31st January 1915 – 10th December 1968
“The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.”
No Man Is An Island, Thomas Merton
Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk who wrote extensively on spirituality, inter-faith dialogue and social Justice.
After spending most of his early life travelling around Europe, Merton had a mystical experience in Rome when he was 18 visiting a Byzantine Church. During his university years Merton spent time womanising, drinking and getting into debt until the death of his Grandfather which spurred him on to explore religion further. After a meeting with a Hindu Monk who encouraged him to reconnect with his catholic roots, Merton began exploring the medieval mystics and was eventually baptised and confirmed into the Roman Catholic Church at the age of 24. After being rejected by the Franciscans due to his previous actions in life, he was accepted into a Trappist order in 1942 and eventually ordained priest in 1949.
Merton’s writings evolved from more inwardly focused topics on spirituality and poetry to outward looking topics of social activism, pacifism and interfaith dialogue. He was vocal on events such as the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War and shared his views with those whom he wrote to in letters. His legacy today is one of openness to other faiths in what practice they have to share with Christianity as well as his ability to challenge the institutions of this world through the use of non-violence and open dialogue between difference.
Thomas died on this day, 1968, 27 years after he first entered the monastery in which he would spend most of his life.
A Prayer for Thomas Merton:
God of justice and of Peace, who gave your servant Thomas Merton the gifts of eloquence and fervour to walk the path of non-violence, so to grant us the same spirit with which to pursue Justice our own time and to open our eyes to the ways of others; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour.
Suggested Bible reading: