Love and Ever More Love: The Life and Times of Dorothy Day

The last few months I've been reading selections from Robert Elisberg's Dorothy Day: Selected Writings. In September I shared with you a wonderful quote from this volume:

Even the best of human love is filled with self-seeking. To work to increase our love for God and for our fellow man (and the two must go hand in hand), this is a lifetime job. We are never going to be finished.

Love and ever more love is the only solution to every problem that comes up. If we love each other enough, we will bear each other's faults and burdens. If we love enough, we are going to light that fire in the hearts of others. And it is love that will burn out the sins and hatreds that sadden us. It is love that will make us want to do great things for each other. No sacrifice and no suffering will then seem too much.

Yes, I see only too clearly how bad people are. I wish I did not see it so. It is my own sins that give me such clarity. If I did not bear the scars of so many sins to dim my sight and dull my capacity for love and joy, then I would see Christ more clearly in you all.

I cannot worry much about your sins and miseries when I have so many of my own. I can only love you all, poor fellow travelers, fellow sufferers. I do not want to add one least straw to the burden you already carry. My prayer from day to day is that God will so enlarge my heart that I will see you all, and live with you all, in His love.
Reading through Dorothy Day's writing made me interested in her story. Her early days as a radical bohemian journalist. Her conversion to Catholicism. Her fateful meeting with Peter Maurin (whose dream it was to make the world a place "where it would be easier to be good"). The start of The Catholic Worker. The beginning of the Houses of Hospitality. Her activism. (The picture here is of the last time Dorothy was arrested in 1973. She was 76 years old. Quite a grandma.)

Given my recent immersion into the life and times of Dorothy Day, I thought I'd take a post to recommend a good starting place for those wanting to become more acquainted with her. Specifically, after having looked at a few biographies of Day (outside of her own autobiography The Long Loneliness) let me recommend Jim Forest's All Is Grace: A Biography of Dorothy Day. Forest's biography isn't magisterial, lyrical, or definitive. But it is well-done, short, and written by someone who knew and worked with Dorothy. What really recommends Forest's biography is that is it packed full of pictures and quotations from Dorothy Day. I found the cumulative effect of pictures, biography, and selections of Day's own words to be quite powerful. In short, if you want to get a start on the life and thought of Dorothy Day I'd begin with All is Grace and Selected Writings.

(However, if you have only two hours to spend on this you could try the bio-pic Entertaining Angels, with Moira Kelly playing Day and Martin Sheen playing Peter Maurin. Though there are things to quibble with in the movie it'll make you interested in Dorothy Day.)

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3 thoughts on “Love and Ever More Love: The Life and Times of Dorothy Day”

  1. What a picture!  I haven't read much about Dorothy Day, but I do like her description of love, specifically that the best of human love is filled with self-seeking and that it is a lifetime job.  I think part of our cultural problem when it comes to love is that we tend to think of it primarily as an emotion, whereas Day seems to talk about it more as a work.  "To work to increase our love for God and our fellow man..."  That, I think, is part of what Jesus meant when he said to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.  It's not so much about good feelings, but working and praying for the best - to bear each other's faults and burdens.  Thanks for the book and movie recommendations, too.

  2. For many years now I have been more than a little in love with this amazing and inspirational woman.

    Whenever I see a picture of her or read a quote (that is backed up by her life of authenticity and beauty) I am always challenged and re-inspired to be both a more avid follower of Jesus and therefore a better me...

    In a world that so often seems rather devoid of true role-models for young and old alike, she will long stand as a beacon of integrity, passion and Christian ACTION.

    I remember that when I first read The Long Loneliness I thought of her as a friend and someone I wish I could actually know and engage with. There are not many writers that evoke this feeling.

    Thank you Richard for bringing her to us all afresh - it'll be a long, long time before this woman is either irrelevant or forgotten.

    "You only love God as much as the person you love the least" still haunts me as one of the most challenging quotes I've EVER heard...

    Here's to Dorothy and therefore, here's to LOVE...

    (Isn't that an amazing epiphet? That whenever people remember you they think of LOVE, ACTION AND JESUS...)

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