I have finished reading The Duty of Delight, an abridged version of the diaries of Dorothy Day (1897-1980), the founder the Catholic Worker and Houses of Hospitality. Her diaries span her entire adult life and they reveal the story of her spiritual path. Reading them I was struck by how serious she took her own “faith formation”. There are frequent references to reading on her faith and how it sustained her. As a young woman struggling with poverty, she realising “with intense joy, I will always have the torrents of pleasure promised by the psalms, the joy that come from reading, from study, from association with noble minds.”
Amid all the difficulties and loneliness she experienced in her pioneering work among the poor, she writes: “I do plenty of spiritual reading to refresh myself and to encourage myself. Reading is the oil that keeps the lamp burning.” Her reflection on the psalms was a constant blessing: “There is never a time when it is not balm to me for an aching heart.” Towards the end of her life: “Even with all the symptoms of old age and decrepitude my heart can still leap for joy as I read and assent to some truth of the faith enunciated by some great mind or heart.”
But none of this was dry intellectualism – she wanted to live the truth that enlightened her. “The difference between a dead-weight knowledge and a living rich experience can never be enough expressed. I must keep praying that great thoughts will click and pass into life!” As her faith grew stronger, so too did her confidence in God’s love: “Humanity went astray, but Jesus Christ was born and we are richer by that Fall. What a great mystery. The worst has already happened and has been repaired.”
Her desire to grow deeper in living faith meant that she listened to sermons with eagerness – not a very common attitude! “St Teresa said she so loved to hear the Word of God preached that she would listen with enjoyment to the poorest preacher. I know what she meant.” Dorothy writes of a parish mission she was attending in New York in 1939: “It is an exceptionally good mission and my heart is filled with gratitude that God has so blessed us this Lent.” The Jesuit priest preached “in a popular fashion yet dealing with profound ideas”.
We are called to love God “with our whole mind”. Countless times I have experienced that solid reading and Spirit-filled preaching have provided nourishment for my faith and a new energy for the Lord and His service.