Oct. 7, 2015
By Father William Muench
I am still remembering each of the details of Pope Francis’ visit. There were so many magnificent events big and small, so many surprises big and small.
Today I want to share with you one of my favorite moments. During Pope Francis’ speech (really, a meditation) that he presented to the members of the Congress of our country. He listed four Americans that he considered exemplars of the call to freedom, dialogue and concern for the poor.
I am certain that all in the Congress, as well as all watching on television, recognized the first two – Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. These two individuals have been so truly important in the effort to bring freedom to all Americans.
Lincoln and King represent the efforts of a host of people throughout the history of our country who have worked so hard for the place of freedom for all. So we do honor both Lincoln and King and give them a place of home in our country.
Then the Pope added two outstanding Catholic saints – not canonized as yet – two who are not well known among many, even many Catholics.
Since that talk of Pope Francis, I often ask many if they know Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. I was saddened to discover that many knew nothing of them. Personally, I was thrilled that Pope Francis chose these two – I literally cheered in the quiet of my own living room as I watched on television.
These are two of my heroes. I know their stories – I have taught about them and their writings often – they have both had a real influence on my life.
Dorothy Day, born in 1897, dedicated herself in the 1930s to the establishment of the ministry of the Catholic Worker Movement, an effort to bring help to the poor and homeless as well as to nonviolence and peace.
Dorothy Day was so dedicated to this cause of the poor that she became a radical, often challenging even the bishops of our Church. Dorothy Day was a true supporter of the Second Vatican Council; she hoped the Council would elevate the Catholic Church’s efforts to oppose war – especially nuclear war – and call all Catholics to work harder to help the poor.
Then Thomas Merton – truly a patron for personally – had a profound influence on my own vocation.
I read his bestselling autobiography, “The Seven Story Mountain,” when I was in high school. It was a powerful time for me. He described how he had decided to convert to the Catholic Church after a rather raucous youth.
He then decided to enter the monastery, a Trappist Monastery – not to hide away – but rather to reach so many of us with his writings and poems. He continued to write in the monastery especially with his call to bring peace to our world and to nonviolence and his call to dialogue with all others of faith, whatever faith they follow.
Pope Francis said this about Thomas Merton:
Thomas Merton’s writings continue to be excellent meditations on life and religion. Merton died in a sad accident in 1968 when he was just 51 years old.
I encourage you – I insist that all of you – investigate the writings of Thomas Merton, especially if you have never read his writings. Go to the library, you will find so much to truly strengthen and enliven your spiritual life.
They both have had such a profound influence in my life. I am a better person because of the writings and teachings of Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. I never met either of them – but I feel I knew them well.
Pope Francis ended this part of his talk by saying: “Three sons and a daughter of this land, four individuals and four dreams: Lincoln, liberty; Martin Luther King, Liberty in plurality and non-exclusion; Dorothy Day, social justice and the rights of persons; and Thomas Merton, the capacity for dialogue and openness to God.”