Tom and Dorothy
"What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves? This is the most important of all voyages of discovery, and without it, all the rest are not only useless, but disastrous."
"Don't call me a saint. I don't want to be dismissed so easily."
To the best of my knowledge, Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day never met. There is no mention of their meeting in Michael Mott's seven-hundred page biography of Merton, nor does Day mention anything about it in her memoirs. This is not terribly surprising; With very few exceptions, Merton did not venture outside the gates of Our Lady of Gethsemami monastery between the years 1941 and 1968, and only once during that period of years did he leave the state of Kentucky. Although they did exchange letters, their correspondence apparently was not voluminous.
But it is kind of strange to think that these two extraordinary people - who more than anyone else personified progressive Catholicism in the twentieth century - were virtual strangers to each other.
|Dorothy back in the day|
|Merton in the fifties|
She went out into the world as an activist; he withdrew into the walls of a monastery; she founded the Catholic Worker Newspaper, a publication dedicated to economic justice for the poor and the homeless (the meek) which, eighty-two years after its founding, still sells for a penny per copy; he wrote Seven Story Mountain, a 1948 autobiography which was a tonic for many in the post war era who had become spiritually jaded in the aftermath of the most barbaric war in the history of the human race; she smoked cigarettes; he loved beer. What they had in common - whether they realized it or not - was that they were two of the last century's great spiritual guides. Both of them hungered and thirsted for righteousness.
FUN FACT: Both Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day had files in J. Edgar Hoover's FBI. I love it!. To be perfectly blunt with you, I'm suspicious of anyone of note who lived in that era that wasn't on Hoover's shit list. Think about it: Martin Luther King, Charlie Chaplin, Eleanor Roosevelt, John Lennon - Tom and Dorothy are in pretty good company!
January 31 of this year marked the centennial of Merton's birth. He died on December 10, 1968 in Bangkok, Thailand, where he was attending an interfaith conference of Christian and non-Christian monks. He was electrocuted when he touched an electric fan with faulty wiring. He was fifty-three years old.
Dorothy Day died peacefully in her old age on November 29, 1980, at the age of eighty-three. The world press barely took notice of either of them when they passed into eternity.
On September 24, 2015, Pope Francis gently forced America and the world to take notice.
The Long Loneliness
by Dorothy Day
Seven Storey Mountain
by Thomas Merton
Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker
Thomas Merton 1915-1968
The last two are by yours truly. Not to toot my own horn but....