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Posted July 31, 2009

Book: Compassionate Fire: The Letters of Thomas Merton and Catherine de Hueck Doherty
Editor: Robert A. Wild
Ave Maria Press. Notre Dame, IN. 2009. Pp. 110

An Excerpt from the Book:

From Merton to Doherty: October 6, 1941

“There is one problem about lay vocations that interests me a lot, and it is obviously very important to Friendship House too: except that you probably have it all doped out to your satisfaction. I haven’t yet. The problem is this: where does Catholic Action stop and politics begin?

First of all, it seems to me that you yourself illustrate the proper balance between them. That is: Catholic Action, which is another word for Charity, that is Love, means, for one thing, feeding the poor, clothing the needy, and after that, saving souls. A person who is really interested in that must also necessarily be interested in certain political movements which tend to help feed the poor, clothe the needy, etc. Also, a person who is charitable, and loves the poor, realizes just how little pure political action, without any charity behind it, really means.”

From Doherty to Merton: October 14, 1941

“The next paragraphs of your letter really are touching on the inner core of the whole problem; and here is the answer as I see it. Catholic Action starts with YOURSELF. You have only one person to REFORM, and that is you. Then enters the supernatural, to which you haven’t allotted any place in your arguments as far as I can see. When one does work on oneself first, with only one thought in mind — to love God and save one’s soul (remember that one cannot prove one’s love for God unless one loves one’s neighbor — well, then, God enters into the picture and somehow brings other souls to you.

And you become a leader. (Leadership is never acquired or imposed. It is conferred by the group on one person whom they really feel and think can help them.) I am now speaking of Catholic and spiritual in Catholic Action only. That is why I am opposed to “schools or courses” for leadership. Taking a course in it DOES NOT MAKE ONE A LEADER. But reforming oneself for the love of God and neighbor, and for the salvation of one’s soul, DOES often make you a chosen leader.”

Table of Contents:

I. Letters: 1941-49

II. Letters: 1950-59

III. Letters: 1960-68

IV. Catherine’s talk on the occasion of Merton’s death



Selected Bibliography