Benedict of Nursia vs. Dorothy Day

Welcome, friends, to the last full week of Lent Madness. Today we get the final match-up of the Round of the Saintly Sixteen. Then Tuesday through Friday we'll experience the four battles of the Elate Eight as we encounter the controversial mirth of saintly kitsch. More about that tomorrow.

But first it's Benedict of Nursia tangling with Dorothy Day for a shot at Luke the Evangelist. Dorothy made it here by knocking off Edward Thomas Demby while Benedict routed Anne, Jesus' grandma.

We hope everyone made it through another weekend of Lent Madness Withdrawal without having to enter online rehab. The SEC has counselors standing by if you need additional help. We did our part by offering you FREE Lent Madness ringtones for you smart phones. And we also offered some timely advice to Pope Francis from one Supreme (Executive Committee) to another Supreme (Pontiff). It was the least we could do. Really.

Finally, the mysterious Maple Anglican kicks off his daily videos today which will run throughout the duration of Lent Madness. At which point perhaps he will get a real job.

7_11_stbenedictBenedict of Nursia

Benedict of Nursia (c.480-c.550) is the subject of numerous legends in the second book of Gregory the Great’s Dialogues. One is about a youthful Benedict whose housekeeper borrowed a sieve that was then accidentally broken into two pieces. The housekeeper began to weep, so Benedict began to pray. When he finished, the sieve was found to be whole. After word of this miracle spread throughout the town, the sieve was hung on the door of the local church. Benedict was treated like a Lent Madness Celebrity Blogger. But he renounced such fame, fleeing both the town and his housekeeper. OK…that was totally weird. Let’s move on to quotes from his famous Rule for monastic life.

From Chapter 53 (“On the Reception of Guests”):

“Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ…

“In the salutation of all guests, whether arriving or departing, let all humility be shown. Let the head be bowed or the whole body prostrated on the ground in adoration of Christ, who indeed is received in their persons.

“After the guests have been received and taken to prayer, let the Superior or someone appointed by him sit with them. Let the divine law be read before the guest for his edification, and then let all kindness be shown him. The Superior shall break his fast for the sake of a guest, unless it happens to be a principal fast day which may not be violated. The brethren, however, shall observe the customary fasts. Let the Abbot give the guests water for their hands; and let both Abbot and community wash the feet of all guests.…

“In the reception of the poor and of pilgrims the greatest care and solicitude should be shown, because it is especially in them that Christ is received…”

From Chapter 49 (“On the Observance of Lent”):

“Although the life of a monk ought to have about it at all times the character of a Lenten observance, yet since few have the virtue for that, we therefore urge that during the actual days of Lent the brethren keep their lives most pure and at the same time wash away during these holy days all the negligences of other times.…

“During these days, therefore, let us increase somewhat the usual burden of our service, as by private prayers and by abstinence in food and drink. Thus everyone of his own will may offer God ‘with joy of the Holy Spirit’ (1 Thess. 1:6) something above the measure required of him. From his body, that is he may withhold some food, drink, sleep, talking and jesting; and with the joy of spiritual desire he may look forward to holy Easter.”

And isn't that precisely what Lent Madness helps us all do? "Look forward to holy Easter with the joy of spiritual desire."

 -- Neil Alan Willard

dorothyday-middleagedDorothy Day

From the time of her conversion to Christian faith in the mid-1920s, Dorothy Day, an American laywoman who co-founded the Catholic Worker movement, served as an exemplar to all who would seek to live lives of faithfulness to God by serving those in need.

Prior to her conversion, Day was a wild bohemian girl who wrote for socialist publications and hob-nobbed with prominent radicals in Greenwich Village. However, as Day wrote in her autobiography,”The Long Loneliness,” the experience of the birth of her daughter Tamar magnified her love and devotion to God. “It was all very well to love God in His works, in the beauty of His creation, which was crowned for me by the birth of my child... The final object of this love and gratitude was God. No human creature could receive or contain so vast a floor of love and joy as I often felt after the birth of my child. With this came the need to worship, to adore.”

Before long Day translated that worship and adoration into the nitty-gritty of serving the needs of people living in poverty and protesting the injustices of society. The movement’s houses of hospitality and farm communes are based on her belief that such work is best done in community. She wrote, Men are beginning to realize that they are not individuals but persons in society, that man alone is weak and adrift, that he must seek strength in common action.

In her famous Union Square speech of November 1965, she said,

"I speak as one who is old, and whose whole lifetime has seen the cruelty and hysteria of war in this last half century. But who has also seen, praise God, the emerging nations of Africa and Asia, and Latin America, achieving in many instances their own freedom through non-violent struggles, side by side with violence. Our own country has through tens of thousand of the Negroe [sic] people, shown an example to the world of what a non-violent struggle can achieve. This very struggle, begun by students, by the young, by the seemingly helpless, have led the way in vision, in courage, even in a martyrdom, which has been shared by the little children, in the struggle for full freedom and for human dignity which means the right to health, education, and work which is a full development of man’s God-given talents."

In 1976 Day asked Robert Ellsburg, a 20-year-old student on leave from Harvard who had come to New York to work with her, to be the managing editor of The Catholic Worker. At 77 she was in “retirement” and left the day-to-day operation of things to “the young people.” Ellsburg wrote, “My promotion had very little to do with any qualification for the job and everything to do with the fact that no one else was particularly interested. Dorothy had faith in people, and she was able to make them feel her faith as well, so they forgot their feelings of inadequacy and found themselves doing all kinds of things they never dreamed possible.”

At 19, while writing a garden-variety undergraduate paper on Day for a class on Christian political communities, I discovered this quote by Day that continues to transform the way I looked at prayer. She wrote that “prayer is outside of time.” As the only non-seminary trained Celebrity Blogger, I have no real interest in whether that notion has any theological chops. Frankly, I don’t care. What matters is me is that the idea that prayer is not constrained by the limitations of the “now” is a highly liberating concept that enlarges my view of God.

Historian Walter G. Moss, in his 2011 monograph, “The Wisdom of Dorothy Day,” concludes,

“More than three decades after her death, her legacy remains impressive. By 2011, according to the Catholic Worker website, ‘213 Catholic Worker communities remain committed to nonviolence, voluntary poverty, prayer, and hospitality for the homeless, exiled, hungry, and forsaken. Catholic Workers continue to protest injustice, war, racism, and violence of all forms.’ Her work and legacy continue to serve as a gentle reminder, to politicians and intellectuals among others, that what matters most is not what we say or how we label ourselves, but what we do. As psychologist Robert Sternberg wrote, ‘People are wise to the extent that they use their intelligence to seek a common good.’ By that measure Dorothy Day was wise indeed.”

However, Day herself said, “Don't call me a saint. I don't want to be dismissed so easily.”

-- Heidi Shott


Benedict of Nursia vs. Dorothy Day

  • Dorothy Day (59%, 2,213 Votes)
  • Benedict of Nursia (41%, 1,517 Votes)

Total Voters: 3,727

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87 comments on “Benedict of Nursia vs. Dorothy Day”

    1. Having received the generous hospitality of a Benedict order of nuns at Abbey of Regina Laudis, I must vote for them. Despite being cloistered, nuns get continuing education, including doctoral degrees in animal husbandry, the fate of bees, and general agriculture. Besides that they make a joyful noise unto the Lord, and allow all visitors to listen to the seven sung services.

    2. Lent Madness voting seems to indicate favoritism (prejudice) in favor of people from times closer to our own. Maybe we can relate more easily to them, maybe we just can't help thinking that our ways are the right ways, and pity our benighted ancestors.
      Anyone with a pocket computer and numerical literacy is welcome to challenge this comment, and drag me into the 21th century.

          1. I think these polls that compare the ancient saints versus modern day ideas of saints is really silly. You should not make it a contest between the ancient and modern saints. This is trivializing the idea of sanctity, whether traditional or modern. Forget the voting; instead just compare and contrast, with God being the final arbiter.

    3. After meeting the incredibly profound levity among the Benedictine sister of Our Lady of Grace IN, I can do no other: St. Benedict it is!

    4. I have now lost all faith in Lent Madness. I adore Dorothy Day. Yes, adobe. But she is no St. Benedict. In a similar manner, I find it impossible to believe John the Baptist and MLK are already out. There clearly is a tilt toward modern era individuals except St. Lucy who has a story that is, at best, an embellishment on the truth.
      This isn't madness, it is just silly.

      1. Silliness has much to recommend it. Silliness can save your life. I was taken aback by some of the comments, but then I read some comments that essentially said that the entire matter is meant as tongue-in-cheek.

        All (and I do mean ALL) of these contenders already truly have their golden halo, so there is nothing we can say or do that can in any way add or detract from their honorable estate.

        So when I comment that Dorothy Day "went over to the dark side," it's not to be taken seriously.

        I can't help thinking of the wag who once commented, "Some people would rather be right than happy." I was on the wrong side of that for some time, realized I needed to amend my ways, and it's better, for sure. For me, anyway. Your mileage may vary.

      2. David, I'm sorry you have "lost all faith in Lent Madness." You see, that's never been the point. If anything Lent Madness seeks to point to faith in Jesus Christ, not itself. People learn, people are inspired. If some are frustrated along the way, such is the "madness." I'm pretty sure there are worse crosses to bear.

  1. Dorothy Day is the Benedict of now. In voting for her, I'm endorsing him (maybe not that prostrating yourself stuff) as well as her work and inspiration for others. How often do we find ourselves with opportunities like she describes - not that we're so talented but that we seem to be the one who's willing and able to act.

  2. Of particular interest is that of using a non-seminary educated (I prefer not to use "trained" as animals are trained as opposed to people....or my favorite... Inspector Cloiseau's "pipple") writer for Day's bio. She was simply more "real" in her approach to the everyday needs of the poor and marginalized. I did wonder about her notion of the "non-violent" struggle of the young civil rights students...I don't think John Lewis would think so...but that's semantics for ya! It's a close race so far...Interesting.....

  3. Today, I have to go with Benedict as I am off to a 3 day retreat at a monastery which follows his rule. It seemed like a sign.

  4. Just about every expression of intentional community in our Western Church -- all the way down to today -- owes its shape in some way to Benedict and his rule. Certainly our own Anglican and Episcopal traditions are deeply influenced by the rhythms of the Benedictine way, the "school of the Lord's service." Here's to welcoming guests as Christ!

  5. Nancy: "Dorothy Day is the Benedict of now." Yes. Yes.

    Were it not for Benedict, there probably would be no Western Civilization, and Gandhi thought Western Civilization would be a good idea. Maybe Dorothy Day can show us how to develop such a civilization.

  6. This was a tough one. Dorothy Day sounds like she's the modern day version of Benedict, but I've never encountered anyone from the groups she founded. Benedict, on the other hand, has a lot of communities, and I have experienced the their expressions of community. Rodger is right - our "a=Anglican and Episcopal tradions are deeply influenced by the rhythms of the Benedictine way." So I will vote for Benedict.

  7. Had to read the comments to even begin to decide. Thank you. Dorothy Day by a smidge; probably because we've been thinking so much about Catholics lately.

  8. This is the toughest one yet. I am going to have to think on it for awhile. Isn't there a way to make it the "Novel Nine" or something? 😉

  9. Tough one; I agee with those who say Dorothy is a present-day Benedict....I voted for the original; the life I am able to live is due, in part, to his rule.

    I wondered about the Celebrity Bloggers and am pleased at least one is non-seminary trained.

  10. it depends sometimes on what the celebrity blogger writes-which is more interesting and gives more info. how about when we get to the final 4 let the same celebrity blogger blog about both "saints" on one day and then another for the next day etc. the blog about benedict made me sleepy, but maybe he wasn't a rowdy guy. i voted for him b/c from him we get many of our angliican ways.

    1. Good idea about competing bios from the same blogger. Rule out the variable of writing style.

  11. I really do appreciate Dorothy Day and what she represents, but old Benedict was used to help shape so much of the church. I owe some of his spiritual successors big time: Weston Priory (, Misioneras Guadalupanas de Cristo Rey(, St. Vincent Archabbey ( and although not Benedictine, certainly helped by him, the Ecumenical Community of Taize' ( This Lutheran is thankful for their help along my way. Today's vote is for you. With you, I "look forward to holy Easter with the joy of spiritual desire.”

    1. The Monks of the Weston Priory ('western prairie', at our house) are Benedictine?! I have loved their music for many years, and even signed Ruth's song to my husband at our wedding. And I must agree with commenters below, that while Day's efforts would have pleased Benedict, he did them first and his followers far longer.

  12. I am having a meeting at my house tonight for our parish's Holy Week service leaders to go over logistics and am hoping I don't have to prostrate myself when they arrive, though I will certainly greet them reverently with the task they are arriving for ... so at that thought, I'm am leaning toward Benedict.

    And then I read this quote about Dorothy Day: "Dorothy had faith in people, and she was able to make them feel her faith as well, so they forgot their feelings of inadequacy and found themselves doing all kinds of things they never dreamed possible.”

    That's quite a gift. I must meditate on this a bit more. Lent Madness is just getting more maddening! But I must tell you I had great fun Sunday morning explaining to the visiting boy who stopped at the bracket framed in our narthex and asked me what it was all about ...

  13. Ever since working at Martin House in Trenton, NJ, teaching ESL to Haitian immigrants in the mid 1980s, I have read the Catholic worker (Martin House simply gave me a subscription which I have never let lapse). Imagine a newspaper that still says a subscription is only 25 cents! (Of course I offer far more than that.) Their ethos of justice-, peace-making fills the pages of the small eight-page paper. The articles speak to their ministry to the homeless and disenfranchised both locally and far away. I love the Benedictine influence, indeed, but must vote for a modern day expression of the Benedictine rule of hospitality as demonstrated by Dorothy Day.

  14. I am hoping that by voting for a Roman Catholic woman I can voice my support for so many strong capable women of that denomination who have not been allowed to fulfill their potential in the Church.

  15. thinking of Dorothy building on the foundation of Benedict on the foundation of Christ-must vote in gratitude for Benedict making the holy present in the mundane-enabled so many including Dorothy who followed.

  16. Dorothy Day lived the faith ... she taught her faith to others ... and she inspired thousands to do the same. Good enough for me!!

  17. Benedict's Rule on the Reception of Guests asks that "the head be bowed in adoration of Christ" when receiving guests because Christ "indeed is received in their persons."
    In the Baptismal Covenant, (BCP, 305), the people are asked "Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?"
    Not always an easy thing, seeking, adoring, and serving Christ in all persons, but I must try. I hope and pray that someone, upon seeing me, will seek, will adore, will serve Christ in me.
    May Christ in me speak to Christ in you!

  18. The key to today's matchup.....treated like a Lent madness celebrity blogger.....The Holy Fool votes for Benedict.....

  19. Have received such blessings from the hospitality of the Benedictines and have been reminded by them in retreat that work, prayer, and hospitality are all forms of worship. Yet must vote for Dorothy this day. She challenges me to act, to serve Christ in the world, each day, every day. Dorothy Day this day for me.

  20. I voted for Dorothy Day. I think she is a a great modern example of living out a way of love.

  21. I know that it's unseemly to "play the brackets, " but in order to face the possible and very hard choice between Hilda of Whitby and Benedict of Nursia, I need Benedict to advance. No matter what happens, I have been blessed by the energy of the Celebrity Bloggers as well as the many commentators who remind me that God uses the least likely people to do God's work. This thought is offered with the SEC very much in mind!

  22. For those open to tactical considerations, the next round will call for saintly kitsch. There is almost certainly plenty of Benedictine kitsch while there may not be any for Dorothy Day.

  23. Come on, there are so many better things to say about St. Benedict. Like when a monastery called him in to straighten them out, but then tried to poison him because they didn't like what he was telling them to do. The chalice broke in his hands and the poison ran out. Or where he says in the Rule that monastics shouldn't sleep with knives in their belts (and one can only wonder what monk required that rule) or that if the Abbot gives an impossible task to a monk, the monk may request him to reconsider, but, if the instruction remains, the monk needs to just go do it.

      1. I was wondering when someone would bring up the raven bringing bread. I was just going to do some research to see if it was Benedict of Nursia, because I was sure it must have been another Benedict since it was never mentioned. Needless to say, I went with Benedict. He has been a favorite of mine for a long time, but it was the raven that originally caught my eye.

  24. “Don’t call me a saint. I don’t want to be dismissed so easily.” Taking her at her own word: Benedict today. And srsly, folks - our debt to B is incalculable.

    1. Definitely -- just think modern farming, any books from before 1000AD that didn't come to us through Arabia, Western Monasticism, the formation of all the Catholic sisters that are voting for Dorothy Day, Canterbury Cathedral (build by a Benedictine Archbishop), etc...