For those who have never heard of Thomas Merton prior to the Pope mentioning his name, he is probably the most famous Trappist monk in history. The Trappists are not known for being worldly or famous since they live a cloistered life. The Seven Storey Mountain is Merton’s autobiography. It takes us on his life’s journey of being raised nearly agnostic, his finding of God, how the Catholic Church impacted him, his conversion, and ultimately his entry and life at the Trappist monastery in Gesthemani, Kentucky.
While reading the book I saw some parallels that both Merton and my wife have experienced. My wife Vicki is currently enrolled in our parish’s RCIA program as part of her conversion to the Catholic Church. Merton mentioned that he was drawn to the cultural aspects of the Church, i.e. the architecture, the art, the sense of sacredness. He felt this especially when he visited Rome as a young man. However, there was no real draw to the spirituality of the Church. Vicki too is/was drawn by the same culture. She likes visiting churches that “feel” like Catholic churches, especially those grand cathedrals we have visited in Europe. Unlike Merton, she always had an interest in the Church’s spirituality.
During Thomas’ conversion he experienced times of extreme soul-searching that shook him to his core; he felt his sinfulness and his desire for God. Vicki has made her own examination of conscience and it too shook her to her very core. She had many restless nights pondering past sinfulness and it scared her, but now she seems more at peace. When it comes time for her first Sacrament of Reconciliation, I’m confident she will be prepared to give a thorough and honest contrition to God because of her deep self-examination. (She quips that she might have to take flip charts to her confession!)
Once Merton decided to become a Catholic he could not get enough of God or the teachings of the Church. When he took his catechism classes he was eager to be baptized and receive the Sacraments. His prayer life increased. While discerning a priestly vocation it increased exponentially. Vicki’s prayer life has also increased. Her prayers began as a nightly ritual. At first she found it awkward because she was not sure how she should pray. But now prayer is a part of her daily life. The Mass has become more meaningful for her and the RCIA has given her a sense of understanding of what being a Catholic is about. Like Merton she is excited about this venture and she wants more. For both, the draw to the Church went from cultural to spiritual.
I read some of Merton’s experiences to Vicki and I could see her nodding her head in agreement. It was interesting to read about Thomas’ journey but it was even more so when I saw my wife’s own venture through the words of The Seven Storey Mountain. I encourage everyone to read the book. It will give cradle Catholics a perspective of what some converts may go through on their way to God and the Church. For converts, I encourage you to read it as well. Will you see any parallels in Merton’s spiritual venture with your own?
Copyright 2015 Michael T Carrillo