Meditation by Phil Berrigan, prophet of peace (FOR CURRENT TIMES)
“We began to realize that we hadn’t known our country, that we had been duped by its mythology, that we had been infants at the feet of power, that we had actually worked to sustain its deceptions.”
Phil Berrigan, arrested with the Catonsville Nine
photo from the Baltimore Public Library, Catonsville Branch
Philip Berrigan was a man of God who challenged his own religion to practice what it preaches. He served in combat during World War Two and then for 16 years as a Catholic priest, before being married.
From 1968 to 2001 Philip spent 11 of those years in American prisons for his opposition to nuclear weapons and war. He died in 2002.
Cornell University Library Image
The Catonsville Nine praying Our Father and burning draft cards on May 17, 1968. Phil Berrigan is in the center.
These are some of Philip Berrigan thoughts….
For me it is a rule that a man ought to test his life against events. The United States faces a crises of staggering proportions; some call it the worse since the Civil War; others, the most severe in our history. Many sober observers are convinced that we have entered that period of decline reserved for empires that are falling apart.
No one argues about the seriousness of the crises, but most will differ about its character; in any case, our traditional institutions seem impotent before it. Business, for example, rejects both an equitable tax load and a curb on excessive profits; the military not only practices imperial terrorism but also influences high-level decision making in domestic foreign policy; the church, too, is seized with an unholy rage for law and order, while government continues to represent power rather than people.
Under neocapitalism, technology has been distinctly antihumanist, tending to make our institutions at once obsolete and unrepresentative. Burdened with the same kind of determinist and relativist philosophy as the economic and political sectors that control it, technology has thus far served as a tool of power, more to be feared than welcomed. Indeed, our mechanical inventiveness has received, assimilated, and heightened the amorality of the society that patronized it.
Such a perspective appears to shed some light on the crises gripping our society. We see the entirely traditional resolve of vested power to keep it’s crown and scepter –despite the nay-sayers… Or, to put it differently, our foreign involvements and domestic crises imply an attempt by concentrated power to maintain high levels of active and subtle violence while “pacifying” both ideological opponents and victims. And the only novel aspect of this phase of imperial decline is its apparent inevitability in a nation allegedly democratic and unsurpassingly affluent. (page 97-98)
Men still need to learn that excessive wealth, racism, and war mean the impossibility of a human, indeed a viable, society. Peace will remain an illusion until the atrocities of war and exploitation are eliminated. But it is only realism to recognize that their elimination will cost a terrible price in dislocation and suffering. And it will be the weak and the visionary who will suffer the most.
Perversely, men have always valued their poor –valued them enough to insure that they will be numerous. And men have always punished their prophets. This is because the poor and the prophet force others to look at themselves in different mirrors, the former showing men as they are, the latter as they can be. Since both reflections are painful, both are hated, along with those who show them.
When men no longer use their poor to exalt their own egos, when they no longer destroy their prophets, then justice will have come to the poor, and prophecy shall be treasured as power is now. Having banished the ancient call to strife and blood, man can begin to compete in love and service. Then we will begin to live. (page 103)
Excerpts from Prison Journals of a Priest Revolutionary by Philip Berrigan, written in 1968.
What an amazing vision, an amazing hope…
Peace is not only possible.
It is our key.