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Edge of the Inside
Edge of the Inside

Love and Criticism

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Dorothy Day (1897–1980) lived on the edge of the inside, and the deep love she had for her church and nation expressed itself in passionate critique. Writer Julie Leininger Pycior describes a moment of prophetic challenge Day offered during a conference session on Women and the Eucharist:  

Nearing eighty, and long plagued by heart ailments along with arthritis, [Day] was felled by a serious heart attack in September 1976 [not long] after giving a talk to eight thousand people at a Eucharistic congress in Philadelphia. One also could say, however, that that event broke her heart…. 

As they made their way to the session, Day confided to [her friend Eileen] Egan that she was sick at heart. The congress included a Mass in honor of the U.S. military, and, like the women’s session, was scheduled for August 6, which happened to be the anniversary of the nuclear attack on Hiroshima. The Catholic Worker leader felt obligated to decry that military theme, even though she considered the Mass more important than life itself, containing within it that most precious of gifts: the Eucharist—and even as the congress, of course, was dedicated to the Eucharist.  

For Day, a devout Catholic, her love of the Eucharist compelled her to speak out about war as a sin for which penance is needed, especially with the anniversary of the Hiroshima nuclear attack in her heart and mind:  

[Day’s] remarks, which she titled “Bread for the Hungry,” [1] opened with a devoted evocation of the Eucharist. Day shared with her listeners her deep, abiding “love and gratitude to the Church” as nothing less than a mother “who taught me the crowning love of the life of the Spirit.” But love in action can be a harsh and dreadful thing, and now she plunged ahead, noting that this mother “also taught me that ‘before we bring our gifts of service, of gratitude, to the altar—if our brother has anything against us, we must hesitate to approach the altar to receive the Eucharist.’”  

Speaking with an anguish made even more dramatic by her careful, understated manner, Day said, “And here we are on August 6th.” Acknowledging other holocausts, notably the Turkish attacks on the Armenians and the Nazi persecution of Jews, “God’s chosen people,” she then sounded like a prophet. “It is a fearful thought that unless we do penance, we will perish,” she firmly stated, reminding her listeners that, at that very moment, military leaders were processing into the cathedral nearby.… She called for “fasting, as a personal act of penance, for the sin of our country, which we love.” Asking why that religious service could not have been held on a different date, “I plead,” she said, “that we will regard that military Mass, and all our Masses today, as an act of penance, begging God to forgive us.” That her audience broke into resounding applause only partly salved Day’s wounded heart, which suffered an actual physical attack a few weeks later.   


[1] Dorothy Day, “Bread for the Hungry,” in A Penny a Copy: Readings from The Catholic Worker, ed. Thomas C. Cornell, Robert Ellsberg, Jim Forest, rev. ed. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1996), 228–231. Day’s address is also available at

Julie Leininger Pycior, Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton and the Greatest Commandment: Radical Love in Times of Crisis (New York: Paulist Press, 2020), 155, 156, 157. 

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Izzy Spitz, momentary peace (detail), digital oil pastels. Taylor Wilson, Transfiguration (detail), cyanotype. Taylor Wilson, Madonna and Messiah, ink. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image

Transformation happens on the margins (the edge of the inside), and so, like this bird, we are freed.

Story from Our Community:  

I have found huge comfort in the notion of “living on the edge of the inside” while still considering myself to be Catholic. With the help of the Daily Meditations, I have found a new psychology to bolster my faith. I feel that I have expanded into a universal inclusivity. The walls of my safe, tidy, social and religious space have become dismantled little by little. It’s a process that is painful at times but full of bliss and joy. Thank you for your relentless giving. —Pauline M. 

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