Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Mary Luke Tobin connection

Loretto Sr. Mary Luke Tobin (1908-2006) - affectionately known as "Luke" - was Merton's friend and neighbor.

They first met in October of 1960 when Merton brought Dan Walsh to the Loretto Motherhouse (12 miles from Gethsemane) to arrange a series of classes by Dan for the sisters.  Luke and Merton took to each other right away.   Merton described Sr. Luke as "energetic, bright, capable, warm, a wonderful person".  Luke's response to Merton was equally positive: "delightfully simple, very human and very affable".

Merton and Luke were similar in their simple and direct approach to people and their intent pursuit of their vocation.  Luke was almost 7 years older than Merton.  They were intellectually equal and spiritually in sympathy with each other.   Both were profoundly interested and involved in peace, justice and racism and stimulated each other in their efforts.

From 1960 until Merton's death in 1968, Merton and Luke met several times, with Merton visiting Loretto to give talks and conferences for the sisters and Sr. Luke taking part in conferences at Gethsemane.  They also met for many private discussions.

Sr. Luke was one of only 15 women invited to the 2nd Vatican Council, and one of only three women - representing half the Catholic world's faithful - allowed on the planning commissions for documents on the church in the modern world and on the laity.

Luke was not a "follower" of Merton, but a contemporary and friend.  Luke and Merton shared with each other thoughts on prayer and religious life, and they exchanged ideas and advice.   After Merton died in 1969, Sr. Luke drew upon Merton's writings and her recollections of her personal contacts with him for the material for her frequent lectures and retreats.

"Hidden in the Same Mystery - Thomas Merton and Loretto" contains the transcription of a few of these talks.  The talks are sometimes rambling and disorganized, but contain gems of insight about prayer that I find unique.  I would like to explore some of these insights here on louie in the days ahead.

Sr. Luke links:
America Magazine - "Women in the Church since Vatican II", by Mary Luke Tobin, November 1, 1986
NCR Obituary, Sr. Mary Luke Tobin, August 25, 2006
Colorado Women's Hall of Fame
"Opening Church Door" - Obituary in America magazine, September 2006

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

the 'Church' issue

Conservative Catholics in Louisville are burning my books because I am opposed to the Vietnam War. The whole thing is ridiculous. I do think however that some of the young priests have a pathetic honesty and sincerity which is very moving. Beyond that, I have nothing to say. And I have a thick skin. You can say absolutely nothing about the Church that will shock me. If I stay with the Church it is out of a disillusioned love, and with a realization that I myself could not be happy outside, though I have no guarantee of being happy inside either. In effect, my 'happiness' does not depend on any institution or any establishment. As for you, you are part of my 'Church' of friends who are in many ways more important to me than the institution..."

-- Thomas Merton to Czeslaw Milosz, March 15, 1968
The Courage for Truth: Letters to Writers, pp 85-6
I find Merton's love for Catholicism especially moving because of the almost desperate (and romantic) way in which he was drawn to, and then vowed himself to her truth.  'Church', though, is another story.  I remember reading somewhere his remark that he wasn't "that kind of Catholic".  The above quote seems to qualify his allegiance to an institutional Church, and open to a broader definition of what 'Church' might mean.

HT: Jim Forest

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Merton and the nuns

Daniel Horan, OFM, over at Dating God, has an excellent post about the conferences that Merton hosted for American sisters following the 2nd Vatican Council.  Many of the conferences were recorded and then transcribed by the Sisters of Loretto, a community of nuns whose motherhouse is not far from Gethsemane.

This is an excerpt from a Questions and Answer session that Dan has included on his blog:

QuestionAfter our discussion yesterday I was thinking about how so much of our training taught us to “go ask the priest.” We were not making a decision or judgment on our own. We just didn’t think in those terms.
Response. Now’s the time. There are plenty of sisters smart enough to do that, who certainly have better judgment about their own situations than someone outside. Priests you consult may often have no concept of what your life is about, what your order means, what your needs are. All they can do is look in a book and dig up a canon, and they may not know too much about that, either.
Q. What about nuns who are fearful and inhibited that they cannot make independent judgements? They can really hold a community back.
R. I think they have to be encouraged to go ahead and make judgements. They need to be put in situations where they have to. The old system, of course, did not provide for this. It was fixed so that an individual never had to make judgements but would just sit in line and ask the superior, “May I have a toothbrush?” This is absurd. We built things this way and called it the Cross or obedience. This may have been all right if you were living in Austria in 1772 under an absolute emperor, and all you had to do was to keep the institution going, because it had been endowed. But we’re not doing that anymore.
Q. Whenever we ask permission, it seems the issue gets all bungled up.
R. Exactly, so don’t ask. I mean, unless you absolutely have to. The whole bent of the Church at this moment is for change. And therefore change has the benefit of the doubt. Obviously, the spirit of the Council is that we’re supposed to experiment, take risks, change and develop. This has the stamp of the Holy Spirit on it. Just as obviously, there are people on top who are scared, who want to stop it. They take second place right now. A prudential Christian decision now is in favor of courageously following what the Council clearly wants, and the Council clearly wants development. People who do not want development have to prove their point very hard before one can follow them in conscience. If everybody obeyed all the curial officials in everything in every moment, there would be no progress possible. There would be no point in having had a Council, no point in John XXIII having been Pope.
At the same time, there has to be caution and respect. We don’t act rebelliously or out of contempt, but just quietly go along with what the Council wants. Experiment is the order of the day, so make experiments. Just be careful not to do crazy things. Trouble comes when people want to make an issue of everything, when they want not just to change but also to win. Wanting to chalk up a score is bad. This is not a game of besting the Curia or the authorities. We have to be clear on that. We’re not trying to get points for our side. We just want to do what God wants. If we can once get this distinction clear, that’s all the authorities care about. Much of this other side business is face-saving. If people are obviously needling and insulting authorities, of course the latter will try to save face. But if you’re considerate and in good faith, you won’t be bothered much. People in authority have sense enough to see the difference. I go my way quietly, saying all kinds of things that are very unpopular and that many people don’t like at all. But they’re not going to fool with me, because I’m not fighting them. I’m sampling saying what I think I ought to say. I am not challenging anyone.
[From The Springs of Contemplation (1992), 38-41]

This all reminds me that I need to get Sr. Mary Luke's book concerning her thoughts on Merton and prayer - Hidden in the same Mystery.   Sr. Mary Luke, a Sister of Loretto, was one of the very few women invited to attend the 2nd Vatican Council.  At that time she was and the president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religous (LCWR). 

She was also a good friend to Merton.  I like this quote, which is attributed to her:

"Go out on a limb. That's where the fruit is."

HT: Dating God

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Loving God, Others, and Yourself

Do you suppose that Fr. Rohr is saying that loving God, others and yourself are the same thing - the same love?  Or just that they are equal, though separate (and different) loves?  

I rather like the notion of knowing them as the same love, undifferentiated.

The perennial philosophy recognizes again and again in different religions and in different ways and with different languages that there is a Divine Reality substantial to the world of things. There is something eternal, there’s something transcendental to the world of things, lives, souls, and minds. The goal of human existence is quite simply to experience union with that Reality, ideally on every level. Jesus, of course, says the same (Mark 12:30), and in fact, equates love of others, love of self, and love of God throughout his teaching.
Fr. Richard Rohr, Adapted from a non-published talk at a conference in Assisi, Italy, May 2012

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Ten Commandments for the Long Haul

Dan Berrigan, Photo by Jim Forest on October 28, 2011
- from Ten Commandments for the Long Haul by Daniel Berrigan
  1. Call on Jesus when all else fails. Call on Him when all else succeeds (except that never happens).
  2. Don't be afraid to be afraid or appalled to be appalled. How do you think the trees feel these days, or the whales, or, for that matter, most humans?
  3. Keep your soul to yourself. Soul is a possession worth paying for, they're growing rarer. Learn from monks, they have secrets worth knowing.
  4. About practically everything in the world, there's nothing you can do. This is Socratic wisdom. However, about of few things you can do something. Do it, with a good heart.
  5. On a long drive, there's bound to be a dull stretch or two. Don't go anywhere with someone who expects you to be interesting all the time. And don't be hard on your fellow travelers. Try to smile after a coffee stop.
  6. Practically no one has the stomach to love you, if you don't love yourself. They just endure. So do you.
  7. About healing: The gospels tell us that this was Jesus' specialty and he was heard to say: "Take up your couch and walk!"
  8. When traveling on an airplane, watch the movie, but don't use the earphones. Then you'll be able to see what's going on, but not understand what's happening, and so you'll feel right at home, little different then you do on the ground.
  9. Know that sometimes the only writing material you have is your own blood.
  10. Start with the impossible. Proceed calmly towards the improbable. No worry, there are at least five exits.
HT: Jim Forest

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

those who care about justice need to be in the streets

Dan Berrigan, age 92, speaking to the press at Zucotti Park on June 7th.
From "America's Street Priest", an interview with Chris Hedges:
“This is the only way to bring faith to the public and the public to the faith,” Berrigan said softly as we spoke before the demonstration in the park that was once the epicenter of Occupy Wall Street. “If faith does not touch the lives of others it has no point. Faith always starts with oneself. It means an overriding sense of responsibility for the universe, making sure that universe is left in good hands and the belief that things will finally turn out right if we remain faithful. But I underscore the word ‘faithful.’ This faith was embodied in the Occupy movement from the first day. The official churches remained slow. It is up to us to take the initiative and hope the churches catch up.”
There is one place, Berrigan says, where those who care about justice need to be—in the streets. The folly of electoral politics, the colossal waste of energy invested in the charade of the Wisconsin recall, which once again funneled hopes and passion back into a dead political system and a bankrupt Democratic Party, the failure by large numbers of citizens to carry out mass acts of civil disobedience, will only ensure that we remain hostages to corporate power.
Berrigan believes, as did Martin Luther King, that “the evils of capitalism are as real as the evils of militarism and the evils of racism.” And he has dedicated his life to fighting these evils. It is a life worth emulating. 
Photo by Max Braverman
“If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal,” he said to me, quoting Emma Goldman. He added his brother Phil’s reminder that “if enough Christians follow the Gospel, they can bring any state to its knees.”

“Some people today argue that equanimity achieved through inner spiritual work is a necessary condition for sustaining one’s ethical and political commitments,” Berrigan writes. “But to the prophets of the Bible, this would have been an absolutely foreign language and a foreign view of the human. The notion that one has to achieve peace of mind before stretching out one’s hand to one’s neighbor is a distortion of our human experience, and ultimately a dodge of our responsibility. Life is a rollercoaster, and one had better buckle one’s belt and take the trip. This focus on equanimity is actually a narrow-minded, selfish approach to reality dressed up within the language of spirituality.”

“I know that the prophetic vision is not popular today in some spiritual circles,” he goes on. “But our task is not to be popular or to be seen as having an impact, but to speak the deepest truths that we know. We need to live our lives in accord with the deepest truths we know, even if doing so does not produce immediate results in the world.”

Berrigan says he is sustained by his “invisible witnesses”: those he loves, such as the Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton and his brother Philip, who, although all deceased, give him the power and the strength to continue to resist.

“They are not absent,” he said in our conversation. “Their presence is not erased. Their presence is purer and stronger. And their presence is victory over death. It is love. And in their presence I find strength.”

“But what of the price of peace?” Berrigan writes in his book “No Bars to Manhood.” “I think of the good, decent, peace-loving people I have known by the thousands, and I wonder. How many of them are so afflicted with the wasting disease of normalcy that, even as they declare for peace, their hands reach out with an instinctive spasm in the direction of their loved ones, in the direction of their comforts, their home, their security, their income, their future, their plans—that twenty-year plan of family growth and unity, that fifty-year plan of decent life and honorable natural demise. ‘Of course, let us have the peace,’ we cry, but at the same time let us have normalcy, let us lose nothing, let our lives stand intact, let us know neither prison nor ill repute nor disruption of ties.’ ”
 “All we have is one another to sustain us,” Berrigan told me. “Community is not magical. It means people are willing to be human beings together. And it means they are willing to pay the price for being human.”
 America's Street Priest by Chris Hedges

Waging Nonviolence - a blog entry about Dan's protest at Zucotti Park

more louie, louie posts about Dan Berrigan

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

finding our own integrity in divine relationship

…we over identify with the cultural and emotional conditioning we all acquired, and this conditioning coalesces around groups and their belief systems, whether ethnic, religious, political, social, family, etc. During adolescence we identify with our peer group as a means of developing socialization skills and group acceptance. It is meant to help us grow and flourish; it is not meant to fixate us at this particular stage and bind us there for a lifetime. Basing our consciousness on group identity can be very powerful and demanding, even hypnotizing, and when it reaches this level of identification, mythic membership prevents us from identifying with our own integrity in divine relationship with God.

— from “The Grace of the Sacred Word”, an article by Gail Fitzpatrick-Hopler that appears in the June 2012 issue of Contemplative Outreach