Dorothy Day on St. Francis of Assisi

I am currently preparing some reflections to share on the thought of Bl. John Duns Scotus at the invitation of the Catholic Worker in New York City for later next month. While I am well versed in the writings and thought of the Franciscan tradition, I am not nearly as familiar with Dorothy Day’s work. I know much about her and have always admired her exemplary modeling of the Gospel Life, yet I have not spent as much time with her writings as I would have liked — another thing on the list to do. I said as much to the woman from the Catholic Worker who invited me to speak about Scotus and she said that wasn’t a problem, they weren’t expecting me to speak about Day or the Catholic Worker. Nevertheless, I find myself, in anticipation of that talk, returning to Day’s writings to renew and expand my appreciation for her life, model and wisdom.

In the process, I have been delighted and challenged: delighted to discover so much wisdom and human holiness, as well as a fine peppering of the twentieth-century (not to be called) saint’s admiration for St. Francis of Assisi; challenged to be reminded of my own inadequacies and fears in living out what it is I am called to by virtue of baptism and my religious profession. Day has that ability, to edify and raise-the-stakes in the most evangelical of ways.

I thought I would share but a short excerpt from one of her writings that mentions St. Francis of Assisi. There are, of course, many more. This is from a reflection on poverty, its tone and style reminds me of Gustavo Gutiérrez’s writing on Liberation Theology and poverty some years later.

Poverty is a strange and elusive thing. I have tried to write about it, its joys and sorrows, for twenty years now; I could probably write about it for another twenty years without conveying what I feel about it as well as I would like. I condemn poverty and I advocate it; poverty is simple and complex at once; it is a social phenomenon and a personal matter. It is a paradox.

St. Francis as “the little poor man” and none was more joyful than he; yet Francis began with tears, with fear and trembling, hiding in a cave from his irate father. He had expropriated some of his father’s good (which he considered his rightful inheritance) in order to repair a church and rectory where he meant to live. It was only later that he came to love Lady Poverty. He took it little by little; it seemed to grow on him. Perhaps kissing the leper was the great step that freed him not only from fastidiousness and a fear of disease but from attachment to worldly goods as well.

Sometimes it takes but one step. We would like to think so. And yet the older I get, the more I see that life is made up of many steps, and they are very small affairs, not giant strides. I have “kissed a leper,” not once but twice — consciously — and I cannot say I am much the better for it. (109-110)

This except comes from Dorothy Day: Selected Writings (Orbis, 2005), edited by Robert Ellsberg. I would encourage you to consider checking out that book or any of Day’s writings for more.

Dorothy Day and Francis of Assisi: Ora pro nobis.

Photo: Sally K. Green

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