|Profiles in Courage is the 1955 Pulitzer Prize-winning volume of short biographies written by US President John F. Kennedy. The book describes acts of bravery and integrity by eight US Senators. As part of the Year of Faith, Veritas is proud to present Profiles in Faith, a series of essays on the life and work of twelve Christian men and women who lived their lives as ‘faith in action’. We encourage you to read the accounts, and to reflect on them over the course of the month. Additional biographical sources are also suggested, should you wish to find out more.
Profile One: Thomas Merton
Thomas Merton, monk, poet and spiritual writer, was born in Prades, France, on 31 January 1915. Merton converted to Roman Catholicism on 16 November 1938 while a student at Columbia University. Before long, on 10 December 1941, he decided to enter the Abbey of Gethsemani, a community of Cistercian monks of the Strict Observance, or Trappists. Trappists are devoted to communal prayer and spend at least four hours a day in chapel, chanting the praises of God. They also engage in private prayer and contemplation, study and manual labour. Apart from when special duties require otherwise, they are vowed not to speak except in praise of God. Thus, when not singing in chapel, they are silent.
Thomas Merton is also a widely read author and spiritual writer. His autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, has sold over one million copies and has been translated into at least fifteen languages. Merton stated that ‘there is no such thing as a kind of prayer in which you do absolutely nothing. If you are doing nothing you are not praying’.
Merton believed that race and peace were the two most urgent issues of our time. He was a strong supporter of the non-violent civil rights movement, which he referred to as ‘the greatest example of Christian faith in action in the social history of the United States’.
Toward the end of his life, Merton developed an interest in Buddhist and other Asian approaches to mysticism and contemplation, and to how they might enrich the prayer life of Christians. He died on 10 December 1968 after being accidentally electrocuted while attending an international conference on Christian and Buddhist monasticism in Bangkok, Thailand.
- What do you think Merton meant when he said, ‘There is no such thing as a kind of prayer in which you do absolutely nothing. If you are doing nothing you are not praying’?
- How would these words apply to your prayer life? To the prayer life of your parish?
Thomas Merton’s prayer
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
- How does this prayer speak to you?
- Is this a prayer you could incorporate into your own prayer life?