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In this book, Day writes about all facets of her life. Yet whether describing her visits to her daughter's farm or the writings of the saints, a common theme emerges, namely, the gifts of God's love and our need to respond to them with personal and social transformation.
The concerns of the Catholic Worker movement are no less vital in our day: the disenfranchised poor, the benefits of the meaningful work, the significance of family, the dangers of increasing commercialism and secularism, the decline of moral standards, and the importance of faith.
Available for the first time since it was originally published, this edition includes a foreword by Michael O. Garvey and an introduction by Mark and Louise Zwick that gives an overview of Day's early life and her commitment to the Catholic worker movement.
While to be a saint is always to be a paradox, the reverse is not necessarily true. Dorothy Day, who had a healthy respect for paradoxes and a ferocious devotion to saints, famously evaded an embarrassing invitation to speculate on her own sanctity with the retort, "I don't want to be dismissed that easily." But whether or not she ought to be considered a saint, as I believe she should, she is undeniably a paradox, and whether or not she is ever canonized, as I believe she will be, she will never be easily dismissed.
In this rambling account of her doings during the year of 1948, Dorothy, as most of her admirers familiarly presume to call her, speaks frequently and casually about saints. (This is true of her other writings and of her conversation and public speaking as well. It is one of the delightful anomalies of our time that when the Federal Bureau of Investigation began keeping its file on her, its agents felt obliged to furnish explanatory footnotes with brief biographies of Francis of Assisi, Vincent de Paul, and others.) Dorothy managed to write only nine journal entries in January of 1948, having moved into a chaotic West Virginia farmhouse to help her expectant daughter and son-in-law run the farm, raise their two toddlers, and prepare for the new arrival. But even in these few pages, St. Angela of Foligno, St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Ávila, St. Agnes, St. Francis, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Paul, St. Martin, and St. John Bosco all make appearances, along with the Brontë sisters, Charles Dickens' Mrs. Jellyby, Reverend Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., Ignatio Silone, Hilaire Belloc, G. K. Chesterton, Arthur Koestler, Aldous Huxley, and Martin Buber. Anecdotes from the lives of the saints came as naturally to her mind and lips and pen as quotations from Kropotkin, legends of the I.W.W., gossip from the Catholic Worker House on Mott Street, the Collect from last Sunday's Mass, speculations on the death of a billy goat, denunciations of corporate capitalism, grocery lists, a paean to "one of those wonderful dustpans with long handles," and meditations on the will of God.
An advertent enemy of the state, Dorothy liked to describe herself unreservedly as a daughter of the Church, and that filial relationship was no mere metaphor for her. As a convert freshly arrived in the household of the Faith, she sought to make the saints her daily companions. And she succeeded. Her own soul, the soul of an ardent American revolutionary, resounded with those celebrated in the liturgical calendar, the souls of astonishing characters, agitators for the Kingdom produced by the ultimate revolution fought out in a million peculiar times and places.
When a terrorized grade-schooler finally stands up to a playground bully, when a Rosa Parks refuses to move to the back of the bus, when a Franz Jägerstätter declines his local bishop's well-meant advice to enlist in Hitler's army, when a tragically pregnant young woman declines the proffered RU 486, when a conscientious college graduate turns down a potentially lucrative career with Planned Parenthood or the Central Intelligence Agency, something akin if not identical to the revolution of the saints is underway. By 1948, according to the available evidence, Dorothy Day, a treasonous, muck-raking, anarchistic jailbird, was a principal partisan and theoretician in just such a revolution.
It was a revolution that Jacques Maritain splendidly describes in "The Peasant of the Garonne," at the root of which "there is something so profound in the soul that one does not know how to express i—let us say that it is a simple refusal, a total, stable, supremely active refusal to accept things as they are. This act has to do with a fact, an existential fact: things as they are are intolerable. In the reality of existence, the world is infected with lying, injustice, wickedness, distress, and misery; creation has been corrupted by sin to such an extent that in the very marrow of his soul, the saint refuses to accept it as it is. Evil—I mean by that the power of sin, and the universal suffering which it drags in its wake—evil is such that the only thing the saint has immediately at hand to oppose it totally, and that intoxicates the saint with liberty, exultation, and love, is to give everything, to abandon everything, the sweetness of the world, and what is good, and what is better, and what is delectable and permitted, and more than anything, himself, in order to be free to be with God. To do this is to be totally stripped and given over in order to seize the power of the cross: it is to die for those he loves. This is a flash of intuition and will above any order of human morality. Once the soul has been touched in flight by this burning wing, it becomes a stranger everywhere. It can fall in love with things; never will it take repose in them."
Dorothy's life and writings abound in heartening examples of the richness, profundity, and durability of the revolution of the saints. In these pages particularly can be seen a specifically American reading of the Letter to Diognetus, whose author observed that Christians "live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything." Like the soul described by Maritain, Dorothy could indeed fall in love with things without taking repose in them. Of renunciation, she wrote, "One can get by if one's wants are modest. One can withdraw from the factory, refuse to make munitions, airplanes, atom bombs. In sections like this [of West Virginia] rent is ten dollars a month, sometimes even five dollars, and there are empty houses. But city people are afraid, afraid of the country, afraid of the dark, afraid to be alone, afraid of the silence."
If Dorothy Day were writing that passage today—some fifty years later—I think she might replace the term "city people" with "suburbanites." In any event, her impatience with such bourgeois fear certainly arose from her kinship with the saints and her participation in their common life. For a different sort of convert, a different sort of revolutionary, the Gospel's call to renunciation might become merely another convenient way to taunt the Wonder Bread lifestyle of fatuous middle-class North Americans. Not so for the woman who could write this passage, from an entry on a hot day in mid-September, something which St. Francis might have written, and which is fairly reverberative throughout the journal:
Yesterday we canned sixteen quarts of peaches and today twenty quarts of tomatoes. In the afternoon we went down to the brook and bathed. Today we saw three large turtles swimming under water and any number of striped fish about eight inches long. While we sat on a gravelly bank collecting pieces of stone with the imprint of shells and leaves on them, of which the brook bed is full, Susie caught sight of a slim little garter snake the color of a twig, coiled out on a branch sunning himself. No matter how close the pebbles we threw came to him, he would not move. Now we will be adding more verses to our "all ye works of the Lord" song.
This agreeable evocation of what Pope John Paul II has recently called "the culture of life" springs from the heart, mind, soul, and pen of a woman who could also vividly perceive the culture of death ascendant in the nation's customary ways of making do. That culture's idolatrous worship of individual autonomy, its reliance on usury, its fetishizing of corporate power, its nonchalance about sexuality, its neglect of the poor, its murderous addiction to increasingly apocalyptic weaponry to underwrite a spurious notion of security—all are instances of an intolerable situation in which acquiescence has become indistinguishable from sin. "Our problems stem," she used to say, "from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system."
Dorothy Day's thorough renunciation of our filthy, rotten system has made her, at the very least, a challenging heroine. What makes her something more, what shines through this journal particularly, is her distinctive announcement that the one true antidote for the system is the Church. As a young man, John Cort, one of the first Catholic Workers, heard the announcement this way:
I remember sitting in that dingy hall and saying to myself, "This woman is getting a lot of fun out of life, and I would like to get some of that for myself, so maybe I'd better try the same kind of life." As much as anything it was a quality of humor and laughter that seemed to reach down to the secret, hidden places of the soul, promising at any minute to explain the mysteries of life and human striving.
The world needs more revolutionaries like her.
MICHAEL O. GARVEY
Foreword by Michael O. Garvey
Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement by Mark and Louise Zwick