A Harsh and Dreadful Love

Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, developed her ideas about Christ­ianity in conversation with literature and the work of radical hospitality. She often quoted the chapter from Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov titled “A Lady of Little Faith,” in which the elder Father Zosima exhorts a wealthy woman to “active love” as a remedy for her doubts. “Strive to love your neighbor actively and indefatigably. In as far as you advance in love you will grow surer of the reality of God and of the immortality of your soul.”

When she confesses her sentimental dreams of a life of service to the poor and her fear of their ingratitude, Zosima—while re­maining kind—delivers a scathing critique of charity, which is chiefly about controlling and defining the one who is in need. “I am sorry I can say nothing more consoling to you,” he concludes, “for love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams.”

Love is central to the readings from Romans and Philippians this month. But the lections from Matthew, in which Jesus and his companions approach Jerusalem, lean more toward the harsh and dreadful. They ask what love means in practical terms. How do we resolve conflicts in community? How do we love one another in a world of complex economic and social relationships? How do we deal with authority and power? How do we honor our families?

Laurel A. Dykstra is a scripture and justice educator living in Vancouver, British Columbia. She lived for 10 years in a Catholic Worker house. www.laureldykstra.com

September 7

Love in Action

Exodus 12:1-14; Psalm 149; Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:15-20

Romans 13:9-10 says that all the commandments are “summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”

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Sojourners Magazine September/October 2008
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