Almost thirty years ago, Daniel Berrigan wrote a little book that he entitled, Ten Commandments for the Long Haul. It was, in effect, a handbook of sorts on how to be a prophet in today’s world. It was Berrigan at his best, explaining how a prophet must make a vow of love and not of alienation. Anyone who is trying to be prophetic, from the right or from the left, might profitably read this book.
He ends with a number of Commandments, not ten but forty-seven of them. Here’s a sample of them (paraphrased), just to give you a taste of his insight, language, and wit:
1) Call on Jesus when all else fails. Call on Him when all else succeeds (except that never happens).
2) Don’t be afraid to be afraid or appalled to be appalled. How do you think the trees feel these days, or the whales, or, for that matter, most humans?
3) Keep your soul to yourself. Soul is a possession worth paying for, they’re growing rarer. Learn from monks, they have secrets worth knowing.
4) About practically everything in the world, there’s nothing you can do. This is Socratic wisdom. However, about of few things you can do something. Do it, with a good heart.
5) On a long drive, there’s bound to be a dull stretch or two. Don’t go anywhere with someone who expects you to be interesting all the time. And don’t be hard on your fellow travelers. Try to smile after a coffee stop.
6) Practically no one has the stomach to love you, if you don’t love yourself. They just endure. So do you.
7) About healing: The gospels tell us that this was Jesus’ specialty and he was heard to say: “Take up your couch and walk!”
8) When traveling on an airplane, watch the movie, but don’t use the earphones. Then you’ll be able to see what’s going on, but not understand what’s happening, and so you’ll feel right at home, little different then you do on the ground.
9) Know that sometimes the only writing material you have is your own blood.
10) Start with the impossible. Proceed calmly towards the improbable. No worry, there are at least five exits.
Alongside these commandments, I’d like to share a Decalogue for Daily Living that Pope John XXIII wrote for himself, his own Commandments for daily life. They reflect his depth, his simplicity, and his humility:
1) “Only for today, I will seek to live the livelong day positively without wishing to solve the problems of my life all at once.
2) Only for today, I will take the greatest care of my appearance: I will dress modestly; I will not raise my voice; I will be courteous in my behaviour; I will not criticize anyone; I will not claim to improve or to discipline anyone except myself.
3) Only for today, I will be happy in the certainty that I was created to be happy, not only in the other world buy also in this one.
4) Only for today, I will adapt to circumstances, without requiring all circumstances to be adapted to my own wishes.
5) Only for today, I will devote 10 minutes of my time to some good reading, remembering that just as food is necessary to the life of the body, so good reading is necessary to the life of the soul.
6) Only for today, I will do one good deed and not tell anyone about it.
7) Only for today, I will do at least one thing I do not like doing; and if my feelings are hurt, I will make sure that no one notices.
8) Only for today, I will make a plan for myself: I may not follow it to the letter, but I will make it. And I will be on guard against two evils: hastiness and indecision.
9) Only for today, I will firmly believe, despite appearances, that the good Providence of God cares for me as no one else who exists in this world
10) Only for today, I will have no fears. In particular, I will not be afraid to enjoy what is beautiful and to believe in goodness. Indeed, for 12 hours, I can certainly do what might cause me consternation were I to believe I had to do it all my life.”
In the United States there is an ongoing debate about the value or non-value of posting the Ten Commandments in certain public places. Proponents argue that, as a culture founded on Judeao-Christianity, we owe it to ourselves and our children to post publicly our essential moral code. Opponents argue that this isn’t fair to other religions and, beyond that, we would serve ourselves better by posting the Beatitudes, the real challenge that awaits us beyond the Ten Commandments.
What Berrigan and John XXIII do is bring the Commandments and the Beatitudes together. Moreover they both do too what Scripture enjoins us all to do, namely, to inscribe the Commandments into the flesh of our hearts by making them a practical guide for our lives