The Death of a Prophet

We lost another prophet on Saturday. The Rev. Daniel J. Berrigan, a Jesuit priest and poet who was active in anti-war activities in the 1960s…and ever since. When I entered seminary in 1969 Dan and his brother, Philip, were heroes to many of us.

We were an interesting mixture on the seminary campuses of the late 1960s — some of us right off college campuses where we had marched for civil rights and against the Viet Nam war, some of us returning Viet Nam vets reassessing what they had seen and done in the light of their new-found, or renewed faith. But most all of us admired the Berrigans because we knew that, as the New York Times has it today:

“It was an essentially religious position (for them) based on a stringent reading of the Scriptures that some called pure and others radical. But it would have explosive political consequences as (the Berrigans)…and their allies took their case to the streets with rising disregard for the law or their personal fortunes.”

They were more radical than many of us: burning Selective Service draft records in Catonsville, Md.; hammering missile warheads in Pennsylvania; blocking the entrance to the Intrepid naval museum in Manhattan — Daniel the ascetic poet and Phillip a decorated hero of WW II. I sometimes questioned their tactics, but never their courage or their integrity.

And lest we think that we can slack off on our efforts for peace and justice today, that things have gotten better since the 1960s and 70s, hear this troubling comment from Daniel Berrigan just six short years ago in The Nation magazine, “This is the worst time of my long life. I have never had such meager expectations of the system.”

If he was still well enough, in his long illness, to keep up with the political machinations of today and the meager expectations so many of us have of Congress, he may well have been just as glad to close his eyes for the last time, knowing that even in this long night, he lit more than a few candles rather than being content to curse the darkness.

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