A Unitarian minister will offer reflections on the life of the Catholic monk and writer Thomas Merton on Tues. Jan. 31 at 7 p.m. in East Liberty Presbyterian Church.
This ecumenical and interfaith event will kick off a year-long celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Thomas Merton Center, a local activist group dedicated to peace and social justice.
Despite his vow of silence, Father Merton became famous in the wake of World War II for his spiritual memoir, The Seven Storey Mountain. It detailed his progression from a careless, highly secular unbeliever through his conversion to Catholicism and his entrance into a Trappist monastery just after Pearl Harbor. The book became a bestseller, and was responsible for many conversions to Catholicism in the post-war years.
He continued to write, turning his reflections to social justice and opposition to the war in Vietnam. Some Catholics were deeply disturbed by his exploration of commonalities between Catholic and Buddhist monastic practices. He died in an electrical accident in 1968, while attending a conference in Thailand for Catholic and Buddhist monks.
Four years later, the Thomas Merton Center took his name. The center isn't Catholic, but drew
inspiration from his writings. Over the decades the center gave birth to the local chapter of Amnesty International, Jubilee Kitchen and the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank. It has led non-violent protests against all wars and has advocated for racial equality, gay rights, labor and human rights. Its current priorities are economic justice, the environment, peace and prisoners’ rights.
The talk to be presented on Tuesday at 7 p.m. is “A Prophet in the Monastery: Why Thomas Merton’s radical social vision still inspires.”
The speaker is the Rev. Art McDonald, currently pastor of a Unitarian-Universalist Church in Massachusetts, but formerly a minister in Pittsburgh and a former staff organizer for the Merton Center.