Thursday, November 11, 2010

Book Review: Compassionate Fire

My mother always told me that great things come in small packages. I have to agree with that statement, especially regarding the recent publication of the letters between Catherine de Hueck Doherty and Thomas Merton called Compassionate Fire: The Letters of Thomas Merton and Catherine de Hueck Doherty (Ave Maria Press, 2010). The book is only about 110 pages, you could easily read it in one sitting. However, don't let this small volume fool you, it contains a lifetime of "food for thought" on the Christian journey.

Much could be said about either of these two people and much has been written by them and about them too. Needless to say Ave Maria Press wanted to share some of the more personal and intimate lives with readers who are seeking truth and some guidance in the spiritual journey. Both Merton and Doherty struggled with their inner demons and temptations, after all who doesn't? Doherty started work setting up her Madonna House and Friendship House in Harlem as a way to live with the mostly African American community there which was poor, hungry, and often left without much assistance. Doherty received support from her longtime friend Dorothy Day who also corresponded with Doherty as well after Doherty moved to Canada.

Merton of course struggled as a monk. As a Trappist he took a vow of silence yet was encouraged to write, an ironic fact in his life that this "silent monk" as Doherty says was called to write volumes about life in God. Merton fought with his superiors and the Vatican censors as well as his own temptations as well. It is also ironic that Brother Louis as he was called in the monastery was buried next to the Abbot Fox in the Gethsameni Monastery cemetery.

The letters are not profound, the reader will not learn anything "new" in them. What you will find are two Christian pilgrims seeking some way towards clarity and integrity in corrupt Church and world. Yes, both Merton and Doherty struggled with the human side of the Church, Merton with his censors and Abbot General and Doherty with the Vatican. Many times she applied for her Madonna House to be a full Apostolate and was turned down. She never gave up. The letters reveal the joys and sorrows, the troubles and tribulations of living a life in community.

Go and read Compassionate Fire, you won't be disappointed.