We woke up Saturday morning overcome with grief from the week’s violence in Minnesota, New Orleans and Dallas. After checking in with one another, and trying to find out if any actions had been planned in Baltimore, we chose to host a vigil at McKeldin Square, just off the Inner Harbor. Street zazen: meditating for racial justice and an end to violence.

We sent out word to some friends, got our posters ready and began our public witness around 6:30 pm. Our signs read:

All lives will matter WHEN Black Lives Matter

Awaken from the illusion of separation

Nothing was ever healed with a gun

The choice today is no longer between violence and nonviolence. It’s either nonviolence or nonexistence. (MLK)

Peace between people of all colors and creeds

Tourists, families, groups of kids, O’s fans and attendees leaving Bronycon (billed as the world’s largest My Little Pony convention) passed by and, for the most part, offered their support in one form or another. Some people gave us thumbs up or nodded their heads. Others said, “Thank You.” A few approached us to express their affirmation in more heartfelt words and comment on Evie’s cuteness.

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Not long into our vigil we heard chanting up Pratt Street. A march had formed. Michael, Auggie and I (Tucker) got ready to join. Just as we were about to step into the crowd one of the march’s leaders approached us. He took my sign (i.e., “Awaken from the illusion of separation”), read it, then faced me squarely, with tears in his eyes, and said, “You are my brother and I love you.” He gave me and Auggie a hug, took my free arm — I was holding Auggie with my other — and welcomed us into the march.

I have been re-visiting his act of love, welcome and solidarity since Saturday. It continues to teach me.

It reminds me that people with privilege — like myself, based on the color of my skin, my cultural capital, my material wealth, my education, my family’s resources and ties in community, to name just a few — must risk that privilege in the struggle to realize racial equality. What does risking mean? Perhaps it’s different for each person, given their social locations and present moment circumstances. But in that moment, during that march, it meant putting my body — as well as Auggie’s — in the street.

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The march was peaceful. We walked. We chanted. The collective presence was emotional, fierce, focused and wholeheartedly invitational. The leaders called out to people on the sidewalks to join us. Some did. Some took pictures. Some walked away with their heads down. Others stood to face us and gesture their show of support.

The police remained calm and, at least while I was there, didn’t obstruct our right to assemble and protest peacefully.

Auggie was enthralled with the gathering and singing and rhythmic movement of our bodies marching down Pratt Street.

We will continue to hold a vigil, hopefully each week, to witness for racial justice and nonviolence. We welcome you to join us.

 

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As I reflect on the six weeks over which I was blessed with the opportunity to live, work, and play at Jonah House the word “transition” comes to mind over and over again. When I first arrived at the house I had two weeks left in the job where I had been for the past two years and I was in the midst of ending the lease at an apartment where I had been for the same amount of time. I was filled with questions about myself and the future and was uncertain even of how the rest of the summer would pan out. I’ve always struggled with anxiety and times of transition, no matter how small, have always been a major trigger. Coming to Jonah House during this time, I was certainly anxious, but welcomed the opportunity to be consumed fully by community life. I suppose I had somewhat of a fantasy about what this would look like. I envisioned becoming so wrapped up in the day to day that I wouldn’t have time to dwell much on anxiety or transition. What I didn’t realize was that life in the community over the next six weeks would be marked by a constant series of intensely beautiful and rich transitions and through intentional practices my soul would be fed by the changes themselves. I became present in new ways to the changing of the seasons via outdoors work, to cycles of birth and death via the proximity of the birth of baby Evie and the death of Dan Berrigan, and to the sacred passing of wisdom from one generation to the next as I watched the elders (Liz, Carol, and Ardeth) mentor and hand over care of the community to the young folks (Emily, Tucker, and Joe). Amidst all of these transitions I saw that pain and anxiety were inevitable, arguably essential, parts of transition, but that the community had developed a number of practices and rituals surrounding the care and nurturance of one another that laid a beautiful foundation for fostering transformation amidst periods of transition.

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Some of these daily practices were formalized, meaning there was an intentional structure behind which they would happen. Every Sunday the community met as a whole to discuss priorities for the week and to divvy up who would be responsible for various tasks. These meetings created a space in which individuals were held accountable to the care and keeping of the community AND the community as a whole could rally around the care and keeping of an individual as life events took place. When I was entrusted to a specific task, such as the planting of the garden, my relationship to that task was defined in many ways by the accountability I had to the rest of the community to carry forth my responsibilities. Planting the garden became an act of love because I found that truly the accountability I felt stemmed from the deep love and respect I have for the community members. By acting in love, my relationship to the plants transformed, and as I hurried to complete the planting in line with the growing season, I experienced the changing of seasons not as a force outside of me, but as a rhythm that I could become a part of.

When Evie was born the community rallied around the event and we restructured our week and responsibilities to give Emily and Tucker the space to focus on her care and not have to worry about other essential tasks such as cooking, cleaning, mowing, etc. This type of space given to a new family is rare in a society where parents are given minimal family leave and expected to function immediately following a birth with a motto of “business as usual.” It was indescribably beautiful to be present to the transformation of their family and to participate in the process via the act of caregiving. Evie’s arrival in the community shaped my experience in so many ways. Holding her became a daily ritual and an act of meditation, as she taught me to bring myself down to her rhythm and stay present as we rocked back and forth or bounced up and down.

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Another regular community practice was that of “check-ins.” Typically check-ins followed Zazen (seated meditation) practice and were an opportunity for each of us to share freely about whatever seemed important to us in ourselves and from our day. In these we fostered a different kind of accountability to one another that was more based in spiritual practice and growth than in day to day tasks. In addition to these check-ins the community set aside space to support one another even more deeply by choosing a common activity or reading to do together. When I was there we spent an evening teaching ourselves about the Enneagram and discussing our individual personality types. I continued to read and reflect on my Enneagram type beyond that meeting and it became one of the most powerful tools that I’ve encountered towards grappling with some of the big questions that have arisen during my own time of transition.

Outside of routine meetings and check-ins I saw constant examples of community members caring and being attentive to one another in meaningful ways. Many of the more profound spiritual inspirations that I experienced came in casual conversation rather than in Zazen or morning prayer. Tucker frequently asked questions such as “So, how was your experience with the mow tractor today?” borrowing the vocabulary of his son Auggie. These were seemingly simple questions but they gave me the opportunity to reflect on those hours that I spent alone with my thoughts, or the inspiration I drew from the playlists I listened to, or to simply celebrate the joy that I experienced from operating the mow tractor.

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I think that often times we overlook these types of personal reflections because others are not there to wonder about them but they can have a real impact on our spirits, especially during times when transitions give us a unique perspective on ourselves or our circumstances. Throughout my time at the house I appreciated the care and consideration that members had for one another and I saw clearly that the habits that reinforced this level of attentiveness took real work and practice. While many of the moments that impacted me the most seemed to happen spontaneously, they very much sprung from the commitment of the members to the art of intentional living.

Intentional living is in and of itself an act of resistance. To me, it means refusing to live in line with harmful narratives that tell us to consume more, compete more, and separate more. It also means embracing transition or perhaps change in deeper and more engaged ways. As an activist I am always “fighting for change” but I’m not always prepared for the pain, loneliness, or hopelessness that comes with even the most positive of movements. I think community that creates intentional spaces for being with change, as it happens, is an essential ingredient that many change makers overlook.

By Maia Gibbons

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My dad once told me that being a father is like no longer having your own heartbeat. You share a pulse with your children.

This made little sense to me until I held Auggie for the first time. And of course my dad’s wisdom has been reaffirmed with Evie. I know of no greater pain than seeing my children suffer. I know of no greater fear than when I consider the infinite ways they might be broken by the world’s violence. But I also experience boundless joy when they smile and laugh, when they look at me and the world around them with wonder: Evie’s expression when our eyes meet, the way her whole face turns into a grin; and with Auggie, it’s all about mow tractor, noodles, and “Up with Daddy” — or Up with Mommy, Joe and anyone willing to take him for a ride on the Scag.

The Buddha likened the practice of awakening to the love a parent has for their child — manifested outward to inlcude all beings. If only my actions in body, speech and mind were half as generous and spacious as the love Auggie and Evie have initiated me into!

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Being a parent has a way of transforming any moment, disrupting my grasp on the way things “should” be, how I’d like life to go. A somber example.

The other day while driving to visit my sister I was listening to the radio. The host of the news program was reporting about the assault on an off-duty Parisian police officer and his family. The only survivor of the attack was a 3 year old child. When I heard this, my entire body stiffened. I pulled over, too overwhelmed by fear and sadness to drive. Parked on the side of the road, it struck me that somehow I’d be deceiving myself not to imagine the incomprhensible grief of that child and wonder what the day after losing both his mother and father must have been like. And how would Auggie and Evie cope if Emily and me were gruesomely murdered?

I have learned that being a father, along with the bliss, also means accepting that — as the depth psychologist James Hillman once put it — as soon as you’re born you’re ready to die.

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Though they’re young now, I wonder all the time: How do I help my children prepare to face suffering and death, protecting them from experiences that might cause horrific injury, while also teaching them resilience and the skills needed to embrace and heal a world increasingly replete with violence and injustice? How do I also teach my children to receive joy, in the very midst of hardship, and live wholeheartedly, expressing their gifts in abundance and for the sake of others?

As these questions come to me I consider some wisdom shared by men I interviewed for my dissertation. Fatherhood was a core theme in their lives, and their struggles to make sense of it centered around these three questions: (1) How do I face, and can I accept, my father’s failings and vulnerabilities; (2) Does my father affirm me as I am; and (3) Do I feel capable of being a father myself? Not necessarily by having a child, but rather by awakening a sense of inseparable connectedness to an other, whether person, community, project, or cause, and sustaining that relationship for the course of its life.

Reflecting on this day and calling to heart and mind my father ancestors, living and dead, I was struck most by the first question. I’ve been considering how a father’s open, honest and loving relationship with his vulnerabilities can prepare a child to be in right relationship to his own fragility and brokenness. This has been one of my dad’s greatest gifts to me. He’s taught me, as he once put it, how to lie belly up — courageously naked and vulnerable. Not to get rid or cure myself of my injuries, but to hold a space for the suffering, to let it be a branch into someone else’s life and recovery.

While my meditations have taken me to my father and his father and some inheritance of suffering between the three of us and beyond, there’s something I carry with me into my own fathering of Auggie and Evie, something from the soul of my dad, which I like to think is his genius, Buddha Nature, spark.

I felt it as a child on our trips to the same beach in North Carolina he used to visit as a kid, not far from the tobacco farm where he grew up. At the beach we’d wade in the ocean in the late afternoon and my dad would sing rugby songs — changing all the words inappropriate for us to hear (essentially re-writing the songs entirely) — singing loudly and with a silly British accent — because he’d learned how to play rugby in England where he was stationed during the Vietnam War; because he’d learned how to replace his Carolina drawl with just a touch of a Londoner’s lilt. My sisters and I would splash him with water, he’d help us launch off his shoulders and dive into waves. He’d act goofy. He’d play like a kid, just like us.

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This poem reminds me of him in those moments and embodies the love I try to realize with Auggie and Evie.

 

First we braid grasses and play tug of war,

then we take turns singing and keeping a kick-ball in the air.

I kick the ball and they sing, they kick and I sing.

Time is forgotten, the hours fly.

People passing by point at me and laugh:

“Why are you acting like a such a fool?”

I nod my head and don’t answer.

I could say something, but why?

Do you want to know what’s in my heart?

From the beginning of time: just this! just this!

— Ryokan

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On June 18th Baltimore Green Space and Baltimore Bird Club will be hosting a bird walk through our woods.  Please come join us to experience these marvelous creatures.

BirdWalkBash_FinalAll are welcome!

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Emily’s parents, Therese and Terry, recently visited. They were a huge help and wonderful presence in our community! Therese spent a lot of time with Evie and Auggie, which freed us up to do some outdoor work. Terry mowed and weed whacked, hung our hammock and installed a ceiling fan in the living room. Therese volunteered in the food pantry, sewed curtains for Evie’s room, and planted flower boxes. Terry inspired us all with his guitar playing: One evening we invited the sisters over to join him in singing Irish folk songs. Therese inspired us too with her culinary talents: fresh baked bread, scrumptious meals, and lots of sweets! We will miss them and look forward to their next visit!

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Above, Terry holding Auggie on his shoulders at the Maryland Zoo.

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Above, Therese rocking Evie to sleep.

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Above, Therese helping Auggie brush a goat.

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Here are some photos of the cemetery and forest patch after our most recent mowing. It’s quite a bit of work to maintain the grounds, but we love it. Maia, who just finished her month-long stay with us, and Terry, Emily’s father, have been a huge help. Mowing, weeding, gardening, chainsaw work and bush whacking!

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Above, our pasture area where we formerly kept goats, lamas, and donkeys. We hope to have animals again, once the kids are a bit older.

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Above, a space we’ve cleared out in the forest patch. We hope to connect it with another clearing (below) and cover the ground with wood chips. It’s a great place for contemplation, a kind of forest refuge among the trees and wildlife.

IMG_3152Above, a space we’d like to clear out. It’ll be tough going considering the area is overgrown with vines and thick bushes. Poison ivy, too. The open canopy offers lots of sunlight and, once cleared, will provide another beautiful area to sit, rest, meditate and wonder at all the life in the forest patch.

IMG_3138Above, a section of the walking path that runs through the forest patch. In the early part of spring we spent several weeks collecting and chipping fallen trees and branches.

IMG_3137Above, the grounds along the south fence. While mowing this section, I (Tucker) came across what looked to be a rat snake sun bathing.

IMG_3134Above, the middle stretch of the cemetery that extends from the east gate all the way to the forest patch.

IMG_3133 (1)Above, Maia bouncing Evie.

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Above, Terry, Emily’s father, helping dig a hole in which we set a large tire that became a sand box. Auggie loves it!

IMG_3093Above, Auggie sitting in his “mow tractor.” He prefers the Toro, but he’ll ride the Scag if it’s out. The Yazoo Kees doesn’t impress him much.

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In light rain this past Saturday evening we planted two pecan trees to mark the arrivals of our children, Auggie and Evie. Beneath the saplings we buried the placentas we’d saved from their births.

The ritual invited me to think about the meaning of home.

Home isn’t always a physical place, though it can be that, but it’s always, in my experience, something I return to. A dwelling space. A relationship. A state of heart, mind and being. Even an image and the feeling tone that image inspires.

Home, for me, is vulnerable, authentic, all-embracing, and intimate the way climbing vines twine together. As intimate as air is to breath.

By planting these trees here at Jonah House, along with the once living tissue that helped sustain Auggie and Evie in the womb, their first home, I feel I’m vowing to return to these trees, to both care for and be nourished by them.

IMG_3106All this makes me consider how birds home to a particular place. Habitats in physical space that orient their lives and journeys. Places of return and the innate sense to find them.

Emily and I have returned to Baltimore. We also home to other places — like New Mexico, South Dakota, and North Carolina — where we have family and where we’ve experienced transformations of the sort that sculpt soul and body, of the kind where I feel I’ve been folded into the landscape, worked into its soil.

And so it is, now with our family, tilled into the earth here, our lives and bodies knit with the growth of this soil.

Tucker Brown

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Genevieve Therese Parr Brown was born at home, Jonah House, on Sunday, May 1st at 3:50 p.m.

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Auggie has handled his little sister’s homecoming with relative ease. He likes to practice his vocabulary by using her features as prompts: fingers, hands, mouth, ears, eyes and cheeks. He seems to know that Evie doesn’t replace him, but rather enlarges his life with all sorts of wonder and unexpected change!

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We are grateful for community. People have showed up in so many ways: washing dishes, preparing meals, spending time with Auggie, tending to Emily, and simply sitting with us and sharing in the reverie Evie inspires.

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With joy, sadness. Birth and death. Daniel Berrigan passed away. On Monday evening, two days after he’d died and less than 24 hours into Evie’s life, I reflected on some words he’d read during the Catonsville 9 trial:

“Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, for the burning of paper instead of children …”

Holding Evie in my arms, I’m aware that right now other newborns are being torn apart by war, deprivation, addiction, and neglect. I cannot love her without also calling to heart and mind their suffering. Violence in the world throughout fracturing the littlest and most fragile among us. In Syria. In San Antonio, where two kids are found tied up in a back yard, tethered like dogs, leashes around their necks, with scars and scratches all over their bodies. In Baltimore, a mother punishes and ultimately kills her stepchild by boiling his legs.

As I read about and hold these horrors in my heart I experience a great grief over the cycles of suffering and violence — and our world’s addiction to violence — that permeate our shared life. I invoke a passage from the Buddha’s discourse on good will: “just as a mother with her own life protects her child, her only child, from harm, so within yourself let grow a boundless love for all creatures.” It comes to me as a challenge: Do I embrace each being, especially those I’m averse to, as I would Evie?  I know I don’t.  

Evie is precious. She nurses and sleeps. Her needs are simple and direct, physical and intimate.

I practice a different kind of zazen when I hold her. She quiets and invites me into her stillness. Her eyes move underneath their lids and her face, completely relaxed one moment, in another twitches, wrinkles, frowns, grins and pouts.  I love watching her play of gestures.

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Auggie is precious. When he’s not “up with daddy,” I chase him around the house and outside. Auggie erupts with activity and a ceaseless stream of words until, exhausted, he declares: “baff, mup” and we take him upstairs to bed. He falls asleep right away, eats when he wakes up, and again we go, nonstop, until the nightime ritual of washing, brushing, book reading and fare-welling: Bye bye toys, moon, stars, stuffed animals, mommy and daddy.

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Life at Jonah House is full, in and out of doors, with the land greening and growing everywhere. The garden, the grass, the forest humming with movement. Bugs and birds. Vines climbing trees. Plants of all sorts sprouting skyward and every which way towards the light they can catch.

A few day’s ago I spotted a fox. A male, I think. He glided between the tomb stones near the house and disappeared behind a cluster of trees. I watched cats scatter because they gather there.

Dandelions can resurrect themselves over night! On the mornings after we mow, I marvel at their stalks rising upright out of the ground, inches above the cut grass, like thousands of twigs stuck there by some kind of nocturnal mischief.

Tucker Brown

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Following the funeral of Dan Berrigan in New York City, Liz and Joe were able to attend the Atlantic Life Community (ALC) spring retreat, at the Mariandale retreat center, in Ossining, New York. (Tucker and Emily had to stay in Baltimore to tend to the newest community member at Jonah House – Genevieve, born May 1. And Ardeth and Carol stayed behind to tend to the three of them, and Genevieve’s big brother, Auggie.)

Located on a bluff on the east side of the Hudson River, Mariandale offers some breath-taking views.

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But more inspiring is the work of the 40+ dedicated peacemakers who attended the retreat. Many of those attending had come from Dan Berrigan’s funeral the day before. Dan was very much on people’s minds. In fact, one of the sessions was devoted to brain-storming public witness scenarios to commemorate Dan.

The retreat had all of the regular features of an ALC retreat. There was sharing about what folks are doing in their communities to bring about a more just and peaceful world. There were workshops on such topics as intentional communities, sustainability, centering prayer, and the Plowshares movement. And there was a talent show. Joe offered some of Dan Berrigan’s poetry and sang some songs in his honor, including Phil Ochs’s anthem “When I’m Gone.”

On Sunday Liz gave an impassioned presentation on Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’. Without shying away from the dire state of the biosphere on the planet, Liz offered reasons to hope that God, through imperfect human beings, might prevent the destruction of the planet that God so lovingly created.

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Liz’s presentation was followed by the traditional ALC retreat liturgy. Those gathered read the scriptures of the day and broke bread together.

Here is one of the altar decorations, done by one of the children who attended the retreat:

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May God’s grace sustain the community until it meets again, in Camden, NJ, over Labor Day.

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On April 30, we received the sad news that Fr. Dan Berrigan, SJ, had died. Dan was a priest, poet, prophet, and protester; he was also a spiritual God-father of Jonah House, the brother and uncle and friend of Jonah House members, and an inspiration to thousands. Dan and Phil Berrigan were the prototypical “radical priests,” which was acknowledged by Time Magazine in 1971.

berrigans_timeLiz was asked to do a eulogy for Dan at his funeral, in New York City. Joe, who once entered a Catholic seminary with the aspiration to be a priest like Dan Berrigan, went up with Liz on Thursday, May 5.

The wake was held in the afternoon and evening of May 5 at St. Francis Xavier Church, a Jesuit church in Manhattan. The St. Francis Xavier school, next door to the church, put out a banner in tribute to Dan. The banner displayed one of Dan’s better-known poems, “Some.”

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Joe took the picture while walking to the church with members of the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker community. Moments later a uniformed member of the school’s ROTC program walked by. Kathy Boylan of the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker stopped him to point out the irony (hypocrisy?) of a Jesuit school with a ROTC program putting out a banner in tribute to one of the great Jesuit peacemakers. Kathy encouraged him to quit the ROTC program and convince all the other ROTC members at Xavier to do the same.

The wake offered a platform to many of Dan’s friends to commemorate this great voice and actor for peace. Many pictures of Dan were on display.

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Dan’s funeral was the following day. It began with a march from the New York Catholic Worker, where Dan spent time with his friend Dorothy Day and said mass for the Catholic Worker community, to St. Francis Xavier Church. Even though it was pouring rain, it was a raucous, joyful celebration of Dan’s life. The march was led by a rowdy brass band.

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Here’s another shot of the march.

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The celebration continued in the warm, dry, and very packed St. Francis Xavier Church. Steve Kelly SJ, a friend of Jonah House, gave an inspired homily at the funeral mass. He began by jokingly telling the FBI agents in the audience that they can finally close their file on Dan Berrigan. Though this might be premature, because Dan – like St. Therese, the Little Flower – will likely spend his time in heaven doing good (and making merry mischief) on earth.

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A highlight of the funeral mass was Liz’s eulogy of Dan, beginning with Dan’s famous statement concerning the Catonsville action in 1968. As a sign of appreciation for all Liz has done for peace, and in hopes that she will carry on the legacy of the Berrigan family, the audience gave Liz a standing ovation that lasted for a few minutes.

Jerry, Frida and Kate Berrigan – children of Liz and Phil, and nephew/nieces of Dan – also gave touching eulogies, as did their cousin Carla Berrigan Pittarelli.

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The funeral mass was followed by a reception at St. Francis Xavier Church. There were many more pictures of Dan, and some of him with his brother Phil. The picture below features just Phil and a quote that is still very much apropos.

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Dan Berrigan, along with his brother Phil and all the Berrigan clan, will forever be “presénte” at Jonah House.

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