Yesterday, the speaker at my church gave a testimony about the life of Dorothy Day. Ms. Day was the great Catholic social activist of her time. She founded the Catholic Worker and ran a soup kitchen out of her home that still goes on even today. Her whole life revolved around the Sermon on the Mount. She devoted every ounce of her strength to trying her best (and failing) to love the least of these so that Christ might step in and do that which she could not. In her time and even today, many wanted to be her achieve Sainthood, also she herself once said, “Don’t call me a saint; I don’t want to be dismissed so easily.”
What struck me during the sermon was how colorful her backstory was. Before she found Jesus, she was an anarchist and a communist. She admired Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood and advocate for birth control. When she was younger, she had an abortion and she was married multiple times, once to a staunch atheist.
The reason her backstory struck me was because all those terrible things seemed to be pointing her towards Christ. In particular, Marxism is credited to have led her to convert to Catholicism. Marxism, despite all its flaws, taught Dorothy Day to have a compassion for the poor, which was a teaching she also found present in Catholic social teaching. After she found Jesus, her earlier experience with Marxism helped her in her work for the Kingdom as she established the Catholic Worker Movement and started a soup kitchen for the poor out of her home that still runs even today. This is the beauty of the Kingdom: God used a secular pseudo-religion to point a modern-day saint to the faith, and then rather than discarding that learning, He used it to inform her ministry.
That’s all fine and dandy, but why does it matter today? There are a dearth of secular pseudo-religions and philosophies going around these days. Marxism may have died, but modern feminism, LGBTQ philosophy, certain more radical wings of the environmentalist and animal rights movements and more. The lesson we can take from Dorothy Day is that there are many subscribers to these philosophies whom God is yearning to be brought into the Kingdom. And as they are brought into the Church, they each carry with them their own gift: the key truths from each of their philosophies, whether it’s compassion or equality or social justice, that were so distorted by sin and deception till they were submitted to Christ. And God uses those truths to remind the Church of parts of the Church’s mission that it has forgotten and forsaken. The one who blesses himself stands to gain from the one that was blessed.
That is why it’s so important for Christians to be well-versed in the philosophies of our times. Christ did not tell us to bury our heads in the sand and pretend those ideas and trends don’t exist. No, he called us to be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. We must delve into the thinking of every modern pseudo-religion, every godless pundit, every TedTalk and social commentator, to understand the Zeitgeist of our time in order to know how to respond to it. Then, we are to cut into the dying bodies of the world’s philosophies with the scalpel of Christ and salvage the vital organs to be transplanted into the Church, which itself is so often on the brink of death from its own complacency and comfort. We are called to be surgeons, and our surgery will save ourselves. This is a serious and grim task, but the testimony of Ms. Day and so many others assures us that if we undertake it, we might make a few new friends along the way.