What sort of books and magazines do Trappists have access to?

An earlier question on the “Visitor's Questions” page concerning books in the monastery intrigued me. Thomas Merton seemed to have access to all manner of reading material--secular as well as spiritual. (I remember reading a journal entry where he jokingly expressed his worry that the Abbot might find the copies of "Newsweek" under his bed).

 

Answer: 

Thanks for your interesting question. The earlier inquiry you read was concerned specifically with ownership of books. Yours concerns monk's access to books and this is another matter. While monks have never owned their own books, they have, historically, enjoyed access to large libraries, and this is one of the real blessings of a monastic way of life. Monks these days have access to a wide variety of books and periodicals, both religious and secular in nature. We even have access to responsible use of the internet for study purposes. Regarding Thomas Merton – though he was surely an attractive personality, a gifted writer, and a spiritual master, his personal lifestyle was not actually representative of how his brothers at Gethsemani lived in the 1950's, (nor most other Trappists at that time.) As a relatively young monk, who became a nationally acclaimed writer and later outspoken cultural critic, he was permitted by his superiors to have access to a variety of reading materials and was also allowed to cultivate numerous personal contacts with people outside the monastery. The distinctive habits you read about in his journals need to be understood in this context. Merton experienced a unique call from God, which he lived out in a creative tension with the received monastic tradition – and sometimes with Dom James Fox, his abbot.

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