Archive for the ‘Lenten Series 2022: Dorothy Day’ Category

April 3

Communion Meditation- April 3, 2022

By Marsh Chapel

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John 12:1–11

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Keep it for the day of my burial…

Sometimes a single, personal experience of someone’s sacrificial living and giving can make a lasting, transformative impact.  And sometimes, perhaps Lent 2022, an encounter with a truly radical spirit, with whom you and I may not always agree, can cause one, you?, as we said last week, to come to himself.

 In the Holy Scripture there rise up moments in recognition of loss…that can become lines into the future.

One cascades upon us in Psalm 46…

Another falls upon us in Romans 12…

Another rises up and out of Psalm 121…

Still another can be found in any of the great poets, as with Frost and his mordant poetic lines…

Likewise, in these verses of John 12, there lingers an essence, a fragrance that eludes description. Why did Doestoevsky choose these verses as frontispiece to his greatest novel, Crime and Punishment? John seems to have distilled a potent nectar, more potent than that found elsewhere, from his knowledge of loss. Why are these verses so haunting?

I believe they astound us so, because they reflect a doubledeath. I believe the sense of glory found in the cross here comes from the hard lesson of loss, in a little church, somewhere in Turkey, turned out of the synagogue, and losing or about to lose, long after the death of Jesus, their last link with the primitive church. In the cross, in their loss, they saw both the death of Jesus, and the death of their beloved disciple, their beloved preacher, their pastor, John. The fourth Gospel is so strange and so startling because it operates at two levels, first that of Jesus and second that of John.  After decades of pastoral care, guiding them through change, leading them out ofthe synagogue, protecting them from their own worst selves, reminding them of Christ the Lord, and showing them how to walk in the light, the towering figure of their beloved preacher was overtaken by death.

First they lost Jesus, then they lost John. Both losses hurt with unspeakable pain. But here is what they learned: love carries us through loss. Love carries us through loss. Love outlasts loss. In fact, only self opening love can bring any meaning through loss!

You know this Gospel in your bones, in the old bone structure of Marsh Chapel. For you too have known the loss of Jesus, and the loss of a beloved disciple, an originating pastor, who guided and lead, and reminded and showed, and at last was overtaken by death. You too know about the two level drama of faith, the loss and love of Jesus Christ our Savior, and also the loss and love of a beloved disciple who built the Chapel, who located it on Commonwealth Avenue, who helped us through a depression and a war, who had a vision and built a building.. And then, he died. He is buried right under our pulpti, his ashes and those of his beloved wife  are interred here. And every moment of loyal offering, and every baby baptized, and every couple married, and every moment of eucharist, and every funeral service bringus back here, to the twin shadows. The cross of Christ and the ashes of Daniel Marsh.

We can feel the Gospel, the Fourth Gospel, the Gospel of the Fourth Gospel, here.

Sometimes a single, personal experience of someone’s sacrificial living and giving can make a lasting, transformative impact.  And sometimes, perhaps Lent 2022, an encounter with a truly radical spirit, with whom you and I may not always agree, can cause one, you?, to come to himself.

Sometime ago we knew, not well, but well enough a man who embodied Irenaeus saying, the glory of God is a human being fully alive.  Born of two Irish immigrants in 1926, John Joseph Murray, by the time we crossed his path 65 years later, exuded life.  Says my friend, I don’t have to drink the whole ocean to know it is salty.  Salt.  Salt and light he was.  An Army veteran.  A father of 8.  A rising star in a great corporation who quit on the spot when that business invited and funded Joseph McCarthy to speak in Syracuse.  He marched with MLK in 1963.  Then a leader in research and in national management circles.  A weekly voice in the Thursday Morning Roundtable, a breakfast for city leaders.  But it was his smile, it was his vigorous bicycling, it was his bee-keeping, it was his presence and advocacy at pretty much every significant critical gathering in that decade, it was his full partnership with his wife Nancy, it was his neighborly gracious friendship, it was all these and other marks of humanity that linger, now a month beyond his death.  Sometimes, and often early in young adulthood, something happens that quickens, inspires, frees, empowers, illumines, changes a person, for the better and for life.  That is Word and that is Sacrament.  Reading his obituary a fortnight ago, one came upon a remarkable record:  John was a proud “Christian Brother boy” too, graduating from Manhattan Prep and Manhattan College. On John’s first day at the Prep he was exposed to Dorothy Day through her newspaper The Catholic Worker. He read it and was hooked. She exposed him to the impact of mercy on hopelessness and set him on a path of peace and justice. He felt he had three crucial mentors in his life: Dorothy Day, Father Charles Brady and, the best of his life, his wife Nancy. (Syracuse Obituary for John Joseph Murray,  One part of him, at a young age, once freed up, freed up the rest of him.

Keep it for the day of my burial…

Sometimes a single, personal experience of someone’s sacrificial living and giving can make a lasting, transformative impact.  And sometimes, perhaps Lent 2022, an encounter with a truly radical spirit, with whom you and I may not always agree, can cause one, you?, as we said last week, to come to himself

In the Holy Scripture there rise up moments in recognition of loss…that can become lines into the future.

New York Times January 21, 2022:  Hundreds of people gathered at St. Patrick’s Cathedral to celebrate an important moment for Catholics in New York. Cardinal Timothy Dolan delivered a homily on the life of one of their own, Dorothy Day, a native New Yorker and anarchist writer and activist who died in 1980.

The sermon last month represented the end of a 20-year inquiry by the Archdiocese of New York on whether Ms. Day should receive sainthood, a question the Vatican will ultimately decide…

Ms. Day loved the church and its rituals and devoted her life to the Gospel, which she felt drove her to renounce material possessions and commit herself to a life of activism on behalf of the poor, a devotion to pacifism and opposition to both capitalism and communism. She often described herself as an anarchist.

Presence.  Thanksgiving.  Remembrance.  Presence.  Thanksgiving. Remembrance.

 As in Psalm 121…

As in the Canadian Creed…

-The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean of Marsh Chapel

March 27

Lenten Series 2022: The Work of Dorothy Day

By Marsh Chapel

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Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

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We listen to St Luke this year.  We do so, one step at a time, one Sunday at a time, one episode, teaching, exhortation, miracle, or, as today, one beloved, venerable parable. at a time.  Still, there are some outstanding features of the Lukan horizon, which we may simply name as we go forth.   First, Luke displays a commitment to and interest in history, and orderly history at that.  Both Luke and Acts are cast in a distinctive historical mode.  Second, Luke employs and deploys his own theology, or theological perspective, including this emphasis upon history and the divine purpose, or better said, divine meaning, in history—on this more in a moment.   Third, Luke highlights the humanity and compassion of Jesus in a remarkable way.  The Christ of St. Luke is the Christ of magnificent compassion, embodied in the humility of a birth among shepherds.  The poor, women, the stranger, the injured, those in dire need all stand out in Luke, as the recipients and subjects of Jesus’ love, mercy, grace and compassion.  Fourth, Luke carries an abiding interest in the church.  Ephesians says that ‘through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers.’ That catches the spirit of the author of the third gospel and of the Acts to follow.   It is this feature of Luke, the Lukan passion for compassion, upon which our passage has centered this morning.  So, we are taught:  know history, think for yourself, love the church, have compassion.  Dorothy Day, our Lent 2022 theological conversation partner, would have agreed.

Now I put it to you:  how long has it been since you have had a prodigal thought?  The prodigal son is prodigally reckless in departure.  But he is prodigally excellent and ecstatic in return.  His negative prodigality in descent is eclipsed by his positive prodigality in resurrection.  How long has it been since you have come to yourself?

Though no one says so, and to my knowledge no one has yet so written, Luke 15 may be the most Gnostic of chapters in the New Testament.  It is about gnosis, self knowledge, coming to oneself. As the Gnostics taught, we are trapped in a far country, a long way from our true home, like a man who has squandered his birthright, and moved from light to darkness.  As the Gnostics taught, we are meant to get home, to get back home, to get back out from under this earthly, fleshly, pig slop bodily existence, and back to higher ground, to heaven, to the heaven beyond heaven, to the land of light, to the loving father, like a prodigal son returning to the home that is truly his.  As the Gnostics taught, there is just one way to get back home, one key to the magic door.  That way and that key is knowledge, self knowledge, the knowledge of one’s own self—whence we come, wither we go.  As the Gnostics taught, salvation comes from this sort of esoteric, personal, soulful knowledge.  When he came to himself…

It is jarring, I give you that, to admit that this most traditional and most popular and most orthodox of parables may well have grown up outside the barn, outside the fences of mainstream Christianity.  But there is nothing orthodox about the prodigal and his coming to himself.  His is truly a prodigal thought.  I need to get back home.  Back to the land of light.  Back to the pleroma.  Back to the God beyond God.  No ‘Christ died for our sins’, here.  No ‘lamb of God’, here.  No settled orthodox Christology here.  No cross, no gory glory, no Gethsemane, no passion of the Christ, here.  It all comes down to self awareness, to awakening, to a moment of clarity.  When he came to himself. The parable of the Prodigal Son is the most Gnostic, most heterodox, most Johannine of them all.  Stuck here in the middle of Luke, read here in the middle of Lent, interpreted here in the middle of March.

The Gospel challenges us to come out from hiding.

You cannot hide behind a distrust of organized religion today.  The prodigal thought soars beyond that.  You cannot hide behind a disdain—often altogether true and righteous--for clergy, for formality, for robes and choirs and altars and candles.  This prodigal thought pierces all that.  You cannot hide behind the hideous moments in religious and Christian history—many there be—as a way to fend off the gospel, at least not this morning.  The knife cuts deeper, to the deeps, to your very soul.

Nor can you even hide behind a critique of Roman Catholicism today.  Prodigal thought soars beyond that.  You may reject the celibacy of the priesthood, the sacrifice of the mass, the subordination of women, and the infallibility of the pope.  But many, very many, Catholics do the same.  No, the gospel undercuts your smart but narrow critique, and asks about your soul.  You do have one you know.

Luke 15 asks whether you are coming to know yourself?  Are you?  This is the parable, oddly enough, that calls the seekers’ bluff.   Today the Gospel attacks where you have finally no ready defense.  It moves to your mind, your soul, your own most self.  Dorothy Day would emphatically agree.  In this very hour, we are caught in an awful dilemma, a tragedy of global proportions today.  We pray for those seasoned sober leaders, President Biden and others, seeking somehow to balance a rigorous resistance to heinous, unprovoked warfare and slaughter in Ukraine, with a measured restraint to keep this horror from becoming a global conflagration.  At the least we can find ways, say through UMCOR, to support refugees, now with our means, and perhaps later with our spaces.  Dorothy Day would admonish us to do so.

The Work of Dorothy Day

How surprised, stunned, even, we were to learn that the Roman Church itself has this winter proposed her for consideration for sainthood, after 20 years of study.  Not only her life, troubled as it was, nor only her faith, radiant as it was, has brought this consideration of canonization.  More than either of these, it was Day’s work that did so.  Hers was a work life of continuous experimentation.  In a way, she embodies our parable today.  We think of her obedience, as with the figure of the older son at the end of the parable.  But her life began much closer to the waywardness of the younger son with which the parable begins.  In a way, as with the prodigal, and strangely, that early prodigality somehow quickened in her a prodigious generosity, a prodigality of work.  Our biographer guides, Loughery and Randolph, often cited in these sermons, have taught us so.

For instance, after WW II, Dorothy Day and the Catholic Workers began to experiment with farming, with country living, including a purchase in Newburgh, NY.  She was a 21st century soul, ahead of her time in world consciousness, in ‘thinking globally, acting locally’, in communal living, in critique of technology, in continuous experimentation, and, in Newburgh and elsewhere, in love of nature and regard for the natural world.  And she wanted people to learn and go, to grow and move.  Of the Catholic Workers Houses she said, This is a school.  No one is meant to stay here forever. (251)

 For instance, later in her life, Dorothy Day received a visit from the famous author Evelyn Waugh.  A friend had encouraged him to enjoy all the great good things in New York, but also to make sure to see the poor of the city, and especially to visit with Day.  He offered to take her to a fine restaurant, one she in fact had known well over the years, but she declined, inviting him rather to a simple restaurant, and then to visit the hospitality house nearby.  Waugh’s biographer later wrote:  Waugh encountered in…Day a personality as tough and autocratic as his own, yet infinitely less selfish—a disarming combination.  Confronted by this genuine ascetic whose entire working life was devoted to practical charity, he discovered a more sympathetic version of a close friend’s argument:  that the aims of Christianity and capitalism were fundamentally opposed.  It was not an idea he cared to ponder for long, but he retreated to the Plaza somewhat chastened (238).  Sometimes a single, personal experience of someone’s sacrificial living and giving can make a lasting, transformative impact.  And sometimes, perhaps Lent 2022, an encounter with a truly radical spirit, with whom you and I may not always agree, can cause oen, you?, to come to himself.

For instance, The Catholic Worker began as a newspaper, but fairly quickly expanded into a movement.  The movement, with Dorothy Day at the head was devoted to hospitality, and hospitality in particular for the poor.  Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day were committed to radical hospitality for the poor.  ‘Voluntary poverty brought into living practice the radical egalitarianism preached by Jesus’. (150)…’There are three things you have to accept about very poor people who have lived on the street…they don’t smell good, they aren’t grateful and they are apt to steal’ (152).

The work with and among the poor, it should be emphasized, was every bit as much about the spiritual development of the worker, as it was about the care of the needy.  The houses of St. Joseph offered hospitality to the guests, and spiritual formation to the workers.  And the conditions in these houses were very rough.  As the Catholic Worker movement, publication and hospitality and all, began to expand, so did Dorothy Day’s work in public speaking, which would consume much of her life over the next forty years or so.  Hers was a wide angle vision, a high hope, a global voice: If working men and women were solely concerned with better wages for themselves and not with larger ideas about community, societal change, and our God-ordained obligations to one another, the labor struggle would mean nothing in the long run (181).

 For instance, an especially striking outgrowth and outcome of her earlier work with the Catholic Worker emerged with the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.  For Progressive Catholicism worldwide, the Spanish Civil War produced the horns of a very difficult dilemma.  On side were the republicans of Barcelona and elsewhere, like Hemingway’s Robert Jordan, committed to liberty and justice and progressive treatment and care of the poor. On the other side were those who supported the Church, the Catholic Church, and its traditions and clergy and history and culture.  One Progressive.  The other Catholic.  Spain tore American Progressive Catholicism in half.  Support the Church and stomach Franco, or support freedom and stomach Stalin.  She and her communities were torn apart from both sides.  She largely sided with the republicans, but not enough to satisfy everyone.  Still, the Catholic Worker movement and paper, like Allan Knight Chalmers and others, voiced and continuously retained a strong, clear utterly pacifist position through the Spanish War, the Second World War, the Korean Conflict and the War in Vietnam. This split the movement.  The Detroit, Cleveland and Boston houses agreed with her; the Chicago, Seattle and Los Angeles houses did not (199).

For instance, by the 1950’s, Day and The Catholic Worker were involved in opposition to nuclear war, arms and weaponry.  Some of us grew up with weekly air raid drills, in which all in the elementary schools were sent to sit underneath our desks in preparation for a nuclear attack.  Day and her community chastised this (in hindsight clearly misguided) practice because it purpose, she asserted, was allowing the government and the military-industrial complex to render the unthinkable thinkable and therefore less in need of an immediate solution (264).  Our own experience of January 6 is similar, to take what would be utterly unthinkable, the assault on and desecration of the nation’s capital, and to normalize, or accommodate, or make space in the mind and the culture for such travesty.  In a year, already, we have seen just how successful that kind of project can be.  One ongoing, continuous aspect of her work came through acceptance of many invitations to speak, lecture, occasionally to preach.  And she had influence.  After Michael Harrington wrote The Other America (1962), he included in the preface: It was through Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement that I first came into contact with the terrible reality of involuntary poverty and the magnificent ideal of voluntary poverty (297).

Born, recall, in 1897, Dorothy Day was vibrantly active in the late 1960’s, in opposition to the war in Vietnam, the ultimate heartbreach for Dorothy Day the citizen as well as Dorothy Day the Catholic, shattering hopes formed fifty years earlier that her country would ultimately use its power and prestige for greater ends (308).  Born in 1897, her view of the youth of the 1960’s was anything but starry-eyed…(including) acerbic comments about the long haired, sexually active, drug-indulging young women and men she encountered so frequently in New York and on her travels (315).  She made time to visit, and admire Haley House, here in Boston, and said in ringing oratory: Our present capitalist, industrialist system is inhuman and wicked (330)…we don’t measure our success, we don’t despair and we don’t judge; we simply do the work God intends us to do.(336).  These are steadying late pandemic words for us, in 2022.  Do the work God intends us to do.  Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly.  And she found time every Saturday afternoon to listen to the broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera.  The work with the poor continued on: A Catholic Worker house, unlike a Salvation Army shelter or city shelter, would expect nothing, demand nothing from (the poor).  Many of us, myself included, might well have difficulty with this.  Yet she was not a 21st century feminist, at least not in the standard sense.  Poverty, race and religion were more important to her that gender (349).  She spoke in public for the last time in 1976, suffering a heart attack that year, the same autumn some of us began seminary, up the street at UTS.  St Joseph House and Maryhouse remain, four decades after Dorothy Day’s death, exactly where they have always been, but surrounded now by chic eateries, high price co-ops, boutique hotels and chain stores (360).  One wonders.  Could Dorothy Day cause us to come to ourselves?

 We give Day the last word: “We must practice the presence of God. He said that when two or three are gathered together, there he is in the midst of them. He is with us in our kitchens, at our tables, on our breadlines, with our visitors, on our farms. When we pray for our material needs, it brings us close to his humanity. He, too, needed food and shelter; he, too, warmed his hands at a fire and lay down in a boat to sleep.”

-The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean of Marsh Chapel

March 20

Lenten Series 2022: The Faith of Dorothy Day

By Marsh Chapel

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Luke 13:1-9

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Ah the fig tree. From the fig tree learn its lesson. You know what it means to be a fig tree in the New Testament. It is like being a turkey in late November, or like being a green beer on St. Patrick's day. You know you are going down.

People step aside when they hear that the story is about a fig tree. They step back ten feet, because they know what is coming.

Sure enough, at least at the outset, doom descends. In stomps the owner. Stomp, stomp, stomp. Fee fie foe fum. Yes, we know what is coming. I have seen this lousy, lazy, no good, flee bitten moth eaten, barren, fruitless, faithless, heartless, ruthless fig tree for three years, and nothing. Where is the fruit? Where is the beef? Show me the money! Yes, we have a sinking feeling about the old fig tree, having heard a sermon or three. Is there not fruit? And here it comes… Cut it down, throw it in the fire, off with their heads.

And in the other Gospels, that is that. One dead fig tree, and let it be a warning to you. I came not to bring peace but a sword. Not a jot or a tittle will pass away. Woe to you…

Which is, of course, what makes today's lesson so interesting. Guess what? It's not over, at least according to Jesus in Luke 13. No, it's not over, yet. This is the Gospel according to Yogi Berra. "It ain't over 'til it's over". With a little cunning and creativity, a little psalmist and saint in him, this lowly vinedresser says, "Well, hang on a minute…" There is something there. He sees something. Something alive, something at work, just beyond our comprehension.

Hope, stubborn and maybe even unreasonable, is what the vinedresser in our parable displays. He has a certain confidence, perhaps a confidence born of obedience to a great and loving Lord, yet still a confidence that where there is a will there is a way, no matter what the immediate cornstubble evidence suggests.

One struggles to intuit why this altered fig tree parable was so important for Luke and Luke's struggling church. As we saw last week, all these chapters 10 to 20 Luke has added to Mark's asperity. They must have had singular meaning for Luke's church fifty years after Jesus' death and resurrection. Perhaps, perhaps, the parable is meant to give trusting patience to those who are waiting out what scholars call the "delay of the parousia", or the expected but not actualized return of Christ on the clouds of heaven (1 Thess. 4-5). "Give me just a little more time…" sings the gardener.

Let it be, he says. Let it be.

His is not a naïve view, stubborn, maybe, unreasonable, perhaps, but not naïve. No, he recognizes that there comes a time when it is too late in every venture. He recognizes that the power to kill and give life is not his own. He recognizes that human labor and human investment is required for any progress. He recognizes the messiness of manure and dailyness of water, the messiness of history and the dailyness of grace. He recognizes that hope for the future is confidence, finally, not in human wisdom, but in divine grace. He recognizes the rigid limits of nature and history. He is a realist.

But he trusts, senses, hopes that there is something there, something alive, something not quite phenomenal, something just beyond our comprehension.

You could compare his sense, his hope, to a March day when it is still winter. Yet, there is a sense, a feeling. There are geese flying past, v by v. There is a blueish tint in the evergreens. There is more light and better light. There is wind, but not with quite the bite. One can fairly taste the maple syrup brewing miles away. Spring is coming.

Give me just a little more time, he asks. Do you have the feeling that he will ask the same a year from now, if things are no different? Well, yes. He harbors an inexplicable but crucial sense of trust that things will work out.  Our Uncle David used to say, with a grin, ‘It will all work out.  Or else it won’t’.

Here in Luke, not judgment, but grace is affirmed, not death but life, not authority or force, but growth and change.  In Luke 13, the question of ‘Why?’ is set aside in favor of the challenge to repent.  Governmental terrorism, in the hands of Pilate, and natural accident, in the case of a Tower in Siloam, are simply admitted to be what they are—utterly random in impact.

In the parable, the gardener points away from past performance and points toward future potential.  Time.  Time is given.  A time of reprieve, a time of reckoning, a time of recollection, a time of restoration.  Time heals.  There is impending judgment, but there is time for change.  This is Luke’s own material.  This is Luke’s own toddler, budding attempt to deal with what John, alone, later, in full adult fashion, addressed, the church’s abject disappointment that the expected return of Jesus, on the clouds of heaven, ‘before this generation passes away’ (Luke 21:32) has not happened.  The first century is ending and Jesus has not returned.  In the main, Luke simply continues to hold out hope, soon and very soon, of the traditional expectation.  Not here in the parable of the fig tree.  Here he finds, channeling his inner Fourth Gospel Spirit, the possibility that more time may be a good thing.  We would all say so, 20 centuries later, since more time has become our time!  The Greeks taught us that life is long.  Give it just a little more time.  Not: Especially, and perilously, too authoritarian and too inflexible, and too inerrant, a view of the Holy Scripture.  Scripture entirely alone, not Scripture in tradition by reason with experience.  No, says Luke, change, over time, can come and can become lasting goodness.

We who wrestle to support leaders who balance resistance with restraint, resistance to naked and brutal warfare of choice with restraint to retard such from becoming global conflagration, we need some measure of such hope. Hope is one gift of today’s gospel.

Dorothy Day

Hope is one gift of today’s gospel. The other is faith.  Hope and faith, the gifts of grace today.

Our Lent 2022 conversation partner is Dorothy Day.  Our guide to her life, faith and work is Dorothy Day: Dissenting Voice of the American Century. John Loughery and Blythe Randolph.  New York:  Simon and Schuster, 2020.  The citations in these sermons are from this recent, excellent biograpy. As we saw las week, Dorothy grew up in a non-practicing Protestant home. But when her daughter was born she determined to locate herself in faith, and in the Roman Catholic faith tradition. She found faith, and was found by faith. She did so in a remarkable but typical way:  she approached a nun whom she saw crossing the street in Staten Island.  Sister Alyosia.  The sister  provided reading material, catechisms, an interview with a priest. Tamar was baptized the next year, 1927 (Lughery and Randolph, 111).  Dorothy herself was baptized six months later.

‘Faith in God and Christ as the Redeemer, a belief in Transubstantiation and the life to come, the veneration of Mary and the saints, delight in saying the Joyful Mysteries and the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, a willingness to be guided by a confessor and to accept the role of confession and absolution in a redeemed life, respect for the papacy and a two-thousand-year-old tradition: indeed, it wasn’t ‘a little’.  It was everything. (116)…Religion was the necessary corrective to the ‘narrow hermitage of the self’ that characterized modern life with its imprisoning walls of egotism and alienation.  A fellowship of faith spared one the desolation of aloneness. (Loughery and Randolph, 120)

            Yet the major influence in the composition of Dorothy’s faith, over time, came from an eccentric philosopher and activist, Peter Maurin.  A word on Maurin: What Peter wanted to talk about was the Church, Catholicism, the state of the world, the salvation of souls, the extent of the compassion Christ asked of us, the intellectuals he had known in France, American’s attitudes toward poverty and the impoverished, his plans for a Catholic newspaper, Dorothy’s evident potential as a writer and leader, and the need for more discussion and debate about what a Christian life looked like—the ‘clarification of thought’ was his favorite phrase (133).

            Both Maurin and Day were greatly influenced by the work of Jacques Maritain.  Maritain deserves more attention even today.  By whatever combination of lasting influences, Maurin and Day came at last to create the lasting publication, The Catholic Worker, published first in 1933 in the depths of the depression, and which still exists and still sells for a penny.  At its height it had 100,000 subscribers (Loughery and Randolph, 141).  One of its first extended interests was the coverage of the Scottsboro Boys case, one of whose primary exponents and supporters was Allan Knight Chalmers, who became a BUSTH professor of homiletics, and from whom today’s preacher received his middle name.

            In sum, the very basic, rudimentary aspects of Christian faith lived out in the Catholic tradition were crucial for her.  Daily, weekly mass.  Prayer.  The Rosary. All.  Her biography put it this way:   During times of stress, Dorothy found solace in the rosary and her attendance on daily mass, of course, and from conversations with her confessor and with those people…who understood her point of view (276)…For more than thirty years she read biographies of those whose lives she found instructive about different paths to holiness, the saintly and the venerable—e.g. Augustine, Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, Ignatius of Loyola, Philip Neri, Francis de Slas, Vincent de Paul, Cardinal Newman, Rose, Hawthorne Lathrop, Theresa of Lisieux (Loughery and Randolp, 289).

Faith.  Hope.  Hope and faith, the gifts of grace today.

Wrote Dorothy Day:  “What we would like to do is change the crying out unceasingly for the rights of the workers, of the poor, of the destitute. We can throw our pebble in the pond and be confident that its ever widening circle will reach around the world.” 

-The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean of Marsh Chapel

March 13

Lenten Series 2022: The Life of Dorothy Day

By Marsh Chapel

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Luke 13:31-35

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Bring to our troubled minds

Uncertain and afraid

The quiet of a steadfast faith

Calm of a call obeyed

Sometimes an encounter with a radically committed person, one like Dorothy Day, can free up a part of a person in soul and spirit in a way that frees up the rest of him or her.  One wonders whether that might happen for some, for some of us, this Lent?  These three weeks we converse with Day, her life and her faith and her work, even as we listen for the Gospel in Luke.

No other Lukan passage, nor any in the Gospels together, so firmly as ours today fixes Jesus and his Word, the church and its Gospel, in the waves, swells, eddies and swirls of politics.  Amid much happier parables, chapters 8-18, blessed and beautiful and exclusive to Luke—Samaritan, good; Son, prodigal; Steward, dishonest yet somehow noble—Jesus accosts us and upbraids us today in full cultural mien.  The governmental power of the day is Herod, whom Jesus dresses down, insults even, as ‘that fox’.  The warning about power and its move against truth comes, perhaps with a strange motive, but cast by Luke in the affirmative, comes from Jesus’ opponents, the Pharisees.  Jesus is fearless, here, though not so such in the garden of Gethsemane later.  He places Himself, or rather, Luke places himself placing himself, in the centuries’ long tradition of the Hebrew Prophets, a tradition pristine, golden, unlike any other in religious history, four the greater and twelve the lesser.  All found their way, or their voice, or both in Jerusalem, the religious and political center.  Jerusalem whom Jesus loves, loves so much, loves like a mother hen, loves like a momma, like a hen gathering her chicks.  A striking, feminine image of the divine, strong and true.  The Gospel is social through and through, as Luke here today reminds us.  Read the Bible and Luke and Luke 13:  Jerusalem! Jerusalem!  Or for us today:  Pollution! Pandemic! Politics! Prejudice! Pocketbook! Peril!  Jerusalem! Jerusalem! There is no holiness save social holiness, taught Mr. Wesley.  None. No other Lukan passage, nor any in the Gospels together, so firmly as ours today fixes Jesus and his Word, the church and its Gospel, in the swells, eddies and swirls of politics.

What do we find in Luke?

Luke was written nearly a generation later than Mark, by most estimates, Mark in or near 70, Luke in or near 85 or 90 of the common era (in fact, possibly much later).  Traditionally ascribed to Luke the physician, its author and that of its sequel, the Acts of the Apostles, is finally unknown to us.  We know him only through the writing itself.

Luke is made up of a mixture of ingredients.  First, Luke uses most of Mark.  An example is the memory of a part of our passage today, Luke 13: 34ff.  Like Matthew, Luke knew and repeated most of the earlier gospel of Mark.  But he made changes along the way, or construed the gospel according to his own desires and emphases.  This is hopeful for us, in that it is an encouragement for us to take the gospel in hand, and interpret it according to our time, location, understanding, and need.  In fact, we are summoned and ordered to do so, and not free not to do so.  Second, Luke uses a collection of teachings, called Q, as does Matthew.  An example is our Lord’s Prayer, later in the service.  Luke’s version is slightly different from that in Matthew, as is his version of the beatitudes and other teachings, found in the ‘sermon on the plain’, rather than the ‘sermon on the mount’.  Third, Luke makes ample use of material that is all his own, not found in Mark or elsewhere.  The long chapters from Luke 8 or so through Luke 18 or so, where we find ourselves this morning, are all his.   Luke brings us a unique mixture of materials, and makes his own particular use of them.  And what does Luke say?  Ah, this will take us the rest of the year and more fully to unravel, including our work this Lent.

 For our Lenten Sermon Series, beginning today, will engage in conversation with Dorothy Day, a Lukan Christian if ever there was one.  In this Marsh Chapel pulpit, from 2007-2016, Lent by Lent, we identified a theological conversation partner for the Lenten sermons, broadly speaking, out of the Calvinist tradition, so important to the first 200 years in New England.  In the next decade, we have turned to the Catholic tradition, so important in the last 200 years in New England.  With Calvin we encountered the chief resource for others we engaged over ten years—voices like those of Jonathan Edwards (2015), John Calvin (2014), Marilyn Robinson (2013), Jacques Ellul (2012), Dietrich Bonhoeffer (a Lutheran cousin)(2011), Karl Barth (2010), and Gabriel Vahanian (2007), and themes like Atonement (2009) and Decision (2008), summarized with the help of Paul of Tarsus (2016).  Then in this decade, beginning with Lent 2017, the Marsh pulpit, a traditionally Methodist one, turned left, not right, toward Rome not Geneva, and we have preached with, and learned from the Roman Catholic tradition, and some of its great divines including Henri Nouwen (2017) Thomas Merton (2018) John of the Cross (2019), Teresa of Avila (2020), and St Patrick (2021).  In future years, it may be Ignatius of Loyola, Erasmus, Hans Kung, Karl Rahner, or others, one per year.  Perhaps you will suggest a name or two, not from Geneva, but from Rome?  For those who recall, even if dimly, the vigor and excitement of Vatican II, there may well be other names to add to the list.  Yet something about this past year and its hurts, something about Covid life in Boston it may be, something about the events and outcomes of late autumn, something about immersion in the home of the bean and the cod for several years, something, a connection say with our many Roman Catholic friends, listeners, correspondents, partners in the fellowship of the Gospel, brought her forward.  Day was viscerally engaged in the political struggles of her era, out of her hard won understanding the rudiments of Christianity.  Hers may be a very timely voice for us in late Covid, winter, 2022.  Today we mark two years of Covid, costly, costly years.  Right now, we are viscerally engaged in our own struggles.  We are seeking to support, for instance, what is right and best in Ukraine, with measures both of resistance and restraint, resistance to merciless brutality, and restraint before the prospect of nuclear conflagration.  One pastoral word, among others, might be today to keep us focused on our own circles of influence, the places where we can actually make a difference, over against the global and endless circles of concern which we carry. (One such is the United Methodist Committee on Relief, UMCOR.)

 Today, perhaps, we can begin to converse with Day, in connection to her sense of spirit throughout the course of her long, troubled, and difficult life.

In Covid autumn, 2020, our son gave as a birthday present a book,

(Dorothy Day: Dissenting Voice of the American Century. John Loughery and Blythe Randolph.  New York:  Simon and Schuster, 2020.).  Initially, it lay unread, but still at hand.  Books have a way of staying around, of quietly reaching out to us.  Its first chapters, about her raucous wayward early life, were at the first off-putting, even as much as they were news or unknown, so again, it moved back in the pack.  Somehow, though, the tome came on and proposed, even insisted, to be read.  Read it was.  And what a gift, one of the quiet Covid gifts that kept us going through two years, marked this day, two years of rot, of loss, of diminishment, of worry, of hurt, of anxiety, depression, loneliness and deadly wreckage, especially for the least, the last and the lost. We have miles to go in recovery before we sleep. And what better document to peruse in Covid?  It became read because it demanded to be read and should have been read.  And was.

Born in 1897, Dorothy was raised in vaguely Episcopalian home, with two brothers, a philandering father, and a devoted mother.  What is striking to the average revisitation of her early life is just how chaotic, tempestuous, conflicted and hard it was. (It seems, at least to this observer, that she spent much of the rest of her life trying to escape her youth—its emptiness, its infidelities, its spiritual sterility, its abandonment of faith and church and God.)   She was raised for a time in Chicago, went to college in Champagne Urbana on her own steam and dime, and for some decades lived a bohemian life.  She drank heavily, loved widely, moved frequently, and befriended generously.   Most of us know her, if at all, through the lens of The Catholic Worker, which is fair enough.  But prior to the advent of that publication, she had already developed an experienced writing life, largely in New York City, which included community, consort and conversation with some of the leading cultural, theatrical, musical and political leaders of the time.

Dorothy was a convert to Catholicism, drawn heavily, as are so many seminarians today, to the biblical and historical Christian commitment to justice, and for the poor.  Wrote her biographers Loughery and Randolph: The belief that material comfort—and, in particular, wealth—might actually be dangerous, putting a distance between God and one’s fundamental humanity, wasn’t a notion Americans were or are comfortable with.  She came to believe that the true objects of devotion in Western culture—security, affluence, national pride, an enthrallment to innovation and technology—were the sources of our undoing as a moral society, and she was impatient with anyone who made religions seem reassuring rather than demanding and transcendent.  The New Testament called on all believers to fight racism, war and poverty, or it meant nothing at all.  Faith was less about solace than a call to action and disruption.  Piety and conformity to social norms had little to do with each other. (2).

 Following her younger years in the mid-west, Dorothy Day primarily lived in New York City, in and near the Bowery.  She wrote a semi-autobiographical novel, The Eleventh Virgin, which had some critical success and modest sales.  The reading and re-revisitation of her younger adult years is simply harrowing.  She embraced a series of, frankly, violent men, who after a time each left her, one leaving her pregnant which led to an abortion.  The homes were harrowing, the circumstances harrowing, the labor required harrowing.  One Greenwich Village apartment engulfed her in a gas leak, leaving her unconscious, and almost leaving her dead.  Yet she read widely and knew many of the great writers of the age—Maugham, Wolfe, Lawrence, Wharton, James, Merton, Anderson, Auden, O’Neill (one of her consorts), London, Dell, Fitzgerald, Monroe, Merton, Berrigan, Crane, Porter, Chesterton, Maritain, Sanger, all--and wrote for various radical publications:  The Call, the Masses, The Liberator, others.  In 1926 she gave birth to her daughter, Tamar, (Hebrew for Palm Tree) (106).

One of the ways, it seems, that over time Dorothy Day could handle and withstand the kind of stress and difficulty of her activist life, had to do with the regular use of retreats.  How else would she be able steadily to speak out, as she did in a letter in Commonweal in 1948:  Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his brothers…and the Russians are our brothers, the Negro is our brother, the Japanese are our brothers, the Germans, the Mexicans, the Filipinos, the Jews and Arabs.  (235).  In the same issue, the editors of Commonweal wrote a strong critique of Day and her letter.

Dorothy Day’s life, work and faith are described in her best-known book The Long Loneliness, 1952.  Asked her biographers:  How much of Christ’s message were Christians really willing to accept? (256) (She was) committed to building a new society within the shell of the old (258).  A new society within the shell of the old.  Hm. It is striking just how faithfully, consistently, sacrificially and fully Day combined a dual allegiance:  both to her progressive ideals, and to the Roman Catholic Church, though she acquired many critics from both communities.

She was buried on December 2, 1980, following a funeral service at the Church of the Nativity on Second Avenue.  The readings in the service included Isaiah 58: 6-12, 1 John 4: 11-18, Matthew 5: 1-12.  The recessional hymn was ‘A Mighty Fortress.  Her eulogy included her own motto, or statement, or credo: All my life I have been haunted by God. (369)

Sometimes an encounter with a radically committed person, one like Dorothy Day, can free up a part of a person in soul and spirit in a way that frees up the rest of him or her.  One wonders whether that might happen for some, for some of us, this Lent?  One in one such moment prayed, Lord make me common as sagebrush, then set me on fire for the Gospel.  She and others point us to the living Christ, who promises today, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord’.

-The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean of Marsh Chapel