11 Dorothy Day Quotes in Remembrance of the Radical, Pacifist Servant of God

Commentary
By the Web Editors 11-08-2017
Image via Jim Forest / Milwaukee Journal / Flickr

Dorothy Day held many titles over the course of her life: social activist, journalist, Catholic convert, mother, political radical, pacifist, servant of God ... the list goes on.

Day embodied what it meant to put faith into action for social justice, deeply seated in her conviction to serve the poor and vulnerable. In 1917, she was arrested for protesting in front of the White House in support of women's suffrage, and went on a hunger strike for 15 days while imprisoned. She regularly practiced civil disobedience in the name of causes like pacifism and economic justice, and was consequently arrested multiple times. 

Earnestly and tumultuously converting to the Catholic faith after the birth of her daughter in 1927, Day continued to remain commited to seeking justice and standing in solidarity with the poor. In 1933, along with fellow social activist Peter Maurin, Day co-founded the Catholic Worker Movement, which initially began with the Catholic Worker newspaper that highlighted the conditions of the poor and working class through a lens of Catholic faith. Through the movement's guiding principle of hospitality, Day assisted in establishing hospices for those affected by the Great Depression. 

Day's influence and prophetic witness transcends her humble death in 1980. In 2000, the Catholic Church opened Day's cause for canonization, earning her the title "Servant of God." The Catholic Worker Movement is still thriving today, with more than 200 communities around the world. 

Read some of her best writings below.

On the solution to loneliness:

We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.

On the evil of futility:

Young people say, "What can one person do? What is the sense of our small effort?" They cannot see that we can only lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time; we can be responsible only for the one action of the present moment. But we can beg for an increase of love in our hearts that will vitalize and transform these actions, and know that God will take them and multiply them, as Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes.

On a revolution of the heart: 

The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution that has to start with each one of us.

To love and to be loved:

Whenever I groan within myself and think how hard it is to keep writing about love in these times of tension and strife which may at any moment become for us all a time of terror, I think to myself, "What else is the world interested in?" What else do we all want, each one of us, except to love and be loved, in our families, in our work, in all our relationships. God is Love. Love casts out fear. Even the most ardent revolutionist, seeking to change the world, to overturn the tables of the money changers, is trying to make a world where it is easier for people to love, to stand in that relationship with each other of love. We want with all our hearts to love, to be loved. And not just in the family but to look upon all as our mothers, sisters, brothers, children. It is when we love the most intensely and most humanly, that we can recognize how tepid is our love for others. The keenness and intensity of love brings with it suffering, of course, but joy too because it is a foretaste of heaven.

On success:

Don't worry about being effective. Just concentrate on being faithful to the truth.

On loving one another as God has loved us:

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 to a certain extent, by fighting for better conditions, by crying out unceasingly for the rights of the workers, of 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 can give away an onion. 

We repeat, there is nothing that 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 well as our friend.

On serving the poor:

Those who cannot see Christ in the poor are atheists indeed.

On protesting:

So many in these days have taken violent steps to gain the things of this world — war to achieve peace; coercion to achieve freedom; striving to gain what slips through the fingers. We might as well give up our great desires, at least our hopes of doing great things toward achieving them, right at the beginning. In a way it is like the paradox of the Gospel, of giving up one’s life in order to save it. 

On complacency: 

We must talk about poverty, because people insulated by their own comfort lose sight of it.

On being arrested: 

When I went to jail in the fifties for civil disobedience — and a few of us were arrested each year for six years — I felt glad as I entered my cell that now at last I could be really poor for a time, for a day, a week, or a month, that for no matter how small a time, I was at last sharing a little the misery of the poor. In a way it was true. I was stripped, prodded and searched for drugs, pushed from here to there, interminably, caged half the 24 hours like a wild beast — yes, I had just enough of it to teach me to suffer more keenly for the rest of my life over the plight of the prisoner… I am convinced that prayer and austerity, prayer and self-sacrifice, prayer and fasting, prayer, vigils and marches, are the indispensable means. And love. All these means are useless unless animated by love. “Love your enemies.” That is the hardest saying of all.  

On the call to sainthood:

We are all called to be saints, St. Paul says, and we might as well get over our bourgeois fear of the name. We might also get used to recognizing the fact that there is some of the saint in all of us. 

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