Three Lessons from Father Daniel J. Berrigan

At least for my generation (Millennials), “the 70’s” means sex, drugs, and bad hair, and “the 80’s” means sex on TV, good music, and the decade my thrift-store clothes are from. What doesn’t come to mind is “penniless, powerful” or “defiant priest.” And yet, anyone familiar with the pacifist resistance movements in those years will remember, upon reading those words taken from New York Times headlines, a beautifully anarchic priest named Daniel J. Berrigan. He died in April this year. In this post, we remember him by learning a couple things from his life.

In lieu of reiterating all the inspiring stories and fascinating information orbiting Father Berrigan, here are two lessons Millennials can learn from him. Because Millennials really want change. They want revolution. They want to resist something. But as of yet, they’ve accomplished close to nothing.

Lesson One

Deeds, not things, made Father Berrigan one of the best-known Roman Catholic priests of the 20th century.”

When we buy threadbare clothes at thrift-stores (or worse, Urban Outfitters) to look like we’re counter-cultural, we’re buying the look of revolution without changing anything. We should be more like Father Berrigan who, according to one writer, “…had two kinds of clothes: threadbare, translucent from wear, and things that he had never worn… He had a shiny old black raincoat that he wore to every demonstration.” His deeds set him apart, and the same should be true for us. Not our brand new espresso machine or our unique haircut, but the way we love the marginalized and disenfranchised–that’s what counter-culture is.

Lesson Two

By choice, he had no computer. The television was never on.”

And that’s what made him able to resist the consumer impulse. He truly minimized his possessions–not because it was trendy or cool to be “minimal,” but because he was learning to be content with nothing. Nothing, that is, but actions (and the written word–he had people read to him as he laid in bed during his last weeks).

Lesson Three

He departed indifferently penniless from a world that often seems to keep score in gilded ink.”

Millennials are fairly enamored with money. Even those who want “revolution” don’t want to give up there Starbucks cards or Urban Outfitters memberships. We think money is good, but it’s just what we do with it that has the potential to be good or bad. Classic mistake, as all media ecologists know. Father Berrigan’s acts of resistance, however, were totally independent of funding. And yet, they inspired the people. Simon & Garfunkel wrote him into one of their songs. He shows up in a well-known novel. And even when his media presence began to fade, he was unfazed. When confronted with the fact that he wasn’t getting as much screen time as he once was, he responded, “I don’t think we ever felt our conscience was tied to the other end of a TV cord.” Spoken like a true media ecologist if there ever was one.

When it comes to resistance–resisting injustice, resisting tyranny, resisting consumerism, resisting sin, resisting evil–Father Berrigan teaches us three things at least. First, it has to be done. Resistance cannot be bought. Second, only the outsider can resist, and that means setting yourself apart from the saturation of the mediated world. And third, if resistance is powerful, it cannot be because of money. That would be to substitute the power of the Spirit with just another medium, a false one.

Other articles

Support Second Nature

Second Nature depends on the generous donations of readers like you.

Second Nature is published by the International Institute for the Study of Technology and Christianity (IISTC), a 501(c)3 non-profit dedicated to studying technology in light of the Christian tradition.

Your generous contributions make this work possible. Please consider donating today to help us continue this important work.

About the Contributor

James Ogden Sharpe

James Ogden Sharpe is a black belt from Texas pursuing a Bachelor's in interdisciplinary studies combining anthropology, psychology, and media studies. Were the world's economic, social, and political edifices not crumbling, he would study literature or photography or spend more time at the movies. His work has appeared before many professors and has been generally well-received--in the B+ to A- range. 

Speak Your Mind


Support Second Nature

If you find value in the work we do at Second Nature, please consider making a modest donation. Every donation, no matter how small, is a huge encouragement to us in our work.