Wednesday, December 2, 2009

12-06-2009: Second Sunday Advent (C)

Second Sunday of Advent
Baruch 5:1-9/ Psalm 126/ Philippians 1:4-6,8-11/ Luke 3:1-6

Both the prophet Baruch, as well as the great John the Baptist, echo the same images from the Hebrew scriptures as they suggest in today’s readings that salvation is somehow akin to heavy construction, redevelopment or, perhaps, urban planning. Make those crooked paths straight, lay those mountains low, fill in those deep valleys; then we’ll all be able to see our salvation when it appears.

Mountains and valleys might block your view of the uninterrupted horizon, but they too can be beautiful in their own way; and, as beauty, serve as a conduit of that very same salvation. Even crooked paths can lead to the same desired end, albeit the journey be a bit longer. Salvation, then, may be a matter of perspective; in the end, a completely subjective and totally personal experience. The bottle always smells of the wine it once held, St. Augustine would write about his own conversion experience.

For a class I teach at St. Joseph’s I was re-reading a few things from the extraordinary life of Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker and recently proclaimed by the Church a Servant of God on the road to canonization. Dorothy Day had a jaded youth, to say the least. But it would be a huge mistake to think that she might be a saint despite her past, rather than because of it.

As a young journalist in the roaring ‘20s, she was way ahead of her time vis-à-vis women’s liberation and the sexual revolution. After being jilted by a live-in lover by whom she became pregnant and because of whom she aborted her baby, Dorothy would descend deep into that very low valley called despair where, some suggest, she may have attempted suicide. She would rebound though and, a few years later, ascend a high mountaintop, when she found herself deeply in love with Forster Batterham, a fellow radical and Communist, by whom she would became pregnant once again. But now she was filled with delight and gratitude and, overcome with joy, began to pray in thanksgiving for such a gift. Dorothy would attend Mass at a nearby church close to their cabin in the Spanish Camp section on the Staten Island shoreline. It was there she decided that she would baptize her daughter and, in that decision, find herself at the crossroads of her life, because the agnostic Forster had told Dorothy that if she baptized their daughter he would leave her. It was the hardest decision of her life, she would later write. But she baptized her daughter and, at the same time, became a Catholic herself.

The rest, as they say, is history. For the next fifty years Dorothy Day lived and worked with the poor and outcasts of New York City. She founded the Catholic Worker and opened houses of hospitality where the corporal works of mercy could be practiced for anyone, by anyone. It seemed that Dorothy had laid those mountains of her past low, she had filled in those deep valleys, straightened all those crooked paths. But it also seems significant that she always kept in touch with Forster, filling him in over the years on their daughter’s life and, then, on the lives of their many grandchildren. When Dorothy died in 1980 Forster attended her funeral. He, the onetime anarchist-communist who would not countenance religion of any kind, received Holy Communion that day. “It was Forster’s way of expressing his love for Dorothy,“ an old friend of Dorothy noted. “Those loves don’t disappear.”

Dorothy Day may have filled in those valleys, razed those mountains and even straightened out some very crooked paths – but never completely so, thank God. Salvation it seems is custom-made; one size doesn’t fit all. It’s utterly personal: transforming our past not obliterating it - grace building on nature, never annihilating it. No matter how sordid you might think your history is, it is precisely that history that will be saved, that history which becomes the foundation for your eternity – an eternity made up of all the highs and lows and crookedness that is part of your unique journey.

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