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Showing posts with label MichaelWHiggins. Show all posts
Showing posts with label MichaelWHiggins. Show all posts

Thursday, 31 October 2019

Thomas Merton Faithful Visionary - Michael W. Higgins

Thomas Merton: Faithful Visionary
People of God Series
Michael W. Higgins
Liturgical Press
ISBN 
9780814637067
eISBN 9780814637319
ASIN B00SYU5BSE


This is the second book in the People Of God series that I have read and the tenth book by Michael W. Higgins. Most of those 10 were read between 1998 and 2006. At the time I was a mature student at St. Jerome’s University, at the University of Waterloo. And my first term I had the chance to be in one of Higgin’s last classes before he became president. Higgins has written extensively on Merton and is likely one of the foremost Merton scholars alive today. Having read many of his earlier works on Merton, and listened to many lectures and talk, I approached this book with a little concern that it might not live up to my high expectations. I was wrong, this book was not just a rehash of old material, yes Higgins draws from his earlier scholarship on Merton. But the book is also fresh and new. In many ways reading it was like being introduced to Merton all over again. 

Higgins looks as many different modes of Merton, the man, the monk, and the monastic. Higgins does not wear rose colored glasses. He presents a fairly clear and honest picture of a man who struggled to live up to his own ideas, and to what he felt was his calling. Merton took a while to find his vocation. Higgin’s does also not go into conspiracy theories about Merton’s untimely and unusual death. What is present is a monk unlike any other. A monk who was internationally famous after his book The Seven Story Mountain. A monk who was always looking for something more. And at times in the wrong places, and wrong ways. But also a monk who when push came to shove submitted to the authorities he had taken vows under, to his calling, and to his vocation. At times the book may stir scandal. Provide shock or surprise. There were a few indiscretions in this volume that I had not encountered in any of my earlier reading. 

I once heard Higgin’s state that Merton would never become a recognized saint. And I for the most part would agree with that opinion. But if we could be canonized for effort, for struggling, for striving, then maybe he should. And this book shows that more clearly than any of the other works about Merton I have read to date. 

I know some readers are not fond of this series, but I find these very honest biographies encouraging and personally challenging. There are a few other volumes I would like to check out, I just wish they were all available as eBooks. This particular book is very well written. And if you are open I am sure it will bless you to read it.

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2019 Catholic Reading Plan!

Books by Michael W. Higgins:
Genius Born of Anguish: The Life & Legacy of Henri Nouwen
The Unquiet Monk: Thomas Merton's Questing Faith
Heretic Blood: The Spiritual Geography of Thomas Merton
Thomas Merton: Faithful Visionary
Jean Vanier: Logician of the Heart
Faith and Literature Matters
Power And Peril: The Catholic Church At The Crossroads
Stalking the Holy: The Pursuit of Saint Making
My Father's Business: A Biography Of His Eminence G. Emmett Cardinal Carter


Books with Douglas R. Letson:
Soundings: Conversations about Catholicism
The Jesuit Mystique


Contributed to:
Commonweal on Contemporary Theologians
Introducing John Moriarty In His Own Words
Vatican II: A Universal Call to Holiness
Impressively Free: Henri Nouwen as Model for a Reformed Priesthood (with Kevin Burns)
Suffer the Children Unto Me: An Open Inquiry into the Clerical Abuse Scandal (with Peter Kavanagh)

...

Related Posts:
Waterloo Loses A Good Man
Michael W. Higgins
Faith in the Media Conference 2006


People of God Series:
John XXIII - Massimo Faggioli
Oscar Romero - Kevin Clarke
Thomas Merton - Michael W. Higgins
Megan Rice - Dennis Coday
Francis - Michael Collins
Flannery O’Connor - Angela O’Donnell
Martin Sheen - Rose Pacatte
Jean Vanier - Michael W. Higgins
Dorothy Day - Patrick Jordan
Luis Antonio Tagle - Cindy Wooden
Georges and Pauline Vanier - Mary Francis Coadyn
Joseph Bernardin - Steven P. Millies
Corita Kent - Rose Pacatte
Daniel Rudd - Gary B. Agee
Helen Prejean - Joyce Duriga
Paul VI - Michael Collins
Thea Bowman - J. Nutt

...




Monday, 30 September 2019

Top Ten Fiction and Non-Fiction Books Third Quarter 2019

Top Ten Fiction and Non-Fiction Books Third Quarter 2019

This quarter I have read 89 books, and a total of 297 to date this year. I am reading at the pace of about a book and a quarter a day.  Of those a total of 46 books received 5/5 stars and are first time reads and are therefor eligible for this quarters top ten list. That left me to choose from 16 non-fiction and 28 fiction.

Here is my top ten fiction and non-fiction books of the third quarter of 2019.

Top Ten Non-Fiction Books:
1. Rediscover the Saints - Matthew Kelly
2. Saint José Boy Cristero Martyr - Fr. Kevin McKenzie
3. CTS Saints of the Isles
4. Take Five: On-The-Job Meditations with St. Ignatius - Mike Aquilina and  Kris D. Stubna
5. CTS Biographies of John Henry Newman
6. Jerzy Popieluszko: Victim of Communism - Grazyna Sikorski - CTS 20th Century Martyrs
7. Eucharistic Miracles - Joan Carroll Cruz
8. Prayer in the Family - John Viatori and Beth Viatori - CTS Family Matters Series
9. Our Lady of Good Help: Prayer Book for Pilgrims - Edward Looney
10. Jean Vanier Logician of the Heart - Michael W. Higgins

Bonus:
In Conversation with God - Francis Fernandez
Volume 4 Part 1 Weeks 13 - 18 in Ordinary Time

Top Ten Fiction Books:
1. Fiorella de Maria's Fiction
2. The Unteachables - Gordon Korman
3. Father Gabriel Mysteries - Fiorella De Maria
4. Gifts: Visible & Invisible - Catholic Teen Books Anthology
5. For Eden's Sake - T.M. Gaouette
6. Breach! Corinna Turner - unSPARKed Book 0
7. Dragon Assassin 6 Royal Blood - Arthur Slade
8. Restart - Gordon Korman
9. Power Engaged - J.S. Criado - Memories of Twilight Book 2
10. Liars - Jack Heath

Bonus:
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - C.S. Lewis - Chronicles of Narnia
Books by Maureen Jennings
Jack Reacher Books by Lee Child

One of the big differences for a second time this quarter is reading mystery – suspense – crime novels. Especially those by Lee Child and Maureen Jennings. Also this quarter I have read 7 of the 9 books available by Fiorella de Maria. All 7 received 5/5 stars. My reading has been up over each of the last few years. I attribute part of it to Brandon Vogt’s course Read More Books Now, removing all games but 1 brain game from my devices. And I now commute to work on a bus and read on the bus every day. Last quarter was an almost equal balance between fiction and non-fiction, this time it was about 2/3rds fiction.

Note: I do not include books that have been read in previous years and were reread this year in my top ten lists, they are in the bonus section. It was no easy task making this quarter. But if you want more options check out my favorite books year by year list


Relates Posts: 
Top 10 Fiction Books 1st Quarter 2010
Top 10 Fiction Books 2nd Quarter 2010
Top 10 Reading Goals for 2010
Top 10 Fiction Books 3rd Quarter 2010

Top 10 Fiction Books 4th Quarter 2010
Top Ten Reading Goals For 2010 - Recap

Top 10 Fiction Books 2010
Top 10 Picture Books of 2010
Top 10 Non-Fiction Books of 2010

Top 10 Graphic Novels for 2010
Top Ten Reading Goals For 2011
 

Top Ten Fiction Books 1st Quarter 2011
Top Ten Fiction Books 2nd Quarter 2011
Top Ten Reading Goals for 2011 Update
 
Top Ten Fiction Books 3rd Quarter 2011 
Top Ten Fictions Books 4th Quarter 2011
Top Ten Fiction Books 2011
Top Ten Reading Goals 2011 - Recap
Top Ten Reading Goals 2012
Top Ten Fiction Books 1st Quarter 2012
Top Ten Fiction Books 2nd Quarter 2012

Top Ten Fiction Books 3rd Quarter 2012
Top Ten Fiction Books  4th Quarter 2012
Top Ten Fiction Books 2012
Top Ten Non-Fiction Books 2012
Top Ten Reading Goals 2012 - Recap
Top Ten Reading Goals 2013
Top 10 Fiction Books 1st Quarter 2013

Top 10 Fiction Books 2nd Quarter 2013
Top 10 Books Second Half 2013
Top Ten Fiction Books 2013
Top Ten Non-Fiction Books 2013 
Top Ten Books First Quarter 2014
Top Ten Books Second Quarter 2014
Top Ten Books Third Quarter 2014
Top Ten Books Fourth Quarter 2014
Top Ten Fiction Books 2014
Top Ten Non-Fiction Books 2014
Top Ten Books First Quarter 2015
Top Ten Books Second Quarter 2015
Top Ten Books Third Quarter 2015
Top Ten Books Fourth Quarter 2015
Top Ten Fiction Books 2015
Top Ten Non-Fiction Books 2015
Top Ten Books First Quarter 2016
Top Ten Books Second Quarter 2016
Top Ten Books Third Quarter 2016
Top Ten Books Fourth Quarter 2016
Top Ten Non- Fiction Books 2016
Top Ten Fiction Books 2016
Top Ten Catholic Books
Top Ten Books First Quarter 2017
Top Ten Books Second Quarter 2017
Top Ten Books Third Quarter 2017
Top Ten Books Fourth Quarter 2017
Top Ten Non-Fiction Books 2017
Top Ten Fiction Books 2017
Top Ten Books First Quarter 2018
Top Ten Books Second Quarter 2018
Top Ten Books Third Quarter 2018
Top Ten Books Fourth Quarter 2018
Top Ten Non-Fiction Books 2018
Top Ten Fiction Books 2018
Top Ten Books First Quarter 2019
Top Ten Books Second Quarter 2019
Top Ten Books Third Quarter 2019
Top Ten Books Fourth Quarter 2019
... 

All Top Ten Lists on Book Reviews and More

Statistics Books Read By Year:

143 - January-March 2019
359 - 2018
380 - 2017 
272 - 2016 
177 - 2015 
130 - 2014 
88 -  2013
176 - 2012 
163 - 2011
302 - 2010
142 - 2009
98 - 2008
83 - 2007
191 - 2006
151 - 2005
60 - 2004
52 - 2003
97 - 2002
50 - 2001
41 - 2000
71 - 1999
73 - 1998
131 - 1997
101 - 1996




Monday, 22 July 2019

Jean Vanier Logician of the Heart - Michael W. Higgins

Jean Vanier: Logician of the Heart
People of God Series
Michael W. Higgins
Liturgical Press
ISBN 9780814637104
eISBN 9780814637357
ASIN B01KHNQVI4

 


Checking my reading list, I have previously read 8 books by Michael W. Higgins.  But that was all between 1998 and 2006. But after reading this volume I have already picked up three others of his recent offerings to add to my summer reading list. I had the privilege of taking a course with Higgins when I returned to university as a mature student. And many year later attended a retreat at a convent where he gave a series of talks about the process of making saints, based on his book, Stalking the Holy. It does not seem to matter if you encounter him in person or through his writings there is a passion, energy, and a presence. And in this volume, he focuses that on a man, of whom, many would say the same, Jean Vanier.

I never had the benefit of meeting Jean Vanier in person. But know many people who have. In fact, most of my knowledge if Vanier is third hand from those who knew and interacted with Henri J.M. Nouwen (another whom Higgins has written about). This book was a fascinating read. I was familiar with Vanier the Catholic Humanist, the founder of L’Arche. But I was completely unaware of his military career. His decision to enter the navel academy at a young age. There is much about this man’s life that can serve as both inspiration and a challenge to us. No matter where we fall on the religious spectrum. When I read this book, I highlighted several passages. I want to share a few of them in this review. The first quote that really impacted me was:

“Vanier is not an economist, any more than Pope Francis. He does not issue periodic jeremiads, pronounce with oracular majesty from a distance, nor proffer solutions to complex politico-economic issues. What he does, like Jorge Mario Bergoglio, is offer a palpable alternative to being human whereby the homeless garner as much attention and sympathy as a dysfunctional celebrity or financial climber.”

Vanier it appears often did things in a new way. Often an untested, untried way. He followed his gut. And from reading this book, his trust in his instinct was strengthened by his father’s trust in him at a crucial point. Another is:

“Vanier responds unequivocally that it is praying because praying is not doing, it’s clicking, it’s compassion, thankfulness and peacefulness, gratitude and communion. “Prayer, then,” Brown surmises, “is a way of reminding ourselves . . . ,” and Vanier completes his thought with “to be who we are.””

Vanier had a keen insight into people, and strove to understand others, and through that work to better understand himself. We are told about Vanier that:

“People with disabilities, in particular, often lack a community that can bring them life. Human beings are not made to be alone. It is not what the Creator intended. Loneliness often begets hyperactivity because we need to compensate, and so we develop dependencies that are unhealthy, we become addicted, and we become frightfully competitive. And all this works against what we are meant to be: rooted in a place, bonded with others, supporting the weak, and comforting the strong. In a competitive culture, individual success is privileged; those who are weak or disabled are seen at best as losers or a nuisance, and are quickly put aside, and in some cases eliminated.”

Vanier’s beliefs and life work is a string contrast to some of what we see happening in the world today. I believe he would have been sickened by a recent case in France where a man starved to death once denied medical intervention, against his and his parents’ objections. And the final quote I will share is:

“In Eau Vive, Père Thomas’s “school of wisdom,” Vanier recognized the Dominican’s postwar vision: doing the “international work of the heart.” His commitment to doing theology and philosophy in a community of prayer and love attracted Vanier, who would join the community in the fall of 1950. The catalyst for that decision was his meeting with Père Thomas. Vanier would recall years later that it was clear he needed “a master, a teacher, a spiritual father.” He likened his response to Père Thomas to Jesus’ summons to two disciples to leave John the Baptist and follow him, to come and see where he dwelled. The meeting with the mystical French friar was that transformative and foundational; Vanier followed and he dwelled.”

Vanier spent his life living that proves of being discipled and building communities. And his example is one we desperately need today. This book is an easy read. It has challenged my thinking. And It has inspired me to pray in new ways. And I trust it will do the same for you.

A great read that I highly recommend.

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2019 Catholic Reading Plan!

Books by Michael W. Higgins:
Genius Born of Anguish: The Life & Legacy of Henri Nouwen
The Unquiet Monk: Thomas Merton's Questing Faith
Heretic Blood: The Spiritual Geography of Thomas Merton
Thomas Merton: Faithful Visionary
Jean Vanier: Logician of the Heart
Faith and Literature Matters
Power And Peril: The Catholic Church At The Crossroads
Stalking the Holy: The Pursuit of Saint Making
My Father's Business: A Biography Of His Eminence G. Emmett Cardinal Carter


Books with Douglas R. Letson:
Soundings: Conversations about Catholicism
The Jesuit Mystique


Contributed to:
Commonweal on Contemporary Theologians
Introducing John Moriarty In His Own Words
Vatican II: A Universal Call to Holiness
Impressively Free: Henri Nouwen as Model for a Reformed Priesthood (with Kevin Burns)
Suffer the Children Unto Me: An Open Inquiry into the Clerical Abuse Scandal (with Peter Kavanagh)

...

Related Posts:
Waterloo Loses A Good Man
Michael W. Higgins
Faith in the Media Conference 2006


People of God Series:
John XXIII - Massimo Faggioli
Oscar Romero - Kevin Clarke
Thomas Merton - Michael W. Higgins
Megan Rice - Dennis Coday
Francis - Michael Collins
Flannery O’Connor - Angela O’Donnell
Martin Sheen - Rose Pacatte
Jean Vanier - Michael W. Higgins
Dorothy Day - Patrick Jordan
Luis Antonio Tagle - Cindy Wooden
Georges and Pauline Vanier - Mary Francis Coadyn
Joseph Bernardin - Steven P. Millies
Corita Kent - Rose Pacatte
Daniel Rudd - Gary B. Agee
Helen Prejean - Joyce Duriga
Paul VI - Michael Collins
Thea Bowman - J. Nutt

...





Monday, 25 June 2018

Father Damien Apostle to the Lepers - Glynn MacNiven-Johnston - CTS Biographies

Father Damien Apostle to the Lepers
Glynn MacNiven-Johnston
Catholic Truth Society
ISBN 9781860820540
ISBN 9781860826184
eISBN 9781784692612
ASIN B072BZZL8D



I have been fascinated by Father Damen now Saint Damien since encountering his story while on retreat with Michael W. Higgins, who was using hos book 'Stalking the Holy' for a series of talks about saints. Wile on the retreat we watched the movie Molokai: The Story of Father Damien, and I have been addicted to books and movies about Damien even since.   Abd this is an excellent little read on Saint Damien. This book has two different sub titles, the title of the eBook is 'Father Damien Apostle to the Lepers' and the physical booklet has 'Father Damien de Veuster Apostle to the Lepers'. But not matter which version you read it is an excellent book.

The chapters in this booklet are:
Introduction
Early Life
Work in the Leper Colonies
Towards the End
Novena to St Damien de Veuster

With everything I had read and watched about father Damien prior to this book there was still new information I learned. Some of it was about his canonization process, and some of it about his life, times, and legacy. I was unaware that Mother Teresa of Calcutta wrote to Pope John Paul II on May 7th 1984 lobbying for the canonization of Father Damien to be the patron saint to lean and protect those who serve lepers today.

Damien was a man dissuaded after in life. He was encouraged not to pursue a religious vocation. Once he was accepted he was told he would not be a priest, but a brother instead. He was denied the chance to go on missions, and then he filled his brother's shoes for the mission field when his brother was already commissioned but became ill and could not travel. He was originally discouraged from his ministry and service to the lepers. He was told not to come back to the main island, and he was told to stop asking for more. But he always asked to give to others.

The novena at the end of the book is from the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in Leuven. And to be honest the book is worth owning just for this novena. If you already have a devotion to Saint Damien this book will be a great read, and if you are not familiar with him, please do your self a service and read about his inspired service.

The first edition of this book was published in 2009. A new edition of the print book was released in 2009, it was updated at this time with information on his impending canonization. And the eBook was released in 2017. Coming in at just under 75 pages this book is a quick read, but because of the content is not easy. The book would be accessible to tweens, teens and adult readers. It Can be read alone to help us understand more about this great saint, or be a jumping off point into studies about the man, his life, his work, and the service on Molokai by him and many others. This is an excellent biography and I highly recommend it!

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2018 Catholic Reading Plan! For other reviews of books from the Catholic Truth Society click here.

Reviews of Books and Movies about Saint Damien:
Apostle of the Exiled St. Damien of Molokai - Margaret Bunson & Matthew Bunson
Pilgrimage and Exile: Mother Marianne of Molokai by: Sister Mary Laurence Hanley, O.S.F.
Molokai: The Story of Father Damien by: Paul Cox
Molokai: The Story of Father Damien
Saint Damien of Molokai - Virginia Helen Richards and D. Thomas Halpin
Father Damien de Veuster Apostle to the Lepers - Glynn MacNiven-Johnston

The Life and Letters of Father Damien, Apostle of the Lepers - Edited by Pamphile De Veuster 
Father Damien's Letters
...

Prayer of the Day - Saint Damien Prayer

Books by Glynn MacNiven-Johnston:
Biographies:
Maria Goretti Teenage Martyr
Pier Giorgio Frassati Inspiration for Students
Father Damien Apostle to the Lepers
Martin de Porres

Rita of Cascia 
...

Prayer Books:
Handbook of Novenas for Feasts and Seasons
Devotions to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour
The Infant of Prague
Handbook of Novenas to the Saints: Short Prayers for Needs & Graces
Handbook of Scriptural Novenas: For Various Needs and Intentions
Devotion to St Jude: Patron of Hopeless Cases

...





Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Point Vierge: Thomas Merton's Journey in Song - Alana Levandoski, James Finley, Thomas Merton

Point Vierge: Thomas Merton's Journey in Song
Alana Levandoski
James Finley
Thomas Merton


A friend emailed me about this project. You can sign up for an email a day and receive individual pieces of the projects and videos with Alana and James talking about the pieces. If you join up for early access you get all 9 days, and access to all 16 tracks. The tracks are a mix of song and spoken word. I have listened through the album a number of times now. The tracks are:

Mother Father
Immense Depths
Havana
Little Flower
To Disappear into …
John Paul 
4th and Walnut
The General Dance
We Do Not Attend
Only Fireflies
Strange islands
Here is Something …
What We Are
Bangkok
Palace of Nowhere
Latin Missal in the …

Most of the pieces begin with music, song and end with spoken word to accompaniment. It works well together. My introduction to Thomas Merton, other than as a name I knew in passing, was in class in the summer of 1998 with Michael W. Higgins, in a course called Faith Quests. I have read books by Merton, and about him off and on since them. I have a more than passing interest in the man, and his work, but am by no means a dedicated Merton scholar. I know that many had a renewed interest in their Catholic faith, and many others were drawn to it by his earlier works especially The Seven Story Mountain. I also know that his later works and even his death are much more controversial. I also know that some say he should be canonized, and many others say it will never happen. Of course, the same was said of Oscar Romero. So honestly only time will tell. 

This project is part album, part audio book, and part meditation. It is a reflection on Merton's life and works; and done as a mixed media project. It works very well. It is a pleasure to listen to. I have listened to individual songs, and also to the whole album through even listening to it on repeat for a number of hours today. The final track is Merton in Latin. Some of the tracks list James and Thomas and some just James. I was uncertain if those where his words about Merton, or some of it is extracts of Merton speaking, except as mentioned the final track. (Note from Alana: All the lyrics from the whole project (that I sing) are Merton's words. James Finley's spoken word are James Finley's words except for The General Dance which is an excerpt from New Seeds of Contemplation!)

The album comes in at 1 hour and 1 minute in length. And it is a wonderful contribution to canon of Merton scholarship. If you are a fan of Merton's work I am sure you will enjoy these 16 pieces. If you are into contemplation or reflection they will appeal to you also. And if you are just into cool art projects by all means give it a try.

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2018 Catholic Reading Plan!



Related Articles:
Thomas Merton, The Man, the Monk, on Monasticism
May Crowing, Mass and Merton: And Other Reasons I Love Being Catholic by Liz Kelly
The Wisdom of the Desert: by Thomas Merton

Point Vierge: Thomas Merton's Journey in Song - Alana Levandoski, James Finley, Thomas Merton

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Why The Jesuits?

Why The Jesuits?Why the Jesuits? When I began preparing for this essay, I had some questions in mind. Why the Jesuits?, was of course the first and foremost, but also. Why are they always drawn to controversy, why do people either hate or love them? Whatever the response, Jesuits always induce strong reactions in people. When I started the research for this paper, I intended to compare and contrast the Jesuits through the eyes of Douglas Letson, and Michael W. Higgins and their book The Jesuit Mystique, and Malachi Martin's book, The Jesuits: The Society of Jesus and the Betrayal of the Roman Catholic Church. But in talking with Michael Higgins and in starting to read the latter, I agree with Michaels assessment of Martin, namely: "He's Nuts". He is an ex-Jesuit who is bitter and filled with anger.

When I started research I had the question in mind, Why the Jesuits? Unfortunately I have not come to an answer to that question. My reading and research has led to many more que
stions, questions that I now have more quidance to be parsued due to, Jesuit authors, biography's and additional books I discovered. I have however, come to see 3 important forces at work in the Society. First their history as individuals and as a community, and their view of community. Through that their self understanding and view of their role in society at large, especially their often being on the forefront and leading edge of change, change in attitudes, practices, and views. Secondly the centrality of "The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius", both to self and communal understanding and service. And finally their service of humanity, especially in the area of social justice, which has been of importance to the Jesuits since their earliest beginnings. Yet before I get into that I want to look at some personal experiences about the Jesuits.

I was born and raised Irish-Catholic: my family attended church ever Sunday until
I was about 10 years old. I was an altar boy, and loved church. I was studying to become a Catholic priest after highschool. My spiritual Director was Jim McGilvry, once when we were at a retirement dinner for a priest, Jim was cracking jokes about Jesuits. Another priest said, "Jim you have nothing nice to say about the Jesuits do you?", Jim replied "That's not true, last week when I went by their house, I saw 4 fresh graves." This profoundly disturbed me and was a contributing factor in my leaving the Catholic Church. My next experience with a Jesuit was when I moved to Guelph, Ontario. I met with the Chaplain at University of Guelph, Father Phil Nazer, and found him to be a kind gentle, man. Even though I no longer considered myself a Catholic, he met with me regularly, and we worked through the "Spiritual Exercises" together. This man was the closest I have ever seen someone to my personal ideal of Christ Jesus. Even after my acceptance at Renison College to study to become an Anglican Minister, he meet with me, prayed for me and supported me. This love in action also profoundly affected me.

Setting aside my perception, how has the Society of Jesus, seen themselves? Through what lenses do they look at the world, and at each other? Higgins defines them this way "The Jesuit mystique is by design an invitation to engage the society in an ongoing dialogue concerning the practical human imperative demanded by the written word." There has always been this practical aspect to the Jesuits. Christopher Hollis SJ writes this about the earliest Jesuits; "Who is there, that would not admire the extraordinary spectacle of this union of seven men animated by a noble purpose who turn towards heaven and under the roof of a chapel lay down their worldly
wishes and hopes and consecrated themselves to the happiness of their fellow men? They offer themselves as a sacrifice to the work of Charity that shall give them no property nor power nor pleasure; they renounce the present for the future, looking forward only to a hereafter in heaven, and content with no happiness on earth beyond what a pure conscience can bestow." It is true, what those seven men set out to do, was revolutionary, they were willing to give up all, to follow Jesus and Him crucified. They knew their path would be one of crosses and burdens, and yet they chose to shoulder the load and follow, in a hard and perilous fashion. They knew that in order to follow Jesus, their first concern must not be for self, but for others. Serving others through tangable actions, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, all of the works of mercy. "For ultimately, the society is the lived expression of the people who embody it's charism in their service of others- their "care of souls," as Ignatius called it." But in order to really serve others, they had to become forerunners of much that was to become accepted in the Church and society at large.They were forerunners in the area of educated clergy, "but the Jesuits emphasis on an educated clergy was a significant departure in it's day, a departure that was later to be embraced by the Council of Trent(1545-63)" They also pursued wisdom, this was a command of the man they were, and are emulating: "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves. But beware of men; for they will deliver you up to their Courts" Michael Higgins puts it this way, "The Jesuit has always understood the art of worldly wisdom: his practical cunning is both and admired and denounced. It has always been part of the Jesuit mystique."

But this self definition and self understanding has under gone many changes in their history. Having been censured once and expelled from just about every European country at one time or another they have had to be wise and flexible. "In the twentieth century, however, they began to reassert their ancient self-understanding as men for others and as apostolic innovators."7 But central to this self understanding is the "Spiritual Exercises", that is what we will look at next.

The exercises are the central defining characteristic of the Jesuits, but they are different for each and every person. They begin with self evaluation, "and the exhortations with which the Spiritual Exercises begin concerning the unambiguous necessity for personal choice, personal enlightenment, and personal discernment." These exercises lead one to look into self, and then through self to others.

They call for meditation, but meditation that is not an end in itself, meditation that is the beginning of action. "Which argues that God is already doing it, that our first job is to be at God's side helping to realize the divine intention with every thing we have by way of tools, intelligence, and human spirit."


Central to this is the belief that God is actively involved in his creation, that he is interested in what is happening and is working to bring about his will in it. "Finding God in every event, in all things, requires the operating conviction that God is wilfully inserted into human history, that this vital, energetic engaging God is not indifferent to struggling humanity. The God of Ignatius, the God who can be found in all things." The exercises also call for challenge, as well as discernment. It is a call to imitate the life of Christ and his saints. These "Exercises", lead one to choose between two standards, that of Christ or that of Satan. These exercises, and the whole of Jesuit history is full of serving others, of social justice.


Social justice has been a part of the Society since it's very beginning, In the words of Ignatius of Loyola, "that there should be no poor who have to go about begging but that they should all receive the help they need." Like in many other area's the Jesuits were leaders in this area, and also in the Liberation theology that has sprung from it. Before Vatican II, social justice was on the rise. Higgins and Letson see this paradigm shift in the church as a whole as a rebirth of the Society, "Even before the Council, there had been inklings of an openness to more traditionally Jesuit concerns for Social Justice, but John XXIII's vision of the modern church clearly provided for the rebirth of the society." Times were changing, and again the Jesuits were at the forefront and the extreme of where things were going. "Justice was in: theologians wrote about it: missionaries preached it: activists died for it. The Society of Jesus embraced the cause of justice with a passion both inspiring and disconcerting."

Shortly after the Vatican Council II, the congregation of Jesus had it's 32 General Congregational meeting. Pedro Arrupe was the Superior at that time, and prophetically he saw that to align themselves with the cause of Social Justice, would cost them and cost them dearly. In His own words: "Is our General Congregation ready to enter upon the more severe way of the cross, which surely will mean for us a lack of understanding on the part of civil and ecclesiastical authorities and of our best friends?" His words were to prove more true then he could ever imagine. With in a few short years Jesuit blood would be spilt in more then one country. It would be spilt because the Jesuits chose to side with the poor, the disadvantaged, to speak out again injustice and systems that would keep the status quo. "The Jesuits once again, were to be found on the frontier and not safely ensconced in the citadel. They were called to lead."

And lead they do, wherever they go, what ever field they are working in. They believe that "contemplation in action involves both action and contemplation."16 The Jesuits are full of contradictions, they are full of mystery, and they always cause us to react. Whether they challenge us, or revolt us, they always cause us to react to them. "What is there about the Society of Jesus that is clearly sustaining it's diminished numbers through the ravages of an increasingly secular society laying waste to scores of smaller, less resilient congregations of men and women?" I don't have any answer to these questions I only have more questions but that is part of the quest that each of us are on. Finding the right questions that lead us to contemplation and through contemplation to action. But I believe that part of the answer to 'Why the Jesuits?', comes from Letson and Higgins, "but also the humility to act in total obedience to legitimate authority. Humility, obedience, exceptional learning: a rare combination of human characteristics." The Jesuits are a rare combination, of people and ideals. May they always be there to be challenging us.

End Notes


  1. The Jesuit Mystique, p. xii
  2. The Jesuits: A History, p. 15
  3. The Jesuit Mystique, p.72
  4. The Jesuit Mystique, p.26
  5. Matthew 10:16, NASB
  6. The Jesuit Mystique, p. 33
  7. The Jesuit Mystique, p.58
  8. The Jesuit Mystique, p.23
  9. Grail, March 1992 p.27
  10. The Jesuit Mystique, p.75
  11. Letters of St. Ignatius of Loyola, p. 44
  12. The Jesuit Mystique, p.60
  13. The Jesuit Mystique, p.106
  14. Justice with faith Today: Sellected Letters and Addresses, p.205
  15. The Jesuit Mystique, p.112
  16. The Jesuit Mystique, p.66
  17. The Jesuit Mystique, p.xi
  18. 18. The Jesuit Mystique, p.21


Bibliography

Letson, Douglas and Higgins Michael,
The Jesuit Mystique
Toronto, MacMillian Canada, 1995

Hollis, Christopher SJ,
The Jesuits: A History
NewYork, Barns and Noble, 1968

New American Standard Bible
Toronto, Gideons, 1973

Costello, Jack SJ,
"Ignatian Spirituality: Finding God in all Things.", Grail: An ecumenical Journal
Ottawa, March 1992 p. 27

Ed. William J. Young SJ
Letters of St. Ignatius of Loyola,
"Letter to the Townspeople of Azpeitia"
Chicago, Loyola University Pres, 1959

Arrupe, pedro SJ,
Justice with Faith Today: Selected Letters and Addresses.
St Louis, Institute of jesuit Sources, 1980

(First written for RS100H Catholicism Winter 1999.)


Books by Michael W. Higgins:
Genius Born of Anguish: The Life & Legacy of Henri Nouwen
The Unquiet Monk: Thomas Merton's Questing Faith
Heretic Blood: The Spiritual Geography of Thomas Merton
Thomas Merton: Faithful Visionary
Jean Vanier: Logician of the Heart
Faith and Literature Matters
Power And Peril: The Catholic Church At The Crossroads
Stalking the Holy: The Pursuit of Saint Making
My Father's Business: A Biography Of His Eminence G. Emmett Cardinal Carter


Books with Douglas R. Letson:
Soundings: Conversations about Catholicism
The Jesuit Mystique


Contributed to:
Commonweal on Contemporary Theologians
Introducing John Moriarty In His Own Words
Vatican II: A Universal Call to Holiness
Impressively Free: Henri Nouwen as Model for a Reformed Priesthood (with Kevin Burns)
Suffer the Children Unto Me: An Open Inquiry into the Clerical Abuse Scandal (with Peter Kavanagh)


...

Related Posts:
Waterloo Loses A Good Man
Michael W. Higgins
Faith in the Media Conference 2006


Friday, 1 February 2008

Thomas Merton, The Man, the Monk, on Monasticism

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) was an enigma. He was a monk, a man and a myth. He created the myth with his bestseller The Seven Story Mountain and then spent most of the rest of his life trying to change that story. Allan Bloom, in The Closing of the American Mind, states; "the discovery of culture and the folk-mind means that there cannot be universal principles of understanding. Reason is a myth that makes mythmaking impossible to comprehend." This was one of Merton's problems. He made the myth, but the myth was no longer the man. In this essay, I will be looking at the man, the monk, and some of his writings on monasticism. Monks have often been on the leading edge of religious life, and theological reform. The earliest desert fathers were trying to get back to a truer, purer form of Christianity. Then the Benedictines were an attempt to return to the fathers. The order Merton belonged to, which was founded in about 1100A.D., formed a stricter, more austere form of the Benedictine monasticism. Merton Himself continually pushed the boundaries: he was a monk who rebelled, but rebelled respectfully.

The man and the monk with both help us understand his writings on monasticism. Michael W. Higgins said it best, "Merton's life was fraught with contradictions, polarities and wild paradoxes." yet the legacy of his writings continues to affect new generations of readers.

There have literally been hundreads of books and articles written about Merton and his works. I cannot do justice to that industry here, but I will summarize some of the
key points in his development.

Thomas Merton was born in 1915 in the south of France to an American mother and a New Zealander father. He died in 1968 in Bangkok of accidental electrocution. His life was a constant oscilliation between retreat from and attack on the world. When he was 6 years old, his mother died. At age 10, he was enrolled at a private school; often being sick, he spent most of his time alone and in nature exploring abandoned monasteries. At 15, he moved to England and was soon after orphaned. Then, at age 18, he visited Rome; he found himself drawn to churches, and here he discovered Christ. He attended Cambridge and then Columbia University. He graduated in 1935 from Columbia and then he taught at a junior college. In 1941, at age 26, he entered the Trappist Monestary of the Abbey of our Lady of Gethsemani. In 1949, he was ordained as a priest. The year before this he published The seven Story Mountain. Yet all of these are just facts. Who was the man Thomas Merton? He was a seeker, a quester, a pilgrim. Michael Higgins in Heretic Blood states: "He knew that the route to human authenticity was lonely, full of risk, a pilgrim's terror." Merton the man was such a pilgrim, willing to face pain and trials, to follow the quest.


Yet Merton also saw the need of the individual as sometimes being greater than the needs of the many: "The person is and must always remain prior to the collective. He stands for courageous, independent loyalty to his own conscience, and for the refusal to compromise with slogans and rationalizations imposed by compulsion."

Yet Merton was much more than just a man; he was also a poet, and as a poet, he saw his role to be a reclaimer of words: "Metron saw the scar of the fall in language and he came to understand the poet's role as nothing less than the restitution of the word; the restoration of its sacredness, and its liberation from the uses of deception, slick rhetoric, and ideological manipulation to become once more the quiet servant of truth." Also, "the word must be cleanses. As we are made whole by the Word, so words are made whole by the poet." But he recognized the constraints in that he was a monk who took a vow of silence, yet he could not stop the flow of his words. This is summed up by Higgins: "His diaries communicate his earnest struggle with the many contradictions that defined his life; the writer who is vowed to silence; the Columbia bohemian who is a consecrated religious; the solitary man compelled to address the public order; the "hidden one",
marked by fame." He not only recognized these contraries within himself, but he worked at resolving or balancing out the ones he could.

Merton was an intellectual, he was probably brilliant or even genius, but genius is often seen as madness. He was not a typical theologian, he was more of a religious thinker: "Merton was really a religious thinker, having more in common with Blaise Pascal and Simone Wiel then with the methodologies of systematic theologians." And yet in this very intelligence, and commitment to his own person, he often clashed with church authorities: "Merton refused to toe the official catholic line; he was increasingly pacifist in his thinking, arguing vigorously against the "Just War Theory", ... which had been a standard catholic teaching for centuries." He was a thinker, and a thinker of the highest order. Allan Bloom, in The Closing of the American Mind, states: "I must reiterate that Rousseau, Kant, Hegel and Nietzsche are thinkers of the very highest order. This is, in fact, precisely my point. We must relearn what this means and also that there are others who belong in the same rank." Merton was such a man. He did not think for us but he wrote to make us think. Yet we only saw what he wanted us to see, what he was willing to show us. "The masks of the Gethsemanie diarist are many: there is the monk as a rebel, the monk as visionary, the monk as artist, the monk as divided self, the monk as conscience of the nation, the monk as troublesome charge, the monk as renegade, the monk as dutiful son, and the monk as guru. As an assemblage of masks, of personae, they tell us something about the essential Merton. They tell us what he would have us know." And this leads us to a second view. Merton as monk.

Merton the monk. Our Merton was not only a man, he was also a monk, and a monk of the "strict observance' at that. The problem with Merton is that once you have categorized him, the next piece of his writings your read breaks that mold or box you have just put him in. Michael Higgins describes him this way: "Meton was, and remains, a phenomenon, an utterly engaging figure, controversial, iconic, the paradigmatic monk for our century." The monk is or should be the quester. "The monk must explore the desert area of the human heart, the 'arid, rocky, dark land of the soul." Merton did this, his whole life was this process. When he got to Gethsemani he thought this process was over. That is what The Seven Story Mountain is about. And then he realizes his quest was just begining a new phase. "Ideally the monk is a mature realization of that quality of monkhood that we all possess - openness to the transcendent.", and "As a poet, and as a monk, Merton understood his task to be nothing short of the Blakean undertaking to reintegrate shattered humanity." To this considerable task he poured most of his energy and writings.

Merton's biggest struggles came from within. He believed that being a monk would end his personal struggles, but it only redirected them."Merton's life as a monk was characterized by the tragic and salutary, precisely because it was a life lived with ruthless honesty. Becoming a monk of the Abbey of Gethsemani did not end his wild peregrinations, though his vow of stability would severely limit his physical wanderings and he realized quite early in his monastic life that the easy confidence and confronting security that attracted him to Trappist life would be profoundly tempered by his spiritual restlessness." Merton's problem was that: "Merton was a post-modern monk in a premodern tradition. This choice of the monastic way of life as his vocation was not an act of penitence and submission but of rebellion: it was his way of definition, his natural rebelliousness." he was a rebel, but a rebel committed to stability and to his order, and to his chosen church, the Roman Catholic Church.

But Merton was an overcomer, a heroic struggler in the true sense of the word. And he came to realize that: "To be a fully integrated monk he had to be a fully integrated human being, to accept his emotional emptiness and his yearnings for reciprocated love." Thus he comes to questions, not answers. He himself stated, "When I first became a monk, yes, I was more sure of 'answers'. But as I grew old in the monastic life and advanced further into solitude, I became aware that I have only begun to seek the questions. And what are the questions? Can man make sence out of his existence?"

Thus we come to Merton's writings on monasticism.
Thomas Merton was often frustrated with the monastic life. And yet he was sure it was where he was supposed to be, despite this conflict with his Abbot, the order's censors, and even ecclesiastical hierarchies. He was a rebel, but always with a cause. "He knew what the monastic life could be, and he knew what it often was, and this chasm, so frequently the result of an impoverished imagination and an unholy dread of fear, could drive him to distraction." Being a monk was at the core of his being, and he needed to be true to his vision of what monastic life was.

To Merton, for whom monasticism was a form of rebellion, the figure of monk as portrayed by his superiors did violence not only to his sense of self but to his very understanding of monastic spirituality in both its primitive and its twentieth century form. He watched with horror the gradual and effective transformation of a community of contemplative monks into an industry "Trappist Corp." His view was so antiquated that it was new again. He wanted a purer, truer form of monastic life.

He wrote extensively on monasticism and how it should be reformed. He also had very strong opinions about what monasticism was. In The Hidden Ground of Love, he states: "the contemplative life is ... the search for peace not in an abstract exclusion of all outside reality, not in a barren negative closing of the senses upon the world, but in the openness of love." He also wrote about this way of life as a gift of anointing in The Monastic Journey: "The monastic vocation is an ascetic charism, not a call to a special work in and for the church. The monk is called 'out of this world' to seek God truly in silence, prayer, solitude, renunciation, compunction and simplicity." He saw this way of life as a vocation with very specific purposes: "there can be no doubt that the monastic vocation is one of the most beautiful in the church of God. The contemplative life ... is a life entirely devoted to the mystery of Christ, to living the life of God who gives himself to us in Christ. It is a life totally abandoned to the Holy Spirit, a life of total self obligation to god in union with Jesus."

To Merton, the life of a monastic was total commitment to the way. But it is also a love relationship first with god, then with all of humanity. "The monastic life is a life of love for God and for man. The social aspect of the monastic life is therefore very important, but it's importance must not be overemphasized to the detriment of the spirit of prayer and solitude." Thus his view was that prayer and solitude were to be the monastic focus. All else may be good, but not essential. But he returned again and again to the theme of monasticism as love. "Love is the epiphany of god in our poverty. The contemplative life is then the search for peace not in an abstract exclusion of all the outside reality, not in the barren negative closing of the senses upon the world, but in the openness of love."

Yet the more Merton wrote about traditional monasticism, the more frustrated he became with the way things were. Michael Higgins sums it up this way: "The more he wrote about traditional monastic structures and spirituality, the more dissatisfied he became." Again Higgins makes a strong point: "Merton's quite palpable annoyance with institutional monasticism, ... portrays him, not unfairly as the enfant terrible of a contemporary contemplative. But he was much more than a spiritual malcontent, or renegade monk. Merton was an apologist for a revivified monasticism."

Yet even with his radical reputation, his own words show a much more tempered view of monasticism and monastic reform, as can be seen in the works collected in A Monastic Journey: "The first concern of monastic reform should be the clarification of monastic principles by return to sources, in order that monastic life may recover its authenticity and simplicity, liberated from all that is foreign to it."

He was concerned with the integrity of the contemplative way of life. And making sure the monastic actions were relevant: "In monastic reform, care should be taken first of all to maintain or restore the special character of the monastic vocation … The works of the monk are not justified by there external results but only by their relevance to his monastic life alone with God."

He also wrote much on how monastic leadership should be shaped and act. "Monastic superiors should be ready to see and encourage in their subjects any exceptional and genuine desire for a deeper life of prayer, and for a return to simpler monastic ways." Yet I think Michael Higgins summed up Merton on monasticism best: "Monasticism was not a static condition for Merton but a vital one full of contradictions and crises, a ceaseless struggle to balance the contraries, his own marriage of heaven and hell."

Thus we see a monk who wanted to change, but loved tradition, who pushed the boundaries, but sought a more ancient form of monasticism, who was modern and ancient in one, a man who came to the monastery to revolt against the world, only to conflict with the monastery and reach out around the world with his words.
Merton was also searching for understanding, self understanding. In A Vow of Conversion he states: "I see more and more that my understanding of myself and my life has always been inadequate. Now that I want more than ever to see, I realize how difficult it is … my job and that of the church remains this: to awakening in myself and in others the sense of real possibility of truth, of obedience to Him who is Holy, a refusal of pretenses and servitudes, without arrogance and pride, and without any specious idealism." Michael Higgins views Merton this way: "Merton is no pseudo-saint, nor is he likely to be canonized. He is the consummate post-modern holy one: flawed, anti-institutional, a voice for the voiceless. But he is also a classic traditionalist: centered, obedient, in search for stability."

I see him as a teacher, a guide. A man searching for the true self. And through his search he helps others on their quests. "Only the rarest individuals find their own stopping points from which they can move the world." This is the type of man and monk that Merton was. When you read his writings you respond, you either are challenged or you revolt. But either way you respond.

When Merton entered the monastery he had clear ideals and views, as time would pass, things would become less clear to him. As can be see from two final quotes, in his own words: "It is true that when I came to this monastery where I am, I came in revolt against the meaningless confusion of a life in which there was so much activity, so much movement, so much useless talk, so much superficial and needless stimulation, that I could not remember who I was." and "When I first became a monk, yes I was more sure of 'answers'. But as I grew old in the monastic life and advanced further into solitude, I became aware that I have questions. And what are the questions? Can man make sense out of his existance?" Merton was thus a spiritual quester whose quest began in earnest when he thought he had reached the grail. We can all learn from Merton. We can apply the essence of the contemplative no matter where we are.

Endnotes

1. The Closing of the American Mind, p.307
2. Heretic Blood, p.9
3. Heretic Blood, p.180
4. The Pasternak Affair, p.31
5. Heretic Blood, p.133
6. Heretic Blood, p.150
7. Making and Remaking of Thomas Merton, p.10
8. Heretic Blood, p.41
9. Heretic Blood, p.107
10. The Closing of the American Mind, p.240
11. Making and Remaking of Thomas Merton, p.9
12. Heretic Blood, p.2
13. Heretic Blood, p.111
14. Heretic Blood, p.89
15. Heretic Blood, p.4
16. Making and Remaking of Thomas Merton, p.5
17. Heretic Blood, p.101
18. Heretic Blood, p.320
19. Thomas Merton Spiritual Master, p.424
20. Making and Remaking of Thomas Merton, p.5
21. Heretic Blood, p.108
22. The Hidden Ground of Love, p.157
23. The Monastic Journey, p.165
24. The Monastic Journey, p.11
25. The Monastic Journey, p.168
26. Thomas Merton Spiritual Master, p.426
27. Heretic Blood, p.6
28. Making and Remaking of Thomas Merton, p.6
29. The Monastic Journey, p.166
30. The Monastic Journey, p.165
31. The Monastic Journey, p.167
32. Heretic Blood, p.99
33. A Vow of Conversion, p.200-201
34. Heretic Blood, p.10
35. The Closing of the American Mind, p.200
36. Thomas Merton Spiritual Master, p.424
37. Thomas Merton Spiritual Master, p.424

Bibliography

Bloom, Allan. The Closing of the American Mind.
New York: Touchstone, 1987

Higgins, Michael W. The Making and Remaking: The Many Masks of Thomas Merton
Michael Keenen Memorial lecture, Second Lecture 1988
Muenster: St Thoman College, 1988

Heretic Blood.
Toronto: Stoddart, 1998

Merton, Thomas The Monastic Journey Ed. Brother Patrick Hart
London: Sheldon, 1977

The Hidden Ground of Love. Ed. William H. Shannon
New York: F, S & G, 1983

A Vow of Conversion.
New York: F, S & G, 1988

The Pasternak Affair.
New York: F, S & G. 1960

Spiritual Master. Ed. Lawrence S. Cunningham
Mahwah: Paulist, 1992

(First written for Dr. Peter Frick Fall 1998 Intro to Theology.)


Books by Michael W. Higgins:
Genius Born of Anguish: The Life & Legacy of Henri Nouwen
The Unquiet Monk: Thomas Merton's Questing Faith
Heretic Blood: The Spiritual Geography of Thomas Merton
Thomas Merton: Faithful Visionary
Jean Vanier: Logician of the Heart
Faith and Literature Matters
Power And Peril: The Catholic Church At The Crossroads
Stalking the Holy: The Pursuit of Saint Making
My Father's Business: A Biography Of His Eminence G. Emmett Cardinal Carter


Books with Douglas R. Letson:
Soundings: Conversations about Catholicism
The Jesuit Mystique


Contributed to:
Commonweal on Contemporary Theologians
Introducing John Moriarty In His Own Words
Vatican II: A Universal Call to Holiness
Impressively Free: Henri Nouwen as Model for a Reformed Priesthood (with Kevin Burns)
Suffer the Children Unto Me: An Open Inquiry into the Clerical Abuse Scandal (with Peter Kavanagh)


...

Related Posts:
Waterloo Loses A Good Man
Michael W. Higgins
Faith in the Media Conference 2006