Fifty years ago today – January 9, 1962 – the Trappist Monk Thomas Merton visited the Mother House of the Sisters of Loretto and spoke to a group of second-year novices. He reflected on the presence of Christ in their lives, about not waiting to “encounter Christ in the future,” but rather recognizing the encounter was taking place in the present moment – every moment of their lives.
“It is not that we are going to have Christ with us tomorrow; we have Him with us now. And it is because we have Him with us now that we will have him tomorrow, and not the other way around.”
Merton’s talk and his other associations with the Loretto sisters has been captured anew in a recent book, “Hidden in the Same Mystery: Thomas Merton and Loretto, by Bonnie Thurston, general editor, and Loretto Sister Mary Swain, editor. The book narrates the story of a special time church history and a special relationship that Merton had with the Lorettos and Sister Mary Luke Tobin.
Merton and Tobin first met in 1960. By several accounts the monk was immediately taken by Tobin, who he later described as an “energetic, bright, capable, warm and wonderful person.” It’s said that Merton found Tobin “not only an intellectual equal and a woman spiritually in sympathy with his vocation, but a fellow worker for justice and peace.”
That encounter led Merton to visit the Loretto House several times where he gave a series of talks and conference for the sisters. “But it was in private discussions of the two that each profited from the other,” writes Cistercian Father James Conner in the forward to the book.
This association became even more pronounced after Tobin returned from the final two sessions of the Second Vatican Council where she was one of the few women observers allowed to participate. Tobin shared with Merton material she had gathered at the council, material he went on to use in his own writings and in his own contacts with bishops and theologians.
Merton and Tobin, deeply committed pacifists and soul mates, followed closely what the council was putting forward on nuclear disarmament, an issue on which these two church giants were a generation or more ahead of other faith leaders. For his part, Merton invited Tobin to take part in two retreats he gave for contemplative sisters in 1967 and 1968. Those retreats, the contents of which appeared in the “Springs of Contemplation” in 1992, are the closest that Merton and Tobin came to actual collaboration in publication. Luke continued this collaboration after Merton’s death, by starting her Merton Center in Denver.
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The full scope of the unusual relationship between Tobin and Merton has now been brought together between the covers in “Hidden in the Same Mystery.” This compilation of talks and reflections shows Merton’s deep understanding of religious life and his particular affection for this particular community of sisters.
It’s worthy read – and for Merton and Tobin fans, a very important addition to their libraries.
You can order it on Amazon.
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