Merton at Hermitage. Used with Permission of the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center.

Thomas Merton was a groundbreaking leader who challenged the hypocrisies of our age and instead offered his meditations on the power of prayer, humility and grace.  With his impeccable literary skills, he wielded far-reaching influence despite, and perhaps because of, his vocation and life as a Trappist monk in remote Kentucky.

Despite a tumultuous upbringing and without any prior connection to religious persons or experiences, the Spirit somehow seized him during his college days at Columbia.  He underwent conversion to the Catholic faith and felt compelled, from then on, to devote his immense artistic energies and his very life to cooperate with his calling.  He is one of the most widely read spiritual masters of this era, illuminating the meaning of genuine freedom and solitude, seeing through the pretexts assembled by culture, including our own deceptions in living the religious life.

Merton’s influence has endured the test of time as he continues to inspire spiritual seekers of all ages. For earlier generations, Merton was an invigorating force in what may have been a stagnant conventional Catholic milieu. Traditional Catholics identified with Merton’s personal faith experience and found a voice that resonated with modern concerns while preserving the ancient wisdom of Catholicism.  For later generations, he responded to the ever-increasing contemporary desire to understand and connect with other world religions, while rediscovering one’s own faith traditions in the process.

Merton’s prophetic wisdom, articulated through his literary talent, speaks to the hearts of millions around the world, including Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama.  Although initially branded simply “an American Catholic writer”, the depth and range of his thought has been explored over time by succeeding generations apprehensive of the crisis of meaning in contemporary society and seeking to remove the obstacles to grace in their own lives.