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Paulist Press

Merton, Thomas: Exile Ends In Glory

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In 1948, at about the same year Merton published his great work, The Seven Storey Mountain, his biography of Mother Berchmans (1876-1915), a French Trappistine, was also published. He had been inspired by her strength of spirit that enabled her to leave behind her beloved home in France in order to help grow the struggling Our Lady of the Angels Abbey in Hakodate, Japan. Though plagued by physical frailty and illness, she nonetheless maintained great exuberance and happiness for life that would enable her to build a thriving community independent of Europe. During World War II, when all Europeans were expelled from the monastery, it was still one of the largest Cistercian communities in the world. Of Mother Berchmans, Merton writes, It is necessary to explain that exile is something that must necessarily be endowed with a special poignancy for Cistercians who all make vows of Stability, at their professions. With us, it is a virtue to get attached to a single monastery, to sink our roots deep in the soil with the intention of never going away....Mother Berchmans had a gentle, tender, and affectionate heart, one that readily attached itself to persons and to places. It was a heart that loved all the most beautiful things in life, and which delighted above all in solitude and prayer. Mother Berchman s life was not unlike that of Thérèse of Lisieux, to whom she had a special devotion.