We are looking at the writings of “Servant of God” Dorothy Day. The Christmas story of Mary, Joseph and Jesus offers us a fitting backdrop to consider Dorothy Day’s writing on the poor, the homeless and the outcast. Let us examine Day’s writings as found in Dorothy Day: Selected Writings. (Edited by Robert Ellsberg).
If we hadn’t got Christ’s own words for it, it would seem raving lunacy to believe that by offering a bed and food and hospitality to some man or woman or child, I am replaying the part of Lazarus or Martha or Mary. My guest then is Christ. There is nothing to show for it. There are no halos already glowing around their heads—at least none that human eyes can see.Likely that I shall be vouchsafed by the vision of Elizabeth of Hungary. She put the leper in her bed and later, going to tend him, saw no longer the leper’s stricken face but the face of Christ. The part of a Peter Claver, who gave a stricken Black man his bed and slept on the floor at his side, is more likely ours. Peter Claver never saw anything with his bodily eyes except the exhausted faces of the Blacks. He had only faith in Christ’s own words that these people were Christ. On one occasion, some Blacks, whom he had induced to help him, ran from the room. They were panic-stricken before the disgusting sight of the sickness they saw. Claver was astonished. “You mustn’t go,” he said. You can still hear his surprise that anyone could forget such a truth: “You mustn’t leave him – it is Christ.”
It would be foolish to pretend that it is always easy to remember this. If everyone were holy and handsome, with alter Christus shining in neon lighting from them, it would be easy to see Christ in everyone. If Mary had appeared in Bethlehem clothed with the sun, a crown of twelve stars on her head, and the moon under her feet, people would have fought to make room for her. But that was not God’s way for her. Nor is it Christ’s way for himself. Now he is disguised under every type of humanity that treads the earth.
To see how far one realizes this, it is a good thing to ask honestly what you would do, or have done, when a beggar asked at your house for food. Would you – or did you – give it on an old, cracked plate, thinking that was good enough! Do you think that Martha and Mary thought that the old and chipped dish was good enough for their guest?
In Christ’s human life, there were always a few who made up for the neglect of the crowd. The shepherds did it. They hurried to the crib atoned for the people who would flee from Christ. The wise men did it. They journeyed across the world while others refused to stir one hand’s breadth from the routine of their lives to go to Christ. Even the gifts the wise men brought have in themselves an obscure recompense and atonement for what would follow later in this Child’s life. For they brought gold, the king’s emblem, to make up for the crown of thorns that he would wear. They offered incense, the symbol of praise, to make up for the mockery and the spitting. They gave him myrrh, to heal and soothe. He was wounded from head to foot, and no one bathed his wounds. The women at the foot of the Cross did it too, making up for the crowd who stood by and sneered.
We can do it too, exactly as they did. We are not born too late. We do it by seeing Christ and serving Christ in friends and strangers, in everyone we come in contact with.
All this can be proved if proof is needed by the doctrines of the Church. We can talk about Christ’s Mystical Body, about the vine and the branches, about the Communion of Saints. But Christ himself has proved it for us, and no one must go further than that. For he said that a glass of water given to a beggar was given to him. He made heaven hinge on the way we act toward him in his disguise of commonplace, frail, ordinary humanity.
Did you give me food when I was hungry? Did you give me to drink when I was thirsty? Did you give me clothes when my own were rags?
Did you come to see me when I was sick, or in prison or in trouble?
To those who say, aghast, that they never had a chance to do such a thing, that they lived two thousand years too late, he will say again.. What they had the chance of knowing all their lives, that if these things were done for the very least of his brethren, they were done to him.
For a total Christian, the goad of duty is not needed – always prodding one to perform this or that good deed. It is not a duty to help Christ, it is a privilege. Is it likely that Martha and Mary sat back and considered that they had done all that was expected of them. Is it likely that Peter’s mother-in-law grudgingly served the chicken she had meant to keep till Sunday because she thought it was her “duty”? She did it gladly; she would have served ten chickens if she had had them.
If that is the way they gave hospitality to Christ, then certainly it is the way it should still be given. Not for the sake of humanity. Not because it might be Christ who stays with us, comes to see us, takes up our time. Not because these people remind us of Christ . . . but because they are Christ, asking us to find room for him, exactly like he did at the first Christmas.”
(Blessings and Peace to you as we journey together in Encountering Christ in Word, Liturgy, Charity, and Community. From a Saint Monica Sojourner)