The Cross on Trial: A Sestina in Honor of Father Daniel Berrigan

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.

Image: Screenshot from Youtube. “Fr. Daniel Berrigan S.J.” by edsirois

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