Who could have imagined that Pope Francis would speak to a joint session of Congress and give praise to Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, President Abraham Lincoln, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?
The pope said, “My visit takes place at a time when men and women of good will are marking the anniversaries of several great Americans.” They were able “by hard work and self-sacrifice … to build a better future. They shaped fundamental values which will endure forever in the spirit of the American people. I would like to mention four of these Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton.”
The witness of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. for freedom and human rights is clear. But why Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton? The pope praised Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, for “her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed,” all inspired by the Gospel and her faith.
Pope Francis’ reflections on Merton were just as moving: “Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.”
Seeing the World with God’s Eyes
Lincoln, King, Day, and Merton offer us inspiration and challenge. I only have space in this column to comment on Merton, an inspiration to me since high school. He shared the fruits of his solitude and prayer with many of us. He helped us to see that contemplation was more than a way of prayer. It was a way of seeing the world and its people with God’s eyes, as he did in his famous experience at a downtown corner in Louisville. He came to understand that “contemplation is a possibility for anyone and that it transforms one’s whole existence,” as William Shannon wrote in Silent Lamp: The Thomas Merton Story.
Homemakers, factory workers, teachers—all of us can be contemplatives. In his autobiography, Merton wrote that he left the world and entered a strictly cloistered monastery to find God. The more mature Merton found God in a world “redeemed by Christ,” but also people who were blinded by illusions and unaware they were redeemed.
Merton was an early critic of the Vietnam War and active in the peace movement. He studied Eastern religions and spirituality. He corresponded with world leaders, artists, writers, and publishers. “Without my having to leave the cloister,” he wrote, “they have become my friends.” The Merton Library at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky, has over 10,000 letters he wrote or that were written to him.
Merton, throughout his life, was a searcher. He made no claim of having it all together. He is completely open in his journals and letters about his doubts, his conflicts with superiors, and his failures. Maybe that’s why so many can identify with him.
Thank you, Pope Francis, for inviting us to learn from Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton!
Pope Francis & Thomas Merton
Dear E-spiration Readers: Relive Pope Francis’ first visit to the United States! Love Is Our Mission: Pope Francis in America is a keepsake for anyone interested in his trip to Cuba and to the United States!
For those who want to learn more about Merton, take a look at The Spiritual Genius of Thomas Merton!
Dear Friar Jim: During Pope Francis’ visit, my nephew, who is a Jewish rabbi, said if he was a fallen-away Catholic, he would return because of the pope. Pope Francis touches everyone. Anne
A: Dear Anne: That statement touches on the way Pope Francis affects hearts and minds. He is proof that actions speak louder than words. Friar Jim
Dear Friar Jim: Thank you for your wonderful comments on the visit from the Pope Francis. He is working double time to bring faith back to many who have been troubled. God bless him! May he live for another 100 years! Nick and Maria
A: Dear Nick and Maria: Yes, given his age and the amount of miles he travels, it’s good to keep him in our prayers. He is a blessing not just to us, but to the whole world. Friar Jim