What Is a Man, a Woman, a Saint?


Fight for Identity

In the 1995 movie, “Citizen X,” there is a particularly powerful scene that can contribute to every discussion of what a man is and what a woman is. In a 23-second exchange between actors Donald Sutherland and Stephen Rea they quickly distinguish between people who merely talk about their identity and people who mark their identity by fighting for what they believe in. Not surprisingly, those who fight are held in higher esteem than those who are all talk. Even stronger, the climax of their dialogue promotes a further claim that people who are unwilling to fight for what they believe in are not real men or real women at all.

The Saints Were Holy Warriors

The saints, whether male or female, established their identity through, with, and in Christ. Often, they had to fight to stay standing firm upon this foundation. Sometimes they encountered physical obstructions and other times their barriers were psychological. Occasionally even their family members might present a challenge to their faith. Certainly, the Evil One did everything within his power to prevent a saint's dependence upon and communion with Christ. But in the end, their battle was always worth a crown of victory. And their scars proclaimed the legacy they left behind for the rest of us to emulate and follow. All these holy “fencers” stood their ground as real men and real women who were willing to fight in defense of the real Christ. All but one.

The Woman Who Would Not Fight

November is a special time for saints. On the first day of the month, we celebrate those blessed saints who are already enjoying the beatific vision. On the second day, we celebrate those blessed souls who will be basking in the beatific vision in the future. Either way, there is cause for rejoicing here. But the month of November is particularly special for Servant of God Dorothy Day. She was born on Nov. 8, 1897. She died three weeks after her 83rd birthday on Nov. 29, 1980. The hallmark of this somewhat controversial lady was her obstinate refusal to fight. Ironically, it was her stubborn pledge against violence that will probably merit her head with a halo. But even without a sword, she was a very strong-willed individual. To someone who once called her a saint to her face, she replied, “Do not dismiss me so easily.”

A Lifeline Across Troubled Waters

Her craft with words, written and spoken on behalf of the poor, the disadvantaged, and the downtrodden, was as powerful as her energy and service on their behalf.

She can be known as a “bridge-builder” because she linked together all that was good in both liberal and conservative approaches toward reform. She was a person who not only spoke about the spiritual and corporal works of mercy but also put them into practice. In our Church today, she stands tall as the consummate Catholic laywoman who closed the gap between talking and doing by performing both extremely well and always selflessly, albeit nonviolently, for the poor. One of Ms. Day's favorite imitations, which she frequently repeated in her monthly newspaper, originated from G. K. Chesterton: “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and not tried.”

Never Embarrassed for God

In the end, we can be confident that she will be remembered most for saying, “If I have achieved anything in my life it is because I have not been embarrassed to talk about God." We know she could just as easily have added, “and I have not been embarrassed to do God's 'dirty' work either.”

Straw Man, Tin Man or Lion?

Dorothy Day was an anti-violence, social justice advocate who used words to fight for who she was and what she believed in. By the close of the “Citizen X” movie, General Fetisov (Donald Sutherland) actually does fight the administration to save the job held by Colonel Burakov (Stephen Rea). But unlike the cowardly beast in the land of Oz who got his courage from a wizard, Sutherland confesses to Rea that “if you spend enough time with a lion, the idea of roaring starts to seem reasonable.” That is, he got his courage to fight from other fighters. This month, we might ask ourselves: “Are we spending enough time with Christ and the saints and the sacraments of the Church to obtain the grace and strength we need to fight for what is morally right without resorting to violence or even to roaring in the process?

For Holy Homework:

Taking our cue from Dorothy Day who said she was not embarrassed to talk about God, let's plan a meal in a restaurant this month, preferably on Nov. 8 or 29. Let's begin by making the sign of the cross and offering this grace before we eat: Bless us O Lord and these Thy gifts which we about to receive from Thy bounty through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

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