Thomas Merton, the namesake of the Thomas Merton Center, located in Pittsburgh, PA was both a prophet and an architect of peace and justice who wrote extensively about the power of forgiveness.
Merton explained “since conflict is inevitable, unity cannot be maintained except in great difficulty, with constantly renewed sacrifice, with lucid honesty, openness, humility, the readiness to ask forgiveness and to forgive.” (Seasons of Celebration, 1965)
When Nelson Mandela walked out of his Robben Island prison cell 27 years ago, he embodied the power of Merton’s writings on forgiveness.
For it was through sacrificing his own freedom that he created a path to peace for all of South Africa. In Mandela’s 1995 autobiography, The Long Walk to Freedom, he spoke to the great need to prepare for the hope of peace.
“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” For “resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies” and “the fight for freedom is meaningless without the hope of peace to look forward to.”
In our own local campaigns and struggles for peace and justice, we grapple with some of the same powerful emotions that Mandela confronted in his prison cell on Robbin Island.
We can choose to drink the poison of hate, or we can look deeper into our souls and cultivate the power to forgive and love.
In Pittsburgh, at the Thomas Merton Center, we work on campaigns that focus on critical issues that have the power to stir our own negative emotions, including the struggle to stop…
• American-designed drones that are killing innocents around the world in our name,
• County officials from poisoning our county parks to profit from fracking,
• UPMC/Duquesne University administrators from concentrating wealth in the hands of a few and not support the thousands of people that work in their institutions.
Mandela and Merton show us that if we are to achieve peace and justice in our lifetimes, it will require more than an unrelenting determination to surface everyday inequality and oppression, it will require an inner and more personal struggle to choose love and forgiveness over hate and resentment.
It will require the rare ability to unite around the hope for peace in the spirit of humility.
Mandela’s and Merton’s steadfast commitment to living a life of peace, nonviolence, and justice, exemplified their great love of humanity.Merton’s epiphany at the corner of Fourth and Walnut Streets in Louisville continues to resonate and attracts fellow nonviolent activists much louder than tomes of resentment and retribution.Merton said, “I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race … there is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.” (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander)
If we are to struggle for justice, let us choose to do it in the spirit of love and forgiveness, as Nelson Mandela and Thomas Merton taught us. Let us thirst for a long-lasting peace, where no one is a stranger, and all are “shining like the sun.” Where everyone is loved and no one carries the negative emotions of retribution and revenge.
In this way we will be free from our own human imperfections and create a world that can actively strive
for peace through love, hope, and the power of forgiveness.