I would like to nominate Dorothy Day as a patron saint of American Anabaptism. This statement will likely elicit a few “amens” but also a few raised eyebrows.
How can Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, be Anabaptism’s first saint? We do martyrs; we don’t do saints. Allow me to make a case for why Day should be given such an honored title.
First, Day was faithful to the centrality of Jesus Christ in her life. After a remarkable and undeniable conversion, Dorothy sought to have the teachings of Jesus, especially the Sermon on the Mount, instruct and transform every facet of her life and ministry.
At the interpersonal level, even with her flaring temper and penchant for cigarettes, Day humbly sought to make a Christ-centered love the measure of her life.
“It is the living from day to day,” she said, “taking no thought for the morrow, seeing Christ in all who come to us and trying literally to follow the gospel” that defines her testimony.
Jim Forest, an author and Day’s friend, affirming Day’s conviction that community must include the poor, stated that she attempted to follow “ ‘Christ’s technique’ . . . which was not to seek out meetings with emperors and important officials but with ‘obscure people, a few fishermen and farm people, a few ailing and hard-pressed men and women.’ ”
These expressions of radical discipleship were the fruits of a contemplative life informed by Benedictine spirituality and undergirded by daily mass and prayers.
Second, Day embodied an abiding commitment to the Church and to life in community. Day’s love and loyalty to the Catholic Church is unquestionable. However, this steadfastness and devotion did, at times, call for searing sincerity.
One example was Day’s final speaking engagement in the twilight of her life. Day was invited to speak at a Eucharistic Congress that honored the U.S. Armed Forces on Aug. 6, 1976. Day, an unapologetic pacifist, used this time to call the church to reconciliation and chastised the organizers for holding the event on the anniversary of the first atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
This courageous call to reconciliation marks the third reason why Day would make a great patron saint of American Anabaptism. The words of Menno Simons centuries earlier serve as the perfect summary of the 20th century witness of Day and numerous offspring of hospitality houses all around the globe. “True evangelical faith . . . clothes the naked; feeds the hungry; consoles the afflicted; shelters the miserable; aids and consoles all the oppressed; returns good for evil; serves those that injure it; prays for those that persecute it.”
Given Day’s epic testimony of a Christ-centered, community-rooted, call to peacemaking and reconciliation, how can she not be American Anabaptism’s patron saint?
Now, I know that we Anabaptists believe in the priesthood of all believers. So for those still uncomfortable with this proposal of a Saint Dorothy; don’t worry, you’re not alone. Dorothy herself is on your side.
One of Day’s most famous retorts resonates with my own tendencies of self-deprecation but also reminds me of the challenging call to live a godly life.
“Don’t call me a saint. I don’t want to be dismissed so easily.”
Anton Flores-Maisonet is co-founder of Alterna, a bilingual Anabaptist community in Georgia devoted to faithful acts of hospitality, mercy and justice. He serves on Mennonite Church USA’s Interchurch Relations reference group.