Tonight, mortal sin

by Dorothy Day

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The following entries are from the diaries of Dorothy Day (1878-1980), the founder with Peter Maurin of the Catholic Worker Movement in 1933.

Sunday July 17, 1938
Our greatest need is mutual charity, love, and loyalty to each other. It is the only way to solve problems, get cooperation, and have peace. To see the good in our neighbor, and develop it. To forgive and not to judge. Never to speak ill of one another. Not to be upset at others doing so, but change the conversation or walk away.

Peter [Maurin’s] example at the farm should be felt this summer. He walks to Mass daily, communicates ... So many hours of manual labor and time for reading and discussion. He is mending the roads, making flowerbeds, and the whole lower farm is improved.

My problem is not to become upset at people’s discontent and criticism but to keep myself peaceful, kind, and patient. My great fault when one person is criticizing another to me is to point out their faults and that only makes things worse.

September 19, 1938
As I came down the street a well dressed priest drove by in a big car. Then I passed another -- also well dressed, comfortable... Then still another out in front of a most luxurious mansion, the parish house, playing with a dog on a leash. All of them well fed, well housed, comfortable, caring for the safe people like themselves. And where are the priests for the poor, the down and out, the sick in city hospitals, in jails. It is the little of God’s children who do not get cared for. God help them and God help the priest who is caught in the bourgeois system and cannot get out.

Feb. 27, 1939
They are having a mission at Transfiguration Church on Mott St. It began last night, a Jesuit, Fr. McGrath conducting it. He is very good, preaching in popular fashion yet dealing with profound ideas. Last night -- the desire we all have for life, knowledge and love. Tonight, mortal sin.

The men from the Bowery were there, ragged, dirty, jobless, most of them. Longshore workers, teamsters, gandy dancers, sand hogs, restaurant workers, men who had led hard and dangerous lives. There were Irish, Italian, mostly, but other nationalities too. Poles, Croatians, Hungarians. There were young and old, men and women, single and married.

Tonight and last night I sat next to some of the Bowery men, living on relief in lodging houses or sleeping in doorways. They were as poor, as destitute, as “down and out” as man can get. And yet how close they are to our Lord!

“He was a man so much like other men that it took the kiss of a Judas to single him out,” [François] Mauriac wrote.

He was like that man in the pew beside me. He was as like him as his brother. He was his brother. And I felt Christ in that man beside me and loved him.

Every morning I break my fast with the men in the breadline. Some of them speak to me. Many of them do not. But they know me and I know them. And there is a sense of comradeship there. We know each other in the breaking of bread.

[These diary entries come from The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day, edited by Robert Ellsberg (Marquette University Press). The selections were made by Robert Ellsberg.]

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