I have planned a more developed reflection in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., that will be published tomorrow as our nation celebrates the life and legacy of that great icon of social justice, Christianity and peace. For now, on the eve of our celebration, I share with you a short letter of which many are likely unaware, written by Thomas Merton to Mrs. King on the occasion of her husbands assassination.

Like King, Thomas Merton — someone who was something of a spiritual advisor to King and so many — was a significant figure in the 1960s social justice movements on many fronts, albeit in a particularly unique way given his monastic vocation. Merton himself would die just a few months later.

This letter, and many others, can be found in the now classic volume (one of five) of his edited correspondence, titled, The Hidden Ground of Love: The Letters of Thomas Merton on Religious Experience and Social Concerns (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1985).

To Coretta Scott King

April 5, 1968

Some events are too big and terrible to talk about.  I think we all anticipated this one: I am sure he did. Somehow when John Yungblut spoke of Martin coming here for a brief retreat before the big march, I had the awful feeling that it might be a preparation for something like this. It was to be Memphis instead of Washington – or somewhere else on the way.

Let me only say how deeply I share your personal grief as well as the shock which pervades the whole nation. He has done the greatest thing anyone can do. In imitation of his Master he has laid down his life for his friends and enemies. He knew the nation was under judgment and he tried everything to stay the hand of God and man. He will go down in history as one of our greatest citizens.

My prayers are with you and with him. May he find the rest and reward which God has promised to all who trust in His mercy. This morning my Eucharistic offering will be for him and for you.

Fr. Louis, OCSO
(Thomas Merton)


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