A Memorial Day reflection from Daniel Berrigan, America’s late peace-priest

The best way to remember those who have been killed in battle is to work for the day when others will no longer be sent to take their place.
Prayerfully reflecting on how to move away from war and war preparation should be central to every Memorial Day.

Why do presidents and Congresses send young men and women to kill and be killed? Why do most Americans so easily accept their worn-out, immoral answers? And why can’t we finally learn how to wage peace, instead of war?

Some time ago, while reflecting on these very questions, I turned for insight to America’s preeminent Catholic anti-war veteran, the recently deceased Jesuit Fr. Daniel Berrigan.

When I talked with him, the soft-spoken Berrigan, then in his upper 80s, told me he was still writing, giving retreats and getting arrested for anti-war civil disobedience. Fr. Berrigan said as a young Jesuit he met and worked with two giant Catholic figures of the 20th century — Dorothy Day and Trappist monk Thomas Merton. Their deep spiritual and uncompromising commitment to nonviolence had a lasting effect upon his life.

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His late brother Philip also deeply influenced him. They were truly kindred spirits. After all, they were known as the “Berrigan brothers.”

Fr. Berrigan said in the mid-1960s Cardinal Francis Spellman, then archbishop of New York, strongly supported American involvement in the Vietnam War. The cardinal said the Vietnam War was a just war. The Berrigans said, “No war is just.”

Daniel Berrigan added, “I don’t know how we can open the Gospel and wage war.”

While Spellman was flying to Vietnam aboard a U.S. bomber, Berrigan told me he and his brother Phillip were protesting in front of New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral holding a banner that read “Thou Shall Not Bomb.”

As people passed by they handed out anti-war leaflets stained with their own blood. “It’s better to give blood than to take it,” he added.

One of Berrigan’s most symbolic acts of civil disobedience — which landed him in prison — was when he and eight other protesters used napalm to burn paper draft records in Catonsville, Md. He said they used napalm to highlight the fact that American warplanes were dropping napalm bombs on countless Vietnamese civilians.

Berrigan explained that napalm is made out of kerosene and soap chips. The soap chips allow burning kerosene to adhere to human skin. He said, “It’s criminal to burn paper, but not criminal to burn children.

“What do we make of the Sermon on the Mount while all this is going on,” questioned Fr. Berrigan. “Jesus lived by nonviolence, he commanded us to love our enemies.”

Berrigan not only fiercely opposed the violence of war, but consistently opposed all forms of violence. Having protested at abortion centers, he said, “A decent society should no more have an abortion clinic than the Pentagon.”

Berrigan contrasted the flag-flying militaristic “patriotism” that shapes much of Memorial Day, to that of Gospel nonviolence with these words: “Are we Christians who happen to be American? Or are we Americans who happen to be Christian?”

The very fate of the nation, not to mention our souls, hinges on our answer.

May the peacemaker Fr. Daniel Berrigan, rest in eternal peace with the God of peace.

And through his intercession, may all who proclaim to be disciples of the Prince of Peace, sincerely pray and sacrificially work to build up the peaceable Kingdom of God on earth, as it is in heaven.

 

BONUS COLUMN :

Below is another recent column by Tony Magliano: “Holding My Grandbaby, I experienced the miracle of Life”

 

I experienced a miracle!

A few days ago, I held in my arms my first grandbaby — newly born Faith Annmarie.

Thank God she’s healthy and perfectly formed. And as I was looking at her, I reflected how wonderfully she is made — arms, hands, fingers, legs, feet, toes, eyes, mouth, nose, ears, as well as what I couldn’t see but was just as real — hundreds of different tissues, dozens of organs including the remarkable brain, and trillions of cells.

And then I reflected on her eternal soul, the crown-jewel — that human and divine-like aspect which will later give her the capacity of free will and reason.

I marveled at the goodness and awesomeness of our Creator. And I recalled the psalmist praising God with these beautiful words: “You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works!”

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And then I thought that this new baby, my granddaughter, did not all of a sudden come fully and perfectly formed at birth — as though by magic. No, she had miraculously developed step-by-step for nine months prior to birth in her mother’s womb. Yes indeed, as Psalm 139 proclaims: Oh God, “you knit me in my mother’s womb.”

Just think of the awesomeness of how human life comes into existence. According to Medline Plus of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, when a single sperm and the mother’s egg unite conception occurs. This new single cell known as a zygote contains all of the genetic information (DNA) needed for the new human being to develop throughout life.

Just think about it: Your life started as a single-cell zygote. And now look at you!

At around four days, the zygote, now consisting of 32 cells, becomes known as an embryo. During the next seven and a half weeks the human embryo develops all of the body’s systems and structures.

At four weeks in utero the human heart is growing at an astounding rate of 1 million cells per second, according to Alexander Tsiaras, medical image-maker and founder of TheVisualMD.com, a compendium of health visualizations.

Following the eighth week after conception, the baby is known as a fetus. At this point of development, organs like the brain, liver and kidneys start functioning inside the tiny human life. Life support systems continue growing and becoming ever more sophisticated until the baby is able to live outside the mother’s protective and nurturing womb.

All of this is truly too miraculous for words. So, take a look at this remarkable video [contains some nudity] titled “From Conception to Birth” produced by Tsiaras and presented at a TED Talk.

When honestly examined with a humble, open mind and open heart, the absolutely amazing creation and development of each human being points directly to an awesome, generous, loving Creator.

But if that’s not enough, and indeed it should be, science is crystal clear that human life begins at conception.

Years ago, while attending a pro-life conference sponsored by Americans United for Life, I asked the late world-renowned French geneticist Dr. Jerome Lejeune when human life begins. He instantly replied, “At conception of course.”

And Dr. Lejeune is not alone here. Far from it.

The late professor emeritus of medical genetics at the Mayo Clinic, Dr. Hymie Gordon, said “By all the criteria of modern molecular biology, life is present from the moment of conception.”

In his medical textbook “Human Embryology,” the late Dr. Bradley M. Patten, Ph.D., states, “Conception marks the initiation of a life of a new individual.”

There is never a good reason for killing an unborn human baby.

Let all believers in the God of life tirelessly pray and work for the day when every marvelously created human life is welcomed into the world as the wonderful gift he or she is.

 

 

Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated social justice and peace columnist. He is available to speak at diocesan or parish gatherings about Catholic social teaching. His keynote address, “Advancing the Kingdom of God in the 21st Century,” has been well received by diocesan and parish gatherings from Santa Clara, Calif. to Baltimore, Md. Tony can be reached at .img.

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