Merton was first introduced to the writings of the novelist and poet James Joyce through his book Ulysses. Though this book had been read a few times in his young life, Merton recalled the impact Portrait of an Artist had on him.
Originally he had found the parts on Joyce’s spiritual crisis depressing, but later he was drawn to “the expertness of the sermon” on hell which “stimulated and edified” Merton. Through this knowledge of Joyce’s writings, he found himself “naturally making mental comparisons” with what Joyce wrote and what the priests taught in mass. Apparently there was more influence on him than he even realized. He recalled how “there was something eminently satisfying in the thought that these Catholics knew what they believed, and knew what to teach, and all taught the same thing, and taught it with coordination and purpose and great effect.”
It was through this appreciation of the subject matter that his fascination grew and James Joyce became a prominent influence on Thomas Merton’s own beliefs in the Catholic life. In fact, years later Merton told a priest “that reading Joyce had contributed something to [his] conversion.” It certainly helped fuel his interest in the Jesuits and what they had to offer the faith he was now considering.