Discovering Dorothy Day’s “The Long Loneliness”

(Original version published on Goodreads.)

I suspect Dorothy Day would have winced at the word “legendary” in the subtitle assigned to her memoir: the autobiography of the legendary Catholic social activist. Humility informs every page of The Long Loneliness. So does clear and inviting prose, a testament to Day’s experience as a journalist. She was a 20th-century treasure.

Up until now, Dorothy Day has been to me the subject of magazine articles and other people’s blog posts, some quite critical (not that criticism was likely to deter her). Picking up Day’s 1952 memoir was a revelation to me.

She wrote The Long Loneliness in middle age, when she was already known for her commitment to nonviolence and service to the homeless. (She had decades of activism ahead of her.) Known now as a “Servant of God” – an honorific for a Catholic whose cause for sainthood is under consideration – she was a convert, a decision that cost her dearly even as she embraced it with joy. She was determined to put her love of God into practice, whatever the cost. 

She didn’t give lip service to “social justice.” She lived it, in soup kitchens – “houses of hospitality” – that she helped to establish and in the advocacy she gave to anyone who was disadvantaged. She didn’t romanticize the work; anyone coming to help was expected to take a practical view of things. Yet workers and volunteers came anyway, building a community grounded in faith and service that came to be known as the Catholic Worker movement. Day called community of that sort the key to dealing with “the long loneliness.” 

Not everything she did met with approval from authorities. The memoir includes a brief account of the moral and practical challenges faced by pacifists like her as the United States formally entered World War II. Her explanation of her actions has no trace of self-righteousness. Instead, as throughout the book, her words are full of warmth and compassion even when they are blunt and forthright.

The memoir is rich with Day’s descriptions of the people she met along her way. None was more influential to her spiritual and social growth than Peter Maurin. She generously considered him the founder of the Catholic Worker movement, leaving the reader to reflect on how the movement might have foundered without Day’s particular gifts as writer and organizer. 

Day was an interesting woman who lived in interesting times, and she wrote with a keen pen. That alone makes The Long Loneliness worth reading. A better reason, and one Day would likely deem more important, is her story of conversion to the Catholic faith and the vocation she followed thereafter.

There are multiple editions of The Long Loneliness. Look for one unburdened with explanatory material. Let Day speak for herself.

March for Life, January 27

If ever Washington, D.C. needed to see a peaceful pro-life demonstration, it’s now. Plan now for January 27th’s March for Life. The usual January 22 date, marking the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, has been shifted due to the presidential inauguration. Catch a bus & I’ll see you there.

mfl poster 2017.jpg

A pro-life journey: “you know what changed my mind?…”

Originally published on Leaven for the Loaf.

This is why I don’t want anything to do with bloody-baby pictures outside abortion facilities or on billboards or anywhere else.

Consider these two tweets from @LetiAdams:

I wish I could get it across to ppl just how much “abortion kills a baby” didn’t work to get me to understand the truth about abortion.

You know what changed my mind? Grace. Plus encountering Christians who didn’t shout at me about how wrong I was about everything.

Thank you, Leticia. Your tweets hit me where I need to be hit.

I was always squeamish about demonstrations showing the dead bodies left behind by abortion. The “ewwww” factor was overwhelming.

Then a few years ago I read Abby Johnson’s Unplanned, and her more recent The Walls are TalkingI met my near neighbor Catherine Adair. Together, they burst my bubble. Troublemakers, the pair of them.

Catherine has said, “The worst thing we can do [when meeting abortion workers] is be confrontational, antagonistic. I think the best thing we can do is smile, say hello – just be that peaceful, kind, loving presence they need.” This from a former worker at an abortion facility, who knows what a sidewalk looks like in the hands of people being antagonistic.

Surprise: it wasn’t the truth in bloody pictures that changed her heart, or Abby’s. It was the truth in relationships.  Patience, love, grace, and time were relevant, urgently so.

I need those reminders. Anyone who’s heard me testify at the State House (as has been my custom for the better part of 30 years, God help me) knows that patience is not my strong suit. Dang, some of those political types are dense. No names, please.

And yet…”You know what changed my mind? Grace.”

How did I pick one that out of this morning’s torrent of mostly-forgettable tweets? No matter. Twitter’s existence has been justified for another day. Carry on.