Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thomas Merton the Fallen

With all of my implied hagiography, I am aware of the fallen Merton.  As a young man in pre-World War II London, Merton fathered a child. He did not assume responsibility for the mother or child, and that leaves me stone cold. After the war, and after he had become a priest, from the monastery, Merton sought to inquire about them. He discovered that mother and child had been killed in the blitz.

I know of conservative Catholics who make the accusation that Merton was going to convert to Buddhism.  One friend of mine even asserted that that is what prompted his trip to Bangkok (where he died from an accidental electrocution.) That is nonsense.  He simply had a very intense intellectual and experiential interest in the Eastern religions. Merton was no fool. He knew who he was. 

I just discovered an interesting book titled, Thomas Merton’s Art of Denial: The Evolution of a Radical Humanist, by David D. Cooper, which I must read next. The book is supposedly about the conflict that Merton experienced between being an anonymous monk with vows of silence and stability, and that of being a world famous, best selling writer and intellectual. Some accuse him of not being sufficiently obedient to his role and vows as a monk. That is nonsense.  We all struggle in life and monks are no different. As per reviews, in his middle years Merton struggles with the fact that his experience of monastic life is not the way he imagined it when he was young. He ultimately resolves this conflict by turning his formidable intellect and writing talent towards writing against war—all wars, but especially the Vietnam War, and against the Atomic arms race.

When Merton was an older man and world famous, while being hospitalized for an illness, he became friends with one of the nurses. Afterwards, they maintained a relationship. I do not hold that against him, but most people consider it to have been a violation of his monastic vows. No one knows if it was a sexual relationship or not and some people have said that it would not have been.  It doesn’t matter now, as God forgives, but the relationship is what is preventing his cause for sainthood from moving forward.

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