Tuesday, October 14, 2008


I was reading a bit on the life and voluntary poverty of Dorothy Day this morning and it combined with the daily reading today where Jesus (which I've never noticed before) tells the Pharisees, who are concerned that Jesus didn't ceremonially wash his hands before eating, that they need to "wash the inside of the cup." He says in Luke's Gospel (11.41), "Clean the inside by giving gifts to the poor, and you will be clean all over." That's the New Living Translation. Here's the RSV, "Give for alms those things which are within; and behold, everything is clean for you." I don't care for the NASB here because I think you lose Christ's meaning. And I like best, perhaps, the KJV and NKJV's translation, "Rather give alms of such things as you have; then indeed all things are clean to you." A meditation provided by St Ambrose was also part of the mix. I don't usually compare translations, but I felt the first translation I read seemed to muddy the meaning rather than clarify it. It certainly didn't read as St Ambrose read it. Regardless, with a slurry of reasoning and emotion, I actually had the following thought - or something inanely close to it: "I don't have enough money to choose a life of poverty."

Now, perhaps on one level this is true - perhaps my life is an involuntary life of poverty. This is a real possibility, though not according to the entire world's standards. I am, after all, typing this on a computer with a rather quick and costly Internet connection, the expense of which I justify because I freelance write. I certainly don't have such great excess that I can choose to give it away while still providing for my family. But then, would that undercut the point entirely, perhaps? The stupidity of it also rose up because of the grave responsibility I have to raise my family - which is a part of almsgiving, certainly (giving up a comfortable life for a child-rich one), though it does not, by any means, exhaust the mandate laid upon me.

Give alms of such things as you have, and you will be clean.

How do you do this? How can I do this? Shouldn't I, as an American, be wrestling with how to live out this kind of iconic, Christlike life each day? Is my giving worth anything if it doesn't hurt? I don't mean being unable to buy a thousand dollar Japanese tobacco pipe, or a new laptop, or a nice home. I mean, giving so much that you are, as Dorothy Day did, getting clothes out of the same box and eating food from the same pot with which she also served the poor. That kind of life is incarnational. How do you do that with a family? How do you do it in America?


kkollwitz said...

This is a fine question. I'm a bit ahead of you on the life curve, so here's my partial answer:

Your life will not always be what it is now, up to your armpits in kids and bills. Right now you can't live like DD, you have other responsibilities. Eventually the house gets paid for, the kids grow up and move out, and your life energies, which now are being dumped into the seemingly-bottomless pit of your children, will be available for use elsewhere.

At that point, you as a couple may decide to be like DD.

On the other hand, that life may not be your calling. Maybe God has something else in mind for you. Think of it this way: priests, nuns, and Dorothy Day all give up a good thing (a spouse and family) to do another good thing better.

But Jesus said all are not called to that kind of life, and St Paul says we all have different gifts.

There is every kind of way to seriously live out one's Christian responsibilities. Most are not as dramatic as DD's way, but that does not mean the less-dramatic is less good.

Scott Lyons said...

kkollwitz, I appreciate your comment. There's a lot good there. I've had this struggle with vocation before and have had to be reminded that being husband and father is my vocation. I see the life of some of the saints, St Francis of Assisi for instance, and think, O that I could do that for Christ! But that is not my vocation. My vocation is here. And as you put it, just because it is quiet and "normal," not as dramatic, does not mean that it is less good. And I should always understand my calling to do it "more good." (If you'll allow such violence against our language.)

Anyway, thanks.

kkollwitz said...

I think "mo' betta" is the preferred form.