One of the books I am reading is Jim Forest’s All is Grace: a Biography of Dorothy Day. I have read Day’s own autobiography and some other things she wrote. But I have never had a total look at this remarkable woman’s life. Dorothy Day is on the radar of Pope Francis. When he visited the United States, he was invited to speak to the US Congress. In that speech he singled out Day, along with three others, as models of American religious life. Some think at some point Dorothy Day will be made a saint.
Dorothy Day is best known for founding the Catholic Worker. In the beginning this was simply a newsletter. Later there were Catholic Worker houses of hospitality and other manifestations of Day’s spirituality. Dorothy Day lived a fascinating, bohemian life in the early 20th century. She was anything but a saint! It seemed like everything she did was life on the edge. Consistent through her life, however, was her writing. Her father was a journalist and it seemed that came through in the DNA.
Although she was not raised in a religious home, it also seemed like Day always had a lure to the spiritual realm. Through a fascinating pilgrimage, she finally became religiously convinced and was baptized a Roman Catholic. True to form, Day would not be an average kind of Catholic. She read the Gospels and felt like they were written for her and they were to be taken seriously.
Her spirituality was a direct reflection of her sense of what following Jesus was supposed to mean. For her it meant a radical sense of peacemaking. It meant living with the poverty of a saint. It meant caring for those who were despised or treated unjustly. If we recognize much of her work began in the 1930s, we know this was a time of Depression and desperation.
If I could summarize her life and message, it simply would be Dorothy Day cared and shared. I choose one incident to illustrate this. And the words to articulate it come from someone other than Day, but who was attracted into her circle by her personality. In 1939 a French-Canadian priest came into Day Catholic Worker house in New York City. Father Pacifique Roy would become influential in her continued growth in the spiritual life. And through Dorothy Day’s sharing, Father Roy challenges my own growth in the Spirit.
There was an interesting engagement between Father Roy, Dorothy and others in the Catholic Worker house---an engagement that focused on the themes of giving and love. I was pulled into this engagement because I also believe those are central concepts to the life in the Spirit. At one point Day reports, “Love, Father Roy said, is what makes us want to give.” This establishes a clear relationship between love and giving.
Father Roy continued developing this theme. “Giving is the essence of religious life; giving time and attention, giving prayer, giving possessions and money, giving space in one’s life and home, giving one’s life. Don’t save. Don’t store up ‘treasure which moth and rust attack.’ Live by the rule of giving.” There is much to ponder in these priest’s words.
I like how he says that giving is the essence of the spiritual life. This fits nicely with one of my basic assumptions about life: life is a gift. And if life is a gift, then to live fully is to give. Giving is what God essentially does. Why should we not do the same thing? With this perspective it is easy to see how sin messes up this spiritual tendency. Sin becomes a selfish thing. Rather than giving, we become concerned with getting. We want what is ours and, often, even more than what is ours. Instead of giving, we become greedy!
Father Roy details what he means by giving. We give time and attention. As someone who has been a teacher and who has tried to minister, this makes sense to me. But giving time and attention is not limited to people like me. It applies to everyone. As Father Roy continued, it became more overtly religious. Give prayer. Prayer is one of the clearest ways we care for ourselves and for others. Sometimes I think the only thing we can do is invite God into our situation or the situation of others.
Then Father Roy becomes more challenging. Give our money and our possessions to others. Here is where I am tempted to fear that I won’t have enough, so it’s harder to hear about giving money and possessions. I can offer rationales for why I don’t need to share---or, at least, share very much. But these are excuses. But there’s more. Give space in my life and my home. I hear the challenge now is to be hospitable.
I am drawn to the idea that my life can be lived hospitably. I can offer who I am and what I have. It may be money; it might be time. Surely, I can be hospitable with the care and love I am have. I live to give.