Fr. Michael’s presention on Thomas Merton at Bellermine 10/20/18

+MERTON AS PROPHET FOR OUR TIME                                                       20 Oct. 2018

The reason for our gathering this weekend, let me suggest, is the way Merton still speaks to us, perhaps more clearly than ever. At the time of his death fifty years ago, he was articulating what was unfolding in Church and society in a way like few others of his time. As scripture scholars have long pointed out, the prophet is not so much a predictor of the future as one who sees clearly and disturbingly what is actually happening in the present. What I want to suggest to you during this presentation is how Merton is addressing human life and society today as much as he ever did. He had the courage to face himself, to own his false interests to a degree that not only opened his eyes to God’s presence within his life, but also, within the Church and the whole of society. Will we dare to go there?

In his book Raids on the Unspeakable, Merton writes: “prophecy is not to predict, but to seize upon reality in its moment of highest expectation and tension toward the new.”(repeat) Throughout his life, Merton became more and more grounded in the present moment in his own life and in all of life around him. He became intensely aware of where human society was moving. The reason he was able to do this, from my own experience of him, as I watched his life unfold, was because of his own inner transformation of consciousness. Through living the monastic life, he came to see how critical it was for him to move away from the false self so as to realize his true self. As he did so, his eyes were opened with an ever growing clarity. There grew within him a Christ consciousness, a growing ability to see all that was unfolding within and around him in the light of Christ, risen in glory. What happened especially the last ten years of his life was a building awareness of God’s loving presence in our world and along with this, of all that was resistant to this transformative love / power.

Merton is inviting us here this morning and each day of our lives to enter into this same inner transformation. He is challenging us now as much as he ever did during his life time. He continues to touch so many lives In the recent book, What I Am Living For, in the selection by James Martin, SJ, he tells of how he came to recognize his own false self through Merton’s writings. This completely changed his life. When we are in touch with the true self open to God, a new path is opened for us and we see God’s presence all around us.

In a brief essay called Hagia Sophia, Merton writes: “When the helpless one awakens strong at the voice of mercy, it is as if Life his Sister, as if the Blessed Virgin, (his own flesh, his own sister), as if Nature made wise by God’s Art and Incarnation were to stand over him and invite him with unutterable sweetness to be awake and to live. This is what it means to recognize Hagia Sophia.” Merton’s appreciation of the feminine dimension of human life and creation speaks loudly to our world today, whether we consider global warming, what happened during the recent Supreme Court selection or how women in general are treated. Merton invites us more than ever to question the misuse of power and to respect the divine presence in all of creation. To be free of our false selves is to become fully integrated, made in the very image and likeness of God.

My brother Paul Quenon recently reminded me of Merton’s article in Faith and Violenceabout “Events and Pseudo-Events.” We are exposed in the media Merton warns us to “countless pseudo-events, the come-ons, the releases, the statements, the surmises, the slanders, the quarrels, the insults and the interminable self-advertising of the image-makers.” He does not wish to deny for a moment that we need authentic news, reliable journalism. It’s just that is often hard to perceive the truth in what is written or said in the “news” unless we ourselves are on this journey of inner integrity, able to discern what is actually taking place all around us. Only the pure eye, the pure heart understands clearly.

Merton’s horizons were ever expanding as was his God consciousness. His awareness of the divisions within society gave him insight even then into polarization so prominent in our own time. The racism, the misuse of military power, political agendas are blinding us to the richness of human diversity. Even within the Church our way of using doctrine too often restricts our living of the gospel. Or as Fr George Kilcourse has pointed out to me, Merton knew “the Church is best when not focused on organization and structures.. but when her members are present among the poor, all those subjected to any form of injustice.” We have in Pope Francis one who shares a similar vision and moves the Church toward greater integrity.

Merton saw so clearly the tremendous value of bringing East and West together. He befriended outstanding members of Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian and Islamic background with a view of enriching all of humanity. How blessed we are amid our diversity!  God is at work amid all these religious traditions. Merton got us to look at all forms of violence, unmasking the self-hate that gives rise to them. He is continually inviting us to realize our true selves. I could go on and on but hopefully what I have shared will lead to some valuable sharing of your own. Thank You.