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. Two great examples of hospitality--both of them lived it as well as taught it. At the moment, Benedict is a little behind, so in honor of some dear friends who are lay associates of various Benedictine-inspired orders--as well as Br. Cadfael--I'll go for Benedict.
    With a revential bow to Dorothy.

  2. I didn't have to read the bios to know I would be voting for Dorothy Day (but I did read them both, just to give BoN a semblance of a shot). I discovered Dorothy Day as an impressionable twenty year-old, writing a research paper for Berea College's religious studies course, "Radical Christianity". Searching for a topic for a research paper, I was plowing through the library stacks and found Catholic Workers articles. Dorothy Day was in the midst of those articles and I was so taken by her dedication, then and now. Her autobiography is on my list of always-keep, as I let other books come and go. Benedict is a fine fellow and I've been blessed by the Benedictine way, but discovering Dorothy changed my life. I haven't always been faithful to Dorothy, but she always has kept the faith.

  3. There are plenty of RC Benedictine Religious Orders, so I can't see why people assume the Catholic bloc would necessarily go with Dorothy Day . . . this Episcopal Sister (yes we also have monks and nuns!) votes for Benedict.

  4. It has been said that the BCP Daily Offices were Cranmer's way of bringing the essentials of Benedictine spirituality to the whole Church. I have profited from this in my own life, and have seen the regular use of the offices in a parish church draw others in also. I am also a Benedictine Confrater, a former chaplain in a Benedictine Rule Convent (Anglican), and an occasional visitor to the Community of Regina Laudis (Thanks Merrilee for mentioning them), I simply have no choice but to vote for Benedict

  5. Benedict's continuing influence PLUS the generous spirit of his rule win the day for me. But I love DD too.

  6. I cannot vote for anyone who apologized for Lenin and Mao with nonsense like, "Lenin.... Mao Tse-Tung.... These men were animated by the love of brother and this we must believe though their ends meant the seizure of power, and the building of mighty armies, the compulsion of concentration camps, the forced labor and torture and killing of tens of thousands, even millions." ("The Incompatibility of Love and Violence"
    By Dorothy Day
    The Catholic Worker, May 1951, 1, 2. )

    Those are not the words of a saint. Lenin and Mao were not motivated by love, because love does not kill upwards of 100 million, not counting combat deaths.


  7. I can't resist a saint who will repair a broken kitchen gadget!

    Waiting impatiently for tomorrow. KITCH! KITCH! KITCH!

  8. As an associate of an Episcopal Benedictine order, the Order of the Holy Cross, which has had a profound influence on my spiritual life, I have to go with Benedict.

  9. As great the legacy of Dorothy day in the last 75 years, Benedict's legacy has lasted 20 times that long. And having a Benedictine Nun as a spiritual director doesn't hurt either. They honor Christ through the greatest humility and service, while understanding this broken world and the people in it.

    1. Excellent points! Benedict reaches around the world and down through the ages. Plus, Benedict was handy around the house. For me, he outshines the Day.

  10. While Dorothy Day offers much how can we overlook the enormous contributions by Benedict? His writings and teachings are the basis of so much.

  11. I must vote for Benedict as I am reminded so frequently of the truth in his writing about the difficult necessity of living in Christian community, of seeking the face of Christ in others, even those others who annoy me. In our modern (post-modern) world of living a life that is "spiritual but not religious" I find his challenge to remain in faithful community one worth taking on.

  12. My favorite Dorothy Day quote: “I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.”

  13. "The Holy Twins: Benedict and Scholastica"--lovely children's book by Kathleen Norris and Tomie De Paola.

  14. Sieves, scythes, cats, knives we may eventually get to Saint Ives.
    I'm an Anglican therefore one way or another I'm Benedictine.
    Prayer being outside of time in God's eternal realm works for me,
    but Bringing Him the Sieves keeps ringing through my head.
    I'll be found rejoicing in Benedict of Nursia today.

  15. Hmm.
    The guy is famous for telling guys how to beat themselves up.
    The gal started out in the light (TEC) but went over to the Dark Side.
    What to do? What to do?
    Because so many are determined to vote for the woman just because she's a woman, should I therefore go for Ben?
    Between here and the vote button, I'll make up my mind, such as it is.

  16. Voted for Dorothy Day...however after rereading the comments..probably should have been Benedict...its Maddening!!

  17. In my community, when I walk the streets, many of my fellow walkers have no place to return to at the end of their walk. If it is raining, they are wearing the ponchos given them by the Catholic Workers. They are very likely to have eaten a hot breakfast from the Catholic Worker truck. They may have slept in the emergency weather shelter, maintained by the Catholic Workers. So, while many of us are at home, warm and toasty, benefiting from our quiet practices of evening prayer and compline, the Catholic Workers are out serving Christ on the street.
    P.S. Another vote for Martha!

  18. Love this ancient-modern comparison shopping. Have learnt a lot. Somehow it is the enduring example of Benedict and his Way that is so outstanding to all generations. He has my vote although I am thrilled to make the acquaintance
    of Dorothy .

  19. I am impressed with a woman (Day) who can transform from a wild Bohemian to a selfless servant of Christ and give her life to that dedication.
    On the other hand my right eyebrow went up and I said "huh?" to myself when I read in Benedict of Nursia's writing "... Let the divine law be read before the guest for his edification, and then let all kindness be shown him...." He must be edified before kindess is offered. Like I said, "Huh?"

  20. I love Dorothy Day and am proud to say the local parish that supported her during her days as an Episcopalian (Church of Our Saviour, Chicago) is also the parish that sporsored me for priesthood. And I love the work that Catholic Worker movement has done and continues to do. But I am also eternally grateful for the ministry of Benedict in "sorting out" the irregularities of monasticism. We all still continue to benefit from his sanctity and sanity. Sign me up for Benedict.

  21. Hollandaise carried Benny through the last round but not this time. I do not care for guests. But children change all of us in crazy ways. Vote to Doris. Plus, I loved her in Pillow Talk.

  22. I do love ravens and bread, and work as prayer.
    I also love social justice and the miracle of childbirth and "prayer outside time."
    I don't like being accused of mindless gender-based voting.
    Hating is easy. Voting is hard.
    Still deciding.


  24. This is another tough choice. Sort of like choosing between Mary and Martha, the sisters of Bethany. I think I have to go with Benedict. I love the story of the sieve; it reminds me of the many small miracles for which I thank God daily.

  25. Because I admire the way the Rule balances time, a great gift from God that goes unrecognized, Benedict. However, much blessings upon Dorothy Day. I have enjoyed learning about her and find her very inspirational.

  26. "If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so many enemies." Teresa of Avila. Friends, although I voted for Benedict (apparently defying all odds as a modern woman) I feel a desire to remind all to take Lent Madness with a light hand, for our virtual community is made up of real people, therefore it is the beginning of a real community. I have to say that I have had a couple of defeating days that almost (I kid you not) had me wanting to boycott Lent Madness. Such was my investment in a few particular saints, that some rather unSaintly thoughts and feelings were bedeviling me. Then I remembered,"This is supposed to be fun and educational. The outcome in no way diminishes the sanctity of another saint. Only we can do that, both in our comments about the saints and in the way we treat one another." C'mon, it's not like the winner's PR tour is really significant, like who wins the NCAA tournament (says the UNC alumna-but don't let the SEC hear of it, or like the Inquisition, they will accuse me of heresy and burn me at the stake). See what I mean? A LIGHT hand. "God save us from gloomy saints!" Teresa of Avila (again).

  27. Love learning more about our luminaries! I owe so much to Benedict but today I am going with Dorothy because she challenges me to live into my faith more fully.