Today is the anniversary of two events.
Sixty years ago today on December 10, 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The UDHR was "the first global expression of rights to which all human beings are inherently entitled." (The U.N. has a special Website for the anniversary.)
Forty years ago today on December 10, 1968, Thomas Merton died. Merton, known as Father Louis, O.C.S.O. at the Abby of Gethsemani in Kentucky, was one of the great spiritual writers of the 20th Century. The coincidence is interesting. I am sure that Merton did think a great deal about human rights. He lived, after all, during the most active years of the civil rights movement.
But, in addition to human rights, Merton was very concerned about the human condition itself. He struggled mightily with the question of what is the best way to spend a human life (in solitude? in action?) -- and how we are to be in right relationship with God. This passage in Merton's 1961 book "New Seeds of Contemplation" illustrates a bit of this thinking:
The secret of interior peace is detachment. Recollection is impossible for the man who is dominated by all the confused and changing desires of his own will. And even if those desires reach out for the good things of the interior life, for recollection, for peace, for the pleasures of prayer, if they are no more than the natural and selfish desires they will make recollection difficult and even impossible. You will never be able to have interior peace and recollection unless you are detached even from the desire of peace and recollection. You will never be able to pray perfectly until you are detached from the pleasures of prayer. If you give up all these desires and seek one thing only, God's will, he will grant you recollection and peace in the middle of labor and conflict and trial.Deacon Greg and Rocco and The Anchoress and NCR and even the Huffington Post also remembered the Merton anniversary. Busted Halo has two pieces to mark the day: an essay by Fr. Jim Martin, S.J., and an interview with the director of a new documentary on the Trappist. Here is a clip from the documentary: