Dear NY Times: Less Yapping, more Actual Thinking!

I have been meaning to write for several weeks about Mary DeTurris Poust’s lovely new book, Everyday Divine: A Catholic Guide to Active Spirituality, which I had a chance to read while stuck in a plane that never did leave the ground for Baltimore. I liked the book very much, as it gives some very personally-rendered, tried-and-true practical advice for bringing a contemplative habit to so much that is “ordinary” about our days, and helps to make them much less ordinary, and sanctified. This would not be a bad Christmas gift to give to someone — say a busy parent or co-worker — who struggles with finding time and mind for prayer.

But today the book is a peripheral thing. I write to thank Mary for taking the time and trouble to gently but firmly call out the New York Times for its continual habit of politicized caricature when it comes to all-things-Catholic, this time in the matter of what the Times pronounces Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s “unlikely” championship of Dorothy Day’s cause.

Writes Mary:

“Unlikely champion?” Really? Dorothy Day lived what our Church teaches, and although Cardinal Dolan may make headlines for his statements on abortion and contraception and other “conservative” issues, he also preaches on the rest of Catholic teaching. . . I find it funny that the Times, with all its great authority, still doesn’t understand some of the most basic things about Catholicism and about the people we call saints.

Mary notes the Times’ apparent unfamiliarity with the concepts of mercy, forgiveness and the heart’s ability to turn, which is so foundational to the life of faith, as they suggest that Day’s deeply lamented abortion should discount her holiness:

. . .the Times talks about Day’s canonization “even though, as some bishops noted, she had an abortion as a young woman and at one point flirted with joining the Communist Party.” Yeah, okay, please see above paragraph. Of course she can be a saint even though she had an abortion. We are a faith of forgiveness. St. Augustine, anyone? That’s what makes her story so powerful. Conversion to Christ transformed her life.

Clearly (and ironically considering its posings) the Times misunderstands mercy, which means they will misunderstand Day, as well. And they misunderstand because they’re not actually interested in thinking the story through; they’re not interested in actually comprehending Catholicism enough to see how completely logical it is that three very different Cardinals in three different eras have embraced her cause. Sadly, thinking it through, asking a few questions and actually understanding the story at its depths would really mess up the narrative, and to the Times, the narrative is what matters, and the caricatures must be sustained.

I don’t want to give away the whole thing, so go read Mary’s fisking for yourself. I particularly like how she gives a complete smackdown to the Times’ suggestion that Dolan’s enthusiasm for Day is motivated by political expediency.

The Times would think that, of course. Trapped as they are by the ideas of the world and the illusions of human power, everything is about political expediency in the moment, to them.

Enjoy Mary’s piece! Perhaps I so appreciate her efforts because I am increasingly feeling called away from my old instincts to throttle, maul and bash the Times. I’m feeling so merciful these days, I want to pray for them!

And don’t forget to check out her book. I’m looking forward to reading this one, too, when it comes out!

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • FW Ken

    GetReligion does a number on the Times piece, making some of the same points. To understand Dorothy Day, you have to understand the totality of Catholic moral/ethical/social teaching. I won’t be holding my breath until the Times does that bit of intellectual work.

    [Link added. Also Kathryn Lopez takes the paper to task -admin]

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  • J.

    It appears that lack of knowledge of history leads to bad journalism, who knew, LOL? Christ was executed as a common criminal. The man named a saint in both western and eastern traditions who died that day on the cross (with Christ?) was a thief. I guess the message of Gethsemane is lost on the NYT, no surprise there.

    Let me use a secular quote: the quality of mercy is not strained, it dropth as the gentle rain to the place beneath; it is twice blessed…..apparently in the NYT version of life, there is no way to be merciful. Mercy isn’t just forgiveness, it is “forget-ness”. Many can’t forgive but some can. But forgiving is actually much easier that “forgetting”. Christ asks for forget-ness—we must treat each other as we would want to be treated—we all want more than forgiveness; we want “forget-ness” too. What is this “forget-ness”? It is mercy—we not only don’t hold a grudge, we decide we don’t even remember the “bad act”….try this sometime; it’s not easy. But once you do try it you realize—it is twice blessed, because mercy is given to you for your act of “forgetness”…you honestly feel better for this act.

    I know this sounds easy when we think of small things but try something hard—could you forgive your child’s murderer? Your spouse of unfaithfulness? Dorthy Day of her abortion?…Christ did, why is it hard for us? or for the NYT? Because as the Book of Common Prayer’s prayer of humble access says: “We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy…” This is what we Anglicans say before Communion; Episcopalians change the wording slightly to say “whose nature is always to have mercy”…..I like the idea a “property,” It’s a defining part of God, Mercy—i.e. real Mercy is God. In the end mercy and love are very similar. And as John told us–God is love.

  • Ellen

    I am super conservative and I do disagree with Dorothy Day on her absolute pacifism, but so what? Ever since I read about her life and read her book The Long Loneliness, I have admired her. I am struck by her love of mankind, her deep faith and her obedience to the Church. Saints are not made of plaster and they don’t float on the clouds. The Times needs to get out more.

  • Peggy m

    Others have remarked that Dorothy Day would be an appropriate patron saint for people implicated in abortion (among others). I see the great wisdom in that—not just for the repentant sinners who need help, but for all those who seem to think some sins are unforgivable.

    Dorothy Day had an abortion, a daughter born out-of-wedlock, was a “pink lady”, at least flirted with atheism, etc. That puts her in good company with many saints whose biographies can be as interesting and surprising as the fantastic medieval hagiographies. Perhaps her canonization will teach the naive and ignorant about God’s mercy and forgiveness, and the gratitude and love of the Church.

  • Mary

    Dorothy Day is “my kind” of Saint; imperfect, repentant and zealous. Grace worked in abundance in her life. I look forward to her canonization one day!