Tag Archives: Dorothy Day

Reading the Code: Pope Francis’ Speech to Congress

Tim O'MalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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When I teach my students how to interpret the Bible, I often have to emphasize that the Scriptures are written in a coherent literary code, which the reader needs to learn. For example, Egypt is never simply a place but an embodiment of a specific form of evil empire. Mountains are never mountains alone but locales for divine revelation. Since Pope Francis is an able reader of the Scriptures and astute user of rhetoric, it is necessary to read Pope Francis’ speeches as written in this kind of literary code. Although addressed to Congress, Pope Francis was speaking to all Americans, many of whom would pick up on the code of the text (even if Republicans and Democrats alike were too busy applauding when the Pope proclaimed a truth they happened to agree with). In the following piece, I hope to provide some interpretation of this code.

Yesterday’s Homily: Christo-centric Mission

Public papal addresses during apostolic visits are not written solely to provide sound bites. Rather, these speeches and homilies build off one another, presuming in some way that they’d all be eventually read together (and become in some ways part of the Magisterium of the Church). Thus, it is important to note the Christo-centric and mission-oriented content of yesterday’s homily by Pope Francis. In this homily, Pope Francis preaches:

Jesus sends his disciples out to all nations. To every people. We too were part of all those people of two thousand years ago. Jesus did not provide a short list of who is, or is not, worthy of receiving his message, his presence. Instead, he always embraced life as he saw it. In faces of pain, hunger, sickness and sin. In faces of wounds, of thirst, of weariness, doubt and pity. Far from expecting a pretty life, smartly-dressed and neatly groomed, he embraced life as he found it. It made no difference whether it was dirty, unkempt, broken. Jesus said: Go out and tell the good news to everyone. Go out and in my name embrace life as it is, and not as you think it should be. Go out to the highways and byways, go out to tell the good news fearlessly, without prejudice, without superiority, without condescension, to all those who have lost the joy of living. Go out to proclaim the merciful embrace of the Father. Go out to those who are burdened by pain and failure, who feel that their lives are empty, and proclaim the folly of a loving Father who wants to anoint them with the oil of hope, the oil of salvation. Go out to proclaim the good news that error, deceitful illusions and falsehoods do not have the last word in a person’s life. Go out with the ointment which soothes wounds and heals hearts.

Mission is never the fruit of a perfectly planned program or a well-organized manual. Mission is always the fruit of a life which knows what it is to be found and healed, encountered and forgiven. Mission is born of a constant experience of God’s merciful anointing.

The Church, the holy People of God, treads the dust-laden paths of history, so often traversed by conflict, injustice and violence, in order to encounter her children, our brothers and sisters. The holy and faithful People of God are not afraid of losing their way; they are afraid of becoming self-enclosed, frozen into elites, clinging to their own security. They know that self-enclosure, in all the many forms it takes, is the cause of so much apathy.

Here, we read that the Church goes forth into the “dust-laden paths of history” to proclaim the Good News that Jesus Christ is Lord of heaven and earth. That the darkness of the world, whether experienced through social injustice or the existential misery that often haunts the human heart, can be illumined through an encounter with the person of Jesus Christ, who is the light of life. Thus, the Church’s involvement in history is not a dabbling in the political sphere, a “progressive” re-orientation of the Church’s mission away from salvation (which the unfortunate title of a piece at Crux suggested). Rather, it is in the concrete and historical existence of the world that the Good News of Jesus Christ is proclaimed. The Pope’s address to politicians in Congress, then, is an extension of the vocation of the Church to proclaim salvation to all human beings. This proclamation is centered in Jesus Christ, even if that name was not spoken in the halls of Congress. For at the heart of the Church’s message of salvation is the unity and peace among human beings in Christ.

The Four Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton

PopeinUSGood speakers often employ “typologies” that enable the listener of the speech to remember what is said. At one level, Pope Francis’ use of four Americans, who were concerned about the plight of human dignity are examples of this rhetorical approach. Yet, there is a subtle rhetorical move by Pope Francis in his employment of these four figures. Indeed, any good American would recognize the gifts provided to the country by Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. (both of whom are honored in the nation’s Capitol). What is surprising is that Pope Francis includes in this great tradition of Americans concerned about justice Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. Dorothy Day, who spoke out against the government’s military exploits, yet who also prayed the Divine Office and attended Mass everyday. And Thomas Merton, whose vision of peace and dialogue, is only made possible through his identity as contemplative monk. In both figures, you have fidelity to the Church, a contemplative spirit, and a desire to work toward solidarity among the human family.

In this subtle way, Pope Francis has reminded Congress that openness to God is intimately linked to love of the poor. He does not say the word secularization but as holding up two Catholic figures as “icons” of American concern about dignity, he is offering a subtle argument that people of faith are necessary for the flourishing of the common good. In the speech itself, he goes as far as to say precisely this:

The challenges facing us today call for a renewal of that spirit of cooperation, which has accomplished so much good throughout the history of the United States. The complexity, the gravity and the urgency of these challenges demand that we pool our resources and talents, and resolve to support one another, with respect for our differences and our convictions of conscience.

In this land, the various religious denominations have greatly contributed to building and strengthening society. It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continue to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society. Such cooperation is a powerful resource in the battle to eliminate new global forms of slavery, born of grave injustices which can be overcome only through new policies and new forms of social consensus.

In this way, Pope Francis is taking up the topic of religious liberty without saying the word at all. If Catholics are marginalized because of their annoying habit of believing in the existence of a God who calls us out into concrete practice in the world, then the political sphere will lose a valuable resource for the promotion of human dignity. If Catholics are forced to practice a religious faith that does not lead to the establishment of schools, of hospitals, of those concrete ways that Catholics live out caritas, then it will be the United States itself that will be poorer for it. The subtle implication of Pope Francis’ speech is that you won’t simply be absent a Thomas Merton or Dorothy Day if you eliminate institutional religious life from the public sphere. You should also bid adieu to Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Lincoln too.

The Interruption of the Unborn

A number of Catholics are disappointed that Pope Francis didn’t more directly take up the issue of abortion. He stated:

Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12).

This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us. The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.

The single line referring to abortion is ultimately intended to be more powerful insofar as it serves as an interruption to the line of thought. Without doubt, many of those in Congress were nodding their heads as Pope Francis reminded the United States of their responsibility to care for the immigrant; they were thinking to themselves of the idiocy (perhaps) of Donald Trump, looking forward to quoting this line to him in some interview soon. Then, the Gospel was proclaimed: the yardstick we use for others will be the one used against us; and this yardstick necessitates the protection of human life, beginning at conception.

Here, Catholics are given a kind of grammar for what constitutes effective evangelization in public life. What does your interlocutor agree with you on? Begin there, and then move toward the source of disagreement. And Catholics can do this, because it’s not just the unborn child, who experiences the injustice of a world that too often has grown cold to love. It is the prisoner condemned to death, it is the immigrant despised and maltreated by fellow human beings, it is the nation-state treated as other, it is the young woman or man who sees their life reduced to their status as income earner. In this way, Pope Francis is proposing a new way forward relative to proclaiming the Gospel of Law in a culture that has grown cold to human flourishing at all stages. He sees, the problems with this culture, as he describes in his address to the bishops:

The innocent victim of abortion, children who die of hunger or from bombings, immigrants who drown in the search for a better tomorrow, the elderly or the sick who are considered a burden, the victims of terrorism, wars, violence and drug trafficking, the environment devastated by man’s predatory relationship with nature – at stake in all of this is the gift of God, of which we are noble stewards but not masters. It is wrong, then, to look the other way or to remain silent. No less important is the Gospel of the Family, which in the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia I will emphatically proclaim together with you and the entire Church.

The way forward is not to condemn those who disagree with you but to invite the other into a dialogue in which the Church proclaims to the world the entire narrative of the Gospel of Life at the heart of her existence. To present the fullness of truth as a source of beauty and good, which may in fact lead to conversions that we never thought possible.


Pope Francis will say a great deal more over the coming days. And each of these speeches will need to be analyzed in a way similar to what I have offered here. Such analysis will require a great deal of care, attentive to the rhetorically sweet speech of Pope Francis. Only with this attention to his speech will the full effect of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States bear fruit.

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Dorothy Day on Abortion and Mercy

Jessica Keating_headshot

Jessica Keating, M.Div.
Human Dignity and Life Initiatives
University of Notre Dame

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“Don’t you care about anything other than abortion, like U.S. military plans to invade Iran?,” a middle aged man asked a women holding a sign that read, “Abortion Hurts Women.” I happened to overhear this question a few weeks ago, when I participated in the nation’s largest Planned Parenthood protest in history.

The problem with this question and others like it (don’t you care about poor, don’t you care about the environment, don’t you care about the plight of the immigrant, don’t you care about
homelessness, don’t you care about human trafficking, etc., etc.), is that they attempt to limit the horizon of conversation to predetermined and falsely constructed dichotomies. Such questions are not neutral; rather their framing fossilizes the narrative about human dignity in our country through the unrelenting rehearsal of 11951995_10152931926825793_3853225836498330680_nslogans and arguments. These questions, whether expressed on Facebook or Twitter, in the media, or by presidential hopefuls in what seems like endless election cycles, are nearly always linked to the desire for power, to get candidate X elected. The not-so- hidden implication of such questions is that one cannot care about the unborn and militarism, or human trafficking, etc., etc. I have also heard the question inverted, so as to imply if one is really against abortion, all other human dignity issues must recede from view. In either inflection, there is a lack of nuance, distinction, and vision.

In light of the absurdity of this set-up, I have found myself reflecting on Servant of God Dorothy Day as a particularly important icon for Catholics in America who are daily tempted to fall prey to disjointed “issues”-based politics and to cultivate a comparable “issues”-based gospel. She confounded such tidy divisions and simply declined to engage the American political milieu in such predetermined ways.

Day actually rarely spoke or wrote directly on the topic of abortion. Scour her journals, articles, letters, and books. Search her prolific corpus, and one will find scant reference to that ordeal of which she had a most intimate knowledge. She wrote a fictionalized account of her own abortion in an early work, The Eleventh Virgin, and obliquely gestures to the experience in her autobiography, The Long Loneliness. Indeed, she expended her considerable journalistic talents denouncing state sponsored militarism, detailing the rhythms of Dorothy_Day_1934family life, describing the scandal of the works of mercy, writing letters, and advocating for a new social order. In part, no doubt, this had as much to do with the historical fact that abortion was not available and practiced on the scale it is today until the end of her life, but I also suspect her relative silence on the subject had something to do with Day’s own deeply painful experience of abortion.

In addition to the references to abortion in The Eleventh Virgin and The Long Loneliness, Day speaks of her abortion again in a tender letter written on February 6, 1973 to a young woman named Cathie whose own abortion left her in deeply wounded and contemplating suicide. To Cathie she speaks of pain and hope, healing and prayer. “In a way,” Day writes “to use old-fashioned language, I feel you are a victim of souls, bearing some of the agony the world is in, Vietnam, the Third World, ‘the misery of the needy and groaning of the poor’”(All is Grace, 397).

Day again mentions abortion in a reminiscence to mark her 75th birthday that appeared in the August 10, 1973 edition of Commonweal Magazine. Writing of her conversion, The Imitation of Christ, and Bartolome de las Casas, she writes:

God forgive us the sins of our youth! But as Zachariah sang out, “We have knowledge of salvation through forgiveness of our sins.” I don’t think anyone recognizes the comfort of this text better than I do. I have not yet been attracted by the present tendency to bring everything out into the light of day by public and published confessions. Were we not taught by Holy Mother Church to respect the modesty of the confessional? Or is that a silly expression? But oh the joy of knowing that you can always go there and be forgiven seventy times seven times. (Even though you wonder, in your distrust of yourself, whether you really mean or have the strength to “amend your life.”) I hope your readers can read between the lines from the above and recognize what my positions on birth control and abortion are.

In the same “letter-article,” she recounts being asked by reports in
Australia about her views on abortion and birth control. To these 2251719973_01c2c3fd40questions, she explained matter-of-factly:

My answer was simplistic. I followed Pope Paul. . . . Thank God we have a Pope Paul who upholds respect for life, an ideal so lofty, so high, so important even when it seems he has the whole Catholic world against him. Peter Maurin always held before our eyes a vision of the new man, the new social order as being possible, by God’s grace, here and now, and he so fully lived the life of voluntary poverty and manual labor.

There is a striking similarity between Day’s straightforward answer and Pope Francis’ first interview with America Magazine where, when asked about abortion, contraception, and gay marriage, he said simply, “I am a son of the Church.” And yet, such simple answers are far from simplistic. Rather, they speak of a life lived according to a particular form of life and a particular logic of love and mercy.

Day’s most formal statement about abortion appeared The Catholic Peace Fellowship’s “Statement on Abortion,” which she co-signed with six others on June 28, 1974. Here the authors write:

We make this statement to protest a policy and a practice, not to condemn any individual for a tragic decision she or he may have felt forced to make, just as in our protest against war and its destruction of human life we pass no judgment upon the individual who acts in good conscience.

. . . For many years we have urged upon our spiritual leaders the inter-relatedness of the life issues, war, capital punishment, abortion, euthanasia and economic exploitation. We welcome the energetic leadership our bishops are giving in the abortion controversy and we are proud to join our voices with theirs. At the same time we must point out that, ultimately, the sincerity of our words and theirs on any of these issues will be measured by our readiness to recognize and deal with the underlying social problems which turn many people to these deadly womalternatives, to condemn all forms of social and economic injustice and to work for their elimination and the establishment of a social order in which all may find it easier to be “fully human.”

What are we to make of these three references? The first appears in personal letter in which Day recalls her abortion and the healing grace of God. The second appears in a self-described “letter-article,” wherein she speaks of abortion in connection to the mercy and authority of the Church. The third reference appears in a formal statement, in which the authors denounce the policy and practice of abortion and call for a new social order, one which makes human flourishing easier—a society that, in the words of Peter Maurin, “makes it easier to be good.”

Taken together, Day’s remarks on abortion offer two essential insights.

1) Mercy capacitates us to see more. In her “letter-article” for Commonweal, Day quotes the Benedictus: “We have knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of our sins.” The mercy of God, fully disclosed in the person of Christ, and Day’s encounter with God’s mercy enabled her to see more of reality. Indeed, it is a life prayer, of participation in the sacramental life, that forms such a vision. Grace elevates and penetrates even that which is available to reason. It enfolds us into the logic that knits together all “life issues.”

If this sounds similar to a seamless garment life, it is because it is. But let me be clear, such a vision must avoid conflation. The image of the seamless garment like the image of the Body of Christ, with Christ as the head, is a hierarchical image. Abortion, the willful termination of human life, is simply not the same moral act as capital punishment or even economic exploitation. Rather, such a vision requires the careful and precise distinction evident in Evangelii Gaudium, when Pope Francis explained why the protection of the unborn takes primacy of place in the Church’s teaching on human dignity.

Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with
particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenseless pope-francis-im-not-a-marxistand innocent among us. . . . Defense of unborn life is closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right. It involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development. Human beings are ends in themselves and never a means of resolving other problems. Once this conviction disappears, so do solid and lasting foundations for the defense of human rights, which would always be subject to the passing whims of the powers that be. No. 213

A society that fails to defend its most vulnerable members will soon find that it is unable to defend other human rights, that indeed, what is considered a “right” increasingly will be determined by the powerful.

At the same time, such a vision can see the inner connection of all life issues. We do well not only to remember that the realities of war, migration, and economic exploitation often disproportionately affect the most vulnerable among us namely, children, but also that all offenses against human life, in different ways and at different levels of gravity, participate in a logic of violence, in a logic that produces a throw-away culture. We also do well to remember that the realities of war, migration, and economic exploitation often disproportionately affect the most vulnerable among us namely, children. Day expresses this when, in her letter to Cathy, she sees the acute particularity of Cathy’s suffering and its universality. It is precisely because of the Church’s teaching on abortion (and euthanasia) that enables her to to speak and act with clarity, conviction, and authority on all issues related to life, to labor tirelessly against an economy that kills (53). This kind of vision is elevated and expanded by an encounter with God’s fierce and tender mercy.

  1. Mercy is a habit that requires concrete forms of practice. Peter Maurin was famous for saying that the aim of the Catholic Worker was to build a new society in the shell of the old, one that made it easier to be good. In her “letter-article” to Commonweal, Day seems to make a non-sequitur from her affirmation of Pope Paul’s upholding of respect for life to Peter Maurin. As I read over the passage a second time, however, it struck me that her abrupt change in subject was only an appearance. Indeed, for Day (and for us) Maurin is living witness to the gospel of life. He provides, as does Day, a particular enactment of a life conformed to Christ, to the one who reveals the breadth and depth of human dignity, which is made known to us again and again through the tender forgiveness of our sins. It is a life lived within the horizon of mercy.

In his concrete practices of prayer and the works of mercy, the vigorous exercise of his mind and enactment of his vision for an agronomic university, Maurin (and Day) worked to build a “social order in which all may find it easier to be ‘fully human.’” By daily practicing the way of mercy, they labored for a society in which it was easier to be good, easier to choose life, easier to say no to the will to power and violence in all its many forms.

I stood on Grape Road, with my jeans rolled up and my hair pulled back, with the young and old, with men and women who had also come to plead for justice and mercy for unborn, to call for a new 11879275_10152927735535793_2395403451959082158_osocial order, one that makes human flourishing easier—a society permeated by mercy. This work on behalf of the unborn is not exhausted by protesting, though that is critical. It is not exhausted by legal changes, though these are necessary, as the law shapes the imagination. It requires more; it requires concrete practices of care and support for mothers and their children—health care, paid maternity leave, a living wage, etc. Mercy does not choose its own way. It does not say, I will do this work of mercy but no other. Mercy is a bridge, it has wholeness, a breadth and depth that makes it easier to choose life.

Christ the King of the Universe…and the Mundane

Jessica Keating_headshot

Jessica Keating, M.Div.
Program Director,
Human Dignity and Life Initiatives
University of Notre Dame

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Dorothy Day passed the winter of 1948 on her daughter Tamar’s West Virginia farm helping her with the daily tasks of country life and children as they awaited the birth of Tamar’s third child. Included in a volume of Day’s diaries, On Pilgrimage, her entries from that winter show the beauty of smallness. She writes of the trials and delights of living close to the land, the pains and joys of child-rearing, and the hidden life of the family; nothing falls beneath her notice.  Noting the activities of the day on January 20, 1948, she writes:

25036143-36A3-491E-B33A-849222667E73_mw1024_s_nBreakfast of sausage, hotcakes, apples and coffee. Dishes, water heating for clothes, bread-baking. That was today. Yesterday it was pumpkin pies. These things do not take all morning so I have time for writing letters. Then there is the arrival of mail, at 11:30 in the morning, always something to look forward to in the country, with a book arriving from a friend, a package of food from my sister. Yesterday it was fish balls, cheese, baby food, candies, and two toys. (On Pilgrimage, 78)

She writes of other matters, too: of capitalism and communism, of poverty and destitution, of the “fear and distraction these days over the state of the world,” and of the duty of delight and wonder (85).

It is in the midst of one such entry, as she reflects upon the realism of joy and the paradox of the Christian life, that Day observes, “we can suffer with others, we can see plainly the frightful chaos, the unbelievable misery of cold and hunger and bitter misery” (85). Yet all the while, Day observes, we know the truth of St. Paul’s words “that the sufferings of this time are not to be compared to the joy that is to come” (85; Rom 8:18). Indeed, “if we pray enough, the conviction will come too, that Christ is our King, not Stalin, Bevins or Truman. That He has all things in His hands, that ‘all things work together for good to those that love Him’” (85; Rom 8:28).

Sizing2_800Christ the King of the Universe holds all things in His wounded, glorified hands: angels and saints, sun and moon, stars of heaven, shower and dew, fire and heat, frost and chill, hoarfrost and snow, night and day, light and darkness, seas and rivers, mountains and hills (Dan 3: 52-87). The whole of the cosmos resides in the crucified hands of Christ. These very same hands that hold the entirety of creation also hold the bread-baking and the bitter sufferings of this age, the washing of dishes and the making love, the cleaning and clothing of children, the caring for the sick, visiting of the imprisoned, the feeding of the hungry, the burying of the dead.
angry-kidsChrist’s kingship baffled the disciples and continues to overthrow our own paltry notions of kingship, whether they are notions of political messiahs or nationalistic fervor or more nearly the small realms of power we aggregate for ourselves and protect like tyrannical children. Thus we often bend the stunning reality of Christ’s reign as King of the Universe to our own pedestrian imaginings of political kingship, envisioning the vast and majestic implications of Christ’s power as King and the eschatological judgment of the Son enthroned in glory surrounded by the heavenly court as little more than a glorified president with a well-functioning congress.

Yet the one who holds the scroll in his right hand, the one who sparkles like jasper, is also the King who laid His divine prerogatives, naked, hungry, needy (Rev. 4:3; 5:1). Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI notes the paradox of the Christ’s kingship:

Jesus, the Son of Man, the ultimate judge of our lives, wished to appear as one who hungers and thirsts, as a stranger, as one of those who are naked, sick or imprisoned, ultimately, of those who suffer or are outcast; how we treat them will be taken as the way we treat Jesus himself. We do not see here a simple literary device, or a simple metaphor. Jesus’s entire existence is an example of it. He, the Son of God, became man, he shared rouault-crucifixionour existence, even down to the smallest details, he became the servant of the least of his brothers and sisters. He who had nowhere to lay his head, was condemned to death on a cross. This is the King we celebrate! (Christ the King Homily, November 20, 2011)

This is the King whose reign extends over all that is seen and unseen. This is the King who sparkles like jasper. This is the King of glory who descends into the small and mundane obscurities of human existence in order to glorify them—the baking of pumpkin pies, the writing of papers, the weeping of tears—that all may shine like jasper and diamond. This is the King who sits on the throne of the Cross, whose seat of power is crucified love.

Encountering the Eucharist through Art: Eichenberg’s “The Lord’s Supper”

Angela BirdAngela Bird

University of Notre Dame Class of 2016,
English and Theology

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Fritz Eichenberg’s woodcut print, “The Lord’s Supper” is a simple image that presents a striking view of Christ’s continuing presence on Earth and the connection between the sacrament of the Eucharist and the Christian call towards justice and peace.

Eichenberg was a prolific print artist who illustrated many classic books including works by Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy. Inspired by their shared love of Russian authors, particularly Dostoyevsky, the artist entered into a “creative partnership” with Dorothy Day, one of the founders of the Catholic Worker movement. The-Lords-Supper - top detailThe pair desired to create contemporary sacred art with an awareness of social justice as inspired by the Gospel. Eichenberg contributed his talent to Dorothy’s newspaper, The Catholic Worker, helping her to communicate the ideas communicated in the newspaper to those readers who struggled with literacy. Thus, the prints that he created were bold and memorable, economically communicating powerful messages within a single, simple image.

Eichenberg’s depiction of the Last Supper is clearly not meant to be a traditional depiction of Christ’s life, but rather a reflection on the continuing presence of Christ in the world. Using the familiar image of Christ seated at the table with the twelve apostles, it communicates a message of Christ’s presence among the poorest and most vulnerable in the world. The image presents a union between faith and justice. The participation in the Eucharistic meal is placed in the context of a scene typical of a Catholic Worker house of hospitality, where the homeless and hungry are welcomed and served in the setting of a family, with recognition for the dignity of all.

The-Lords-Supper ChristWhile Christ is central to the image, his face is not shown, and actually his image is shown in much less detail than the rest of the figures in the print. However, the other figures in the image are facing Christ and curve in toward him. Many of them seem intensely focused on him, contemplating him with thoughtful expressions. The simplicity of Christ’s figure and the contemplative, focused nature of the surrounding figures is reminiscent of Eucharistic adoration. In the same way that the faithful gather to contemplate the outwardly simple, nondescript host, the apostolic figures in this image are drawn in shared attention towards the presence of Christ in their midst. The orientation of all of the figures towards the direction of Christ communicates the fact that Christ is the center of life and service, faith and justice. At the same time, the circular position of the figures indicates their communion with one another as they are drawn together by Christ.

The-Lords-Supper - right detailThis image of “The Lord’s Supper” does not necessarily attempt to tell the story of the Last Supper as it occurs in the Gospels, but rather to serve as an image of the way that our remembrance of this event in Christ’s life is lived out in our lives, as we participate in our own redemption. The Church, the Body of Christ, is shown in the gathering of the participants at the table, as they are in the real presence of Christ. The “Lord’s Supper” becomes a living, present event. Again, the linkage between faith and action for justice through radical love becomes apparent. As the figures of the apostles live out solidarity and justice, they are depicted as active participants in Christ’s life.

Love Lessons in Uptown

Rick BeckerRichard Becker, RN, MS, MA

Associate Faculty, Bethel College, School of Nursing

Co-Director of Religious Education, St. Matthew Cathedral 

Editors’ note: This post first appeared on God-Haunted Lunatic. A version of this story also appeared on The Catholic Exchange.

Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.
Gerard Manley Hopkins

The propped up coffee-table book caught my eye as I was leaving the library. uptown_coverThe cover photo of a man raising his gnarled hands in prayer was itself arresting, but what really froze me in my tracks was the title in gold caps: U P T O W N.

I grabbed it, checked it out, and re-entered a world I’d left behind some 30 years ago.

The book, subtitled Portrait of a Chicago Neighborhood in the Mid-1970s, is a collection of black-and-white photographs by Robert Rehak that evokes the raw grittiness of that urban neighborhood with an eerie precision.

Although I arrived in Uptown on Chicago’s northside about a decade after Rehak took his photos, the landscape he depicts and describes was largely the same one I encountered. Uptown was unusual for the wide variety of ethnic and cultural groups represented within its borders. Also, many of the de-institutionalized mentally ill had made their way to Uptown, along with the poor who were pushed out of other neighborhoods experiencing redevelopment. “By the early 1970s, Uptown had the second highest population density in Chicago and high unemployment,” writes Rehak. “It had become skid row.”

A skid row was exactly what I had been looking for.

At the time, I was a wet-behind-the-ears, suburban-raised, angst-ridden and disillusioned Evangelical trying to rediscover Jesus in the inner city. The ‘L’ train deposited me at Wilson and Broadway, and Jesus wasn’t there to greet me – a disappointment, but not really a surprise. What did surprise, however, was the sensory overload that engulfed and enraptured me, and which I came to know intimately after I embraced Uptown as my home.

First, the smells. There was plenty of smoke, because everybody smoked everywhere back then. And the whiff of chili, garlic, and curry, fried meats and broiled cheese, bizarre combinations of spices and foodstuffs representing every manner Uptown Theatre and Green Mill-Bob Rehakof international cuisine hanging in the air outside storefront restaurants and street level apartments – not to mention the accompanying tastes!

But the first smell to hit you was the acrid odor of the city itself. You didn’t quite know what to make of it – where it emanated from, what it was – but you’d never forget it. After moving on, years can go by, even decades, and you still expect that sour scent to envelope you when you visit again, and you’re never disappointed.

The smells hit you first, but the sights went right along with them, and you can get a pretty good idea of what the sights were like back then from Rehak’s book: A bleak and crumbling infrastructure, dirt and trash and broken glass, shuttered businesses and empty lots, and people. Lots and lots of people, and every sort imaginable. Black, white, Hispanic, and Asian. Young, old, men, women, and babies. Poor, very poor, and destitute – so I guess not every sort imaginable, because the rich didn’t come around all that often, at least to stay.

Finally, the sounds. There was the rumble and screech of the ‘L,’ of course, and the constant din punctuated by shouts and crashes and laughter at all hours. And the United Nations of faces and ethnic cuisine was naturally accompanied by a Pentecost of spoken word, from Polish to Portuguese, from Eritrean to Hmong.

Nevertheless, English was still the lingua franca, but with a twist that was startling to my untrained ear: An augmented, earthy vocabulary, and, hence, a challenge as I continue to relate this story. Writing requires words, and the words that I’d like to employ in this regard are, shall we say, an acquired taste.

But, I’ll do my best.

After disembarking from the ‘L’ and wandering through the Uptown streets for a bit, I made my way to the St. Francis Catholic Worker on Kenmore Avenue. After climbing the rickety wooden stairs to the expansive front porch, I got up my courage and knocked on the door – again hoping to run into Jesus.

jimmyNo one answered my knock, so I rang the bell. After a moment, the door was flung open, and a torrent of foul abuse spewed forth. It was a magnificent display, almost like a verbal fireworks finale at an Independence Day picnic. The greeter/verbal artiste’s name was Rosalie, and although we would eventually become pretty good friends, Rosie made it unerringly clear at the time that, in her opinion, I deserved not only death, but damnation as well for making such a racket just to gain entrance to the building.

And that was just the beginning. Jimmy was another Catholic Worker denizen who had a constant mumbling patter that was peppered with spicy phrases and exotic words. And there was old Zeke in the basement, who declared himself God the Father (making the more common claim to be Christ or the Blessed Virgin seem almost trite by comparison), and who accordingly pronounced all manner of colorful denunciations from his smoky corner La-Z-Boy in the St. Francis House basement.

Then there was Love.

Love used foul language the way Matisse used color, mixing and playing and pushing the limits. Plus, Love had a very subtle British accent – whether natural or a pretense was hard to guess – and it only added additional, ironic sophistication to her salty rants.

matisse-the-dessert-harmony-in-red-henri-1908-fastAnd here’s the funny thing about Love: She used the same language to express exasperation and kindness, derision and delight. One particular word was her favorite, and by altering her pronunciation and intonation, she could use it in a seemingly endless variety of ways, including the expression of her namesake, love, along with affection and even tenderness. Love was remarkable in that, her speech and unusual behaviors aside, she truly loved her friends, and she helped me begin to really see beyond appearances for the first time in my life.

I went to Uptown to find Jesus, and what do we know of Jesus? “The Word became flesh and lived among us,” St. John tells us. Jesus doesn’t come to us in spirit alone, but in the flesh, to know with our senses, and sometimes it’s not easy to recognize Him.

Dorothy Day alluded to this idea in her essay “Room for Christ” back in 1945:

It would be foolish to pretend that it is easy always 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 [is] not Christ’s way for Himself now when He is disguised under every type of humanity that treads the earth.

For those of us who sought God in Uptown, the disguises – and the salty language – were all part of the adventure. Too bad it’s only with hindsight now that we can recognize when He came by then.

That He had come by, however, is not in doubt.

After I leafed through Rehak’s book, I Amazoned a copy to my friend Jim in Chicago. Jim lived in Uptown long before I got there, and he lives there still, so I knew he’d appreciate it.

A week or so later Jim sent a postcard. He had gone through Rehak’s photos and shared them with others – including Paul, a mutual friend from those bygone days. Here’s what Jim wrote:

Thanks for the wonderful treasure of the Uptown picture book. Sure brings back memories and provokes reflection. Paul kept saying, “We were so naive.”

Were we though?

For They Shall Inherit the Kingdom of Heaven

Becky GuhinBecky Guhin, M.Div.
Director of Stewardship
Saint Joseph Parish, South Bend, IN

Contact Author


“You know, I was walking up by Notre Dame, and a family was there, and we got to talking, and it was nice and all, and suddenly the lady just said, ‘Are you a bum?’ And I said, ‘Well, I guess you could call me that, I mean I’m homeless,’
and that really got me down.”

A kind gentleman with warm blue eyes and a gentle heart said that to me this morning while we drank coffee together.

My immediate reaction was to gasp.  I could see the pain in his face, like someone had kicked him while he was down, like he could cry, like his last ounce of pride had been so quickly stomped down—even in the random reflection back on the experience.  My pain for him deepened when, despite it clearly hurting him, he didn’t seem surprised by the description he was given.  I’m sure “bum” is one of the more kosher insults he hears; after all, we’ve all heard the way people (perhaps even we ourselves) talk about the poor in our communities.  We complain about paying taxes to support them, we wonder why they don’t ‘just get a job,’ and worse, we don’t look into their eyes at all.  But it wasn’t so much the term that concerned me as much as the sentiment; it seemed this man—with a body and soul intimately known and loved by God—was reduced to… nothing.

Christ in the BreadlinesI believe the question is urgent.  How is it possible that right next to a Catholic university someone could say something like that?  Her words identify such ignorance to the truth of the Gospel, to the truth of Christ’s very identity.  Chances are this person was associated with the university in some way, and was potentially even Catholic.  Notre Dame has a variety of resources to facilitate both education in and opportunities for peace building through relationship, from facilitating peace on an international level to local service experiences in South Bend to (most effectively) the glorious presence of the Eucharist, which the Catechism says, “commits us to the poor” (CCC, §1397).  These opportunities to work for justice are rooted in the Congregation of Holy Cross’ emphasis on teaching us to be women and men with hope to bring.  And yet, just a glance away, we see poverty.

This is the University of our Lady, who proclaimed in her Magnificat: “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly; He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty” (Lk 1:52-53).  When this poor young woman became pregnant with the Word of God, she said yes, she said amen—and by His life, His death, His resurrection, we are saved.

Dorothy DayThe poor deserve our reverence, not our criticism.  Dorothy Day used to say that the Gospel removed our right to distinguish between the deserving and undeserving poor.  She did not only serve the people who said thank you, the people who returned the favor, the people who were polite; she served, and more importantly, she befriended the poor in her midst.  For anyone who walked up to her door; there she was.  Dorothy Day wrote in her journals, The Duty of Delight:

“No matter how broke we are, people do not stop coming, nor do they go away. Sometimes, I feel like saying, ‘Those who don’t have to be here, please go away.’ But they would just look helpless and say ‘Where else shall we go?’ Fernando says, ‘No one ever loved me.’ I hear that many times a month and feel like saying, ‘Where there is no love, put love.’ We all need to learn that. Of course sometimes it is hard to love people. Fr. Hugo said you love God as much as the one you love the least. So all our life is a practice to learn to love God” (Sept. 17, 1961).

It could not be more simple.  We encounter Christ in every person that we meet, most profoundly in the poor.  Jesus is very direct: Whatever you did to the least of these, you did for me…and whatever you didn’t do for the least of these, you didn’t do for me (Mt 25).  Thomas Merton said that if we could always see each other as we really are, “I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other,” because each of us is so intricately made in the image of God.  Even forgetting the poor have the privileged place, this means that people deserve our utmost reverence: rich and poor alike.

Come Inherit the KingdomWe are never going to understand Matthew 25 if it remains strictly intellectual, or simply something we hear at Mass and think, “okay, yeah, I know.”  No, we only understand Christ’s presence in the poor through prayer and through relationship.

We pray to deepen our belief in God who emptied Himself to become one of us, as helpless as to be a baby born in a manger.  We pray to open ourselves up to God we encounter throughout our lives.  We pray for the courage to grow in relationship with people who might even make us a little uncomfortable.  We pray that we can grow in friendship so that more and more we will want to give ourselves away.  We go spend time with people who are poor, even when we don’t want to do it.  We pray and we pray and we pray.  We look the poor in the eye, we become poorer ourselves, and we pray.

Pope Francis said, “You can’t speak of poverty without having experienced with the poor. You can’t speak of poverty in the abstract: that doesn’t exist.”  Opening ourselves to the poor means opening ourselves to God.  It means openness to living more simply (even one little bit at a time), to stewarding our resources more prayerfully, to praying more faithfully.

Saint Basil the Great said, “The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry; the garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of him who is naked; the shoes that you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot; the money that you keep locked away is the money of the poor; the acts of charity that you do not perform are so many injustices that you commit.”

We cannot forget that no matter the mistakes made, the clothes worn, the services received, the poor are Christ.  Please, Christ, forgive us.  You are anything but a bum.  Give us courage to seek you, to smile at you, to really really really love you.

They Knew Him in the Breaking of the Bread: Dorothy Day and the Eucharist (Part II)

Jessica Keating

M.Div. Candidate, University of Notre Dame

Contact Author


The liturgy is not merely something one “does” or “performs,” but something one lives and embodies in the concrete circumstances of the world.  Pope Benedict XVI, in God Among Us, argues that the reality of the Eucharist makes pressing corporeal demands.

The Lord gives himself to us in bodily form. That is why we must likewise respond to him bodily. That means above all that the Eucharist must reach out beyond the limits of the church itself in the manifold forms of service to men and women and to the world. But it also means that our religion, our prayer, demands bodily expression. Because the Lord, the Risen One, gives us himself in the Body, we have to respond in soul and body. (Benedict XVI)

It is this eucharistic reality which Day strove to embody, convicted of the fact that one cannot go to church, sing with the children, hear the homily of the day, partake of the bread of life, the Word made flesh, hear the Gospel, the Word of God, without allowing what one has received to overflow in loving service for one’s fellows (Day, CW 1949, 5.8).  One’s entire corporeal existence is involved in worship and one is likewise obligated, through the grace poured out in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross at Calvary and made real and present in the “Holy Sacrifice of the Mass” through the “unbloodied repetition of the Sacrifice of the Cross” to inhabit the mystery of divine charity which is kenosis (Peter Maurin in Zwick 63; Corbon 241).  To say that God’s grace merely invites one to action is limpid, and lacks the bite of the Gospel.  Grace demands, shocks, and disorients.  Articulating these concrete demands, Day writes:

Every house should have a Christ’s room. The coat which hangs in your closet belongs to the poor. If your brother comes to you hungry and you say, Go be thou filled, what kind of hospitality is that? It is no use turning people away to an agency, to the city or the state or the Catholic Charities. It is you yourself who must perform the works of mercy. … Often you can literally take off a garment if it only be a scarf and warm some shivering brother. But personally, at a personal sacrifice, these were the ways Peter used to insist, to combat the growing tendency on the part of the State to take over. The great danger was the State taking over the job which our Lord Himself gave us to do, “Inasmuch as you did it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me. (Day, CW 1947, 1.3)

God’s grace pressed upon her compelling a personal response, one in which the “mystery of divine love” expressed and actualized in the liturgy became “coextensive” with her life (Corbon 241).  This love, which God extends to humanity, permeates “the depths of the heart […with] the power of the crucified and risen Lord,” and is fully realized “when it inspires us to enter into the depths of the world of sin, where love is not yet the conqueror of death” (241).

In The Wellspring of Worship, Jean Corbon remarks, “The kenosis of love is revealed to us in the Bible as a mystery of poverty…In his person as the Son Jesus reveals to us that God is poor; for Jesus ‘has’ nothing; he receives everything ‘from’ the Father” (241-42).  The Eucharist, therefore, quite literally “commits us to the poor” (CCC §1397).  Day, witnessing to this reality, wrote:

The mystery of the poor is this: That they are Jesus, and what you do for them you do for Him.  It is the only way we have of knowing and being in our love.  The mystery of poverty is that by sharing in it, making ourselves poor in giving to others, we increase our knowledge of and belief in love. (CW, 1956, 2)

She distinguished, however, supernaturally efficacious poverty from “pagan poverty.” The former involves “putting on Christ” while the latter undertaken out of selfishness.  

Poverty is no good supernaturally if it is a pagan poverty for the sake of the freedom involved, though that is good, naturally speaking. Poverty is good, because we share the poverty of others, we know them and so love them more. Also, by embracing poverty we can give away to others. If we eat less, others can have more. If we pay less rent, we can pay the rent of a dispossessed family. If we go with old clothes, we can clothe others. We can perform the corporal works of mercy by embracing poverty.  If we embrace poverty we put on Christ. If we put off the world, if we put the world out of our hearts, there is room for Christ within. (Day, CW 1944, 1, 2, 7)

Day lived out the mystery of Christ in the poor, practicing the works of mercy.  During the 1971 interview on Christopher Closeup, when asked how the soup lines got started, Day matter-of-factly explained:

Our Lord left himself to us as food: bread and wine.  The disciples at Emmaus knew him in the breaking of bread and so it’s far easier to see Christ in your brother when you are sitting down and sharing soup with him.  You don’t any longer see the destitute, or the drunk, or the disorderly, or the unworthy poor. (Christopher Closeup, 1971)

Furthermore,  “[w]hen you love people, you see all the good in them, all the Christ in them.  God sees Christ in His Son, in us and loves us.  And so we should see Christ in others, and nothing else, and love them” (Day, Pilgrimage 124).   She considered all her life as a meeting with Christ.  “In performing the works of mercy […] she met Christ in human guise.  In the Eucharist […] she met Christ disguised in word and human symbol [and] received him sacramentally, and was intimately transformed by him (Merriman 98).   Her imagination, so radically reoriented and shaped by the Eucharistic sacrifice, allowed her to see in the daily life of the homeless the laborious and lonely journey to Calvary: “Here starts their long weary trek to as to Calvary.  They meet no Veronica on their way to relieve their tiredness nor is there a Simon of Cyrene to relieve the burden of the cross (Day, Loaves 37).

The liturgical movement, which profoundly affected Day’s understanding of the unity of the life of worship and the life of work, advanced the idea that there was no bifurcation between the activities in which relate Christians to God, sacred actions on the one hand and secular actions on the other (Corbon 204).  Unlike the Old Covenant, in which “worship did not contain the saving events within it but simply remembered them [and] its morality aimed at conformity with the events but did not flow from them as from a present source,” the New Covenant celebrated in the liturgy “does not offer us a model that is then to be imitated in the rest of life”; rather the “Christ whom we celebrate is the identical Christ by whom we live”  (203-04).  There are not two radically heterogeneous realities; rather there is but one reality with two distinctive aspects, in which the mystery of Christ “permeates both celebration and life” (204).  The liturgical movement expressed the continuity between moral and cultic life, and Day adopted Fr. Virgil Michel’s attitude that “our responsibility for the poor, believer or not, flows from the fact that we are connected to one another in the mystical Body of Christ and the Eucharist (Day, Pilgrimage 36).  In other words, Day believed that one ought to live in conformity to the mystery of Christ’s kenosis and love expressed in the Eucharist.

This is the one whose body we eat and whose blood we drink; the one who, when we commune in the Eucharist takes us out of ourselves and assimilates us into him, so “that we become one with him and, through him, with the fellowship of our brethren” (Benedict XVI 78).  Pope Benedict explains that the Eucharist reverses what normally occurs when we take in nourishment.  “In the normal process of eating,” he remarks, “the human being is the stronger being.  He takes things in, and they are assimilated into him, so that they become part of his own substance.  They are transformed within him and go to build up his bodily life” (Benedict XVI).  But by taking in the Eucharist, Christ subsumes us into his Body, so that we might not merely imitate, but participate in his poverty, his self-emptying love.

For Day one did not live the liturgy individually in isolation from others.  In her autobiography, The Long Loneliness, she recalls:

I had heard many say that they wanted to worship God in their 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 praise God.  Without even looking into the claims of the Catholic Church, I was willing to admit that for me she was the one true Church. (139)

Like all human persons, Day had a deep and abiding desire for communion with God, which as the very nature of God reveals, is necessarily relational.  Her involvement with the radical movement and the “sense of solidarity” she experience therein enabled Day to “gradually understand the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ whereby we are members of one another” (149).  Partaking in the liturgy imbued her with the sense of “Eucharistic communion,” which she then extended to the entire human community (Corbon 205).  Thus, Day asserts that “[w]e cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other.  We know him in the breaking of the bread, and we are not alone anymore” (Day, Long 285).





They Knew Him in the Breaking of the Bread: Dorothy Day and the Eucharist (Part I)

Jessica Keating

M.Div. Candidate, University of Notre Dame

Contact Author


In Teaching a Stone to Talk, Annie Dillard comments, “On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions.  Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke?  Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it?” (52).   As a Christian fully aware of conditions, perhaps Dorothy Day would have been more at home in the catacombs.  She was not only sensible to the power invoked in the Mass, but she believed it and felt upon her the demands that such a power made.  She lived as though the Truth were true and believed that Christians ought to live as the early Christians did: doing in their daily lives what was done at the altar of God in the fundamental act of worship (Zwick 59).  In other words, she believed life ought to be lived in conformity to the mystery of Christ’s kenosis and love expressed in the Eucharist.  It is “[t]his life-giving un-self-centeredness that is at the source of the divine agape [which] streams out into the world in the kenosis of the beloved Son and that of the Holy Spirit,” and in which humanity shares through the liturgy and is called to live out of and extend to other members and potential members of the mystical Body of Christ (Corbon, Wellsprings of Worship, 239).

I. Devotion to the Mass

As a child Day had an acute sense of the sacramentality of the Word, and though many years would elapse before she could recognize or articulate this, even as a young girl she remembered “the sense of holiness in holding the book [Bible] in my hands…the feeling of partaking of a sacrament in holding it and reading” (Da,y Long 20; CW 1966, 1.2, 6.8).  Though she “did not know then that the Word in the Book and the Word in the flesh of Christ’s humanity were the same, [she] felt [she] was handling something holy” (Long, 20).  Although Day sensed its sacramentality as a child and dimly grasped at it throughout her early adulthood, the Word would come to permeate her life, a life marked by the constant exchange between the sacred and the profane, a life in which the Mass was “the work of the day” (Pieper 28-33; Day, Loaves 130).  It does not, however, “exhaust the entire activity of the Church,” as she shrewdly pointed out in a 1956 issue of the Catholic Worker (CCC §1072).  She expounds on the problem of separating liturgy from work:

One finds so many Catholics spending their time not only at Mass (several a day in fact) but also in prayers, devotions, rosaries, holy hours, as well as all the societies in the church which promote one or another of all these Means and giving no time to try to change society and their own life in it so that it will more conform to what the life of a Christian should be in this world. Then on the other hand one is apt to plunge more desperately into the life of work, writing, speaking, organizing unions, credit unions, cooperatives, farming communes and retreats to dispose the Christian to go in for the foregoing. (Day, CW 1956, 2)

The vocation of the lay apostolate was, and still is, to sanctify the world, which necessitates involvement in the world so that by cooperating with God’s grace society may be transformed.  Thus, she critiqued “church ladies” who spent all their time in the pews and little time working in the world outside the church.  But she also cautioned those who would “dispose the Christian” and immerse themselves single-mindedly in the life work, forsaking the life of prayer.  Like any good Benedictine Oblate, Day counseled a life of prayer and work, distinct but undivided.

Even before her conversion, Day observed the people coming from Mass, and although she never “set foot in a Catholic church, […she] saw people there at home with Him.  First Fridays, novenas, and missions brought the masses thronging in and out of the Catholic churches. They were of all nationalities, of all classes, but most of all they were the poor” (Day, Union Square, online).  Early on she connected the Church with the poor, and while she relentlessly critiqued its opulence and its failure to live its mission to the poor, the Church was where she received the Body of Christ.

It was her “need to worship, to adore” that led Day into the Church, but it was one of Day’s confessors, a Salesian priest named Fr. Zamien, who urged her to attended daily Mass (Long 139, 161; Loaves 127).  Day recalls her initial reaction to the priest’s prompting:

I had thought this was only for the old or the saintly, and I told him so.  “Not at all,” he said.  “You go because you need food to nourish you for your pilgrimage on this earth.  You need to strength, the grace, that the bread of life gives.  Remember that Jesus said, “For my flesh is meat indeed and my blood is drink indeed.” (Loaves, 127)

Day was to develop a faithful routine of prayer, which included daily Mass, and came to understand “that is was necessary for man to worship, that he was most truly himself when engaged in that act” (Long 93).  She recognized that human beings are “created to praise, reverence, and serve God,” and that the activity of worship was humanity’s telos, the expression of overflowing love and gratitude for the Lord (Ignatius of Loyola §23; Day, Long 139).


Day was confident that her daily attendance at Mass was instrumental in the founding of the Catholic Worker.  She writes that she “was convinced that the Catholic Worker had come about because I was going to daily Mass, daily receiving Holy Communion and happy though I was, kept sighing out, ‘Lord, what would you have me do?  Lord, here I am” (CW 1966, 1.2, 6.8).   Day later remarked in a 1971 interview on Christopher Closeup, “I always say, if you start praying, saying ‘Lord what would you have me do?’ prayers are answered and you find yourself doing a lot more than you ever thought you were going to do” (Christopher Closeup, 1971). Prayer was the apex of her life and little by little Day’s became intensely saturated with the “desire to live as closely united to God as possible” (CW 1953, 1.4.7).  Through the nourishment of the Eucharist and the experience of the kenosis and love of Christ Day did not merely imitate Christ, but began to live by the mystery expressed in the Mass, a mystery in which one’s life takes root in the celebration and begins to open and expand (Corbon 205).  She articulated the opening and expanding of life lived in the mystery as “the daily practice of the supernatural life,” which begins and ends at the table of the Lord (Zwick 63).

The Mass, Day explained, brings “us into the closest of all contacts with our Lord Jesus Christ, enabling us literally to ‘put on Christ,’ as St. Paul said, and to begin to say with him, ‘Now, not I live, but Jesus Christ in me’” (Day, CW 1962, 2).  It is there that we received “the tremendous graces [of] God…nourishing ourselves as we have been bidden to do by Christ, by eating His body and drinking His blood, can we become Christ and put on the new man” (CW 1949, 5.8; CW 1962, 2).  Expounding on the necessity of partaking in the Eucharist daily, she explains that it reorients us toward God, such that “attendance at the mysteries makes [us] God-centered, helps [us] to put on Christ, to be other Christs, [which] is what we are here for, to become other Christs, to grow in Christ,” (Day, CW 1949, 5.8).

Day not only practiced the discipline of daily Mass, but also encouraged others to do so (Zwick 67).  A former Catholic Worker recalled Day rebuking him saying, “that by missing (daily) Mass I was hurting the work” (67).  She astutely recognized “that the liturgy accomplishes […] the restoration of [the] wonderful oneness of life” (Corbon 225).  This unity which the liturgy effects is not, however, a flattened out unity in which nature is divinized and God is naturalized.  Day was keenly aware of the distinctiveness of the Mass and its primacy as the work of the day.

[W]e need to remind ourselves that the reason for man’s existence is to love, honor and serve God; that the greatest work of the day is the Mass, the offering of the God-man to God for His praise, honor and glory, in reparation for our sins and in thanksgiving for all His benefits, and that the Mass is not to help the work of the day, which it does, of course, but that all the work of the day is to build up to the climax of the Mass, that act of love – – that moment of union with God. When we use the Mass to further our work, which we regard as of such importance, and which we need, as human beings to regard of great importance, it is as though we were walking upside down, on our heads. (Day, CW 1956, 2)

Influenced by Virgil Michel, Day saw no bifurcation between worship and the world, but did recognize the distinctiveness of each.  She understood the Eucharist as the source of all social action, as the animating force of the works of mercy and as the fulfillment of all of one’s efforts.  In her estimation one’s work is quite literally diminished without the Eucharist.  Expounding on the connection between the work of the Mass and all other forms of work Day writes, the greatest of all human work

is to know God, to love Him and serve Him, and we learn to know Him in the Mass, and we serve Him by receiving what He has given to us, His son, and then that is the only way we can give to the world. We have something to give, and the longing of every human heart is to give, to share, to love. If we have not Christ to give we have nothing. And here is the only way to do it. (CW 1956, 2)

For Day the Mass was not superfluous to social action nor a merely a religious demand, but the source and sustenance of participation in the supernatural life, and was, according to Father Benedict Bradley, “at once the supreme expression of Christian life and the instrument of the world’s conversion” (Zwick 66).

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.


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).


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.



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.  


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).


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).


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.