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What is Merton to me?

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) has his fans, yet is not widely known. A search for "Thomas Merton" on the internet will lead to websites devoted to his work, a center for the study of Merton’s life at Bellarmine College (in Louisville, Kentucky), and numerous outlets for the purchase of his many books. Merton himself became a Trappist monk and lived most of his life at a monastery in Gethsemani, Kentucky. (Trappists are a Catholic monastic order who live in relative seclusion in order to better focus on God.) Selections from Merton’s most popular book, The Seven Storey Mountain, follow in this article. It sold 600,000 copies in his first year of publication, and that was in 1949.

"He asked her why she thought Christ had told people to love their enemies. Did she suppose God commanded this for His benefit? Did He get anything out of it that He really needed from us? Or was it not rather for our own good that He had given us this commandment? He told her that if she had any sense, she would love other people if only for the sake of the good and health and peace of her own soul, instead of tearing herself to pieces with her own envy and spitefulness. It was Augustine’s argument that envy and hatred try to pierce our neighbor with a sword, when the blade cannot reach him unless it first passes through our own body."

"In the concrete order of things God gave man a nature that was ordered to a supernatural life. He created man with a soul that was made not to bring itself to perfection in its own order, but to be perfected by Him in an order infinitely beyond the reach of human powers."

"Virtues are precisely the powers by which we can come to acquire happiness: without them, there can be no joy, because they are the habits which co-ordinate and canalize our natural energies and direct them to the harmony and perfection and balance, the unity of our nature with itself and with God, which must, in the end, constitute our everlasting peace."

"I think that if there is one truth that people need to learn, in the world, especially today, it is this: the intellect is only theoretically independent of desire and appetite in ordinary, actual practice. It is constantly blinded and perverted by the ends and aims of passion . . . We have become marvelous at self-delusion . . . The desires of the flesh—and by that I mean not only sinful desires, but even the ordinary, normal appetites for comfort and ease and human respect, are fruitful sources of every kind of error and misjudgment, and because we have these yearnings in us, our intellects present to us everything distorted and accommodated to the norms of our desire."

"Sometimes I would be preoccupied with problems that seemed to be difficult and seemed to be great, and yet when it was all over the answers that I worked out did not seem to matter much anyway, because all the while, beyond my range of vision and comprehension, God had silently and imperceptibly worked the whole thing out for me, and had presented me with the solution. To say it better, He had worked the solution into the very tissue of my own life and substance and existence by the wise incomprehensible weaving of His Providence."

©2007 Mark Nickens

Questions/comments contact Mark at drnickens@triad.rr.com.

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