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Peace at All Costs

A Catholic publication I regularly read recently had an article celebrating the anniversary of Daniel Berrigan’s death.  Most of the students with whom I spend my days would have no clue who Daniel Berrigan was.  The fact that he was a Catholic priest would not create any interest.  If I were to tell them Berrigan also was a Jesuit, I am sure their eyes would roll.  And they probably wouldn’t even care that Daniel Berrigan and his brother, Phil, also a Catholic priest were two formative people for my own life.  Indeed, they were models for my generation, but they can be teachers for all generations.
If not for reading this article by Art Laffin entitled, “Redeem the times! A remembrance of Daniel Berrigan,” I would not have remembered the recent death of Daniel Berrigan.  Reading the article rekindled my awareness and appreciation of this twentieth century saint.  Of course, he has not been canonized by the Roman Catholic Church---and probably won’t be---but as a Quaker, I can consider him a saint.
While many would not recognize his sanctity, all faithful men and women likely would be willing to recognize Berrigan as a prophet.  Like most prophets, Berrigan confronted people and issues.  Often he made folks squirm.  He bore witness to the gospel message in a stark and, sometimes, confrontational way.  He was repeatedly jailed for his actions.  I did not know him personally, but I felt like I knew him.  He was a challenge for me.  In some ways I felt like he grasped the essence of Quaker witness far better than I did.
I felt like I knew the Quaker position on war and peace making.  I knew the history of my tradition---its early leadership on slavery, etc.  Quakers enjoy our history, but too often we come up short on actually living out the truth of our witness.  And the truth of that witness is nothing more than trying to live the gospel life to which Jesus calls all who follow him.  For me at least, there is a discrepancy between what I know and what I am willing to do.  Berrigan always was a challenge to this discrepancy.
Berrigan is best known for his stance against the Vietnam War.  He felt quite sure that Jesus would be unwilling to condone killing of any kind.  I remember very well the debate in the 60s about whether Vietnam was a “just war.”  I had studied enough Christian history to be very familiar with the arguments Christians had developed to decide whether a war or any conflict was “just.”  The logic followed that if a war were “just,” then somehow justice could dictate killing.  For most Quakers, this logic simply did not make sense.  Clearly, it made no sense to Berrigan.
Berrigan is now dead.  Most folks---probably many religious leaders---would be glad not to have him brought again to light.  However, I find that sad.  I want to remember him.  I want him to confront me again and challenge my still lingering discrepancies.  Most of us believers need a prophet in our midst.  It is too easy to become “soft” on the Spirit.  I appreciate Art Liffin bringing Berrigan’s words back into my consciousness and provoking me to write about it.
Listen again to the challenge of Berrigan as Laffin presents them.  Berrigan implores us to “Love one another! Know where you stand and stand there! Pray with your feet! Resist Empire! Create community! No more war! No more killing and torture! No more weapons! Beat all swords into plowshares! Reach out and show compassion to all who are marginalized!”  There is so much here, it is important to unpack and develop it a little.
I appreciate the imperative to “love one another.”  That seems core to the gospel.  And it is at the heart of every major religion.  When war and violence break out, there is a breakdown of love.  A peacemaker is a love maker.  I suggest Berrigan is saying that love is where we stand.  It is where we take our stand.  “Stand there,” he counsels.  Be unmovable from that love commitment.  And then be ready for action.  “Pray with your feet.”  Wherever you go, go in prayer.  Prayer is form of care for friend and foe alike.
“Resist the Empire,” he implores.  What he means by this is to know we are citizens of a wonderful country, but our allegiance is to a higher God and to the call of that gospel to love enemies…and not shoot and kill them.  This does not make us unpatriotic, although some may claim it does.  Next is the call to “create community.”  Of course, I value this very highly.  Creating community is the surest way to include and not exclude.  Community is not the same thing as conformity.  True community is normally built on justice and love.  That is the way we proceed.
Then comes the litany that we do no more war, no killing, no torture or weapons.  Berrigan’s final call is for compassion.  Compassion is love for the other.  This particularly means the marginalized---the poor, sick, etc.  Compassion is shown for those who cannot help themselves.  Again, Jesus is a model in this kind of ministry.  Of course, there is a cost related to compassion.  Jesus paid the ultimate price.  We, too, are called to be willing to pay the cost.  We should be willing to pay the cost---peace at all costs.

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