Friday, October 26, 2012

A Saint for Modern Times

While doing some research for my blog post last week, I discovered quite by accident that Flannery O'Connor used to subscribe to the Catholic Worker, the weekly newspaper founded by Dorothy Day in 1933.  This factoid caught my attention for two reasons.  First, I just finished Jim Forest's superb biography of Day, All is Grace.  Second, even though O'Connor was a voracious reader, I was surprised to find out that she would take a publication that espoused views that often contradicted her own.  In a 1956 letter to Betty Hester, O'Connor asked, "Do you see the Catholic Worker?  It irritates me considerably because I don't go for the pacifist-anarchist business, but every now and then you will find something fine in it." (The Habit of Being p. 173).  At times Dorothy Day herself  took actions that O'Connor could not countenance, as for instance when she visited Koinonia, the Christian agricultural community in Americus, Georgia.  Near the end of her visit to the farm, Dorothy Day was nearly killed when a drive-by sniper shot at her car.  When Flannery heard about this terrifying incident she quipped to her friend Betty Hester: "All my thoughts on this subject are ugly and uncharitable - such as: that's a mighty long way to come to get shot at, etc.  I admire her [Day] very much.  I still think of the story about the Tennessee hillbilly who picked up his gun and said, 'I'm going to Texas to fight fuhmuh rights'...I wish somebody would write something sensible about Koinonia - as  you say it is something regressive which is getting all the benefit of martyrdom.  I think they should be allowed to live in peace but that they deserve all this exaltation I highly doubt.  D.D. [Dorothy Day] wrote up her trip there in the CW [Catholic Worker], which I duly enclose  It would have been all right if she hadn't had to stick in her plug for Their Way of Life for Everybody." (The Habit of Being, pp. 218-220).  Though Flannery remained conflicted about Dorothy Day and the work she was doing, she kept up her subscription to the Catholic Worker, and it was in the pages of that paper that she discovered the Prayer to St. Raphael, the prayer that ever afterward she repeated before she went to bed at night.

Every now and then, the idea gets kicked around that Flannery should be canonized.  While that is probably not going to happen in my lifetime, the official process is well underway in the Church to recognize Dorothy Day.  Because of her lifetime of care and advocacy for the poor, the forsaken, the hungry, and the homeless, Dorothy Day is indeed a saint for modern times.  However, when Day was approached once and told that some people considered her a saint, she replied "Don't call me a saint - I don't want to be dismissed so easily."  One can imagine O'Connor repeating these words to those today who wish to beatify her.
- Mark

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