In his 94 years, he saved many lives and souls because he believed that being spiritual meant doing justice.
Father Dan once wrote of “the poem called death” yet “unwritten,” while walking “patiently through life,” and coping with “the mind’s dark overflow,” awaiting “the violent last line.”
Few thought of Father Dan as “patient.”
When they say, “Give me some of that old time religion,” I’d like to think they were talking about Father Dan’s brand of belief.
In sharp contrast, we are overrun these days with pulpeteers spewing forth hate, intolerance and dispirited bile.
The Berrigan Brothers, Dan and Philip, a World War II vet and religious himself, dedicated their lives to non-violent protest on behalf of peace and love and a just society and, in ironic response, were arrested for breaking the law.
In 1968, the nation saw devastating images from the Tet offensive by the North Vietnamese. Their battle cry was “crack the sky, shake the earth.” Our war strategy at the time was to kill more North Vietnam soldiers than North Vietnam could recruit in a war of attrition that put our servicemen at grave risk for this reckless policy. The nation was told we were winning the war but, if true, how could this Tet offensive possibly have occurred? The Tet offensive put the lie to the snake oil narrative that General William Westmoreland was selling — that we were “winning” the war.
The Reverend Martin Luther King spoke against the Vietnam War in 1967 at the Riverside Church. When the Reverend King was murdered after the Tet offensive in 1968, this had a profound effect on Dan and Philip who took the draft records from the Catonsville Selective Service Office weeks after King’s death, and burned them. Their purpose, according to a joint statement at the time, was to stop this nation from “exploit[ing] our young men,” and because the churches and the religious, sworn to peace by scripture, stood by, in “silence and cowardice,” doing nothing.
In the aftermath, the Brothers Berrigan were sentenced to three years in Danbury for destroying government property.
What can you say about a system of law that places the Brothers Berrigan on the “other side” of the law while the government lies to the nation, wasting young lives, and squandering a fortune of taxpayer dollars in an unjust and badly executed war?
The Brothers Berrigan made many persons in journalism, politics and public life uncomfortable because the Brothers challenged their rule of thumb world, their acceptance of the flawed established order in a stratified society that too easily embraced war and death and was seemingly indifferent to the general welfare, individual liberty, and personal responsibility.
Father Dan epitomized the Sermon on the Mount in his word and deed. He especially satisfied the scriptural prescription to become a child of God because he was a peace maker, and plainly no war maker.
Jesus says in the New Testament that, if you are tepid, I shall spit you forth from my mouth.
Dan could never be cast off for having a “tepid” spirit.
Dan stayed close to Jesus’ teachings on this score, favoring robust expression his whole life, causing unrest for the unjust, and prodding the spiritually unconscious.
If there is a hereafter, Father Dan is likely wagging a questioning finger to a soulful crowd, gathered at the entrance of the pearly gates.
On the other hand, if life is “only” a grand opera, well played by the best of us, then Father Dan’s life was a Carnegie Hall triumph worthy of admiration and imitation.