I stumbled on this sad and sobering testimony today in the America blog, In All Things, from a California undergraduate professor:
While reaching for examples to explain 20th century interpretations of salvation as the movement from inauthentic to authentic existence, I confidently asked how many in the room had read Thomas Merton, thinking I could invite a student to share what they’d learned from Merton that could illustrate the point at hand. Out of 33 students, zero hands went up. Then I asked, okay, how many had ever *heard* of Merton. Again, out of 33 students, with probably half (at least) coming from more or less Catholic backgrounds, *zero* hands went up.
Earlier in the class, when I mentioned a theological question my 2-year old daughter had asked, a young woman in the class asked if I had taken my daughter to Disney. (The answer is no.) In response, I asked the class how many of *them* had gone to Disney. A full 32 of 33 students raised animated hands.
(Vincent Miller, in reflections occasioned by his own young daughter, well characterizes the transition to Disney language in his excellent book Consuming Religion, where on page 6 he memorably (and critically) writes: “Gloria in Excelsis Deo! Hakuna Matata!”)
I left the lesson that day with a keen awareness for how much work must be done in entering the world of thought, emotion, and intuition of this post-post-Vatican II generation. And in bringing the worlds of thought, emotion, and intuition from other theological times and places into my students’ sensibilities. It seems to me a task both daunting and absolutely essential.
You’ll find no one who loves all things Disney more than Your Humble Blogger — my wife and I even own a timeshare on Disney property in Florida — but I’m also crazy for Merton. He was a guiding influence in my vocation (as he was for so many others a generation or two back). It pains me to see his influence beginning to disappear.
More young Catholics need to discover him, and learn from him. Before he disappears into the dusty vaults of pre-Vatican II history.