Archive for dorothy day

Initial Reflections on Pope Francis, Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton

Posted in Pope Francis, Social Justice, Thomas Merton, YouTube with tags , , , on September 25, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Screen Shot 2015-09-25 at 12.24.19 AMThis video was recorded “on location” in the side chapel of the Mercyhurst University Chapel in Erie, PA. Just minutes after Pope Francis delivered his historic address to the joint session of Congress, I had the great honor and privilege to preside and preach at the Mass of the Holy Spirit, which kicks off the academic year at the university. Being a Thomas Merton scholar and admirer of Dorothy Day, I wanted to share some initial reflections right away, so here they are! My apologies for the lower-than-average production quality, but such is the case when on the road. In addition to the initial reflections, there are a few glimpses of the beautiful campus of Mercyhurst University and a time-lapse video of the opening of this evening’s panel discussion on religious life.

Also, here is the full text of the Pope’s address to Congress.



Pope Francis References Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day in Address to Congress

Posted in Pope Francis, Social Justice, Thomas Merton, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on September 24, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

merton_painting_webIn what was already the most widely anticipated speech of Pope Francis’s pastoral visit to the United States this week, the Pope’s references to two American models of Christian living — the renowned author and Trappist Monk Thomas Merton and co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement Dorothy Day — have surprised many. As a Merton scholar, a three-term member of the Board of Directors for the International Thomas Merton Society, and the author of the recent book The Franciscan Heart of Thomas Merton, I couldn’t be more delighted at the mention of Merton!

Pope Francis highlights how these two giant figures of American Catholicism “offer us a way of seeing and interpreting reality.”

Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day knew each other, corresponded, and represent to many Catholics the depth of an engaged Christian spirituality that extends beyond the personal relationship with God to reach the margins of society and respond to the most pressing concerns of our day. Their lives and model of Christian living anticipated what was made universal by the Second Vatican Council and expressed in Gaudium et Spes, that Christians are called to interpret the “signs of the time” in “light of the Gospel.”

This didn’t happen overnight for either figure. For Merton, there was a growing awareness of the need to engage matters of peace and justice in the world that came when his life of prayer and contemplation awakened within him a sense of interconnectedness with all women and men. He recognized an “original unity,” as he put it in one of his last lectures, that was founded on the “hidden ground of love.”

In a letter to Dorothy Day written on August 23, 1961, Merton acknowledges this growing awareness and turn toward the world:

I don’t feel that I can in conscience, at a time like this, go on writing just about things like meditation, though that has its point. I cannot just bury my head in a lot of rather tiny and secondary monastic studies either. I think I have to face the big issues, the life-and-death issues.

This awakening of his conscience led to addressing concerns of poverty, racism, violence, nuclear armament, the Cold War, economic inequality, among other pressing concerns of his day (and, sadly, still our own).

Both Merton and Day, the latter whose cause for canonization is currently underway, have been somewhat polarizing figures over the last half-century. Those who feel religious people should talk about God and prayer and not the pressing or controversial concerns of the time, have dismissed Merton and Day. Some feel that they represent some kind of “liberal” or “progressive” face of Catholicism. Pope Francis’s references help to put down that sort of polarizing image, pointing to them as icons and models of Christian discipleship for all people!

Photo: Merton Legacy Trust

Pope Cites Dorothy Day in his Ash Wednesday Audience

Posted in Lent, The Papal Watcher with tags , , , on February 13, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

31486_495325013864854_922981261_nIn what is described as the ‘penultimate’ public audience of Pope Benedict XVI, on this the morning of Ash Wednesday, the Holy Father talked about Lent and also mentioned American Dorothy Day, citing her autobiography. Here is the full text.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today, Ash Wednesday, we begin the liturgical time of Lent, forty days that prepare us for the celebration of Holy Easter, it is a time of particular commitment in our spiritual journey. The number forty occurs several times in the Bible. In particular, it recalls the forty years that the Israelites wandered in the wilderness: a long period of formation to become the people of God, but also a long period in which the temptation to be unfaithful to the covenant with the Lord was always present. Forty were also the days of the Prophet Elijah’s journey to reach the Mount of God, Horeb; as well as the time that Jesus spent in the desert before beginning his public life and where he was tempted by the devil. In this Catechesis I would like to dwell on this moment of earthly life of the Son of God, which we will read of in the Gospel this Sunday.

First of all, the desert, where Jesus withdrew to, is the place of silence, of poverty, where man is deprived of material support and is placed in front of the fundamental questions of life, where he is pushed to towards the essentials in life and for this very reason it becomes easier for him to find God. But the desert is also a place of death, because where there is no water there is no life, and it is a place of solitude where man feels temptation more intensely. Jesus goes into the desert, and there is tempted to leave the path indicated by God the Father to follow other easier and worldly paths (cf. Lk 4:1-13). So he takes on our temptations and carries our misery, to conquer evil and open up the path to God, the path of conversion.

In reflecting on the temptations Jesus is subjected to in the desert we are invited, each one of us, to respond to one fundamental question: what is truly important in our lives? In the first temptation the devil offers to change a stone into bread to sate Jesus’ hunger. Jesus replies that the man also lives by bread but not by bread alone: ​​without a response to the hunger for truth, hunger for God, man can not be saved (cf. vv. 3-4). In the second, the devil offers Jesus the path of power: he leads him up on high and gives him dominion over the world, but this is not the path of God: Jesus clearly understands that it is not earthly power that saves the world, but the power of the Cross, humility, love (cf. vv. 5-8). In the third, the devil suggests Jesus throw himself down from the pinnacle of the Temple of Jerusalem and be saved by God through his angels, that is, to do something sensational to test God, but the answer is that God is not an object on which to impose our conditions: He is the Lord of all (cf. vv. 9-12). What is the core of the three temptations that Jesus is subjected to? It is the proposal to exploit God, to use Him for his own interests, for his own glory and success. So, in essence, to put himself in the place of God, removing Him from his own existence and making him seem superfluous. Everyone should then ask: what is the role God in my life? Is He the Lord or am I?

Overcoming the temptation to place God in submission to oneself and one’s own interests or to put Him in a corner and converting oneself to the proper order of priorities, giving God the first place, is a journey that every Christian must undergo. “Conversion”, an invitation that we will hear many times in Lent, means following Jesus in so that his Gospel is a real life guide, it means allowing God transform us, no longer thinking that we are the only protagonists of our existence, recognizing that we are creatures who depend on God, His love, and that only by “losing” our life in Him can we truly have it. This means making our choices in the light of the Word of God. Today we can no longer be Christians as a simple consequence of the fact that we live in a society that has Christian roots: even those born to a Christian family and formed in the faith must, each and every day, renew the choice to be a Christian, to give God first place, before the temptations continuously suggested by a secularized culture, before the criticism of many of our contemporaries.

The tests which modern society subjects Christians to, in fact, are many, and affect the personal and social life. It is not easy to be faithful to Christian marriage, practice mercy in everyday life, leave space for prayer and inner silence, it is not easy to publicly oppose choices that many take for granted, such as abortion in the event of an unwanted pregnancy, euthanasia in case of serious illness, or the selection of embryos to prevent hereditary diseases. The temptation to set aside one’s faith is always present and conversion becomes a response to God which must be confirmed several times throughout one’s life.

The major conversions like that of St. Paul on the road to Damascus, or St. Augustine, are an example and stimulus, but also in our time when the sense of the sacred is eclipsed, God’s grace is at work and works wonders in life of many people. The Lord never gets tired of knocking at the door of man in social and cultural contexts that seem engulfed by secularization, as was the case for the Russian Orthodox Pavel Florensky. After acompletely agnostic education, to the point he felt an outright hostility towards religious teachings taught in school, the scientist Florensky came to exclaim: “No, you can not live without God”, and to change his life completely, so much so he became a monk.

I also think the figure of Etty Hillesum, a young Dutch woman of Jewish origin who died in Auschwitz. Initially far from God, she found Him looking deep inside herself and wrote: “There is a well very deep inside of me. And God is in that well. Sometimes I can reach Him, more often He is covered by stone and sand: then God is buried. We must dig Him up again “(Diary, 97). In her scattered and restless life, she finds God in the middle of the great tragedy of the twentieth century, the Shoah. This young fragile and dissatisfied woman, transfigured by faith, becomes a woman full of love and inner peace, able to say: “I live in constant intimacy with God.”

The ability to oppose the ideological blandishments of her time to choose the search for truth and open herself up to the discovery of faith is evidenced by another woman of our time, the American Dorothy Day. In her autobiography, she confesses openly to having given in to the temptation that everything could be solved with politics, adhering to the Marxist proposal: “I wanted to be with the protesters, go to jail, write, influence others and leave my dreams to the world. How much ambition and how much searching for myself in all this!”. The journey towards faith in such a secularized environment was particularly difficult, but Grace acts nonetheless, as she points out: “It is certain that I felt the need to go to church more often, to kneel, to bow my head in prayer. A blind instinct, one might say, because I was not conscious of praying. But I went, I slipped into the atmosphere of prayer … “. God guided her to a conscious adherence to the Church, in a lifetime spent dedicated to the underprivileged.

In our time there are no few conversions understood as the return of those who, after a Christian education, perhaps a superficial one, moved away from the faith for years and then rediscovered Christ and his Gospel. In the Book of Revelation we read: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, [then] I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me”(3, 20). Our inner person must prepare to be visited by God, and for this reason we should allow ourselves be invaded by illusions, by appearances, by material things.

In this time of Lent, in the Year of the faith, we renew our commitment to the process of conversion, to overcoming the tendency to close in on ourselves and instead, to making room for God, looking at our daily reality with His eyes. The alternative between being wrapped up in our egoism and being open to the love of God and others, we could say corresponds to the alternatives to the temptations of Jesus: the alternative, that is, between human power and love of the Cross, between a redemption seen only in material well-being and redemption as the work of God, to whom we give primacy in our lives. Conversion means not closing in on ourselves in the pursuit of success, prestige, position, but making sure that each and every day, in the small things, truth, faith in God and love become most important.

Text via Vatican Radio translation.

Photo: Pool

Anniversary of the Founding of the Catholic Worker

Posted in Social Justice with tags , , , on May 1, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

On this, the 79th Anniversary of The Catholic Worker, here is a short quote from the writings of Dorothy Day, which summarizes well the movement that she helped inaugurate so many decades ago and which continues to shape the world for the better, working for peace and justice.

“What we would like to do is change the world–make it a little simpler for people to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves as God intended them to do. And, by fighting for better conditions, by crying out unceasingly for the rights of the workers, the poor, of the destitute–the rights of the worthy and the unworthy poor, in other words–we can, to a certain extent, change the world; we can work for the oasis, the little cell of joy and peace in a harried world. We can throw our pebble in the pond and be confident that its ever widening circle will reach around the world. We repeat, there is nothing we can do but love, and, dear God, please enlarge our hearts to love each other, to love our neighbor, to love our enemy as our friend.”

Icon: Robert Lentz, OFM

Some Daily Wisdom from Dorothy Day

Posted in Social Justice with tags , , , , , , on February 9, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Written during the height of World War II, Dorothy Day wrote in The Catholic Worker about her views on Christian nonviolence and poverty. I think that insight still speaks prophetically today. Here are a few excerpts…

“We are still pacifists. Our manifesto is the Sermon on the Mount, which means that we will try to be peacemakers. Speaking for many of our conscientious objectors, we will not participate in armed warfare or in making munitions, or by buying government bonds to prosecute the war, or in urging others to these efforts. But neither will we be carping in our criticism. We love our country and we love our president. We have been the only country in the world where men and women of all nations have taken refuge from oppression. We recognize that while in the order of intention we have tried to stand for peace, for love of our brothers and sisters, in the order of execution we have failed as Americans in living up to our principles.” — January 1942

“As we have often quoted Dostoevsky’s Father Zossima, ‘Love in practice is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.’ Our Catholic Worker groups are perhaps too hardened to the sufferings in the class way, living as they do in refugee camps, the refugees being, as they are, victims of the class war we live in always. We have lived in the midst of this war now these many years. It is a war not recognized by the majority of our comfortable people. They are pacifists themselves when it comes to the class war. They even pretend it is not there…But we cannot keep silent. We have not kept silence in the face of the monstrous injustice of the class war, or the race war that goes on side by side with this world war.” — February 1942

Photo: Robert Lentz, OFM

Upcoming Talk at Maryhouse Catholic Worker in NYC

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on May 21, 2011 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Next Friday evening, 27 May 2011, I will be giving a talk at Maryhouse the Catholic Worker in New York City. The title of the lecture is, “Who Do You Say That I am? Human Dignity and the True Self According to John Duns Scotus.” I’m really looking forward to spending some time with the NYC Catholic Worker community and hope that anyone who is able might come. While I was invited back in January to speak on this subject, I have since thought that it might be a fruitful experience for all gathered to open up the conversion at some point to talk about some of the recent global events and their relationship to human dignity in light of Scotus’s contribution in that area. My hope is that we might be able to find in the subtle doctor insight for our contemporary world.

Here is the street and contact information for Maryhouse. The Friday talk begins at 8:00pm and all are welcome. Hope to see you there!

55 E Third St
New York NY 10003
Phone: 212-777-9617

Dorothy Day and the Challenges of a Prophet

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on May 16, 2011 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Dorothy Day is oftentimes remembered for saying, among so many other things, that she did not want to be called a saint. Fair enough, but the problem with that request is that sanctity and holiness of life are not things a person gets to decide for him or herself. Day’s life, her writings, her direct and prophetic example stand out to so many, including me, as a model for Christian living. I am particularly edified and at times challenged by her reflections on what it means to be a Christian voice in the modern world and the concrete actions that are concurrently demanded of such a life.

One passage from her writings struck me today as instructive. In one of her Catholic Worker columns she writes about the internal struggle she faces when receiving the invitation to speak and travel places. Day explains that her spiritual director once told her, “Go where you are invited,” but she still finds herself asking: “Why do I go around speaking where I am invited when there is so much to do at home?” A good question indeed. This, in a broader sense, makes me reflect on the challenges to all Christians in their particular conditions of life. The struggle for Day was one unique to her, but one that speaks to each of us. The struggle for Thomas Merton as a cloistered monk, certainly one who wasn’t speaking around the country as much as he was invited to or could have was unique to him, but one that speaks to each of us. I find myself wondering what wisdom is to be found for me in these words as I reflect on the mission, responsibilities and tasks that compose much of my own life.

Here is a passage from one of Day’s 1974 columns that I have been thinking about today.

Today I must go up to a convent, an Academy of the Sacred Heart, and, at the liturgy of their annual reunion, give a ten-minute homily. What an impossible assignment.

How could I in those few minutes deliver the message — give what was in my heart?  “Thy will be done,” is the topic assigned me. And “God’s will is that all men [sic] be saved.” All men. All the unworthy poor, the drunks, the drug-ridden, the poor mentally afflicted creatures who are in and out of our C. W. houses all day. And yet Jesus told us what we were to do — feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, “worthy or unworthy.” Oh, how much could be done if there were a House of Hospitality in every neighborhood, in every parish! Lowering the tone of the neighborhood? We have heard this everywhere. In some cities we have been driven from pillar to post by it, forced to move many times. A long history could be written — Detroit, Rochester, etc., etc.

“Whose who have the substance of this world and close their hearts to the poor…” Am I going to make this kind of a judgement today on Fifth Avenue, I, who have so much of the substance — books, radio, heat and hot water, food and clothing? (I could complain of crowding, of too much of the substance of this world all around me in shopping bags, clothes, suitcases, under the bed, over the bed on shelves, sometimes hardly a passage through a dormitory to my own cluttered room which is office, library, and guest room, too, when I am away).

I think the honesty of her reflections continue to challenge me, to give voice as if some text of modern social-justice Psalms that provide the words to the questions of my own experience. May they likewise challenge and inspire you, and may we find ourselves living the Gospel better and responding honestly to the questions of our hearts in the guidance of the Spirit.

Photo: Stock
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