Sunday, November 07, 2010

Set Right What Remains To Be Done

November 8, 2010
Monday of the Third-second Week in Ordinary Time

For a bishop as God's steward must be blameless, not arrogant, not irritable, not a drunkard, not aggressive, not greedy for sordid gain, but hospitable, a lover of goodness, temperate, just, holy, and self-controlled, holding fast to the true message as taught so that he will be able both to exhort with sound doctrine and to refute opponents. Titus 1:7-9

“Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he wrongs you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times saying, ‘I am sorry,’ you should forgive him.” Luke 17:3-4

“I fail people daily, God help me, when they come to me for aid and sympathy. There are too many of them, whichever way I turn … I deny them the Christ in me when I do not show them tenderness, love. God forgive me.” Dorothy Day Journal entry, 1952

The duty of forgiveness that shines through today’s Gospel is one that will help us remember the memory of Catholic Worker co-founder Dorothy Day who was born on this date in 1897. Considering all she did in a life devoted to prayer and action, Dorothy remained always fighting the same battle of self-interest against community interest that we face every day. The qualities of the bishop (and the tendencies to avoid) that are listed in the selection from Paul’s letter to Titus reveal that this struggle has been going even longer than that.

The psalm today also captures these qualities as it asks: “Who can ascend the mountain of the Lord?” That answer, too, strikes out at our individuality. That answer is the person “whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean, who desires not what is vain.”

Dorothy came to the Catholic Church after a period in her life that was filled with sin, hardly clean, and certainly filled with vanity. She came to term that period of time as the “long loneliness.” This time was marked by political activism, having a child out-of-wedlock, and drinking late into the morning with playwright Eugene O’Neill and others in Greenwich Village. From that life to Catholicism, Dorothy’s conversion surprised not only her friends but also herself.

Authors Jim Wallis and Joyce Hollyday describe in the chapter on Dorothy in their book “Cloud of Witnesses,” that the Catholic Church was something altogether different for Dorothy than it was perceived by the world. They write: “[The Catholic Church] was that immense net that had caught, not only scoundrels, but saints beyond counting. It was the Church of the Mass: the persistently present Jesus waiting in bread and wine on the altar…It was a church in which there was not only the thanksgiving sacrament on the altar but the healing sacrament of forgiveness in the confessional.”

The core role that forgiveness played in spirituality for Dorothy was noted by one former Catholic Worker in his writing. In thinking back to his days in the Catholic Worker community, author Robert Coles notes the many things he learned living with Day: “For one thing, I learned that you couldn't understand Dorothy's life among the poor or her witness for peace and justice apart from her faith and her rigorous discipline of prayer. At the same time I learned that there is more to heroism than walking a picket line or going to jail.

He added, “The practice of patience and forgiveness, the effort to love those closest at hand even when they are disagreeable--it was the exercise of Dorothy's faith in such small, seemingly unheroic forms that allowed her to stand up to the powers of the state. Therein lay the secret of her tranquility…”

Yet, like Day’s tranquility, Luke’s Good News warns us to be on guard against our individualism, our ego and our indignation. No matter what sin our sister or brother commits against us, forgive them seventy times seven. We must sacrifice our ego for the cause of forgiveness. In Dorothy’s own words from a letter to a troubled monk: “Yours is a great suffering--I can see that, and of course we do not pick the particular kind of suffering we want to bear. But thank God you have some little burden of suffering to bear at this time when there is so much of it in the world. When it dawns on us that this is a little coin the dear God is enriching us with to purchase salvation--our own and other's--it ceases to be suffering.”

Can such forgiveness really be a source of tranquility for us? When we are wronged, we want to strike back. How dare they (fill in the blank with whatever offense was aimed at you intentionally or not)! The example of Dorothy Day tried to inspire us to rise above our ego and our selfish tendencies.

At the end of her autobiography “The Long Loneliness,” Dorothy wrote: “We cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other. We know Him in the breaking of the bread, and we know each other in the breaking of the bread, and we are not alone anymore. Heaven is a banquet and life is a banquet, too, even with a crust, where there is companionship.”

What companion is seeking your love, your forgiveness, your patience and your mercy today? Grant it without it being requested.