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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Thomas Merton & Blessed Pope John XXIII


Today is the 45th anniversary of Thomas Merton's death.  I've written elsewhere about Merton's impact on me in my early 20's.  After reading The Seven Storey Mountain when I was 23, I scrambled to read everything I could by Merton, and was particularly taken with his journals (I still consider his autobiographical writings to be his best stuff).  I was so smitten with Merton, in fact, that in a moment of youthful exuberance I had a drawing by Merton tattooed on my shoulder; the drawing is of a monk. (On a side note, my kids love this tattoo and address the monk on my shoulder simply as "Tom".)

I now find myself at Bellarmine University, at which the Merton Center - the official repository of Merton's literary and artistic estate - is located, and I live a short 45 minute drive from the Abbey of Gethsemani, which I visit regularly, often with students.  Honestly, I can't believe my luck.

I'm currently working on a project on Cyril of Alexandria that I hope to finish very soon, after which my goal is to devote far more time to reading and writing about Merton.  Not long ago I went to a lecture by Michael Higgins on Merton and Pope John XXIII.  It led me to look up some of Merton's thoughts on Pope John XXIII in his journals, and I was struck by how much his reaction to John XXIII mirrors the reaction of so many to Pope Francis.  On this "Feast Day" of Merton, therefore, I thought I'd quote his thoughts on the soon to be canonized pope, both at the beginning of his pontificate and at the end.

Less than two weeks after Pope John XXIII's election, Merton writes:
John XXIII seems to me to be a most wonderful Pope and I love him already very much - he is a kind of simple person with a lot of good sense and all of a sudden he seems to me, for this, for his simplicity, to be a great man and I cannot help feeling right away that perhaps he is a saint.  My kind of saint - who smokes a cigarette after dinner. (I have got over the idea that this would immediately disqualify him - that went out ten years ago.)
And upon learning of John XXIII's death, he writes:
May he rest in peace, this great and good Father, whom I certainly loved, and who has been good to me, sending me the stole and many blessings.  And I don't think he has stopped being a father to us, to me.  He will one day be canonized, I think (if we last that long), and I do not hesitate to ask for his intercession now.
On this Feast Day of Fr. Louis of Gethsemani, I do not hesitate to ask for Merton's intercession:

Fr. Louis Merton, ora pro nobis!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Mr Hillis for your fine post. I too read Seven Story Mountain some years ago. It had a profound effect on me. I read all things Merton, I visited Corpus Christi Church in NY, standing next to the baptismal font where Merton was baptized. I work in Yonkers, NY - on my drive home to NJ I pass the cloisters museum, where Merton visited long ago. I do feel as though I know him. I make yearly retreats to st Joseph's Abbey in Spencer, Mass - but I have yet to visit Gethsemani - you are certainly lucky to live so close. Thomas Merton had much to do with my call to diaconal ministry. I owe him much.

    Many blessing to you.

    Deacon Brian Murphy

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