Fr. Collins explores Thomas Merton’s ‘uncensored mind’ in newly released book
Reviewed by Matthew Vander Vennet
The many writings of Trappist monk Thomas Merton show a man not afraid to pursue Truth no matter where it may lead. When Merton discovered the Truth in the person of Jesus Christ, it consumed the rest of his life and he was always open to the Holy Spirit as he sought to reach the object of his longing. His total commitment to the quest for Truth and his desire for true communion with God can be gleaned from the many writings and letters he left behind.
Father Patrick W. Collins, Ph.D., a priest of the Diocese of Peoria and Merton scholar, has recently released a book titled “A Focus on Truth: Thomas Merton’s Uncensored Mind.” Throughout Merton’s life, his published works were heavily censored both by himself and his religious superiors. His letters to various contacts over many years, however, are rawer and reveal the state of his thought on issues, subjects, and other matters close to his heart and mind at various points in his life. These letters shed light on the growth and change that Merton experienced up to his death in 1968.
For anyone interested in Thomas Merton, Father Collins’ work is a necessary addition to your library.
Father Collins selected letters from a variety of collections of published sources of Merton’s letters and arranged them by topic over 10 chapters. Within each chapter, the selections from the various letters are organized chronologically. By arranging the selections in such a way, Father Collins allows the reader to experience the evolution of Merton’s mind on his quest for Truth as it developed.
The chronological arrangement is truly one of the strengths of the book. With each selection, Thomas Merton is revealed in greater depth as well as the vicissitudes of the unique time period, the early to mid-twentieth century, which encompassed his life.
SHOWS DEPTH OF MERTON’S THOUGHT
Another strength of the book is the commentary and contextualization that Father Collins provides both as he introduces a chapter and as he explains the selections thereafter. This is done in such a manner that the focus remains on Thomas Merton’s words to his correspondents. A book titled “Thomas Merton’s Uncensored Mind” should focus on the words of that uncensored mind, and this is deftly accomplished by Father Collins.
There are chapters dedicated to Merton’s thoughts on truth and conscience, spirituality, Church authority, interreligious dialogue, and monastic renewal to name only a few. Merton even wrote to various popes and some selections from those letters are included.
One particular letter to Pope Paul VI in 1964 outlines what his thoughts on monastic renewal included: “In a word, we monks wish to assure Your Holiness of our deep sense of our need for a monastic renewal in deeper poverty, simplicity, solitude and prayer, which will at the same time give meaning to those contacts which we do and should have with intellectuals (Christian and otherwise) and with those interested in ecumenism, as well as with the ordinary faithful.” (p. 159)
Even a short sentence in a letter (to a pope, no less!) shows the depth of Merton’s thought and consideration on a particular subject matter occupying his mind. An entire seminar could be conducted on this quote, let alone any other quote contained within the work. Of course, the book contains many more such quotes that showcase Merton’s thought at a particular time. Reading through even a smattering of chapters within this book gives greater insight into Merton’s mind, although it is highly recommended to read the entire book.
LEAVES READER WANTING MORE
The greatest gift Father Collins’ work gives is that it leaves a reader wanting more on its subject. I would like to see further works by Father Collins or others in the same vein. I thought I knew Merton, but this volume showed that I have much more to discover about him and his thought. I found myself inspired to search out other works about him to continue to understand him better.
Thomas Merton was a man in search of Truth. Why did he seek to continually expand and develop his own thought and understanding? For love. For the love of the Truth, wherever it may lead. For anyone interested in Thomas Merton, Father Collins’ work is a necessary addition to your library.
ABOUT THE BOOK’S AUTHOR
Father Patrick Collins is a senior priest of the Diocese of Peoria now residing in Michigan. An author, preacher, musician, and former university professor, he served in campus ministry at Bradley University, as director of the diocesan Office of Christian Worship and Music, as rector of St. Mary’s Cathedral, and as chairman of Diocesan Synod Six Preparatory Commission. He was also director of campus ministry at The Catholic University of America.
In addition to numerous books and articles, Father Collins has produced 45 television programs and a number of videos, among them “Thomas Merton: Man, Monk, Myth with Music.”
STUDY GROUP ON MERTON FORMING
ROCK ISLAND — Benet House Retreat Center at St. Mary Monastery, 2200 88th Ave. West, is planning a group to study the life and writings of Trappist Father Thomas Merton. The group will meet on the third Monday of the month, from Sept. 20 through June 20, 2022 (with the exception of December). The meetings will take place from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. and will be led by Sister Bobbi Bussan, OSB. The fee is $15 per month. Benet House is a member of the International Merton Society. For more information or to register, contact Sister Jackie Walsh, OSB, at (309) 283-2108 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Matthew Vander Vennet is director of advancement and development at The High School of Saint Thomas More in Champaign and a member of The Catholic Post’s book review team.