Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Doing the Things That Come To Hand: Dorothy Day and the Aurora Movie Shootings

Dorothy Day
I finished reading Loaves and Fishes this week, Dorothy Day's account of the Catholic Worker movement. I had read the book several years ago. Reading it again, I was struck by the fact that Dorothy Day spent most of her adult life among irritating people--eccentrics, drunks, homeless people who didn't bathe, the mentally ill, thieves.  These are exactly the kind of people I try to avoid.



Mr. O'Connell, for example, who lived at the Catholic Worker's Easton farm for nine years, was a racist, a drunk, a person so irascible that no one could work with him.  Anna, a homeless woman who sheltered at a CW hospitality house, had lived on the street so long that she refused for months to sleep in a bed.  She was also a bit wacky. Dorothy wrote that Anna appeared one day wearing a pair of peach-colored women's underwear on her head. Even Peter Maurin, co-founder with Dorothy of the Catholic Worker movement, did not bathe regularly.  

And yet Dorothy Day saw the face of Christ in all these people--in all the poor. And were she alive today, I feel sure she would see the face of Christ in James Holmes, the young man accused of shooting 70 people iat a crowded movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.

James Holmes may not be poor financially. Reportedly, he was able to buy $15,000 worth of guns, ammunition and body armor.  But surely he is poor spiritually--isolated, almost friendless, and probably mentally ill. 

As individuals, we cannot do much to stop tragedies like the movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colorado or the other mass shootings that have occurred in recent years.   We don't have the power to stop the sale of assault rifles or the online purchase of assault-rifle ammunition.  We don't have the skill to identify and restrain mentally ill people before they pick up a weapon and start killing people.

James Holmes
But we can be kind to people. We can do more on a personal level to easing the suffering of people around us.  We can cultivate the virtue of patience when we are irritated by our co-workers. Who knows how James Holmes's life would have turned out if some individual had simply smiled at him during the days he was amassing weapons and ammunition--if someone had bestowed some act of kindness on him?

For, as Dorothy Day wrote in Loaves and Fishes, "We do the things that come to hand, we pray our prayers, and beg also for an increase of faith--and God will do the rest."

This was also the message of St. Therese of Lisieux, whom Dorothy Day much admired. "I have tried it: when I feel nothing, when I am incapable of praying or practicing virtue, then is the moment to look for small occasions, nothings that give Jesus more pleasure than the empire of the world, more even than martyrdom generously suffered."

Of course, I don't live this way. I don't follow the example of Dorothy Day or St. Therese of Lisieux. I am caught up in the day-to-day distractions of living, worried about whether I have enough money to retire, annoyed by people in the checkout line at the grocery store, frustrated by traffic on the Interstate. Had I encountered James Holmes, I feel sure I would have brushed him off, signaled him by my demeanor that I did not want to expend the small amount of energy it would have taken to extend him a little kindness.

I believe Dorothy Day understood how God wants us to live in this world--this postmodern, materialistic, hedonistic, power-hungry, recognition-seeking, violence-obsessed world.  And if we followed her example, we, like Dorothy, would make the world a better place for people to live. 

References

Day, Dorothy. Loaves and Fishes. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1963.

Nelson, John. The Little Way of Saint Therese of Lisieux. Liguori, MO: Liguori, 1997.


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