"I had the great blessing of meeting Dorothy Day several times. She was the founder of the Catholic Worker movement and became the conscience of the Catholic Church in her time. The Catholic Workers set up 'houses of hospitality,' serving poor and homeless people across the country with 'works of mercy.' More than one hundred Catholic Worker houses are still flourishing today, feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless. It's easy to get caught up in the immediate when you are doing intense work with poor people, because it's so difficult just to keep things going. But Dorothy always made sure the Catholic Worker newspaper spoke out against systems that made people poor, attitudes that divided them by race, and governments that turned them into cannon fodder in times of war.
"Through their publication, public protest, and campaigns of nonviolent direct action, the Catholic Worker movement offered a prophetic witness alongside their works of mercy. In the opening scene from the movie about her life, Entertaining Angels, Dorothy is in jail for opposing H-bomb tests, and a poor and desperate woman is thrown into a cell with her. The picture of Dorothy cradling the frightened and crazed woman in her arms is a moving portrait of a moral leader who told the truth about political and economic power and took responsibility for the victims of that abusive power.
"Dorothy was a mentor for me and taught me valuable lessons about the courage it takes to be 'prophetic,' to speak to the deeper causes of things. She also showed me the importance of staying close to those who are victimized by power, instead of getting too cozy with the powers-that-be. Those in political power will often offer a kind of 'access' to leaders of social movements, but it is often an access without content. The powerful may like to listen to your ideas and even read your books, but that may not lead to any meaningful changes. Just talking to you makes them feel as if they're doing something, and they hope that might satisfy you, too. But it can't. I've learned that personal notes from politicians and presidents mean very little after your criticisms of their behavior appear in The New York Times.
"The biblical prophets were not hesitant to challenge the rulers of their day. That task generally found them in the desert (the usual location for the biblical prophets), rather than in the corridors of power, where the king's false 'court prophets' resided the advisors who just told him what he wanted to hear. It's always safer for your soul to be arrested for protest outside the White House than to be invited in for breakfast. Having experienced both, I find the former perhaps less comfortable but much less dangerous. A little quote from Dorothy Day hangs on the wall of my study: 'Most of our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system.' Perhaps not very poetic, but the sentiment is a crucial reminder to anyone seeking social change."