This Advent, Ignatian writers from across the Jesuit Conference are sharing 25 days of reflections on Ignatian heroes. You can receive these reflections directly in your inbox by signing up here.
Day 22: Daniel Berrigan
By Kevin Burdinski
“Know where you stand, and stand there.”
Fr. Daniel Berrigan, SJ, did a lot of things to make Catholic social teaching a reality in our society.
He destroyed 378 Vietnam War draft files using homemade napalm in a Baltimore-area parking lot, became a fugitive on the FBI’s most wanted list and launched a movement that, to this day, trespasses on military facilities and vandalizes U.S. nuclear warheads and equipment.
I know I do not stand with any of this.
Fr. Berrigan also openly supported the LGBT community during the AIDS crisis, wrote one of the most beautiful and inspiring sentences about Catholic social justice in his description of Dorothy Day – “She lived as if the Gospel were true” – and frequently paused conversations with family members to request that everyone take turns identifying something that gives them hope.
I know I stand with all of this.
As I reflect upon his words and actions, I can’t help but realize that I’m still figuring out how to actively stand where I know I conceptually stand. There are ample opportunities in my home city of Baltimore to stand where I know I want to stand on a litany of topics. And yet, objectively, I am still sitting. Comfortably.
So why am I not doing more in the vast chasm that exists between meaningless platitudes and breaking the law?
Is it a personal fear of embarrassment in others watching me stand? Perhaps I should try to remember how Fr. Berrigan summarized what he wished others’ supposition about him should be: “Well, he certainly irritated us, and he probably was wrong on a lot of points, but maybe he’s worth listening to.”
Or, am I sitting because of self-inflicted analysis paralysis in my discernment? Fr. Berrigan had a quote for this one too: “Start with the impossible … Proceed calmly towards the improbable. No worry, there are at least five exits.”
I initially intended to write about another Jesuit, highlighting his stoicism and quiet service to others. While that individual should absolutely be celebrated, ultimately, I found myself repeatedly drawn to Fr. Berrigan — despite my disagreements with him. While meditating on him in the course of my parish social justice work, I truly felt challenged to “proceed calmly towards the improbable.” To not be quiet. To get a little uncomfortable. To grow.
So, while I personally may think Fr. Berrigan was “wrong on a lot of points” – to put it mildly – I nevertheless have to admit that, at the very least, “maybe he’s worth listening to.”
Because doing so helped me realize where I stand – and that more importantly, now all I have to do is go stand there.
Reflection: What “radical” changes, no matter how small, can I make in my life or behavior to best serve others for the greater glory of God — and transform myself into a true “contemplative in action” rather than simply a “contemplative?” Once I accomplish that change, what’s next?
Kevin Burdinski has been a member of the St. Ignatius Church parish community since 2018. He serves as co-chair of the Anti-Racism Task Force and is a member of the Parish Pastoral Council. Kevin and his wife, Kendall Conder, have presented on the groundbreaking anti-racism work of the St. Ignatius community for the Ignatian Solidarity Network and at various workshops across Baltimore. Kevin had a small but important role in the 2015 film, “Sharknado 3.”
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