It was as a poet that Merton first noticed and admired the young Jesuit priest at Cornell University, Daniel Berrigan. He and Merton had been exchanging ideas. Reviewing New Seeds of Contemplation for America magazine, Berrigan wrote of Merton:
“I like it very much, especially the New Merton who is more involved and more human.”Berrigan visited Merton at Gethsemani in August 1961 and Merton wrote in his journal:
“Father Dan Berrigan, an altogether winning and warm intelligence, with a perfect zeal, compassion and understanding. This, certainly, is the spirit of the church. This is a hope I can believe in, at least in its validity and its spirit.”And thus began their strong friendship. Merton and Berrigan were, in many ways, like a Martha and a Mary, each one supporting and inspiring and clearly admiring the other. They exchanged thoughts about the church, religious life, the peace movement, the civil rights movement, poetry, the Vietnam war, and the predicament of being “silenced” (in Merton’s case) or “exiled” (in Berrigan’s case).
Berrigan consulted Merton as his mentor – he wanted to know Merton’s thoughts and opinion on civil disobedience, church disobedience. On occasion he invited Merton to “do” something, like send a cable to the Pope asking him to condemn the Vietnam war, or join an ecumenical clergy group encouraging young men to burn their draft cards. Could Merton suggest materials that he could use in a course he was teaching on nonviolence at Cornell.
Merton confided to Berrigan his doubts about his own role in the peace movement. He concluded that he was to stay out of the lecture circuit and campus appearances, but to speak as he could through his writings. In counseling Berrigan’s work for justice and peace, Merton urged clear thinking, analysis of motivation, and a look at the “long haul".