6th Sunday of Easter (C)
Speaking to his disciples on the night before he died, Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.” Then he said, “Not as the world gives do I give it to you.” Which leads me to wonder, how does the world give peace?
A few examples come to mind. We contemplate putting down weapons, disarmament, or at least restricting the use of arms. Policy makers search for common ground; they come to the table looking for mutuality. Citizens of the world seek ways to better understand one another, to be more considerate, to share to planet’s resources, and to resolve issues that lead to intolerance and division. All noble steps towards a peaceable kingdom.
It’s complicated, though. The way in which the world gives peace is complicated by the fact that the Peace that Christ left with us, which motivates and inspires us, is opposed by so many.
Yesterday Fr. Daniel Berrigan, the Jesuit priest, poet, and pacifist died. He was 94. Early on, Berrigan’s tireless work for peace took the form of protest and civil disobedience against the Vietnam war, most famously when, in 1968, he along with nine other activists seized and burned hundreds of military draft cards.
Considered by many at the time to be both a traitor and an anarchist, Berrigan tirelessly articulated, in word and deed, the unheeded message of nonviolence which he located in Scripture. His death came after nine decades of personal risk, multiple arrests, imprisonment, and ceaseless opposition to societal injustice, something he knew to be an offense against God.
Berrigan’s campaign for peace not only earned him the contempt of the US government, but it also antagonized many members of the Catholic Church hierarchy who rejected his tactics and attempted to squelch his influence on the young Catholics whom he taught in university.
As a poet, Berrigan frequently blended his pacifist and theological vision into striking commentaries on religious blindness. In the following poem published in 1964, Berrigan suggests that the Church’s attention, while sincere, is misdirected away from the essential work of Christ in the World.
We Are in Love, The Celibates Gravely Say
They hold up Christ for ascension
like twelve earnest athletes at a trampoline, but
If I go, I return, He says
skilled in gravity and the dynamics of flesh
Which decree His continuing declension
like dew or fiery napalm
Or the seeding of streams with trout eggs.
The twelve earnest orantes hold their hands
Safe as stone up to the absent One
which He presently strikes, forces and fills—
World, and world’s Body.
—Daniel Berrigan, SJ
Prophets like Daniel Berrigan and his brothers Phillip (1923 – 2002), and Jerry (1919 – 2015), walk amongst us, nudging us to awaken from our complacency. In the coming days, there will be accolades and honors and likely calls for beatification. Those of us who esteemed the work of the Berrigan brothers will read every word. But even as we hold them up and admire their vocation, we recognize that prophets are difficult to be around. Their means to peace make us uncomfortable. We dislike having the status quo challenged, and we don’t like messes.
Prophets disrupt our “peace,” which we have misunderstood to mean a lack of personal discomfort. Why can’t we just enjoy our Sunday afternoons and not be bothered? It’s just so tiresome to hear someone complain about injustice all the time.
Undoubtedly, we are responsible for some of the stain the church bears on behalf of its rejected prophets, but it is not a permanent mark.
Modern day prophets like Daniel Berrigan challenge us with every step to receive the Peace of Christ and give it to the world, not as the world gives it, but as Jesus did.
Today’s readings can be found here.
 Daniel Berrigan, SJ, ed. John Dear. We are in Love, The Celibates Gravely Say, from And the Risen Bread: Selected Poems, 1957-1997. (New York: Fordham University Press, 1998) 58.