May 13, 2015 // Uncategorized

Dorothy Day — Radical discipleship

The following is the homily that Bishop Rhoades preached on May 14th at Mass in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception during the Dorothy Day Conference sponsored by the University of Saint Francis:

Dorothy Day is pictured with children in an undated photo. Co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement and candidate for sainthood, Day was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1897, and died at the Catholic Worker’s Maryhouse in New York in 1980. The University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne is the sponsor of the “Dorothy Day and the Church: Past, Present, and Future” conference, May 13-15.

Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Matthias, the apostle chosen to replace Judas, as we heard in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles. Matthias is not mentioned anywhere else in the New Testament, so we know very little about him. We do know that he was suited for apostleship because of his experience of being with Jesus from His baptism to His ascension, as Acts tells us. He must also have been suited personally or he would not have been considered and nominated for so great a responsibility. Perhaps the Gospel today can help us to see what made him suitable, indeed, what makes us suitable for discipleship and the apostolate.

First and foremost, it involves remaining in Jesus’ love. This is what Jesus said to the disciples in His farewell discourse: Remain in my love. Jesus and the apostles shared an intimate friendship. Jesus told them that He no longer calls them slaves, but He calls them friends. As He prepares to take leave from them, Jesus asks the apostles to remain in His love, in His friendship. This entails keeping His commandments: If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love. And Jesus gives them the new commandment: love one another as I have loved you.

It’s all very simple when we think about it. Remain in my love. That’s the essence of the Christian life, together with the command: Love one another as I have loved you. Dorothy Day understood this. With her conversion, she became a true friend of the Lord who, through a devoted prayer life, learned to remain in His love. She understood, of course, that this love for God could not be separated from love of neighbor, especially the poor and destitute. I think of her powerful and challenging words: I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.

Dorothy Day desired to change the world. She and fellow members of Catholic Worker fought for the rights of workers and the poor. In the midst of this battle for justice, she said, there is nothing 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 our friend.”

We can learn so much from the words and example of Dorothy Day. She challenges us with the radical truth of the Gospel. She challenges us to love one another as Christ has loved us. She challenges us, as Pope Francis challenges us, to be a Church of and for the poor. They challenge us with the words of Jesus in the parable about the last judgment: “whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do to me.” In her typically incisive way, Dorothy Day wrote that “those who cannot see Christ in the poor are atheists indeed.”

Pope Francis is very critical of a Church that is egocentric, that is engaged in an ego-drama, what he calls a “self-referential Church,” one that is turned in on itself. He is calling us to go out from our comfort zone in order to reach all the peripheries in need of the light of the Gospel. This is what Dorothy Day did. At the same time, Dorothy Day and Pope Francis do not mean that we rush out aimlessly into the world. We go out with a mission, a clear mission, the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ, the Gospel that invites us to respond to the love of the God who saves us. Dorothy Day’s life was anchored in the Word of God and in the Eucharist. The Word and the Mass strengthened and nourished her. She experienced the Eucharist as the sacrament of love, the mystery of the cross made present, the most amazing encounter we can have with God on this earth.

Dorothy Day teaches us that Christianity isn’t about embracing abstractions. It’s about living the Gospel. Dorothy Day would quote the words of Dostoevsky: Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams. Think of the saints: they were men and women who embodied the Gospel. They didn’t just talk about it in lofty language. When they saw someone hungry, they gave them food. When they saw someone suffering, they helped them. This is our vocation as well. As Dorothy Day wrote: everything a baptized person does every day should be directly or indirectly related to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. 

We are called to sanctity: the perfection of charity, to love God and neighbor, and to love one another as Christ has loved us. Encountering a multitude of challenges in her life and efforts, Dorothy Day kept this at the center: love of God and neighbor. She wrote that love and ever more love is the only solution to every problem that comes up.

When we think of Dorothy Day or of the lives of the saints, we should realize that they were not born perfect and they had their weaknesses. But they lived their lives with passion and purpose. What animated their lives was that they recognized God’s love and they followed it with all their heart without reserve or hypocrisy. They spent their lives serving others, they endured suffering and adversity without hatred and responded to evil with good, spreading joy and peace (Pope Francis, November 1, 2013). This is our calling too. And here at this altar, we see and we experience the epitome of such love, the sacrifice of Jesus. We hear anew the words of Jesus and the real truth of those words: No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. And yes, we truly are His friends if we do what He commands us, which is really to live the Eucharist we celebrate and receive.

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