Telling the Stories that Matter: November 29 – Dorothy Day, Convert, Mother, Champion of the Disenfranchised

Life didn’t feel like what Dorothy felt it should. It felt like there was something missing–something askew–and that she was constantly and consistently on the verge of true happiness but never breaking through. It felt like happiness should be such a natural thing but that it still eluded her. As a child, she had been baptized Episcopalian but had never really been a part of the Church. As she aged, she became concerned with the plight of the poverty stricken and disenfranchised. Seeing the oppression of the people that surrounded her struck her with a vague desperation but watching churches ignore this same issue only further convinced her of the irrelevance of most Christians. So, she sought change and had left the Church behind because the Church was leaving her and her concerns behind.



Yet, something felt different as she sat alone in her apartment. Her boyfriend wasn’t around and she was pondering something she hadn’t yet told him: she was pregnant. Dorothy was pregnant and her boyfriend was the father. She enjoyed her bohemian life but was aware that a child might change things. Yet, in spite of all of the looming change she was quietly and powerfully happy. She later described the feeling as being “natural happiness.” This happiness combined with an increasing realization that her life wasn’t a solution to poverty so much as a desperate reaction to the Church’s inattention effected a conversion within her. Soon, she realized that though she had been running away from God she had been running toward God because God had promised the Kingdom to the poor and the outcast. She decided to have her baby baptized into the Roman Catholic church and followed along with her child in 1927.



Yet, she was still uncomfortable with the Church’s inattention to the plight of the poor and the causes of social justice. A self-proclaimed anarchist and pacifist, Dorothy was unafraid to break down existing structures that no longer served any beneficial purpose and it became clear that Dorothy would not sit by and watch the Church protect itself at the cost of the lives of the needy and its own damnation. She prayed that she might do something about it instead of simply talking about it and in 1932, she met Peter Maurin. Peter gave her the idea she needed to get started about the business of changing the Church and the world. Soon, Dorothy was publishing a newspaper entitled The Catholic Worker that connected the people of the Church to the people of the Kingdom. She opened up the Catholic Worker offices as a house of hospitality to provide shelter and food for the poor. She committed herself to vows of poverty, obedience, and chastity but never became a nun or took a position in the Church.



She remained active in protesting wars and acts of vast inattention and ignorance concerning the needy and outcast.She was investigated by the FBI and CIA as a spy and a revolutionary. Though her citizenship was truly in another Kingdom, she was not promoting insurrection anywhere except in the souls of the people whose hearts had been hardened to the cries of the needy. She was shot at, threatened, and assaulted because of her radical stance of peace and love as superior to vengeance and control. She actively resisted people who tried to insist that it was possible for her to do great things but impossible for them.In a very real way, Dorothy called everybody she met to live a life worthy of the Gospel and the cross of her Lord.Though she had rejected the Church as a youth because of its inattention to the poor, she spent the majority of her life (all the way until November 29, 1980) reforming the Church she loved to care for the people she loved.

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Telling the Stories that Matter: November 24 – Columban, Monk, Missionary, Voluntary Refugee

Columban was born in Nobber, Ireland–in the County of Meath–and grew into a competent and attractive young man. He was so attractive that women noticed him passing by through the towns and on the roads and began to seek him out. He became something of a local celebrity on account of his appearance and he was distressed by the steady decreases of his private life as more and more women sought him out to have him as their own. Columban received a piece of advice: flee from temptation so that you cannot succumb to it. In this advice, Columban saw hope and promise–he had always dreamed of becoming a monk and living a life of retreat and prayer and this path offered that opportunity.

So, Columban decided to flee from the temptations of an overly sexual existence and join a monastery. But, when he had packed his things and was headed to the door, his mother stopped him and begged him not to go. He insisted that he felt a call toward the monastic life but his mother refused to listen. She pleaded with him to stay again and again he insisted on following God’s call. In desperation, Colulmban’s mother laid down in the doorway to prevent her son from leaving. Columban struggled with what to do: should he concede to his mother’s wishes or should he follow the call he felt on his life. He looked at his mother and made his decision. He stepped over his dear mother and left her behind to follow after the calling God had placed on his life.

After some time as a monk and after he had become a noted speaker and counselor, he was appointed a missionary to a foreign land. The Roman empire had fallen only a few generations prior but the people of continental Europe still saw the outlying regions–such as Ireland–to be a barbarous place devoid of education or sense. The very idea of an Irish missionary to France was unthinkable to the French Christians–they were a people who sent missionaries not who received missionaries. Yet, this is where Columban and twelve others arrived. In France, they found a sickly and anemic Faith that subsisted on dead ritual and vague memories of spirituality. This was a mind bending experience for the Irish missionaries who knew that the Irish had received their faith from the world they now ministered to. They were bringing the faith that had been brought to them back to the ones who had sent it.They were met with a mixture of resistance and open arms. Many found the Irish spirituality to be an oasis in a dry and dusty land. There were many who ended up being guided by Columban to follow in the footsteps of Patrick who had been one of them (having been born in Roman Britain) but had gone to provide sustenance to the Irish who had enslaved him. In essence, Columban brought back spiritual sustenance to a people who had forgotten that they had stored it away in Ireland.

Eventually, they were met with resistance from local rulers and became enemies of the King of Burgundy. It seems that the Frankish bishops and leaders were uncomfortably with the Irish being in a seat of authority. They held on to their memories and nostalgia instead of drinking deeply from the cool waters Columban brought with him. They were forced to flee from their monastery and became voluntary refugees who lived by charity and good fortune. Eventually, they walked across the Alps to Milan and were received gladly. Columban would spend the remainder of his days far away from the formative places of his childhood in Ireland and in a land that God had called him to–regardless of the cost.

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Telling the Stories that Matter: November 16 – Hugh of Lincoln, Bishop, Monk, Reformer

Hugh hadn’t asked for power. He had been content in his positions of leadership within the Carthusian monasteries of England. He had been born in France and raised in a Christian family. He loved to tend to the garden near his monastic cell and to live the life of prayer and reflection that characterized the Carthusian life. As people recognized the natural leader within him, he was appointed prior of a monastery and, eventually, prior of a larger monastery. It became increasingly clear that Hugh had been set apart to lead but Hugh never sought power for the sake of power–he was content to be a monk and follower of Jesus and didn’t feel any need to dictate, command, or control.

Henry II was still doing penance for the murder of Thomas Becket. As part of his penance, he was ordered to establish a Carthusian monastery in England but it had experienced quite a bit of trouble in getting started. The first prior had retired without building the monastery and the second had recently died. Henry knew that he was expected to find a prior who would establish and strengthen the group so he sent a group to go and bring Hugh to England to lead this group of unorganized monks. Hugh and the Carthusians knew that this was a dangerous thing–to go to the country that had murdered Thomas and lead a monastic movement–but it was agreed that Hugh could do great work for the Kingdom so Hugh went willingly with a touch of anxiety.

Hugh found that there had been negligible leadership at Lincoln before he arrived. Not only was there not a monastery building but there were no plans to build one. He organized the monks to work together and campaigned with Henry to provide money to them. He insisted that if Henry truly wanted a Carthusian monastery in Lincoln, then he would have to help support them as they established themselves. Realizing that this was the kind of leader he had recruited, Henry supplied an official charter to the Carthusians and helped to fund their endeavors. Further, he was known to attend their worship services when he was nearby.

Eventually, Hugh was elected bishop of Lincoln by the king and the king’s people. He thanked the king but refused to accept it until he could meet with his colleague and they could vote. Hugh wasn’t keen on allowing a king to command the affairs of the Church. Hugh’s colleagues agreed and Hugh became bishop of Lincoln. As bishop, he was not afraid of the king, however. He remained convinced that the king had no room to command or dictate Church policy and did not hesitate to exact Church discipline upon errant members who were connected to the king.Their relation to the king of England did not absolve them from their sins, he insisted. He resisted the king’s appointments to ecclesial positions and even refused some of the king’s direct orders. All of this was done in a culture that keenly remembered the martyrdom of Thomas Becket. Hugh had no fear, however. Further crusading against the culture, Hugh was known to condemn violence against the Jewish people of Lincoln and England. The Jewish people soon learned that they were safe with Hugh.

By the end of his life, Hugh had made it very clear that he wasn’t the average bishop. He had resisted the commands of a king and a kingdom that had shown no hesitation in murdering people like him before. He stood by his commitments because they were his calling. Indeed, he had not asked for power but when given the yoke of leadership, Hugh did not balk or hesitate. He understood that leadership and power were not things to be sought for selfish gain but things to be used for the furtherance of the Kingdom of God and in service to the will of God.

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Telling the Stories that Matter: November 11 – Martin of Tours, Soldier, Defector, He Who Clothed Jesus


Upon his horse, Martin was clearly visible to the crowd through which he rode. The people knew a little about this man who had been raised in a military family of high regard. They knew that his father and father’s father were respectable men. They knew that his cloak and symbols designated him as powerful and influential. Some even knew that he had been meeting with Christians in one of the churches that had been recently been legalized. Martin was legally allowed to attend but it caused a degree of uncertainty in so many of the common citizens of the Empire. These thoughts traveled through the minds of the crowd as they looked to see what this powerful and influential man would do in their presence. Martin’s eyes and mind were in an entirely separated location–on a man who seemed to have fallen on terrible times.

The beggar barely had enough clothing to cover his nakedness. He looked weak from hunger and exhaustion. Most people in the crowd passed over him quickly because he made them uncomfortable. He was “somebody-else’s-problem” and they felt he probably had more problems than they could count or determine.They salved over their discomfort with rationalizations that allowed them to avoid this destitute beggar in mind and sight. Yet, Martin couldn’t look away. His heart burned at the sight of the nakedness of the man and he wondered if there wasn’t something he could do.He was astounded at the way people ignored and avoided the man and wondered if itwasn’t possible that he was seeing things since it seemed that this man was invisible to the crowd. The words of his Christian friends echoed in his mind and he was moved to help. He dismounted his horse, drew his sword and cut his cloak in half. He gave half of the split cloak to the man. The man accepted it wordlessly but with a smile.Not knowing what else to do, Martin mounted the horse and rode off wondering what he had just done.

That night, while he slept, he had a vision of Jesus standing among the angels wearing the given half of the cloak that Martin had split. Jesus pointed at Martin and said to the angels, “See, this is Martin. He is the Roman soldier who hasn’t been baptized but who has clothed me.” Martin woke with a start and considered what he had seen. It had an immediate impact upon him that he couldn’t shake. He shared it with his Christian friends and they reminded him of the passage of scripture that insisted that Jesus would be among the poor, the sick, the prisoners, and the naked. He rejoiced with them in his encounter with their Lord. He was slowly being changed. He finally requested to be baptized and his Christian brothers and sisters did so gladly and with much joy. As the glow of his vision and baptism began to fade slightly, however, he soon began to be burdened by his profession of soldier. He struggled with this for nearly two years before the call was made for all soldiers to prepare to go to battle the Gauls. Martin went to his commander and dropped his sword in the dirt and said, “I am a Christian. I cannot do as you command. I cannot fight.”

The commander ordered him jailed and mocked him before the other soldiers. He questioned what kind of faith Martin held that would prevent him from fighting for the Empire. The commander didn’t understand a faith that wanted to love enemies and promote peace even at the cost of death. He jeered at Martin and tried to undermine the calling that Martin felt. As people labeled him a coward and questioned his courage, he responded:“I’m not afraid to die. I’m afraid to kill. Send me into battle unarmed–even at the front lines–and I will go gladly but I will not kill my enemy. I am called to love them.” His commander responded with a sickly smile and agreement to send Martin forward on what was clearly a suicide mission. Yet, that night the opposing army changed its mind and sued for peace. The battle never happened and Martin was released from his bondage as a soldier. He went from there to become a monk and lead others along the path of faith that he followed.

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Telling the Stories that Matter: November 3 – Martin de Porres, Dominican, Almoner, Devotee of Love


Martin was the child of Spain’s domination and conquest of the Peruvian people. His father was a Spanish nobleman who denied any connection to young Martin. His mother was an black former slave who had been taken advantage of by Martin’s father. She raised Martin and his sister Juana in poverty and to the best of her meager abilities. Though there was often a lack of money and food in the family, there was never a lack of love among those who shared a roof with each other. Their poverty was influential and therefore Martin became a servant boy to the local group of Dominicans. He was of mixed race and they were hesitant to accept him (and it would be many years before they would accept him fully) but he steadily rose through their system and was eventually the almoner of the monastery. As almoner, it was his duty to disburse the alms and funds of the monastery to the local poor. When it became clear that Martin had a gift for hospitality, he was also put in charge of the infirmary. Martin didn’t try to do great things but instead focused on loving people. He brought a cup of water to the poor and to the sick with the intention of relieving a need but in the cup of water they often found healing. It wasn’t Martin’s intention to do great things but his loving spirit effected great changes. It was this same loving spirit that came out as the primary force in his life time and time again. His devotion to love is what made him saintly.

When he was young, he truly was a servant at the Dominican monastery. The priory that he was associated with underwent some considerable financial distress when he was still the servant of the monastery and not fully a member. The debts that they had accrued became an unmanageable burden for the brothers. As the brothers gathered to discuss the serious and precarious situation they were surrounded with, Martin intruded upon them and said, “I am only a poor mulatto, sell me. I am the property of the order, sell me please!”The brothers were shocked that he had come in and offered his freedom to purchase their own.In Martin they saw that the ethic of love and sacrifice was more primary than his desire to be free. They did not choose to accept Martin’s offering and found another way to avert their disaster but Martin’s words echoed in their heads for years to come as a testimony of the primacy of love over freedom.

Martin had a habit that wasn’t expressly forbidden but was not smiled upon by his fellow Dominicans. His love of the poor and the disenfranchised seemed to extend beyond that of his brothers. In fact, one evening he was stopped by a brother after he had been observed escorting a sick and dirty person into his own room and giving him rest and comfort in his own bed. As he entered again into the hallway to go and fetch some food and water, the brother said that he had gone too far. “That man will dirty whatever he touches–including your own bed.” He looked loving into the eyes of his brother and responded, “Compassion, my dear Brother, is preferable to cleanliness.Reflect that with a little soap I can easily clean my bed covers, but even with a torrent of tears I would never wash from my soul the stain that my harshness toward the unfortunate would create.” Without saying another word, the brother walked away with Martin’s words echoing in his ears, again. Martin had made it clear that, for him, love was more important than preference,cleanliness, or comfort. The brother walked away wishing he could say the same for himself.

In many of the places where Spain conquered, disease followed in their footsteps. Peru was no exception. Martin’s heart was broken for the sick and the needy in the streets. He understood that the monastery doors were locked for a rational reason: to protect those inside from the contagion that crept through the air to lay low the rich and the poor. Yet, the rationale was not enough for Martin who would unlock the doors so that he might take care of the sick. In doing so, he was being disobedient to his superiors even though he had vowed obedience. This was no little matter and eventually his superior approached him to say that this must stop. He was ordered to stop being disobedient. To this, he replied in a small and humble voice:“Forgive my error, and please instruct me, for I did not know that the precept of obedience took precedence over that of charity.” In doing so, he was not being passive-aggressive to his superior but, rather, articulating the implications of what his superior was teaching. He was willing to be obedient as long as it did not require him to subvert his calling to love. His superior withdrew the request to stop and insisted that love was, in fact, more important than obedience to superiors.

Martin died in Lima, Peru, in 1639. He was widely acclaimed as blessed and a healer of the sick and unfortunate. His life had proclaimed the power of love and in death he was united with the God that is Love.

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Love Found in Faltering Steps

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I don’t like to be late, but nearly eight years of running on “Grace and Main time” may have had some effect on my punctuality. So, when I pulled my car into the street parking near a certain apartment building, I was not only in a hurry, but also anxious about it. As was often the case during this season in the life of the neighborhood, I was met by several kids at my car door. No longer worried about tardiness, but newly worried about the flow of traffic through the neighborhood and whether or not the kids were watching it, I grabbed my bag and made my way to the stairs to answer their myriad questions. Their many different questions (What we were going to have for dinner? Did I bring my frisbee? When was the next big meal was?) gave way to one most pressing and important question: where was my daughter?

Satisfied for a moment by my answer that she was coming with her mom in a minute, the kids went back to playing while I helped set up for a community meal on the front lawn of the apartment complex we affectionately call “Big Blue.” When my daughter arrived, the kids were excited for her to join their games, but were reminded by her unsteady toddling that she was still learning how to walk. Leaving their game to the side, they eagerly took turns holding her tiny hand and walking slowly with her from one end of the lawn to the other. They showered her in praise for her faltering steps, rejoicing not in her speed at walking but in her willingness to try and get up after falling. In fact, they were so fascinated with her progress that they had to be reminded to eat over and over again. These children with whom I’ve shared numerous meals have found a variety of ways to love me, but none have been as dear to me as walking carefully with my daughter from one end of the lawn to the other.

Robert was at the meal that night, too. It was courageous for him since he had relapsed just a few days before the meal. He had hoped nobody would notice that he was using again, but he was too near and dear for us not to notice. You can’t help but notice somebody’s faltering steps when you’re holding their hand. As my daughter walked back and forth across the lawn, Robert found a corner of the porch to eat his burger by himself. I knew he didn’t want to talk about his relapse—he’d said as much just moments earlier—so I enjoyed my hot dog and potato chips a few feet away in silence. Not knowing what else to say and not wanting to force Robert into a conversation, I waited until I’d finished my meal to pat him on the back as I made my way to the compost and trash. “We love you, brother,” I insisted, “and we’re glad you’re here.” A few weeks later, Robert was ready to try again at sobriety. It didn’t stick that time, either. But, just last month, Robert celebrated two years clean and sober. We rejoiced not in his speed at recovery, but in his willingness to keep trying.

But it’s not just Robert and my daughter that need hands to hold. Living in community has meant a lot of things to me over the last several years, but perhaps the most surprising has been how uncomfortable it can be to be known so deeply and personally by so many. There are those parts of me that I’d like to hide away from those who love me so dearly, but community makes it hard to hide. My tendency to take things too personally and grumble to myself about others, my reflexive desire to try to make people like me, my desire to control others to ease my own anxiety, my habit of trying to “figure people out” instead of just sitting with them, my own selfish pride—all of these broken parts of me feel like jagged edges primed to hurt those I love the most. I’m pretty sure I could hide these things away if it weren’t for the fact that we’ve given ourselves to each other in the bonds of community, in shared life, work, and prayers. I’m going to stumble, I’m going to hurt others both intentionally and unintentionally, I’m going to want to quit some days, and I’m going to fail.

But, God has surrounded me with people who will hold my hand as I learn to walk across the lawn. They are so dedicated in their love of me that they’ll need to be reminded to eat. These good people—like Robert—rejoice over my faltering steps. When I sit in the grass and refuse to get back up because I’m tired of trying and failing, it’s people like Robert who will sit still with me in silence until I’m ready to try again. It probably won’t stick this time, either. But sometimes miracles happen, as Robert testifies by way of word and action.

There are so many ways for us to love God, but I think I know God’s favorite: holding the hands of God’s children and walking carefully with them. Love is so much more resplendent in our faltering steps.

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