Saturday, November 3, 2012

Bread for Stones and the Consecration of Weakness: Day 23 of 31 Days of Falling by Faith

"All she had wanted since she left home was now hers: a stable relationship with a man she loved, a beautiful place to live, a circle of friends, and a burgeoning writing career. Just one thing was missing: someone to thank."
—Dawn Eden, writing about Dorothy Day in My Peace I Give You
In 1999, that was, more or less, me. I didn't have a "burgeoning writing career" (though I thought I might have one buried in me somewhere), but I had been successfully earning a living as a copy editor, working quietly and comfortably in a corner of our living room. I felt content and, for the first time in my life, safe. I had, it seemed, the best blend of everything—solitude and a social life, solitude and a husband, work and flexibility, work and hobbies. I lived in a cozy little house a short bike ride from the ocean in the beautiful city of San Francisco. I had respect and a perfect credit rating. I lived far away from anyone who had once, and still could, hurt me.

Yet early that year I wrote in my journal that I was feeling like a caterpillar in a cocoon, and like it was only a matter of time until I would, by natural processes, be forced out of it. I never imagined that these processes would include the gradual falling apart of my marriage, a return to the East Coast (exactly ten years and three days ago), the tragic death of my husband, and my return to the Catholic Church (to which I had converted when I was eighteen but from which I had drifted away in my late twenties).

The saint introduced by Dawn Eden in chapter six of her book My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints is Dorothy Day. Day has not actually been canonized yet, but she is being officially considered for that honor by the Vatican. I first read about her while I was in college, and for a couple of years after graduation I was involved in a community in which she was studied, revered, and imitated. But it wasn't until a few years ago that I learned that, years before her conversion to Catholicism, she'd had an abortion. As I read Eden's description of Day's life leading up to that decision she deeply regretted, and as I read Eden's discussion of Day's attraction and commitment to the Catholic Church, I came to understand even more why I have long felt drawn to this woman, and what she has to offer me.

For example, although not abusive, Day's father was controlling as well as, like her mother, emotionally distant and withholding. This set her up for a lifelong struggle to find "the love she lacked." Her decision to abort her unborn child, Eden writes, was "the most damaging result of her efforts to fulfill her desires"; she did it because her boyfriend didn't want the child, or her with the child, and she needed "to hold on to him at any cost." He left her anyway.

Later, in another uncommitted relationship, she became pregnant again, and this time she followed through and gave birth to her daughter. The father stayed with her, but was not interested in marriage. Eden writes that "while she continued trying to win over a man who, like her father, placed his love out of reach, Dorothy felt her heavenly Father pursue her." She took instruction in the Catholic faith so that she could have her daughter baptized. Her daughter's father objected to all of this and continued to refuse to marry Day. Ultimately he left her and their daughter. Day immediately was received into the church through the sacraments of baptism, confession, and Holy Communion. Eden writes, "After a lifetime of seeking, she was finally in the arms of 'a kind Father ... who will not give us a stone when we ask for bread."

This relationship with her heavenly Father did not, however, immediately remove Day's "hungering for companionship." It took five more years of emotional struggle before "God worked a change in her, the kind of change he works in every wounded person who desires it and is patient with the workings of grace." In response to a fervent, tearful prayer for help, he finally "transformed her heart." The very next day, she met Peter Maurin, "the idealist French expatriate who gave her the vision for the Catholic Worker newspaper and apostolate."

Day did not lose all of the wounds of her childhood; rather, Eden says, she bore them "with the humility of one who has consecrated her weakness" to Christ, just as St. Paul did (in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10):
"A thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.' ...Therefore, I am content ... for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong."
May I yet receive the graces, of both healing and humility, to follow Christ as Dorothy Day did.

Amen.

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