“Dorothy is a restless woman,” the pontiff said. When she began her path to professing Christianity she was under 30 years old. Day had been raised in a nominal Episcopalian family and was devout as a youth but later abandoned any religious practice as a “morbid” thing.
During her spiritual search, the pope commented, she came to see faith and God not as a “stopgap” but as “what it really should be, that is, the fullness of life and the goal of one’s pursuit of happiness.”
Day herself wrote: “But always the glimpses of God came most when I was alone. Objectors cannot say that it was fear of loneliness and solitude and pain that made me turn to him. It was in those few years when I was alone and most happy that I found him. I found him at last through joy and thanksgiving, not through sorrow.”
According to Pope Francis, Day teaches us that “God is not a mere instrument of consolation or alienation for man in the bitterness of his own days. Rather, he fills our desire for joy and fulfillment in abundance.”
“The Lord longs for restless hearts, not bourgeois souls who are content with existing,” the pope wrote.
Pope Francis emphasized that God does not take anything away from humanity: “Jesus did not come to proclaim that God’s goodness constitutes a substitute for being human. Instead, he gave us the fire of divine love that brings to fulfillment all that is beautiful, true, and just that dwells in the heart of every person.”
Dorothy Day speaks of the Catholic Church with “beautiful words,” though she was not blind to the Church’s faults, the pope explained. He noted her background in social engagement and trade union activism. To her, the pontiff said, the Church “often seemed to be siding with the rich and the owners of property” and was often insensitive to the demands of “true justice and social equality” found in many places in the Old Testament.
Day looked at the Church with “an honest and enlightened attitude” that knew how to discern “the mystery beyond the many and repeated failings of its members.”
He cited Day’s words in “From atheism to faith”: “Nothing but a divine institution could have survived the betrayal of Judas, the denial of Peter, the sins of many of those who professed her faith, who were supposed to minister to her poor.”
The pope described Day as “a great witness of faith, charity, and hope” who was “not afraid to describe ‘the errors of the clergy’” even at a time when the Church was “the object of criticism, aversion, and abandonment.” Rather, she “accepts that the Church has to do directly with God, because it is his, not ours. He wanted it, not us. It is his instrument, not something we can use.”
“This is the vocation and identity of the Church: a divine, not human, reality that leads us to God and by which God can reach us,” the pope said.
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Day’s life also has a lesson for interacting with non-Christians, the pope commented. Believers and nonbelievers are “allies in promoting the dignity of every person when they love and serve the most abandoned of human beings.”
Again, he cited Day: “Human love at its best is selfless, luminous, illuminating our days. It gives us a glimpse of God’s love for man. Love is the best thing we are given to know in this life.”
In 2015, Pope Francis praised Day as a “great American” in his remarks to the U.S. Congress during the papal visit to the United States.