Dorothy Day was a passionate advocate for the oppressed. Her book, ‘A Long Loneliness’, depicts her as strong, intelligent and never alone in the cause. Community was an essential living modality for Dorothy. Her style was not ‘lone ranger’ rather, she seems to have been a contemplative with regards to key partnerships and intentional collaboration. Dorothy Day, like any revolutionary, was inspired, influenced by movements and personalities, religion and, an integrity unmatched in this world, Jesus. Communist thought and action, evidently, held a place of inspiration in the formation of Dorothy Day, who is proclaimed a Servant of God, as she awaits canonization, in the Catholic Church. Ultimately, it was the people, the exploited worker, the poor who determined her stance in participation for justice. She chose them.
There is a trauma that can come swiftly as one awakens to truth and injustice. It can be thought, in consideration of the Gospel message, that coming to Jesus is relieving, however, I believe that there is a coming to Jesus that can be very discomforting as well. Birth is painful. Obviously expressed in the mother but, what about the child. Being born again, awakening to the truth, the problem, the pain of this world, the pain around us and within us, can be a traumatizing experience. Jesus is a wonderful idea, until there is a birthing, a coming to come to life, to see the world, and love people as He did. Then, it gets real.
Dorothy was awake to the problem, the pain and suffering in people, the groans of creation. To be alone in the midst of the pain can give rise to a desperate, rugged loneliness. Dorothy was not alone. She met a man who would inspire life and resolute commitment to the pain and suffering she lived with. He wasn’t necessarily attractive, though to her, his dimensions sufficed. Peter Maurin, the troubadour of Christ1, was considered by Dorothy as ‘the most persistent soul in the world.’2 Like Dorothy, he was affected by the exploitation of the worker, the apathetic disregard of the oppressor and the perpetuation of class inequality and violent, life-debilitating social structures.
Peter was a kind man. She writes of him, that ‘he was always impersonal, delicately scrupulous never to talk about others, never to make the derogatory mark.’3 He was simple and complex, a wonderful fit for a friend to accompany Dorothy in the cause; deeply conscientious toward the needs of the ‘made-low’ poor and interested to explore solidarity in practise with them.
‘He never refused to give alms, no matter how poor he was. He believed in poverty and loved it and felt it a liberating force. He differentiated between poverty and destitution, but the two often came close together in his life, when to give to others he had to strip himself.’4
It was more than inspiration, the driving force in the compassion and action of Peter Maurin. He believed in people, because of Jesus. Peter helped Dorothy to see Jesus in others, ‘it was seeing Christ in others, loving the Christ you saw in others. Greater than this, it was having faith in the Christ in others without being able to see Him.’5 What happens with this kind of revelation, this kind of awakening? Two things, that I can think of. The first, wonderful beauty. The second, profound pain, and both of these, in glorious truth. Trauma can be a surprising effect in the experience of truth, in the awakening to see clearly both the oppression and the oppressor. It can seem impossible, what Truth and Love are up against in this world, yet we have a Saviour who has cheered the heroes of the faith who’ve carried the torch, ‘take heart’ he says, ‘I have overcome the world’6.
The coming to life of the Catholic Workers Movement, the houses of Hospitality and farm communities was happily referred to by Peter Maurin as an ‘organic’ growth, that its effective being was not as a result of traditional ‘organisation’, but that their honest movement and proliferation was resemblant to ‘an organism.’7 Peter Maurin, like Dorothy Day, did not ascribe to popular, exploitative, capitalistic systems and structures that would generate appeal and wealth. Their focus was community with the poor and oppressed, so they voluntarily assumed lives of poverty themselves.8 Day states that ‘in 1933, the unemployed numbered 13,000,000.’9 They cared for those who were cast-off, rejected ones, the disenfranchised, emasculated and broken. The living conditions they could provide, in the beginning, were utterly destitute, lacking dignity and near inhuman. Nevertheless, despite being confused for communists at times, they were resolute for the people and hope for a better, brighter future for the world.
“The following duties bind the wealthy owner and the employer: not to look upon their work people as their bondsmen, but to respect in every man his dignity as a person ennobled by Christian character. They are reminded that, according to natural reason and Christian philosophy, working for gain is creditable, not shameful, to a man, since it enables him to earn an honorable livelihood; but to misuse men as though they were things in the pursuit of gain, or to value them solely for their physical powers – that is truly shameful and inhuman. Again justice demands that, in dealing with the working man, religion and the good of his soul must be kept in mind.” [From the Social Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, May 15, 1891.]
- Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness (New York, NY: HarpersCollins Publishers, 1952), 172.
- Day, A Long Loneliness, 172.
- Day, A Long Loneliness, 169.
- Day, A Long Loneliness, 179.
- Day, A Long Loneliness, 171.
- John 16:33, NIV.
- Day, A Long Loneliness, 182
- Day, A Long Loneliness, 187
- Day, A Long Loneliness, 185