Editor’s Note: This poem is written in honor of Fr. Daniel Berrigan, priest, prophet, poet, and peacemaker, with hope that the work of his heart and hands (among that of many others) will soon yield fruit in the form of an Encyclical on Gospel Nonviolence.
2000 years back, love for enemies
and forgiveness uttered high on a cross
cracked death’s hollow façade like a hammer
letting light stream into hate-darkened hearts.
The risen Christ put our violence on trial
and revealed that love is the path to life.
At first, rejoicing in their new-found life,
followers refused force. While enemies
made martyrs of the faithful, they stood trial
and spread the light that first flowed from the cross,
meeting malice with mercy. But then hearts
filled with love were hardened by the hammer
of Empire beating crosses to swords, hammering
out that quirk of nonviolence, sucking the life
out of the Way to make way for the State. Hearts
must be stopped, life taken from enemies
for the Prince of Peace. At the cross-
roads of Christ and State, peace again stood trial
and was deemed insufficient for the trials
and troubles of our world. The hammer
of justice now justifies war. Christ’s cross
now leads troops to battle. But the new life
flows through those who would become enemies
of the State to shun enmity with hearts,
minds, ears, eyes, open to the beating heart
of a broken world. Many stood on trial
for burning death-cards, not kids or enemies,
for pounding empty warheads with hammers,
heeding the call to turn death into life,
following through scorn the path of the cross.
If, after one hundred score years, the cross
again shuns violence and brings peace to hearts,
it will be because of the work and life
of those who put the State’s murders on trial,
who built peace with holy fire and hammers,
who said, “In God’s house, there are no enemies.”
On trial, in prison, taking up the cross,
for your fire, your hammer, your words, your heart,
for turning enemies to friends, death to life…
Thank you, Fr. Berrigan.