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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

415 The king commanded and Daniel was brought and cast into the den of lions

Day 415: Wednesday May 5th 2021

The king commanded and Daniel was brought and cast into the den of lions

At Emmaus, we try to keep things simple. I had a discussion this week with an interfaith group and I tried to describe our community and our celebration. I said "we try to keep it simple and to focus our celebration, our Eucharist, as a sharing of a meal between sisters and brothers who have inherited the "cornucopia of our sacraments" and the unbroken memory of the non-violence and radical compassion of Jesus." Here's a story I found of the simple way in which Daniel Berrigan shared the liturgy with his friends in his tiny office in New York. All it took was 2 slices of rye bread, a bottle of wine and the intention to celebrate. We honor the memory of Daniel Berrigan who died five years ago at the age of 94.

“The king commanded and Daniel was brought and cast into the den of lions,” it is reported in the Book of Daniel. Daniel Berrigan, S.J., a frequent captive, was well named. “How many times have you been locked up?” was a question journalists often asked him. “Not enough” was his usual response.

Dan Berrigan spent much of his life in various lions’ dens—at home as a child when his father was in a rage, in paddy wagons and prisons, in demonstrations that were sometimes targets of violent attacks, in a city (Hanoi) under bombardment, in urban neighborhoods police regarded as hazardous—yet lived to be 94, dying peacefully in bed.

When I think back on Dan, I recall him first and foremost, like his biblical namesake, as a man of prayer. I never knew anyone so glad to celebrate the Eucharist.'

Daniel Berrigan, S.J., and Jim Forest in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of New York City, circa 1973. (Photo courtesy of Jim Forest)

I had first met him, thanks to Dorothy Day, in 1961, but it wasn’t until 1964, when Dan was on sabbatical in Europe, that I began to work closely with him. In the course of several weeks traveling together from Paris to Rome to Prague, we decided to start the Catholic Peace Fellowship. On our return to the United States, we began to meet once a week to help the organization obtain traction.

A weekly ritual emerged. My co-worker Tom Cornell and I would take the subway uptown from our one-room C.P.F. office for a midday meeting in Dan’s room at a Jesuit residence in New York City’s East 70s.

Putting first things first, Dan started the meeting with a bare-bones liturgy. Afterward we sorted through letters the fellowship had received in recent days, considered how best to respond, discussed problems and ideas, and had lunch. Many of the letters came urgently from young men who were facing the Vietnam War and who wanted to know if, as Catholics, they could be recognized as conscientious objectors—and, if so, how to go about it.

The style of our eucharistic bread-breaking was as simple and graceful in line as a Shaker chair or medieval Cistercian church.

A prayer for forgiveness was followed by intercession for friends who were ill or in difficulty. We took turns reading the appointed Old and New Testament texts for the day, plus perhaps a supplementary reading from such sources as Neruda or Peguy or Teilhard or Brecht or Merton.

(Berrigan and Thich Nhat Han)

After the readings, silence. Then some reflection, usually initiated by Dan, on the readings. More silence. Then a canon prayer from the Bible Missal. More silence. Finally, after the consecration, came the sharing in that quiet miracle and more silence, perhaps some more prayer and an embrace at the end.

Apparently some attentive [Jesuit] kept a stethoscope to the wall during these liturgical celebrations, for the day came when we arrived to find Dan in serious distress. Hours before, he had been told our informal Eucharists were absolutely not allowed. There had, in fact, been a number of less imperative mentions to the same effect in previous weeks. So we sat forlorn, trying to talk about those things that normally we discussed after our Eucharist. No sandwiches were assembled—we had no appetite.

In the midst of a half-hearted sentence, Dan stood up abruptly, went downstairs and returned with two slices of rye bread. From their usual place in the file cabinet a bottle of wine and a water glass were removed, books and papers on the desk pushed aside, the bread and wine put in place, the Bible taken up. I was handed the book and found the readings of the day. We each read a portion. Perhaps there was some dialogue about the readings. My memories are of silence.

At last the bread on its plate was taken in one hand, and the glass with its red wine in the other; there was silence where a canon prayer would ordinarily have been spoken, until a few intense but quiet words were spoken by Dan:

“Let the Lord make of this what he will.” And so we ate and drank, with reverence. It was a Communion I will never forget.

- A reflection by Jim Forest


Kurt Vonnegut once quipped, “For me, Daniel Berrigan is Jesus as poet.” For Berrigan, poetry was mode and method of survival.

You are jail-yard blooms,

You wear bravery with a difference.

You are born here will die here;

Making you, by excess of suffering

And transfiguration of suffering, ours.

Between life as fools pace

and life as celebrant’s flame – aeons.

Yet, thank you. Against the whips

Of ignorant furies, the slavish pieties of judas priests

You stand, a first flicker in the brain’s soil, the precursor

Of judgement.

Dawn might be, we might be


Spelling it out in the hand’s palm

Of a blind mute

God is fire, is love

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