Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Dorothy Day, a Sign of Unity

7 Easter B  #60

Acts 1, 15-17.  20-26
1 Jn 4, 11-16
Jn 17, 11-19

May 20, 2012
Peter Maurin Farm
Marlboro, N.Y.

Deacon Tom Cornell

                   “God is love.”  That’s a pretty stark statement, no adverb, no adjective, no qualification.  I remember the first time I heard it, really heard it I mean.  It hit me hard.  I was a teenager and I was struck to the core and I never got over it, and I pray I never will.  Love is not just a four letter word!  The idea of love is cheapened in our world today.  It is not lust.  It is not sentimental “puppy” stuff.  It is not a Hallmark jingle for Mothers’ Day.  "No greater love hath any man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”  And even more, for his enemies, as Jesus did. 

          Love is the force that set the world, everything, creation in motion.  Love alone could move the Unmoved Mover.  Love unites us, makes us one, one with each other, one with Jesus, one with God.  Jesus’ prayer to the Father at the Last Supper is that his disciples be one, united, and their disciples after them, that they all be one as he is in the Father and the Father in him so that the world might believe, believe that it is God who has sent Jesus, that Jesus’ way is the way God wants us all to follow, the way of self-giving love.  He prays that their unity might be complete so that the whole world might come to believe.  Today they will come to believe when they see how we love one another.  The ancient Greek and Roman pagans saw the Christians, how they lived, and said to their fellows, “See how they love one another.”  And so the Empire was converted.  “Preach the Good News always, and if you must, use words.”  If today they do not believe, it is because we do not love enough.

          Christ’s church is one.  Christ willed it, so it must be.  But our unity is not complete, it is not visible.  At the Second Vatican Council the Council Fathers were asked to define the church.  They did not.  They could not.  Not if define means put a limit to, put borders around, de fine.  You can not define God, put borders around God.  Jesus Christ is his sacrament, his efficacious sign, as we say.  But you can not define Jesus Christ, that is exhaust the meaning of “true God and true man.” The church is his sacrament, his efficacious sign in the world.  And neither can you define the church, put borders around it, de fine.  The Council Fathers were asked to identify the church of Christ with the Roman Catholic Church.  They refused.  We can define, put borders around the Roman Catholic Church, say who is in and who is out, but we can not put borders around the church of Christ, say who is in and who is out.  So the Council Fathers put it that the church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church.  That means that the Catholic Church is necessary for the very being of the church of Christ.  It is interesting to note that the other churches and denominations define themselves in terms of which teachings of the Catholic Church they reject.

         We no longer hear of the Catholic Church claiming to be “the one true church.”  Dorothy Day in her autobiography, The Long Loneliness, wrote that she never considered the claim of the Catholic Church to be the one true church, or any of its other claims, whether they were true or not; she just accepted them because she experienced the Catholic Church as the church of the poor, the church of the workers, the church of the immigrants in all the cities where she had ever lived.  That was enough for her.  We say nowadays that the Catholic Church, if not the “one true church,” is the “uniquely true church” because it has a unique fullness of the means of salvation, including the Petrine ministry.  It is also, and this is most important, the sacrament of the unity of the human race, the sign that brings into being the knowledge of the human family as one with no ethnic, no racial, no national distinctions. 

          They tell us today that the Catholic Church is polarized between conservatives and progressives.  Dorothy Day is now seen as a bridge between the so-called conservatives on the one hand and the so-called progressives on the other.  I can tell you from personal knowledge that Dorothy Day was a fiercely loyal, though sometimes an angry daughter of the Church.  She was angry when she saw Church leaders and institutions failing to live up to their own teachings.  But she stood her ground in loyalty and obedience.  When she was asked, during a tense period of the Cold War, what she would do if the Cardinal (Spellman) ordered her to close down the Catholic Worker, she said she would obey.  She also told me that in that event she would move the operation across the East River to the Diocese of Brooklyn or across the Hudson River to the Diocese of Newark! 
           Dorothy would be astonished if, when she was alive, anyone were to tell her that she would one day be seen as a sign, an efficacious sign, of unity.  But that is what her life was about, the unity of the Church in witness to an unbelieving world, a witness to love and to compassion.  It is only that the rest of us are finally catching up to her.  If you would like to consider membership in the Guild that Cardinal Egan established to forward her canonization as a saint, see me any time.  W

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