By Dan Ebener
“At Play in the Lions’ Den: A Biography and Memoir of Daniel Berrigan,” by Jim Forest, 2017. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books. $28. https://tinyurl.com/y6wuctoz
Known for his story-telling ability, with biographies of Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton among his 21 books, Jim Forest took 336 pages to tell this story of Daniel Berrigan, S.J. (1921-2016). With so many stories about Dan and his circle of family and friends, and over 300 photos, the book is a masterpiece.
Anyone interested in social activism and peacemaking will find inspiration in these pages. Anyone who lived through the peace movements of the 1960s and 1970s will find this book a stroll down memory lane. Anyone who is aspiring today to take on the powers and principalities of war will find insights into the struggle.
The 1993 recipient of the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award, Father Daniel Berrigan was good friends with many other recipients on our list, most notably Dorothy Day, John Dear and Thich Nhat Hanh. This book has many stories and photos of each of them.
The opening line of the book quotes Dan as saying, “Peacemaking is hard.” The rest of the book demonstrates just how hard it can be. Protests, trials and jail time are consistent themes in this book. But more than a peace activist, Daniel Berrigan worked directly with those on the margins and advocated vigorously for the homeless, the hungry, the unborn, the sick and the dying, with whom he ministered for years.
Not one to shy away from controversy, Dan spoke out against abortion even when it was not popular among his more liberal friends. He said, “It’s an unborn child only if it’s wanted; if unwanted it’s demoted to embryo or fetus. To dare recognize it’s an unborn child, and thus deserves protection, is to be against choice, and choice is what the American way of life — and death — is all about.”
Ordained in 1952, Dan spent 64 years as a Jesuit, the Society of Jesus. Two of my personal memories of Dan confirm his efforts to live like Jesus: 1. He lived so simply — when he traveled to Davenport for Pacem in Terris, we held the dinner at a homeless shelter. He carried a small bag with barely a change of clothes.
2. When walking one day in New York with Dan, going from one meeting to the next, I remember how observant he was of those living on the streets. He stopped to talk with everyone in need. We were late to the second meeting. I don’t remember what meeting it was, but I remember to walk with more mindfulness.
A reporter once asked Dan if he believed that Jesus would come again. Dan replied, “He never left.” While Dan Berrigan may have left this earth in 2016, his life and message lives on in this book and through many of us. Thanks Dan.
(Dan Ebener is director of parish planning for the Diocese of Davenport. and a professor in the St. Ambrose University Master of Organizational Leadership program.)