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The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day
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on May 23, 2014
This massive collection from Day's diaries reveals many facets of Day not usually exposed. For those who wish to study Day's life, this is the edition to acquire. The 2011 paperback Abridged Edition is on cheaper paper and not as sturdy. Indeed, the color rubbed off the paperback's back cover in places--cheap, cheap. It also omits useful information found in the original.

This 2008 hardcover's January 4, 1958 entry has an editorial error that identifies St. Teresa of Avila as the the author of "The Ascent of Mount Carmel." Teresa's fellow Carmelite St. John of the Cross is the correct author. "The Ascent of Mount Carmel" does not appear in the paperback. Also omitted in the paperback are the entries in which Day writes of her move from her crowded, noisy, and poorly heated Catholic Worker (CW) apartment to a room in a local woman's apartment in March 1964 for a while to be warm without layers of clothing and to have some peace and quiet in which to write (pp. 346-347)

"The Duty of Delight" reveals the problems with sexual immorality at the Tivoli CW farm, and Dorothy's inability to deal with the issue. On the one hand, she faced the complaints of coworkers Stanley Vishnewski and Deane Mowrer, who resided at Tivoli. On the other hand, there were the young people (including Day's grandchildren) and Day's daughter, Tamar, and Rita Corbin, CW artist and wife of editor Marty Corbin, who believed in "permissiveness." Day was aware of the problem for almost ten years before the Tivoli farm was finally sold, about a year before she died. Here are some pertinent entries:

November 14, 1968: "Nip things in the bud at once," says Stanley. "If we did not have so big a place," I say, "people would not move in on us." "We should never have bought it," S says. . . .
"A mistake ever to have gotten this place," Stanley says....
But I have no power to control smoking of pot, for instance, or sexual promiscuity, or solitary sins." (pp. 430-431)

June 26, 1971: "For some weeks now my problem is this: What to do about the open immorality (and of course I mean sexual morality) in our midst. It is like the last times--there is nothing hidden that shall not be revealed. . . . We have with us now a beautiful woman with children whose husband has taken up with a seventeen-year-old, is divorcing her and starting on a new marriage. She comes to us as to a refuge where by working for others in our community of fifty or more, she can forget once in a while her human misery. We have another case of a young married woman whose husband thinks it is his duty to befriend young girls (the latest only fourteen)....
We have one young [prostitute], drunken, promiscuous, pretty as a picture, college educated, mischievous, able to talk her way out of any situation--so far. She comes to us when she is drunk and beaten and hungry and cold and when she is taken in, she is liable to crawl into the bed of any man on the place. We do not know how many she has slept with on the farm. What to do? What to do?" (pp. 492-493)

January 15, 1976: "Got nothing done. Visitors--Mary Lathrop, Bob Ellsberg, Bob Steed. Missed Mass. Between Bob S. and Stanley and Deane running down the farm and its immoralities I felt quite sunk. Jane and I agreed on prayers for healing." (p. 555)

Jan 22 1976: "From now on I will settle in N.Y." (p. 555)

One final point: A reviewer has protested another reviewer's calling "The Catholic Worker" a "Socialist newspaper." The protestor claims Day's "personalism" is "the diametric opposite of socialism." This opens a can of worms. While Day encouraged young families to move to and purchase rural land and farms, she also strongly supported communal farming, even when it was involuntary as in Red China and Cuba. Day went beyond socialism with her boast in the CW that it was an "honor" to be an invited "observer" at the 1956 Annual Convention of the Communist Party USA. Indeed, Day frequently wrote in favor of the coming "revolution" so beloved by Marxists--which pacifist Day naively "hoped" would not be "violent." Here are some entries on wealth and property from Day's CW columns:

"To labor is to pray -- that is the central point of the Christian doctrine of work. Hence, it is that while both Communism and Christianity are moved by 'compassion for the multitude,' the object of communism is to make the poor richer but the object of Christianity is to make the rich poor and the poor holy." ("The Church and Work," September 1946)

"'The more property becomes common--the more it becomes holy.' . . But to do away with private property is a mortal sin in our system. . . .
Fortunately, the Papal States were wrested from the Church in the last century, but there is still the problem of investment of papal funds. It is always a cheering thought to me that if we have good will and are still unable to find remedies for the economic abuses of our time, in our family, our parish, and the mighty church as a whole, God will take matters in hand and do the job for us.
When I saw the Garibaldi mountains in British Columbia . . . I said a prayer for his soul and blessed him for being the instrument of so mighty a work of God. May God use us!" ("Hutterite Communities," July-August 1969)

"How many thousands, tens of thousands, are in for petty theft, while the 'robber barons' of our day get away with murder. Literally murder, accessories to murder. "Property is Theft" [wrote French anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in his 1840 book 'What is Property?'].
Proudhon wrote--The coat that hangs in your closet belongs to the poor. The early Fathers [of the Church] wrote--The house you don't live in, your empty buildings (novitiates, seminaries) belong to the poor. Property is Theft." ("On Pilgrimage," December 1971)

More information on these topics is available in Dr. Carol Byrne's 2010 book, "The Catholic Worker Movement (1933-1980): A Critical Analysis," and at the blog "Dorothy Day Another Way."
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on May 3, 2008
There are few people who have done more to keep Dorothy Day's words before the public than Robert Ellsberg. As both editor of her writings (By Little and By Little, 1983; Dorothy Day: Selected Writings, 1992; A Penny a Copy, 1995) and publisher (Orbis) of books by and about her, Ellsberg continues to remind us of Dorothy's vision of a Christianity that is orthodox in theology and radical (in the deepest sense of the word, as a return to roots) in social activism. His credentials are good: he knew Dorothy for the final five years of her life, and served as managing editor of "The Catholic Worker" for two of them.

Now, in The Duty of Delight, Ellsberg continues to enrich us with an edition of the diaries Dorothy maintained from 1934 to a few days before her death in November 1980. The manuscript of the diaries, housed at Marquette University (my alma mater, by the way) and sealed until 25 years after Dorothy's passing, is over a thousand single-spaced pages. Ellsberg has reduced the material by half by whittling away unessentials. Providentially, Dorothy's diary entries for the final year of her life, missing from the Marquette archives, was discovered after Ellsberg took on the editorship.

Ellsberg's Introduction to the diaries provides a nice overview of their content. Arranged by decades, the entries from the '50s through the '70s make up the bulk of the work. I began reading in the '70s section, since this is the decade in which I first became aware of the Catholic Workers, and gradually worked my way backwards.

Three things especially strike me about Dorothy's diaries.

The first is the sheer richness of the activities she chronicles: serving as the dynamo that kept the Catholic Worker movement energized; raising her daughter Tamar; dealing with Tamar's father Forster and Forster's common law wife Nanette; continuously writing; travels, both domestic and abroad; retreats and daily masses; public demonstrations and peace witnesses; and dancing with officials from both the state and church. In recording her activities, Dorothy not only gives us a good idea of her dedication, but also provides us with cumulative sketches of many of the co-workers (including Ellsberg) and clients with whom she came into daily contact.

The second thing that's impressive about the diaries is the breadth and depth of Dorothy's reading, as well as her love of music. The authors and composers she mentions in her diaries, when compiled, make up an impressive list, and her asides about them (as when, for example, she calls Solzhenitsyn a "holy fool," p. 626, or states that it's actually sloth, not Cassian's avarice, that is "man's abiding sin," p. 364) are frequently insightful.

Finally, the self-examinations, self-recriminations, and resolutions to be more prayerful, patient, compassionate, and nonjudgmental with which Dorothy liberally sprinkles her diaries are fascinating. On one level, they provide a cumulative portrait of a woman who is deeply troubled by what she perceives as her inability to practice what she preaches--a self-doubting that probably both feeds and emerges from her "long loneliness." At another level, though, these passages strongly suggest something that Dorothy perhaps never fully appreciated: that what she took to be spiritual and personal weaknesses in fact were also the very strengths that enabled her ministry.

In August 1952, for example, she writes (p. 177): "When I say, Lord, that I am too sensitive, it is truly that--my senses, exterior and interior are too thin-skinned. I am tormented by people's moods, their unhappiness. I must live more in my own heart, with Thee. Then when I go forth I have at least serenity." But what Dorothy interprets here as a moody over-sensitivity that inhibits contact with God might perhaps more accurately be described as an empathy that connects her with other people's suffering, and consequently with God's as well. Surely it's her "thin-skin" that allows for compassionate entries such as this one from February 1972 (p. 501): "I have been harried and worn out all day by the consciousness that we were inundated by an ocean of unemployed and unemployable, black and white human beings, searching for food, warmth, comfort, momentary surcease from suffering."

The Duty of Delight is yet one more wonderful gift to us from Dorothy, and it will prove to be an invaluable scholarly and spiritual resource. Robert Ellsberg and Marquette University Press are to be commended.
* Entry from Easter Sunday, 1968 (p. 418) that could easily serve as the epigram for Dorothy's diaries.
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on May 8, 2014
I think it was editor Robert Ellsberg who wrote (elsewhere) that the truly impressive thing about Dorothy Day is that there is not the slightest difference between what she believed, what she wrote, and the way she lived her life. Think of that. This must be one of the great Wonders of the World.

Reading these diaries reminds me once again of how this woman has entirely won me over. I was introduced to the Catholic Worker paper in high school (1968 or 1969) and Dorothy's honest, plain, challenging voice spoke to me immediately. I can't think of anything, other than the Gospels themselves, that so drew me to the deep truth of God.

Dorothy embodies the gentle personalism of traditional Catholicism, Christ-saturated, lived in all the weakness and difficulty of a real life without soft-focus or photoshopping.

I endorse all the high praise she has garnered from other reviewers, because she deserves it: like Mary of Nazareth, she is humility made great.

(I only want to disagree with one reviewed here who called the Catholic Worker a "socialist" paper. It certainly was not: the CW under Day's guidance insisted day-in and day-out on Personalism, which is the diametric opposite of Socialism politically defined. I'm no tattooed granny, but if I were to make an exception, I would have this tattooed across my back: "The Catholic Church must never abandon the poor--- to Holy Mother the State." - D. Day.

Dorothy, Servant of God, pray for us.
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on April 30, 2014
This book gives us a peek at the interior life of a human being dedicated to God and her mission in life as she understood it with all its joys and sorrows. This book helped me spiritually in how she described in ordinary diary language her values and how she lived those values. Her amazing singlemindedness and continuing work, devotion to her daughter and others left a huge legacy still in operation today. From my perspective, this book depicts a strong woman, an inspiration and a saint, though she probably wouldn't say that. The title says it all.
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on May 31, 2008
Dorothy Day is the quintessential radical Catholic with a lifetime of arrests and writings to make her stands known. Few can equal her courage, as this book so aptly demonstrates. She chides herself constantly for being critical and speaking up, yet no one has the stamina to do so with her insight gained from experience. A comrade of Mother Teresa, Cesar Chavez and Fr. Dan Berrigan, she is in good company.
Who can not be impressed with her achievments and ongoing diary entries
of a litany of prayers? Life had no soft way out for her. Living among the poor, she endured the company of the homeless, drunks, addicts and insane persons. Likewise, coping with ongoing discomforts of noisy interruptions, lice, and ringworm, she proved her commitment to the otherwise forgotten members of society. She is best known for publication of the socialist newspaper,"The Catholic Worker", but
her personal memoirs and conversion story are not for the feint of heart. Truly she is a saint of our times.
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on October 21, 2008
the new book came in perfect condition, and it arrived promptly. And I'm enjoying the read. Appreciate it.
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on June 9, 2016
Take time to Delight in God's creation. She is basing her life on St Therese of Liseaux, France, who died before Dorothy was born but whose family was still there to be interviewed by Dorothy. The new couple named as Saints the Martins, who "made a home where it was easy to be good."
Depression and Despair can be long-term consequences of a realist view of life: no self deception, seeing the things that need to be done according to God's will and doing them.
She says we have a duty to delight in God's Marvelous Creation, to take time to smell the flowers.
I am not sure she achieved this in her earlier years but it brings us up to our own Daily meditation and prayer life.
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on June 24, 2008
This unique tome is worth every penny because it can connect us with Dorothy Day more intimately than I ever imagined possible. She is no longer inaccessible to me. In fact I had been a little afraid of her in the sense I had been afraid like the whiskey priest in one of Dorothy's favorite novels, "The Power and the Glory" by Graham Greene. I had always been afraid to end up like him, despairing over missing the boat. Here is the scene on the night before he was executed by a Mexican Communist firing squad:

"What an impossible fellow I am, he thought, and how useless. I have done nothing for anybody. I might just as well have never lived..It seemed to him at that moment that it would have been quite easy to have been a saint. It would have needed a little self-restraint and a little courage. He felt like someone who has missed happiness by seconds at an appointed place. He knew now that in the end there was only one thing that counted - to be a saint."

Well now after reading 700 pages of "Duty of Delight" I am no longer afraid. Dorothy makes it look possible to be a saint. I believe without a doubt that she is now with God in heaven. What she did to get there, I can do. Reading her diary showed she slogged it out just like the rest of us with doubts, setbacks and sorrows. Through it all she remained faithful to daily prayer and the sacraments, including frequent Confession. She knew that it was in the little things that we find God, something she learned from one of her favorite saints, Therese of Lisieux.

Dorothy didn't always "suffer fools gladly." No matter. She was quick to apologize and always harsher in judging herself than she was other people. She always stayed focused on the pearl of great price, even as she paid her bills and worried just like the rest of us.

This doesn't mean she was an ordinary person. What ordinary person would devote her life to voluntary poverty in order to serve the least among us, literally serve them, with food and shelter? Flannery O'Connor, whose letters she was reading near the end of her life, said one time, "The Truth shall make you odd." Dorothy was never afraid of being thought to be odd if that was the price you had to pay to live the Gospels. And it was and it is the price you have to pay.

During the many days it took me to read this book, she was constantly on my mind. No other book ever did that for me. I wish I had known her like so many did. She affected all of them for the better, whether they were cardinals, famous writers like W. H. Auden, or street people.

Miller's classic biography of Dorothy Day ends wtih her funeral and his final passage tells it all:

"The funeral was on December 2 at the Nativity Catholic Church. An hour before the service people began to assemble in the street. There were American Indians, Mexican workers, blacks and Puerto Ricans. There were people in eccentric dress, apostles of causes who had felt a great power and truth in Dorothy's life...At the appointed time, a procession of these friends and fellow Catholic Workers came down the sidewalk. At the head of it Dorothy's grandchildren carried the pine box that held her body. Tamar (her daughter), Forster (Tamar's father) and Dorothy's brother John Day followed. At the Church door, Cardinal Terence Cooke met the body to bless it. As the procession stopped for this rite, a demented person pushed his way through the crowd and bending low over the coffin peered at it intently. No one interfered, because, as even the funeral directors understood, it was in such as this man that Dorothy had seen the face of God."
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on January 19, 2009
This is a very inward look at the life and daily thoughts of the great social and peace activist Dorothy Day. It gives one the realization of just how human this woman was and how very faith filled her thought processes were to keeping her love for the poor and homeless always at the forefront of her existence. How even through the clouded glasses of the hierarchy, the badgering and belittling of those who wanted to sterotype her and her followers as being socialist or communist, she never compromised her principles and her love of God. She became lonely and yes sometimes depressed. Her health suffered greatly. She put up with just about every
humiliation imaginable from being in jail to wiping up the most foul of human excrement. She washed and cooked and cleaned, she spent endless hours on cold trains and stuffy buses carrying the message of those less fortunate, of those succumbed to the wrath of alcohol and despair. And now for many of us, she has become the "kindred spirit", the model we follow in trying to live out her example of true love for all people. A card found in her final journal reads, " O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, faintheartedness, lust of power and idle talk. But give to thy servant rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love. Yea Lord and King, grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother, for Thou art blessed from all ages to ages. Amen" (St. Ephraim) I highly recommend this volume for anyone striving to get into the heart mind and soul of a true and humble servant of God.
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on August 13, 2010
Dorothy Day's diaries extend from the early thirties until just before she died. They reveal a woman driven by love, by desire for social justice, by a passion to struggle with all the experiences of her life in the light of conscience, the gospel and Hebrew Scripture, and what her voracious appetite for reading led her to ponder. He reading included the great masters of spirituality, classic and modern novelists, social commentators and modern spiritual writers.

Robert Ellsberg, current publisher of Orbis Books, edited the diaries and provides valuable historical background for the different periods of Day's life and useful notes to identify people mentioned in the diaries. For this reviewer the diaries were riveting, dealing with Day's remarkable life as a passionate advocate for human rights and the poor, her personal struggles to follow what she sensed was the only course to happiness and true personal fulfillment--the path of Jesus, especially in his love of the poor and call to trust wholly in Him.

Dead now some 30 years Day's experiences and personal struggles seem remarkably contemporary.. She was constantly discerning what she should do in taking care of family and the proper balance to maintain between work and family. She was intimately and physically involved in the upbringing of her daughters' eight children. She raised that daughter as a single parent.

The Catholic Worker Community among whom she lived was a far cry from a Camelot. Rather it was a challenging, exasperating and physically trying life. What continually jumped off the page were Dorothy Day's constant struggle to persevere in that community, to wrestle with her strong judgmental inclinations-- not always controlled, and the accompanying and repeated desire and prayer not to judge others but to love them. Life's tragedies pained her, caused her great sorrow. She saw good friends and family despise and leave the Catholic Church which she loved. She was well aware and critical of the luke-warmness of Christians, of the indifference and blindness-to-the-poor exhibited often by clergy and well-to-do Catholics. Her response however again was primarily to pray for them, to continually look back on her own sins and failings and to trust all to God.

Day was a pacifist. Many if not most of her associates were not. How she dealt with that was to try to persuade them, not condemn them. Her diaries are at times logs of activities and--more often--spiritual journals. As editor Robert Ellsberg remarks in his preface, her writing is prayer. She in effect is talking things over with God, taking to heart what one of her favorite saints and spiritual guides, St., Teresa of Avila, describes prayer to be. Day was surrounded in her Catholic Worker community by what might charitably and euphemistically be termed `characters," people very difficult to live and work with, by any reasonable standard. How she dealt with that day in a day out was what most impressed this reader.

With their frank portrayal of her everyday life, these diaries made Dorothy Day come alive even more to me than much of her other writings, as much as they too deal with everyday life. The reader will be amply rewarded and challenged by this first person account of what many consider a modern day saint.
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