When we published Pilgrimage I got a sense that many people were seekers, looking for truth and God, but also wanting a better understanding of themselves. It was instructive to look at the various Christian pilgrimage sites that our author, Patrick McCaskey, discussed in the book. Our book covers many sites in a concise way that I don’t think most readers will find anyplace else. Pilgrimage is one of our Sports and Faith Series books.
It was also interesting to see how today’s young seekers like to get on their hiking boots and make the tough physical pilgrimages like the Way of Saint James. It seems natural that today’s young people, who spend so much time getting fit and healthy, would look to combine their pilgrimage journey with the old-fashion rigors that seekers experienced centuries ago all over Europe and beyond.
Some people, perhaps many, spend a lifetime seeking truth. The great Catholic author, Thomas Merton, was one of those.
I remember post-war practicing Catholics like my parents watching Bishop Sheen on television and reading the Seven Story Mountain by Thomas Merton. Merton’s story had a plot that was Saint Augustine like. Merton kept writing and seeking throughout his entire life. He found some peace in a Trappist Monastery, but he continued to write and communicate with his intellectual and literary world. One comical-yet-critical comment suggested that Merton had put down his every thought. He was certainly a prolific writer.
For Catholics after the war, Merton’s fascinating story helped assure them about their faith after the godless attacks by our enemies in World War II on the world. Here was a highly intelligent and gifted man who found truth in our faith after “looking in all the wrong places” for fulfillment. Seven Story Mountain was Merton’s conversion story. Unlike many conversions stories you hear today, Merton was a substantial sinner.
Merton also kept company with creative, artistic people.
Merton went from non-belief (as we used to say in the 70s) to becoming a Catholic and then a priest. After Merton was “turned down” by the Franciscans, he was accepted by the Trappists. While he was encouraged to keep writing, at first publication of The Seven Story Mountain had some glitches with his monastery review.
Merton is way too Catholic for some Christians although The Seven Story Mountain went on to sell millions and apparently still sells today. Merton’s continuous seeking also made some Catholics today uncomfortable, but Merton died as a Trappist (listen to Bishop Barron’s talk on him). Merton went on to write many books that inspired readers like No Man is an Island.
But the reason, I mention Merton in this post is that I believe his book is one that many of today’s young seekers would find interesting and instructive. I think I was about 30 when I read The Seven Story Mountain for the first time. I wanted to see what the excitement surrounding his legacy was at the time. For me the book was wonderful and I have gone back to it. Still, I am no scholar and can’t claim to understand all Merton’s words.
Merton writes about his impenetrable selfishness. I don’t think that problem is any less present today. My sense is that he was able to get past that and I think that is a lesson for today’s youth.