Day of Christian Contemplative Reflection with Jonathan Montaldo


Thomas Merton


An Annual Day of Christian Contemplative Reflection
with Jonathan Montaldo
 Saturday, June 11, 2016
from 9:00 a.m. –  4:15 p.m.
Holy Family Passionist Retreat Center, 303 Tunxis Road, West Hartford CT

LATEST NEWS – 4/21/2016

We’re delighted and very fortunate to have Jonathan Montaldo lead us in this 2016 Day of Christian Contemplative Reflection centered around Thomas Merton’s great mystical experience in Louisville on the corner of 4th and Walnut.


Join us for a day of Retreat, Prayer, Learning and Community to go deeper into Union with God and All Our Relations!

In a moment of light and contemplative union with God and all his neighbors, Thomas Merton’s 4th and Walnut experience has become central to understanding the expansiveness of his teaching on contemplative prayer. His written reflections on the depths of this experience, both in his private journals and in his revision (re-reflecting upon its wider implications) of this experience in Conjectures of A Guilty Bystander, will guide our prayer and dialogue during this one-day contemplative experience.

Jonathan Montaldo will present 3 teaching conferences during the course of this day which will be interspersed with Prayer, Silence and Community sharing.

  • Conference 1. “The Gate to Paradise is Everywhere” and “There are no strangers”: We are already One and the Body of Christ: Inspirations for our contemplative prayer from Thomas Merton’s “epiphany” on 4th and Walnut in Louisville.
  • Conference 2. Our humanity being transformed by and in divinity: Always stretching forward toward Christ in Thomas Merton’s spirituality informed by Saint Paul’s.
  • Conference 3. The figure of Sophia in Thomas Merton’s experience of praying contemplatively.


The current outline of the day is as follows::

8:15 – Doors open, check-in begins
9:00 – Check-in continues, Breakfast snacks available (30 mins)
9:30 – Introduction to the Day (10 mins)
9:40 – Conference 1 and Prayer Period (1 hr, 20 mins)
11:00 – Silent Break (15 mins)
11:15 – Conference 2 and Prayer Period (1 hr, 20 mins)
12:35 – Full Lunch and free time (with or without conversation) (1 hr, 25 mins)
2:00 – Conference 3 and Prayer Period (1 hr, 20 mins)

3:20 – Break (10 mins)
3:30 – Small Group Dialogue (30 min)
4:00 – End of Day Reflection and Closing Prayer (15 mins)


Fr. Sam Fuller, OFM Cap.

Sunday Vigil Mass will be celebrated by Fr. Sam Fuller OFM 4:30 p.m. in the Public Chapel.

Fr Sam is grateful for having discovered Centering Prayer in the early 1990’s which led to his reclaiming his Catholic faith and becoming a parishioner of a parish in mid-Coast Maine and eventual joining the Capuchins in 2000.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

An Engaging Faith: Jonathan Montaldo on Radio with Elizabeth Reardon


What a pleasure it was to have you on the show today! God bless you in your travels and journey in faith! Today’s show is now available on podcast at

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A HOLY JUBILEE YEAR OF MERCY–A Pilgrimage Retreat in Assisi, Italy

Assisi CathedralJoin a Pilgrimage Retreat to Assisi, Italy to celebrate the Jubilee Year of Mercy with the Lourdes Wellness Retreat Team, Marianne Hieb, RSM and Helen Owens, OSF, along with special guest presenter Jonathan Montaldo.

341fbe0f-c116-4554-9e8a-dec449ca87d1Abide in Assisi, Italy, during eight contemplative days that span the feasts of All Saints and the Holy Souls, encountering and exploring themes of Mercy in the life and writings of Saint Francis and Thomas Merton

–with Jonathan Montaldo, Merton scholar, writer and editor

–with Marianne Hieb, artist and art therapist

–with Helen Owens, wholistic nurse educator, former missionary, and health care minister.

Encounter the poetic prayers of Francis of Assisi, and the ancient wisdom of Italy’s sacred landscapes. Enter the spirit of the Jubilee Year, heeding the call of Pope Francis.

Our schedule is spacious. Group gatherings, prayer, silence, dialogue, and meditations are balanced with time for contemplative wandering, exploring Assisi’s winding streets and expansive vistas, her hidden alleyways and the Holy Doors of her great Basilicas.

Assisi fieldsOur retreat is hosted at Hotel Giotto, Via FonteBella, Assisi PG, near the Basilica of San Francesco, with stunning views of the Umbrian Valley. A delightful buffet breakfast and a typical Umbrian dinner served in the Hotel restaurant enhances our communal experience. Want a preview? Virtually visit Hotel Giotto online at

Retreat Fees:
Single occupancy: 7 nights with full program, half-day excursion to sacred Franciscan sites, two meals daily at Hotel Giotto: $2690.00

Shared occupancy: 7 nights with full program, half day excursion, two meals daily: $2,340

56e03e1b-8ef4-4553-83b5-29ec997e0e7aInterested in joining us? Contact Beverly Chabalowski at 856-757-3188 to obtain your registration form. Complete the form and submit your $500 deposit to secure your accommodations.

You will be able to pay online, send a check, or call in your credit card. Deposit due upon registration. Final payment due October 14, 2016. Payment plans available, please inquire.

Unable to attend the entire pilgrimage?

Join us for a RETREAT INTENSIVE October 31 – November 4, 2016
to celebrate the feasts of All Saints and the Holy Souls.

Single occupancy: $1550.00   Shared occupancy: $1350.00

Not included in retreat fees: Airfare, local travel from airport to Assisi, lunches, and personal gratuities. Travel Insurance is strongly encouraged.

For more in-depth program details or questions, contact Marianne Hieb and the Lourdes Spirituality and Creativity Program at 856-869-8190.

We are proud to offer this 7th Annual Assisi Retreat by Lourdes Wellness Services, 1049 Haddon Avenue, Collingswood, NJ 08108.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Retreat with the Benedictines of Norcia by Jonathan Montaldo

Norcia, Italy, Thursday, January 21

This is my third trip to Norcia. The two-hour bus ride from Assisi into the Sibylline Mountains toward the birthplace of the twins Saint Benedict and Saint Scholastica passed as peacefully as the calm I have enjoyed in Assisi, living in a small apartment since January 5th. I traveled to retreat with the Benedictine monks of Norcia, a community that only fifteen years ago had accepted the invitation of Spoleto’s bishop to re-inhabit the monastery connected to the Basilica of Saint Benedict. A monk of Saint Meinrad’s Abbey in Indiana, Cassian Folsom, a lover of Gregorian Chant and the traditional Latin Mass, had started his own small group in Rome in 1998. In the beginning they were only a few guys sharing an apartment and singing the Divine Office in a garage. Having accepted the Bishop’s invitation to Norcia in 2000, the community now numbers sixteen monks, ten of whom are Americans. They maintain a website

Talking briefly with a few of the Americans, I found them friendly enough. I imagine none among these young traditionalists are interested in Thomas Merton. Prior Cassian is the eldest at sixty. The average age of the others is thirty-three. In a video on their website, he notes the young can be a handful and that his community could use a few grandfathers. They sing Gregorian chant beautifully with masculine sobriety. I am staying in an apartment owned by the monks close by to the monastery.

I ate with the community in their refectory for the first time on Wednesday. They eat only one big meal a day at 3 P.M. (no flab in sight in that refectory until I walked into the room). In a ritual I like, and have experienced at visits to other Benedictine monasteries, we guests (there were only two of us newly visiting) placed our hands over a lavabo and the Prior poured warm water over them by way of our being welcomed (“Let all guests be received as Christ,” says Benedict’s Rule). The meal was vegetarian and carefully, almost professionally, prepared by Father Basil from Arizona: pasta and vegetables, lettuce and bread, good wine or a bottle of beer which the monks craft brew themselves and sell in their shop to keep their bodies together. The young monk I had come to know as Brother Evagrius was the reader during the meal. Monks don’t talk at meals but listen to a book being read. I could not eat and concentrate on the book he read in Italian at the same time.

I exchanged a few words with the Prior as I left the refectory. Cassian wanted more information about Peter Halldorf and his ecumenical community of Bjära-Säby in Sweden. I had stayed with them for seventeen days in December, wowed by everything and everyone I had experienced there. Cassian has a friend who is studying intentional communities that are apparently popping up everywhere. I sent him an email this afternoon at the coffee shop, my only source of wi-fi, with all the information I had gathered about this extraordinary Pentecostal monastic community.

What draws me back to Il Monastero di San Benedetto? I have visited Norcia twice before. In 2012, when I was studying Italian in Assisi, my friends in the Italian Merton Society drove me to Norcia for Sunday Mass at the monastery. I was slightly taken aback by the traditional Latin Mass, but moved by the quality of their Gregorian Chant. Staying on after Mass, I noticed a young monk making his “thanksgiving,” his hood up, his tall, slim body arching into a swoon, piously bent over a pew. Instinctively, I imagined myself jumping over the communion rail, slapping his face, and shaking him to “Snap out of it!” I saw myself in that kid: a boy trapped in fantasy land and here was I to save his day. I stayed in my pew of course. But the apparition of him struck me deeply. I committed the young monk and my over-reaction to memory.

I visited the Norcia Benedictines a second time in October, 2015. I had come to Assisi with Sisters Marianne Hieb (a Sister of Mercy) and Helen Owens (a Franciscan). We were presenting together at their fifth annual pilgrimage retreat in Assisi. The theme would honor Thomas Merton’s centenary in 2015 with a ten-day program ending All Souls Day. I suggested to Marianne and Helen that we offer the pilgrims a half-day trip to Norcia. Not only could the retreat group experience an Italian setting besides Assisi, but they would also be exposed to the kind of monastic community and liturgy that Merton entered at Gethsemani Abbey in the 1940s. I went in a separate car, again with Italian friends. The Italians and I arrived too late for Solemn High Mass. Standing in the main square before Saint Benedict’s basilica, some in the group looked dazed from their dose of the Latin Mass and a pre-Vatican II monastic culture. I rallied them back into the church. I had emailed the monastery in advance that we were coming, and a Brother Evagrius had replied that he would be happy to give us a talk after Mass.

I recognized immediately that Brother Evagrius was in fact the young monk whose face I had wanted to slap three years ago. He was straight out of monastic central casting: in his early 30’s he had a long black beard, clear eyes, the healthy complexion of a pink-cheeked farm boy. He was from Montana. After his well-practiced presentation to us in the basilica’s crypt, I asked him, begging his pardon were I intruding on his privacy, why he had come to the monastery. He told us he had had a girlfriend but that their relationship had not been enough for him. That’s the only detail of his story I remember. I was busy admiring his long slender hand that he rested upon his chest as he spoke. I wondered if he played piano.

Brother-Evagrius-2-389x300Two revelations descended on me that afternoon, during my second encounter with Brother Evagrius. When I entered the abbey church to look for him, something about the space “moved” me. I felt more deeply attracted to the wooden altar than I had remembered the first time I was in that church. I felt an attraction and a reverence welling up in me. And then, half-listening as Evagrius spoke to our group, I felt regret at my earlier cynicism on my first visit to Norcia. I had judged that this traditionalist monastic enterprise was a “re-enactment” of a monastic culture whose time had passed. To my mind these young monks were akin to guys dressing up in Confederate and Union uniforms and staging a replica of a Civil War battle. But now, in the presence of Evagrius, I felt how disappointed in myself I have always been that I left the Jesuits so young and did not become a priest. It was all I ever wanted to become since I was eleven years old and formed a society called the “Young Hopefuls.” We were five boys in grammar school who wanted to be priests and I was the founding president. One of us, a friend since second grade, is a priest today.

That evening back in Assisi, the retreat group met to speak of our reactions to the day. I made my confession about how my reaction to the monastic church and how Evagrius reminded me of the young man wanting to be loved by God that I had been. Evagrius allowed me to see my cynicism of the institutional church as a defense against my immaturely abandoning the only vocation I had ever wanted. I confessed to the group that, having just entered my seventies, I have the freedom to allow that pious young man, I once was, to openly love the monastic life. I can now stand back and allow myself to bend over in thanksgiving after Communion, as Evagrius had been bent over when I first saw him. Reacting to this tale, a woman among us (it had to be a woman) said she was hearing a word for me and wanted to say it in front of everyone. “The word I’m hearing is “re-appointment” and I think I’ve come to Assisi to give you this word.” She consoled me and sent me forth.

As soon as I rented an apartment in Assisi for January, I knew I would return to the Benedictines in Norcia “on retreat.” And while there again I found myself not only admiring the masculine sobriety of the community’s Gregorian Chant, but found solace in the traditional Latin Mass, not only for its solemnity, but for what it by-passes: the banal hymns in English, the priest as only celebrant and center of attention, with everyone having to listen to the public verbiage of his prayers. In the high ritual of the traditional Mass I could lose my self and pray. When I emailed Marianne, my colleague on the Assisi retreat, to tell her I was returning to the monks at Norcia, with typical drama I confided to her that I was “returning to the lions’ den in my heart.”

And now I have returned to the small apartment I’ve rented in Assisi where I am doing well. I am attending Eucharist with nuns and a few other old bats like myself every day, sometimes twice, morning and evening, and frequently visiting Saint Francis’ grave in the crypt of his Basilica. His crypt is one of my favorite places in the whole world to gaze at people and be edified by their piety. I remember sitting in another crypt in France where St. Benedict’s bones are venerated (exactly where Benedict is buried is controversial) in the Benedictine monastery of Fleury (Sant-Benoit-sur-Loire). I loved being with Benedict’s bones in that place. I would have ordered Chinese in and eaten it in a back pew right there. This would be as close to viewing people in paradise as I was going to get. A crypt tastefully appointed with good bones interred is incomparable for instilling joy in remembering a life well lived. Give me a good funeral any day for its gravity. I am usually sad at weddings, imagining the tears that wait to wash over the now adorable couple.

I want to make one more trip to some monasteries in France that I’ve visited before: Solesmes, Fongaumbault, Temedeuc, Belle Fontaine, and the well-preserved abbey at Fontenay where Saint Bernard was abbot. I wouldn’t mind another thirty-day retreat at Grand Coteau in Louisiana, where I was a Jesuit for four years. My first and only thirty-day retreat with Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises was in my Jesuit novitiate in 1963, when I was seventeen, fifty-three years ago.

And now I can hear my mother whispering in my ear what she would often say about men who became pious in their old age after a life time of “kicking the gong around.” I always thought she had made up “kicking the gong around.” She never parsed the phrase for me. She left me to imagine sexual license and every other vice a man’s life could enjoy. I am remembering my mother a lot lately. Last month I took the matter to Mother Google and discovered that “kicking the gong around” is a reference to snorting cocaine in Black Harlem in the 1930s. There is even a song, “Minnie the Moocher” by Cab Calloway with the phrase in its lyrics: “She messed around with a bloke named Smokey./ She loved him though he was cokey./ He took her down to Chinatown/ and he showed her how to kick the gong around.” My mother could not have been referencing cocaine. I’m certain she was questioning the sincerity of religion embraced late by guys who had previously enjoyed living raucously with untethered cocks. My mother always was a good judge of character. On my last night in Saint Benedict’s Basilica in Norcia, conscious of how my mother would judge my new piety, I lit a candle for her before the statue of Saint Scholastica.

©Jonathan Montaldo

Norcia, January, 2016

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

“Why I Read Thomas Merton:” A Note by Jonathan Montaldo

Why I read Thomas Merton

What has moved me most personally in Merton’s text, after over fifty years of reading his books, is his love of learning, his continuing education to expand his experiences and knowledge of what it means to live and love as a hopeful and courageous human being.

I have been moved by Merton’s authentic prayerfulness, his consistency in maintaining his dialogues with God until the end of his day.

I have been moved by his courage to buck systems and swim against currents by his public support of racial justice, non-violence and peaceful coexistence with all nations and religions.

photo (2)I have been moved by Merton’s affirmation of the rights of the unique person existing within institutions, which often approach the diversity of human relationships with inflexible ideologies. Merton consistently struggled with his own prejudices and projections; he never ceased to do the inner work necessary to walk away from habitual states of consciousness whenever he discovered himself still too non-inclusive to be a thoroughly catholic human being.

I have been moved by Merton’s vocation as a monk and writer to be a witness to the unity of all beings.  Although he fully realized that the unity to which human persons are called would never be finally realized in his life time, he lived by faith that at a future “end and redeemed time” the entire universe of beings would finally know together that they have been eternally without exception loved by God.

Jonathan Montaldo

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Colette Lafia’s Interview with Jonathan Montaldo, November, 2015


I had the great joy of meeting Jonathan Montaldo twelve years ago at the Santa Sabina Center in San Rafael, California, when he led a retreat based on the teachings of Thomas Merton. Over the years we have shared a friendship, and I’m grateful that our lives and paths connected. When I was writing Seeking Surrender, which was centered around my friendship with Brother René at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, Jonathan encouraged and supported my project.

Jonathan Montaldo is a leading Thomas Merton scholar. He’s edited numerous volumes of Merton’s writing and served as past director of the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University in Kentucky, which contains the largest archive of Merton’s work. 2015 has been a busy year for him and his colleagues, who contributed in many venues to celebrating Merton’s centenary (1915 -2015). Find out more about his work and books at

Jonathan turned seventy on October 4th of this Merton centennial year celebration. He has told me that he senses he is entering his “holy seventies,” and the playfulness of his remark made me want to learn more. I requested a written interview and conversation about his life and his work as a Merton scholar. I sent him my questions in an email. He had just finished presenting a retreat in Assisi, Italy, on November 4th, and afterwards he wrote his responses from Rome, as he waited to fly to Sweden to present four papers during a Merton Symposium sponsored by the Ecumenical Community of Bjärka-Saby, monastics who are mostly Pentecostals.

This event in Sweden (he will live with this unusual monastic community for three weeks) will end Jonathan’s activities celebrating Merton’s centenary year, during which the monk was “elevated” to recognition by Pope Francis, in his address before the United States Congress on September 24th. The Pope described Merton as “a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.” He then went on, likening himself to Merton as a “builder of bridges” through dialogue to help overcome historic differences between people and their religious traditions.

Of all your Merton projects, what are your favorites—the ones of which you are most proud?

I have read Merton since I was a boy of thirteen, an interest sparked by an older cousin’s entry into Trappist-Cistercian monastic life at Saint Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts. I picked up his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, from my Uncle Bert’s bedside table and my heart was “bitten.” I remember reading next a book of photographs of monks living in the 12th-century monastery, Pierre que Vire, in France, for which Merton had written the Introduction. This book, Silence in Heaven, presented Merton’s view of monastic life at its most romantic with professional and arty photos of the monks, including the very young ones. Seeing boys only a few years older than me, clothed in white cowls at Mass with the light from altar candles shining in their faces, I heard a “call” and wanted to be in that picture. A Jungian would have a field day, especially were I to go on about what Merton’s words and those beautiful pictures awakened in me, a dimension of my soul that I have never lost throughout my curved journey through life.

In some deep way I, myself, cannot fathom, I remain—reaching seventy—that pious boy wanting to love God in a monastic community.

Entering religious life at seventeen, after five years of studying to be a Jesuit in the New Orleans province, I departed the Society, reluctantly, as I was too immature to realize that there might have been an integral and righteous way for me to be both gay and a Jesuit priest. I renounced my vows on December 8, 1967, at 22, hoping to grow up. I distanced myself from a vocation that I loved and was actually called to (I understand that now) by naming my immature attempt as an “immaculate misconception.”

Drafted out of graduate school, I joined the Navy but went to Da Nang, Vietnam, anyway, serving on Freedom Hill, one of two Navy guys on a Marine base. We kept our noses clean and hid in the shadows, knowing we might more easily be killed in the cross-fire of marines fighting one another than harmed by North Vietnamese. I was stationed in Virginia, and then for two and a half glorious years in Naples, Italy, before I received my Masters Degree in Theology and Literature from Emory University, with a thesis on Merton: “Toward the Only Real City in America: Paradise and Utopia in the Autobiography of Thomas Merton.” I was twenty-nine and typing library cards so as to eat during my studies, so I decided not to take the Ph.d., but find a job to keep myself together. This was in 1974.

In 1986—sparing you details of my life as a rolling stone—some friends finally realized I was going nowhere quickly and urged me to join them in a business, which after seven years found me financially very well-off. After that, I took a sabbatical year of light duties at my business and took up a project for Robert Daggy at the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine, in Louisville.

Using Xeroxes and working on a typewriter back in New Jersey where I was living, I produced facsimile copies of four of Merton’s working notebooks, which hardly anyone could read (there were fifty-one of these “reading notebooks” in Bellarmine’s collection alone). I provided footnotes and bibliographies of the books he was reading, and got them over to Bob Daggy—to his delight.

Brother Patrick Hart, who had been my friend since I did research at Gethsemani for my thesis, in 1974, was equally impressed. And when he was appointed the General Editor of Merton’s complete journals to be published by HarperSanFrancisco in seven volumes, inquired if I were interested in editing the second volume, which became Entering the Silence: Becoming a Monk and a Writer. I peed my pants and said, “Why, sure.” Thus began my road through serving Merton’s legacy until now. Every Christmas, I send Brother Patrick a card in which I express, once again, that he is the father of my mature and true vocation. He picked me up out of nowhere and set me to work on what, in retrospect, it seems I was born to accomplish.

Turning seventy last month, I sense that I must slowly abandon the raft that Merton’s texts have provided me to cross the river of my life.

In a sense, while I have written on Merton in essays and introductions to my editions of his books, I have never spoken in my own voice, writing very early that I knew editors must efface themselves behind their authors.

I’ve been asked more than once where Merton stops and I begin. I’m certainly over-identified with Merton’s journey to seek God in the monastic life, but I never wanted to meet Merton at Gethsemani. Friends of mine did, but I did not envy them. I wasn’t interested in shaking his hand.

Even at the Merton Center, when I took his private journals into my own hands, it was not Merton that brought tears to my eyes, but his texts through which I have a found a place to live, move, and have my being. Heart has spoken to heart, but only in the texts, the words, the gestures he communicated to me of a way forward to a kind of life I had dreamed about as a boy.

At a recent meeting of the Merton British Society at Oakham, the four plenary speakers were asked why they were interested in Thomas Merton. When it was my turn, I said that Merton had been a raft for me, but as the Buddha taught, once you have cobbled together, of many materials, a raft for yourself to cross a river without bridges or ferries, you must set the raft down and walk forward on your own two feet. Saying this, I wept in front of the mostly British crowd—I can only imagine their horror at this display of bad form.

Since 2012, when I said it publicly, I have repeated this intuition many times until one of my friends had more than enough and told me, “Listen, man, you’re still clinging to your Merton raft, you’re just realizing that you and your raft are heading toward the falls. Enjoy the ride down and shut up.”

So, looking back, to finally answer your question, my favorite work is the project Brother Patrick took up to give the publisher an “anthology” that combined the seven volumes of Merton’s journals into one volume. We produced a book of seven chapters that corresponded to each volume, which was highly edited, and I made that transparent to the reader in my introduction. It was the most enjoyable project I’d ever undertaken. I made my own path through the woods of Merton’s journals to produce, The Intimate Merton: His Life from His Journals.

Although I would go on to present Merton’s writing in many guises, volumes like Dialogues with Silence: His Prayers and Drawings, A Year with Thomas Merton, and Choosing to Love the World: Notes on Contemplation, I am grateful to Brother Patrick for allowing me to produce with him my “intimate” presentation of who Merton was in the light of my own reading and my personal life’s perspective on who he was.

Along the way, have there been times when you found yourself too consumed with Merton and losing yourself?

The short answer is never. I never tire of reading and speaking about the values I have discovered in listening to Merton’s “voice.” His text has been my mentor, and in his texts I have discovered abiding consolation as I have mostly stumbled forward to becoming a deeper and more inclusive human being.

His texts have been mirrors for me. As Merton artfully discloses his own struggles, I have sensed that my own struggles to become a deeper and wider human being, living expansively with more courage, honesty, and joy, are the real stuff of the “spiritual” life.

Merton has taught me that I shall always be a novice, every day beginning again, and that, no matter what actions I take to care for my interior life and serve my neighbors, I shall always have to kneel and wait for a mercy that I know by my own experience (and Merton’s, embedded in his text) I can never give to myself. I’m thinking of the end of Bernanos’ Diary of a Country Priest as I write this, which ends with the priest’s recognition that he must be content with who he really is: “I am reconciled with the poor, poor shell of me. All is grace.”

Are there any thoughts you want to share about living the spiritual journey?

No. What thoughts I have put in writing about “the spiritual life” are to share my reception of Merton’s lived theology manifested by his writing, all of it—the journals, the spiritual reflections, the letters, the poems, political manifestos, his calls to social justice and non-violence.

But if you asked me to come clean, it’s the autobiographical writing that has taught me most. When Merton speaks most personally, he speaks most universally. I “get him” and “get myself” when he drops the pose of holy monk and tells his reader how it is with him.

Merton’s autobiographical writing, what he called his “art of confession and witness,” has been the vehicle (the great raft) for me, and hundreds of thousands of other readers discovering themselves in his artful disclosure, of a “way” forward through the darkness and the joy of being alive and awake throughout the total catastrophe of being a human being. His autobiographical writing is a testament to his compassionate transparency to his reader. “You’re in a lot of shit, reader, and so am I, but there are so many possibilities for creative contemplation and action when you stay on the road toward joy.”

You’ve recently turned seventy. What’s most important for you now?

I always end my retreats the same way. I say aloud that, “If there is one thing I have learned from Thomas Merton, it is that one can write and speak beautifully about the spiritual life without actually living a beautiful spiritual life. So I ask you, (sometimes my voice quivers, but mostly I hold it together when I come to this plea) that as you leave this room, please pray for me that someone like me who dares to present ‘ideas’ about the spiritual life in public, not in the end himself be lost.”

I want, if I can, to finally stand on my own two feet now and, in the words of Mary Oliver, “let my soft body love what it loves.”

I have spent decades looking with a jaundiced eye at institutionalized religious life, sneering at the very idea of the search for God and holiness. I realize (I had this “epiphany” just last week in Assisi) this has been my defense mechanism to keep at bay my abiding disappointment with myself that I was unable, because of so many fissures in my character, to live the life I had envisioned for myself when reading Silence in Heaven.

Yes, I have always wanted to be a monk, but my character has not made it possible. I do think that the old forms of the institutionalized monastic life (there are experiments everywhere) are on the slope toward extinction. The Abbey of Gethsemani will one day be a truly experimental monastic community open to the world or it will become a “Trappistland,” something like a “Shakertown,” where hired actors (young) sing in choir seven times a day. And at 2:00 PM every afternoon, a visitor can attend a Trappist funeral as a mannequin clothed in Cistercian robes is lowered into the ground, no dirt finally spread since tomorrow is another performance. This is not to say that American Trappist life since the mid-1850s has been in vain. Many a man and woman have been saved by the Rule of Saint Benedict, and the Cistercian charism in particular.

But a tipping point has been crossed, it seems to me. The old veterans are mostly left, and the ones I know strike me as deeply expansive, compassionate, joyous human beings. They are full of generosity, motivated by an appreciation of their own humanity and everyone else’s. The times, however, do not favor carrying on in quite the same way for those coming up now. They will find their own paths, some of them formal to be sure, but in ways that will be different from the kind of monastic life Merton loved but knew and foresaw that eventually must be fruitfully transformed.

Personally, I am learning to die well. I am training myself for when the time comes, and who knows if it’s soon, perhaps tonight, when it’s over. I would like, if I’m conscious, to die with tears of gratitude for all the blessings I’ve received through so many who have loved me in spite of myself and, more miraculously, have loved me in spite of themselves. I want to die, if I’m conscious, assuring anyone holding my hand, even if it’s a strange nurse—it might be appropriate were she gay,  but I prefer a “she” in any case—I would tell her not to be sad. I am telling myself over and over again these days, in training, that all has been grace. I hope, as I succumb, that like a drowning man, my whole life and the persons in it will pass before my eyes. And, in the words of Mary Oliver, I shall realize with gratitude that I “haven’t just visited this world.”

Jonathan Montaldo
November 6, 2015
Rome, Italy

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Entering My “Holy Seventies” on the Road Again

1trastevI am once again on the road. I presented a Merton Centenary Pilgrimage in Assisi, Italy with Marianne Hieb, a sister of Mercy, and Helen Owen, a Franciscan, from October 26 – November 4th. I have been residing in Rome since November 4th, visiting well-known and loved places, especially churches, especially Santa Maria di Trestevere which I consider my home church while in Rome.

I depart for Sweden on Monday, November 30th where I’ll reside with monks of the Ecumenical Community of Bjara-Saby forty miles out of Stockholm. I’ll deliver four talks at a Merton Centenary Symposium they are sponsoring December 4 -6. For the rest I’ll be in their unique community of women and men who represent inter-denominational Christian traditions, including Pentecostalism. The Prior is Peter Halldorf who is also editor of their magazine The Pilgrim. I’ll live with the community for seventeen days until December 17th.

On December 18th I’ll arrive in Dubai, UAE as the guest of a friend who works there. I intend to frequent the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding informally and as a pilgrim. I’ll return to Stockholm on December 30th and remain in the city until January 4th, when I’ll return to Italy and Assisi, where I’ve rented an apartment for the month of January to work on a writing project that I’ve tentatively titled Called To Be Merciful: Thomas Merton’s Witness to Compassionate Transparency and Loving Kindness in All Our Relations: Reflections on Courageous Contemplative Living by Jonathan Montaldo.

In February I’ll travel to Milan and reside with Father Mario Zaninelli, a Merton scholar who translates Merton’s work into Italian. We have projects together until April, one of which is my joining Professors Antonio Montanari and Paolo Trianni in presenting at a conference to be held at the Pontifical Atheneum of Saint Anselm in Rome. Dottore Montanari’s talk will be on a theme from Merton’s Contemplation in A World of Action and Dottore Trianni will speak to Merton’s inter-monastic dialogues. My topic is tentatively titled “Always Stretching Forward Toward Christ: the Lived Theology that Grounded Thomas Merton’s Restlessness.”

I’ll return to the States in early April to travel to Louisville, Kentucky where I’ll assist once again in the 2016 Festival of Faiths whose theme this year is Non-violence. I’m scheduled to be in New Jersey June – September. In October I return to Kentucky to present a five-day retreat for the priests of the Owensboro, Kentucky diocese. In late October I’ll return to Assisi with my colleagues to present with them at their annual retreat in Assisi on the theme of a Pilgrimage to Celebrate the Jubilee Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis. Depending on circumstances, I intend to remain in Italy for a prolonged visit from November, 2016 forward.

I can only be reached by email at <> during this period of travel but I am available for corresponding.

These are my current plans. Inshallah!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Kathleen Deignan and Jonathan Montaldo Dialogue on Thomas Merton, April 2015

Kathleen DeignanKathleen Deignan and I were filmed in dialogue about Thomas Merton during the Spiritual Directors International Conference in Louisville, Kentucky in April, 2015. The Conference, entitled “Emerging Wisdom,” honored Merton’s centenary in 2015.

View the video here:

The entire interview will be featured in SDI’s newsletter, “Discover,” in August, 2015.

Kathleen Deignan is a sister of the Congregation of Notre Dame and Professor of Religious Studies at Iona College in New Rochelle, NY where she founded and directs the Iona Spirituality Institute, the Merton Contemplative Initiative,  and is a founding Convener of the Thomas Berry Forum for Ecological Dialogue.   Dr. Deignan holds a Masters Degree in the History of Christian Spirituality and a Doctorate in Historical Theology from Fordham University.  She is the author of ChristSpirit: The Eschatology of Shaker Christianity; When the Trees Say Nothing: Thomas Merton’s Writings on Nature; and Thomas Merton: A Book of Hours. A board member and past president of the International Thomas Merton Society, she is psalmist and composer in residence for Schola Ministries which has published a dozen collections of sacred songs. (

For further information contact:

Brittany Waldean
Membership Services Coordinator
Spiritual Directors International
PO Box 3584│Bellevue, WA 98009 USA
Office: 01-425-455-1565 │Fax: 01-425-455-1566

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Reading Merton to Friends at His Hermitage, ITMS Meeting 2015


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Thomas Merton Centenary Pilgrimage Retreat in Assisi, Italy, October 28 – November 4, 2015

Assisi CathedralLourdes Wellness, a division of Lourdes Health System in New Jersey, will sponsor its Sixth Annual Assisi, Italy Event from OCTOBER 28 to NOVEMBER 4, 2015: A PILGRIMAGE RETREAT to honor the 100th anniversary of Thomas Merton’s birth in 2015.

Join Marianne Hieb, RSM and Helen Owens, OSF, along with special guest facilitator, Jonathan Montaldo, for eight days in Assisi, Italy. In community and in solitude we will celebrate Merton’s centenary year by reflecting on the monk and spiritual writer’s deep relationship with Saint Francis of Assisi and Franciscan spirituality.

Assisi fieldsWe will explore the Umbrian countryside in the season leading to the holy feasts of All Saints and All Souls while meditating on “all our relations in Christ.” The retreat’s themes will deepen our appreciation of the holiness of our friendships and those who companion with us as we journey through our every day lives.


Marianne Hieb, a Sister of Mercy with a doctorate in Ministry, is an artist, art therapist, and a retreat and spiritual director. She facilitates Spirituality, Creativity and Wellness programs through Lourdes Wellness Services. She is the author of Inner Journeying through Art-Journaling and creator of the Encirclings Sculpture series.

Helen Owens, a Franciscan sister with a doctorate in Ministry, is a nurse and missionary. She is the former Vice-President of Mission for Lourdes Health System and is the founder of Lourdes Wellness Center. She integrates wholistic spirituality and wellness into her spiritual ministry. She has an Integrative Nurse Coaching practice at Lourdes Wellness Services.

Jonathan Montaldo is a retreat and workshop leader, an editor of Merton’s writings and a former director of the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. He most recently edited a volume of over a hundred reflections by international contributors that honors Merton’s centenary: We Are Already One: Thomas Merton’s Message of Hope.

Registration is limited so act soon! For a complete brochure of the retreat visit or call (856)-869-8190 and ask for Beverly.

Assisi streetYou may join the pilgrimage for the full seven nights or choose to attend an “intensive” of four nights to celebrate the Feasts of All Saints and All Souls Day.





Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment