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The 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 27, 2019

    Dorothy Day has long been one of my candidates for canonization.  But whether or not she ever makes it, I have no doubt that this extraordinary woman of the 20th century is a saint: the kind of saint who gives hope to sinners like us. For many years she led a rather colorful, Bohemian lifestyle. As a young woman she underwent a personally devastating experience when she had an abortion. Later, she lived in a common law marriage with a man who was an avowed atheist and an anarchist. She left him after a child was born to them because of his completely negative and hostile views about religion.

     It was at that point that Dorothy Day became a Christian believer and a convert to Catholicism. From that moment on, all her energies, and they were considerable, were directed toward passionately advocating for peace, social justice, and the poor. The Catholic Worker movement, which she helped found, awakened millions in this country to the root causes of poverty and to the manifest injustices which perpetuate poverty.

     Dorothy Day died in November of 1980 at the age of 84.  The New York Times, in her obituary, called her the most influential person in the history of American Catholicism.  A decade or so later, the Cardinal Archbishop of New York introduced her cause for canonization. But whether or not she is ever declared a saint, she is certainly among the ranks of those we will be celebrating this week on All Saints Day.

     Reflecting on her life and her conversion to Catholicism, Dorothy Day wrote a book she entitled From Union Square to Rome.  As she tells it, one of her first attractions to the Church came in childhood when she discovered one day the mother of one of her Catholic girlfriends kneeling in prayer.  The sight of this kneeling woman moved her deeply.  She never forgot it. In the same book, she tells how in the days before her conversion, she would often spend the entire night in a tavern with friends.  Then she would go to an early morning Mass at St. Joseph's Church on nearby 6th Avenue.  What attracted her to St. Joseph's were the people kneeling in prayer.  These are her words, "I longed for their faith...So I used to go in and kneel in a back pew."

     It's not stretching things to say that Dorothy Day came into the Church on her knees. Or maybe that God came to Dorothy Day when she was on her knees.  That's God's way of doing things as we are reminded in the today’s parable from Luke’s gospel: it seems God tends to get through best to people when they're on their knees – whether literally or figuratively.

     The poor of this world, the little ones, those who know themselves to be weak and sinful, always come to God on their knees. They have no other way.  The great ones of this world, on the other hand:  the smug, the self-sufficient, and the secure who have got life and God all figured out - they tend to go to God standing up.  They’re like the Pharisee of today's Gospel - full of thanks that they’re not like the rest of the human family.  Not only have they bought and paid for all the happiness one could ever want in life, they've even bought God's favor. But what if it's not for sale?

     My friends, the recurring motif of today's readings and chants reminds us that God's favor is not for sale.  "The Lord hears the cry of the poor," we sang a few minutes ago in the responsorial psalm.  "The cry of the lowly pierces the sky," we heard in the first reading from the Book of Sirach.  And then we got this great little parable from Jesus of the Pharisee and the tax collector, and once again, the poor, the weak and sinful, the despised of this world turn out to have the edge.

     Now all of this makes sense only on one premise. Only if we are willing to concede that the logic of the Gospel is not the logic of the classic syllogism. It is an upside-down, convoluted logic.  It is the logic of a mysterious, sometimes almost outrageous God, who delights in surprises and likes nothing more than to overturn our sense of what's right and good and proper.

     From start to finish, Luke's Gospel is full of stories of this kind of God: from the birth of the Savior in an animal shelter, to Jesus’ choice of illiterate fishermen as his apostles, to his spending time and sharing meals with prostitutes and public sinners, to the touching story of the thief on the cross who stole paradise with his prayer.

     My friends, logic this is not!  Or call it God’s logic.  Call it grace.  If it were our logic, the Pharisee would have come out on top. He, after all, was the good guy. He wasn’t crooked like the tax collector; he was the very definition of uprightness: no transgressions, no sexual failings, no failings at all. He fasted, prayed, and even gave 10 percent of his income back to God.  What more could God possibly want?

     Only one thing.  God wanted him on his knees.  It's as simple as that.  Just as God wants us on our knees.  God wants us on our knees because it's only when we come to God small and insignificant, bent over and helpless - it is only then that God can truly be God for us.

     God is all powerful, it's true, but it seems that the mysterious, playful, and at times shocking God of Jesus Christ has chosen to limit his power in one important respect.  It seems that God can only really get through to the little people of this world – or those who make themselves little – by coming to God on their knees.

Father Michael G. Ryan
 

 

 

 

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