Dorothy Day, the Catholic

To those who have little grasp of history, or who get their history from disreputable sources, it might seem odd for such a powerful advocate for social justice–even, arguably, for socialism–should find so comfortable a home in the Catholic Church. Dorothy Day complicates this picture by being an adult convert, removing the convenient “she was born into it” rationalization from those who see the Catholic Church as an agent for repression of the marginalized and a bastion of conservative values. Yet as those who float left politically find a friend of women and homosexuals in the Episcopal churches, the poor have traditionally found their home in the Roman Catholic Church. (In fact, it is entirely within the realm of defensible argument to suggest that the progressive nature of the Episcopal church is tied intimately to its affluence and that the conservative values of Catholics are popular values.) It should therefore surprise no one that Dorothy Day should be both an ardent Catholic and a dedicated advocate for the poor, the oppressed, and the stigmatized. The next entry will deal with the latter aspect of her life, but for now consider two quotes that show the deep Catholic influence on Day’s thought, first on the value of tradition (the great enemy of progressive philosophy) and then with respect to church.

Tradition! We scarcely know the word any more. We are afraid to be either proud of our ancestors or ashamed of them. We scorn nobility in name and in fact. We cling to a bourgeois mediocrity which would make it appear we are all Americans, made in the image and likeness of George Washington, all a pattern, all prospering if we are good, and going down in the world if we are bad. These are attitude the Irish, the Italian, the Lithuanian, the Slovak and all races begin to acquire in school. So they change their names, forget their birthplace, their language, and no longer listen to their mothers when they say, “When I was a little girl in Russia, or Hungary, or Sicily.” They lose their cult and their culture and their skills, and leave their faith and folk songs and costumes and handcrafts, and try to be something which they call “an American.”

I had heard many say that they wanted to worship God in their own way and did not need a Church in which to praise Him, nor a body of people with whom to associate themselves. But I did not agree to this. My very experience as a radical, my whole make-up, led me to want to associate myself with others, with the masses, in loving and praising God.

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