At the beginning of each Lent I look through the shelves of books in our home to find some classic text from the Catholic spiritual tradition to read throughout the penitential season. This year I chose a work that was more relevant than I ever could have imagined.
The Long Loneliness, the autobiography of Servant of God Dorothy Day, is always a good book to pull off the shelf, but this Lent it resonates in ways that the co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement could never have imagined. On Ash Wednesday, as I opened this year’s book and began to read I could never have imagined what lay ahead for me, for all of us at Saint Ignatius, and for the entire world.
I wasn’t very far into my reading of The Long Loneliness before talk at school began to center on the possibility of shutting down for a few weeks, if not months. By March 12th rumors became reality, and we have spent most of Lent at home dealing with the constant threat of PowerSchool outages as well as the new phenomenon of Zoom bombing.
So, for the most part, my reading of Day’s autobiography has coincided with our own personal version of the long loneliness. This period of mandated home-schooling and social distancing, along with the fear that someone we love might become very sick, has made us much more aware of the cost of being alone. If anything has closed the door on the question of the quality of distance learning as opposed to “brick and mortar” learning it has been the realization that our mental, emotional, and spiritual health is directly related to our being physically present with others.
To put it in its simplest terms: we all need a community.
If there is any overarching theme to Day’s autobiography it is the importance of feeling connected to a community, and that connection can only be felt when we are made to feel loved. On the last page of the book, in the Postscript, Day writes, “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”
Throughout the book Day gives first-hand personal experience of the pain brought about by the long loneliness as well as the healing nature of a loving community. Her conversion to Catholicism separated her from a community where she felt loved and cared for. In the eyes of her friends – Communists, union activists, anarchists, agitators of all stripes – she had joined the other side. Her baptism and that of her infant daughter Tamar also separated her from the one man she ever loved. Her conversion cost her dearly, a price that few of us could imagine or be willing to pay.
She also relates story after story of those in desperate need who were taken in by the Catholic Worker and given so much more than food and shelter – they were given a home. Numerous are the tales of those who came to one of the Catholic Worker’s houses of hospitality because they were in need, only to find themselves staying on in order to bring assistance – love and community – to others.
Such stories are always good for us to hear, but especially now as we continue our worldwide long loneliness of quarantine and social distancing. As these days and weeks continue to mount, let us turn to Servant of God Dorothy Day as our guide.
Let us ask for her intervention as we continue to do our best to make our homes “houses of hospitality” for each member of our families. Let us ask her to move us to continue to be in contact with those in need, and to be of assistance to them as we can. And let us call upon her to help us foster the spiritual community of the Church as we celebrate the liturgical events of Holy Week in our homes in the hope that next year we will revel in the utter lack of social distancing in our packed parish churches on Easter Sunday 2021.
Join us for Holy Week services celebrated by the Jesuit Community. Details about watching and participating in Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday are available HERE.