Tuesday, November 27, 2012

N.Y. Times plays politics with Dorothy Day

Icon hanging over my office computer
I was happy to see a front page New Times story on Dorothy Day this morning when I came down for coffee. Of course, I began reading with trepidation, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Didn't take long. By the first line of the second paragraph, I was annoyed by the lack of understanding of all things Catholic.

"But Day has found a seemingly unlikely champion in New York's conservative archbishop, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, who has breathed new life into an effort to declare the Brooklyn native a saint." 

"Unlikely champion?" Really? Dorothy Day lived what our Church teaches, and although Cardinal Dolan may make headlines for his statements on abortion and contraception and other "conservative" issues, he also preaches on the rest of Catholic teaching, which isn't flashy enough to make the front page -- things like poverty and immigration and war, things that Dorothy Day made the center of her life's work.

I find it funny that the Times, with all its great authority, still doesn't understand some of the most basic things about Catholicism and about the people we call saints. My goodness, they don't come more radical than Francis of Assisi and look how popular and beloved his is. He stripped himself naked in the middle of town when he renounced his family's fortune. He was, like Day, radical about poverty and yet firmly entrenched in Catholic teaching and faith. Let's face it: All saints are radical. You don't get to be a saint by being lukewarm about anything.

Then we get a little deeper into the story where the Times talks about Day's canonization "even though, as some bishops noted, she had an abortion as a young woman and at one point flirted with joining the Communist Party." Yeah, okay, please see above paragraph. Of course she can be a saint even though she had an abortion. We are a faith of forgiveness. St. Augustine, anyone? That's what makes her story so powerful. Conversion to Christ transformed her life.  (P.S. When I was young I once went to a Cesar Chavez boycott-grapes rally in Austin sponsored by the Communist Party, so if I'm up for sainthood at any point, please be aware of this skeleton in my closet.)

Here's a fun sentence from the New York Times story:

"Cardinal Dolan is often depicted as one of the most visible symbols of the rightward shift of America's Catholic bishops."

Depicted by whom? The Times, I guess. If they think Cardinal Dolan is a symbol of the "rightward shift," clearly they need to meet some other American bishops. Give me a call; I have a list of names.

Finally, if you make it to the jump of the story, there's what may be my favorite part, where the Times says that promoting Day's sainthood "is politically useful" for Cardinal Dolan. Sigh. Cardinal Dolan is the third Archbishop of New York to promote Day's cause for canonization. Cardinal John O'Connor and Cardinal Edward Egan also promoted Day's cause. Three very different men in three very different times. Sometimes a cause is just a cause.

Here's a snippet of what Cardinal Egan said back in 2005:

...the parish priest who had encouraged me to enter the seminary gave me a copy of "The Long Loneliness" and told me to read it and tell him what I thought of it. I do not recall exactly what I told him, but I know what was in my head: "This is a saint if ever there was one."

Here's what Cardinal O'Connor told the New York Times in 1997:


The Cardinal first raised the idea of sainthood for Dorothy Day a decade ago, but at the time he went only so far as to ask for comment from parishioners and others. In his homily yesterday, the Cardinal said he had received many letters as the centennial of Miss Day's birth drew near, one from a supporter who called her ''the Mother Teresa of Mott Street.''

''And the more reading I've done, the more saintly a woman she seems to me,'' the Cardinal said.

So Cardinal O'Connor -- who was also "depicted" as a conservative -- began the first steps toward Day's canonization 25 years ago, during very different political times. So much for that argument.

Regardless of whether you agree with the push for Day's sainthood -- and there are many among her followers who are uncomfortable with the idea -- these basic misunderstandings on the part of the Times about simple Catholic thought and teaching take what should be a story of faith and Gospel teaching and turn it into politics and calculation.

20 comments:

Brian Sullivan said...

Good point. So the NYT doesn't understand the Catholic Church? Quelle suprise! Imagine if they were this off about economics or politics. Hmm, maybe...

Fran said...

Great post Mary... Dorothy Day - pray for us!

M. Jordan Lichens said...

Thank you so much for a great response. I tend to be labelled "very conservative" but I have had a fondness for Day from the moment I read about her. I hope she intercedes for all of us.

Siobhan said...

relfri 800I had the same reaction to this column - Cardinal Dolan isn't liberal, and he's not conservative, he's Catholic. The religion writer for the New York Times should have at least an inkling of what that means, but apparently that's too much to ask. How disappointing!

Anonymous said...

The New York Times doesn't understand the Catholic Church. Nobody understands us. Boo-hoo. When are we going to stop being victims.

Peter N. Nevraumont
The Bronx, New York

thereserita said...

I don't get put out with NYT etc anymore. They're just doing what Obama did, ie, exploiting the rift in the Catholic church between Prolifers vs Social Justice folks...that's how he got himself elected. If Catholics in the pews cared enough to read "Caritas in Veritate" or even listen to B16 every week, we couldn't be exploited bc we'd understand that our faith isn't "either or" but "both and", as Dolan says in the article.

Nathaniel M. Campbell said...

The ironic part is that the article itself quotes Cardinal Dolan (in the fifth graf) on how Dorothy Day shows that the Catholic Church is "both-and rather than either-or". It's right there in the article, and yet the writer can't see it!

Fred said...

Dorothy Day remained an avowed atheist her entire life, which is contrary to all teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. It is shameful that the US Bishops, liberal Democrats nearly all, are trying tomuscle her through the canonization process. There is no popular devotion to her, outside of the editorial pages of America and Commonweal magazines. She is not a model of sanctity, nor was her influence on the Church in America anything near the likes of a Fulton Sheen, who the bishops have not endorsed en banc.

Anonymous said...

Fred, please read the Long Loneliness

Angry Jason said...

You mean the NY times is a joke publication put out by liberal hacks?Que tonto eres

Anonymous said...

The approach is to treat all the churches or religious organizations as just another political entity is not new. The Obama administration did not start this but they are carrying it further than any other past administration. The danger here is that as the Church becomes more involved in the public square, the public square will become more involved in the Church. This is what the secularist want, a church that is no different than say the NAACP or the Chamber of Commerce. The article has many good points but this critique demands wider dissemination and the faithful need a better understanding of the full breath of Catholic spiritual and social teaching. We Catholic need to reject the “conservative” and “liberal” stereotypes define ourselves uniquely as Catholics.

Mike B. said...

I thought the article in the NY Times was excellent. Yes, the writer plays games with Cardinal Dolan while politicizing Catholic beliefs. They really don't know any other way to write something on Dorothy Day. However when you get past that the research and article on Dorothy Day was well done. Cardinal Dolan sees something that is very needed inside Rachel's tears.

Michael F Brennan
St Petersburg, FL

Anonymous said...

Fred, see http://www.catholicworker.org/dorothyday/ddbiographytext.cfm?number=3
In which it becomes apparent that, far from being an avowed atheist all her life, she was in fact most of her life, even as a child, deeply attracted to religion and the Catholic Church in particular. She did have sometime in which she doubted and led a less-than-exemplary life, but your characterisation is way off base.

Fred said...

Sorry, "avowed Athiest" was a typo. I meant that Day was an avowed socialist her whole life (frankly, I've never noticed much difference in the persons who hold these twin errors). Read Deacon Kandra's quotes from Day on this same blog to see what a judgmental, self-rightious woman Day truly was. No real saint would speak sit in public judgment of an archbishop the way she bragged that she did.

claire said...

A very interesting historical review. Thank you.

Bethanie Ryan said...

I agree with some of the earlier commenters, this is a great response to the NYT. If you haven't noticed, everything is about left vs. right anymore and people outside the church (and sadly, some inside) want to split the church the same way society is divided. And to assign political motives to Cardinal Dolan is just absurd! The Church isn't a democracy, no one needs to play politics. We are using our energies share the Gospel.

TerryC said...

Fred,
Day was a very odd socialist. She was against Social Security and afraid of what excessive government intrusion into charitable work would do. She was smart enough to know that if you take the government's dime then the government will want to run the show. And their decisions woudl not be good for the poor.
I would say that while an active socialist early in life she was in truth an anarchist, who did not trust government at all.
Her vision of social justice is more in line with the Church's understanding of social justice than just about any modern "justice & peace" Catholic who expects the government to solve the problem of poverty (through taxing the rich).
As for her sitting in public judgment of an archbishop, if you're speaking of her criticism of Cardinal Francis Spellman, I'd say Cardinal Spellman had many faults worth criticizing. Let's just say that St. Catherine of Siena was also well known for letting her criticism of high ranking Church members. Indeed some members of the American Catholic Church's hierarchy in the lest few decades deserve more than tepid public condemnation for what they've done or failed to do.

DrDoctorDr said...

@ Fred (again): "No real saint would speak sit in public judgment of an archbishop the way she bragged that she did."

SAINT Catherine of Siena had a few things to say to the pope...

Julianne Wiley said...

Fred: My fave quote from Dorothy Day: "The Church must never abandon the poor--- to Holy Mother the State."

She NEVER lost sight of the fact that a swelling State makes for a shrinking Church, and vice cersa. She never, ever, ever sided with the State against the Church.

But for me, the best thing is: she brought me back to the gentle personalism of traditional Catholicis.

I think hundreds, maybe thousands could say the same. And tens of thousands will join their voices and hearts with real warmth to petition: Dorothy, Servant of God, pray for us.

Anonymous said...

Let's not play football with Dorothy Day! As a Catholic school student in the raucous period between 1960 and 1973, Dorothy Day's "getting it" transcended the irrelevance of the Catholic Church to the social injustices that marred the Western world and she was an inspiration to me, my closest friends, and to the young Christian Brothers who taught us at the time.

It was Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906 – 1945) whose life story inspired me to see the best side of progressive Christianity. It Dorothy Day who inspired me to be socially conscious and to put my Catholic faith into good works as a volunteer mentor at St St Brigid's School on Avenue B in NYC and in a number of other ways.

Yes, she was a true leader by example.