly, what is on her mind. In this age of fear-filled political correctness, this style of writing is refreshing. When the bishops of this country voted unanimously to advance Day’s cause for sainthood a couple of weeks ago, they threw this culture a curveball. Those on the left immediately remembered her statement that she didn’t want to be called a saint because she didn’t want to be dismissed so lightly. Those on the right wondered how a woman who flirted with the Communist Party could ever be considered a saint.
Whether Dorothy will ever be called St. Dorothy Day is unknown at this point. What we do know is that saints are not perfect people, as people outside the Catholic Church (and many inside as well) tend to think. Saints are persons who demonstrated heroic virtue during the time they had on earth. Saints also tend to be enigmas. That is, they tend not to fit tidily into convenient boxes or categories. Like the Savior who they follow, saints are often ahead of their time or outside of their time. God uses them as witnesses to the reality of His Presence and His Kingdom on earth, which we often consider an inelegant intrusion into the little realms of our lives.
For example, that Day said she loved “the Church not for what She is but for what She claims to be” is a statement that often manages to aggravate people on both the left and the right of the political spectrum. Or again, when she was 61, Dorothy’s diary entry of February 12 laments, “It is hard to convince anyone, priest or people, that Charity must forgive seventy times seven…If we start by admitting that what we do is a drop in the bucket, and try to do that very well, it is a beginning and, really, a great deal.” Few people, inside or outside the Church, are humble enough to recognize the heroic virtue evident in that statement.
There are those who deride the fact that Day had an abortion because “it’s just too easy” (to quote another Catholic blog) to say someone can be forgiven for the sin of killing her child and become a saint. There are those who deride the fact that Day picketed against the government. There are those who deride her obvious devotion to daily Holy Mass as “antiquated.” The cacophony goes on and on from those who don’t understand that the Catholic Church, the Body of Christ on earth, is itself, by definition, an enigma. Neither neatly ‘prolife’ or neatly ‘social justice’, the Church is and has always been Pro-Person. As Benedict XVI laboriously presented in “Caritas in Veritate“, the Church’s prolife position grows organically out of Her respect for the Dignity of the Person in the same way as Her social justice teaching grows organically out of Her respect for the Dignity of the Person. Dorothy Day tried as best as she could during her 83 years on earth to live out the truth that is Catholic teaching. So, whether Dorothy is ever canonized or not, she’s a saint in my book. Dorothy, Ora pro nobis!