Dorothy Day’s Papal Endorsement

Pope Francis at St Patrick’s Cathedral, September 24, 2015 (Carl Court/Getty)
Pope Francis teaches gently, as a tender father.

‘Thank God we have a Pope Paul who upholds respect for life, an ideal so lofty, so high, so important even when it seems he has the whole Catholic world against him.”

That wasn’t someone forgetting the name of the current pope — as my friend EWTN anchor Raymond Arroyo encountered among people in the streets of Manhattan during Pope Francis’s visit there — but Dorothy Day writing in 1968 about Pope Paul VI and his letter on human life, Humanae Vitae, which was then and has been ever since a matter of much debate, dissent, division, and confusion. Day was making clear where she stood on abortion and birth control: with the Church.

I mention this because Pope Francis talked about Dorothy Day in his historic address to Congress. And while most associate her with left-wing politics, that was not the woman in full. That woman was one who encountered Jesus Christ regularly, seeking deeper conversion, not afraid to do the hard work of examining her conscience and serving others out of love of the Creator who gave us all the right to life.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan did not disguise his pleasure at Pope Francis’s holding up that holy New Yorker before the nation and the world. Hosting the pope for an evening prayer service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dolan thanked him in Spanish, the Argentinian’s native tongue.

Sitting in St. Patrick’s that evening, praying with Pope Francis and the thousands gathered there, I couldn’t help thinking of another holy woman who lived in New York. Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini, buried in Washington Heights, was an Italian missionary whose devotion to Jesus Christ brought her here to build schools and hospitals and orphanages for the largely unwanted strangers in a strange land, the immigrant Catholics who would build the cathedral on Fifth Avenue as a home that would become both a symbol and a holy refuge.

Reading her travel diaries recently — letters to the sisters she left back home — I heard echoes of Pope Francis in her words. During his homily he talked about the dangers of falling into bad habits — “Our daily routine can often lead us to a kind of glum apathy which gradually becomes a habit, with a fatal consequence: Our hearts grow numb.” It is important to keep in mind, too, that the pope often talks about Satan. Bad habits aren’t simply things to have New Year’s resolutions about but poisons to the souls of men. They lead us to become, without even realizing it lukewarm Christians, or even, in effect, atheists.

#related#Mother Cabrini wrote: “We have become vile, cowardly, and many times, for one reason or another, lazily keep silence. We allow ourselves to be influenced by human respect and fail to show ourselves in public as true followers of Christ.”

She went on to say: “Virtue is mocked, and we are silent; truth is trampled upon, and nothing is said. But why the silence? Because we are vile. We need to renew our faith, to stir up in our own hearts a love of the sublime principles of our holy religion.”

Many wanted Pope Francis to name names in his speech to Congress about just who is and exactly what policies are vile. But what Francis gave us instead is something that Mother Cabrini knew, too: That’s not the way to a man’s heart. You’ve got to let him come in, sit down, and come to understand.

“We need to be informed by the spirit of Jesus Christ,” she wrote. “In the true charity of His Divine Heart, we need to animate ourselves to a great enthusiasm in always proclaiming the truth. Let us not be afraid of offending those who approach us nor fear of persistently speaking the truths of faith. No, if we know how to conform ourselves to the true, sweet and gentle charity of Jesus, which is also strong and energetic, no one will be offended but will rather be won over.”

How? That’s the walk Pope Francis is trying to take us on. And why might he sometimes seem harder on those who work in the Church or have been in line with the Church on grave public issues like abortion? Because deeper conversion is necessary.

In his United Nations speech, Pope Francis warned against ideological colonization, as he has done before. It can distort our very identities, make us forget who we are.

Pope Francis will not pour salt into the wounds, but will apply a healing balm with the presentation of alternatives and the full vision that allows life to make sense again.

He talked about men and women and natural law at the U.N. No small thing. In fact, this is fundamental, foundational. Yet, do you see how he’s bringing people to the water of Church teaching, of God’s laws and love? Gently, as a tender father who knows what hell hearts have been ravaged by. He will not pour salt into the wounds, but will apply a healing balm with the presentation of alternatives and the full vision that allows life to make sense again. This is the integral ecology he speaks of. This is a new, reintroduced vocabulary for us, by which we might actually communicate with one another again.

Cardinal Dolan, as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has encouraged the advancement of Day’s sainthood cause. In his final presidential address to the USCCB, he quoted G. K. Chesterton: “What’s wrong with the world.”

The answer, as you may know, is: “I am.” Pope Francis came here to help us make that reflection ourselves, that examination of conscience. What are we doing and why?

#share#Addressing the life of Dorothy Day at a conference devoted to her earlier this year, Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez said, “I don’t know if Dorothy Day is a saint, but she makes me want to be one.”

Pope Francis celebrated the life of our newest saint, Junípero Serra, the Spanish missionary who founded the California mission system, in one of his first major events in the United States. In doing so, he points to the universal call to holiness for Christians — one that would make a different kind of politics and world, if answered.

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