Peace Smiles: Rediscovering Thomas Merton
Publisher: Veritas Publications
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Peace Smiles traces Thomas Merton’s fascinating and sometimes troubled life from a disrupted childhood and rather turbulent adolescence, to his conversion to Roman Catholicism, his ordination in 1949 and his life in the Trappist Monastery of Gethsemani. It was there that Merton’s prophetic voice began to emerge. Bishop Monahan explores Merton as artist, social critic and ecumenist, his anti-war and anti-racism stances until his untimely death at the age of fifty-three.
Bishop Monahan shows us, above all, that a profound hope breathes within Merton’s writing that we too can find our way home by remaining authentic and true to ourselves. This quest for authenticity and truth became a life-long search for Merton.
In this accomplished analysis of the life, times and extraordinary achievements of Thomas Merton (1915-1968), Bishop Fintan Monahan reveals the complexities, contradictions and the sheer intellectual weight and spiritual depth in one of the most significant Catholic figures of modern times. Sub-titled Rediscovering Thomas Merton, the author, a self-confessed long-time admirer of the modern-day mystic, insightful spiritual writer and contemplative social critic, condenses the large volume of extant literature and commentary to a rich and palatable reduction. Thus, the reader is provided with a substantial entrée to the spirituality and the present-day relevance of this very complex man.
Reflecting a deep personal and scholarly familiarity with his subject matter in the judicious selection of extracts and exemplars from Merton’s vast corpus of work, Bishop Monahan guides us along a journey of discovery, dialogue and deliberation. Expertly synthesising academic integrity, spiritual discernment and friendly admiration, the author elucidates Merton’s multifaceted pre- and post-monastic life, his spiritual restlessness and his often turbulent interior struggles with the practiced ease of a consummate communicator. Lastly, in this comprehensive profile, the incisive writings on war and peace, racial justice and his outreach to Eastern thought are explored.
Traversing eight meticulously researched chapters, the reader encounters a balanced and exceptionally readable account of Merton’s life. Each chapter covers singular topics, including his early years, his conversion to Catholicism and becoming a monk, a critique of The Seven Storey Mountain and carefully curated insights and quotations from Merton’s own writings. Chapter 5, Navigating the Work, offers a well-organised overview of his literary and spiritual works which will inform the uninitiated whilst refreshing and revivifying devotees. Chapters 6 and 7 focus on the enduring relevance of Merton’s visionary thinking and writings which ‘resonate prophetically and with fresh significance’ (p. 83).
Providentially, in Peace Smiles, Bishop Monahan depicts Merton as the archetypal man for all seasons: his words ‘You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognise the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith, and hope’ are prescient – a fitting torch and a touchstone for the nascent synodal journey ahead.
Reviewer: Mary Adamson, Intercom, February 2022
About the Author
Fintan Monahan is the Catholic Bishop of Killaloe, based in Ennis, Co. Clare. His previous book, A Perfect Peace: Newman, Saint for Our Time, is published by Veritas Publications.