Tag Archives: All Saints Day

Christian Hope and the Holy Souls

Laura TaylorLaura Taylor 

House of Brigid

Wexford, Ireland

“Ego sum lux mundi,” read the ancient words of Christ engraved in the weathered, grey stone above the high altar of St. Colman’s church in the quiet country parish of Ballindaggin, County Wexford, Ireland. “I am the light of the world.”

St. Colman's Church, BallindagginI was there to pay my respects for a deceased relative of a nun with whom I had become quite close over the last year. Following traditional Irish funeral observances, it seemed like the inhabitants of the entire village had packed the church for the customary removal service. These traditional Catholic prayers recited at the church in the evenings before funerals are about as ingrained in the Irish consciousness as their love for piping hot tea, spuds, the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association), and commiserating about the weather. We were there to pray fervently for the commendation of this dearly departed soul to heaven, that she would in turn pray unceasingly for us from there with the eternal communion of saints, in the company of Christ and our Blessed Mother.Removal Pic 2

No instructions were given at any point in the ceremony about when to sit, kneel, or stand; the people around me just knew.

The parish priest sprinkled holy water over the casket, and the moment the prayers were finished, everyone leapt from their seats in a rush to shake the hands of the grieving family members, while the many conversations among the mourners elevated the noise level in the church to a dull roar. Our religious duties accomplished, we spilled out of the mid-19th century church–the men headed straight to the village pub, the women congregated outside for the latest gossip, and I strolled pensively around the small cemetery nestled against the church walls, waiting for my companions to emerge so we could make the hour’s journey home.

As we remember the souls of the faithful departed in this month of November, I find myself increasingly struck by the visceral manner in which the Irish honor, mourn, and think about the dead. Carlingford ChurchFamilies and local communities band together immediately following the death of a loved one: they fill normally-empty church pews to the brim in order to somberly commemorate “anniversary Masses,” and to pray en masse for the deceased at removal services, wakes, and funerals. Conversations about death in Ireland are quite open–almost bruisingly candid–and happen over a cup of tea, in the street, or out at the pub. The famed Irish wakes still happen–albeit less often now, due to the rising popularity of funeral homes–and are completely unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. The open casket lies in state in the family’s living room, mourners sit in chairs around the body and take turns swapping humorous or emotional stories about the deceased, and a seemingly endless supply of scalding hot tea and coffee, and freshly-baked cakes and scones in the adjoining rooms provides much-needed spiritual and bodily nourishment, and still more cathartic conversation.irish_wake_paintingThere is a freshness in the Irish perspective towards death and dying, however unsettling it may be to a young American in her mid-twenties, who, before moving to Ireland, had attended only a couple funerals–all with closed caskets, all conducted as swiftly and discreetly as possible, the reality of death too uncomfortable for the American psyche. In Ireland, though, I see the true embodiment of Christian hope lived out each day; even in the throes of sorrow and grief, death here is no frightening spectre, but an almost-friend–a constant, quiet companion on life’s journey.

Here, mourning is a public act, and the healing process truly is communal. Churches see their numbers swell dramatically in the month of November in Ireland, as the annual remembrance of the dead draws people from all walks of life–the old, the young, the rich and poor, Travellers and settled, the faithful, and, surprisingly, those who have drifted away from the Church. They are all connected in their grief, and their desire to remember the ones they have lost. The liturgies of this month in particular somehow seem to tap into the deepest recesses of the heart, compelling all of us to congregate, remember, and pray for our loved ones, that they might, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.vigil at maynoothPope Francis’ namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, tenderly refers to death as a sister: “Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whose embrace no one living can escape.” There is an inexplicable comfort in this Month of the Holy Souls here in Ireland, for alongside the heartache of loss accompanies a lingering sense of peace, and hope.  

Baseball and Discipleship

Carolyn Pirtle

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Contact Author

Oh hey, ball, I'm just gonna slide across the ground and catch you now. No big deal.
Oh hey, ball, I’m just gonna slide across the ground and catch you now. No big deal.

Professional baseball players make the sport look easy. It’s not. Everything happens in fractions of a second: a batter decides to swing at a smallish ball traveling toward him at a speed faster than most cars are allowed to drive on a highway; a fielder decides how far to run in a particular direction for a catch, or at what trajectory he needs to throw the ball to his teammate; a pitcher suddenly hurls the ball to a baseman instead of the catcher in an attempt to throw a runner out. Watch the World Series game tonight if you don’t believe me. This game is hard. And yet, again, the pros make it look easy; or, more accurately, they make it look possible. When kids watch their heroes step up to the plate and knock a homerun out of the park, they often think to themselves, “I can do that.”

What those kids rarely realize is that the effortlessness they’re watching onscreen or in the ballpark is the result of years spent cultivating God-given athletic talent through training, hard work, discipline, and sacrifice. They’re watching the hours spent in the gym, the innumerable practices, the strict diet (in most cases), the intense spring training, the grueling travel schedule. They’re watching a lifetime of choosing one way over another for the sake of a desired goal. In other words, they’re watching a pretty good model for the life of Christian discipleship (you know, if you give the players the benefit of the doubt as far as performance-enhancing drugs and other illicit activities are concerned—it’s a good model, not a perfect one).

Where the model breaks down is precisely where it also breaks open. Whereas professional athletes, or musicians, or dancers, or actors, or teachers, or doctors all have specific God-given talents or capacities that they’ve chosen to cultivate through work and study, in the Christian life, God has capacitated everyone to become a disciple. Indeed, God has not only capacitated but called everyone to become a disciple, and not just any run-of-the-mill disciple, but a Major League Disciple—a saint. “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).

We read in Lumen Gentium of this “universal call to holiness,” that “all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status are called to the fullness of the Christian life and the perfection of charity” (§40). Yet this sanctity is not something we can attain on our own through sheer capacity of will (sorry, Pelagius); that would be like someone with no athletic ability whatsoever dreaming that a career in Major League Baseball is possible if he simply eats enough Wheaties and works out enough. Rather, the capacity for sanctity is derived from the grace received in Baptism, from being grafted like a branch onto Christ the true vine. Just like the athlete or musician does not “earn” his or her natural capacities like height or a particular physical build, this grace—this capacity for discipleship and holiness and sainthood—is also a gift the Christian has not earned; yet, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer notes, the fact that the Christian has not earned this grace in no way reduces its value. Quite the opposite. This is a “costly grace” (The Cost of Discipleship, ch.1), and the price is nothing less than the life of the beloved Son, Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.

Léon Bonnat, Christ on the Cross
Léon Bonnat, Christ on the Cross

Accepting this gift of costly grace costs us something, too. Just as imparting the gift of grace cost the Son of God his life on the Cross, so too does our receiving his gift of grace cost us our very lives: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Lk 9:23–24; see also Mt 16:24–25 and Mk 8:34–35). The professional athlete knows that growing in his or her ability means saying no to some things in order to say yes to others. To grow in holiness, we must follow Christ, and to follow Christ means we say yes to one way of life and no to all others; we must say yes to him who is The Way (cf. Jn 14:6). Grace costs, both in the giving and in the receiving, but, as any professional athlete will tell you, the price of pain is worth the prize of glory on the field, and how much more so for the Christian, whose prize is the glory of eternal life with God in heaven.

Just as the pros make baseball look easy, in the Christian life, too, we find outstanding examples of holiness who almost make following Jesus look easy. Some of these men and women have been canonized as saints, and as we prepare to celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints this Sunday, we have to be aware of the reality that, in recalling the lives of these canonized saints, or even in thinking back on the lives of those holy loved ones who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith, it can be easy to look at them with the eyes of children watching their favorite baseball players at bat—to see only the seeming effortlessness of the saints and to forget that their faith only radiates the life of Christ because it has been tried and tested and purified by fire (cf. 1 Pet 1:6). The effortlessness we see when we look at the saints attests to the mystery that they have attained what T.S. Eliot describes as “A condition of complete simplicity / (Costing nothing less than everything)” (“Little Gidding,” Four Quartets). Every day of the Christian life is a day in the crucible, but for those who persevere, for those who gaze at their Savior on the Cross and say, “I can do that” or better yet, “I can do all things in him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13), the glory of eternal life awaits.

Baseball is hard, but this is a good thing, for as Coach Jimmy Dugan reminds us in A League of Their Own, “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.” The reality is that, no matter how hard a person may try, not everyone has the physical, God-given capacities to play this sport well. The life of discipleship is infinitely harder, but it’s supposed to be hard, because Christ’s gift of self on the Cross that made this life possible was the hardest and greatest gift of all, and our only possible response to the gift of “costly grace” we receive in the waters of Baptism (where, as St. Paul reminds us, we are baptized into Christ’s death (cf. Rom 6:3)) is to offer in return a life of “costly discipleship”—a life that costs “nothing less than everything,” a life poured forth in love that gives unto the end. The hard is what makes it great. The hard is what makes us saints.

Perspectives for All Saints Day

On this Solemnity of All Saints, we would like to present a compilation of past wisdom shared on this particular feast here on Oblation. As the saints offer us examples of God’s love concretized in rich and varied lives, so each of the posts below holds up different facets of this rich feast.

First, Timothy O’Malley presents sainthood as a gift of witness for the Church and the world in “The Vocation to Sainthood: The Transfiguration of Our Humanity.”

Second, Katherine Mahon reflects on the celebration of the feast of All Saints Day itself in “‘All Holy Men and Women”: The Example of the Saints.”

Finally, Ben Wilson contemplates the lives of the saints as individually and collectively presenting a rich icon of the inexhaustible love of Christ in “The Mosaic of Christ: A Reflection on All Saints Day.”

 

Blessed be God in his angels and in his saints!

Eclipse of the Heart

Leonard DeLorenzoLeonard DeLorenzo, Ph.D. Director, Notre Dame Vision Contact Author

Preliminary Note: This is not a scholarly argument but rather a quick, unscientific reflection based upon firsthand observation.

 My wife and I send our kids to a Catholic school.  The primary reason for this is because we think the educational opportunities happen to be stronger at this school than at other schools available to us in our immediate area.  Secondarily, we appreciate the general warmth and kindness of the school community.  Neither of these reasons is directly related to a Catholic identity.  catholic_schoolIf we happened to live where I grew up, our kids would go to one of the public schools because what happens to be true of our Catholic school here was true of the public school I attended there.

Appropriately for Halloween, I remember being haunted.  In this case what haunted me once was what a slightly older school parent said to me a couple years back.  With her son set to graduate from the eighth grade and move on from our grade school to high school, I asked her what she thought about his Catholic education to date.  She said that he and all of his friends were, generally, “really nice kids” who “received a really good education” and were prepared to do well in high school.  The hint of disappointment I thought I heard in what otherwise seemed like a positive assessment was confirmed when she added, “and I just don’t think that’s enough.”

I have a lot of questions regarding how well (or not) Catholic schools actually form young people in the Catholic faith, or even teach the Catholic faith in a robust and substantive (though of course age-appropriate) way.  I know many of the schools are successful in teaching other things very well and I believe that, by and large, they are positive communities, with many of them offering quality educations in places where alternatives are bleak.  At the same time, I find myself more than hesitant to declare that they are altogether effective in promoting lasting faith formation and attuning young people to the particularities of the Catholic faith.  At worst, I fear that if just enough is given in terms of religious education and formation in faith, then students will be inhibited from growing further in the future and/or will settle upon a rather deficient understanding of Catholic belief and the quality of faith.  My experience of Catholic education from the perspective of a parent (as well as from a University setting where I meet many young people who are products of Catholic education), is that, by and large, it really isn’t all that effective in instilling a love for the Church or of forming a religious imagination.  I don’t mean to suggest that those two things should replace a fine education and a warm environment, but I do mean to suggest that the former are distinctively Catholic markers whereas the latter are not. IMG_2444

Halloween has become for me an annual occasion of my discontent.  When
I helped out with my son’s kindergarten class several years ago, I
found myself deeply disappointed at the beginning of October when I discovered that the expectations for the end of the month festivities all had to do with typical Halloween stuff. I expected something else. There seemed to be nothing at all happening in regards to All Saints’ Day.  Maybe it was part of the class’s lesson in religion, but the celebration itself didn’t have the saints in view, neither the canonized ones nor the anonymous ones.  It was as if Halloween was worth celebrating for all its fun and treats, but the saints weren’t. At least that was the implicit message in what was being offered, even if no one at the school intentionally made that choice.  And that’s just it: no one was intentionally making a choice to be Catholic, to create a distinctively Catholic culture, to educate in Catholic things and to form Catholic imaginations, and so the default was to do pretty much the same thing as everyone else, while saying please and thank you in the process.

This memory resurfaced about a week ago when I learned from a friend that her daughter’s Catholic school (in the same city as our own) was intentionally making a change in the way they approached this “holiday”.  Here is an excerpt from the note sent to room-parents:

Monsignor would really like us to shift our emphasis away from ghosts, witches and goblins to the real origin of All Hallow’s Eve—the vigil (preparation) day for All Saints’ Day.  So we are encouraged to downplay the secular emphasis on Halloween and build up the Catholic feast of all the holy men and women who have gone before us in faith, hope, and love.

All Saints 3In effect, Halloween was being removed so that the light of the saints could shine through.  This school was making the choice to let the kids see that and not just what they would already have seen otherwise.

A strange thing happens with Halloween.  It is not so much that a religious holiday gets morphed into a secular celebration (like Christmas) but rather that a secular celebration eclipses a religious holiday and makes it invisible (more like what the “holiday shopping season” does to Advent).  Just like everyone else, Catholic school children are given a festive opportunity to pretend being something they’re not rather than practicing and celebrating what they are and are called to become: holy (young) men and women.

Halloween teaches kids to look forward to and be excited about dress-up and candy.  This isn’t inherently harmful except that it comes at the expense of what might otherwise incite their imaginations and stoke their excitement, if we would only teach them accordingly.  Isn’t there a grand opportunity here for Catholic schools to teach our kids how to be excited about and dream about the possibilities for holiness in the company of both the great and unknown saints who have lived and died in faith?

In short, I think that for this particular holiday—the Solemnity of All Saints—we would be wise to ask ourselves how well we are working through our Catholic schools make sure that the following invitation falls upon receptive hearts and well-formed imaginations:

Let us all rejoice in the Lord, as we celebrate the feast day in honor of all the Saints, at whose festival the Angels rejoice and praise the Son of God. (Entrance Antiphon, Solemnity of All Saints)

“All Holy Men and Women”: The Holy Example of the Saints

Katharine Mahon

3rd Year Doctoral Student, Liturgical Studies

University of Notre Dame

Contact Author

Celebrating All Saints’ Day can easily turn into a sort of liturgical catch-all for the sanctoral cycle: a way to honor any and all saints who fell by the wayside during our yearly celebration of the cycle of saints’ days.  But today is not the liturgical equivalent of the altar to the unknown god in Athens which Paul describes in Acts 17:22-23; the saints are not powerful beings in need of worship and ready to punish us for forgetting them.  The saints are holy Christian men and women, famous for their faith, love, and connection to God during their lifetimes and celebrated for their continued connection to God after their deaths.  We do not honor the saints in their own right, but, rather, we honor them for the ways in which their lives and teachings glorify God, point believers to Christ, and help us to grow in faith.  We honor them for their heroic faith and inspiring Christ-like love; we honor them for making Christ present in the midst of our world, miles away from where Christ walked and centuries after he died; we honor them for living the seemingly impossible perfection of the Christian life which, through Jesus Christ, we promised and we were promised at our baptisms.  We celebrate the saints as our spiritual champions, and yet we acknowledge that they have accomplished that which all Christians are called to do in their mortal lives, and, moreover, that they have received that eternal life which Jesus promised in the Gospels to all who follow him.

Last year on All Saints’ Day, Timothy O’Malley wrote about the Christian vocation to sainthood.  He explained that our humanity is not what excuses us from the perfection of the saints, but is, in fact, the only way in which we can hope to become saints.  How can we possibly hope to accomplish this daunting vocation of saintly perfection, you ask?  The answer, of course, is Jesus (if I have learned anything from graduate theological study, it’s that the answer is always Jesus); perfection can only be reached through Jesus Christ who became human so that humanity could become one with God.  “Follow me,” Jesus invites us again and again in the Gospels, and it is the variety of holy responses to that invitation which not only defines two thousand years of Christian history, but also defines why we celebrate of All Saints’ Day.  All Saints’ Day is not the celebration of the saints for their holiness or miracles in and of themselves; it is the celebration of how the lives, deaths, examples, and prayers of the saints point us to Christ and lead us in our journey to everlasting life with him.

The core of the Christian understanding of sainthood is the belief that the saint lived a life (or, in the case of martyrs, died a death) so exemplary of Christ’s good news or so obviously Christ-like that he or she now undoubtedly enjoys eternal life with Christ.  Let us take Saint Paul as an example: we remember Paul’s holy life and holy death in stories, we celebrate his heavenly union with Christ in the Eucharistic prayers, we request his holy prayers in devotions, and we strive to be holy as he was holy by following the example of his life and the wisdom of his teachings.  There is, however, something troubling to our modern sensibilities about seeing the saints as models and following the examples of the saints.  For one, their examples are incredibly extraordinary (they would be tough acts to follow); for another, standard categorization of the saints can often be quite limited, focusing on the saints’ ordained status or virginity, which seems to boil down their heroic holiness to simplistic models.

The issue, I think, lies in the way we understand the saints as models and how we conceive of imitating their examples.  Saint Catherine of Siena, Virgin and Doctor of the Church, for example, is not a model for a life of faith in the sense that the pattern of her life should be emulated by all women through lifelong virginity and mystical spirituality; Catherine of Siena is a model for all the faithful in as much as she modeled Christ to others and lived a life of exemplary discipleship.  Catherine’s life was notable for her mystical visions of Christ, her selfless work for the poor and ill, her wise spiritual teachings, and even her advising of the pope.  Her life was also marked by an early vow of virginity, near-constant illness and suffering, and extreme fasting that contributed to her early death.  Catherine’s radical asceticism was considered a mark of holiness in the fourteenth century and, tragic as it sounds to us, back then this harsh asceticism was seen as a commendable way to commune with God, to follow Christ, and to become an instrument for grace and holiness in the world.  Her methods may be unpleasant to us but we should consider how they demonstrate the way in which Catherine—in her beloved spiritual teachings, critiques of corrupt authorities, care for the poor and sick, and ceaseless love of the Church—was zealously committed to modeling Christ for everyone who crossed her path and they made her one of the countless saintly models of loving one another as Christ love, the concept which we celebrate today.

At baptism we become Christ’s: we take on the gift of his name and the task of continuing his work on earth. The saints, then, continue Christ’s ministries of love through their work on earth and, by their examples, model the limitless ways in which we grow in communion with Christ by becoming more like him.  We hope, moreover, that their continued prayers and presence with us, the Church here on earth, might aid us in becoming worthy of being called members of the Body of Christ.  Therefore, when we celebrate All Saints’ Day, we celebrate this relationship of holiness—between Jesus Christ, the saints, and ourselves—which we hope will one day lead to all of us being counted among All Saints.

 

Little Ways to Sanctity: John Dunne, C.S.C.

Rebecca Guhin

M.Div. Candidate, University of Notre Dame

Contact Author

 Editorial Note:  As we begin our run up to the feast of All Saints, Rebecca Guhin will be offering a series of reflections on models of sanctity in the Christian life including Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, and John Dunne, C.S.C.  Today, she will treat Fr. John Dunne and will conclude her essay on the little ways to sanctity.

JOHN DUNNE, CSC:

Teacher of Insight, Teacher of the Heart

Looked at from the outside and before trusting,  this means, so to speak, ‘taking a chance’ on God, an awful chance.  From the inside and in the act of trusting, it means experiencing the trustworthiness of God.

– John Dunne, A Search for God in Time and Memory

Fr. John Dunne, CSC has been teaching theology at the University of Notre Dame for over half a century, and continues to remain beloved not only for his teaching, but for the person that he is:  a man who delights in gaining insight and sharing it with others, his self-proclaimed vocation (Dunne, Interview 10 Apr 2011).  Publishing sixteen books, Newsweek considered him “‘the only foreseeable successor to the late Paul Tillich in the field of systematic theology’” (Collinge 2006).  In his article in America, Collinge says, “It is true that Dunne abandoned the outward forms of systematic theology, but his work is more like Tillich’s (or Lonergan’s) than one might suppose, in that he never turns away from the question of the presence of God in our times as well as in our lives” (Collinge 2006).  As a man who is said to have read everything (though, mysteriously, has yet to read The Long Loneliness), Fr. Dunne is known for his love of J.R.R. Tolkien, and his ability to tie him into any point he makes in class (Collinge 2006).  Influenced by Augustine and Aquinas, whose “vision is a Christian version of the great Neoplatonic vision of the emanation of all things from the One and the return of all things to the One,” Fr. Dunne views life as a circle in this way: “the great circle of love” (Collinge 2006).

I chose to include Fr. Dunne in this essay because he represents the tangibility of this saintliness we already see so clearly in people like St. Therese, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.  He is a living example of holiness, a man that one can meet here on campus anytime, a famous writer, beloved professor, and devoted friend.  Fr. Dunne believes that to be a saint is to be “oned with God,” and we can achieve this by “learning to love” (Dunne, Interview 10 Apr 2011).  He says that his vocation is gaining and sharing insight (Dunne, Interview 10 Apr 2011).  Gaining insight is a “process,” and occurs through his “encounters” with people, through his “travel,” like his journey up the Amazon, and perhaps also through his prayer (Dunne, Interview 10 Apr 2011).  He shares these insights via writing and teaching, slowly opening himself to God and thus to new insights (Dunne, Interview 10 Apr 2011).  Fr. Dunne’s vocation as a priest, his commitment to poverty, chastity, and obedience, also falls under his call to share insight with others.  He discovered this vocation through the example of “paradigmatic individuals”: Jesus, Buddha, and Socrates, who lived out this “way of life” (Dunne, Interview 10 Apr 2011).

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FDfQMtwMRN4

Fr. Dunne also discusses the importance of trust as part of our path to holiness.  Though he never met Dorothy Day, he mentioned to me the time she kept giving away her money until she was given enough to make a trip to San Francisco.  Fr. Dunne appreciates Dorothy’s trust in God, which is so integral to our spiritual lives, and thus our daily lives.  Self-abandonment and letting go is central to his theology, and comes out clearly in his writing.  In A Search for God in Time and Memory, one of his earlier works, Dunne discusses the “kenosis” of Christ, His radical self-emptying embodied most clearly on the Cross, which then provided for the salvation of the world (Search 21).  Using Hegel’s philosophy, Fr. Dunne connects Christ’s sacrifice to our daily experiences, saying, “What man attempts to accomplish, losing himself as man in order that God may be born, is actually accomplished when he loses himself as God in order that man may be born” (Search 22).

This act of surrender, and openness to it, develops in a process— that of life itself.  Man must move from existence in the modern world, and its tendencies toward intense control over one’s life and circumstances to openness to God’s plan, that is, to self-abandonment.  Dunne writes:

“As long as the contemporary man works as though everything depended on his self, he finds himself unable to pray with any kind of conviction ‘as though everything depended on God.’  Only when he actually takes a chance on God, so to speak, can he pray and does the dark God begin to resemble Abba,”a tender name for father (Search 205).  He says we are part of a bigger story than ourselves, “that man does not live by self alone,” and thus we are not left with simply what we can do here in the modern world (Search 205).  Rather, we see what God can do through us, and perhaps in this way we come to our vocations.  Dunne writes, “Life is richer, man can live out of deeper sources, when he is no longer reduced to his self, when his soul is recognized” (Search 205).  Resting in one’s authentic identity in Christ enables him to be the person he most authentically is, to be a saint, and Fr. Dunne is no exception.

Openness to this identity begins, perhaps, with a radical shift from self to God.  After this “prime turning point … from God as unknown and uncontrollable to God as Abba,” one finds himself actually trusting God, “a change that is quite radical” (Search 222).  After all,

“It would mean relinquishing control of his life in the central area, where he cares and where he also is able to exercise control. Looked at from the outside and before trusting, this means, so to speak, ‘taking a chance’ on God, an awful chance. From the inside and in the act of trusting, it means experiencing the trustworthiness of God” (Search 222).

This change leads to the second step, which is the act of emptying oneself for others.  In this gaining and sharing of insight, “He is not making himself so much as discovering himself, and thus receiving himself and his life as a gift in the very moment of giving everything away to others” (Search 223).  Finally, “[t]he third turning point” brings the expectation of death, and the fourth is “death itself” (Search 223-224).  These continue and conclude our slow and yet wonderfully important life journeys, which Fr. Dunne considers his journey with God in time.

When asked, “What message would you give young people who seek to live holy lives?”,  Fr. Dunne paused for a moment, and replied, “Learning how to pray” (Dunne, Interview 10 Apr 2011).  Prayer is absolutely essential to Fr. Dunne’s life: it is not only part of his call as a Catholic and as a priest, it is part of who he is as a person, much like Merton’s vocation.  While monks focus on contemplative prayer and journaling, Fr. Dunne, who has probably read hundreds of books by mystics, suggested simplicity in prayer.  He often quotes The Cloud of Unknowing, saying “Short prayer penetrates heaven.”  Prayer can be, simply, “a conversation with ourselves,” in which we invite God into that conversation (Dunne, Interview 10 Apr 2011).  In this way, not only is one speaking with God, but we also receive a response, because “God speaks when the heart speaks” (Dunne, Interview 10 Apr 2011).  Thus, Fr. Dunne turns to Ignatius of Loyola, saying, “discernment” is “that process of waiting for the heart to speak” (Dunne, Interview 10 Apr 2011).  “Detached” from the noise of the world, we enter into silence and live our daily lives, waiting for the heart to speak (Dunne, Interview 10 Apr 2011).

We have discovered, then, that prayer is central to the lives of Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, and Fr. Dunne, and that their lives weave together: Fr. Dunne has learned about both figures, and Merton and Dorothy corresponded often via mail and through peace movements.  Though Fr. Dunne never met Merton, he has offered retreats for Trappists, including those at Gethsemane, where he said his experience was so “wonderful” he even wondered whether he should stay (Dunne, Interview 10 Apr 2011).  However, Fr. Dunne knew himself to be called to frequent contact with others, and the abbot responded to him, “Yes, if you are very inward, you need a lot of interaction with people” (Dunne, Interview 10 Apr 2011).  This startled Fr. Dunne, who realized that it means monks should be more “outward” (Dunne, Interview 10 Apr 2011).  However, “sure enough!,” Merton himself was extroverted and a life of quiet prayer helped him to to lead a more balanced life (Dunne, Interview 10 Apr 2011).  Fr. Dunne realized so immediately that he was not called to leave life as a Holy Cross priest and become a monk at Gethsemane because he was not Merton, this was not his vocation.  This warm, loving, and highly regarded professor finds his delight, his sanctity, in life as a priest, in teaching, in writing, in music, and in prayer.

Synthesis and Conclusions

The Folly of the Cross: Delight, Self-Abandonment, and Poverty

Everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life.   But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.

-Matthew 19:29-30

Perhaps Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, and John Dunne are not as different as we think.  Each of these newly classic figures are 20th century American Catholics, they are each writers, and they each become famous, locally or worldwide, not only because of their published works, but because of their lives.  Despite their, perhaps unwanted, fame, these three people exemplify “little ways” of holiness, and they begin to define for us what it means to be a Catholic, and what it means to be holy.  Merton said, “To be truly ‘Catholic’ is to be able to enter everybody’s problems and joys and be all things to all men” (IM 180).  Each of these figures are people of prayer, deeply active prayer that overflows into love for the world, and each embrace the liturgy as a means to salvation.  Embracing both the contemplative and the active lives in sync, Dorothy wrote, “the saint is the holy man, the ‘whole man,’ the integrated man” (SW 189).

Dorothy Day highlighted for all of us the duty of delight: the joy and peace in one’s vocation that points us and others to God, its source.  Like her saintly role model, Therese of Lisieux, explained, this means one can delight even in “suffering,” when it is directed toward “love” (SW 199).  This delight in their vocations shines through Dorothy, Merton, and Fr. Dunne, and highlights the way in which each of them live out Therese’s Little Way, each in their own little ways.  For Dorothy, “work is also prayer,” and thus she lives her spirituality before the Eucharist, first and foremost, but also in her daily life, in the deeply graced mess of spilled coffee, screaming children, and the hungry men in the breadline (LF 221).  Though she was a woman of great strength and insight, she knew of the importance of the “little” acts of love, like taking time for those that came through the doors of her home.  Merton’s delight shines in his eyes in various photographs of his time at the monastery and through his words in his journals.  He is delighted to live out his vocation, even when frustrated by everyday life: a buzzing fly or cackling fire or bus full of retreatants that keep him from the silence in which he encounters God.  One glimpse of Fr. Dunne’s quiet, unassuming look as he walks around campus, or a single conversation with him, reveals a humility that does not look at his achievements, but instead focuses on service to others.  For all three, and for all of us, the Little Way means living in “the sacrament of the present moment,” because though we may not see big, “heroic” changes in the world, it is “by little and by little that we are saved—or that we fall,” and thus we are called to “the folly of the Cross” in the context of our daily lives (SW 104, 105).  It is a way that is foolish to the world, but also transforms it, by grace.

This slow, benevolent transformation of the world is only possible through self-abandonment to God’s divine Providence.  If we are called to delight in our vocation, one might wonder: why is Jesus asking us, in John 12, to “hate” our lives for His sake?  I would argue that this “hate” is, more specifically, detachment: it means one must be willing to let go of brother, sister, mother, friend, at any moment, open always and entirely to God’s loving plan for her life.  Dorothy emphasizes Therese’s notion of complete surrender to God and trust in His ability take care of us.  Ordering one’s life to the Supernatural by “supernaturalizing” every day life requires complete openness and self-abandonment; it requires making oneself last, which is complete folly to the world (LL 247).  Dorothy raised Tamar within the Catholic Worker family even though she craved regular family life; Merton gave up a woman he loved because he knew he was called to stay a monk; Dunne gave up the possibility of fortune and fame and focuses on life as a priest, prayer and writing.  They each choose voluntary poverty as a form of self-abandonment, and spiritually they open themselves, day in and day out, to the slow work of grace in their lives.  Delight, surrender, and poverty: this is the folly of the Cross, this is a way to love, and this is our sanctity.

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Little Ways to Sanctity: Thomas Merton

Rebecca Guhin

M.Div. Candidate, University of Notre Dame

Contact Author

Editorial Note:  As we begin our run up to the feast of All Saints, Rebecca Guhin will be offering a series of reflections on models of sanctity in the Christian life including Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, and John Dunne, C.S.C.  Today, she will treat Thomas Merton.  John Dunne’s will be posted tomorrow on the feast of All Saints.  

THOMAS MERTON:

Contemplative and Writer

There is no way of telling people

that they are all walking around shining like the sun.

-Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

While Dorothy Day found her vocation in the poorest of neighborhoods serving the poorest of the poor in New York, surrendering herself to God’s slow work in their hospitality houses and farm communities, Thomas Merton developed in holiness in a small monastery in Kentucky.  In his journals, out of which he thought came his best writing, Merton wrote often about his vocation.  He said, “We can either renounce all worldly quiet and ease and absence of trouble—living our lives out in the Liturgy before the tabernacle as pure contemplatives loving one another in our community—or else we must renounce all our own ease and minister to Christ in the poor as much as we can” (The Intimate Merton: His Life from His Journals, 40).  He felt called to the first of these two little ways, so he wrote quite comfortably in his journal: “my vocation is prayer, and that makes me happy” (IM 62).  Not only was Merton a man of prayer, he recognized in himself his ability to write, and was blessed (and thus the world was blessed) to discover that he was allowed to keep writing after he joined the monastery.  The monk discovered, quite delightfully, “If I am to be a saint—and there is nothing else that I can think of desiring to be—it seems that I must get there by writing books in a Trappist monastery” (IM 73).  Thus, he believed, “This is the precise place he has chosen for my sanctification” (IM 81).  Irenaeus famously said that “the glory of God is man fully alive,” and Merton was called, like all of us, to be his truest self, the person God was calling him to be, and this meant embracing his humanity (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, IV.20).  He wrote: “the world was made by God and is good, and, unless that world is our mother, we cannot be saints because we cannot be saints unless we are first of all human” (IM 81).

However, delighting in his humanity does not leave Merton without trial.  But this trial enabled deeper surrender, and thus opened up the possibility for Merton to continue to discover his vocation.  He wrote, “All I say is that I must do what the situation seems to demand, and sanctity will appear when out of all this Christ in his own good time appears and manifests His glory” (IM 82).  He did not always know himself to be called to this life; in fact, he was not Catholic until young adulthood and started out living a rather whimsy, frivolous, academic lifestyle.  However, he highlights, like John Dunne, that life is a process of becoming, and our vocations remain “a very open question” (IM 348).  Thus, Merton knew he must depend entirely on God, in whom he “belong[s] absolutely,” because “only He can help me out of my own clumsiness” (IM 26, 43).  For Merton, surrender means letting go, it means letting God take the reins, even when our wills don’t seem to agree with God’s will.  He wrote: “To leave things alone at the right time: this is the right way to ‘stop’ and the right way to ‘go on’” (Thomas Merton: Spiritual Master, 162).  He journals, “The first thing then is to accept the fact that one will have to wait,” knowing we are given the grace to “rest in God” and His love (IM 261).

Merton saw in his love of God the necessity for surrender of all his earthly loves, saying, “There is an utter necessity for giving up all things, taking up the cross and following Christ.  Everything else is imprisonment and death.  Before, I knew this intellectually: now, I know it.  I assent to it with my whole soul and heart, not only with my understanding” (IM 11).  He surrendered his early life and embraced God’s plan for him when he became a priest, vowing poverty, chastity, and obedience– the latter of which is, in many ways, like surrender, which challenged him greatly.  Being a priest also meant centering his life around the liturgy.  Thus, Merton journaled: “This is the heart of the whole day, its center, its foundation, its meaning: it is the day” (IM 30).  He said that in his role as priest during Mass, he was “forced to be simple,” opening himself to God acting through him (IM 64).

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With a similar focus on simplicity, poverty was another aspect of his vocation as a priest that Merton emphasized, and another important part of self-abandonment, and the poverty required was both physical and spiritual.  Speaking of physical poverty, Merton writes, “the knowledge of what is going on [in the war] only makes it seem desperately important to be voluntarily poor, to get rid of all possessions this instant” (IM 18).  Merton also said that we cannot call others to live simply when we are living too comfortably (IM 36).  Thus, physically and spiritually, “Whatever this vocation is, it involves a whole different attitude to the future.  A sense of calm.  A sense that I am going to do something hard, murderous to my pride and my senses. … [but] it doesn’t make sense to fear it or love it: I must refer everything to God” (IM 37).

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Self-abandonment is similar to spiritual poverty in that it is an emptying of oneself whereby only God can fill us up again.  Merton said, “You do not experience your poverty when you tell yourself about it but when God tells you that you are poor…He means, at the same time, to provide a remedy” (IM 112-113).  In this regard, Merton discusses “le point vierge,” the “little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty” which “is the pure glory of God in us” (TMSM 146).  This point vierge was a large part of his prayer life, his devotion to silent contemplation, and his commitment to sharing this kind of prayer through writing.  An important part of prayer is seeing ourselves as we really are: children of God, children dependent entirely on God.  Thus: “We must not expect to glance at ourselves and see ‘courage,’ and take comfort from this.  Christ alone, on the Cross and in darkness, but already victorious, is our comfort” (TMSM 151).

However, after over a decade in the monastery, in 1958, Merton experienced a new sort of conversion, one which transformed his monastery experience from a vocation in the monastery against the world to one that embraces the world with love (TMSM 57-58).  Highlighting the ways God speaks to us in our daily lives, this realization happened on a simple street corner:

“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness… Not that I question the reality of my vocation, or of my monastic life: but the conception of ‘separation from the world’ that we have in the monastery too easily presents itself as a complete illusion: the illusion that by making vows we become a different species of being, pseudo-angels, ‘spiritual men,’ men of interior life, what have you” (TMSM 144).

Merton realized, then, that he was not somehow “better” than anyone else because of his specific vocation, that his separateness from the outside world was not meant to create a fortress; rather, it was an opportunity to see the world and humanity in a new way (TMSM 144).  He continued,

“This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. And I suppose my happiness could have taken form in the words: ‘Thank God, thank God that I am like other men, that I am only a man among others.’ … It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, though it is a race dedicated to many absurdities and one which makes many terrible mistakes: yet, with all that, God Himself gloried in becoming a member of the human race. A member of the human race! … I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun” (TMSM 145).

This love of humanity meant embracing who he really was, and who we all are, as children of God, with Christ’s light shining through us in our words, our actions, our very creation (TMSM 145).  This opened Merton to a vocation to serve from within the monastery, a vocation to help people to see the way God is living and active in their lives, whether through his prayer, his writing, or even his teaching of seminarians.  Thus, Merton discovered, “My solitude … is not my own, for I see now how much it belongs to them — and that I have a responsibility for it in their regard, not just in my own. It is because I am one with them that I owe it to them to be alone, and when I am alone, they are not ‘they’ but my own self. There are no strangers!” (TMSM 145).

Merton saw, quite clearly, that we are the Body of Christ, and that we are called to take care of one another, whether our vocation leaves us within the walls of a monastery, surrounded by the poor at a drop-in center, or even in a classroom of students and their countless books.  In all cases, Merton believed, “social responsibility is the keystone of the Christian life” (IM 120).  We are called to care for one another, even at personal sacrifice, because we are our brothers’ keepers.  Thus, “every Christian is, at the same time, a hermit and the whole church, and we are all members one of another.  It remains for us to recognize the mystery that your heart is my hermitage and that the only way I can enter into the desert is by bearing your burden and leaving you my own” (IM 85).  Acknowledging that “Life in the monastery is not ordinary.  It is a freakish sort of life,” Merton nevertheless communicates “[a] mysticism that no longer appears transcendent but ordinary” (IM 108, 134).  He provides each of us an example of the Little Way, the simplicity of daily life, whether it be structured with work and prayer, like in a monastery, or out in the world of direct service.  The folly of the Cross, no matter how we carry it, remains triumphant.

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Little Ways to Sanctity: Dorothy Day

Rebecca Guhin

M.Div. Candidate, University of Notre Dame

Contact Author

 

 

Editorial Note:  As we begin our run up to the feast of All Saints, Rebecca Guhin will be offering a series of reflections on models of sanctity in the Christian life including Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, and John Dunne, C.S.C.  Today, she will treat Dorothy Day.  

Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.  And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.

– John 12: 24-26, 32

What is holiness?  How are we each called to be saints?  Where do we begin?  Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, and our local icon, Fr. John Dunne, CSC, answer these questions with their lives.  A founder of the Catholic Worker movement, a monk hidden away in a Kentucky monastery, and a Notre Dame professor and priest, these individuals are holy not because they followed a pre-planned rubric for saintliness, but because they were and are truly themselves.  Merton wrote, “The problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self” (New Seeds of Contemplation,  31).  The simplicity of this definition of sanctity is coupled with the complexity of actually finding oneself: how do we know who we really are, or what we are called to do?  The stories of these three “little” lives help us to see the way in which delight in one’s vocation, self-abandonment to God’s loving plan, and poverty as a way to wholeness each play into a slow but graced journey to God.

DOROTHY DAY:

Worker of Mercy, Woman of Prayer

When we begin to take the lowest place, to wash the feet of others, to love our brothers with that burning love, that passion, which led to the Cross,  then we can truly say, Now I have begun.’”

– Dorothy Day, Loaves and Fishes

In his introduction to her autobiography, Robert Coles said Dorothy was disinterested in the title of saint because, really, she wanted to be considered “a humble person of faith who tried her best to live in accordance with the biblical teachings she kept pondering,” particularly, “the Sermon on the Mount” (Long Loneliness, 6).  In her humility, she was quite devoted to the saints, and rather than placing them on a pedestal that excused her from the challenge of sanctity, she identified with this call and tried to live it out in her daily life.  Citing de Lubac, Dorothy agreed, “Christianity must generate saints—that is, witnesses to the eternal. … The saint does not have to bring about great temporal achievements; he is one who succeeds in giving us at least a glimpse of eternity despite the thick opacity of time” (SW 102).  In Dorothy’s life, we do glimpse eternity: we see a person trying to highlight and live into a kingdom that is already and not yet, whether it be through friendly conversation over a cup of coffee, marching for the worker on a picket line, or before the Eucharist in adoration, she points us to God and Thy will, on earth as it is in heaven.

The development of Dorothy’s faith illustrates beautifully the slow work of grace in our lives, the way in which God touches us in each of our “long lonelinesses” and calls us toward Himself, the source of our lives and our happiness.  As a child uneducated in the faith, nevertheless, Dorothy said, “my heart leapt when I heard the name of God,” or even that of a saint, and despite her aversion to organized religion during her association with Leftist movements, something in Dorothy’s heart continued to long for something more (LL 12, 24).

At first, as a radical Leftist, Dorothy felt she “could not be meek at the thought of injustice,” so the Beatitudes turned her off—why worship a God that doesn’t care for the plight of the worker, with a religion that reduced “justice” to “doled-out charity”? (LL 46, 87).  She “kept brushing away the hand that held me up,” and “did not know” even in jail on a hunger strike, that she had begun to pray (LL 81).  However, prayer eventually became “an act of the will,” and Dorothy did not know at first whether it was simply for her personal comfort and relief from loneliness, or for more ‘noble’ reasons that she prayed (LL 85, 132).  She was very much in love with a man who would father her child, but she longed for something deeper and greater, and the Hound of Heaven continued to call her home.  Forster, on the other hand, “wanted [Dorothy] to rest in that love,” human love, which, for Dorothy, pointed to its deeper origin; for though she did not know “how to love God,” she knew He was her real source of peace (LL 134, 138).

Dorothy’s sense of faith became even more clear to her at the birth of her daughter, Tamar, which “awakened in my heart a flood of gratitude,” directed ultimately to God, and called up in her “the need to worship, to adore” (LL 139).  Because she became convinced that “only faith in Christ could give the answer” to life’s deepest questions, providing her “order,” Dorothy decided to have her daughter baptized (LL 140, 141).  Both Teresa of Avila and Therese of Lisieux would be her daughter’s patron saints (LL 140, 141).  Sister Aloysia helped Dorothy to get Tamar baptized and to develop her own faith, even as she struggled with contrasts to her Leftist roots and her increasing alienation from Forster, who rejected all religion and wanted nothing to do with her if she became a Catholic (LL 142-144, 149).  Dorothy’s reception of her first three sacraments came without “consolation,” and it was Father Zamien who later encouraged her to receive communion daily, as a reminder of God’s love for her (LL 148, 161).  Surrendering her natural love of Forster, which pointed her to the supernatural love of Christ, taught Dorothy the importance of both the natural and supernatural loves.  This enabled her to embrace both her natural concerns, like the injustices inflicted on the poor, as well as God Himself, the supernatural source of the love that overflows, a love that enabled Dorothy to live out her vocation as a founder of the Catholic Worker movement.

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It began, then, with the next (and lasting) man in Dorothy’s life, the idea man and good friend behind the Worker movement, Peter Maurin (LL 172, 273).  A saintly influence on Dorothy Day, he helped her see what made this the Catholic Worker, and he used the saints as guideposts through history, formed deeply by the Catholic tradition (LL 172, 273, LF 12).  He advocated the Works of Mercy as “the most direct form of action there is,” including both the temporal and spiritual works (LF xvii).  Thus, his program was three-fold, including “[r]ound-table discussions,” “houses of hospitality,” and “go[ing] back to the land” (LF 22-23).  They wanted “to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us” (LF 215).  This requires complete self-emptying, and like the little boy in the loaves and fishes story, it requires giving all that we have, and trusting in grace to enlarge and transform these small gifts of self (LF 215).

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Peter did not worry about the money they would need; he said the saints themselves would rely on prayer, so they simply needed to begin (LL 173).  Dorothy learned from Peter, and through this movement’s beginnings, to depend on God, to continue to surrender, as she had already, and that prayer and voluntary poverty could be active forces of love in the world.  She confirms, in her story of the movement, “somehow everything works out.  It works out naturally and it works out religiously” (LF 92).  Her example for this kind of life they would lead was that of Christ Himself, born into a humble carpenter’s family, whose “teaching transcended all the wisdom of the scribes and pharisees, and taught us the most effective means of living in this world while preparing for the next” (205).  He spoke these words to the poor, and the Catholic Workers tried to see Christ in each person who passed through the door (LL 205; SW 96).  Dorothy wrote, in a Christmas issue of their newspaper, The Catholic Worker:

“It would be foolish to pretend that it is always easy to remember this. If everyone were holy and handsome, with ‘alter Christus’ shining in neon lighting from them, it would be easy to see Christ in everyone… But that was not God’s way for [Mary], nor it is Christ’s way for Himself, now when he is disguised under every type of humanity that treads the earth” (Selected Writings, 96).

Thus, based in Matthew 25, Dorothy deeply believed that Christ lives in the poor today, and He “made heaven hinge on the way we act toward Him in his disguise of commonplace, frail, ordinary humanity” (SW 97).  She knew this was her call as a Christian, so this is the way that Dorothy and her fellow Catholic Workers lived, welcoming, like the Benedictines, each guest as Christ.

Service of the poor, however, “is not enough,” the Catholic Worker movement says we are also called to voluntary poverty, lived out in community (LL 214, 243).  Dorothy said of the poor, “One must live with them, share with them their suffering too. Give up one’s privacy, and mental and spiritual comforts as well as physical” (LL 214, emphasis added).  This is a lofty task!  It means embracing the discomforts of poverty in a community of others who are in need as well: both those experiencing unjust poverty (never condoned by Dorothy) and those who have chosen poverty for the sake of their salvation and wholeness.  Peter emphasized St. Francis of Assisi’s love of “Lady Poverty,” who is a gift, not the result of injustice (Loaves and Fishes, 48, 82).  Dorothy called poverty “strange and elusive,” saying, “if we are not among its victims its reality fades from us” (LF 71).  Similar to Martha in John 12, who washes Jesus’ feet with oil and gets challenged for not spending that money on the poor, Dorothy says that “no magnificence is too great” for Christ in His tabernacle, but we, the people of God, are called to live simply as long as people are bound to unjust poverty around the world (LL 217).

Because this poverty is to be lived in community, it creates spaces for relationships between people of a variety of circumstances, enabling a more authentic personalism, also central to the movement (LL 224, 221).  Dorothy wrote, “charity is only as warm as those who administer it,” so although Catholic Worker houses are not known for efficiency, they are certainly known for hospitality! (LF 74).  She said, “The only answer in this life, to the loneliness we are all bound to feel, is community” (LL 243).    Thus, “we are not a community of saints but a rather slipshod group of individuals who were trying to work out certain principles—the chief of which was an analysis of man’s freedom and what it implied… It was a practice in loving, a learning to love, a paying of the cost of love” (LF 50).  Love, then, is the telos of poverty: it enables one to let go of attachments and to be more whole and holy.  Yet, perhaps without realizing it, in this community “not…of saints,” Dorothy grew in holiness as she grew in love (LF 50).  It provided her a freedom that enabled her to surrender in the name of her faith.  Dorothy says, “It is simpler just to be poor… The thing is not to hold on to anything” (LF 89).  But this freedom takes time:  Francis of Assisi let go of his worldly possessions “in only one step,” but for most of us, and even most saints, it takes a lifetime of “many steps, and they are very small ones” (LF 83).  Thus, Dorothy embraces Therese’s “Little Way” notion, realizing that even tiny acts of sacrifice can be salvific when we allow them to wash away our selfishness and make more room for Christ.

Like the story of Abraham and Isaac, Dorothy not only gave up her beloved Forster, she had to surrender, in different ways, her own daughter, Tamar, to various schools and ultimately to a husband of her own (LL 236, 242).  Dorothy wrote, “No matter how many times I gave up mother, father, husband, brother, daughter, for His sake, I had to do it over again” (LL 239).  But this openness to surrender was not only natural, it was supernatural, and Dorothy is known for her “every day” sort of holiness, her humble approach to life that enabled both detachment and real love of neighbor.  On The Retreat, Dorothy would learn the importance of “supernaturalizing all our actions of every day” (LL 247).  She and those in her movement made time for people, they made time for prayer, and they found, according to their Retreat leaders:

“If we are rushed for time, sow time and we will reap time.  Go to church and spend a quiet hour in prayer.  You will have more time than ever and your work will get done.  Sow time with the poor.  Sit and listen to them, give them your time lavishly.  You will reap time a hundredfold.  Sow kindness and you will reap kindness.  Sow love, you will reap love” (LL 252).

By living in community, Dorothy thus develops in her ability to surrender even her time, the most precious of gifts.  She learns on The Retreat, like the example of Osee in the Old Testament, that all her gifts are from God, not from man, due to His extravagant love for each of us, love that overflows, love that marks the “folly of the Cross” (LL 255-256).

This love calls up in Dorothy “the duty of delight” (LL 285).  She writes, “If we do not learn to enjoy God now we never will” (LL 257).  Dorothy “enjoys God” in her community, in her prayer, in the Eucharist.  She enjoys Him in daily life knowing that, by our baptisms and through detachment as a gift from God, our lives have been and continue to be “transformed by love” (LL 257).  She saw in Peter Maurin even a “delight” in “poverty,” a delight in words and ideas, a delight in the people he so genuinely and impartially loved (LL 280, 274).  Thus, in her short “Postscript” description of how the Catholic Worker movement came to be, Dorothy highlighted the challenge and blessing of “the duty of delight” (LL 285).  Although love can be “a harsh and dreadful thing,” “[w]e cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love each other we must know each other” (LL 285).  This love, this answer to “the long loneliness,” means we need “community,” a community that began “while we sat there talking, and it is still going on” (LL 286).