7 Quick Takes on Dorothy Day, poverty, disciple-making, babies and Hillsong

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– 1 –

So far this summer, I’ve loved being immersed in the ultra-inspiring autobiography of Dorothy Day. It is entitled, somewhat harrowingly, The Long Loneliness. I must admit, I’d always had a notion of Dorothy Day as a radical “leftie”, perhaps more political than spiritual, and so had never read much about her before. But reading this book, I am utterly enchanted. The warmth of her humanity, her passion for truth and for justice, and her deeply contemplative immersion in the world shines off the pages and has enthralled me. If I could have dinner with anyone in the world right now, it would be her. If you want to read how one woman discovered the call of God and then attentively listened to it and ruggedly followed it – read this book and be inspired to faithfulness in your own calling.

– 2 –

Last weekend, I had the last-minute and unexpected pleasure of babysitting my nearly-two-year-old nephew, so that my sister and brother-in-law could enjoy a little break before Baby #2 arrives. This was the longest I’d been on my own with him, but what a precious time. Babies are the perfect antidote for all the petty and trivial annoyances of our high-maintenance lives. Somehow, spending these cherished hours with a little toddler beautifully brought me in touch with what grounds us in being – what is most real, most important in life. All you mummies out there – you have been given a great gift!

– 3 –

A few of us recently on a retreat at the Poor Clares in Arundel

A few of us recently on a retreat at the Poor Clares in Arundel

I am reflecting on our full year of Catechumenate. In September, the next cycle of catechesis begins – and the last before many in our current group are either confirmed or received into the Church. Our Catechumenate is intentionally evangelising and authentic in its teaching, and we have worked hard to ensure there is a good balance of teaching, liturgy, community and prayer. However, I still feel it’s not quite right. What’s wrong? Well, a number of things. First, I think that a general culture of maintenance is still weighing us down (I’ve written about this phenomenon previously here). It takes an enormous effort to maintain the energy needed for ongoing evangelisation because not everyone is missionary-minded. Those few “intentional disciples” we have as catechists and sponsors within RCIA are also spread thinly around other apostolates.

Second, with this in mind, I am finding that the weekly hour-and-a-half session in the parish centre is received differently by different pockets of people. We have seen a sharp divide in the last term between a little cluster who have had profound conversions over the last few months and others who are drifting, dipping in and out… For the first group, they are loving every minute of the weekly sessions and wouldn’t miss a week. However, the others are evidently struggling… I am glad we are doing a long process because otherwise, these folks would have been received into the Church last Easter and then drifted off into the cultural Catholic masses. However, it has also raised a lot of questions…

– 4 –

One candidate commented to me that he thought the model was not “family-friendly”. He meant the year-round, weekly sessions. In London, I never received this comment – it seemed most parents in RCIA were glad to have an excuse to leave the office early or to leave the children with the au pair for an evening! I’m learning so much being in a different ‘culture’ and I know I don’t have all the answers. How to make it more “family-friendly”? Is asking someone to come to a weekly commitment outside Mass too much? For sure, when you have a vibrant community and your parish is your ‘family’, it is not seen as a commitment – it is a joy. But when the culture around you is “obligation-focussed”, “programme-focussed” – of course it is not a joy, it is drudgery! I am struggling to see how we can change this when deep down I know it requires an entire shift in parish culture…

– 5 –

As I’ve been reading Dorothy, and utterly inspired by all the charisms she evidently had that I do not (most evidently, mercy and voluntary poverty), I have been noticing more and more the deprivation in my own city. Channel 4’s current series – How to Get a Council House – is (yes, you’ve guessed it) filmed on location in PORTSMOUTH! I watched a couple of episodes just to educate myself about my own city (how pathetic this is – really). It is really mind-boggling – the extent of deprivation there is right beneath our noses – not just material poverty of course, but all types of human poverty – educational, cultural, psychological. What saddens me is that I don’t think our Church here does anything in a coordinated way to address any of this. I am sure priests and people in our parishes reach out to individuals. We contribute to food banks. But wider than this, I don’t think we see that Christ and the Church has anything to bring to this extensive network of problems in practical ways. I think of the Saints of the past – St Vincent de Paul and St Louise de Marillac – and how they responded so practically to the poverty which confronted them. Urgently, we need those with charisms to be able to address these issues to discover that God is calling them and as a Church we need to equip these people with what is needed.

– 6 –

Just one Dorothy quote from the middle of her conversion to Catholicism – and an interesting 1930s contribution to the “intentional disciples” question:

“[The Catholic Church] had come down through the centuries since the time of Peter, and far from being dead, she claimed and held the allegiance of the masses of people in all the cities where I had lived. They poured in and out of her doors on Sundays and holy days, for novenas and missions. What if they were compelled to come in by the law of the Church, which said they were guilty of mortal sin if they did not go to Mass every Sunday? They obeyed that law. They were given a chance to show their preference. They accepted the Church. It may have been an unthinking, unquestioning faith, and yet the chance certainly came, again and again, “Do I prefer the Church to my own will,” even if it was only the small matter of sitting at home on a Sunday morning with the papers. And the choice was the Church.”

– 7 –

On the other side of the coin, just round the corner from my sister’s home is a big conference centre which is used as a Hillsong church on Sundays. On Sunday morning on the way to Mass, you pass this inviting looking building, with contemporary music pouring out, trendy looking hipsters sipping coffee in the foyer and an enormous sign so big you could not miss it: “WELCOME HOME”. A super-friendly man wearing a headset will give you a bear hug as you wander shyly in. And, however tempted you might be to go and experience it, you keep walking on your merry way to Mass where you’d be lucky if someone smiles at you – because that is where the eternal sacrifice of Jesus Christ is offered to the Father for our redemption for ever and ever – and it is worth everything!

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