As Dorothy Day was preparing a supper at St. Joseph’s House on Chrystie Street in New York, she looked around at all her fellow workers and thought how hopeless it was to try keep up appearances:
I looked around and the general appearances of the place was, as usual, home-like, informal, noisy, and comfortably warm on a cold evening. And yet, looked at with the eyes of a visitor, our place must look dingy indeed, filled as it always is with men and women, some children too, all of whom bear the unmistakable mark of misery and destitution.
Her look was burdened with questions she and others had of her work with the poor:
Aren’t we deceiving ourselves?
What are we accomplishing for them anyway, or for the world or for the common good?
Are these people being rehabilitated?
How can you see Christ in [these] people?
She answers these nagging and cynical questions:
It is an act of faith, constantly repeated. It is an act of love, resulting from an act of faith. It is an act of hope, that we can awaken these same acts in their hearts, too, with the help of God, and the works of mercy, which you, our readers, helps us to do, day in and day out over the years…
How can I help but think of these things every time I sit down at Chrystie Street… and look around the tables filled with the unutterably poor who are going through their long-continuing crucifixion. It is most surely an exercise of faith for us to see Christ in each other. But it is through such exercise that we grow and the joy of our vocation assures us we are on the right path…
The mystery of the poor is this: That they are Jesus, and what you do for them you do for Him… The mystery of poverty is that by sharing in it, making ourselves poor in giving to others, we increase our knowledge of and belief in love.
From Dorothy Day, “The Mystery of the Poor” quoted in “Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter.”
Dorothy Day was well acquainted with poverty and misery. After her father’s printing press burnt down in an earthquake, the family descended into “humiliating poverty”, David Brooks writes in his fine book, “The Road to Character.”
War, the onslaught of the Spanish Flu pandemic, the fall of currency, and the general poverty of the poor all brought about great insights to what ministry is, and what suffering does for us in the Curriculum of the Spiritual Life.