Archive for thomas merton

My Birthday Request in the wake of Paris and Beirut

Posted in Social Justice with tags , , , , , , , on November 15, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Screen Shot 2015-11-15 at 8.22.27 PMThis is a video expression of my gratitude for all the kind wishes and greetings on my birthday along with a birthday request or plea to join in prayer with not only the victims of the terrorist attacks in paris and Beirut, but also prayers that we do not allow this horrific violence to harden our hearts to the needs of others who are refugees and migrants fleeing violence and unrest. Let us not abandon them, but open our hearts and borders to those who need our love and support. As Thomas Merton notes, drawing on his Christian faith, it is only love that can overcome the fear that is at the root of all war.

The video is embedded below, or you can go to the YouTube channel to watch it here:

Initial Reflections on Pope Francis, Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton

Posted in Pope Francis, Social Justice, Thomas Merton, YouTube with tags , , , on September 25, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Screen Shot 2015-09-25 at 12.24.19 AMThis video was recorded “on location” in the side chapel of the Mercyhurst University Chapel in Erie, PA. Just minutes after Pope Francis delivered his historic address to the joint session of Congress, I had the great honor and privilege to preside and preach at the Mass of the Holy Spirit, which kicks off the academic year at the university. Being a Thomas Merton scholar and admirer of Dorothy Day, I wanted to share some initial reflections right away, so here they are! My apologies for the lower-than-average production quality, but such is the case when on the road. In addition to the initial reflections, there are a few glimpses of the beautiful campus of Mercyhurst University and a time-lapse video of the opening of this evening’s panel discussion on religious life.

Also, here is the full text of the Pope’s address to Congress.



Pope Francis References Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day in Address to Congress

Posted in Pope Francis, Social Justice, Thomas Merton, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on September 24, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

merton_painting_webIn what was already the most widely anticipated speech of Pope Francis’s pastoral visit to the United States this week, the Pope’s references to two American models of Christian living — the renowned author and Trappist Monk Thomas Merton and co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement Dorothy Day — have surprised many. As a Merton scholar, a three-term member of the Board of Directors for the International Thomas Merton Society, and the author of the recent book The Franciscan Heart of Thomas Merton, I couldn’t be more delighted at the mention of Merton!

Pope Francis highlights how these two giant figures of American Catholicism “offer us a way of seeing and interpreting reality.”

Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day knew each other, corresponded, and represent to many Catholics the depth of an engaged Christian spirituality that extends beyond the personal relationship with God to reach the margins of society and respond to the most pressing concerns of our day. Their lives and model of Christian living anticipated what was made universal by the Second Vatican Council and expressed in Gaudium et Spes, that Christians are called to interpret the “signs of the time” in “light of the Gospel.”

This didn’t happen overnight for either figure. For Merton, there was a growing awareness of the need to engage matters of peace and justice in the world that came when his life of prayer and contemplation awakened within him a sense of interconnectedness with all women and men. He recognized an “original unity,” as he put it in one of his last lectures, that was founded on the “hidden ground of love.”

In a letter to Dorothy Day written on August 23, 1961, Merton acknowledges this growing awareness and turn toward the world:

I don’t feel that I can in conscience, at a time like this, go on writing just about things like meditation, though that has its point. I cannot just bury my head in a lot of rather tiny and secondary monastic studies either. I think I have to face the big issues, the life-and-death issues.

This awakening of his conscience led to addressing concerns of poverty, racism, violence, nuclear armament, the Cold War, economic inequality, among other pressing concerns of his day (and, sadly, still our own).

Both Merton and Day, the latter whose cause for canonization is currently underway, have been somewhat polarizing figures over the last half-century. Those who feel religious people should talk about God and prayer and not the pressing or controversial concerns of the time, have dismissed Merton and Day. Some feel that they represent some kind of “liberal” or “progressive” face of Catholicism. Pope Francis’s references help to put down that sort of polarizing image, pointing to them as icons and models of Christian discipleship for all people!

Photo: Merton Legacy Trust

Happy 100th Birthday to Thomas Merton

Posted in Thomas Merton with tags , , , , , , , on January 31, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

MEME_04“On the last day of January 1915, under the sign of the Water Bearer, in a year of a great war, and down in the shadow of some French mountains on the borders of Spain, I came into the world.” This is how Thomas Merton begins his now-classic spiritual autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain. Today would have marked his 100th birthday. All around the United States and in places across the globe, women and men who have been inspired by and are enthusiastic for the work of Merton will celebrate his life and legacy. There are a number of ways to commemorate his enduring legacy and relevance. One way I suggest is to pick up one of his many books, perhaps a favorite of yours or one that you have been meaning to read, and spend some time with his writing. Selecting a passage from one of the seven volumes of his published journals or reading some of his letters may offer a glimpse into the timelessness of his keen sense of the Spirit’s presence in the world and God’s call for all people to move beyond their own experience of relationship with the Creator to serve God in serving others, working for justice, and helping to make peace.

At the very least, I would encourage you to take at least one minute at some point today to join me in praying Merton’s most famous prayer, which comes to us from his short book Thoughts in SolitudeMany of you will know it, others will likely find a resonance with your own experience. It is a prayer that speaks to the heart and bears the fragility of human uncertainty and experience alongside the assurance of God’s grace and presence.

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that
I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am
actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that, if I do this, You will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost
and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for You are ever with me,
and You will never leave me to face my perils alone.

May you have a joyful weekend and, in particular, a wonderful experience celebrating the centenary of Thomas Merton’s birth!

Thomas Merton and the Feast of the Portiuncula

Posted in Franciscan Spirituality, Thomas Merton with tags , , , , on August 2, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

porziuncolanotteToday is the Feast of Our Lady of the Angels, both the patronal feast of the “City of Angels” (LA) and a very important celebration in the life of the Franciscan family. August 2 is also known as the Franciscan Feast of the Portiuncula, the “mother church” of the Franciscan Order. This little church in the valley outside the city of Assisi was one of the most important places for St. Francis during his own lifetime. In the early sources we read that this was the only place that the friars were permitted (if not commanded) to keep. It remains an important pilgrimage site in the Franciscan family. I have had the great fortune to visit the Portiuncula chapel twice (Portiuncula means “little portion”). While it was at one time a freed-standing church, today it stands within a large basilica that was built over the tiny little church.

On this day when we remember the place of this church, Our Lady of the Angels — it’s official name, I thought it would be nice to share what Thomas Merton, the 20th-Century Trappist Monk and Author, said about the Portiuncula and the feast itself in his journal. Especially as we anticipate the release of my next book, The Franciscan Heart of Thomas Merton: A New Look at the Spiritual Inspiration of His Life, Thought, and Writing, due out in September, which focuses on the intersection of the Franciscan tradition and Thomas Merton.

The Porticuncula always brings me great blessings – and that is the Franciscan side, which continues to grow also…The feast brings graces of contemplation and spiritual joy, because every church becomes that tiny little church that St. Francis loved above all others and everyone in the world can share the bliss of his sanctity. (August 2, 1948)

May you have a blessed day and remember your Franciscan sisters and brothers in your prayers! Peace and all Good!

Photo: File

Friends of Merton

Posted in America Magazine, Thomas Merton with tags , , , , , , on April 21, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Merton_Berrigan-Daniel-001This column originally appeared in the April 28 issue of America magazine.

On Nov. 10, 1958, Thomas Merton wrote a letter to Pope John XXIII in which the famous American monk shared with the new pope some reflections about the world and the church. In one passage Merton describes how he had begun to understand that being a cloistered monk did not necessarily mean withdrawing from the world in some absolute way. Instead, he discerned the Spirit calling him to another form of ministry from within the walls of the monastery by writing letters, connecting with women and men he might never have had the opportunity to meet otherwise.

It is not enough for me to think of the apostolic value of prayer and penance; I also have to think in terms of a contemplative grasp of the political, intellectual, artistic and social movements of this world—by which I mean a sympathy for the honest aspirations of so many intellectuals everywhere in the world and the terrible problems they have to face. I have had the experience of seeing that this kind of understanding and friendly sympathy, on the part of a monk who really understands them, has produced striking effects among artists, writers, publishers, poets, etc., who have become my friends without my having to leave the cloister…. In short, with the approval of my superiors, I have exercised an apostolate—small and limited though it be—within a circle of intellectuals from other parts of the world; and it has been quite simply an apostolate of friendship.

Merton came to realize that part of his religious vocation involved connecting with people of different backgrounds, experiences and worldviews.

He corresponded with the writers Boris Pasternak, Czesław Miłosz, Ernesto Cardenal and Evelyn Waugh; with the activists Joan Baez, Daniel and Philip Berrigan; with the theologians Paul Tillich, Karl Rahner, Abraham Heschel and Rosemary Radford Reuther; with bishops, nuns and religious leaders of other traditions, like Thich Nhat Hanh; and with so many others, including ordinary, unknown people.

I thought of Merton and his “apostolate of friendship” earlier this month while sitting at a pub one evening in England. I was in the company of a diverse collection of people: a middle-age father from Ireland, an Episcopal priest from Scotland and a woman and man from England, both teachers. We were there enjoying some beer after a long but inspiring day of academic paper presentations and workshops on the life, thought and legacy of this American monk. We were in Oakham, in central Britain, for a conference of the Thomas Merton Society of Great Britain and Ireland, an event held every other year. (In the alternating years, the International Thomas Merton Society holds a large conference somewhere in North America; the next will be in Louisville in June 2015.) I was there to deliver a keynote address, but the conference draws a diverse group composed of top Merton scholars, as well as people with a more casual interest in Merton and all sorts of others in between.

Strangers before this evening, those with whom I found myself at the pub all began to exchange stories about how each had come to discover the writings of Merton and what had led them to attend this three-day event. Most shared a version of “the typical Merton story,” which begins with reading The Seven Storey Mountain.

The Irishman, however, recalled a dramatic event that took place in a hospital room. Visiting his father, who was recovering from surgery, he was told that the man in the next bed was dying. The dying man happened to be reading a book, which led my new Irish friend to reflect: “If he’s dying and is reading, it must be an amazing book! I need to know what it is.” The book was Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain.

This man told us, decades later, that Merton remained a major influence in his life, ever since he read the book after that hospital encounter.

Few writers and thinkers can bring people together this way. Even fewer can do it long after their death. Thomas Merton continues to exercise an “apostolate of friendship,” bringing people together across many divides. If you haven’t met Merton and his friends yet, I encourage you to do so.

Daniel P. Horan, O.F.M., is the author of several books, including The Last Words of Jesus: A Meditation on Love and Suffering (2013). Follow him @DanHoranOFM.

Photo: Merton Legacy Trust

Easter is about the General Dance

Posted in Easter, Prayer, Thomas Merton with tags , , , , , , , , on April 20, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

582749main_sunrise_from_iss-4x3_946-710Thomas Merton concluded his beautiful book New Seeds of Contemplation with a chapter titled “The General Dance.” It is a powerful reflection on the reason for the Incarnation, the meaning of humanity in creation, and the time that is inaugurated by the Resurrection — if only we can open our eyes to see it.

To talk about sin in the way St. Bonaventure does is to talk about humanity’s bent-overness, that we can not look up and out, but only down and at ourselves. In a sense, this is what Merton and others mean in terms of when we cannot see, when we cannot look beyond ourselves to see the world as it really is.

Easter is a time to see and a time to join the general dance of creation. To remember not only that which has been fulfilled in Christ’s death and resurrection, but to recall also what St. Francis said in recalling that in the Incarnation we have the promise that salvation is at hand. For, as Merton writes, “The Lord made the world and made humanity in order the He Himself might descend into the world, that He Himself might become human. When He regarded the world He was about to make He say His wisdom, as a man-child, ‘playing in the world, playing before Him at all times.’ And He reflected, ‘My delights are to be with the children of humanity.'”

God has entered our world as one of us, drawn close to us out of a self-emptying desire and love, assumed all of our reality, and consecrates it completely in the Resurrection, where now creation and divinity exist eternally as one. Merton continues: “For in becoming human, God became not only Jesus Christ but also potentially every man and woman that ever existed. In Christ, God became not only ‘this’ man, but also, in a broader and more mystical sense, yet no less truly, ‘every man.'”

Merton ends his book with the following reflection, a reflection that seems to me to speak to the heart of what we are celebrating with acclaims of “Alleluia” today, a celebration beckoning us to join in and dance.

What is serious to men and women is often very trivial in the sight of God. What in God might appear to us as “play” is perhaps what He Himself takes most seriously. At any rate the Lord plays and diverts Himself in the garden of His creation, and if we could let go of our own obsession with what we think is the meaning of it all, we might be able to hear HIs call and follow Him in His mysterious, cosmic dance.

We do not have to go very far to catch the echoes of that game, and of that dancing. When we are along on a starlit night; when by chance we see the migrating birds in autumn descending on a grove of junipers to rest and eat; when we see children in a moment when they are really children; when we know love in our own hearts; or when, like the Japanese poet Basho we hear an old frog land in a quiet pond with a solitary splash — at such times the awakening, the turning inside out of all values, the “newness,” the emptiness and the purity of vision that make themselves evident, provide a glimpse of the cosmic dance.

For the world and time are the dance of the Lord in emptiness. The silence of the spheres is the music of a the wedding feast. The more we persist in misunderstanding the phenomena of life, the more we analyze them out into strange finalities and complex purposes of our own, the more we involve ourselves in sadness, absurdity, and despair.

But it does not matter much, because no despair of ours can alter the reality of things, or stain the joy of the cosmic dance which is always there. Indeed, we are in the midst of it, and it is in the midst of us, for it beats in our good, whether we want it to or not.

Yet the fact remains that we are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join in the general dance.

Do we hear the divine music playing on the cosmic dance floor of life? Are we willing to look up, to see around us, to recognize the glorification that all of creation has experienced? Can we join the general dance?

 Photo: NASA

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