Robert Francis Kennedy was born on November 20, 1925. He died on June 6, 1968 in one of the pivotal events of this violent and tumultuous year, an event that touched Thomas Merton deeply.
In a letter to Kennedy's wife Ethel, Merton writes... "Really it is hard to say anything that is capable of measuring the shock and sorrow of Bobby's tragic immolation. Nowadays we tend to expect almost anything. But there is something particularly awful and traumatic about this, just because Bobby represented the very real hope for the whole country and for the world. He was the only one with a real chance who might have done something very definite for peace. And now it looks like we will be faced with a completely illusory choice at the polls - so much that I wonder if I'll vote at all. At least for the Presidency." TMLL pp.222-23
Merton - Kennedy Connection
Ethel Skakel Kennedy was the daughter of Anne Skakel, "Big Anne", a generous contributor to Gethsemani and Thomas Merton's secretary for a number of years in the early fifties. Merton maintained a correspondence with both Anne, who died in a plane crash with her husband George in 1955, and Ethel.
Ritual Cycle of Violence
Merton was asked by several magazines to write a piece on the assassination of RFK. He declines, writing in a midsummer letter to friends..."I am a bit suspicious of what seems to me to be a growing ritual cycle: murder, public acts of contrition, deploring violence, gestures of appeasement, then everything goes on unchanged and presently there is another assassination. The cycle continues. The sickness seems to be so deep that ritual expressions of sorrow, horror, astonishment, etc., have just become part of the general routine. At such a time perhaps silence is more decent." TMLL p.223 .
Letter of Lament
In the same letter Thomas goes on to lament the critical state of violence in American society which he sees as a systemic infection rooted in fear, "...more especially in the establishment itself, the military, the police, the established forces of order..."
It is in this 1968 letter of lament that Merton writes this familiar and oft quoted piece... "I am against war, against violence, against violent revolution, for peaceful settlements of differences, for non-violent but nevertheless radical change. Change is needed, and violence will not really change anything: at most it will only transfer power from one set of bull-headed authorities to another..." TMLL p.224
Forgetfulness of God
True to his prophetic call, Merton locates the root of the problem of violence in the "forgetfulness of God and prayer". He reveals much about the direction of his vocation in this crucial pre-pilgrimage period when he writes..."I realize more and more that in my own vocation what matters is not comment, not statements of opinion, not judgements, but prayer. " TMLL p.224
Remembering and reflecting... Rob
"Let us pray for one another and try in everything to do what God asks of us." Thomas Merton