Monday, January 29, 2007

The Merton Institute

To receive The Merton Reflection for the Week,
visit The Merton Institute for Contemplative Living.

The reflection for the
week of January 29:

We prescribe for one another remedies that will bring us peace of mind, and we are still devoured by anxiety. We evolve plans for disarmament and for the peace of nations, and our plans only change the manner and method of aggression. The rich have everything they want except happiness, and the poor are sacrificed to the unhappiness of the rich. Dictatorships use their secret police to crush millions under an intolerable burden of lies, injustice and tyranny, and those who still live in democracies have forgotten how to make good use of their liberty. For liberty is a thing of the spirit, and we are no longer able to live for anything but our bodies. How can we find peace, true peace, if we forget that we are not machines for making and spending money, but spiritual beings, sons and daughters of the most high God?

From: Thomas Merton. The Monastic Journey. Patrick Hart, editor. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1978: 62.


lapazfarm said...

Thanks so much for the link, Karen! I am so happy to find such a great resource!

Faith said...

A little hesitant to check this out-- Thomas Merton, unfortunately, had a tragic life and could hardly be considered a Catholic at the end of his life. Alice von Hildebrand has a wonderful talk on this entitled "The Tragedy of Thomas Merton".

Karen E. said...

That's very true, Faith, but many of his early writings are very good, and are orthodox and not problematic.

Cephas1229 said...

I am just curious having read and studied Merton for many years now and having about 50 books by him and about him. Faith: why do you say that he "could hardly be considered a Catholic at the end of his life."
I am not aware of any last minute conversion. Also, his superiors encouraged him to go to the East. He repeatedly says in his books and lectures that while disagreeing with their theology, the experience of meditation was found to have similarities with our traditions of the Early Church Fathers. Merton was encouraged to pursue these similarities. Karen: I agree that Merton's early writings are very good. At what point does he go off track? Beginning with which book? And what specifically did he write that was unorthodox. Realize that most of his books have an Imprimatur.

Karen E. said...

Cephas: Thanks for holding me accountable for some careless wording! :-)

I said, "That's very true, Faith, but ...." I should have said "That may be true .... " because I'm not really in a position to say that I know where he stood at the end of his life, and you sound much more widely read in Merton than I am.

I've read in what I considered trustworthy sources that he was, near the end of his life, straying from a full embrace of his Catholicism. That saddened me, because I dearly love everything I've ever read by him, but I've certainly not read it all.

And, quite recently, I've read things that made me wonder if unfair assumptions have been made without evidence, or that dots have been connected where no clear line exists.

At any rate, I can recommend works like The Sign of Jonas, Seven Storey Mountain, New Seeds of Contemplation and No Man is an Island without reservation as I've read and loved all of those. He was a complex and fascinating man.

Thanks for your comment!

Cephas said...

Thank you Karen for your comments as well. It seems that there are some of our Catholic brothers and sisters that reject any and all dialogue with the East. I'm not sure who you are referring to that you consider trustworthy, but if Dr. Von Hildebrand is one of them, I would be leery. I have heard that she is a good speaker, so I don't want to judge her on the only thing I've heard by her. But the other day I heard yet another person recommend her talk on Merton, so I downloaded it to see what it was specifically that she objected to. I only listened to 32 minutes of it so far and found many errors that can be objectively verified and demonstrate a real lack of good scholarly research. These are things that any careful reader would have picked up. Some examples are that she said the Baroness De Hueck was Dutch - she was very Russian. Dr. Von Hildebrand said that Merton wanted to join the Capuchins. He did not. He went to a Capuchin Church to pray and he did go there to confession, but he wanted to be a Franciscan. She said that Merton had a "problem with humiliation." I would love for her to tell me who doesn't ?! Merton when he entered the monastery had a desire to write but knew that he had to leave that life behind which he was reconciled to. Much to his chagrin, it was his superiors that asked him to write his autobiography and many of his other books as well. She neglected to mention this small fact and accused him of desiring fame. There are many other things that she says where she puts a psychological spin on events and tries to demonstrate his impulsiveness and immaturity (some of which I am not denying). I'm sorry this is so long! Unfortunately however, and this is the bottom line - people who would be so edified and brought closer to Jesus by Merton's writings are warned to stay away. Yet, I have never heard an honest objection. Whew! Thanks for listening. I have a small blog if you'd care to see it.

Karen E. said...

No, it wasn't von Hildebrand -- I haven't read or heard any of her stuff on Merton. Thanks for your perspective on that. I can't even remember for certain where I heard it (just one of those "filed it away as trusted info" things ....) and have always wanted to look further into it, because I have never personally encountered anything he said that was unorthodox.

Here's an interesting piece for discussion.

Cephas said...

Thank you for that wonderfully written article. Most enlightening and just proves how low some people will go to discredit someone. And Whitehead mentions that he thinks the bishops "don't get it!" Incredible.
When Whitehead becomes an instrument of thousands of conversions to Catholicism as Merton did (I am one of them) then perhaps his vitriolic words will be heeded. In the meanwhile I will think of his words as those of the fairy tale pages used by Shrek in the first movie. The image is a little gross, but it makes my point. Thanks again.
God Bless

Cephas said...

Hi Karen
I put together a rebuttal of Von Hildebrand's lecture which I pointed out in an earlier post was filled with inaccuracies. Faith is a perfect example of a person not familiar with Merton who apparently bought into what Von Hildebrand had to say without knowing the truth.
God Bless...
If you'd like to see what I've written, please go to