Tag Archives: Daniel Berrigan

The prophet and the national feast

“I hate, I spurn your feasts.”
Amos 5:21

In most of the world, outside the US, the first reading for Mass is from the prophet Amos, 5: 14-15, 21-24. Reading Amos is not the most patriotic way to celebrate the feast of the Independence of the US. Amos did not mince words, but spoke up for the poor and oppressed, in the face of patriotic piety and a pious patriotism that melded the nation of Israel with a religiosity that said little or nothing about justice and the poor.

“Let justice prevail at the gate,” where pleas for justice were heard, proclaims the prophet.

Where is there justice, especially for those at the margins, at the borders? Does justice prevail or do we face, in the words of the prophet Daniel Berrigan, “the dark side of imperial ‘normalcy’.”

According to the code of palace and temple, it is normal that integrity be despised and just judges be derided (or removed) normal that the weak be crushed and ruinous tithes imposed, normal that oppressors and extortionists flourish.
(Minor prophets: Major Themes, pp.144-145)

The solution is simple, says Amos 5:24:

…let justice surge like water,
and goodness/righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

A psalm for Father Dan Berrigan

Today Fr. Dan Berrigan’s body will be laid to rest.

To celebrate this I read the psalms for Morning Prayer of the Office for the Dead. The final psalm, 146, seems particularly fitting for this priest, prophet, poet, prisoner.

“I will make music to God while I live.” (verse 2)

His poetry and his writings have been music to my ears, opening them more fully to God.

“Put no trust in princes…” (verse 3)

Fr. Dan did not trust princes, especially those who are armed to the teeth with weapons of death. Fr. Dan’s life spoke of a deeper trust – in a God of Life.

“It is he who keeps faith for ever,
who is just to those who are oppressed.
It is he who gives bread to the hungry…” (verses 6-7)

I am not sure whether the psalmist is speaking of the Lord or of those who put their hope in the Lord. Does it matter? We are to be holy as the Lord is holy, to be just as the Lord is just, to share our bread as the Lord has shared bread with us.

“…the Lord sets prisoners free…” (verse 7)

Even more, we are called to set prisoners free. The Resurrection of Christ icon has Jesus setting free Adam and Eve and all the holy ones who went before Him. He breaks the gates of Hell.

“the Lord gives sight to the blind,
raises up those who are bowed down;
the Lord protects the stranger
and upholds the widow and orphan.” (verses 8-9)

Fr. Dan opened the eyes of many of us so that we can not deny that we are called to raise up those bowed down by violence and poverty, we are called to protect the stranger and migrant in our midst, we are called to uphold the least of all.

“It is the Lord who loves the just
but thwarts the path of the wicked.” (verses 8-9)

Fr. Dan loved justice and his acts of holy disobedience were often attempts to thwart the path of the the wicked.

“The Lord will reign forever….” (verse 10)

My guess is that this is what Fr. Dan prayed for.

May the Reign of God, a reign of love, justice, peace, come.

I think we’ve seen glimpses of this Reign in the life of Father Dan.


The translation of the psalm is adapted from the Grail translation.


Maurin, Berrigan, Macedonia, and me

If I have my notes correct, today is the birthday of Fr. Dan Berrigan in 1921 and of Peter Maurin in 1876, two men who are important prophetic figures in the church in the US.

Peter Maurin, a French peasant, met Dorothy Day in 1932 and together they found themselves beginning a movement that continues to call the Church to live the Gospel with the poor. Peter Maurin had a vision and Dorothy Day had the desire to connect her new faith with the needs of the poor.

Peter Maurin was noted for his pithy poems, his “Easy Essays,” which often contained messages that are far from easy:

The world would be better off
if people tried to become better.
And people would become better
if they stopped trying to become better off.
For when everyone tried to become better off
nobody I better off.
But when everyone tried to become better,
everyone is better off.

Everybody would be rich
if nobody tried to become richer.
And nobody would be poor
if everyone tried to be the poorest.
And everybody would be what he ought to be
if everyone tried to be
what he wants the other fellow to be.

Dan Berrigan is a Jesuit priest, poet, prophet, and peacemaker – a man of God who has put his body where his words led him. As he is reported to have said:

Your faith is rarely where your head is at and rarely where your heart is at. Your faith is where your ass is at! Inside what commitments are you sitting? Within what reality do you anchor yourself?”

Where is my butt?

It’s here in Honduras. In a way, it’s here because I was open to the call when I visited in 2006 and heard today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles 16: 1-10. Paul wants to go a few places but the Spirit prevents him. Then he has a dream where a Macedonian tells him: “Come across to Macedonia and help us.”

So here I am, but is my butt really with the poor?

That’s the continuing question.

The challenge of Jeremiah

“I am too young.”
Jeremiah 1: 6

 Today’s reading from the prophet Jeremiah (1: 1, 4-10) has often been used to encourage young people to participate in the church, to assume leadership roles, to take public prophetic stands. “Your age doesn’t matter, “ we might say.

But this morning, as I read Daniel Berrigan’s commentary on this passage, in Jeremiah: The World, the Wound of God,” I began to wonder whether we have missed something.

God is asking Jeremiah to be a prophet, which will mean announcing destruction and the overthrow of the city, as well as a call to build and to plant. More than enough to make any one hesitate.

His call, though, is not just something God just thought of at the last moment. As Dan Berrigan writes:

What a predicament; what a harsh announcement! It falls, a bolt from the blue:
“Before I formed you,… before you were born,… I appointed you.”

Isn’t that too much for anyone?

As Berrigan remarks,

 Jeremiah can only protest: “I don’t know how to speak; I am too young.” Does he protest too much, as some have claimed? No matter his age, the sense goes deeper. Who, at any stage of life, issued such a summons, would not feel callow, inept, a stutterer?

Do I take God’s call too blithely? Do I recognize the seriousness of being a prophet? – Aren’t we all called to be prophets, in some way? Do I underestimate the challenge?

Jeremiah was realistic. He knew his words would not be heeded. But he spoke forth, reassured by God.

As Berrigan continues:

    The word in all its integrity, be it understood, is one thing — its reception quite another. So must the speaker of the word stand and withstand, more often than not, alone, a guardian, a lonely sentinel of the truth. Regardless of outcome.
Such understanding, entering the soul’s fiber and weaving it anew, gives rise to marvelous images of strength. Jeremiah “Will be like a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall.” Which is to say: as possessor of the truth, possessed by the truth, your strength surpasses that of all the others—“kings, priests, and the people.” A bit much —

A bit much – but maybe our calling.





A US prophet

Fr. Dan Berrigan, S.J., turns 92 today.

Poet, priest, prophet, scripture commentator, Fr. Dan has been a sign of contradiction in the US church and a thorn in the side of the US empire. Jailed for his involvement in anti-war activities, including the burning of draft files in 1968 and the denting of a bomber with hammers, he is first of all a priest who has sought to live the Gospel without counting the cost.

“”If you want to follow Jesus, you better look good on wood,” he said.

I’ve heard Fr. Dan several times. In the late seventies I went to a retreat he was leading at Kirkridge, Pennsylvania. I had him sign my copy of his book on the Psalms, where he addressed me as “the happy philosopher.”

Where other protestors of war and violence come across as self-righteous, Fr. Dan seems different – open, tranquil, listening. Perhaps it’s because he’s a poet.

There is a meditation he wrote on the poor that recalls the importance not only of sharing our bread with the poor but getting to know the poor, seeing their faces, experiencing with them their joys and sorrows

  Sometime in your life,
hope that you might see one starved man,
the look on his face when the bread finally arrives.
Hope that you might have baked it
or bought it or even kneaded it yourself.
For that look on his face,
for your meeting his eyes across a piece of bread,
you might be willing to lose a lot,
or suffer a lot,
or die a little.



Dan Berrigan, US prophet, turns 90

On May 9, 1921, Jesuit priest, poet, and prophet, Daniel Berrigan was born. Father Dan is known for his outspoken – and poetic – resistance to war and oppression. Exiled from New York to Latin America for a short period, he returned and became involved in opposition to the US War in Vietnam and later in opposition to the US nuclear arsenal. He has spent time in prison for burning draft files and pouring blood on nuclear-related weaponry.

I have met him and heard him speak several times. What I most appreciate about him is his poetic approach which is humble, yet cuts to the heart. Here’s one thing he wrote which speaks to me, especially since I love to bake bread.

 Sometime in your life,
hope that you might see one starved man,
the look on his face when the bread finally arrives.

Hope that you might have baked it
or bought it or even kneaded it yourself.
For that look on his face,
for your meeting his eyes across a piece of bread,
you might be willing to lose a lot,
or suffer a lot,
or die a little.