Journeying with Dorothy Day on Pilgrimage

Mary TeckYear of the Pilgrim

By Lisa Bushey

Oh how Dorothy Day’s words were balm to my soul! I started reading the book, “On Pilgrimage” (January’s selection for Well-Read Mom) and I put the book down after the first handful of pages. The reason was: my soul was satisfied with her words and my mind and heart had enough “good meat” to chew on for days. In fact I was elated to find someone saw me:

            “…struggling with poverty and hard work and leading, as such families with small children do these days, ascetic lives. There are vigils, involuntary ones, fasting, due to nausea of pregnancy for instance…

Here is her mortification of the senses:

Her eyes are affronted by disorder, confusion, the sight of human ailments, and human functions. Her nose also; her ears tormented with discordant cries, her appetite failing often; her sense of touch in agony from fatigue and weakness.

Her interior senses are also mortified. She is alone with her little ones, her interest adapted to theirs; she has not even the companionship of books.. So she has solitude, and a silence from the sounds she’d like to hear, conversation, music, discussion.

Of course there are consolations and joys. Babies and small children are pure beauty, love, joy–the truest in this world. But the thorns are there of night watches, of illnesses, of infant perversities and contrariness. There are glimpses of heaven and hell.” (Pp 75-77)

            As a person who loves being a Mother and is grateful for the opportunity to raise my children with my husband, I didn’t realize how intensely I felt my Motherly duties until I read this. Someone saw me and validated all the day-to-day unpleasantness that surrounds us; acknowledged the crosses that we bear at a moment’s notice; pointed out the small things that are no longer small when they are the majority of your life and are wrapped up in the most important people in your life. Thank you, Dorothy!

Thankfully, our Motherhood journey doesn’t stop there. Like all of Catholic theology, it doesn’t stop with the pain. Through the grace of God, he transfigures all pain and suffering. The story of our Faith doesn’t stop on Good Friday.

“This path of pain is woman’s lot. It is her glory and her salvation. She must accept…The point I want to make is that a woman can achieve the highest spirituality and union with God through her house and children, through doing her work which leaves her no time for thought of self, for consolation, for prayer, for reading, for what she might consider development. She is being led along the path of growth inevitably. But she needs to be told these things, instructed in these things, for her hope and endurance…”

When someone hears you, sees you so thoroughly, picks up your darkest struggles, your bone-wearying trials, shines the light of truth on them and hands them back to you as a precious gift, as the most precious of gifts, our salvation even, you know you’ve found a friend.

I felt like she stepped into my shoes, saw what I am seeing, noticed everything down to the smallest detail and then told me of the glory to come through this cross. She recognized our physical struggles and our day to day battles (in fact, she willingly chose to live through them again with her daughter’s family and with the poor), yet didn’t allow that to consume her mind. She put the work in with her body, but set her “mind on things that are above.” (Col. 3:2). She lived what St. Mary Joseph Rosello held as her motto, “The hands should be at work, the heart with God.” Her thoughts of Heaven and the Saints and Christ became her desires, and those desires of the same became her actions: she loved her family, friends and neighbors and shared the wealth of her heart with others.

She told me what the culture fails to tell me, but what I can find in our Faith which proclaims it boldly – our vocation of Motherhood leads to glory. Our vocation of Motherhood replaces our stony hearts with natural hearts. A friend of mine told me what her Mother-in-Law said after she was asked how she became so selfless, “It took eight kids to do it.” It’s the refiner’s fire and the journey to the Kingdom that is to come. And as Dorothy Day would have read in Night Prayer (when she was awake enough to pray after working all day!) “They shall see the Lord face to face and bear his name on their foreheads. The night shall be no more. They will need no light from lamps or the sun, for the Lord God shall give them light, and they shall reign forever.” (Rev. 22:4-5)

Dorothy knew what to focus on to keep up her strength and vigor and hope: the eternal reward, not the present suffering. I look to her as a great mentor who encourages me with these words, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Rom. 18:8)

Lisa Bushey is a wife and mother of five little ones. She is a second generation homeschooler and a first generation gluten free baker. She enjoys reading the (challenging!) WRM booklist and writing in between the library trips, the diaper changes, the girls’ impromptu ballet shows, the laughter and the endless ways the boys find to entertain themselves.