Daniel Berrigan: Forty Years After Catonsville
“The good goes somewhere.”
40 years after Dan and Phil Berrigan burned draft records in Catonsville, Md. to protest the illegal immoral war in Vietnam, Dan is still trucking at 87, faithful to the radical vision of the nonviolent Jesus which has sustained him.
The great journalist Chris Hedges interviewed him recently in his New York apartment and Dan though hopeful was not optimistic. And there is a difference. Hope believes and banks on the “things unseen.” And this always sustained him.
“This is the worst time of my long life,” he said to Hedges “I have never had such meager expectations of the system. I find those expectations verified in the paucity and shallowness every day I live.”
Berrigan always found inspiration in the pacifist monk, Thomas Merton who told him “Stay with these, stay with these, these are your tools and discipline and these are your strengths.’” Good advice.“ He could be very tough,” Berrigan says of Merton. “He said you are not going to survive America unless you are faithful to your discipline and tradition.” And that discipline links us to the Holy Spirit of Resistance to a world going in the wrong direction, a world spending way too much on armaments and not enough on human uplift.
Dan sees very clearly the internal damage done by John Paul ll within the Catholic Church, a man who silenced the radical voice of the progressive Church and, “introduced Soviet methods into the Catholic Church including anonymous delations, removals, scrutiny and secrecy and the placing of company men into positions of great power.”
He estimates that “it is going to take at least a generation to undo appointments of John Paul II.” He despairs of universities, especially Boston College’s decision last year to give an honorary degree to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and this year to invite the new Attorney General, Michael Mukasey,who justified torture for the Bush government to address the law school. “It is a portrayal of shabby lives as exemplary and to be honored,” he says. And he has little time for secular radicals who stood with him forty years ago but who have now “disappeared into the matrix of money and regular jobs or gave up on their initial discipline.”
Berrigan argues that those who seek a just society, who seek to defy war and violence, who decry the assault of globalization and degradation of the environment, who care about the plight of the poor, should stop worrying about the practical, short-term effects of their resistance.
“The good is to be done because it is good, not because it goes somewhere,” he says. “I believe if it is done in that spirit it will go somewhere, but I don’t know where. I don’t think the Bible grants us to know where goodness goes, what direction, what force. I have never been seriously interested in the outcome. I was interested in trying to do it humanly and carefully and nonviolently and let it go.”
“We have not lost everything because we lost today,” he adds.
A resistance movement, Berrigan says, cannot survive without the spiritual core pounded into him by Merton. He is sustained, he said, by the Eucharist, his faith and his religious community.
“The reason we are celebrating forty years of Catonsville and we are still at it, those of us who are still living — the reason people went through all this and came out on their feet — was due to a spiritual discipline that went on for months before these actions took place,” he says. “We went into situations in court and in prison and in the underground that could easily have destroyed us and that did destroy others who did not have our preparation.”
The Trouble With Our State”
By Daniel Berrigan
The trouble with our state
was not civil disobedience
which in any case was hesitant and rare.
Civil disobedience was rare as kidney stone
No, rarer; it was disappearing like immigrant’s disease.
You’ve heard of a war on cancer?
There is no war like the plague of media
There is no war like routine
There is no war like 3 square meals
There is no war like a prevailing wind.
It flows softly; whispers
don’t rock the boat!
The sails obey, the ship of state rolls on.
The trouble with our state
–we learned only afterward
when the dead resembled the living who resembled the dead
and civil virtue shone like paint on tin
and tin citizens and tin soldiers marched to the common whip
the trouble with our state
with our state of soul
our state of siege–