Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Funeral of Thomas Merton - a white celebration

photo by John Howard Griffin
"Earth's a good place to die from." - Ron Seitz on the day of Merton's funeral, December 17, 1968.
"Abbot Flavian and several monk went to Louisville to receive Tom's body. They then took it to New Haven (near the Abbey of Gethsemani) where
the coffin opened
to his brothers bending close -
silent now those lips
the body was identified.
"The casket was closed again, this time for good, then taken to the Abbey of Gethsemani. Rather than a morning funeral as scheduled in Brother Pat's telegram,the liturgy and burial services were pushed back till late afternoon. ...
... What Tom especially wouldn't want in death - some kind of incense-wailing over his coffin, all that weepy mourning, sad tears and sinking gloom, the black of it. And why I'm sure (and glad) that his brother monks gave him a white celebration ...

"So, down there in the Abbey church for Tom's funeral Mass there would not be any of us "interrupting the smiles with our sobs" because his brothers, the good monks were Hallelujahing! The Abbot welcoming us with open arms, smiling, "Lord no. Won't be any of that sadface weeping. We're not that way about it down here. - Father Louis' death ... Why, we'll be coming out white and joyful!"
And from Matthew Kelty:
“It was perhaps at his death, and the funeral and burial following, that the true dimensions of Gethsemani’s relations with Father Louis became manifest. It is rare for a monastic funeral to have such an impact as his had. It is not that in the death of other monks we were less concerned with love, for there is genuine love here, but the intensity of this particular experience escaped no one. And it was as the man himself, a combination of contradictions. For it was very sad and grief-ridden, but at the same time something brim-filled with joy and a kind of rapture. I have never in my life assisted at such a joyous funeral; it was more of a wedding celebration! And yet the anguish of knowing that he was no longer with us was a great weight on the heart. All in all, it was a community experience of great love, a testimony to the great mystery of love among us in the power of Christ, a love hidden in some way, yet there, as the great inner reality, the core of our life together. The comings and goings, the brightness and the dullness, the stupid and the silly as well as the brilliant and the accomplished – the whole fabric of the life of day to day was laid bare, and there for all to see was this glorious presence of love behind it all, beneath it all. It was evident that the man loved us. And it was evident that we loved him. And this love is the evidence of the presence of Christ.
“… he was a kind of dividing spirit, a sign spoken against, a sort of question demanding an answer. Thus, he raised issues, and there was no way out but to reply one way or other. In this he was unsettling, disturbing, not comfortable to live with. Put in other words, there was a kind of truth about him that got under your skin, into your heart. He belonged to nobody, free as a bird. He could not be categorized, labeled, pigeonholed. And he had vision … "
- from an essay, “The Man” by Matthew Kelty, included in the book THOMAS MERTON - MONK, p. 34


  1. These picture seem like Merton would have carried a lunch box and went to work in a factory somewhere in northern Kentucky. His picture exudes peace.
    What a Man.


    1. Somewhere in his writings Merton comments on how commonplace are his looks.

  2. I don't know that Merton could have survived with a lunch box in a factory, Dittom ... perhaps. He certainly had a great deal of compassion for workers. But he seems to me to have been destined to stand outside of the usual routine of life - to be a monk. He often said that when he entered Gethsemani and closed the door to life as usual, he opened another door.



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