Dorothy Day, Mother Frances And The Pope

The Standard Journal - - LOCAL - By KATHRYN LOPEZ NEA Con­trib­u­tor

“Thank God we have a Pope Paul who up­holds re­spect for life -- an ideal so lofty, so high, so im­por­tant, even when it seems he has the whole Catholic world against him.”

That wasn’t some­one for­get­ting the name of the cur­rent pope, but rather the ac­tivist Dorothy Day writ­ing about Pope Paul VI and his let­ter on hu­man life. Day was mak­ing clear where she stood on abor­tion and birth con­trol: with the Church.

I men­tion this be­cause Pope Fran­cis talked about Day in his his­toric ad­dress to Congress this week. And while most as­so­ciate her with left-wing pol­i­tics, that was not the women in full. The woman in full was one who en­coun­tered Je­sus Christ regularly, seek­ing deeper con­ver­sion, not afraid to do the hard work of ex­am­in­ing her con­science and serv­ing oth­ers out of the love of God.

Car­di­nal Ti­mothy Dolan did not dis­guise his plea­sure that Pope Fran­cis held up this holy New Yorker be­fore the na­tion and the world. Host­ing the pope for an evening prayer ser­vice at St. Pa­trick’s Cathe­dral, Dolan thanked him in Span­ish, the Ar­gen­tinian’s na­tive tongue.

Sit­ting in St. Pa­trick’s that night, pray­ing with Pope Fran­cis and the thou­sands gath­ered there, I couldn’t help but think of one of the other holy women who lived in New York. Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini was an Ital­ian-Amer­i­can mis­sion­ary whose de­vo­tion to Je­sus Christ brought her to build schools, hos­pi­tals and or­phan­ages for im­mi­grant Catholics at around the same time the cathe­dral on Fifth Av­enue was be­ing built.

Read­ing her travel di­aries re­cently -- letters to the sis­ters she’d left back home -- I heard Pope Fran­cis in her voice. Dur­ing his homily, he talked about the dan­gers of fall­ing into bad habits: “Our daily rou­tine can of­ten lead us to a kind of glum ap­a­thy which grad­u­ally be­comes a habit, with a fa­tal con­se­quence: Our hearts grow numb.” Bad habits aren’t sim­ply things to vow to cor­rect with New Year’s res­o­lu­tions; they can be poi­sons to the soul. They turn us, un­wit­tingly, into prac­ti­cal athe­ists or luke­warm Chris­tians.

Mother Cabrini wrote: “We have be­come vile, cow­ardly and many times, for one rea­son or another, (we) lazily keep si­lence. We al­low our­selves to be in­flu­enced by hu­man re­spect and fail to show our­selves in public as true fol­low­ers of Christ.”

She went onto say, “Virtue is mocked, and we are silent; truth is tram­pled upon, and noth­ing is said. But why the si­lence? Be­cause we are vile. We need to re­new our faith, to stir up in our own hearts a love of the sublime prin­ci­ples of our holy re­li­gion.

“Let us not be afraid of of­fend­ing those who ap­proach us, nor fear of per­sis­tently speak­ing the truths of faith,” she wrote. “No, if we know how to con­form our­selves to the true, sweet and gen­tle char­ity of Je­sus, which is also strong and en­er­getic, no one will be of­fended, but will rather be won over.”

How do we do that? That’s the walk the Pope is try­ing to take us on.

In his United Na­tions speech, Pope Fran­cis warned against ide­o­log­i­cal col­o­niza­tion, as he has be­fore. It can dis­tort our very iden­ti­ties, make us for­get who we are. He talked about men and women and nat­u­ral law at the U.N. No small thing. Yet, look at how he’s bring­ing peo­ple to the wa­ter of God’s laws and love: gen­tly, as a ten­der fa­ther who knows what hell our hearts have been rav­aged by. He knows our wounds, and will not pour salt into them, but ap­ply a heal­ing balm of al­ter­na­tives and vi­sion. This is the in­te­gral ecol­ogy he speaks of. This is a new, rein­tro­duced vo­cab­u­lary for us, by which we might ac­tu­ally com­mu­ni­cate with one another again.

But back to Dorothy Day. Car­di­nal Dolan, as pres­i­dent of the U.S. Con­fer­ence of Catholic Bish­ops, en­cour­aged the ad­vance­ment of Day’s saint­hood dur­ing the Pope’s visit. Ear­lier this year, Los An­ge­les Arch­bishop Jose Gomez said, “I don’t know if Dorothy Day is a saint, but she makes me want to be one.”

While Day is not yet a saint, Pope Fran­cis did celebrate the life of our new­est saint: Ju­nipero Serra, the Span­ish mis­sion­ary who founded the Cal­i­for­nia mis­sions sys­tem. In do­ing so, Fran­cis pointed to the uni­ver­sal call to ho­li­ness for Chris­tians.

It’s one that would make for a dif­fer­ent kind of pol­i­tics, and world, if an­swered.

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