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« Speaking of Christmas Shopping | Main | R.I.P. »

November 29, 2007


Dorothyday Twenty-seven years ago today, Dorothy Day died. I know this because, as it happens, I finished reading Paul Elie's The Life You Save May Be Your Own, his literary biography of Day, Flannery O'Connor, Thomas Merton and Walker Percy, yesterday.

To the contemporary mind, the opening paragraph of Wikipedia's entry on Day . . .

[Dorothy Day] was an American journalist turned social activist and devout member of the Catholic Church. She became known for her social justice campaigns in defense of the poor, forsaken, hungry and homeless. Day, with Peter Maurin, founded the Catholic Worker Movement in 1933, espousing nonviolence, and hospitality for the impoverished and downtrodden.

. . . might seem, if not contradictory, at least paradoxical. Culture war politics -- indeed, politics in general -- being what they are, we expect people to be either activists for social justice and peace or devout Catholics (or Christians of any kind.)

Of course any paradox is purely of our own making. There was a time, not so long ago, when Day's combination of activism on behalf of those she called "Jesus in his distressing disguise" was, if not typical, at least a lot more common. Sadly, as Elie's book recounts, Day lived long enough to see people like herself and Blessed Theresa become a kind of sign of contradiction to a world that had forgotten that the Son of God was revealed to destroy the works of the devil -- all of his works, not just those of our choosing.

Thus, on a 60 Minutes episode honoring her 75th birthday, Day spoke out against the evil of abortion, a few months before the decision in Roe v. Wade was announced. When young volunteers in the 1960s were more interested in protesting the Vietnam War, which she opposed with every fiber of her being, than in ministering to the poor or following the Church's teachings on sexual purity and marriage, she tossed them out.

For these reasons and many others, there's a campaign to have Day canonized. Those who knew her say that she would have been mortified by the idea. Regardless of whether the cause succeeds or not, it's clear that we probably won't see her like again. The loss is definitely ours.

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Gina Dalfonzo

Elie's book is very good. I join Roberto in recommending it (that is, I gather that you're recommending it, Roberto).

Also, 109 years ago today, C. S. Lewis was born. Thanks, Dad, for the reminder (again)!

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