CommonSpace columnist Ross Ahlfeld says when the world feels broken and weary, there is still hope
TRULY, 2016 has been a thoroughly rotten year for losing creative geniuses and others who weren’t afraid to swim against the tide.
One individual I’ll really miss is David Bowie, the Thin White Duke, and another is the obstante maestro Johann Cruyff, the Thin White Duke of football.
Yet, among all the sad farewells we said this year, there might be one creative genius you’ve perhaps not noticed or never heard of. Dan Berrigan died back in April and for many radical Christians, Christian peacemakers and Christian social activists, Dan Berrgian was Prince, Leonard Cohen, Bowie, Cruyff, Castro and Hilda Ogden all rolled into one.
Among all the sad farewells we said this year, there might be one creative genius you’ve perhaps not noticed or never heard of.
Father Daniel Berrigan SJ was a radical Jesuit priest, anti-war activist and poet who directly protested against the Vietnam War in the 1960s. Berrigan went on to become one of the US's leading anti-war activists; he also founded the anti-nuclear weapons protest group known as the Plowshares movement.
Today, the Plowshares movement is involved in non-violent, direct action against war and the raw materials used in war.
But Fr Berrigan was most famous for his participation in the Catonsville Nine. The Catonsville Nine were nine Catholic activists who in 1968 burned draft files as protest against the War.
Berrigan and the others broke into the draft office in Catonsville in Maryland, took hundreds of draft files, carried them to the car park, threw them on the ground, set them on fire and then said the Lord’s prayer as the draft papers burned while they waited for the police to arrive and take them away.
Dan Berrigan died back in April and for many radical Christians, Christian peacemakers and Christian social activists, Dan Berrgian was Prince, Leonard Cohen, Bowie, Cruyff, Castro and Hilda Ogden all rolled into one.
And so, at this time of year in the run up to Christmas, we remember Dan Berrigan and we feel his passing greatly. We think of him now, mainly because during the season of Advent we hear readings which remind us of two things:
– The Advent season is the time when we await with great expectation the coming of the Lord. This is what the great Christian festival of Christmas is about.
– Secondly, it is the time when we prepare ourselves and our society to receive the Lord when he comes.
We are told that we need to prepare a way for the Lord and make his path straight so that there will not be any obstacles in his way. Waiting with expectation and preparing to receive the Lord are two important aspects of the Advent season.
Prepare a road for the Lord through the wilderness,
clear a highway across the desert for our God
Every valley shall be lifted up,
every mountain and hill brought down;
the rugged place shall be made smooth
and mountain ranges become a plain. (Isaiah 40:3-4)
Father Daniel Berrigan SJ was a radical Jesuit priest, anti-war activist and poet who directly protested against the Vietnam War in the 1960s. He also founded the anti-nuclear weapons protest group known as the Plowshares movement.
This idea of "making a straight path" is important for radical Christian peace activists like Berrigan and all those who came after him because whenever they broke into military compounds, submarine bases or draft offices they always proclaimed that they were making a straight path for the coming of the Lord.
For example, Fr Martin Newell and Susan Clarkson from Catholic Worker were arrested on the Feast of the Holy Innocents in 2008 after cutting through a perimeter fence at Northwood Permanent Joint Headquarters.
They both stated that they came to pray, repent and "prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight". They went on to say that they prayed for all those who had died in the war in Afghanistan and especially those connected to Northwood Headquarters – including all military and civilian victims of war and especially children, since the action took place on the 28 December which is when the Catholic Church commemorates the murder of the children by King Herod in his search to destroy the baby Jesus who Herod believed threatened his empire.
Most of all, they repented of our complicity in the imperial war-making of our government and they prayed to be people committed to non-violent ways of solving conflict.
Fr Berrigan was most famous for his participation in the Catonsville Nine. The Catonsville Nine were nine Catholic activists who in 1968 burned draft files as protest against the War.
Similarly, in 1998 Treena Lenthal and Ciaron O'Rielly from Dan Berrigan’s Plowshares movement non-violently disarmed uranium mining equipment in the Jabiluka mine compound in Australia as to highlight the devastating nature of uranium.
They also left pictures of victims of nuclear weapons at the site and then sat in prayer so as to reflect on what they had done. Later they released a statement saying that the road from Jabiluka leads to Nagasaki, Hiroshima, Chernobyl, Muroroa, Missan … and that with this act of disarmament they begin to "prepare the way of the Lord a path", of non-violent resistance towards justice and peace.
Since then there have been at least 150 leaks, spills and licence breaches at Jabiluka and Ranger Uranium Mine between 1981 and 2009. It’s also worth pointing out that opposition to Jabiluka was also about Aboriginal land rights since the Jabiluka mine site was constructed on historically native lands.
In this way the action at Jabiluka mirrors the way in which many Christian denominations have become involved in the opposition to the construction of an oil pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota.
And so, where do we look for hope in a world that is broken and weary? For us, God’s only son enters into this broken humanity to bring light and life.
Finally, our spirits have been tested this year. We live in a time of escalating conflict and growing economic depression which has affected our poorest and most vulnerable.
And so, where do we look for hope in a world that is broken and weary? For us, God’s only son enters into this broken humanity to bring light and life. He becomes fully human in order to share in our darkness, to share in our moments of depression and despair.
Yet, this Christmas we can also take some hope from Dan Berrigan’s words: "It is not true that our hopes for liberation of humankind, of justice, of human dignity of peace are not meant for this earth and for this history.
"This is true: The hour comes, and it is now, that the true worshipers shall worship God in spirit and in truth. So let us enter Advent in hope, even hope against hope. Let us see visions of love and peace and justice.
"Let us affirm with humility, with joy, with faith, with courage: Jesus Christ – the life of the world."
Picture courtesy of John Attebury
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