Thomas Merton 1915-1968


Spiritual seeker and Trappist monk Thomas Merton’s birthday was yesterday, 31 Jan. 1915; he would have been 91 this year.

In honour and memory, some words of his that have been part of my life for many years:

“THE LOGIC of worldly success rests on a fallacy: The strange error that our perfection depends on the thoughts and opinions and applause of other men! A weird life it is, indeed, to be always living in somebody’s imagination, as if that were the only place in which one could at last become real!” (p. 330, The Seven Storey Mountain, 1948)

“OUR JOB is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy if anything can.” (In a letter to Dorothy Day)

“OUR REAL journey in life is interior, it is a matter of growth, deepening, and of an ever greater surrender to the creative action of love and grace in our hearts.” (The Asian Journal, 1973)

“WE CANNOT always be talking, praying in words, cajoling, reasoning, or keeping up a kind of devout background music. Much of our well-meant interior religious dialogue is, in fact, a smoke screen and an evasion. (Love & Living, 1979)

“MODERN MAN believes he is fruitful and productive when his ego is aggressively affirmed, when he is visibly active, and when his action produces obvious results.” (Love & Living, 1979)

“THE INTELLECT is only theoretically independent of desire and appetite in ordinary, actual practice. It is constantly being blinded and perverted by the ends and aims of passion, and the evidence it presents to us with such a show of impartiality and objectivity is fraught with interest and propaganda. We have become marvellous at self-delusion; all the more so, because we have gone to such trouble to convince ourselves of our own absolute infallibility.” (p. 205, The Seven Storey Mountain, 1948)

“TO SERVE the hate-god, one has only to be blinded by collective passion. To serve the God of Love one must be free, one must face the terrible responsibility of the decision to love in spite of all unworthiness whether in oneself or in one’s neighbor. It is the rankling, tormenting sense of unworthiness that lies at the root of most hate. … The root of Christian love is not the will to love, but the faith that one is loved. The faith that one is loved by God. … In [this] vision of God’s love, the idea of worthiness loses its significance.” (p. 74-75, New Seeds of Contemplation, 1961)

“HATRED TRIES to cure disunion by annihilating those who are not united with us. It seeks peace by the elimination of everybody but ourselves.” (p. 75, New Seeds of Contemplation, 1961)

“THE BEGINNING of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.” (No Man Is An Island, 1955)

THE THEOLOGY of the devil is really not theology but magic. ‘Faith’ in this theology is really not the acceptance of a God Who reveals Himself as mercy. It is a psychological, subjective ‘force’ which applies a kind of violence to reality in order to change it according to one’s whims. [This so-called] Faith is a kind of supereffective wishing: a mastery that comes from a special, mysteriously dynamic will power that is generated by ‘profound convictions.’ By virtue of this wonderful energy one can exert a persuasive force even on God Himself and bend His will to one’s own will. By this astounding new dynamic soul force of faith (which any quack can develop in you for an appropriate remuneration) you can turn God into a means to your own end.” (p. 94-95, New Seeds of Contemplation, 1961)

“IT IS not only our hatred of others that is dangerous but also and above all our hatred of ourselves: particularly our hatred of ourselves that is too deep and too powerful to be consciously faced. For it is this which makes us see our own evil in others and unable to see it in ourselves.” (p. 112, “The Root of War is Fear,” New Seeds of Contemplation, 1961)

“… THE ONE truth that would help us begin to solve our ethical and political problems: that we are all more or less wrong, that we are all at fault, all limited and obstructed by our mixed motives, our self-deception, our greed, our self-righteousness and our tendency to aggressivity and hypocrisy.” (p. 116, “The Root of War is Fear,” New Seeds of Contemplation, 1961)

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