Disciples in the Modern City #2

Our second Disciple in the Modern City was Dorothy Day (1897-1980). Another unlikely candidate; social activist, suffragist, socialist living a bohemian lifestyle who had always explored spiritual writings. The birth of her child brought a spiritual breakthrough in which she learnt that she could trust God. Day and her baby were baptised as Roman Catholic’s but that created a break with the baby’s father who did not support her spiritual explorations. She supported herself and daughter as a journalist, concentrating on social activism and the hardships of the Depression. 

With Peter Maurin, she created, Catholic Worker, for “those who think there is no hope for the future,… there are men of God who are working not only for their spiritual but for their material welfare.” It accepted no advertising and did not pay its staff. Alongside the paper they created a House of Hospitality, a shelter that provided food and welcome. A network would soon follow around the United States. Key to her activity was the trust she had discovered in God, “If you are not acting as if God was to be trusted – what are you words worth?”

An uncompromising pacifist, this would come at a cost for her work in supporting the poor and vulnerable as supporters left and hierarchies despaired at her awkward, passionate faithful dedication to the call she knew God had placed upon her heart. Her’s was an “edgy angular witness,” Rowan Williams says, “prophets are … difficult people, … to say ‘we need prophets’ is to say that ‘we need people who ask us questions that we would rather not be asked’. That’s what Dorothy Day does and I thank God for her.” But he also points out her positive view of the church, “What are we here for, we are here to make communal, generous, forgiving, interdependent, just, equal, human life just a little bit less unlikely in the world. And if that sounds like a modest ambition for the church. Look around because it isn’t. The church is there … to say to a world of injustice, violence and conflict, it doesn’t have to be like this. … the gift of the gospel and the gift of the body of Christ is a restoration of what is natural.” So let us trust our own witness to God’s love and to creating a place where it is easier to be good.

be blessed, Craig