Social Justice

Mysticism and Resistance: Amos - Daniel Berrigan

posted on 03/09/10 03:35 pm by Fr. Paul Hansen, C.Ss.R.  


As mentioned last time when we gathered, we are living in End Times. By that we do not mean the end of the world, but the end of the world, as we have known it. The Mystery we call God graces difficult moments in the faith journey of peoples with Prophetic Imagination. We are living in such a moment in these our times. Our God is gracing us with the “New Deed” (Is. 43:18) of prophetic imagination.

Jessie Jackson said it well: “Every text without a context is a pretext.” Our context is exile. Remind folks of Brueggemann’s notion of Exile as presented in his book: “Deep Memory – Exuberant Hope” Our modern exile is as devastating as that experienced by ancient Israel.

Isaiah points out to us in chapter 43: “No longer necessary to recall the past, can you not see I am doing a new deed, do you not see it. I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert… I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.”

HOPE for the people of God was always found in recalling the great deeds of liberation of God. Surely the God who brought us out of Egypt and captivity and who feed us with manna in the desert and gave us the law on the mountain, surely this good will now free us. However Isaiah tells the people to no longer recall the past but see the New Deed that God is doing in this exile or desert place of disconnect and dislocation.

DESERT EYES – In order to see the New Deed being done, one needs to develop desert eyes. Jim Corbett and his book “Goat Walking” speaks of developing desert eyes so that we can see life, nourishment and freedom in the desert, see the New Deed.

ISAIAH 61 – LUKE 4 – For the early Christians, Jesus was the New Deed of Isaiah. Let us remind ourselves of Isaiah 61: 1-3 and Luke 4:18-19. We saw in our last reflection – Isaiah and Dorothy Day the New Deed of God being done – The Catholic Worker movement.


Now let us take a look at the prophet Amos, his life and his message and see how the New Deed in this our desert and one who lives the prophecy of Amos for our time is the Jesuit Father Daniel Berrigan and the community of war resisters who critique the military industrial complex and corporate greed that drives our economy and way of life and who expose the state sponsored violence and economic oppression. God rejects the very idea of religious piety divorced from Social Justice. Berrigan’s life of Divine Obedience has led him to a way of Civil Disobedience.

But first the Prophet Amos

Amos comes from the shepherd fields of TEKOA some 10 miles South of Jerusalem near Bethlehem in the Kingdom of Judah. At this point in Israel’s history there are only 2 kingdoms left – Israel in the North with its capitol of Samaria and Judah in the South with its capitol of Jerusalem. The other 10 tribes seem to have disappeared.

Amos prophesied during the Reign of King Jeroboam 11 786-746 BCE. Amos went from the South to utter his prophecies in the North. He goes to the capitol of the Northern Kingdom – Samaria and to the sanctuary of Bethel. Eventually the High Priest sent him packing and he returns to the South and his shepherd fields. The name Amos means, “burden.” And the name Tekoa means, “to sound the ram’s horn.”

Amos saw flagrant injustices in society:

1. Extensive international commerce for the benefit of the wealthy. 2. Deceitful business practices not only to cheat the poor but also to seize their land. 3. The amassing of natural resources for sensual pleasure.

Assyria had defeated its long time enemy Damascus around 800 BCE leaving Israel free to extend its territory and privileges. Such material blessing the people thought proved God’s pleasure with them.

Amos’ sermons and oracles were cutting to the roots of Israel’s life. All God’s promises to the Israelites and the divine presence among them would end. Whatever survived would be “like a brand plucked from the fire.” 4:11, like the shank bone of a sheep that “the shepherd snatches from the mouth of the lion.” 3:12

In the eyes of Amos, Yahweh was the God of the poor as was the case when Yahweh delivered slaves out of Egypt and gave dispossessed people their own Promised Land.


1. Oracles against the Nations: 1:3 – 2:16. 2. Three Judgment speeches: 3:1 – 5:6. 3. Three collections of Woe Sayings: 5:7-17: 5:18-25; 6:1-14. 4. Four Visions: 7:1-9 – 8:1-3.

We will take a look at the Collections of Woe Sayings and bring them into Dialogue with the life and discipleship of Daniel Berrigan but first a quick look at the person of Father Daniel Berrigan, Jesuit.


Daniel Berrigan was born on May 9th, 1921, the fifth of six sons. He father was of Irish descent and his mother was born in Germany. At the age of 6 Daniel and his family moved to Syracuse, New York. Daniel had no love for his father but a deep relationship with his mother. Only in death did Daniel reconcile with his father. His mother he loved and from her he learned much.

Berrigan joined the Jesuits at the age of 18. He made his novitiate on the Hudson and then later studied philosophy and theology at Woodstock and then later at Weston Theological. During this time he taught high school in New York and after ordination went to France for a year to do his tertian ship. Dan was also asked to study informally spirituality because of his ability as a writer and a poet.

Returning from France, Berrigan became editor of the Jesuit Magazine – Jesuit Mission. It was a way of shutting Berrigan up. The War in Vietnam and his brother Philip, a Josephite Priest had a powerful life-changing affect on him. “The war turned me upside down, my family also. Upside down, our pockets turned out, possessions and honours and the credit of a good name, routine, soutane, long black line, institutional life, all suppositions of geography and soul. All things normally to be thought of as up, or as down, tossed upside down.”

In 1964 Berrigan became very close to Dorothy Day and The Catholic Worker. In 1965 he became a very close friend of the Jewish theologian and social activist Abraham Heschel. Heschel became a father to Dan. At this time he met and loved the Trappist priest Thomas Merton.

In 1965 Cardinal Spellman had the Jesuits banish Berrigan to Latin America to cool him off. The experience made Dan all the more committed.

Upon returning in 1967 Berrigan went to Cornell University as part of the Chaplaincy/Pastoral team. This was the year leading up to the student unrest across the country in 1968. Berrigan began to see that the true gods in the United States were those of property and money.

“If the President of the U.S. had announced during the Vietnam War that all the autos in America were to be commandeered by the military, the war would have shortly become unwageable. But because he was only commandeering the sons of citizens, the war went on.”

Berrigan saw that faith, spirituality and theological reflection must be rooted in historical struggle. “We do not need more altar calls but street calls,” he would say. “After the ecstasy, the Buddhists say – go do the laundry.” Berrigan saw the Catholic Church preaching an incomprehensible Gospel: “Go with what is going.”

In 1967 Berrigan flew with Howard Zinn to Hanoi to secure the release of some U.S. pilots.

In 1968 he was part of the burning of draft cards that he called hunting licenses in Catonsville, Maryland. For that and other destruction of military weapons especially nuclear weapons – “property” – he has been in and out of jail.

Berrigan lives at the moment on the Upper East Side of New York and works in an AIDS hospice while demonstrating here and there writing books on different literatures of the Bible that result from retreat and seminars that he continues to give.

Berrigan is convinced that War Making is total. He agrees with D. Eisenhower who in 1945 after the Second World War, warned of the Military Industrial Complex that would rule all life.

In 1948 George Kennan then head of the U.S. State Department’s policy planning staff wrote: “We have about 50% of the world’s wealth but only 6.3% of its population.. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships, which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without detriment to our national security. To do so we have to dispense with all sentimentality and daydreaming… We should cease to talk about vague and unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the standard of living and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.”

You Become Your Enemy – you take on the characteristics of your enemy. In the Cold War the U.S. has fought what it called Atheistic Materialism and in do doing has become an incredible materialistic nation and culture itself. You become what you worship. You take on the characteristics of that which you worship. So we had better get our God right! We can be robbed of the work of art that we are.

Mary Jo Leddy in her new book: Radical Gratitude speaks of the Culture of Dissatisfaction in which we live. The Idolatrous Consumer Capitalism has created a culture of low-grade guilt, low-grade depression and senses that we are never enough.

“If you want to be a follower of Christ, you had better look good on wood.”


To facilitate our task this evening let us look at the “Woe Sayings” of the Prophet Amos and then relate these ideas to the insights of Berrigan.

Read AMOS 5: 7-17

“Therefore because you have trampled upon the weak and exacted of them levies of grain and have built houses of hewn stone, you shall not live in them….Yes I know how many are your crimes, how grievous your sins: Oppressing the just, accepting bribes, repelling the needy at the gate….. Hate evil and love good and let justice prevail at the gate. Then it may be that the Lord the God of hosts will have pity on the remnant of Joseph.”

For Berrigan justice is the first call for the Christian. In the early church the Romans summoned Lawrence and wanted the wealth of the Early Christians. Lawrence brought the weak, the poor, the marginal, the lame etc. to the gates of the Empire and said to Caesar: “Here is the wealth of the Christians.”

Berrigan calls the present system in the U.S. “That dirty rotten system.” Look at the Corporate Greed. Even look at the new cathedral in Los Angels costing over $150 million dollars and cutting back all the social projects of the diocese etc

Read: Amos 5: 18-25

“I hate, I despise your festivals and I take not delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings I will not accept them…but let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream….”

“…therefore I will take you into exile beyond Damascus, says the Lord, whose name is the God of hosts.” The Northern Kingdom fell around 721 BCE.

Spirituality for Berrigan is the ability to say NO to the powers and the principalities. There are principalities today that need to be confronted with their idols. It is the role of the Christian to say NO. We are living in an idolatrous culture. According to Berrigan one cannot be part of the culture of the Military Industrial Complex and at the same time worship the Living God of Jesus, the Christ.

Read AMOS 6: 1-14

“Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches and eat lambs from the flock and calves from the stall, who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp and like David improvise on instruments of music; who drink wine from bowls and anoint themselves with the finest oils but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph. Therefore they shall be the first to go into exile…. “But you have turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood…”

For Berrigan we are living in a Babylonian Captivity of our time. There is among us a ‘Cloud of Witnesses’ that are truly living and preaching the prophecy of Amos. Berrigan names a few: Bonhoeffer, Mandela, Romero, Rosa Parks, Franz Jagerstatter. This cloud of witnesses has uttered a No that also implies a YES, the acceptance and a welcoming of a different way – a NEW DEED. This cloud of witnesses cannot observe TORAH and at the same time still partake of the ROYAL MENU. They will abstain from the elegant meats of the Palace Table. The System that surrounds them is declared Null and Void. Their conscience is infused mightily with the Memory of Torah = Deep Memory-Exuberant Hope. This refusal, this saying of No is an act of Worship. It is a risky word on the tongue. The System determines who will live and who will die. Who shall proper and who shall go under? Then an interruption, a NO – the small secret start of something else. Someone, some few, move quietly out of lockstep. And the solid throne is ever so lightly jarred.

Berrigan notes that the call of the Empire or System is strong in the lives of all of us especially the Churches. He observed, “The lucky ones are singled out, chosen by the System – egos stroked, compensation and comforts are offered. Enlist in the adventures of the System. Berrigan was wild at Cardinal Spellman who would bless the tanks going to Vietnam. Offer relief from the rigors of Exile. Let images of memories of suffering fade away. Let their former companions be reduced to strangers, faceless others.”

Change things from the inside:

Then for Berrigan there is that group in our society who feel that they can change things from the inside.

“Let us tell an old story: when service is first undertaken, idealism reigns. The mind of the rising star is unclouded with doubts or second thoughts. High resolve and higher spirits are the order of the day. Rulers of whatever persuasion – Kings, Presidents, Prime Ministers – are presumed amenable to virtue. And for their part, many are persuaded that to enter the system is the optimum decision when a person of high ideals enters the corridors of power, surely things will change. Alas the odds are stacked and hardly in favour of such innocents, abroad or at home. The outcome is lamentable consistent, brings noble intentions to naught. The system coheres, a massive old boys’ network of mutual stroking, of vagary, big money, guile, treachery, self-interest, bunkum, low and high cunning, the system is adamant as oak, tough and durable.

…..And in time he absorbs the atmosphere; he takes to parroting the talk that floats about the table, the gossip, cynicism, malice, mutual stroking. Give him time. He will become the sedulous ape of those he fondly thought to instruct in altitudinous ways… He will take on the imperial mind as his own – the mind whose machinations dramaticize the dynamics of the Fall. As Albert Camus would say: “He has become like all the others.”

Mysticism and Resistance.

In order to be the prophecy of Amos and to live the exile of these our times it is of the essence that we be of mystical prayer and a deep sense of gratitude fueled by awe and wonder. St. Paul would say that we are up against Powers and Principalities. In order to resist the idolatry – which is truly seductive and all encompassing, it is necessary to take time to be in touch with the God of life. I invite you to read the prophecy of Amos and meditate on the writings of Daniel Berrigan. He is truly a New Deed being done, following in the footsteps of Amos as we live this moment of exile, dislocation, disconnect and culture of dissatisfaction.

Paul E. Hansen

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