Catholic Social Teaching Corner: Fr. Daniel, the Lion

May 2, 2016

Catholic Social Teaching Corner: Fr. Daniel, the Lion I started paying attention to Fr. Daniel Berrigan, the Jesuit peace activist who died on Saturday, April 30th, when I was a college student in the 1980s. To my delight I read that this famous agitator had been arrested for a protest in front of an abortion clinic. Contrary to the spirit of internal Catholic dissent that I had been exposed to growing up, it seemed Fr Dan instead represented an authenticity in following the fullness of the Church’s social message. Too often the peace and justice wing in the Church neglects the so-called “conservative” teachings on human life and the family; just as often there is dead silence from the Pro-life side on the magisterial teachings on non-violence and economic justice. Here was someone who seemed to unite the two sides. unnamed Many years later I went on a retreat with Fr. Dan, centered on the prophet Daniel. He loved the Old Testament prophets and saw in them a perennial example of social justice preaching – “speaking truth to power.” It was a transformative experience and an utter delight. I befriended a fellow retreatant who was a veteran of many anti-abortion protests. He saw in Fr. Dan, I think, a kindred spirit – someone who was aware of a murderous sickness in the world and wanted to witness instead to truth and justice. Dan, a lion when it came to confronting the “system”, was a lamb to us, gentle and encouraging. Perhaps the most vivid lesson I took from the experience was the ability he had, even as a famous speaker and writer,  to listen profoundly to each person. It was surely a characteristic of the love that “bears all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7). I can’t claim to be a radical like Fr. Dan. I went to him for a “dose” of social justice. It was a strong dose, administered by someone who practiced what he preached; and it has stayed with me. Likewise I have gone many times to another recently departed Catholic prophet, Mother Angelica, for a dose of old-fashioned Catholic piety. I see no contradiction. The goal is not to be part of a wing but to be fully Christian, totally Catholic. As a Dominican, I am called to reject nothing that is true. May Fr. Dan rest in peace and may we all join him one day together with Jesus our Lord in the Communion of Saints. – Fr. Francis Belanger, O.P.

Image: Albrecht Durer, Lion (date unknown)

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