The diaries of a woman of incredible faith
Dorothy Day is an increasingly popular topic in recent years. This famous Catholic worker is praised for her life of dedicated service, charity, and hard work running houses of hospitality. These were places where she and others performed acts of Christian mercy: Feeding, clothing, and sheltering the poor.
She also helped run the Catholic Worker, the newspaper for the pro-worker, pro-equality, antiwar Catholic worker social movement. Dorothy Day attracts much interest for her political beliefs and activism. She was arrested many times throughout her life for her antiwar civil disobedience. She also expressed sympathy for communists during her life, for which the FBI created a file on her and her activities.
But after her conversion to Catholicism, everything she did — all her activism, all her charity, all her service — everything was motivated by her astoundingly deep faith. God was on her mind all the time, and almost everything she did was for Christ. The Duty of Delight, the collected diaries of Dorothy Day, reveals this incredible faith in intimate detail, in her own words. We get a glimpse into her thought process and inner life.
If you’re interested in Dorothy Day for her faith, charity, activism, or politics, then this book will be a riveting read. If you’re impressed by what she did and her deep faith, reading about it in her own words will be valuable and educational.
What’s in the Book
The Duty of Delight collects five decades of Dorothy Day’s personal diaries, spanning from the thirties to the seventies. That’s a lot of material, so it’s a long read at 693 pages.
As you can imagine, not every entry in a diary this long is meaningful. The editor, Robert Ellsberg, removed many entries that only contained day-to-day minutiae. But some of the remaining entries are still inconsequential.
But these diaries do reveal a lot of Dorothy Day’s thought process, and shed some more light on who she was as a human being. Sometimes a larger-than-life mythos gets built up around holy people. But Day’s diaries show that, although she stands out for her life of hard work and dedication to good works, she was as human as anyone else. For one example, there were people she didn’t get along with at all, including those she worked with and those she served. And so on. Her diaries reveal her ordinary humanity, since they are made up of her thoughts. But they also show her exceptional determination, work ethic, and faith (but more on that, below).
Her diaries cover diverse topics, since she was recording her life, after all. Some major historical events are mentioned, but they don’t become the main focus of her writing. We still learn some of her thoughts on her politics, when she writes about it. But she was motivated by faith, not by politics. Almost everything she did was motivated by faith. Almost everything, she did for God. These diaries reveal that God was always on her mind. We can learn much from her mental attitude of constant focus on God.
There are a couple main themes running throughout the whole 693 pages. Of course one is Dorothy Day’s incredibly strong faith. Another is the hardship involved in running houses of hospitality, and devoting her life to performing the works of mercy — feeding, clothing, and sheltering the poor.
And another theme is that of nonviolence. The principle of nonviolence was one she was firmly committed to all her life, ‘to the point of folly’ she might say. It’s a topic she writes about in her diaries, year after year. As others around her gave up on nonviolence for the sake of revolution and radical change, she stayed committed. This book is full of her thoughts on nonviolence, nonviolent resistance, and her firm antiwar convictions.
These thoughts are quite relevant today. She was writing during times of war, strife, racial injustice, inequality, and revolution like what we see today. She wasn’t blind to the despair of it all, to how horrible life on this fallen world is. But she turned to her faith and remained hopeful through it all. Her faith and determination to do her Godly mission during times of global upheaval are ideals we should aspire to. Since the times she was writing in are like the crises we’re living through now, her thoughts offer useful perspective on staying faithful through eras like ours.
But it’s the theology behind that faith revealed in these pages that I must take issue with.
Beware—Polytheism Can Be Subtle
I see Catholic theology as being polytheistic. In these diaries, I’ve got the inner thoughts of one of the world’s most faithful Catholics to back up my argument.
If you pray to something, you admit that it has some power to help you. The very act of praying proves that you believe it has some power to help you. Otherwise, you wouldn’t pray to it. When was the last time you saw someone pray to a potato? Of course never. No one would pray to a potato, because no one believes the potato has any power to answer the prayer or help them in any way. But if someone did, in all seriousness, pray to a potato then it means they believe the potato has divine power. The very act of them praying to it proves it.
As Christians, we should only be praying to the LORD Jesus Christ, and no one or nothing else. There is one God, and one mediator between God and man, and that is Jesus.
(5) There is one God and one mediator between God and humanity, the human Christ Jesus,1 Timothy 2:5 (CEB)
Catholics protest when their religion is called polytheistic (and pagan, which is also true, but that’s another topic). They loudly assert they don’t worship Mary or saints. But what people say is meaningless — their actions show their true thoughts and feelings. The Catholic’s protests are meaningless because they pray to Mary and all their saints, thousands in total. The act of prayer reveals that Catholics believe in all these people as having power to help them, and being worthy of praying to. Not only that, but Catholics observe feast days and other holidays for Mary and the major saints.
Always remember 1 Timothy 2:5. There is only one mediator between God and humanity, and all our prayers should go to Him and Him alone! He alone is LORD, He alone is the power.
Reading through The Duty of Delight, we find many occasions revealing Catholic theology for what it is, in Dorothy Day’s own words. Her inner thoughts, what she really thinks and believes. Let’s look at some examples.
May 10 . ST. THERESE SEND US A HOUSE!The Duty of Delight, page 236
We must start praying to the Little Flower [St. Therese] for a suitable building for our work and that will be a miracle […]
Interesting. Why pray to some saint for the house when we know all good things come from God our Father? (James 1:17)
I thank God and Pius XII for a hot cup of black coffee from my thermos, which helps to wake me.The Duty of Delight, page 243
How does Pius XII have anything to do with her coffee? Why is she thanking him for that? And why do Catholics make gods out of people? They do have a heretical doctrine about papal infallibility, elevating their pope to a level he doesn’t deserve to be on.
This next one could be the worst. Dorothy Day “entrusted” her daughter to the “care” of Mary at birth, so she believed Mary had power to do so. Let’s take a look:
My prayers are so much a personal thing — Oh God, my Father, take care of [her daughter] and her family. Mary our Mother, I gave her to you at her birth, watch over her. St. Joseph — she has no father to protect or comfort her, be to her a father too.The Duty of Delight, page 254
It starts out fine, the way it should be. And that’s where it should have ended. If she’s already praying to God, our Father, then why pray to Mary or any saint too? Does she believe she needs their help too? Does she believe they can do something that God can’t or won’t? Does she believe God needs their help to do anything? All I know is that believing any of those things is heretical. It’s wrong and polytheistic.
I started taking note of these instances of bad theology around page 200. Then I counted at least twenty over the course of the book, which doesn’t include the first 200 pages when I wasn’t noting these.
She often prays to saints instead of the one mediator between God and humanity. Then she thanks those saints when Jesus answers her prayers. She had such strong faith, but Mary and the saints diluted its focus.
Oh well. I’m no one to judge. My journal also sounded similar when I used to be a Catholic. I too was preoccupied with saints when I had no reason to be. No saints answer prayers — all prayers are answered by Jesus Christ, who is God. But I was definitely lost in the polytheistic Catholic theology like Dorothy Day was.
So reading this book made me once again grateful that I found Protestantism, a breath of fresh air. There is one God, and one mediator between mankind and God, and that’s the human being Jesus Christ! Cut out all the extra stuff — it distracts you from the one and only thing you need: A strong, faithful relationship with Jesus. Embrace Protestantism now, and discover a more vibrant, fulfilling, and real faith experience that isn’t watered down!
Thank you, The Duty of Delight, for reminding me of that.
The Final Word
The Duty of Delight is a good read. If you want a lengthy book on faith to occupy you for awhile, then this is a great choice. We have much to learn from Dorothy Day’s example.
She clearly stood out as someone with incredibly strong faith and a generous spirit of service. Her works of mercy and labor in the houses of hospitality are to be admired. No one can detract from the amazing acts of charity she did, or her dedicated life of hard work and service.
Her diaries add more depth to what we know of her, revealing her humanity and flaws. Her thoughts, her frustrations, her hopes, her disappointments, and more. The Duty of Delight is valuable as a book offering insight into the thoughts of one of the most faithful people of recent times.
Her mental attitude of always thinking about God is one we’d do well to imitate. And we can also learn from her thoughts on the evils of her day, mainly war and poverty. Her times were tumultuous, much like ours. She has a valuable perspective on these evils, which she writes about at length. We should all respect her unshakeable commitment to the principle of nonviolence. Whether you agree with her or not, you have to acknowledge she was consistent and stood firm on that principle. The Duty of Delight reveals a great deal of her thinking on it if that’s something you’re interested in.
But The Duty of Delight doesn’t negate the perils of polytheistic Catholic theology. In fact, the un-Biblical polytheistic beliefs are on full display here in all their ugliness. I would even hesitate to recommend this to anyone without a strong prior knowledge of Christianity. It would be spiritually dangerous if someone read the book and thought this kind of theology is fine.
Although the theology detracts from the quality of the book, The Duty of Delight is still a great read about someone who went all-in giving their entire life up to Christ. We have a lot to learn from her example, theological issues or not.
And one of the things she often repeats is how we shouldn’t judge. She’s certainly right in that. I can read what this Catholic wrote without judgment, and acknowledge her amazing life of faith and service. There’s a lot we can all learn from Dorothy Day, and The Duty of Delight gives us more insight into her thinking and her faith than any other book can.
The Duty of Delight
By Dorothy Day. Image Catholic Books, 2008.
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