March 2022: Book Review
Reviewer: Mary Adamson
Rediscovering Thomas Merton
Bishop Fintan Monahan
Veritas Publications, 2020
978 1 84730 970 9
120 pp • €9.99/£8.99
Thomas Merton remains a source of spiritual inspiration and a guide for many people – he opened new horizons for souls and for the church. Pope Francis (2015)
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.
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RETURN TO ME WITH ALL YOUR HEART
Daily Reflections for Lent
Veritas Publications, 2020
978 1 84730 951 8
125 pp • €7.99/£7.20
Beginning the penitent journey on Ash Wednesday and ending with the celebration of the Risen Christ on Easter Sunday, this compact book is a practical resource for personal or communal prayer during the entire Lenten season. Mirroring Pope Francis’s 2021 Lenten exhortation, ‘The call to experience Lent as a journey of conversion, prayer and sharing of our goods, helps us … to revive the faith that comes from the living Christ, the hope inspired by the breath of the Holy Spirit and the love flowing from the merciful heart of the Father’, the stated goal of Return to Me with All your Heart is to help the reader ‘to reflect, to pray and to deepen your personal relationship with Jesus Christ’ (p.6).
In the succinct introductory chapter, Gerard Gallagher, a pastoral co-ordinator in the Archdiocese of Dublin, invites readers to develop a closer relationship with God during this season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Recommending the creation of a personal sacred space and providing helpful strategies for optimal participation in daily prayer, the author gently guides us towards heightening our Lenten prayer practice in a way that is accessible, engaging, and meaningful to daily life.
The daily reflections are based on scripture passages and track the readings of Year A; however, this well-signposted pathway through Lent can also be followed during years B and C. Each weekly chapter is prefaced by inspiring quotations from an eclectic array of spiritual leaders and commentators (Pope Francis, Oscar Romero, St Philip Neri, John O’Donoghue, Fr Tony Coote, Chiara Lubich, Frank Duff and many venerable others) and follows a standardised format of Read, Reflect, Respond. As the daily themes are analysed and glossed with a thought-provoking range of biblical, theological, literary and indeed, popular cultural references, the ordinary reader can become spiritually uplifted and engaged by this book without feeling disadvantaged, in any way, by the lack of a theological or biblical education.
Suitable for both Lenten private prayer and group discussions, Return to Me with All your Heart suggests many ways to apply prayer, fasting, and almsgiving in our own lives and ensures that we will reach Easter truly prepared for the great Alleluia!
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