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The Hard Work of the Gospel

Extracts from Personal Letters

Dorothy Day


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The Martyrs of Alcatraz

Newly discovered letters from World War I pacifists imprisoned for refusing military service shed fresh light on a long-suppressed chapter of American history – and on the meaning of religious liberty today.

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  • Victor

    James, you have the feel of judgement and of hate in your statement. Christ hated sin but loved sinners, as we must hate wars but show love to those who support and feed it. The love of the Lord is unconditional and we should strive to do the same. I pray for those who support war that they see the light of the Lord and in so doing they melt the sword and form the plow to sow the seeds of love.

  • Brint

    Strong, faithful wisdom from a great saint of the Church. Thank you for publishing this.

  • James

    Well said .....but what do we see in the world today ? In stead of sowing LOVE (GODLY Love) we see the sowing of HATE.....especially if we cast our senses to those who are supposed to be proponents of the LOVE. Just look at the "greatest" nation on earth and it's cohorts.....always ready to "solve" problems with this macho ...gangho attitude .....bombing everything "right". But alas my friends ....this too will ....MUST pass. Those of us who aspire to this LOVE that our LORD compelled us to spread must lift up our eyes (vision) heavenward. ...Redemption IS promised !!!

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who persecute you” [Matt. 5:44]. We are at war [World War II]. But still we can repeat Christ’s words each day, holding them close in our hearts, and each month printing them in the paper.…We are still pacifists. Our manifesto is the Sermon on the Mount, which means that we will try to be peace­makers.…We will try daily, hourly, to pray for an end to the war. Let us add that unless we combine this prayer with almsgiving, in giving to the least of God’s children, and fasting in order that we may help feed the hungry, and penance in recognition of our share in the guilt, our prayer may become empty words.


“Unless the seed falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it brings forth much fruit” [John 12:24]. I don’t expect any success.…I expect that everything we do [will] be attended with human conflicts, and the suffering that goes with it.…I expect that all our natural love for each other which is so warm and encouraging and so much a reward for this kind of work and living, will be killed, put to death painfully by gossip, intrigue, suspicion, distrust, etc. This painful dying to self and to the longing for the love of others will be rewarded by a tremendous increase of supernatural love among us all. I expect the most dangerous of sins to crop up among us, whether of sensuality or pride it does not matter, but that the struggle will go on to such an extent that God will not let it hinder the work. The work will go on, because that work is our suffering and our sanctification. So rejoice in failures, rejoice in suffering! What are we trying to do? We are trying to get to heaven, all of us. We are trying to lead a good life. We are trying to talk about and write about the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, the social principles of the church, and it is most astounding, the things that happen when you start trying to live this way.


If we could only learn that the important thing is love, and that we will be judged on love – to keep on loving, and showing that love, and expressing that love, over and over, whether we feel it or not, seventy times seven, to mothers-in-law, to husbands, to children – and to be oblivious of insult, or hurt, or injury – not to see them, not to hear them. It is a hard, hard doctrine.…We have got to pray, to read the Gospel, to get to frequent communion, and not judge, not do anything, but love, love, love. A bitter lesson.  

From All the Way to Heaven: The Selected Letters of Dorothy Day, ed. Robert Ellsberg (Image, 2012; hardcover Marquette University Press, 2010).

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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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