Thursday, August 30, 2018

Silence and Word

"In moments of darkness and great tribulation, when the knots and the tangles cannot be untangled or straightened out, nor things be clarified, then we have to be silent. The meekness of silence will show us to be even weaker, and so it will be the devil who, emboldened, comes into the light, and shows us his true intentions, no longer disguised as an angel but unmasked." - Jorge Bergoglio 1990 essay, ‘Silencio y Palabra’ (‘Silence and Word’ (Pope Francis)
There is so much wisdom in this.

On Sunday 26 August during a 45-minute press conference in flight to Rome from Dublin, Pope Francis told journalists that he would not "say a single word" about the incendiary statement made by Archbishop Vigano asking for him to resign in disgrace because of his complicity with sex-abuse coverup.

Francis had faced ferocious accusations of complicity with evil before. He faced it with silence.

Austen Ivereigh, Catholic author and biographer of Pope Francis, describes this time in the life of Jorge Bergoglio and how he worked his way through it, in an excellent essay (HERE).

Dr. Ivereigh says:

Bergoglio’s 1990 essay, ‘Silence and Word’, suggests a deeper spiritual purpose to his silence, one drawn from a meditation on the Passion in the Third Week of the Spiritual Exercises. There St Ignatius describes how in the Passion, God ‘goes into hiding’, concealing, as it were, his divinity.
This is a very different kind of silence from, say, the silence of complicity or the silence of inaction faced with evidence of evil, as we have seen too often in the case of sexual abuse of minors.
The purpose of Christ’s self-emptying silence — his meekness faced with ferocious hostility — is to create space for God to act. This kind of silence involves a deliberate choice not to respond with an intellectual or reasoned self-defence, which in a context of confusion, of claims and counter-claims and half-truths, simply fuels the cycle of hysterical accusation and counter-accusation. It is a spiritual strategy to force the spirits behind the attack to reveal themselves.
To ‘make space for God’ can only be done in the way that Jesus himself taught: through the kenosis (self-emptying) described in St Ignatius’s ‘third kind of humility’ (Spiritual Exercises §167): ‘I want and choose poverty with Christ poor rather than wealth, and humiliations with Christ humiliated rather than fame …’
The effect of this humility, Bergoglio notes in ‘Silence and Word’, is to provoke an increase in the ferocity, because people are attacked more when they are weak. (Thus, he points out, Jesus wasn’t ferociously attacked while he was seen as strong — when people followed him, and believed in him — but only after he had been ‘weakened’ in the sight of others by betrayal.)
Gradually, the rage will begin to focus on a single person. ‘At the root of all ferocious attack is the need for people to offload their own guilt and limitations’, notes Bergoglio, adding that Jesus, as a living reproach, is scapegoated: ‘all the evils are offloaded onto the person we are ferociously attacking’.
As Jesus is steadily weakened — the disciples flee, Peter denies him, and he is left alone on the Cross — the devil reveals himself, believing that he has won. Christ’s weakness is the bait he swallows.
 Read all of it HERE.

Monday, August 20, 2018


"Freedom is not given to us by anyone; we have to cultivate it ourselves. It is a daily practice."
 - Thich Nhat Hanh

Thomas Merton with Thich Nhat Hanh,1966
Photograph by John Heidbrink

Sunday, August 19, 2018

The Useless Life

Brother Paul Quenon outside the hermitage;
Several people have referred me to this article published in Parabola Magazine. It is a chapter from Paul Quenon's book, In Praise of the Useless Life: A Monk’s Memoir by Br. Paul Quenon, O.C.S.O. The chapter is reprinted with permission of Ave Maria Press.

I love the title of the book and have particular fondness for Gethsemane and her monks.

"This retreat, no rain came all week long until the last day, late afternoon, and then the downpour was gratifying and robust. Eventually clouds broke and sun came through while rain continued, showering sunlight and rain together. I cartwheeled, became a child again, back in my home yard, knowing only this yard as the whole world, suddenly changed into something wondrous. Rain glistened, backlit by the sun, showing every falling drop for all its worth. Rain appeared to be falling from the sun itself. This rain was meant for this space, felt like something made for only here and now. The narrow yonder of the field where trees attend Our Lady’s statue took on a magical, silver sheen where air misted—a lost wilderness, reverting to some ancient, mythical epoch."

Read the whole chapter HERE.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

when the trees say nothing

Photo by BQ Cioffoletti
"We do not realize that the fields and the trees have fought and still fight for their respective places on this map—which, by natural right, belong entirely to the trees. We do not remember that these little clumps and groves are the fifth column of the aboriginal forest that wants to return. It is nice to think of, for a moment. But what could be more desperate than a journey, mile after mile, without hills, as rough as all those trees, and never know where you are going. But now it is wide open. I do not commit myself, though. I am perhaps still on the side of the trees."
- Merton, Thomas (2003-02-01). When the Trees Say Nothing: Writings on Nature (p. 106). Ave Maria Press - A. Kindle Edition. 

"Why do I live alone? I don’t know.... In some mysterious way I am condemned to it.... I cannot have enough of the hours of silence when nothing happens. When the clouds go by. When the trees say nothing. When the birds sing. I am completely addicted to the realization that just being there is enough, and to add something else is to mess it all up. It would be so much more wonderful to be all tied up in someone ... and I know inexorably that this is not for me. It is a kind of life from which I am absolutely excluded. I can’t desire it. I can only desire this absurd business of trees that say nothing, of birds that sing, of a field in which nothing ever happens (except perhaps that a fox comes and plays, or a deer passes by). This is crazy. It is lamentable. I am flawed, I am nuts. I can’t help it. Here I am, now, ... happy as a coot. The whole business of saying I am flawed is a lie. I am happy. I cannot explain it.... Freedom, darling. This is what the woods mean to me. I am free, free, a wild being, and that is all that I ever can really be. I am dedicated to it, addicted to it, sworn to it, and sold to it. It is the freedom in me that loves you.... Darling, I am telling you: this life in the woods is IT. It is the only way. It is the way everybody has lost. ... It is life, this thing in the woods. I do not claim it is real. All I say is that it is the life that has chosen itself for me."  A Midsummer Diary for M. June 23, 1966

Merton, Thomas (2003-02-01). When the Trees Say Nothing: Writings on Nature (pp. 135-136). Ave Maria Press - A. Kindle Edition.

Friday, August 17, 2018

unknown territory: the present moment

Buddha, Rubin Museum of Art, Photograph by Car396
"A hero’s journey isn’t necessarily a long ordeal. At any given moment, we can leave the self-enclosed world of our thought and touch down in the present moment, which is always unknown territory. Yet it also feels like coming home. It seems miraculous to move from one state of being to another, from thinking to opening to presence." 

- Tracy Cochran, from "Speechless", published in Parabola Magazine, July 28, 2018

Thursday, August 16, 2018

around him you could feel the reality of things

A wonderful conversation with Steve Georgiou, friend of Robert Lax. Read all of it HERE.
"I think he understood the difference between hearing and listening, and he really emphasized the listening. In fact, one of the things he’d say when we walked along the Patmos shoreline was, “I’m going back to my place now. There’s a lot of listening I have to get to.”

     And listening for what?

     I think for all the cosmic sounds, his own heart, his own soul.

     As a youth, he was sought out by people who felt a need to talk with him. In his twenties, and even before, he had this sixth sense, you might say. In childhood he dreamt that he saved a lot of students. A hallway bannister had broken. He’d held the bannister up long enough so the students could make it through a particular corridor—something to that effect. In a way, his life really was that dream. He held up that banister to help people make it through life. He gave his all in doing so.

     Catherine de Hueck Doherty, who founded Friendship House in Canada and parts of the U.S., where they cared for the poor (and who is now on the path to canonization in the Catholic Church), met Lax when he was around 25. She felt he was a gifted soul, as have many who met him—certainly a little different, some might say even a bit off. His mind was not on the nine-to-five world.

     There was a Friendship House in Harlem where the young Lax was serving as a volunteer, along with Thomas Merton. Catherine gave Lax a bucket of suds and a mop and told him to mop. When she came back a couple of hours later, she found him still there, sitting on the floor by the pail lost in his own world. She experienced this in a humorous way and felt there was something about this “son of Israel”—because he hadn’t yet converted to Catholicism—that would result in many books being written about him.

     As Merton had written in The Seven Story Mountain, “Lax was born with the deepest sense of who God was.” Merton said that he was often in this deep, contemplative mode, even in college. He indexed Lax more than anybody else in his autobiography. For Merton, and for others, Lax was a guiding light."

- Steve Georgiou
Read the whole interview HERE. You won't be sorry.

Steve Georgiou and Robert Lax at the harbor.

Me & Steve Georgiou, San Francisco, 2014

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

the silent call of the earth

 Shoes by Vincent Van Gogh

The philosopher Martin Heidegger saw the painting on exhibition in Amsterdam in 1930 and later wrote about it:

"From the dark opening of the worn insides of the shoes the toilsome tread of the worker stares forth. In the stiffly rugged heaviness of the shoes there is the accumulated tenacity of her slow trudge through the far-spreading and ever-uniform furrows of the field swept by a raw wind. On the leather lie the dampness and richness of the soil. Under the soles slides the loneliness of the field-path as evening falls. In the shoes vibrate the silent call of the earth, its quiet gift of the ripening grain and its unexplained self-refusal in the fallow desolation of the wintry field." - Martin Heidegger

"Poetry surrounds us everywhere, but putting it on paper is, alas, not so easy as looking at it. I dream my painting, and then I paint my dream." - Vincent Van Gogh

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

the unreality of the imaginary self

 Sketch by Thomas Merton

“In humility is the greatest freedom. As long as you have to defend the imaginary self that you think is important, you lose your peace of heart. As soon as you compare that shadow with the shadows of other people, you lose all joy, because you have begun to trade in unrealities and there is no joy in things that do not exist.”

~Thomas Merton

Monday, August 13, 2018

living superficially

 Jonathan Williams: Portrait of Thomas Merton

“When we live superficially … we are always outside ourselves, never quite ‘with’ ourselves, always divided and pulled in many directions … we find ourselves doing many things that we do not really want to do, saying things we do not really mean, needing things we do not really need, exhausting ourselves for what we secretly realize to be worthless and without meaning in our lives.”

—Thomas Merton, Love and Living, (Mariner Books, 1979)

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Dan owned nothing

At Play in the Lions’ Den: A Biography and Memoir of Daniel Berrigan 
by Jim Forest
Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York 2017

Reviewed by Sabina Clarke

In his compelling portrait of Daniel Berrigan, Jim Forest has given us a wonderful gift. He captures the amazing grace of Berrigan’s remarkable life as priest, poet, humanitarian, educator, anti-war activist and modern-day prophet. I could not put this book down.

Forest spent time with Berrigan as a young man and kept in touch with him over the years after he moved to the Netherlands where Dan visited him and his family. Theirs was a close bond. Consequently, his knowledge is firsthand. He succeeds in capturing the essence of Berrigan—his intellect, his humor, his compassion, his love for his community of Jesuits and his profound sense of humanity.

Unknown to most is that Berrigan was also the silent doer of daily works of mercy such as caring for the homeless, the dying and those suffering from AIDS when the epidemic first surfaced in 1984 — and when AIDS victims were shunned by society and blamed for their illness. Berrigan embraced them all and did not talk about it.

We find that Berrigan did not progress easily from acts of civil disobedience to acts of violence against military or government property. He was torn between his brother Philip who argued that petitionary nonviolence and civil acts of disobedience in protesting the Vietnam War were not working and that militant nonviolence was necessary and his close friend the Trappist monk Thomas Merton who argued against it. Gradually, he came to agree with Philip and together they began burning draft files and pouring their own blood on the files and drawing sometimes lengthy prison sentences.

Dorothy Day was also a strong influence and mentor. In the March 1965 issue of The Catholic Worker, she published Dan Berrigan’s first anti-war speech on the front page. Berrigan paid a high price for his militant acts of civil disobedience. He was often scorned and ostracized by his own community and on one occasion locked out of his residence, his belongings tossed outside on the steps. After giving a talk in support of Roger LaPorte, a former seminarian who immolated himself in front of the United Nations building protesting the Vietnam War, Berrigan was exiled by the Jesuits to South America — and returned only because of the huge public outcry and only on his stipulation that he be allowed to continue his peace work.

In all his university teaching positions he encouraged student activism and posed provocative questions to the University such as, “How did Cornell treat the migrant workers the University employed in its orchards?” and “What about its investment portfolios — segments of which connected Cornell to the military-industrial complex and the war in Vietnam.”

With a hundred of his Cornell University students he was arrested for the first time in 1967 at midnight on the steps of the Pentagon for protesting the Vietnam War. Reflecting on this he said, “For the first time, I put on the prison blue jeans and denim shirt, clerical attire I highly recommend for the new church.”

In 1975 he led a retreat on peace and reconciliation in Ireland and met with some members of the Irish Republican Army and was later criticized for being sympathetic to them. Even though he did not believe in taking even one life, he developed a rapport with their leader. When Hunger Striker Bobby Sands was on his deathbed, he was asked if he had one last wish before dying. He answered, “I would like to meet Father Berrigan.” With former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark, Berrigan flew to Belfast only to learn that Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher ruled that neither Dan nor Ramsey were allowed entrance. They stood vigil outside the prison as Bobby Sands slowly died.

Arrested more than 250 times,  he was noce on the FBI’s Most Wanted List. For four months led the FBI on a wild goose chase evading them until he was captured at a friend’s house on Block Island. In a particular daring escape after giving a talk at Cornell University and with agents from the FBI in attendance—after the lights dimmed he slipped into a costume of burlap sacking with a papier-maché head and aided by the Bread and Puppet Theater was whisked out into a waiting van and sped away. In an Oval Office conversation former President Nixon’s Chief of Staff Bob Haldeman wonders out loud where the Berrigans get their money for legal defense, Nixon responds, “They’ve got millions.”

Dan Berrigan died on April 30, 2016 — nine days before his 95th birthday. At his concelebrated Mass of the Resurrection, more than one thousand people attended. The homily was given by his friend and fellow Jesuit Stephen Kelly who opened with a greeting to the FBI, “We may let members of the FBI assigned here today know that it is Daniel Berrigan’s Funeral Mass of the Resurrection, so they can complete and perhaps close their files.”

In an interview with this writer in his apartment in New York in 2008, Daniel Berrigan said he entered the Jesuits at the age of eighteen because of its Spartan no-frills appeal when other orders were sending him literature featuring tennis courts and swimming pools and a more luxurious life. He stayed this way all his life. He gave away all his earnings from books and speaking engagements to the poor and others in need.

As his niece Frida Berrigan told a New York Times reporter on his death, “Dan owned nothing. He carried nothing. Whenever I traveled with him, he’d bring the little backpack of nothing. I’d pick him up and ask, ‘Is that all you have?’ He’d say, ‘Yes, that’s it. Let’s go.’” The final incantation of Father Kelly’s homily on Daniel Berrigan concluded with this…. that in his opinion… “Dan belonged among the Doctors of the Church.”

* * *

Saturday, August 11, 2018

up-to-date revelations of who God is

Father Tom

In meditation, by sitting long enough, the dust begins to settle and you begin to see more clearly that the deepest self is God-consciousness manifested in our uniqueness as human beings. We are completely united with everyone else in the human species because God is in everyone else. To me, this is one of the great gifts of evolutionary cosmology and of science today and why religion has to listen to science. It’s giving up-to-date revelations of who God is and developing a cosmology that can support deep union with God.

What is being revealed is that everything is interconnected and interrelated in the material universe and functions in collaboration and communion with other creatures. As you go up the levels of consciousness, the presence and action of God are in everything that happens: not just God’s presence, but God’s presence and action. That action is healing the conscious and unconscious wounds of growing up and childhood traumas, and at the same time activating all the capacities of grace – which are, in the Christian scheme of things, the fruits and gifts of the Spirit. In this perspective, death is not the end. It is the completion of the human journey that prepares us to move beyond human support systems and all forms of possessiveness, just to be who we are and to be content and happy with that immense gift.

- Thomas Keating

The bombing of Nagasaki August 9, 1945: The Untold Story

photos: ruins of St Mary's Cathedral in Nagasaki and a scorched statue of St Mary that had stood inside the cathedral

The Bombing of Nagasaki August 9, 1945: The Untold Story
by Gary G. Kohls, MD., Duluth, MN

On August 9th, 1945, the second of the only two atomic bombs ever used as instruments of war was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, by an all-Christian bomb crew. The well-trained American soldiers were only “doing their job,” and they did it well.

It had been only three days since the first bomb, a uranium bomb, had decimated Hiroshima on August 6, with chaos and confusion in Tokyo, where the fascist military government and the Emperor had been searching for months for a way to an honorable end of the war which had exhausted the Japanese to virtually moribund status. (The only obstacle to surrender had been the Truman administration’s insistence on unconditional surrender, which meant that the Emperor Hirohito, whom the Japanese regarded as a deity, would be removed from his figurehead position in Japan -- an intolerable demand for the Japanese.)

The Russian army was advancing across Manchuria with the stated aim of entering the war against Japan on August 8, so there was an extra incentive to end the war quickly: the US military command did not want to divide any spoils or share power after Japan sued for peace.
The US bomber command had spared Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Kokura from the conventional bombing that had burned to the ground sixty-plus other major Japanese cities during the first half of 1945. One of the reasons for targeting relatively undamaged cities with these new weapons of mass destruction was scientific: to see what would happen to intact buildings – and their living inhabitants – when atomic weapons were exploded overhead.

Early in the morning of August 9, 1945, a B-29 Superfortress called Bock’s Car, took off from Tinian Island, with the prayers and blessings of its Lutheran and Catholic chaplains, and headed for Kokura, the primary target. (Its plutonium bomb was code-named “Fat Man,” after Winston Churchill.)
The only field test of a nuclear weapon, blasphemously named “Trinity,” had occurred just three weeks earlier, on July 16, 1945 at Alamogordo, New Mexico. The molten lavarock that resulted, still found at the site today, is called trinitite.

With instructions to drop the bomb only on visual sighting, Bock’s Car arrived at Kokura, which was clouded over. So after circling three times, looking for a break in the clouds, and using up a tremendous amount of valuable fuel in the process, it headed for its secondary target, Nagasaki.
Nagasaki is famous in the history of Japanese Christianity. Not only was it the site of the largest Christian church in the Orient, St. Mary’s Cathedral, but it also had the largest concentration of baptized Christians in all of Japan. It was the city where the legendary Jesuit missionary, Francis Xavier, established a mission church in 1549, a Christian community which thrived and multiplied for several generations. However, soon after Xavier’s planting of Christianity in Japan, Portuguese and Spanish commercial interests began to be accurately perceived by the Japanese rulers as exploiters, and therefore the religion of the Europeans (Christianity) and their new Japanese converts became the target of brutal persecutions.

Within 60 years of the start of Xavier’s mission church, it was a capital crime to be a Christian. The Japanese Christians who refused to recant of their beliefs suffered ostracism, torture and even crucifixions similar to the Roman persecutions in the first three centuries of Christianity. After the reign of terror was over, it appeared to all observers that Japanese Christianity had been stamped out.

However, 250 years later, in the 1850s, after the gunboat diplomacy of Commodore Perry forced open an offshore island for American trade purposes, it was discovered that there were thousands of baptized Christians in Nagasaki, living their faith in a catacomb existence, completely unknown to the government - which immediately started another purge. But because of international pressure, the persecutions were soon stopped, and Nagasaki Christianity came up from the underground. And by 1917, with no help from the government, the Japanese Christian community built the massive St. Mary’s Cathedral, in the Urakami River district of Nagasaki.

Now it turned out, in the mystery of good and evil, that St. Mary’s Cathedral was one of the landmarks that the Bock’s Car bombardier had been briefed on, and looking through his bomb site over Nagasaki that day, he identified the cathedral and ordered the drop.

At 11:02 am, Nagasaki Christianity was carbonized -- then vaporized -- in a scorching, radioactive fireball. And so the persecuted, vibrant, faithful, surviving center of Japanese Christianity became ground zero.

And what the Japanese Imperial government could not do in over 200 years of persecution, American Christians did in nine seconds. Few Nagasaki Christians survived....

* * *
photos: ruins of St Mary's Cathedral in Nagasaki and a scorched statue of St Mary that had stood inside the cathedral

Friday, August 10, 2018

living your love

The Guatamalan-Maya Center
Writing with George …

Welcome Annaise, how can I help? We’re here to serve you. Bienvenida Eulalia, what a beautiful name you have. Welcome Rosa Mayra, thank you for bringing your gentle children. Oneida! Good to see you again. I hope everything is going well. Hello Juana, does your family live near to the volcano? Are they all right? Carmen! Is your family in Cali still dancing, still doing the samba? Nohemy! A surprise to see you. Dare I ask about your family in Guerrero? I remember the murders. How are your sisters surviving? Odelina from Honduras… Is your brother surviving the violence at school? Can he study? Alma, when I hear your name I think of the beauty of your soul. Welcome Mariela, welcome again. It’s always a joy to see you. Nicolasa, every time we meet I feel like your brother with my Nicholas name. Amany from Egypt, you frightened me at first with your stern presence, but you always soften. Your children must love your softness dearly. Bienvenida Viviana. You strike me as living vitally. You capture the bright life of your name. Gudelia, good woman, good mother, marked by goodness. Delmi, Karina, Francisca, Kellyn, Mariela, your names, once so foreign to me I couldn’t imagine you, now open a world not only for me, but for my neighbors as well. I can harvest your names for them. I can harvest your truth for them. Most of you bring the heart of Maya joining the heart of the earth to the heart of the sky, teaching the urgency of love. We live in these perilous times when the government deports or threatens to deport your husbands, but you go on caring for the place of your heart, the place of your children, the place of their hearts. You have seen all around you murder and the threat of murder. You know the precariousness of life. But no matter you go on living your trust, living your love, teaching us the profound depths of your poverty.

I will not compare you with anyone. But I must say you have found a place, a heart place which others, if they would only open themselves to discover, would cherish. They would follow with all their heart. And this is what you have taught me if I could only learn: lead with my heart, lead with my heart, lead with my heart.

- from an email by Fr. Frank O'Laughlin

The Guatamalan Maya Center

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Edith Stein, August 9, 1942

On August 9, 1942, Edith Stein, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Discalced Carmelite nun, was killed in a gas chamber of the German II-Birkenau camp.

Born on the 12 of October, 1891, Edith Stein was a German Jew from Wroclaw, doctor of philosophy specializing in phenomenology. A teacher of the girls' colleges in Speyer and later in Munster. She converted to Christianity in 1922 and joined the Carmelite convent in Cologne in 1933. With the attacks on the Jews intensifying in Germany, Sr. Teresa Benedicta was moved to the Carmelite convent in Echt in the Netherlands. There she studied the works of St. John of the Cross. In 1942, after the protests of the Roman Catholic Church against the persecution of Jewish citizens in the Netherlands, the German occupying powers ordered detaining Catholic clergy of Jewish origin. Edith Stein was arrested on August 2, 1942, and taken to Amersdoort and later to Westerbork. A few days later 987 Jews from Westerbork were sent to Auschwitz. This transport included Edith Stein and her older sister, Rosa Stein. After a selection on the ramp in Birkenau, both were sent to the gas chamber where they were killed, probably on August 9, 1942.

Pope John Paul II beatified Edith Stein in 1987, and canonized her in 1988. A year later the nun became one of 6 patron saints of Europe.

Blessed Franz Jägerstätter, enemy of the state

Blessed Franz Jägerstätter was beheaded and cremated on August 9, 1943.

Franz Jägerstätter was an Austrian conscientious objector during World War II. He was sentenced to death and executed on August 9, 1943. He was later declared a martyr and beatified by the Catholic Church.
On June 1, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI approved a series of decrees, issued by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, that attributed martyrdom to Franz Jägerstätter, a husband and father of three who was beheaded on August 9, 1943, for refusing any collaboration with the Nazis.

On October 26, 2007,  Franz Jägerstätter was beatified in an elaborate ceremony in St. Mary's Cathedral in Linz, Austria.

Jägerstätter left behind a widow and 3 small daughters. Both his priest and his bishop had urged him to give up his conscientious objection, and join the army. His sacrifice was uniformly regarded as foolish by his neighbors, and his story was known to but a handful of people for almost 2 decades.

In the early 1960’s, an American intellectual, Gordon Zahn was researching the Catholic response to Hitler and came across the story of Jägerstätter. He wrote a book: In Solitary Witness.
But for this book, we would not know the story of Franz Jägerstätter, who is now a candidate for beatification.

The book came to Merton’s attention, and he wrote an essay, “An Enemy of the State”, commenting on Jägerstätter’s life, conscientious objection, and the role of religion in military matters and war. Jägerstätter’s own bishop had judged his conscience to be “in error”, but “in good faith”, and that the priests and seminarians who died in Hitler's armies “firm in the conviction that they were following the will of God” to be following “a clear and correct conscience.”

Merton, while conceding that whose conscience was erroneous and whose was correct could ultimately only be decided by God, says that the real question raised by the Jägerstätter story is not merely that of the individual Catholic’s right to conscientious objection but the question of the Church’s own mission of protest and prophecy in the gravest spiritual crisis man has ever known.

Merton’s essay includes an impressive meditation from Franz Jägerstätter in which he intuits that his refusal to fight is not a private matter, but concerns the historical predicament of the Catholic Church in the 20th century:

 “The situation in which we Christians of Germany find ourselves today is much more bewildering than that faced by the Christians of the early centuries at the time of their bloodiest persecution … We are not dealing with a small matter, but the great (apocalyptic) life and death struggle has already begun. Yet in the midst of it there are many who still go on living their lives as though nothing had changed … That we Catholics must make ourselves told of the worst and most dangerous anti-Christian power that has ever existed is something that I cannot and never will believe … Many actually believe quite simply that things have to be the way they are. If this should happen to mean that they are obliged to commit injustice, then they believe that others are responsible. … I am convinced that it is still best that I speak the truth even though it costs me my life. For you will not find it written in any of the commandments of God or of the Church that a man is obliged under pain of sin to take an oath committing him to obey whatever might be commanded him by his secular ruler. We need no rifles or pistols for our battle, but instead spiritual weapons, - and the foremost of these is prayer.” 


Urikami Cathedral, Nagasaki

Found in a house near Sanno Shrine.

At 11.02 a.m. on August 9, 1945, three days after Hiroshima, the sky above Nagasaki was filled by a white flash, and all the clocks stopped.

A B29 bomber released a plutonium-armed atomic bomb dubbed Fat Man on the city of Nagasaki, using the Urakami Catholic Cathedral for ground zero.

The ferocious heat and blast indiscriminately slaughtered its inhabitants. 50000 died.

"Men and women of the world, never again plan war! ... From this atomic waste the people of Nagasaki confront the world and cry out: No more war! Let us follow the commandment of love and work together. ...

"The people of Nagasaki prostrate themselves before God and pray: Grant that Nagasaki may be the last atomic wilderness in the history of the world."

- Dr. Takashi Magai, Mystic of Nagasaki

Among the survivors was Takashi Nagai, a pioneer in radiology research and a convert to the Catholic Faith. Living in the rubble of the ruined city and suffering from leukemia caused by over-exposure to radiation, Nagai lived out the remainder of his remarkable life by bringing physical and spiritual healing to his war-weary people.  A Song for Nagasaki


Tuesday, August 7, 2018

the uncertainty of waiting

Was Merton 50 years ahead of himself, or is this something that is always with us - the uncertainty of waiting ... ?

"Ever increasing frenzy, tension, explosiveness of this country. You feel it in the monastery with people like Raymond. In the priesthood with so many upset, one way or another, and so many leaving. So many just cracking up, falling apart. People in Detroit buying guns. Groups of vigilantes being formed to shoot Negroes. Louisville is a violent place, too. Letters in U.S. Catholic about the war article -- some of the shrillest came from Louisville. This is really a mad country, and an explosion of the madness is inevitable. The only question -- can it somehow be less bad than one anticipates? Total chaos is quite possible, though I don't anticipate that. But the fears, frustrations, hatreds, irrationalities, hysterias, are all there, and all powerful enough to blow everything wide open. One feels that they want violence. It is preferable to the uncertainty of "waiting"." (March 12, 1968)

- Merton, The Other Side of the Mountain, pp. 66-67

Merton, iconoclast

 photo by Ann Wasserman (Sr. Anita of Jesus, OCD)

"If there is one word that might be used to describe the spirit of Thomas Merton's New Seeds of Contemplation, that word might be "iconoclastic".  It's a word that refers to the ancient practice of idol smashing. To be an iconoclast is to shatter false gods. Merton does this with regard to romanticized notions of contemplation, ideas of God, and ideas of spirituality which bypass relationships with other people."

- Mitch Finley, Catholic Spiritual Classics: Introductions to Twelve Classics of Christian Spirituality (Kansas City, Sheed & Ward, 1987) pp. 64-49

Sweet Irrational Worship, the song of the Negro ditch digger, Objerall Jacket

Merton with John Jacob Niles, Jacqueline Robert and Janelle Pope

John Jacob Niles (1892-1989) - American composer, singer, and collector of traditional ballads, Kentucky born. 

This is how Niles describes his first song, "Go 'way from My Window", composed in 1907, when he was 16 years old:

"In 1908 my father had in his employ a Negro ditch-digger known as Objerall Jacket. As he dug, he sang, "Go way from my window, go way from my door" -- just those words, over and over again, on two notes. Working beside Jacket all day (I was sixteen at the time), I decided that something had to be done. The results were a four-verse song dedicated to a blue-eyes, blond girl, who didn't think much of my efforts. The song lay fallow from 1908 to 1929, when I arranged it and transposed to a higher key. "Go 'way from My Window" was was first sung successfully in Berlin, Germany, in 1930. It has gone a long way since." 

 Niles' last work (1972) was the Niles-Merton song cycles, settings of some poems of Thomas Merton.

Niles and Merton met via mutual friends - Victor Hammer and John Howard Griffin - and became friends. Niles was interested in setting some of Merton's poems to music. Merton said fine, and from this came the Nile-Merton Song Cycle. Most of the work was done after Merton's death in 1968.

Below is a lecture / performance of 8 of these poems at Villanova University in 2016. I've started the video at where the performance begins, skipping over the lecture.

I'm not sure that the "ballad" fits Merton's poetry, or Merton's poetry fits the ballad. It seems to me that Merton's poetry reaches for something beyond words, much like the song of the Negro ditch digger, Objerall Jacket.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Hiroshima & Nagasaki

Today marks the 73rd anniversary of the dropping by a US warplane, the Enola Gay, of the first atomic bomb, (nicknamed Little Boy) on the Japanese City of Hiroshima. 

On August 9th 1945, a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. These two cataclysmic bombings remain the only uses of nuclear weapons in the history of warfare.

The bombs created instant carnage; flattening the city in a matter of seconds and leaving remnants of radioactive poison hovering over the landscape and contaminating the water, poisoning the population for years to come. The estimated death toll for Hiroshima is between 70 000 and 100, 000 persons. The second bomb, over Nagasaki, this time nicknamed “Fat Man,” killed another 50 000 to 70 000 citizens. 

On August 15th, the Japanese government surrendered to the Americans, effectively ending the Second World War. The surrender was signed on September 2nd and marked the beginning of the nuclear arms race and Cold War.

John Hersey's 1946 piece exploring how six survivors experienced the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan, and its aftermath is HERE:

I—A Noiseless Flash

At exactly fifteen minutes past eight in the morning, on August 6, 1945, Japanese time, at the moment when the atomic bomb flashed above Hiroshima, Miss Toshiko Sasaki, a clerk in the personnel department of the East Asia Tin Works, had just sat down at her place in the plant office and was turning her head to speak to the girl at the next desk. At that same moment, Dr. Masakazu Fujii was settling down cross-legged to read the Osaka Asahi on the porch of his private hospital, overhanging one of the seven deltaic rivers which divide Hiroshima; Mrs. Hatsuyo Nakamura, a tailor’s widow, stood by the window of her kitchen, watching a neighbor tearing down his house because it lay in the path of an air-raid-defense fire lane; Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge, a German priest of the Society of Jesus, reclined in his underwear on a cot on the top floor of his order’s three-story mission house, reading a Jesuit magazine, Stimmen der Zeit; Dr. Terufumi Sasaki, a young member of the surgical staff of the city’s large, modern Red Cross Hospital, walked along one of the hospital corridors with a blood specimen for a Wassermann test in his hand; and the Reverend Mr. Kiyoshi Tanimoto, pastor of the Hiroshima Methodist Church, paused at the door of a rich man’s house in Koi, the city’s western suburb, and prepared to unload a handcart full of things he had evacuated from town in fear of the massive B-29 raid which everyone expected Hiroshima to suffer. A hundred thousand people were killed by the atomic bomb, and these six were among the survivors. They still wonder why they lived when so many others died. Each of them counts many small items of chance or volition—a step taken in time, a decision to go indoors, catching one streetcar instead of the next—that spared him. And now each knows that in the act of survival he lived a dozen lives and saw more death than he ever thought he would see. At the time, none of them knew anything.

Camus, Catholicism and the Death Penalty

John the Baptist, drawing by Thomas Merton

Last week, Pope Francis declared that the death penalty “is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.”

In late July of 1967, Merton made a recording for the Sisters of Loretto. He said the following regarding the death penalty, its connection to violence and war, and a need to reform Church teaching and education:

"That the Church should support social order in this particular way, established order – many Catholics would fully agree with this. They would not perhaps go so far as to say the death penalty is a means of salvation, but they would say that this is a practical, reasonable way of looking at things. This kind of thinking, let us face it, underlies so much of the teaching, so much of the indoctrination, so much of the preparation for life that we give in our Catholic schools. This is the sort of thinking that is taken for granted, is inculcated and accepted in Catholic education to a great extent. That is a very shocking thing because it means that we are committed to this sort of inhuman, self-righteous support of society at any cost. This comes out, for example, in Cardinal Spellman’s defense of the Vietnam War. Cardinal Spellman can defend the Vietnam War and can even say 'my country right or wrong' because he thinks in these terms – he has grown up thinking in these terms, has always thought in these terms; [it] is natural for him to think in these terms. For real renewal to take place in the Church, in religious life and in education, this kind of thinking has to be changed." [Follow the link to a longer transcript of this recording.]

HT: International Merton Society

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Merton & Fr. John of the Cross in convertible

 Fr. Louis and Fr. John of the Cross
Photo by Ann Wasserman (John of Cross's sister)

"An entirely beautiful, transfigured moment of love for God and the need for complete confidence in Him in everything, without reserve, even when almost nothing can be understood. A sense of the continuity of grace in my life and an equal sense of the stupidity and baseness of the infidelities which have threatened to break that continuity. How can I be so cheap and foolish as to trifle with anything so precious? The answer is that I grow dull and stupid and turn in false directions, without light, very often without interest and without real desire, out of a kind of boredom and animal folly, caught in some idiot social situation. It is usually a matter of senseless talking, senseless conduct and vain behavior, coming from my shyness and desperation at being in a bind I cannot cope with -- and if there is drink handy I drink it, and talk more foolishly. This of course is rare -- I was thinking of visits of Father John of the Cross [Wasserman]'s people (other side of the field) when I was not true to myself. With him I suppose I rarely was. And now where is he?"

- Thomas Merton, Dancing in the Water of Life, p.10 (August 16, 1963)

Note: Fr. John of the Cross was Merton's friend and confessor. Fr. John left the monastery in 1962.  He was perhaps Merton's closest friend at the monastery.

Fr. John of the Cross is mentioned with some frequency in Merton's journals, including a passage later incorporated into Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander in which Merton praises his preaching as the best in the community.

Edmund Wasserman, nicknamed "Cap" or "Cappy" by Merton, was a Gethsemani monk known as Fr. John of the Cross. He entered the monastery in 1948 and studied under Merton. He was a close friend of Merton, but left in late 1962. Merton became close to Wasserman's family, becoming like an adopted son to his parents. Merton wrote extensively to Wasserman's sister, Ann, who joined the Carmelites in Cleveland, taking the name of Sr. Anita of Jesus. (Source: "John of the Cross Wasserman." International Thomas Merton Society Newsletter, Vol. 16, No. 1. [Louisville, KY: International Thomas Merton Society, 2009], p. 3.)

In late 1962, after a period of unrest and tension with Abbot James Fox, which Merton comments on in his journal, Fr. John of the Cross left Gethsemani, never to return. In his poem "Gethsemani (May 19, 1966)," published in Eighteen Poems, Merton refers to Fr. John of the Cross as "A taut, embittered / Young Christ / Pierced by righteous insults." 

Though he remained away from the abbey, Fr. John of the Cross refused to request a dispensation from his vows until persuaded to do so by Abbot Timothy Kelly in 1999; at that time he was not required to seek laicization from the priesthood and so was able to remain a priest in good standing until his death.

After leaving Gethsemani, he moved to Detroit, earned a Masters Degree from the University of Detroit, and taught in inner-city Detroit Public Schools for a quarter century, often celebrating Mass in his apartment and ministering to young people in his neighborhood. He adopted James, a young African American who took Fr. John's surname as his own. Merton was able to stay in indirect contact with Fr. John through his sister Anita, a Carmelite nun in Cleveland, with whom Merton maintained a correspondence (published in part in The School of Charity).

At the request of his family, Fr. John's funeral took place January 5, 2009 in the Guest Chapel at the Abbey of Gethsemani, celebrated by Fr. James Conner, who also delivered the eulogy, and attended by Sr. Anita, Fr. John's brother Robert, his adopted son James with his wife Juanna and two children, and a number of the monks. His ashes were buried in the extern cemetery at Gethsemani.

Fr. Louis-Thomas Merton OCSO and Fr. John of the Cross Wasserman OCSO as young monks at the Abbey of Gethsemani with Fr. John of the Cross’ sister in the center who became a Discalced Carmelite Nun

Friday, August 3, 2018


"Despair is the absolute extreme of self-love ... It is reached when a man deliberately turns his back on all help from anyone else in order to taste the rotten luxury of knowing himself to be lost. In every man there is hidden some root of despair because in every man there is pride that vegetates and springs weeds and rank flowers of self-pity as soon as our own resources fail us. . . . But a man who is truly humble cannot despair, because in the humble man there is no longer any such thing as self-pity."

"Humility, therefore, is absolutely necessary if man is to avoid acting like a baby all his life. To grow up means, in fact, to become humble, to throw away the illusion that I am at the center of everything and that other people only exist to provide me with comfort and pleasure…”

-- Thomas Merton, Seeds of Contemplation

Thursday, August 2, 2018

a great mystery of poverty and darkness and strength

 Sculpture by Jaime Andrade, Photo by Thomas Merton

Elsewhere on this blog I have a story about this artist and sculpture and very poor scan. -

"all that is most abject, forgotten, despised and put aside"

Yesterday I found this much better photo of the sculpture.

The photo is of a statue of the Virgin Mary and the child Jesus which was photographed atop a tree stump with a tree in the background at Gethsemani Abbey. Merton took the photo, which is now at the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University in Louisville.

Jaime Andrade, an artist from Quito, Ecuador created the sculpture in mahogany.

In 1958 Merton commissioned Andrade to do a statue of the Virgin Mary and child Jesus in dark wood for the novitiate library. "A statue," as he explains, "that would tell the truth about God being 'born' Incarnate in the Indians of the Andes. Christ poor and despised among the disinherited of the earth." (Merton, A Search for Solitude, p. 177.)

Merton describes its imagery as "precisely that of Louis M[assignon]" Merton interpreted the mother as an indigenous Andean who reflected "a great mystery of poverty and darkness and strength" and the child as "the Resurrection to be born from the despised peoples of Mexico and the Andes" who holds a "mystical bit of fruit" that represented salvation. She represents "all that is most abject, forgotten, despised, and put aside."

"I want to say how deeply moved I am at this idea of Louis Massignons's that salvation is coming from the most afflicted and despised. This, of course, is the only idea that makes any sense in our time." (from a letter to Jacques Maritain, 17 Aug 1960)

In seeing the Mother and Child statue take place, Merton suggested that the child hold something - a branch, fruit, or root, something indigenous to South America. Definitely not corn "because of its association with bad art". 

A Life for Art : The Jaime Andrade Ecuadorian Collection

Merton's correspondence with Jaime Andrade 


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