5-6: Dangerous Daniel Berrigan

Stubborn and Eloquent

Jim O’Grady wrote a biography of the Berrigan brothers, Disarmed and Dangerous: The Radical Life and Times of Daniel and Philip Berrigan, Brothers in Religion and Civil Disobedience. When Daniel died last week at the age of 94, O’Grady had this to say: “Father Daniel Berrigan was a lion of American protest, one of the most stubborn and eloquent radicals this country has ever produced.”

The Brothers Berrigan, both ordained Catholic priests, began their non-violent demonstrating during the Vietnam protests of the 1960s … and never stopped. Although Daniel ardently protested the Vietnam War, it continued for years. He protested all wars America was involved in, they continued; poverty, still exists; homelessness, the same. When O’Grady asked him late in life about what Berrigan himself described as a “world gone worse,” he replied, “We walk our hope and that’s the only way of keeping it going. We’ve got faith. We’ve got one another.” That sure looks like the three great virtues to me: hope, faith, and love for one another. He called that way of living life “religious discipline.”

We are not at a loss to find pacifists among us in all eras. Henry David Thoreau refused to pay a poll tax–and spent a night in jail for it–because he did not want his money to be used in support of a war, and then he wrote Civil Disobedience. Walt Whitman would not fight in the American Civil War, but nonetheless served as a medic for the Union Army. Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr. are all familiar names, and for the most part we know at least part of their stories.

Teachers teach, preachers preach. But conflict and killing continue. Why is that, I ask myself all the time. What do we find so odious about faith, hope, and charity that we are so quick to abandon them for heinous deeds, acceptance of the geopolitical status quo, and greed?

Reverend Daniel Berrigan will no doubt be best remembered for his anti-war activism. Yet for all the arrests, fasts, and (what many would call) failures, near the end of his life he said,  “But I’m at peace.”


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