It was my visit to the London Catholic Worker Movement that I discovered one of my heroes of the Christian faith Dorothy Day. She once said: “Don’t call me a Saint I don’t want to be dismissed that easily”.
She had had a tough life with having had an abortion and a child out of wedlock, which not only gave her empathy with other people’s life situations but also enabled the movement she founded (with her friend Peter Maurin) to have non judgementalism right at its core. Never cosying up to power or loosing touch with the suffering of the world around them.
She was a tough journalist in America who used her writing to highlight inequality and injustice, as a child she had seen and experienced bouts of poverty. She wanted to change the world, wanted to make it s better place and thought that communism and socialism were the ways to do this.
She was incredibly politically active, a radical campaigner, and after one particular protest she was imprisoned which is where she (an atheist) read the Bible and discovered the greatest revolutionary of all time, Jesus Christ, the one who truly changes lives, communities and the world. She became a Catholic, and continued her relentless work to help lift people out of poverty.
She once famously said: “the root of the problem is our acceptance of the whole stinking system!” echoes of Paul calling us to see ourselves as aliens in this world which we are called not to conform to but instead be ambassadors of a different Kingdom living out a life that is radically salty, living a life of radical non compliance with exploitative systems and injustice.
She formed these communities of resistance, called the Catholic Worker Movement taking on voluntary poverty, not just come to or with poor people but rather “as” the poor, living out their faith incarnationally and sacrificially.
The German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer said: “We are not merely called to bandage the wounds of those caught under the wheel of oppression but to stick a spoke in the wheel itself” words which resonated with Day and her followers continually fighting the causes of the marginalised and disenfranchised, mixing religion and politics together in a way that made the establishment of both the Church and the state a little nervous.
Her work spread and these houses of hospitality have sprung up in many cities across the world, centres of protest not afraid to speak out as lights in the darkness about issues of injustice.
It is said that in polite company we should talk about neither religion or politics, and certainly not to mix the two, Dorothy Day ignored this advice and constantly wrote and spoke about both with fire and passion that changed the lives of many.
It is said “how do you find the Christians? Ask the poor and they will show you where they are!” by this measure of someone who spent her life feeding the hungry and providing shelter for the destitute and homeless, she was for many people the hands and feet of Christ.