Fall 2015

The Precarity of Love: Dorothy Day on Poverty

Larry Chapp

“Before God we are all poor beggars seeking to take advantage of the divine profligacy.”

Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker movement in 1933 along with Peter Maurin, was praised by Pope Francis in his recent address before the Congress of the United States. In particular, he noted her singular devotion to the poor and passionate advocacy for social justice. And indeed, this was a central focus of her mission—a mission which continues today in the many Catholic Worker houses of hospitality and Catholic Worker farms. Nevertheless, if we were to leave our analysis of her legacy at that simple affirmation, we would run the risk of missing the genuinely Catholic theological moment that informed her thinking and actions, and reducing her to just one more philanthropic voice calling for aid to the poor. In fact, it is not in the slightest an exaggeration to say that, absent such a theological analysis, her actions on behalf of the poor cannot be understood even in their most rudimentary construal. For before all else, there is one salient fact about the life of Dorothy Day that must not be ignored: Dorothy Day was a radical Catholic in the original meaning of the word “radical”; she was a Catholic who took the internal theo-logic of the faith to its roots and attempted to put it into action in prophetic ways. Thus, any attempt to bleach her life of its moorings in her deeply held Catholic faith is superficial at best, and mendacious at worst.

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