The Long Loneliness

by Dorothy Day

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Themes

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Christians must walk the walk: After becoming a Catholic, Day leaves the Communist Party because of irreconcilable differences (for instance, she becomes a pacifist) between the two philosophies. At one point, she is in Washington, DC watching marchers advocating for jobs, retirement pensions, and unemployment insurance. She longs to be with them. She realizes that she has grown inward and self-centered since her Catholic conversion. She prays with "tears" and "anguish" that God show her some way to work for the poor. God, of course, responds to her prayer.

This story illustrates the importance to Day of "walking the walking:" feeding the poor, sheltering the homeless, working to affirm the dignity of all people—a program to which she devoted the rest of her life and which becomes an all-important theme in her autobiography.

Love comes through community but community is difficult: Despite its title, the book over and over affirms the importance of community. The community formed through the Catholic Worker houses and the struggle for social justice were central to Day's concept of being a Catholic. "Man is not made to live alone," she writes. Individual success and security meant little to her as long as others were struggling. Yet she does not gloss over the difficulties of living in community. She would quote frequently in her journals from The Brothers Karamazov: "Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.” Day describes, without whitewashing, the harsh conditions in which Catholic Work groups often lived: no central heating, outdoor latrines, and a shared outdoor water spigot.

God provides: Another recurrent theme is that God answers prayer. When Day prays for a way to serve the poor through Catholicism, God brings her the Catholic thinker and activist Peter Maurin. When the Catholic Workers hope to farm, a Baltimore schoolteacher sends money for a down payment on a Catholic Worker farm in Pennsylvania. When, in 1950, Day and her penniless community learn they will have to move from their New York Catholic Worker house, they pray that they not have to give up having a home together—and the money comes in, through donations large and small.

God works through broken vessels: Day uses her own story and those of other characters who populated her movement to show that God works through flawed and improbable people. As a former Communist and "unwed mother" she was an unlikely candidate to become one of Catholicism's most recognized and revered faces—and yet she did. We all can do the same, her story implies.

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