"John Dear: Thomas Merton has emerged as perhaps the greatest monk in Christian history now. He is certainly on a level with St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas in terms of his writing and his influence. He's reclaimed the best of Catholic spirituality and Christianity, the whole tradition of prayer and the desert and the Divine Office and the contemplative life. He influenced tens of thousands of people, among them a lot of men that I know in all the religious orders. I would ask them, 'Why did you become a priest in the 1950s and 1960s?' And they would say, 'Well, I read Thomas Merton's autobiography and it changed my life.' A lot of other people had that experience too. What's so shocking is that Merton kept breaking new ground. He became the first Catholic priest in U.S. history to denounce nuclear weapons and war and racism, and he studied Mahatma Gandhi and the Chinese mystics and Zen Buddhism when most people had never heard of Zen or Buddhism. He was not only bringing cultures together, he was bringing the different religions together, and all the while going deep into the common ground of all of the religions, which is the wisdom of nonviolence. Recently one of the biggest Catholic theologians in the United States, David Tracy, said, 'Where will the Church be two hundred years from now?' And he answered his own question without missing a beat: 'We're all going to be trying to catch up to Thomas Merton. He's gone ahead of everybody.' That's how significant a historical figure Merton now is, not just in the American Church, but maybe in the history of the church."