Wednesday, November 9, 2011
A Year With Thomas Merton - November 9
Living in the Face of Death
Our great dignity is tested by death--I mean our freedom. When the "parting of the ways" comes--to set one's foot gladly on the way that leads out of this world. This is a great gift of ourselves, not to death but to life. For he who knows how to die not only lives longer in this life (as if it matters) but lives eternally because of his freedom.
Never has man's helplessness in the face of death been more pitiable than in this age when he can do everything except escape death. If he were unable to escape so many other things, man would face death better.
But our power has only strengthened our illusion that we can cling to life without taking away our unconscious fear of death. We are always holding death at arm's length, unconsciously trying to think ourselves out of its presence. This generates an intolerable tension that makes us all the more quickly its victims. It is he who does not fear death who is more ready not to escape it, and, when the time comes, he faces it well.
So he who faces death can be happy in this life and in the next, and he who does not face it has no happiness in either. This is a central and fundamental reality of life, whether one is or is not a "believer" --for this "facing" of death implies already a faith and an uprightness of heart and the presence of Christ, whether one thinks of it or not. (I do not refer to the desperateness of the tough guy, but only to the sincerity of an honest and sober and sensitive person, assuming responsibility for his whole life in gladness and freedom.)
November 25, 1958, III.232