Thursday, April 11, 2013

Dorothy Day: Patron Saint of People Struggling with the Postmodern Sin of Pride

Some day--some day soon, I hope--Dorothy Day will be canonized and join the ranks of our American Catholic saints. Miracles have already been  attributed to her, and I pray every day that she will soon be recognized by the Church as the great saint that she is. We need her desperately.

Many of our saints have been designated as the patron saint for particular groups of people. St. Joseph is the patron saint of unwed mothers, St. Aloysius Gonzaga is the patron saint of
Servant of God Dorothy Day
AIDS care givers, and St. Francis Cabrini is the patron saint of immigrants.

So when Dorothy Day is finally canonized, whose patron saint will she be?

 Personally, I think Dorothy would be the perfect patron saint for people struggling with postmodernism--our current spiritual affliction. Postmodernism has been defined as the spirit of materialism, relativism, and secularism; and this is certainly an accurate description. But if I had to sum up the attributes of postmodernism in one word, that word would be pride.  The spirit of American postmodernism is vanity, conceit, arrogance--in a word, postmodernism is the sin of pride.

Dorothy Day was the humblest of Catholic women, and yet she struggled with the sin of pride, which she believed was "the worst sin of all." As a journalist and co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, she was often showered with praise and compliments from important people.  And Dorothy worked hard not to let all that flattering attention turn her away from her humble mission.

In Robert Coles' book about her, Dorothy spoke frankly about her efforts to overcome the sin of pride.  "When important people--writers, political folks--come here and want to learn what we're doing, one side of me is impressed," Dorothy admitted. "I can feel my blood warming" (pp. 133-134).

Dorothy went on to describe her battle with pride in some detail:
Our pride, our vanity, responds to the interest of important people. People tell me we're becoming important and a force in the church; they tell me the pope admires us; they tell me I'm going to be a saint one of these days, and I don't know whether to laugh or to cry.  I hear such talk and I feel sad, mostly.  
 Dorothy told Coles how she dealt with the temptation to let the compliments she received make her prideful. "I go to my room and read," she confided.  "I'll take the Bible and read it or one of my novels; or I'll try to sit and talk with someone in our community who needs a listener."

If she were really free of the sin of pride, Dorothy confessed, she would not be upset by the compliments she received from important people. "I'd forget it very quickly and get on with my work."

Dorothy understood clearly that the striving for recognition was a distraction from the work God wanted her to do:
I'm here to help out with all my strength, until I die--help out in this house of hospitality, our community here. I'm not here to spend my time being better and better known by people who like to applaud certain people and debunk others. . . . We are meant to be with the poor--those of us who have chosen to live here--and the distractions of the mighty should be a warning to us: that we not be blinded by their glitter.
This passage from Coles' book made a deep impression on me, because I too struggle with the sin of pride. Too often I have striven for recognition and praise for their own sakes, and that is the sin of pride.

And as I come to the end of my scholarly career, I sometimes regret that I did not become better known for my work, that I did not receive the prizes and recognition that others received.  I did not get a Fulbright, for example; and I never won an prestigious award for anything I wrote.  And that of course is the sin of envy, pride's close traveling companion.

Pride--the sin of struggling for fame, recognition and power--is the curse of our postmodern age. It is the very soul of our postmodern conceit.  And people who struggle with postmodernist pride would do well to read Dorothy Day's work and try to imitate her life, at least on some small scale.

And that is why I nominate Dorothy Day as the patron saint of people who struggle with postmodernism.  Even now, although Dorothy has not yet been canonized, we can ask her to intercede for us--to help us be humble and kind to others and to focus on what God wants us to do and not on fame, power, or recognition.


Robert Coles. Dorothy Day: A Radical Devotion. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1987.

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