Monday, July 27, 2009

Part 1, Chapter 2, Our Lady of the Museums

Merton expresses love and even patriotism for France and America and even some for England—France for the beauty of its land and simplicity of its people, America for its ideals and work ethic.

Merton and his father moved to St. Antonin, France in 1925 and lived there a number of years. Merton was impressed by the town, built in circular shape during the thirteenth century with a wall around its borders and a church at its center—the geographic, social, and spiritual nexus of the community.

This chapter includes an amusing account of a visit to France from Pop and Bonnemaman in which Pop, thinking himself a high-rolling American, literally threw money at the locals from the windows of their car. Pop is a boisterous character and proud of his family and fortune.
The episode of his visit (which included an extensive European tour) embarrasses the author.
The most memorable institution from Merton's time in St. Antonin was the Lyceé, the school Merton attended with students he describes as vulgar, mean, and pitiless.
Adding to his humiliation, Merton was made to attend class with younger children in order to learn master French for, though he was born in France, he had moved to Douglaston before he had learned to speak.

"The only really valuable religious and moral training I ever got as a child came to me from my father, not systematically, but here and there and more or less spontaneously, in the course of ordinary conversations. . . And this is the kind of religious teaching, or any other kind of teaching, that has the most effect.
'A good man out of the good treasure of his heart, bringeth forth good fruit; and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth that which is evil. For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh.'" Merton's father is seen here, and throughout the book, as honest, simple, noble, and pure of heart.

Merton and his father lived in an apartment in St. Antonin but Father was building a house for them. But in the spring of 1928, just as the house was finished, Father decided that they would move to England, and so they never lived in the house his father built.
Merton would miss the beauty and quaintness of St. Antonin, and the kindnesses of M. and Mme. Privat, a Catholic family in nearby Murat where he sometimes boarded. However, he was thrilled to be rid of the Lyceé.

In England, Thomas was left with his Aunt Maude and Uncle Ben. It was Aunt Maude's way of speaking with Thomas as an adult which impressed him very much, and that first elicited from him a vision of his future. He said he would like to be a novelist or a journalist, or both. Thomas attended school at Ripley Court.
He didn't know any Latin and so was made again to start over with a new language. However, the English boys seemed much more pleasant and happy and he enjoyed cricket and many friends.

Being written more than two decades later by a man who was, by then, a monk, it is hard to discern how much religious thinking was actually going on in the head of young Merton in France and England and how much is editorial license.
Merton speaks of being truly happy because he was sincerely religious after coming to England. He remembers, "the first time I had ever seen people kneel publicly by their beds before getting into them, and the first time I had ever sat down to meals after grace."

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