Dorothy Day

Apparently this is going to be an unusually “religious” blog today. It had been several days since I last visited Sightings, so I had missed both excellent entries from last week. In “Your Two Cents,” Martin Marty gives voice to the many recent responses by Sightings readers. Then, in “A Just War?” James Evans summarizes the fundamental questions at stake, before concluding:

No one questions the legitimacy of the American government to make the decision, it’s the other criteria that are more difficult to establish. Is our country under a direct threat, or are we dealing with a potential threat, or even a likely threat? In short, do we have a just cause for waging war? And what is our intent? The stated purpose of the war is to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Is that a legitimate cause? Is any part of our action motivated by revenge for the events of September 11?

If we are to be faithful to the ideals of our faith, before we consent to the killing of our declared enemy, we should strive diligently to be sure our cause is just. If we determine it is not, then we should not pursue it. Even if we determine our cause is just, we may only submit to war with a somber spirit, and with repentant hearts. No cause is so just that we may kill without sorrow.

On a related note, I’m becoming somewhat obsessed with this photo of Dorothy Day. Taken in 1924 in Staten Island, it shows her at rest on a front porch, her legs curled to one side, her hat resting against a bare foot. There’s something remarkable in that stare, the sly smile, the ease of her posture. She was younger then than I am now — already a published novelist and a once arrested suffragette; still a decade removed from the birth of The Catholic Worker and even further distanced from her later civil rights protests and week-long fasts for peace.

I stumbled upon the photo while investigating “personalism,” the first philosophy I’ve found that builds upon the radical politics of the Gospels. That phrase will no doubt make some uncomfortable, and perhaps it should. I’ve always joked that Christ was a socialist — joking makes it easier for both my audience and myself to ignore the practical consequences of such a statement — but I’m feeling more at ease now with the thought of saying the same with a straight face.

The examples of people like Day and Peter Maurin make it easier, for they were willing to embrace the Marxist critique of capitalism and bourgeois complacency — and at a time when doing so went completely against the American grain — while tempering their politics with a deep love of Man and the truths of Christianity. More importantly, they put that faith into practice, improving the lives of thousands by their efforts.

Casa Juan Diego is one product of Day’s and Maurin’s work. CJD’s Website provides a host of information and insightful commentary. I’ve spent hours and hours and hours there over the last few days, marveling at the consequences of lives lived in imitation of Christ.