March 4, 2011

Lenten Merton series to focus on contemplative living

By Mary Ann Wyand

Lent is an important time for people to improve their spiritual relationship with God.

“Thomas Merton—Bridges to Contemplative Living,” a four-part series in March at the Benedict Inn Retreat and Conference Center, 1402 Southern Ave., in Beech Grove, can help people do just that.

Weekly reflections on the insightful writings of the late Trappist monk, facilitated by Benedictine Sister Julie Sewell, begin on Ash Wednesday, March 9, and continue on March 16, March 23 and March 30.

Program participants are invited to join the Sisters of St. Benedict for Mass at 5:15 p.m. at the Our Lady of Grace Monastery Chapel then have dinner at 6 p.m. in the cafeteria at the adjacent retreat center. The program begins at 6:45 p.m. and concludes at 9 p.m.

Sister Julie will follow the style of lectio divina—meditations on psalms and Merton’s reflections—as she gently leads the participants on personal journeys of spiritual transformation.

“The writings of Merton are very deep,” Sister Julie said, “and allow people to reflect on their spiritual life, their connection to God, [and] to how the Holy Spirit is working in their daily life. … It lets them think about their faith life and how faithfully they are living it out.”

This is the third year that the Benedictine sisters have offered the popular series using books published by the Merton Institute for Contemplative Living.

“People say they have changed over the course of this series,” Sister Julie said. “It deepens their focus on their own spiritual life in a very prayerful way. I think that’s what causes the transformation to happen over time.”

Studying Merton’s writings can anchor people of all ages in their spirituality, she said. “He makes himself very transparent in his writing so you will see him change over time. He was a very good writer, and wrote in a way that makes the spiritual life accessible to everyone. I think that’s why his writings are published in so many different languages.”

She said the writings of the Trappist monk, who lived from 1915 to 1968, offer lots of encouragement to pilgrims on their spiritual journeys to God.

People enjoy discussing their favorite Merton reflections, Sister Julie said, and participants will have plenty of opportunities to share their insights.

St. Philip Neri parishioner Mary Kendall of Indianapolis said participating in the Merton series has helped her grow “in my faith, spirituality and understanding of myself.”

Our Lady of Lourdes parishioner Robin Bennett of Indianapolis said the series enabled her to experience “a wonderful spiritual transformation, which has also spilled over into my personal life—and continues to fill my life with peace and contemplative dialogue.

“The Holy Spirit comes alive through the words and thoughts shared within the small group [of] participants,” Bennett said. “For me, it has been a deep, personal journey, reflecting on the Passion of Christ, especially during the Lenten season.”

St. Pius X parishioner Robert Boehmer of Indianapolis also recommends the Merton series.

“The study of Thomas Merton’s writings has always offered surprises for me,” Boehmer said. “This was again true as I crossed the many ‘Bridges to Contemplation’ with my fellow attendees over our weeks of being together. What a delight!”

(The four-part Merton series costs $89.95 per person, and includes meals and program materials. For more information or to register, contact the Benedict Inn Retreat and Conference Center at 317-788-7581.)

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