In 1995, the literary magazine River Styx invited Daniel Berrigan to St. Louis for the 2nd Annual Thomas Merton Commemoration. A three day weekend filled with this poetry, that speech, and all manner of scholarly event and spiritual dialogue. Father Berrigan, a friend of Thomas Merton, and a winner of the Lamont Poetry Prize, was the keynote speaker.
But Saturday afternoon was unplanned. Someone suggested that I, the only practicing Catholic on the River Styx board, give the priest a tour, “something religious.”
The St. Louis Cathedral seemed an appropriate place to begin that afternoon. The cathedral is one of the largest churches in the world. A crypt filled with cardinals and bishops and archbishops. The city’s religious history in towering mosaics. Berrigan was patient with my professorial tour. Then he taught me how to write a psalm.
At one of the small side altars, a little Marian chapel, there was a Mass for half a dozen folks. It was not altogether clear to me what was going on. Berrigan explained that this Mass was in a Byzantine rite. I turned away, pointed to the end of a side aisle, and explained to him that right over there is an Our Lady Of Perpetual Help in mosaics – Mosaics! – blessed, dedicated and paid for by an actual cardinal archbishop, an actual Prince Of The Church.
I turned back to Berrigan. He was almost folded in upon himself, silent, overwhelmed by the Mass before him. Like he had never heard a Mass before. Like he hadn’t just said these very words himself a couple of hours ago. “This is the Chalice of My Blood, the New and Eternal Testament, the Mystery of Faith …”. Thus he remained. Ten or fifteen minutes. His psalm composed solely of time.