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    The Soul of the Soulless City ('New York An Abstraction') by C. R. W. Nevinson

    Help My Unbelief

    Faith comes before understanding and is a gift no human can impart.

    By Dorothy Day

    November 30, 2022
    • Bro.

      Dorothy Day, pray for us.

    This article is a chapter from the book The Reckless Way of Love.

    Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

    —Hebrews 11:1

    I remember the first radio I had in the early twenties, constructed for me by Willy Green, a twelve-year-old, out of a cigar box, a crystal, a bit of wire, an aerial, and earphones. Manipulated properly, from my seashore bungalow in Staten Island, I could hear a presidential campaign, Saturday p.m. broadcasts, football, and, miracle of miracles, symphonic music. That little radio was a miracle box. I could not understand it. If this is possible, anything is.…

    So I could take on faith the truths of Christianity, the church, the sacraments. My heart swelled with gratitude.

    Faith came to me just like that, and the need to adore.

    I could not understand the mechanism of the little box with its crystal, set like a jewel to be touched by a bit of wire. It was a miracle to hear voices of people in conversation, a symphony orchestra playing Beethoven.

    If I could not understand scientific truths, why should I worry about understanding spiritual truths of religion? I wanted to say yes, this is true.1

    The ceremony of baptism is certainly impressive, with the priest beginning, “What dost thou ask of the church of God?” and the sponsor answering for the child, “Faith.”

    It made me think of my days of struggle coming into the church, how I did not know whether or not I had faith or believed, or just wanted to believe. Things that I questioned I just put out of my mind then, and reconciled myself with the thought, “After all, why should I expect to understand everything? That would be heaven indeed.” I knew that if I waited to understand, if I waited to get rid of all my doubts, I would never be ready. So I went in all haste one December day right after Christmas and was baptized a Catholic. I did not think of it at the time – I understood so little that when I went to be baptized I asked for faith. But I knew that prayer, “Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:24), and that comforted me.2

    I believed in Jesus Christ – that he is real, that he is the son of God, that he came here, that he entered history, and that he is still here, with us, all the time, through his church, through the sacraments of the church.3

    Faith came before understanding. And faith is a gift of God. It cannot be imparted by any other person. I cannot give it to you. Only God.4

    You are certainly going through the sorrowful mysteries. But if you don’t go through them to the glorious, you will be a hollow man, and considered an opportunist and a fraud. I am putting it as strong as I am able, and hate doing it, but to me the faith is the strongest thing in my life and I can never be grateful enough for the joy I have had for the gift of faith, my Catholicism.5

    Life would be utterly unbearable if we thought we were going nowhere, that we had nothing to look forward to. The greatest gift life can offer would be a faith in God and a hereafter. Why don’t we have it? Perhaps like all gifts it must be struggled for. “God, I believe” (or rather, “I must believe or despair”). “Help thou my unbelief.” “Take away my heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh.”

    I wrote the above lines when I felt the urgent need for faith, but there were too many people passing through my life – too many activities – too much pleasure (not happiness).6

    Faith, more precious than gold, is a gift. We cannot give it to each other, but certainly we can pray God to give it to others. Péguy7 wrote: “When we get to heaven, God is going to say to us, ‘Where are the others?’”

    We must not judge the church by the man, by the human element. I must pray for priests, pray for conversions, and I must not seem in my writing to be telling others what to do – but I must be speaking of myself, for my own peace of soul. Not trying for conversions to the church, not proselytizing, but leaving things to God, who wills that all men be saved, and can give his divine life through any channel.8

    It is the first letter of Peter, chapter 1, which engrosses me, about belief in Jesus – in the power of his holy name. And my own joy and gratitude to him, and the whole problem of faith, which is so precious it must be tried as though by fire. I pray daily for my grandchildren, for my children, that God will draw them to himself, through Jesus, as he has promised. And you know I pray for you.9


    1. Dorothy Day, The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day, edited by Robert Ellsberg (New York: Image Books, 2011),612.
    2. Dorothy Day, On Pilgrimage (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1999), 108.
    3. As quoted in Robert Coles, Dorothy Day: A Radical Devotion (New York: Addison Wesley, 1987), 55.
    4. Dorothy Day, All the Way to Heaven: The Selected Letters of Dorothy Day, edited by Robert Ellsberg (New York: Image Books, 2010), 271.
    5. All the Way to Heaven, 429.
    6. Dorothy Day, From Union Square to Rome (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2006), 119.
    7. Charles Pierre Péguy, 1873–1914, was a French poet and writer.
    8. The Duty of Delight, 388–89.
    9. All the Way to Heaven, 498.
    Contributed By DorothyDay 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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