Monday, July 2, 2007

the daniel berrigan connection (part 3)

“Dan Berrigan looked like a French worker priest in beret and black turtleneck windbreaker. A good uniform for a priest …” (Learning to Love, p.233)

Merton and Dan Berrigan were each different manifestations of the same spiritual insight, two sides of the same coin, and they both knew it.

It was Dan Berrigan who drew Merton into the world of active protest and the organized Peace Movements, especially the Catholic Peace Fellowship. Merton played a pastoral role among peace activists, bringing the message back to compassion. Those involved in protest tend to become enraged with those they see as being responsible for injustice and violence and even toward those who uphold the status quo. Merton insisted that without love, especially love of opponents and enemies, neither profound personal nor social transformation could occur:

“[We must] always direct our action toward opening people’s eyes to the truth, and if they are blinded, we must try to be sure we did nothing specifically to blind them.

“Yet there is that danger: the danger one observes subtly in tight groups like families and monastic communities, where the martyr for the right sometimes thrives on making his persecutors terribly and visibly wrong. He can drive them in desperation to be wrong, to seek refuge in the wrong, to seek refuge in violence. … In our acceptance of vulnerability … we play [on the guilt of the opponent]. There is no finer torment. This is one of the enormous problems of our time … all this guilt and nothing to do about it except finally to explode and blow it all out in hatreds, race hatreds, political hatreds, war hatreds. We, the righteous, are dangerous people in such a situation. … We have got to be aware of the awful sharpness of truth when it is used as a weapon, and since it can be the deadliest weapon, we must take care that we don’t kill more than falsehood with it. In fact, we must be careful how we “use” truth, for we are ideally the instruments of truth and not the other way around.” (Letter to Jim Forest, Feb. 6, 1962)
Through his friendship with Daniel Berrigan, Merton was forced to re-examine his monastic vocation in light of the world outside the cloister walls. Merton wanted to help Dan as much as he could, but he also knew that he had to protect his spiritual home.

“And now about the monastic life and ideal, in relation to the world. Look, I hate to be vulgar, but a lot of the monastic party line we are getting, even where in some respects it is very good, ends up by being pure unadulterated --- crap. In the name of lifeless and graven letters on parchment, we are told that our life consists in the peaceful and pious meditation on Scripture and quiet withdrawal from the world. But if one reads the prophets and his ears and eyes open he cannot help recognizing his obligation to shout very loud about God’s will, God’s truth, and justice of man …

“I have gone through the whole gamut in this business. In the beginning I was all pro-contemplation, because I was against the kind of trivial and meaningless activism, the futile running around in circles that Superiors, including contemplative Superiors, promote at the drop of a hat. They will have the whole monastery humming with kindergarten projects and sure everyone that this is “contemplation.” But try anything serious, and immediately you get the “activism” line thrown at you. Or rather, I have been told (they cannot very well call me an activist, because they know how much time I put in to non-active pursuits) that I am destroying the image of the contemplative vocation, when I write about peace. Even after Pacem in Terris when I reopened the question, I was told: that is for bishops, my boy. The bishops meanwhile are saying “That is for the theologians,” and the theologians are evidently pussyfooting around as you say Courtney Murray is doing …” (Letter to Dan Berrigan, June 25, 1963)
This tension would come to a head when a pacifist, Roger Laporte, immolated himself in front of the United Nations in November, 1965.

… to be continued …

See also:
the dan berrigan connection (part 1)
the dan berrigan connection (part 2)
the dan berrigan connection (part 4)

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