Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day

When I'm curious about a saint I try to start with reading something they themselves have written. Now this may seem like a fairly straightforward idea, but it can backfire. Reading St. Teresa of Avila straight-up for the first time is not easy reading or probably the best way to get to know her and her life's work in general. St. Therese of Lisieux on the other hand is incredibly impactful when you read her own words, while the biographies of her life can come off a little staid. (This is just from my own personal experience, however, I know different saints speak to different people in different hold your emails till the end!)

I've always wanted to know more about Dorothy Day (who isn't a saint yet, but her case has been opened by the Church and she has been given the title Servant of God) and had never read any of her actual writings, so I decided to start with The Long Loneliness, her autobiography describing her early life up until about 1952. I'm glad I started here because it is a great depiction of what brought her to her unique vocation and the fundamentals of her unusual conversion. She writes about her childhood and the interesting impressions made upon her moving across America with her family, as well as different riveting experiences that brought her through left-wing political thinking to protesting to becoming a force for the people through ministering through houses of hospitality with the development of The Catholic Worker.

What I was surprised most by was her tender writings about how much she loved family. Both the family she was born into and the family she created with her baby's father and her daughter. She describes her love for them so honestly that the sacrifice she made in committing to Christ and his Church must have been all that much harder and courageous. Dorothy saw the beauty of family as one of life's greatest truths that all people deserved, and how it was the foundation of love. It was the model of her community within The Catholic Worker and it was one in which she shared the love of Christ.

I've always been intrigued by Dorothy Day because of her political activism, not so much because of bleeding-heart-liberal-leanings which seem to make up a lot of her proponents within the Church, but because she was active within the political process throughout such a tumultuous 20th century. I shouldn't have been surprised, nor should anyone really, that Dorothy's politics once she experienced her conversion were not left wing or right wing, but simply Catholic. Hence why she had both supporters and opponents from every side. She never took a blatantly popular position and ran with it, but lived the Catholic truth of wanting the political sphere to be one that enhanced and supported human dignity in every way possible.

But the most important aspect of this book that stays with you after reading, is her humility and love for Christ and his Church. Much like other books written by saints and blesseds, Dorothy's representation of herself, her strengths and spirituality, is very straightforward and humble. She hardly describes herself as someone who woke up one day to discover she was staggeringly holy and then decided to do good, but rather felt called to do good works out of love and in doing so grew closer to Christ. Because of this humility many may seem disappointed with this book because its not a synthesis of her spirituality or a catalogue of her great social work. But it speaks to the quiet yet great sacrifices of Dorothy's life which are inspiring to anyone who trying to live a life of faith.

Joining the spiciest Jessica for What We're Reading Wednesdays!

I had inaccurately stated Dorothy's canonization cause when this was originally published but have now corrected it! Servant of God Dorothy Day please pray for inaccurate writers like me! For more of her writings The Catholic Worker's website is a wonderful resource of many of Dorothy's articles.

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  1. I loved this book. Like you, I was touched by her love. I can also understand much of her political views in context. She lead such an interesting life!

  2. I've never read anything by or about her. I know Brandon Vogt is writing a book, or a chapter of a book about her, and I believe she will be featured in the upcoming Word on Fire production, Pivotal Players that's highlights influential people in the history of the Church, saints and other figures like Michaelangelo and Dorothy Day. I do love a memoir, and it sounds like this one is an enjoyable and enlightening read. Thank you!

  3. Christy. I am so glad you have talked about this...I also have been very intriugued by Dorothy Day's life story and her mission in life. I actually never knew she had an autobiography, but I am definitely adding it to my list right now! :)

  4. Ohhh, I might need to get this book. I am SO glad you said what you said in your opening paragraph. My first two saint writings were St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Teresa of Avila, too. I almost quit Interior Castle fifty times, but the end made it worth it!!

  5. This is a wonderful book, but I liked "On Pilgrimage," which is a collection of her journals, even more. I am hard pressed to think of another great Catholic spiritual writer who was also a mother. Dorothy Day is awesome!

  6. Thanks for this recommendation. I've been interested in her, but she seems like such a politically loaded figure that it's hard to know where to start.

  7. I don't envy those who must research her cause. What a complicated life she led. No more complicated than St. Augustine or St. Paul of course, but so many of her early positions and the political leaders she admired then give me the willies. I don't know how the church would handle it. How would it look on Pinterest to have her photo emblazoned with a quote about how swell Mao Tse Tung is above the words St. Dorthy Day?

    Problems of our era I guess!

  8. I love Dorothy Day!!! And the whole Catholic Worker movement actually; at least as it was intended to be, not as it is usually thought of today. You can read all her old articles online through their archives. For someone who's really interested I recommend the biography if Day by William miller and The Duty of Delight is ALL her diary entries compiles into a book. She is a fascinating woman and studying her writings introduced me to distributimism, Belloc, back to the land agrarianism and so much good Catholic social teaching. My whole first blog was dedicated to helping people understand what she taught and that she was a faithful, Orthodox Catholic. Anyway, I could ramble on about her all night. I'm glad you enjoyed her book; it's a great starting point to get to know her.

  9. The Vatican granted the Archdiocese of New York permission to open Day's cause in March 2000.

  10. I've not read anything written by or about Dorothy Day. The Long Loneliness seems like a good place to begin! Thanks :)!


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