Jim said, "You certainly get to know a person by reading their
mail." A book by Robert Ellsberg, All the Way to Heaven
(Image Books,2010), was open on my desk. The person Jim referred to
was Dorothy Day. We have been "reading her mail" through Ellsberg's
collection of her letters to family and friends.
Beginning in 1923, the letters span nearly 50 years until her
death in November of 1980. Through Dorothy's letters, we feel we
have a better understanding of her heart.
Her large circle of family and friends included Thomas Merton,
the Berrigan brothers, Cesar Chavez and Fr. Virgil Michel, OSB
(Collegeville, MN). Considered the founder of the Liturgical
Movement in the United States, Fr. Michel had a connection with Day
that we found most interesting.
In All Saints,an earlier book of daily reflections by
Ellsberg, Fr. Michel is quoted: "The entire life of the true
Christian must be a reflection and a further expression of his life
at the altar of God. If he is predominantly a passive Christian
there, can we expect him to be an active Christian in his daily
life out in the world?" According to Ellsberg, Dorothy Day drew
inspiration from Fr. Michel.
Dorothy Day had these two things: she found her strength in the
Eucharist and poured out that strength daily in living and working
with the poor. Both are just as relevant and as difficult to fully
embrace today as they were in the 1930s.
As we age, there is a deeper hunger for Eucharist and a joy in
spending time, like Mary, in the company of Christ. We continue to
find the more we connect with Christ in the Eucharist, the greater
the call to let go of possessions to focus more on doing the work
The problem is, sometimes we are so comfortable with the
essentials of Eucharist, prayer and Scripture, it becomes difficult
to get down to the business of allowing the power of the Eucharist
to spill out of our lives and into the lives of others. (As in "No,
I can't help with the food pantry because that's the day my
discussion group meets.")
Not that discussion groups aren't important. Perhaps, it all
comes down to a matter of balance. It is just so much safer to
discuss than to do, to pray than to provide, to read something
uplifting than to be someone who uplifts others.
Still, our determination grows to be not only more firmly rooted
in Christ, but to become Christ for others. Here is the thing about
worship and spiritual growth: once we risk opening our lives, it
becomes impossible to keep the joy this brings closed up in our
So, are we all going to work in houses of hospitality, carry
pickets against injustice and speak out the way Dorothy spoke?
Maybe that's the way for some, but most of us need to begin where
we are on a simpler level.
There is another way to fully live the Eucharist. Day's favorite
saint was Therese of Lisieux, the Carmelite nun who died at age 24.
Her path to holiness did not come from great deeds. Instead, her
"little way" marked a life that did ordinary things with love,
patience and kindness. Day sought to live her life in this way and
so can we.
No matter where we are, there is much to be done. For us,
working in our parish with the Rite of Christian Initiation for
Adults (RCIA) has become one of our "little ways." Parish
ministries, including RCIA, can sometimes be almost "dry wells," or
they can be abundant sources of living water.
That's the good thing about working in a community, whether the
community is a monastery, Catholic worker house, or parish. All
communities have some wells in need of fresh water. It is up to
each of us to stay deeply rooted in Living Water and then dig out a
dry well right where we are until that Water pours out for thirsty