Thomas Merton and Pope Francis

Pope Francis

Pope Francis in the U.S. – unifying all

In a speech to the U.S. Congress this week, Pope Francis praised four Americans he admires. One is Thomas Merton – an American Catholic writer, mystic, a Trappist monk, a poet, social activist, and student of comparative religion who led a “messy” life before becoming a monk. Merton wrote about non-violence and civil rights.

In The Promise of Paradox: A celebration of contradictions in the Christian life, Parker J. Palmer makes a connection between Merton’s ideas and those of Karl Marx.

The Promise of Paradox

The Promise of Paradox

Palmer notes, “Our individualized way of life makes us feel alone and unrelated; our competitive way of life makes us feel that our gains must come at the expense of others, just as their gains mean our loss (28). Palmer says, “The religion of the American middle class sometimes seems to mock the Gospels; it aims at enhancing the self-esteem of persons who have material comfort while ignoring conditions of poverty and pestilence which deprive a whole class of people of life itself, let alone feelings of self-worth.

Parker J. Palmer

Parker J. Palmer

Parker sees that Thomas Merton pointed “to a deep and vital convergence of Marxism and Christianity. Where Marx spoke of the alienation of labor, Merton speaks of the alienation of our hearts. We seem unable to feel, unable to have our hearts broken by the fact of children who are starving and parents who are unable to provide. Our individualized way of life makes us feel alone and unrelated; our competitive way of life makes us feel that our gains must come at the expense of others, just as their gains mean our loss. As Merton says, we don’t have possession of our hearts. They have been seized by concerns of self-preservation and self-enhancement, and by the maintenance of institutions which serve these ends. If we are to give our hearts we must get them back, and this is the first task in the spiritual life. . . .

But to be in possession of our hearts is not simply to be able to feel. Since heart is an image for our whole being, we must also be able to translate feelings into action, to work for the kingdom. And here is where Merton and the Christian tradition diverge again from Marx, who relied on the use of violence to overthrow the powers that be. In Marx’s mind, the contradictions of history led inevitably to violent confrontation, and only through the warfare of the oppressed against the oppressors could the classless society come to pass.

There is another theory of social action which also faces the contradictions of history and yet comes to a quite different conclusion. The theory of nonviolent change is committed to the notion that beyond every conflict there is a resolution, a synthesis, a common good, which will only be obscured by violence, but which will be revealed by patience, dialogue, careful and prayerful consideration” (28).

An example of such a non-violent possibility involves a recent situation. The Maui News reports in “NAACP seeks dialogue amid protests over Confederate flag” –  “An NAACP leader in the Virginia town where students have been suspended over wearing Confederate flag emblems to school commended the teens Friday for standing up for their beliefs, but said he doesn’t believe that they understand the pain that the symbol brings to African-Americans.

Alvin Humes, president of the NAACP chapter in Christiansburg, VA., said he supports the local high school’s decision to ban the flag and believes that the debate could be resolved if the school would bring both sides together to have a discussion about the meaning of the flag.

‘I wish that there was some kind of way that we really could have a dialogue with these kids . . . and try to explain to them what they’re doing is not exactly right because it hurts people in this community,’ he said “ (9/19/15, A9).

Such interaction would help bring the community together.

Merton — and Pope Francis — would approve of such an attempt at understanding – of moving heart into action.

Aloha, Renée


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About reneeriley

Our blog was begun as a way to share our experiences in China. From August 2010 to July 2011, my husband, Barry Kristel, and I were at our University of Hawaii Maui College sister school, Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University in Lin'an, China, a city considered rural because it has only 500,000 people! We had a wonderful time. Then in February 2012, we returned to teach this time at our other sister school, Shanghai Normal University, in a city of over 21 million people. We've made many discoveries. Did you know that now Chinese girls, at least the ones who go to university, for the most part feel they are luckier than the Chinese boys? Did you know that Shanghai saved over 20,000 European Jews during WWII? Do you know how Chinese university students would deal with problems that come up in Dear Abby letters? What's it like to be on the Great Wall of China? Do you know how many Chinese girls had their feet bound and why? And we have recipes from many of the places we've visited. Among others, you can find instructions on how to fry cicadas from one of my ZAFU students and how to make chocolate-Kahlua waffles from my brother Mike in Gainesville. You can also look back to our earliest entry to see what we experienced in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2006 during the mainly peaceful six months of protest until the Mexican government sent in the troops. Between our stays in China, Barry and I have been on the Mainland U.S. visiting family, friends and Servas hosts as we traveled home to Maui. We share those experiences too. Welcome to our blog! Aloha and Zài Jiàn, Renée and Barry

4 responses to “Thomas Merton and Pope Francis”

  1. Rosita says :

    Great post! I learn much more with my dogs than in one day at the classroom 🙂 I’m Christian, but I believe in karma and I also believe that dogs can guide good persons to the Heaven, so, I have traits of other religions and respect I them, I learned tolerance and compassion much more with my dogs than with persons, because people can (and will) judge you by your acts and sometimes no give you a second chance, but my dogs always helped me when I was needing. My life is crazy, very crazy, since I was a baby. I survived two lethals hospitalar bacterias, so, I had to take a medication who caused my auditive deficiency, I had meningitis when I was one-years-old, but I DON’T had sequelae, I also had chikungunya last year, and it let me lame, I had to walk bent, like an old woman, but, now, I’m cured. I also had dengue twice this year, but it wasn’t a big matter for me. I survived so many things, life is harsh with me, and sometimes I can be very harsh and commit wrong things, as I made it in a recent past, but, in general, I’m a good person. And my childhood wasn’t not all a nightmare, if you’re thinking it. I had so much good moments, specially with Blackie, my beloved pug 🙂 I was a feminine version of Mowgli’s story hahaha and I used to climb mango trees and run to the beach, where it had lots of mangy, probably rabid dogs, all of them begging for food. I have a funny story about one of these dogs 🙂 I adopted (during some hours) one white puppy, until the owner appeared, and I was crying so much for don’t take my puppy. I also gave a name for it, but I don’t remember now what was. But the owner took it 😦 because it wasn’t an abandoned puppy, it was only a “communitarian dog”, a dog who belongs to a place, but still free-roaming an area, like dogs in Bali. I also loved (and still love!) the jasmine smell, because it remember me of my idyllic childhood at a small seaside city. It wasn’t glamour or richness, but it was my city. I would never return to that city because it changed so much in these years 😦 it’s sad, but… Now, it is being more and more violent, and when I was a child, it was a paradise (for me, at least), without violence, only tranquility – I remember that I used to sleep in a hammock (I don’t like sleep at the bed) with open doors, because violence was minimal. I remember that I used to wear a sarong (it’s a specie of skirt), t-shirt and a pair of flip-flops and go to the beach, without fears, without traumas, free like all child in the world have to be. Oh, that idyllic childhood… So, I conclude that life can be very harsh with me, but she can be very sweet and proportionate unforgettable moments – in the good side. And how about your childhood?

  2. reneeriley says :

    Hi Rosita: The Hindus say that there are many paths to the top of the mountain, ‎Ignatius of Loyola – the founder of the Jesuits – said to find God where you are, so your finding the way to Heaven through your dogs seems possible. I’m glad you have good dogs to share your life.

    You’ve certainly had a challenging health history. Are you finding good ways to build your immune system now? I’m hoping for good health for you in the future.

    And wearing a sarong, t-shirt, and flip-flops is usual attire for many here in Hawaii. You would fit right in with those on the beach.

    Your childhood (except for bad health at times) sounds wonderful. That mixture of smooth and hard parts of our lives create who we become. If everything had been smooth for me, I might not know now how blessed I am. Aloha,

  3. Rosita says :

    Of course! It’s true, obviously.

  4. Rosita says :

    I have a holistic, natural way of living: I don’t eat bovine meat neither pork, because I don’t like how it tastes neither animal cruelty, because these animals suffer a lot at the hour of die. I believe that a person who kills intentionally an animal have a bad karma. I would never eat dog or feline meat, but I know that some countries practice it, as Thailand, China, Vietnam, Indonesia, but I believe that can be much more. How sad! 😦 weh, as I said, I don’t eat bovine meat neither pork, only chicken, fishes, rice and fruits (I love a fruit called mangosteen) 😋😋😋😋 so, with a very natural way of living, I’m a healthy person. I don’t walk my dogs, they don’t use collars, because local dogs need to be free, and Bali moved now to a local kampung, so, she have more liberty than in an apartment, and I visit she at the weekends 🙂 she’s being more and more beautiful, with a thick white coat, and she know the meaning of freedom, always running and playing with children in the kampung. I sometimes walk she, without collars, and I trained Bali to sit and stay. Obviously, she’s a very smart dog. I think that those walks with Bali are a way of improve healthy – for me and for she -. And you? What you’re doing by your healthy?

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