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An elderly man playing chess by himself on a New York City street.

The Art of Courage

Learning to Love Recklessly

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What does everyday discipleship look like? Dorothy Day (1897–1980), cofounder of the Catholic Worker Movement and now being considered for sainthood by the Vatican, inspired thousands to follow Jesus’ radical way of complete devotion to God and selfless service to others. In her letters and diary entries, she lays out what discipleship involves in words that ring true because they come from a woman who lived them without compromise.

A man carrying a child on a New York City street.

Luca Sartoni, New York City, December 12, 2015

“What else do we all want, each one of us, except to love and be loved?”

Whenever I groan within myself and think how hard it is to keep writing about love in these times of tension and strife, which may at any moment become for us all a time of terror, I think to myself, “What else is the world interested in?” What else do we all want, each one of us, except to love and be loved, in our families, in our work, in all our relationships? God is love. Love casts out fear. Even the most ardent revolutionist, seeking to change the world, to overturn the tables of the money changers, is trying to make a world where it is easier for people to love, to stand in that relationship to each other. We want with all our hearts to love, to be loved. And not just in the family but to look upon all as our mothers, sisters, brothers, children. It is when we love the most intensely and most humanly that we can recognize how tepid is our love for others. The keenness and intensity of love brings with it suffering, of course, but joy too, because it is a foretaste of heaven.

An elderly man playing chess by himself on a New York City street.

Luca Sartoni, New York City, December 11, 2015

The main thing is never to get discouraged at the slowness of people or results. People may not be articulate or active, but even so, we do not ever know the results, or the effect on souls. That is not for us to know. We can only go ahead and work with happiness at what God sends us to do.

“It seems at times we need a blind faith to believe in love at all.”

How to draw a picture of the strength of love! It seems at times that we need a blind faith to believe in it at all. There is so much failure all about us. It is so hard to reconcile oneself to such suffering, such long, enduring suffering of body and soul, that the only thing one can do is to stand by and save the dying ones who have given up hope of reaching out for beauty, joy, ease, and pleasure in this life. For all their reaching, they got little of it. To see these things in the light of faith, God’s mercy, God’s justice! His devouring love!

Passengers on a train in New York City

Luca Sartoni, New York City, December 9, 2015

Young people say, “What good can one person do? What is the sense of our small effort?” They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time; we can be responsible only for the one action of the present moment. But we can beg for an increase of love in our hearts that will vitalize and transform all our individual actions, and know that God will take them and multiply them, as Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes.

“We must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time.”

Do what comes to hand. Whatsoever thy hand finds to do, do it with all thy might. After all, God is with us. It shows too much conceit to trust to ourselves, to be discouraged at what we ourselves can accomplish. It is lacking in faith in God to be discouraged. After all, we are going to proceed with his help. We offer him what we are going to do. If he wishes it to prosper, it will. We must depend solely on him. Work as though everything depended on ourselves, and pray as though everything depended on God.

Woman at a food counter in New York City

Luca Sartoni, New York City, December 8, 2015

We know how powerless we are, all of us, against the power of wealth and government and industry and science. The powers of this world are overwhelming. Yet it is hoping against hope and believing, in spite of “unbelief,” crying by prayer and by sacrifice, daily, small, constant sacrificing of one’s own comfort and cravings – these are the things that count. And old as I am, I see how little I have done, how little I have accomplished along these lines.

“The greatest weapon in the world is the reckless spending of ourselves in God’s service.”

The solution proposed in the Gospels is that of voluntary poverty and the works of mercy. It is the little way. It is within the power of all. Everybody can begin here and now.… We have the greatest weapons in the world, greater than any hydrogen or atom bomb, and they are the weapons of poverty and prayer, fasting and alms, the reckless spending of ourselves in God’s service and for his poor. Without poverty we will not have learned love, and love, at the end, is the measure by which we shall be judged.

Man sweeping the street in New York City

Luca Sartoni, New York City, March 13, 2015

“We can offer up even our own lack of peace, our own worry.”

One of the objections to suffering which we do not admit is that it is undignified. It is not a wound heroically received in battle. Hay fever, colds in the head, bilious attacks, poison ivy, such like irritations which are sometimes even worse than a severe illness are, to say the least, petty and undignified. But in reality it takes heroic virtue to practice patience in little things, things which seem little to others but which afflict one with unrest and misery. Patience with each other and with each other’s bickerings. We can even offer up, however, our own lack of peace, our own worry. Since I offered all the distractions, turmoil, and unrest I felt at things going askew a few weeks ago, my petty fretting over this one and that one, I have felt much better and more able to cope with everything.

Woman on a train in New York City

Luca Sartoni, New York City, December 9, 2015

“It is love that will burn out the sins and hatreds that sadden us.”

Love and ever more love is the only solution to every problem that comes up. If we love each other enough, we will bear with each other’s faults and burdens. If we love enough, we are going to light that fire in the hearts of others. And it is love that will burn out the sins and hatreds that sadden us. It is love that will make us want to do great things for each other. No sacrifice and no suffering will then seem too much. My prayer from day to day is that God will so enlarge my heart that I will see you all, and live with you all, in his love.


Photographs from flickr.com/photos/lucasartoni
Dorothy Day These meditations are taken from the new Plough book of Dorothy Day’s ­writings, titled The Reckless Way of Love: Notes on Following Jesus (Plough, Spring 2017).

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Portrait of Dorothy Day (gelatin silver print) by Fritz Kaeser. Reproduced by permission of the Snite Museum of Art of the University of Notre Dame.
Contributed By photo of Dorothy Day Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day was an American journalist and founder of the Catholic Worker movement. Day devoted her life to defending the downtrodden and serving Christ by serving the poor.

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