By Jim Forest
April 17, 2011
Matthew 21:1-11 | Isaiah 50:4-7 | Philippians 2:6-11 | Matthew 26:14-27:66
“Your king comes to you without display…” ~Matthew 21:5
In every old city of the western world there is at least one statue of some sword-wielding king or conqueror sitting on a horse. Horses are huge, fast and clever while donkeys are small, slow and–given the first two qualities–assumed to be stupid. Horses are awe-inspiring; donkeys are comforting. A man on horseback can be frightening, not a man on donkeyback.
King Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey and, in doing that, he preached the kingdom of God: a kingdom without weapons or executioners, a kingdom of sharing instead of greed, of love instead of fear, of service instead of exploitation, a kingdom in which the poor were at the center rather than the edge. A donkey kingdom.
Dorothy Day was another of the donkeyback travelers. She got around in old cars and public buses. The main thing about her, apart from her faith, was her at-homeness with the poor and her belief that we are put into this world to practice hospitality.
The Catholic Worker movement she began in New York in 1933 has led to the foundation of houses of hospitality in many cities where anyone is welcome. There are no forms to fill out. No sermons to endure while you eat your soup, no programs of self-improvement following dessert. The Catholic Worker, in common with the Holy Rule of St. Benedict, believes that “each person should be received as Christ.”
Dorothy was often criticized for her non-institutional response to those who were living ragged lives on the street. A social worker visiting the Catholic Worker house in New York once asked Dorothy how long her guests were “allowed” to stay.
“We let them stay forever,” Dorothy replied. “They live with us, they die with us, and we give them a Christian burial. We pray for them after they are dead. Once they are taken in, they become members of the family. Or rather they were always members of the family. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ.” (Jim Forest, Love is the Measure: A Biography of Dorothy Day, Ramsey, NJ: Paulist Press, 1986).
While Dorothy was often called a communist, she was political only in the sense that she could not live in peace with a social order that caused so much homelessness, hunger and suffering. She saw that the gospel has to do with life as a whole, not only with how I live but how we live together. She could see that following Jesus had nothing to do with fighting wars.
“We see that the works of mercy oppose the works of war,” she said. The works of mercy call us to feed the hungry, but war creates hunger. We are required to clothe the naked, but war burns the skins from people’s bodies. We are called to welcome the homeless, but war creates millions of refugees. We are called to take care of the sick, but even sickness is a weapon of war. We are called to visit the prisoner, but war makes thousands into prisoners of war. We would rather be with Christ in prison than killing him on a battlefield.”
Dorothy died November 29, 1980. By then, many regarded her as one of Christianity’s great reformers and a modern saint, though Dorothy herself had once said, “Don’t call me a saint–I don’t want to be dismissed so easily.”
This reflection is from Passage to Love: Lent 1990 by Jim Forest. Jim was the Secretary-General for the International Fellowship of Reconciliation and is a former editor of The Catholic Worker.