Teen Vogue on Dorothy Day

Published May 6, 2021

Some years ago, a friend of mine who is doing the work of a Catholic evangelist in Asia was chatting with me about Pope Francis’s vision of evangelization. This was around the time of the Synod on the Family and the many fake cries of “confusion” and “scandal” that the Greatest Catholics of All Time were shrieking at him, not because he is confusing, but because they hate him and don’t want to listen to the challenge of the gospel.

Among the many falsehoods told about Francis by this sect of enemies of Holy Church is the claim that because he avoids proselytizing (that is, the attempt to impose the gospel by force and abuse), he therefore opposes evangelization and just wants to be cozy with the world. By this, these Reactionaries–who hate evangelization with a passion and who labor to drive seekers away from the Church while driving most of its members out of it–really mean that Francis does not go around beating up weak people, shaming struggling sinners, and tying up heavy burdens for men’s backs while not lifting a finger to help them. He does not, as they do, make converts who are twice the children of hell that they themselves are. He seeks disciples of Jesus, not cowed slaves.

Francis seeks to bear witness to the least of these and to present the merciful face of Christ, not the wrathful face of Pharisaic damnation that is the ugly sight Reactionaries offer as they call Amazonian Catholics damned pagans and spit on their veneration of Our Lady of the Amazon, or shriek that wearing a mask in consideration of the vulnerable is unbearable oppression, or lie that using a vaccine makes you a babykiller.

My friend and I were struck at the time that, of all people, Elton John (who had ten years before called for the worldwide destruction of the Catholic Church) had recently remarked that he would be open to having a conversation with Francis. For my friend, who actually practices evangelization, this was win, just as pagans on the Areopagus wanting to hear more from Paul was a win, just as Samaritans wanting to hear more from the apostles was a win. But for the Greatest Catholics of All Time, it was an indictment. Francis attracted tax collectors and singers in his orbit. What further evidence was needed? If this man were a prophet, we would not allow such people to touch him and render him ritually impure.

I have mentioned it in the past, but it is worth saying again: Reactionary Catholics have the same view of the power of the gospel as the Pharisees who hated Jesus: they do not believe in it. They see the gospel as eternally threatened, not as having power. It is a thing always about to be destroyed, not a power on the march to conquer the world with love in Christ. They live in fear, not confidence, and the closest imitation they can offer to the confidence of Jesus is not peace in the face of hatred, but haughty contempt in the face of their victims.

Jesus, confronted with things that were defiling under Levitical law, consistently overcame defilement with the power of divine love. He touched lepers, greeted Gentiles, touched menstruating women, welcomed tax collectors, and even touched corpses. Instead of being defiled, he healed them, opened their eyes to his love, and even raised the dead.

That is the confidence that Francis radiates. So he has no interest in huddling in Fortress Katolicus, driving out the impure and pouring boiling oil on all who approach, as is the Reactionary Way. He is not afraid. He has, by his own confession, not been afraid from the moment he was made Pope and accepted the grace of the Holy Spirit to do his office. Instead, as I pointed out repeatedly, he has banged away at one message: He has preached good news to the poor. Understand that, and you understand everything you need to know about this remarkably simple man and his remarkably simple message. He has left the Fortress, has no interest in the Fortress, and has gone out into the highways and byways to meet anybody who is willing to listen to Jesus’ gospel. Because he understands what St. Thomas understood: That which is received is received according to the mode of the receiver. Instead of demanding that everybody in the world approach the gospel according to the incredibly limited outlook of Reactionaries and their incredibly limited politics, economics, and aesthetics, Francis meets people where they are and then invites them to see with the vision of Christ.

All good evangelists have always done this. Which brings me to this piece in, of all places, Teen Vogue. It’s a look at Servant of God Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker.

What matters here is not so much what the piece says as the fact that it exists at all in the pages of Teen Vogue. And exactly the same dichotomy of response is found to it as to the interest of Elton John in talking to the pope. For those interested in bearing witness to the Faith and unafraid getting cooties or incurring ritual impurity, the willingness of Elton John to listen to the successor of Peter and the willingness of Teen Vogue to listen to and learn from a Servant of God and eventual canonized saint of Holy Church is a win. It’s a step forward, an open door, an opportunity to bring the word of Christ to people who are interested in and searching for that word or they would not be attracted to these figures whose lives are inexplicable apart from that word. Do these people have their own agendas, thoughts and ideas? Of course they do. So what? So did the Samaritan woman. So did the apostles. So does everybody Christ meets and engages. Welcome to the human race. Our task as witnesses is to join that human race, unafraid, and not hunker down in fear of it.

But for the Fortress dwellers, the interest of Teen Vogue in Dorothy Day is an indictment of Day. If she were a real Catholic, she would not excite the interest of those people, those filthy icky liberal media types. All it proves is that Day is unclean, defiling, and defiled. One more to be read out of the Church, posthumously, as a fake Catholic. One more to be avoided and not listened to. And those who seek light in her are not to be welcomed but rebuffed by redoubled efforts to drive them away as infiltrators and enemies, not seekers.

It is the choice between these two ways of being Catholic–of thinking as fearless apostles sent out to the world to meet people where they are and speak the gospel of Christ to them on their terms vs, hunkering down in a Fortress living in fear of ritual impurity–that will determine the progress of the Church in the coming centuries.

We have a pope who is showing us how it’s done. We also have the serpent of MAGA Reactionary Qhristianity, fueled by a ton of conservative American money and a phalanx of right wing Catholic media–TV, radio, and social media–arrayed against and at open and naked war with him and with Catholics trying to imitate him. But I believe the Holy Spirit guides the Church still and that those seeking to bear witness to Christ rather than drive souls away from him have His help. More than this, they have the help and prayers of the communion of saints–including Servant of God Dorothy Day.

So I live in hope.

13 Responses

  1. Wow. How inspiring.

    There is nothing wrong with fashion magazines if the disposition of the reader/viewer is upright.

    The mark of a holy and wise priest is a unique disposition that is actually *open* to the world, not against it.

    This is why no matter how many trads/freaks like to hide out in Opus Dei, I will forever feel grateful for the tireless priests who finally managed to break all of my fears, guilt and blinders in order to find beauty and goodness *wherever* it can be found.

    When my oldest daughter was a little girl of six or seven, she received a harsh tongue lashing from one of the mothers who was leading an O.D. girls club activity. My daughter, (who supports herself as a professional artist) didn’t find the art project that she was supposed to be doing all that exciting. When she was finished, she found a Macy’s ad in the stack of newspaper they were painting on. She began to paint the underwear models instead. The Mom leader

    flipped.
    sh*t.

    My daughter was told harshly that what she was doing was indecent.

    I never brought her back again.

    And now she paints top models in various states of dress/undress that continues to impress even the most jaded industry insiders. One of her last products earned her company millions of dollars.

    The trads are colorless.

    1. Alas, trads would probably just look at your daughter’s achievements and say she sold her soul to the devil for dollars. (Ironically, these same trads are the ones lapping up the big bucks off the fat, MAGA side of corporate America.)

      I agree that they are colorless though (and in another twist of irony, its usually trad types who bemoan the ‘loss of human beauty and imagination’ on conservative gush sites like Crisis Magazine).

    2. Not my fight as I’m confessional Lutheran, but I find it ironic that the tradition of the “Trad Catholics” is from the 16th Century. Namely, Tridentine Baroque Roman Catholicism. Their piety, aesthetic preferences, and style of worship is hardly that of the Early Church, or even that of the Middle Ages. A half a Millennium is nothing in the grad scope of history. That’s like 30 minutes ago. If you’re claiming the title “traditional” as your moniker, your liturgy better be at least a thousand years old honestly, probably older than *that*. So, the Ethiopians or Assyrian Church of the East might have a claim in that sense, but none of us Western Christians really do (not that it matters, stagnation has its own issues).

      The “Trad” Catholics are thoroughly modern–Early Modern, but very much modern. Accusing Roman Catholics that take Vatican II seriously as being innovators is very much throwing stones in glass houses. They should change their name to the Baroque Catholics.

      (and I hasten to add that I don’t look askance on theological or liturgical development–so long as it hews to scripture first, Early Church tradition second, and everything else third–as I said the stagnation of the Eastern Churches has its own issues).

      1. Funny that even when “normals” (as Mark calls them) finally had the so-called Trads figured out, there remained for a while that famous catholic guilt to reproach the conscience for even *thinking* and coming to such unflattering conclusions.

        When the new Pope came along, he pretty much blew us all out of the water by calmly saying everything we were thinking –but he brought it all to the next level, with the kind of effortless, Latin American flourish that left us all amazed. When one of the Trads printed the Pope Francis “Little Book of Insults”, they didn’t realize how much catharsis there was in it. They can’t see how comical their rage is!

        Being done with a toxic relationship is almost more traumatizing then being the wannabe, dutiful, kool-aid drinker.

        Yesterday I was telling my husband about the grotesque man who tweeted that George Floyd is _____days drug free. AND he runs an organization that pays him a quarter million a year to defend life and family!

        Remember that bumper sticker with the “hate is not a family value” message? I used to scoff at it. But they were 100% right in smelling that rat.

        There IS a silver lining from the Trads banding together on the internet. It has emboldened them to be even MORE frank about what they really believe in.

        I used to think it was a good thing that the Catholics and Protestants had built a kind of bridge to fight abortion/culture wars together, until I realized that it really had nothing to do with abortion or righteousness, and everything to do with a moral superiority complex and complete terror about losing any more leverage.

        Sometimes my husband (who was converted by some good protestants) tunes in to the protestant evangelists on the car radio. He told me that last week he heard some guy assuring his listeners that “once they have accepted Jesus, they are purified of ALL past, present, and FUTURE sins”. Wow. What an insurance policy! No wonder they get so cocky! Even the worst Catholic Trad has an unhealthy terror about purgatory.

  2. I agree it is a win that Teen Vogue would have an article about Dorothy Day. I read the linked article and I really liked the part where they mentioned that Day used Catholicism as the organizing principle for her political beliefs. That was fair and accurate, and painted the Church and Catholicism fairly, which is rare for secular media.

    “Ultimately, Day committed herself fully to Catholicism as an organizing principle for her political beliefs.”

    I hope the article reaches teens and inspires them, because we really need more Dorothy Day’s in the world right now.

  3. If you have not already read this, Mark, I highly recommend a book called THE DUTY OF DELIGHT, edited by Robert Ellsberg. It is the collected diary entries of Dorothy Day (he started with over a thousand pages to cull through), and it got me through the worst of the Trump months–the months leading up to the election, the Big Lie about the election, the capitulation of all those elected Republican representative to the Big Lie, and the nightmare of the insurrection. I’m still making my way through this marvelous work. She lived through so much, some of it far worse than we are living through today. But she did so with her eyes fixed firmly on reality, with great faith, with humor, and with absolute honesty. She is absolutely one of the greatest Catholic saints–as is Francis.

  4. Very well. said. I visit your blog frequently to feel more hope for the Church. It does help. Thank you.

  5. I must say, the fear and doubt of “Trad” Catholics is something else. Something else that is not at all Christian—though of course we have a version of this in on the other side of the Catholic-Protestant divide too I’m sad to say.

    Jesus promised us that the Gospel would never be extinguished, it’s light never put out, that the gates of hell would not prevail against if. This is something you should be absolutely assured of if you believe in Christ. Yet they act as though the powers of this world is about to destroy it at any moment. If you are a Christian and entertain doubts about how this is all going to end, you have some serious work to do on your faith. This is something that should not even be a question. We believe in the resurrection, which means we know how it all ends, whatever the details of the journey

  6. This reminded me of a reader of Mark’s old blog 15 or so years ago who said he looked “like a more powerful Elton John”. And by gun he did, a bit, back then, judging from the mugshot.
    I got inspired enough to try a Top Ten list (“It Is So Too A Sacrifice”, “Somebody Placed My Life In A Temporary State Of Grace Tonight”, “Take Me To The Pilate”, “I’m Still Standing (After 1,700 Years)”,”Too Low For Zeno”, “Lately/ I been thinkin’/ Just how much I miss Our Lady…”,”Christadelphian Heathens”, etc) but couldn’t make it ask the way to double figures, which is the identifying sign or mark of a true and valid Top Ten list.

    1. “The Bishop Is Back”
      “Burn Down The Mission”
      “Goodbye Jelovice Road”
      “Rock n’ Roll Madonna of Guadalupe”
      “Scandal in the Wind”
      “Rock Man”
      “Saturday Night’s Alright for Observing The Lord’s Day Evening Service”
      “Benedict and the Chetniks”
      “Don’t Let the Invincible Sun Go Down on Me”
      “Don’t Go Breaking My Altar Fellowship”
      “‘Sola’ Seems to Be the Hardest Word”
      “Pinball Wizard”
      “Song for Guy De Fontgalland”
      “Little Jeannie D’Arc”
      “Who Wears These Elaborate Red Shoes?”

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