Thursday 4 November 2021

Dorothy Day Devoted Daughter of the Church - Father Ashley Beck - CTS Biographies

Dorothy Day: 
Devoted Daughter of the Church
Fr. Ashley Beck
Catholic Truth Society
ISBN 9781860825071
eISBN 9781784694913
CTS Booklet B705

This is the third volume from Father Ashley Beck that I have read. A few years ago, I stumbled across the books and booklets from the Catholic Truth Society quite by accident. I was researching an author I had run across, and was trying to track down all of her works. Soon I had a long list of books from the CTS on my Wish List, and it seems that for everyone I read I end up with 1 or 2 more on my wish list. I have now read over 200 volumes from the CTS, and have nearly that many on my wish list. And with each book I read I am blessed. Father Ashley Beck wrote I believe 8 volumes for the Catholic Truth Society, and most of them were biographies. Some of his are available as eBooks and those that do not appear to currently be out of print. But from what I have read they are well worth tracking down. This volume was published in 2008 and the eBook edition released in 2017. But let us return to this book and the that it is excellent introduction to Dorothy Day. The description of this booklet is:

“Dorothy Day founded the Catholic Worker Movement and Newspaper, and dedicated her life to the cause of peace, opposition to nuclear weapons, and service of the poor. She died in 1980.

A controversial figure in life, and even in death, there are many who believe Dorothy Day, who died in 1980, to be a modern day saint. An American journalist and political activist who converted to Catholicism following a profound existential crisis in her late twenties, Day founded the Catholic Worker Movement and Newspaper, and dedicated her life to the cause of peace, opposition to nuclear weapons and service of the poor. In 2000, Rome recognised the cause for her beatification. This booklet unravels the life, times and thought of this most amazing of women, who passed through despair, crises and opposition to find the Risen Lord.”

The chapters in the book are:

A Modern-day Saint
Early Life
Conversion and Life as a Catholic
Peter Maurin
The Catholic Worker Paper
Vision for Peace
Closing Years and Death
Her Holiness and Theology
The Catholic Worker Movement Today
Further reading

But it should be noted that about a third of the book is dedicated to Peter Maurin, his thought, his influence and his impact on Day and her own thoughts and works. I had come across Dorothy Day a few times in my academic research, having a Religious Studies degree with a focus on Roman Catholic Thought. But As mentioned in the description she was controversial, and often skimmed over or mentioned as a side remark. I really wish I had taken the time to look into the woman and her works earlier. I was surprised by much of what I read in this volume, and will be looking into her life and her works more deeply. And the end of the volume has some excellent recommendations. Just short of a third of  the book is the Section “Further reading” and “Endnotes”. I was so impressed with the life of Day that I read all of the end notes and some of them were extensive. The book also has a wonderful ‘Prayer for Dorothy Day’s Canonisation’ at the end. Some of the passages I highlighted my first time through were:

“In the year 2000 the Holy See recognised the cause for the beatification of Dorothy Day (giving her the title ‘Servant of God’). Some years before Cardinal John O’Connor, Archbishop of New York, said in support of the process: ‘It has long been my contention that Dorothy Day is a saint–not a ‘gingerbread’ saint or a ‘holy card’ saint, but a modern day devoted daughter of the Church’.”

“For the poor and for peace The two pillars of Day’s life and teaching bear this out–love for the poor and witness for peace. Day and her associate Peter Maurin established a radical form of love for the poor–living with the poor, sharing resources to help the poor, campaigning for poor workers and the homeless-following in the footsteps of many saints in the history of Christianity.”

“As the cause for her beatification progresses it is right for us to assess her influence and reflect on her heroic qualities. We should, however, recall that she herself said: ‘Don’t call me a saint. I don’t want to be dismissed so easily.’”

“Perhaps surprisingly her experience at university was negative–although she read avidly (especially from now on Russian authors–Gorky, Chekhov, and Tolstoy and, above all, Dostoyevsky) she avoided campus social life and worked in order to support herself financially. She began her journalistic career writing for local papers and joined the Socialist Party.”

“But she had made deep and influential friendships, such as that with Rayna Simons. She and her future husband Samson Raphaelson were Jewish, and the way they were treated at university was Day’s first encounter with antisemitism–in the 1930s, she would found the first Catholic group opposed to anti-semitism.”

“Day was often imprisoned during her life and her sense of solidarity with prisoners was consistently strong, as was her opposition to the brutality of the death penalty.”

“By 1922 she was living in Chicago and working on a paper called The Liberator. Women linked to the I.W.W. were treated by the police as if they were prostitutes and Dorothy was arrested after one of the so-called ‘Palmer Red Raids’ which were such a feature of life in America in these turbulent years. Dorothy was shocked by the ways in which the women prisoners were abused and humiliated: ‘.... It was an unutterably horrifying experience for me. I had opened the door in fear and trembling and had been forced to dress practically in the presence of two detectives, leering….’”

“She also lived with Catholic girls in Chicago who went to Mass and set aside times for prayer each day. The Catholic Church was fascinating to Day, who wrote: ‘worship, adoration, thanksgiving, supplication…were the noblest acts of which we are capable in this life.’”

“Dorothy had met a nun on the beach at Staten Island, and with her help had Tamar Teresa baptised in July 1927. This nun, Sister Aloysia of the Sisters of Charity ‘had had none of the university summer courses that most Sisters must take nowadays. She never talked to me of the social encyclicals of the Popes. She gave me a catechism and brought me old copies of the Messenger of the Sacred Heart, a magazine which, along with the Kathleen Norris type of success story, had some good solid articles about the teachings of the Church. I read them all; I studied my catechism; I learned to say the Rosary; I went to Mass in the chapel by the sea; I walked the beach and I prayed; I read the Imitation of Christ, and St Augustine, and the New Testament.’”

“In these first four or five years as a Catholic Dorothy was searching for a vocation and trying on her own to bring up a baby.”

“The houses of hospitality were to bring about the practice of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy; the farming communes, especially in the context of the early 1930s, were to remedy the terrible problem of unemployment. We will now look at how the paper and the movement behind it developed from 1933.”

“Her consciousness of God’s action through the sacraments is shown in other ways too, such as her experience of God’s forgiveness in confession (and she deplored the decline in the practice of confession from the 1960s) and there are many accounts in her writings of members of the Catholic Worker family being anointed before death. For her the sacraments were never (as they are for some) a means of escaping from the world and its sufferings: rather they were the means through which God meets us day by day with his healing grace.”

“Part of her reading at this time was a life of St Teresa of Avila: from the very beginning of her life as a Catholic Dorothy saw the saints as her friends within the Church. Her closeness to Our Lady is very natural and striking, rooted in everyday life:”

“This characteristic, of resistance to the power of the state, is the final mark of holiness which we can identify. Throughout the history of the Church, and perhaps particularly the twentieth century, this has defined Christian witness, particularly in the lives of the martyrs, men and women like Blessed Franz Jagerstätter, St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, the Servant of God Oscar Romero and countless others.”

“Day wrote of those who came into contact with Maurin that ‘though they themselves fail to go the whole way, their faces are turned at least toward the light.’ She would never be satisfied with that, of course, but those words do help us understand how great her influence has been, and how much more it can achieve as we learn more of her life and listen to her words.”

This booklet was an excellent little read. It truly is a great read from the Catholic Truth Society, a wonderful volume in the CTS Biographies Series. I highly recommend this book!

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2021 Catholic Reading Plan! For other reviews of books from the Catholic Truth Society click here.

Books by Ashley Beck:
Europe's Soul and Her Patron Saints
Ronald Knox
Thomas Merton: Contemplative and Peace-maker

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