Brothers and sisters, faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen. (HEB 11:1)
This overarching theme for the day has many strands, just as each of us has our own stories of faith stretching back over our lives. I smiled when I saw that the saint of the day in the Roman Catholic Church is St. John Bosco, the educator from the 1800’s who founded the Salesians, a religious community that follows the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. John Bosco was dedicated not only to the classical education of children but to teaching trades like shoemaking, tailoring and publishing. His goal was to “unite the spiritual life with one’s work, study and play.” I knew nothing of John Bosco’s life when I was in school except that he was the patron saint of students. The nuns urged us to pray to him as end-of-year exams approached and I know I credited him with much of my success in those most challenging moments throughout my school career. Faith was simpler back then and it was helpful to believe in the power of such a patron to give a boost to our competence.
Faith was a growing thing as well to Thomas Merton, one of the most prolific spiritual writers of the 20th century who was born 100 years ago today. Merton was a convert to Catholicism in his 20s and his desire for God continued to accelerate and be expressed in his books, essays and poetry as he lived a monastic life from 1941 until his untimely death on December 10, 1968. Deep contemplation had led him to study and write on issues of social justice and ecumenism as integral to the spiritual life. His spiritual quest led him to the East, to a great friendship with the Dalai Lama and others, and was culminated in an interfaith conference in Thailand where he died at age 53. We celebrate Thomas Merton today and all during this centennial year for his contribution to the legacy of faith that informs our own spiritual journey. Here is what he said to me this morning:
This is what it means to seek God perfectly: to have a will that is always ready to fold back within itself and draw all the powers of the soul down from its deepest center to rest in silent expectancy for the coming of God. Poised in tranquil and effortless concentration upon the point of my dependence on Him, to gather all that I am and have, all that I possibly can suffer or do or be, and abandon them all to God in the resignation of a perfect love and blind faith and pure trust in God, to do His will. (New Seeds of Contemplation, 44-46, excerpted)