|Thomas Merton (1915-1968) Thomas Merton was a Catholic writer and mystic. A Trappist monk of the Abbey of Gethsemani, Kentucky, he was also a poet, social activist, and student of comparative religion. He was active in promoting inter-religious harmony, especially amongst Buddhism.|
“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.”
– Thomas Merton
Thomas Merton is acclaimed as one of the most influential American spiritual writers of the twentieth century. His autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, has sold over one million copies and has been translated into twenty-eight languages. Merton wrote over sixty other books and hundreds of poems and articles on topics ranging from monastic spirituality to civil rights, nonviolence, and the nuclear arms race.
After a rambunctious youth and adolescence, Merton converted to Roman Catholicism. On December 10, 1941, he entered the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, a community of monks belonging to the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (Trappists), one of the most ascetic Roman Catholic monastic order.
The twenty-seven years he spent in Gethsemani prior to his untimely death in 1968 brought about profound changes in his self-understanding. This ongoing conversion impelled him into the political arena, where he became, according to Daniel Berrigan, the conscience of the peace movement of the 1960’s. Referring to race and peace as the two most urgent issues of our time, Merton was a strong supporter of the nonviolent civil rights movement, which he called “certainly the great example of Christian faith in action in the social history of the United States.” For his social activism Merton endured severe criticism, from Catholics and non-Catholics alike, who assailed his political writings as unbecoming of a monk.
During his last years, he became deeply interested in Asian religions, particularly Zen Buddhism, and in promoting East-West dialogue. After several meetings with Merton during the American monk’s trip to the Far east in 1968, the Dalai Lama praised him as having a more profound understanding of Buddhism than any other Christian he had known.
It was during this trip to a conference on East-West monastic dialogue that Merton died, in Bangkok on December 10, 1968, the victim of an accidental electrocution. By a sad coincidence the date marked the twenty-seventh anniversary of his entrance into Gethsemani.
Poems by Thomas Merton