‘The Gospel Is Hard’

A Friend Remembers Dorothy Day

One of the most striking things about Jesus as recorded in the Gospels—at least to me—is how directly he speaks to people. Yes, he often taught through parables—paradoxical, sometimes funny stories that continue to generate endless interpretations. He was canny, particularly so when dealing with the authorities, religious and secular. When they tried to trip him up, his rhetorical response could put them to scorn. Still, in most of his recorded sayings, Jesus’ yes is yes and his no is no: “No one can serve two masters” (Matt. 6:24). Yes or no? We’re still dancing around that one. Perhaps the most direct, haunting question he asked, toward the end of his life, remains “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8)

In his Tales of the Hasidim, Martin Buber tells the story of a young man who left home and journeyed far to meet the famed preacher of Mezritch, Rabbi Dov Baer (d. 1772). He did so, the tale recounts, not to “learn Torah” (the study and interpretation of the Sacred Law) from the great seer, but to see how the rabbi “unlaced his felt shoes and laced them up again.” When I first arrived at the Catholic Worker house in New York as a volunteer in 1968, I could never have imagined it would be to learn how Dorothy Day (1897–1980) tied her shoes.

Seventy at the time, taller than I had expected, Dorothy had pale blue eyes masked somewhat by...

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About the Author

Patrick Jordan is a former managing editor of Commonweal.