Today is Jesuit Father Dan Berrigan’s 93rd birthday.
Fr. Dan is a poet, a protestor, a prophet, pacifist, a jail bird and fugitive from (in)justice.
I met him several times and found him a humble man, with strong opinions, but a willingness to listen.
Once in the late 1970s I attended a retreat he led at Kirkridge. He autographed a copy of his book on the psalms, Uncommon Prayer, with the note “to the happy philosopher – from Dan”.
He was “exiled” in the 1960s by his Jesuit superiors at the request of a bishop and sent to Latin America – not the place to send a budding revolutionary.
He spent time in jail for demonstrations during the Viet Nam as well for his involvement with burning of draft records (the Catonsville 9) and the pounding on nuclear warhead nose cones (the Plowshares 8).
He has written radical “commentaries” on books of the bible which, though informed by scholarship, make the scriptures very relevant to the struggles of our times.
But I never noticed any self-righteousness in his speaking or in his books, even though they are very critical. His book on Lamentations, subtitled From New York to Kabul and Beyond, is devastating in its approach.
Maybe Fr. Dan is not self-righteous because he’s a poet. Or maybe it’s because he’s a prophet who tries to be faithful to God – and risks his life and his reputation in defense of life.
In a collection entitled Testimony: The Word Made Flesh, there’s an essay “The Strange Case of the Man Who Could Not Please Anyone.” It concludes with this paragraph:
The banning of bombs, and the cherishing of the unborn, as of all living beings — this is the urgent moral business of ourselves. All of us, woven into, weaving anew the wondrous web of life. Graced with the burden and glory of the human vocation. We are stewards of life, never hucksters of death.
May we, like Fr. Dan, be stewards and defenders of life – and not hucksters of death of any sort.
Thank you, thank you for this, John.
Fr. Dan has been my silent spiritual mentor since the 60s, the era that tore our country apart and from which we have never fully recovered. God has used this beautiful soul in such profound (and challenging) ways. Prophet? Yes. Modern saint? Definitely.