Is anyone listening to the prophets anymore?

In August 1996, the staff of U.S. Catholic sat down with Father Berrigan to talk about his antiwar activism, biblical prophets, and the future of social activism. Here, the interview is reprinted in its entirety, in memory of this remarkable priest, poet, and activist.

Father Daniel Berrigan, S.J. has spent his entire life associating with prophets—both biblical and modern day—and he’s discovered that they all say the same thing.

“They’re speaking to every segment of any culture. They’re giving hope to those who are under the heel,” he says. “They’re making those, like ourselves—who are somewhat in possession—uneasy. And then, to authority, they’re absolutely ruthless about the kind of power that crushes people and wages wars.”

As a peace activist, Berrigan is known for his arrests for burning draft cards during the Vietnam War and pouring blood on missiles to protest nuclear-arms buildup. As a poet, writer, teacher, and theologian, he is known for challenging even the most established conventions.

How did you become inspired to write about the minor prophets?

This book has been about ten years in preparation. I was teaching a graduate course on the minor prophets at Villanova two years ago, and before that, for a decade I had been offering retreats and workshops around the country on the prophets.

The book also comes out of a Bible study group called Kairos—a Greek word meaning the right time and the right moment—that has been going for 17 years. We are an ecumenical group of Jews and Christians who study the Bible together and who are interested in everything from homelessness to nuclear arms. And many of us get arrested together.

I also ventured to teach the prophets in a secular setting in Colorado to a class of undergrads. They had never really opened a Bible before. And that was quite a challenge, and very interesting. I presented the writings of the prophets as a great story and as resources in the struggle for justice. A lot of these kids were already doing very good things around their campus and in town, so it was kind of native ground.

So what things do the prophets tell us in terms of justice?

The common threat, and what makes the books of the prophets unique, is that there’s no comparable document of that era—from the eighth to the fifth century before Christ. There’s nothing like it in any other literature. As far as I’ve been able to understand, in most other cultures the anti-prophets where the only other prophets. They were just lackeys of the king, blessing his decisions. Whereas the Hebrew prophets were offering a very stern and forbidding judgment upon what was going on in the corridors of power.

What happened to those who spoke out against the authorities?

Traditions holds a very harsh outcome in regard to many of the prophets, both minor and major. Even if we don’t know the facts, we know the tradition holds that they were murdered. Jeremiah was martyred in Egypt by his own people when he sought refuge there, and then the tradition about Isaiah says he was also murdered. It goes that way for the minor prophets, too, although with less certainty. But we can be fairly sure that they were kicked out if they weren’t killed.

How effective were the prophets at reforming their worlds? It drives me nuts when I hear people say that we’re not called to be effective, we’re called to be faithful.

Well, I certainly wish that you become successful then. As for the prophets, the only one effective was the clown Jonah. He did a big thing in Ninevah—converting everybody, but the story is so absurd.

If you put the last chapters of Jonah next to the Acts of the Apostles and the account of what happened soon after Pentecost, Ninevah wins hands down. Everybody, even the beasts, went into mourning and fasting, and this whole enormous city, which never really existed on the scale described in the Book of Jonah, is converted just because this guy opens his mouth. It’s ridiculous. It’s a send-up of the whole prophetic mission, because in actuality every one of the prophets was worked over and buried. Every one of them was involved in a horrendous kind of irony: they were ordered by God to speak up but were told at the outset that nobody would listen to them.

What do you consider the successes in your own life?

I would list achievement totally in the direction of friendship. Who can really explain or say why I deserve the family I was born into and then the friends I’ve had? It’s been amazing, absolutely amazing—talk about gifts. But that doesn’t really come under the heading of success. Neither does living for 75 years—that just means you’re good at hanging around.

What do you feel you’ve done that has been effective, even if you haven’t totally reformed society?

Oh, I thought I had.

Maybe you’d better stick around for another 75 years.

You know, before I left New York for this interview in Chicago, I wrote a letter to the community, because they’re going to have a big hoopla for my 75th birthday. I told them that the only reason I would go ahead with such goings-on is that I felt we would be celebrating our lives together, that was the meaning for me.

And as a matter of record, the Jesuits who have meant most to me in my lifetime have been completely unsung or scorned in one way or another—I’m trying to get at what you’re talking about in terms of life successes. I’ve been at the funerals of Jesuits who had spent their whole lives in very exciting, marvelous work, whether in the classroom or hospital or wherever, yet there were maybe only 255 people at their funerals. The world goes on, and these people have done their work, but their work doesn’t receive a lot of recognition. That’s very powerful with me. That’s the real stuff of success. My success has been in knowing and working with these people.

Do you consider the ending of the Vietnam War as a success that you played a part in?

At the end of the war I was teaching at the University of Detroit. I sat there that night in front of a television, and they were doing a recap of the war and the antiwar protests. And I found myself just crying and crying. I felt utterly crushed by the memory of it all. The whole thing was so horrible and so endless.

I’d like to tell one little story here about Robert McNamara, the secretary of defense during the Vietnam War, who recently came out saying America should have pulled out of the war in 1963.

I met McNamara in 1965, during the course of the war, at a dinner party at Bobby Kennedy’s, after I was allowed back in the country after being kicked out by Cardinal Spellman and others for protesting the war. I was still respectable because I hadn’t broken the law yet, so the Kennedys invited me to join the McNamaras, Sargent and Eunice Shriver, and some others. We had dinner, and it was all very nice. Then one of the Kennedys got up after dinner and said, “We’ll have coffee in the other room now, and we would like it if Secretary McNamara and Father Berrigan would address the war.” “Well, well,” I said with a smile, then very plainly said, “I wish Mr. McNamara would stop the war tonight, since he didn’t do it last night.”

McNamara respond in about two sentences, which I still remember verbatim. “Well,” he said, “I’ll put it this way to Father Berrigan. Vietnam is like Mississippi—if they won’t obey the law, you send the troops in.”

That was it; end of quote. And this was the brightest of them. I flew back to New York—I was working on a magazine then—and I said to a secretary the next morning, “Will you please put this in writing, because in a week I won’t believe I heard it.” That was the regime we were under.

On the peace issue, have you seen positive developments in terms of church support?

Oh, sure. We always knew, during Vietnam, that our hardest audience would be Catholic. People had the most frantic and deepest sense of betrayal by priests and nuns in trouble with the law. We really took a lot of heat from that. But that’s all gone. There’s a deeper thoughtfulness, and it’s the fruit of a lot of education.

The bishops’ letter helped; we’ve got some great bishops on our side. When we went to trial in Catonsville in ’68, no bishop would touch us with long crosier—except Bishop Pike, who was urged to come by the late Protestant theologian and advocacy lawyer William Stringfellow. When we went on trial in ’80 and ’81, some wonderful bishops came and testified. And that was very indicative of the change of minds and hearts.

What led you to social activism?

I had a lot of influences, which started in my childhood. My family’s situation was of poverty on the land, which is very different from urban poverty, because we had land and food and space. But we showed hospitality toward people who had nothing.

We lived near the railroad, and a lot of the people came and went in our house. It became a usual occurrence to have someone at the table or sleeping in the house or the barn; some people stayed for months. I remember we had a little pushcart that could hold a lot of vegetables and fruits, and my mother would give us a delivery list for the afternoon or evening, saying to stop here and there. So I learned some very good lessons early on.

Then, as I’ve said, I’ve been very blessed with friendships.

How have your friends inspired you to act on your convictions?

I constantly refer to Dorothy Day because I think she was such an extraordinary example of this business. She had an insight that, to me, came as an epiphany. She broke through the old kind of mythology that said urban miseries—or any kind of human suffering for that matter—were the will of God. She was on the side of the poor, which she knew was the side of God. To those who said that human suffering should be tolerated by Christians, she said no, absolutely not.

Day said there’s a connection between the waste of the earth in war and war preparation and the misery that surrounds us. She kept talking about the sin of wasting the earth in favor of a military rat hole that has no bottom, so that there’s nothing left for people. But she kept doing something about it. She kept getting arrested. She spoke out against the absurdity of things like air-raid practices during the height of the Cold War. She started by sitting in the parks and saying prayers, and the protest go so big that the government stopped air-raid practices.

These connections were never made when I was in the seminary, and I never received them from theologians. In Dorothy Day we had a free spirit who was able to move in these ways and make connections that were life-giving and very, very powerful. She gave us that break-through from accepting the arbitrary condition of the world in which certain people are held under and certain people are in possession. She just wouldn’t accept the idea of God. So one had to make a difference not merely by giving away bread and fruits but by also taking on this military Gargantua that was swallowing worlds, and still is.

Who do you see in our time who strikes you as a prophet worth listening to?

I would hesitate to name names because they’re all over the place. They’re in all the communities of the Catholic Worker and everywhere that people are really giving with wisdom and humanity and good work. I call that a real thing.

How do you react to people who refer to you as a prophet?

I say, “You’ve got it wrong, I’m a loss.”

What about modern day anti-prophets—who should we look out for?

Given our fallen world, one way of testing the prophet is the presence of the anti-prophet. I really believe that. We can exercise some judgment about the people that hang around the powers that be and bless what they’re doing. In a fallen world, the prophet will always encounter the anti-prophet; that’s part of the structure of the fall. The test is really a matter of patience and time.

For instance, Jeremiah says unequivocally to his people, “You’re going to be driven into exile, and you’re going to be there for 70 years, and every one of you who goes into exile is going to die there, and some of your children will die there.” The anti-prophets, on the other hand, are saying, “We have the Word of God, too, and we say the city will not fall. Some people will go into exile, but they’ll be back here in four or five years.” Because Jeremiah’s word comes true, we have him as the prophet. But he had to go through exile and death, without any proof. Very tough. Identifying the true prophets is not a matter of personality, it’s a matter of truthfulness.

How did the stories of the prophets come to be saved, even though those in power might not have been too thrilled about hanging on to them?

The most notorious case of near extinction was the Book of Ezekiel. The Jews didn’t want Ezekiel in the Hebrew can canon because he had broken a serious taboo—he’s the only one of the prophets who dared describe what he had seen of God. His description of God was considered blasphemous. People of faith were allowed to say what they had heard, but they were not allowed to say what they had seen. And he did. Anyways, putting together a canon was the work of centuries and involved the wisdom of the community.

What was going on at the time of the minor prophets?

Let’s hang around the last days of Jerusalem in the late seventh century before Christ and the Babylonian exile in the sixth century B.C., which is an obsessive theme with all the prophets. Isiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel try to give us a sense of the last days before Israel’s captivity—the quick breakup of a whole culture. The destruction of Jerusalem was looked on by the prophets as God’s judgment against a corrupt and oppressive government. History tells us that the Babylonians conquered Israel, sent the Jews to Babylon as slaves, and destroyed Jerusalem.

Daniel is probably the only prophet who records in detail how the Israelites survived in Babylon as a captive people. But the thing that strikes me most—and it’s neglected in the biblical commentaries—is that God’s message in all of this is one of nonviolence.

There’s so much divine violence in the Hebrew Bible that this fact seems to get lost. God said, “No armed resistance—the city will fall; the exile will last for at least two generations; and that’s it—that’s your vocation.”

I look at the exile event in this way: the exile had already begun. People were alienated from God and from one another. It had to be dramatized in history because it was already going on spiritually. They had lost the covenant, and it was not just that there were false gods in the sanctuary; it’s that the widows and orphans were being crushed. So the worship was corrupt, and the consequence was social disintegration.

In what ways has society disintegrated?

Isaiah, one of the major prophets, talks about beating swords into plowshares in the second chapter of the Book of Isaiah. He talks about the land being full of chariots and silver—two of the most destructive idols. The chariots are militarism, and the silver is about greed. So, as a social analyst, he’s absolutely devastating in his critique.

People who are not very familiar with the Old Testament have an image that it is very violent. It may strike some as odd that you chose to look to the prophets from the Old Testament to support your message of nonviolence.

The Gulf War exploded in the middle of all the Bible study, retreat work, and teaching that I was doing. To me, it was very clear that the war was our evidence of spiritual exile, violation of covenant, and disobedience before God—just what the prophets warned about. Our Bible study group doubled overnight when the war broke out because people were so absolutely petrified, assaulted, and taken by surprise. Several churches on the East and West Sides of Manhattan, Protestant and Catholic, stayed open all night because people were crawling into these churches to get some word of sanity and hope. We would have periodic worship during the night, and then an open microphone, where people could come up and just weep and share their grief, and their near despair.

The prophets very much spoke to this moment. The prophets had a word of clear denunciation of this kind of slaughter. During the last days before the Babylonian exile, the instruction of the prophets was that the kingdom was bringing destruction upon itself. The king was altering the water course and setting up fortifications, and he was violating the year of jubilee in which the slaves were to be released—instead they were being inducted into the armed forces. So it was a pretty awful scene, and God was saying, you’re bringing it on yourselves.

So the violence in the Old Testament was supported by God?

Well, it’s a yin and yang thing. The prophets would say that the kingdom’s destruction was God’s retaliation for the injustices of the state, but we would translate that by saying that every crime has a consequence. You can’t get away from that. Injustice, greed, and violence bring down the city. I believe very strongly that no one gets away with anything, including myself.

What are some issues of the prophets that you struggle with?

My toughest writing is about Hosea because of the imagery and treatment of women, especially of his own wife, Gomer, who gets shamed as a harlot. In this book you have an image of a male God who gets together with a male prophet to decide what to do about this woman. Then, suddenly, she is of no account because she’s seen to be a metaphor for Israel, who is unfaithful. We’ve lost the woman in the metaphor, and I find the whole process very objectionable.

The experience I had grappling with this book indicates to me that we don’t leave our consciences at the door when we open the Bible. I would say that we’re there to be judged and to judge.

Even though this is the inspired Word of God?

Absolutely. It seems to me the critique is a phase of the inspiration; it awakens us to human issues. But I do get angry at the commentators who say anything goes in terms of interpretation so that we lose the critical edge to passages like those in Hosea.

Any other surprises among the minor prophets?

I love the inclusion of a clown like Jonah. It’s a marvelous kind of leaven—people who are able to laugh at themselves, and a prophet who is really a joke and is presented as such. Here’s a guy who’s running from God, instead of toward God. He gets into all sorts of clobberings and malapropisms and seemingly absurd situations. It’s a big, wonderful book about how we don’t always have to be serious to be religious people. Let’s start laughing at one another.

Which prophet has a message that seems particularly lined up with our needs today?

I find it helpful to look at which one Jesus liked. Which one was normative or formative in Jesus’ imagination? Of course, the answer is Isaiah. Isaiah figures largest in our liturgies; he’s with us all year. When Jesus announces who he is in the synagogue, he opens the scroll to Isaiah. So, to me, that explains Isaiah’s appeal for us. Even apart from that, I think I would love Isaiah, but knowing Jesus loved him really adds something, too.

Clearly Isaiah also worked from within the community. We tend to think of the prophets as loners, but that is not true of any of them. All of what went on got in the scroll somehow; somebody listened, and somebody took notes.

So there was community all over the place, as far as I can judge, and these writings went through many minds and hearts and pens before they arrived in our hands. It’s very good that we at the other end of this tradition are meant to absorb it in community because that’s the way it got started and transmitted.

To whom are the prophets really speaking—the most powerful in society or the average person?

They’re speaking to every segment of any culture. They’re giving hope to those that are under the heel. They’re making those, like ourselves—who are somewhat in possession—uneasy. And then, to authority, they’re absolutely ruthless about the kind of power that crushes people and wages wars. So the prophets’ message touches on every aspect of human existence. That’s why it is a natural ground for the so-called base communities in the Third World, for us in the peace movement, and for everyone fighting injustice.

Do prophets have to suffer?

Isaiah is the clearest example of someone who had a good time for a while because he had influence and respect in the corridors of power, but then the war clouds gathered and God’s Word became more austere about what was going to come. That is when Isaiah finds out who he really is, and then we get Isaiah’s songs of the suffering servant. The power play, for Isaiah, is finished. He is no longer a servant of the king but of God.

And as such, he is going to suffer?

Let’s look at this difficulty from the point of view of the Word of God. Is there something innately unacceptable and legally suspect about the Word of God in this world? Can the Word of God be accepted by imperial arrangements? Can the servant avoid suffering if he or she is faithful to the Word?

The answer is no—emphatically no. So the summit of Isaiah is the songs of the suffering servant, which we see again in the life of Jesus and the Passion. There’s very simply a metaphysical conflict between the Word of God and the fallen creation that is represented by imperial structures of power.

This message is carried forward in the Bible right up to the Book of Revelation, when we have John the Evangelist speaking about Rome as Babylon. And in modern times we’ve had people like William Stringfellow speaking about America as Babylon. So then we must go back to the Book of Daniel and find out how a community of faith survives in Babylon, because that’s what our problem is now.

So how do we survive in Babylon?

Let’s look at the Book of Daniel, for whom I was named—I love to remind judges at my trials related to my social protests that Daniel means “God is my judge,” which doesn’t get me any kudos.  The first chapter of Daniel has to do with the king’s table, which seems quite puzzling on first regard. The young Daniel and his friends will not eat at the king’s table, even though they have been summoned into the inner circle and told that their lot is not going to be that of exiles and slaves. They will now be the big guns in the king’s coterie. But they say that they want to keep kosher, so they can’t eat at the Babylonian king’s table.

That’s an important message about fidelity that Daniel puts right in the first chapter. You don’t sit and eat that food. It’s not just an arbitrary dietary restriction; it has to do with cannibalism—this table represents misery and death. This is the table that the exiles are supplying with slave labor. This is the table of military conquest and the killing of people. The Babylonians can eat well because they’re in charge of the world. But the Jewish community says to them. “You’re playing God, and we won’t partake of that by eating your food, because you’re really eating human beings. We must consider what the tables of the slaves look like.”

The Babylonians want the young men in their circle, and they want these young men to forget where they came from in more ways than one. They’re changing their names, giving them new Babylonian names—even though they were given names connected with the covenant. In other words, the Babylonians want to cause amnesia; they want a cutoff here, and they want a new form of well-fed slavery. That’s a very powerful strategy of conquest.

What are some modern ways of not eating at the king’s table?

People with a certain amount of help and prayer and Bible study have come to their own decisions in these matters. There are certainly grave questions about praying for Babylon, and the choices one makes are very difficult. The War Resisters League is of great help in this regard; they have a whole pamphlet on alternative ways of nonpayment of taxes.

What represents Babylon today in our culture?

It is the same now as it was in biblical times—foreign war and domestic misery and injustice. That’s the cry of chariots and silver and the idolatry of the two. So that no matter what is going on in the temple or synagogue, people’s hearts, obedience, and fidelity are elsewhere—they’re in another orbit entirely of the good life and the violence that must support it.

So we must all look to see how we’re playing into the hands of human oppressors?

Yes, as people awaken in the biblical sense, there are always these real issues coming to the fore—they’re absolutely unavoidable. One question many of us have been facing over the years is the question of law and conscience, and that’s a very big theme in the writings of the prophets, too. Isaiah is obsessed with the idea that the servant of Yahweh is a messenger of the justice of God in the world. That’s a theme of vocation—you are here to announce the justice of god in an area of imperial injustice.

Then, the tradition says that the law of the land disposed of the prophet because the law of the land didn’t want this kind of justice; it just wanted law and order. It was the same outcome for Jesus—the law of the land capitally punished him for invoking the justice of God on the scene of foreign occupation and desolation.

Where in the prophets’ writings is there hope that the world can really change for the better?

The direction of how we might change is the substance of the Word of God as announced by the prophets. Specifically the hope for change comes in the experience of something different occurring in the prophets’ own lives that allows them to announce a different human order. So first of all, they’ve undergone it in order to announce it. Otherwise it’s just meaningless.

As the prophets’ word comes to us, it’s the word of a converted community. Some community wanted the prophets’ message passed on and lived. So the new order of which the prophet speaks was the Word as lived.

That would be true today, as well. We’re going to live and die with or without a taste of the realm of God where we live—in a marriage, in a family, in a worshipping community, in a professional association that is not after money and violence but service. Ezekiel, and later John in Revelation, say when the Word of God is lived you will know. Their marvelous metaphor for the assimilation of the Word of God is when you eat the scroll and it tastes sweet as honey in the mouth and bitter in the stomach.

You talked earlier of law and conscience as a central question for every age. What about church law and conscience—what do we do when they’re at odds?

At this point, I wish I’d stayed home. Let me give you an example. I’m still absorbing a trip to El Salvador and Guatemala that coincided with the pope’s visit—that was very strange. I don’t want to get a lot of negative stuff going, but it was pretty instructive along the lines of your question.

The only coherent public voice that I or my friends down there could understand, at that time, was from the Jesuits of the university in San Salvador. They were talking very clearly and courageously to the media about the issues of the suffering people of El Salvador. They were saying things like words about peace and reconciliation are useless until we have economic justice, which is being violated every day by NAFTA. They were saying these things in the teeth of the archbishop and the pope, who weren’t speaking out about the new kind of enslavement that is taking place in Central America.

I have friends who are working there who say that the poverty is worse now that it was during the worst of the war. So, what I’m trying to say is that we look for the truth where our lives lead us to look for it, because there are all sorts of versions of reality around. The Salvadoran government spent $3 million to set up the pope’s visit. This is the same group of people who killed Archbishop Oscar Romero, the six Jesuits, and many others. They’re running the country, and they wanted that visit for their own reasons.

Every priest who attended the pope’s Mass in the stadium go a baseball cap with the papal arms on it to protect them from the sun and a bottle of pure water. The people got nothing. I went to a parish of one of the Jesuits on the edge of the city the Sunday before the pope’s visit. The people are very, very poor—living on the edge of a dump—but they have a marvelous congregation. Well, they had been told by those arranging the papal visit that they would not be allowed to attend the big Mass as a parish; they were to mingle in with middle-class parishes under their banners. So they didn’t go, and the Jesuit didn’t urge them to go. In fact, he didn’t go either.

I also met priests and nuns who had accompanied the people back from exile. I asked one group who were in beautiful Guatemalan costumes how long it took them to get to Guatemala City to see the pope. They told me, “We walked for two days, and we were on a boat for a whole day.” They said they could offer the pope gifts in front of the cameras, but they were not to say anything. These are the people who are still suffering the brunt of the war in the north.

Do you think the pope was aware of these machinations?

I don’t know how he couldn’t have been.

The issue of married priests and women’s ordination is a big one for many North American Catholics. After witnessing the struggle for survival in Central America, do you think this is an issue worthy of our attention?

I was first introduced to this whole question from outside, so to speak—it came from Bill Stringfellow, when he was defending priests and bishops who had ordained women in the Episcopal Church and were brought to trial. I’ve been very concerned about it ever since, as I saw the whole thing come to a head with the Catholic Church. But we can’t just stop there and think that will make us a responsible church. It’s got to go much deeper.

I keep asking myself, What is the equivalent in our culture of the4 church renewal in El Salvador that cost 50,000 lives? What does that mean in terms of something genuine and essential occurring here? There must be some translation of those events that brought about the kind of theology and the quality of people who died, known and unknown. The famous Latin American education Paulo Freire once said the church that does not undergo the Passion Christ will only emerge as more effectively fascist.

What role does Christ’s Passion play for those who choose the course of civil disobedience in the United States?

For those who are undergoing it, it is a very powerful understanding that suffering must be a part of any kind of worthwhile change, given the world. It’s not just going to jail, it’s the way you are treated in court. Very often, the government will deliberately pick a Catholic judge and a Catholic prosecutor to try our cases. They want to show that there are Catholics who really despise and scorn us and want to see us punished.

My brother and John Dear, who were on trial two years ago for damaging nuclear weapons, had the only Catholic judge in North Carolina. One of the prosecutors was an ex-nun. The government deliberately brings in these people because they think that shows that before the Catholic Church, nuclear arms demonstrators or war resisters are nothing. So it’s hard, very hard.

Is the United States heading toward a fascist mentality in terms of its unwillingness to be criticized by its citizens?

Everything in the system is turning against people like a noose, but it’s most dramatic in our so-called justice system, with its death row and the endless building of prisons. It’s a last-ditch attempt of a dying culture to assert that it’s still in charge and functional. But it’s a sign of death, obviously. I heard that South Africa has abolished the death penalty. Isn’t that marvelous?

The real issues for the church in the United States, and everywhere else—and they’re being face in many ways, by many good people—are the issues of survival. We won’t hear anything about the multitudes of homeless people during the idiotic presidential campaigns that are underway now. We’re in the middle of a triage in which large numbers of people are being shoved out of sight, out of mind.

I’m reminded more and more as things progress here of the misery and excess of the Nazis that resulted in the disappearance of great numbers of people. The Nazis said that there existed “lives without value.” So they—the valueless—began to disappear, as they are disappearing here in other ways. I was very heartened when the U.S. bishops confronted President Clinton on this business of infanticide. That was a very important and courageous move.

There are so many areas of the world where there is human suffering. Where do we start?

Everybody I know is asking that question in one form or another. If we can help young people move in the direction of one difficult situation, that’s a start. And it’s happening. A lot of students are using their holidays and spring breaks to go into cities to work with the urban poor or in some other way to make connections with one aspect of human suffering. If we leave a few young people with some kind of a burden, that’s a great education in itself, and it’s a great connection with everything else. It relieves us, and them, of having to do something about everything, which no one can do.

My whole life, my friends’ lives, and my icons have led me to be modest about what any one of us can do. Immodest plans never go anywhere anyway. The first change that must occur, of course, is in our own hearts before we can be persuasive or helpful to other people.

Image via Wikimedia Commons