Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, scholar, writer and activist who died in 1968, continues to inspire and influence people around the world — he was one of the four significant U.S. Americans cited by Pope Francis during his address to the U.S. Congress in 2015 (in addition to Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Dorothy Day).

Leslye Colvin, policy advocate with the National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, has a particular affinity for Merton, which she shared during her workshop, “Thomas Merton: A model of unbinding,” during the Pax Christi USA 50th anniversary national conference in August. (Watch a video of Leslye’s workshop here on YouTube.)

In the October 2022 issue of U.S. Catholic magazine, Leslye has written Discovering the anti-racism of Thomas Merton, a beautiful reflection on how Merton’s commitment to justice and dialogue have influenced her.

People born with white bodies do not inherently embody the behaviors and beliefs of their societies. Just as toddlers begin using the word no as an expression of their individuality, the young observe acts of omission and commission and the responses of others. These are normal practices of human development. What is abnormal is how those responses teach them to ignore injustices endured by people of color. Not acknowledging these injustices, they go on whitewashing truth and denying the privilege afforded them because of their whiteness.

Merton was born in a white body. Yet he was not confined by it. He acknowledged racial injustice and spoke boldly against it, moving beyond his privilege to embrace people in Black bodies and their arguments against white supremacy. He stood with African Americans in questioning the “certitudes of their time.” In doing so, he literally put his well-being and life on the line—in the United States and in the Catholic Church. How had I not known this important aspect of who Merton was? Who celebrates this Merton?

I was born in a Black female body on what was once land of the Muscogee, 10 miles from an Army base named in honor of a secessionist. The time was just before the 1960s, the decade remembered for its questioning of certitudes about class, gender, and race. My birth was preceded by the end of World War II; the Montgomery bus boycott; Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas; the murder of Emmett Till; and the beginning of the Vietnam War. Each of these resulted from and led to more questioning.

Use this link to read the article in its entirety: Discovering the anti-racism of Thomas Merton.

2 thoughts on “Discovering the anti-racism of Thomas Merton

  1. This is an excellent article that resonates deeply within me.As a woman of color myself, I can well relate to Leslye Colvin’s views.We have to do whatever we can at every opportunity to speak out against racism and to take steps to eradicate it., both individually and collectively. Silence can never be an option in the face of such injustice. Thomas Merton remains for me one of the most significant spiritual writers of our time.. His courageous views and actions against racism are well documented in his work He was in many ways a man well-ahead of his time. His writings have helped me enormously ever since I first discovered him by chance in the mid 80s.I believe Pope Francis showed wise judgement when he selected him as one of four Outstanding Americans. The other three being, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King and Dorothy Day.

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