Thomas Merton, RIP

Merton’s grave at Gethsemani Abbey

On this day 47 years ago in 1968, the Church lost one of its greatest spiritual teachers.  Everything in me wants this day to be known as the Feast of St. Thomas Merton.  But alas, the Church has not seen fit to canonize this 20th century spiritual master.  It hasn’t been too many years since his death, so perhaps some day….

Thomas Merton, Trappist monk and prolific spiritual writer, was on a tour of several Asian countries, giving talks on a variety of subjects to Christian monastics when he was accidentally electrocuted while taking a bath in Bangkok, Thailand.

Thomas Merton (along with G. K. Chesterton and Russell Kirk) is largely responsible for my reception into the Catholic Church as a 21 year old college student.  He is also responsible for my much of my early education in monasticism (and the monks of St. Martin’s Abbey!).  His ranging intellect, wisdom, and prophetic vision for both the Church and the world continue to inspire me, and probably always will.

Merton in his hermitage.

Merton in his hermitage.

I want to commemorate this day with with some of Merton’s own words that he spoke 47 years ago this morning.  The following is an excerpt from his last, public talk titled “Marxism and Monastic Perspectives.”  Merton emphasizes one statement in particular in the talk:

From now on, everybody stands on their own two feet.

He is referencing the experience of the Dalhi Lama and the difficulties he had living a monastic life in Communist China.  Merton goes on to further emphasize that “we can no longer rely on structures,” meaning the social, political, and I’d say, even the intellectual and cultural structures that order our lives and take for granted.  These words have lost none of their urgency in our current cultural context.  I’d even say, these words are needed more today than ever.

Requiescat in Pace

%d bloggers like this: