We’ve spent the last six weeks reflecting on the scientific evidence, or “proof” for God, and trying to show that religious and scientific beliefs can be held in conjunction with one another. We’ve looked at Nobel Prize-winning scientists, researchers whose discoveries shaped the thinking of modern science, and even people who’ve dedicated their lives to teaching others about the intrinsic connections between science and religion. They all have one thing in common: their Catholic faith and belief in Christ.
In our new series, we’re going to explore the rational basis for our faith in Jesus (and why we believe what we believe about him). It’s going to give us the tools to talk about faith in different settings, and help us to share our beliefs with people around us who might not have the same religious background.
For these articles, we’ll explore the lives of people who converted to Christianity later in life, just like the man we’re going to talk about today. Born in France in 1915, Thomas Merton had a rather rambunctious youth. Reports from his peers note his love of being out at the club all night long and his less than enthusiastic engagement with schoolwork. He had to be bailed out of jail several times and even fathered a child outside of marriage.
But while studying at Columbia University in New York, where he had moved to study languages, he attended a Catholic Action meeting and began to feel inspired. He stumbled across the story of Gerard Manly Hopkins’ conversion to Catholicism (an English poet turned Jesuit priest), and could not shake the feeling that he was being called to do likewise.
Although he initially wanted to be a poet himself, Merton grew increasingly interested in Eastern religions. He eventually met and developed a great admiration for a Hindu monk named Mahanambrata Brahmachari. To his surprise, the monk told Merton that he should read more in the Christian tradition. He especially recommended Saint Augustine’s Confessions and Thomas à Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ, and insisted that he read them both.
Merton plunged into Catholicism and was baptized in 1938. In October of that same year, Merton told his closest friends of his desire to become a priest. In 1941, he arrived at the Abbey of Gethsemani, a community of Trappist monks, the most ascetic order of monks in Roman Catholicism.
Merton spent 27 years at the Abbey, where he wrote The Seven Storey Mountain, his critically-acclaimed, world-famous autobiography. He became especially interested in issues of religious tolerance, interfaith cooperation, and racial justice. The Dalai Lama said that Merton had the most profound understanding of Buddhism of any Christian he’d ever met. Active in his support of the Civil Rights movement, Merton was called “the greatest example of Christian faith in action in the social history of the United States.” At the time of his death in 1968, Merton was one of the most prominent Catholic social teachers of all time.
Like many, Merton’s spiritual journey ultimately led him to Christ, where he rendered a true verdict in the “The Case for Christ.”
--Claire Kosewic, Staff Bulletin Writer
Saint Brendan Church in San Francisco. Check out our exciting featured news articles.