In his address to the U.S. Congress, Pope Francis named Thomas Merton one of four great Americans who “offer us a way of seeing and interpreting reality” that is urgently needed in our world today. Describing Merton “as a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certainties of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church,” Pope Francis chose to highlight important elements of Merton’s legacy: his “capacity for dialogue and openness to God” and a faith that “sows peace.”
During this program we will view these signature elements of Merton’s spirituality – contemplation, compassion and the recovery of a unity that is already ours – through the lens of mercy. We will trace Merton’s discovery of the God of mercy in his own life and reflect on how Merton maps a pathway to mercy for us living in the twenty-first century.
We will begin by examining Merton’s understanding of mercy as event and epiphany, as the liberating law of the Gospel, as the climate of a new creation, and as “a power strong enough to initiate the transformation of the world into a realm of understanding, unity, and relative peace.” Then, drawing on a broad selection of Merton’s writings across genres – autobiography, journals, letters, essays and poetry, we will explore Merton’s spirituality; his witness to justice, peace, and non-violence; and his efforts to build bridges of understanding among Christians, adherents of the world’s religions, and people of no faith. Along the way we will be looking for the signposts Merton has left to guide us as we live in mercy – signposts that will help to recognize God’s limitless mercy, to learn to receive and share that mercy, to discover new ways of living together as a human community, and to envision ways in which we might be a Church of mercy.
Resource Person: Christine M. Bochen, PhD., holds her doctorate from Catholic University of America and is currently professor of Religious Studies at Nazareth College, Syracuse, NY. She is a founding member and past president of The International Thomas Merton Society. Christine has edited many volumes of Thomas Merton’s letters and journals. The book which she co-edited, Thomas Merton: A Life in Letters (Ave Maria Press, 2010) is one of the basis for this program.