Monday, March 22, 2010

Dorothy Day, Personalism and Health Care Reform


I have often been reminded in the past few weeks of the late Dorothy Day. Each time I think of Gaudi or, particularly, Georges Rouault, I also think of Jacques Maritain, Flannery O'Connor and Ms. Day. Most of them, with the exception of O'Connor, were contemporaries in what I like to call "Jazz Age Catholicism."

But it's on this particular day, the day this country has new health care reform, that I thought of Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, along with Peter Maurin.

We've heard Catholics on both sides of the current legislation for health care reform weigh in: the CHA, and a few nuns, along with those who agree with them say we need this legislation; that Christ compels us as a society to take care of our brethren. This legislation will help us do that, they say. They have a point. The bishops, on the other hand, agree with some of the legislation, but are very wary about abortion provisions. Some bishops have said we cannot support such legislation the life of the unborn is not adequately protected. They have their point as well, yet something seems to be missing in both of these positions.

I believe there is a third way.

Dorothy Day walked the path of that third way. The essence of the Catholic Worker movement that she and Peter Maurin founded in 1933 is a personalism founded in Christ. Day of course is most noted for her anti-war activities, but the underpinning of her pacifism was always Christ and the value and dignity of the human person.

That value, that dignity, has been all but obscured in the debate on health care reform, or rather health care insurance reform. Insurance is what the debate and it's subsequent bill, have been about. The actual care of the person has been thrown to wayside.

Recently, a friend relayed a story of a visit to the doctors office with her daughter. I think it gets to the heart of the problem of health care today. My friend, Suzanne, took her daughter in for a check-up and while she was there, Suzanne asked the doctor to take a quick look at something on her arm. She was sure it was nothing, but asked anyway. The doctor told her to make an appointment with his secretary. He did not even look at Suzanne's arm. This is what health care has come to in the US: a doctor won't look at someone without an appointment. The appropriate paperwork needs to be filled out. The proper billing needs to be completed. The person in front of the doctor, is tossed away, either by necessity of paperwork and legalities or by the doctor's choice not to deal with the issue at hand.

This is the kind of systematic dismissal of humanity Dorothy Day warned against. It is the kind of dismissal Christ asks us to let go of.

In chapter six of House of Hospitality, Ms. Day writes:

"Let reform come through love of God only, and from that love of God, love of each other."
She then goes on to quote St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 8:14:
"Out of your abundance supply their want."
Abundance is anything: time, money, material goods. Above all, it is personalism. It is voluntary poverty.

Personalism isn't reform through legislation; it is reform of the individual and conformity to Christ. It begs us to give so much more of ourselves; so much more than just our tax dollars.

As I was praying the Mass this morning, I was inspired to add another feature to this blog. So, starting with this post, we will have quotes and meditations from Dorothy Day. They will be under the category "Dorothy (mon)Day."

Here is the first Dorothy (mon)Day quote of the week:

From "More About Holy Poverty. Which Is Voluntary Poverty."

"But who is to take care of them if the government does not? That is a question in a day when all are turning to the state, and when people are asking, "Am I my brother's keeper?" Certainly we all should know that it is not the province of the government to practice the works of mercy, or go in for Insurance. Smaller bodies, decentralized groups, should be caring for all such needs.

The first unit of society is the family. The family should look after its own and, In addition, as the early fathers said, "every home should have a Christ room in it, so that hospitality may be practiced." "The coat that hangs in your closet belongs to the poor." "If your brother is hungry, it is your responsibility."

"When did we see Thee hungry, when did we see Thee naked?" People either plead ignorance or they say "It is none of my responsibility." But we are all members one of another, so we are obliged in conscience to help each other. The parish is the next unit, and there are local councils of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Then there is the city, and the larger body of charitable groups. And there are the unions, where mutual aid and fraternal charity is also practiced. For those who are not Catholics there are lodges fraternal organizations, where there is a long tradition of charity. But now there is a dependence on the state. Hospitals once Catholic are subsidized by the state. Orphanages once supported by Catholic charity receive their aid from community chests. And when it is not the state it is bingo parties!"

It is only through engaging another person can true reform happen.


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