Archive for the Thomas Merton Category

Thomas Merton on Mercy and Compassion

Posted in Pope Francis, Thomas Merton with tags , , , , , , , on April 12, 2016 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

merton_painting_webThat Pope Francis named Thomas Merton as one of four key American figures in his important address to the US Congress last September was perhaps more fortuitous than many people realized at the time. Those familiar with Merton’s extensive written corpus know that he wrote about diverse topics and engaged many different thinkers over the course of his all-too-short life. Among the themes that recur in his writing is that of mercy, which puts him in obvious kinship with the current bishop of Rome. And his writings on the theme of mercy offer us a tremendous resource in spiritual and theological reflection during this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.

Today, I’d like to share just one short reflection from Merton on mercy, though there are many, many selections from which to choose. This passage strikes me as timely given both the Year of Mercy and the Easter Season in which we find ourselves.

We can have the mercy of God whenever we want it, by being merciful to others: for it is God’s mercy that acts on them, through us, when He leads us to treat them as He is treating us. His mercy sanctifies our own poverty by the compassion that we feel for their poverty, as if it were our own. And this is a created reflection of His own divine compassion, in our own souls. Therefore, it destroys our sins, in the very act by which we overlook and forgive the sins of other men [and women].

Such compassion is not learned without suffering. It is not to be found in a complacent life, in which we platonically forgive the sins of others without any sense that we ourselves are involved in a world of sin. If we want to know God, we must learn to understand the weaknesses and sins and imperfections of other men [and women] as if they were our own. We must feel their poverty as Christ experienced our own (Merton, No Man is an Island, 211-212).

This passage calls out to us in a way that presciently anticipates Pope Francis’s own call for all Christians to move beyond the superficial, beyond what Merton describes as the platonic forgiveness we offer in thought and abstraction alone, to suffer with our fellow sisters and brothers in the world (compassion).

Like Francis of Assisi, whose own experience of God’s mercy led him to “show mercy” to the lepers, the poor, the outcast of his time, Merton and Pope Francis likewise exhort us to recognize the mercy of God that “we can have…whenever we want it.” And it is only in being merciful to others — a task that is so often painful and difficult to accomplish — that we can receive that which is already offered to us.

Photo: Merton Legacy Trust

Thomas Merton’s Prayer

Posted in Pope Francis, Thomas Merton, YouTube Channel with tags , , , , , on September 28, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

THUMBNAIL_MertonPrayerA selection from Thomas Merton’s 1958 book Thoughts in Solitude, which has become one of Thomas Merton’s best-known prayers. In honor of Pope Francis’s mention and praise of Merton in his address to the joint session of Congress during his 2015 visit to the United States, it is read here by Daniel P. Horan, OFM with images from Merton’s life. Learn more about Thomas Merton by visiting Merton.org and there join the International Thomas Merton Society (ITMS).

If you like this prayer, be sure to check out the book itself (it’s definitely worth it): Thoughts in Solitude 

[Here’s the link to the video: Thomas Merton’s Prayer]

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
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