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Posted September 25, 2014

Book: The Franciscan Heart of Thomas Merton
Author: Daniel P. Horan, O.F.M.
Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame, IN. 2014. Pp. 260

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

Daniel Horan, O.F.M., popular author and Merton expert explores the two figures' spiritual lives and their role as models of Christian living through shared theological styles of reflection, openness to other faiths, devotion to peace, and view of God. Horan explains that both before and after Merton became a Trappist monk, the Franciscan tradition played a major role in his life.

Horan writes, "In their own times and in their own ways, Francis and Merton both struggled to discover God who lovingly brought each into existence and continued to personally relate to all parts of creation. Our time is different from theirs, and each generation has its own challenges to faith and human flourishing. But the Christian insight of these two spiritual giants offers us a beacon of light and safety in what can often seem like chaotic darkness.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Evangelical poverty was indeed the telos or continual goal of Francis's experience of conversion, even if he didn't quite understand it at the start. The contemporary liberation theologian Gustavo Gutierrez has written a lot about what moving more toward living a life of evangelical poverty in solidarity with the marginalized of our world could look like. He believes that we can recognize a general, three-stage process of conversion toward this way of Gospel life in classic historical figures such as Francis of Assisi. But this outline also applies in our own attempts to live more authentically our baptismal vocation to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. Gutierrez says that his takes place in the following ways, moving from one to another:

1. Engagement with specific actions

2. Changes in style of life

3. A break with one's social class

This dynamic process occurs over time, and Gutierrez draws on the preeminent model of self-emptying, the kenosis of God in the Incarnation, as the starting point for reflecting on what it means to move toward evangelical poverty and solidarity. He explains:

Poverty is an act of love and liberation. It has a redemptive value. If the ultimate cause of human exploitation and alienation is selfishness, the deepest reason for voluntary poverty is love of neighbor. Christian poverty has meaning only as a commitment of solidarity with the poor, with those who suffer misery and injustice. The commitment is to witness to the evil which has resulted from sin and is a breach of communion. It is not a question of idealizing poverty, but rather of taking it on as it is --- an evil --- to protest against it and to struggle to abolish it. As Ricouer says, you cannot really be with the poor unless you are struggling against poverty. Because of this solidarity --- which one must manifest itself in specific action, a style of life, a break with one's social class --- one can also help the poor and exploited to become aware of their exploitation and seek liberation from it.

As Gutierrez notes well, solidarity is a comprehensive and integrated stance in the world. Unlike service work or charity (as popularly conceived), solidarity requires "specific action, a style of life, a break with one's social class." It is perhaps unreasonable to expect most Christians to so radically adopt a position of solidarity and a life of evangelical poverty in short order, but it is not beyond their capacity to begin to reimagine what a morally just and particularly Christian life might look like and then work in ways to make that commitment an ever-more concrete reality. These features of solidarity highlighted by Gutierrez resound in the life experience of Francis of Assisi.

Table of Contents:

Part 1 Two kindred hearts

Chapter 1

The medieval mendicant: Francis of Assisi

Chapter 2

The modern monk: Thomas Merton

Part 2 Franciscan foundations

Chapter 3

The rise and fall of a vocation

Chapter 4

A Franciscan in blue jeans

Part 3 Reflections on faith

Chapter 5

The "true self" getting to the heart of Merton's most famous insight

Chapter 6

The general dance: Franciscan Christology and the Christ of Thomas Merton

Chapter 7

Paradise consciousness: modern spirituality of creation in a Franciscan key

Part 4

Chapter 8

Seeing the world as it really is: prophecy at the heart of the Christian vocation

Chapter 9

No longer strangers: Thomas Merton and Franciscan interreligious dialogue

Chapter 10

Becoming instruments of peace: how Francis and Merton challenge us to live today


Finding Francis in unlikely places