November 10, 1958
Thomas Merton wrote to Pope John XXIII on November 10, 1958 - fifty years ago today. His letter to the Pope reflected his newly awakened sense of solidarity with the world of human concerns. He writes..."It seems to me that, as a contemplative, I do not need to lock myself in solitude and lose all contact with the rest of the world; rather this poor world has a right to a place in my solitude. It is not enough for me to think of the apostolic value of prayer and penance; I also have to think in terms of a contemplative grasp of the political, intellectual, artistic, and social movements of this world - by which I mean a sympathy for the honest aspirations of so many intellectuals everywhere in the world and the terrible problems they have to face."
An Urgent Obligation
Moving forward from his great epiphany at the corner of Fourth and Walnut Merton becomes increasingly engaged in matters of civil rights and peace. In an October 1961 letter to Etta Gullick he characterises the plight of the world as an "international crisis" and senses the call to speak on issues as a matter of "urgent obligation". He writes... "I am now perfectly convinced that there is one task for me that takes precedence over everything else: working with such means as I have at my disposal for the abolition of war... Prayer of course remains my chief means, but it is also an obligation on my part to speak out insofar as I am able, and to speak as clearly, as forthrightly, and as uncompromisingly as I can.
And speak he does... for the next 10 years, from the time of his letter to the Pope on November 10, 1958, Merton's prophetic voice is expressed in essays, poetry, letters, books, articles, and journals. He speaks clearly, forthrightly, and uncompromisingly on issues relating to the nuclear arms race, the cold war, the Vietnam war, civil rights, non-violent resistance, Latin American liberation, and the environment. Far from being a contradiction of Merton's contemplative life his prophetic outcry is the natural fruit of his spiritual journey of solitude, inner awakening, and unitive consciousness.
Peace and blessings... Rob
"The duty of the Christian in this crisis is to strive with all his power and intelligence, with his faith, hope in Christ, and love for God and man, to do the one task which God has imposed upon us in the world today. That task is to work for the total abolition of war." Thomas Merton