I won’t lie; my relationship with the work of Thomas Merton has gone through many stages the past 10 years. I was first exposed to him when I was coming back into the Church, and I liked him because of his openness to East Asian religions. As I began to embrace both the work and pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI, I began to move towards more traditional works of the Catholic tradition, and slowly Thomas Merton began to fade into the background. Then, I found myself connecting with many good people within Monastic, Religious, and Diocesan life who held his work in suspicion.
While I never fully rejected Thomas Merton, I had developed a certain caution that was mostly the result of these influences on my life. I have to be honest with you; Pope Francis has certainly called me to reconsider the work of Thomas Merton. In addition, the aspect of his work that Pope Francis most holds up is his willingness to enter into dialogue with other religions. The fascinating thing is that Merton’s affinity for interreligious dialogue was precisely that aspect of his work which was most called into question.
The Pope has held up dialogue as the path towards a renewed evangelization. If you are familiar with my website, you may have noticed that I have written many articles connected with interreligious dialogue, and in the spirit of Francis, I will continue to do so. However, dialogue is both an invitation to listen and learn from the other while simultaneously proclaiming him in whom we move and have our being. Inspired by love of neighbor, we must listen and encounter the other; inspired by our love of Jesus Christ, we must proclaim the Gospel.
This is the path of evangelization that Pope Francis is calling us to live. We must be zealous for what he calls a “culture of encounter” where we seek to discover Christ in all people and in all situations. Opening our hearts to Christ allows us to move in the living vitality of the Holy Spirit, and this vitality allows for him to use us as instruments of healing and transformation.
Today, let us embrace that beauty which is renewed in each generation. Let us allow the Holy Spirit to possess our hearts with complete abandonment, and let us allow that dialogue with God to be the foundation for our dialogue with our neighbor!