At various times in her life, Dorothy Day considered herself an anarchist, and she was for a brief period a socialist. Her relationship with politics was always complex and often confounding. She believed individuals should not leave to government what they should do themselves, and while she was an early advocate of women’s suffrage, she never voted. Throughout her life, she challenged the government’s authority to levy taxes, wage war, implement a draft, and develop weaponry. She marched, protested, witnessed, and was arrested when she felt that government infringed upon or did not uphold human dignity and care for the vulnerable. Not everyone agreed with her stances or her tactics, but everyone knew that she stood upon her convictions and would be heard.
Questions to Consider
1. Much of Day’s work in New York City involved providing food, shelter, and hospitality to the immigrant poor newly arrived in America. There is much debate today about federal policies toward immigrants and immigration and what sort of welcome immigrants legal or illegal do or do not deserve. What do you think Dorothy Day’s stance would be on this debate? For instance, would she support the “Sanctuary Cities” movement? Do you imagine that she would be actively engaged in the federal immigration debate? What can we learn from her concern for and call to engage with the immigrant poor?
2. Many studies have shown that the sense of belonging, of seeing oneself as part of a larger community of persons, is central to good health and wellbeing. When a sense of community is lacking, institutions often fail and people feel isolated and alienated from the larger culture. What can we learn from Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movements’ emphasis on community? What, according to Day’s example, would be the fundamental requirements for being in community with others? What responsibilities does it entail?
3.Do you agree with Day’s assertion that “[w]e cannot love God unless we love each other”? What does this say about the role of community in regard to one’s relationship to God? How might the two be connected? How did Dorothy Day understand the word hospitality? What did it mean to her? Does it mean the same for you, or perhaps something different?
4. Studies over the last two decades by Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam (Bowling Alone) and others have suggested that America is suffering from a decline in the sense of community, as fewer people participate in social and civic organizations, recreational leagues, PTAs, houses of worship, and other local institutions that support community feeling. Is this something that you or persons you know have experienced? How do you think this can be addressed (or can it)? Do Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker model offer any insights as to how to build community, or what principles it can and should be founded on?
5. For several decades, the United States has experienced growing social and economic inequality. Do you think this is a significant factor in the decline of community in our country? What other factors do you think contribute to this feeling? Can you identify patterns or places where community feeling is stronger or weaker? Do you have a strong sense of community where you live and/or study?
Related Day Quotes
We make this demonstration not only to voice our opposition to war, not only to refuse to participate in psychological warfare, which this air raid drill is, but also as an act of public penance for having been the first people in the world to drop the atomic bomb. We are engaging only ourselves in this action, not the Church. We are acting as individual Catholics. (The Life You Save May Be Your Own, 236)
[Writing of her youthful engagement with Socialism] For me Christ no longer walked the streets of this world. He was two thousand years dead and new prophets had risen up in His place. I was in love now with the masses. . . . The poor and oppressed were going to rise up, and they were collectively the new Messiah, and they would release the captives. (The Long Loneliness, 46).
[Writing of her decision to convert to Catholicism] I had become convinced that I would become a Catholic; yet I felt I was betraying the class to which I belonged, the workers, the poor of the world, with whom Christ spent His life. (The Long Loneliness, 144)
[Of that conversion] I was just as much against capitalism and imperialism as ever, and here I was going over to the opposition, because of course the Church was lined up with property, with the wealthy, with the state, with capitalism, with all the forces of reaction. This I had been taught to think and this I still think to a great extent. (The Long Loneliness, 149)
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