Saturday, March 31, 2012

A Year With Thomas Merton - March 31

The Return to the Father

One thing very clear after Mass: the "return to the Father." The nonentity and insufficiency of all other concerns. A going clear out of the midst of all that is transitory and inconclusive. The return to the Immense, the Primordial, the Unknown, to Him Who Loves, to the Silent, to the Holy, to the Merciful, to Him Who is All.

The misdirectedness, the folly, the inanity of all that seeks anything but this great return, the whole meaning and heart of all existence. The absurdity of movements, of the goals that are not ultimate, the purposes that are "ends of the line" and, therefore, do not even begin.

To return is not to "go back" in time, but a going forward, a going beyond. To retrace one's steps is nothing on top of nothing, vanity of vanities, a renewal of the same absurdity twice over, in reverse.

To go beyond everything, to leave everything and press forward to the End and to the Beginning, to the ever new Beginning that is without End. To obey Him on the way in order to reach Him in Whom I have begun, Who is the Way and the End--(the Beginning).

March 22, 1961, IV.101

Friday, March 30, 2012

A Year With Thomas Merton - March 30

Setting My House in Order

Cold again. I took a good walk in the woods, watching the patterns of water in my quiet favorite creek. Then walked up and down in the sheltered place where we used to go for Christmas trees, thinking about life and death—and how impossible it is to grasp the idea that one must die. And what to do to get ready for it! When it comes to setting my house in order, I seem to have no ideas at all.

In the evening, stood for about fifteen minutes on the porch watching deer, etc., through the field glasses. The deer, five of them, were out by the brush piles beyond my fence, barely a hundred yards—less perhaps—from the hermitage. Hence I could see them very clearly and watch all their beautiful movements—from time to time they tried to figure me out, and would spread out their ears at me, and stand still, looking, and there I would be gazing right back into those big brown eyes and those black noses. And one, the most suspicious, would lift a foot and set it down again quietly, as if to stomp—but in doubt about whether there was a good reason. This one also had a stylish, high-stepping trot routine which the others did not seem to have. But what form! I was entranced by their perfection!

March 6, 1966, VI.25

Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Year With Thomas Merton - March 29

Grateful for Another Miracle

Shall I reread the bits in St. John of the Cross’s The Ascent of Mount Carmel about the memory? They seem to do me so much good—always. Year after year, returning to them. In what sense do they make a difference in my life?

This Journal—the one I am writing right now. Apparently I have not yet written enough of it to become completely solitary and to be able to do without it. It is useless to drop the thing and say I am solitary just because I am not writing a Journal, when, in fact, the writing could help me find my way to where I am supposed to be traveling.

So I read about “forgetting” and write down all I remember. And somehow there is no contradiction here. It is simply a somewhat peculiar way of becoming a saint. I by no means insist that it is sanctity. All I say is that I must do what the situation seems to demand, and sanctity will appear when out of all this Christ, in His own good time, appears and manifests His own glory.

Tenderness of the Epistle, austerity of the Gospel in this morning’s Mass, the Vigil of Passion Sunday. Last night, before Compline, out by the horse barn, looking at the orchard and thinking about what St. John of the Cross said about having in your heart the image of Christ crucified.

Confusion and fog pile up in your life, and then, by the power of the Cross, things once again are clear, and you know more about your wretchedness and you are grateful for another miracle.

March 4 and 10, 1951, II.452-53

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Year With Thomas Merton - March 28

Offering Christ Our Sorry World

The center of all spiritual life is Christ in His Mass, Christ our Pasch who is slain and "dies now no more" but "draws all things to Himself," that we who are baptized in His death, crucifying our flesh and its desires, may live His life with a life hidden in Christ in God. And the heart of all life is not merely the static presence of the Blessed Sacrament, although Christ is truly living in our tabernacles, but above all in the action of the Mass, which is the center of all contemplation, an action in which the Christian family is gathered around Christ and in which Christ in His Body glorifies His Father. A sacrament of living unity in which Love Who is God unites men to God and men to one another in Christ. When the Mass recovers its meaning, then devotion to the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the Tabernacle acquires its own true meaning and begins to live. Then the whole interior life is unified and vitalized and every department of it flows with life. In fact, "departments" and "sections" of one's life cease to exist in isolation and everything functions together.

I go to the altar offering Christ a sorry world to give to His Father in Thanksgiving, a world transformed into His own human life by our union with Him and His union with us in His Sacrifice and our Sacrifice which is His Pasch.

O God, give peace to your world. Give strength to the hearts of men. Raise us up from death in Christ. Give us to eat of His immortality and His glory. Give us to drink of the wine of His Kingdom.

March 25, 1948, II.191-92

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Year With Thomas Merton - March 27

A Preference for the Chant of Frogs

Warmer. Rain in the night. Frogs again. At first the waterhole (four feet long at most) had one frog or two. Now they are a small nation, loud in the night. The innocent nation, chanting blissfully in praise of the spring rain. Last evening I pruned a few little trees--including the beeches I had planted.

Today I have to go down to see Fr. Vernon Robertson, who evidently wants me to get involved in something--and I will try not to. He has been pestering me to come to Louisville to give a talk at Bellarmine College. And this is confirming me in my resolution to keep out of all that.

Almost every day I have to write a letter to someone refusing an invitation to attend a conference, or a workshop, or to give talks on the contemplative life, or poetry, etc. I can see more and more clearly how for me this would be a sheer waste, a Pascalian diversion, participation in a common delusion. (For others, no: they have the grace and mission to go around talking.) For me what matters is silence, meditation--and writing: but writing is secondary. To willingly and deliberately abandon this to go out and talk would be stupidity--for me. And for others, retirement into my kind of solitude wold be equally stupid. They could not do it--and I could do not what they do.

March 16, 1968, VII.68

Monday, March 26, 2012

A Year With Thomas Merton - March 26

One Spirit Praying in All

Contemplative prayer is the recognition that we are the Sons of God, an experience of Who God is, and of His love for us, flowing from the operation of that love in us. Contemplative prayer is the voice of the Spirit crying out in us, "Abba, Pater." In all prayer it is the Holy Spirit who prays in us, but in the graces of contemplation He makes us realize, at least obscurely, that it is He who is praying in us with a love too deep and too secret for us to comprehend. We exult in the union of our voice with His voice, and our soul springs up to the Father, through the Son, having become one flame with the Flame of their Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church, and it is to His presence in us that is attributed the sanctity of each one of the elect. He prays in us now as the Soul of the Church and now as the life of our own soul--but the distinction is real only in the external order of things. Interiorly, whether our prayer is private or public, it is the same Spirit praying in us: He is really touching different strings of the same instrument.

March 21, 1950, II.422

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Year With Thomas Merton - March 25

Only One Is Your Teacher

The feast of Saint Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor, falls this year on the Tuesday of the Second Week in Lent. So there is a very striking coincidence in the liturgy: the Gospel of the feast speaks of the true Teachers, the salt of the earth, who "do and teach" and whose works shine before men. The Gospel for Tuesday in the Second Week of Lent speaks of the false teachers who have sat in the chair of Moses and have not done the works of Moses, that is, they have not kept the laws they talked about. Yet they have done works that have been dazzling in the eyes of men and have done them in order to shine before men, to have the first places in the synagogues and to be called Rabbi. The theme of both the feast and the ferial day is summed up in the line Unus est Magister vester, Christus: "Only one is your Teacher, Christ." It is Jesus Who teaches us in and through St. Thomas Aquinas and in St. Bonaventure and St. Augustine and in all the other doctors of the Church. We have no other Father and no other Doctor than Christ. It is Jesus Whose works shine in the lives of the saints. It is Jesus Who manifests Himself to us through the words of the Fathers and the theologians. The false doctors preach their own sanctity and Christ is not seen or heard in them. But the true teachers preach the sanctity of Christ, and He shines through them. He it is Whose Truth has made them holy.

March 7, 1950, II.416

Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Year With Thomas Merton - March 24

A Moment of Clarity

A flash of sanity: the momentary realization that there is no need to come to certain conclusions about persons, events, conflicts, trends, even trends toward evil and disaster, as if from day to day, and even from moment to moment, I had to know and declare (at least to myself) that this is so and so, this is good, this is bad. We are heading for a "new era" or we are heading for destruction. What do such judgments mean? Little or nothing. Things are as they are in an immense whole of which I am a part and which I cannot pretend to grasp. To say I grasp it is immediately to put myself in a false position, as if I were "outside" it. Whereas to be "in" it is to seek truth in my own life and action, moving where movement is possible and keeping still when movement is unnecessary, realizing that things will continue to define themselves and that the judgments and mercies of God will clarify themselves and will be more clear to me if I am silent and attentive, obedient to His will, rather than constantly formulating statements in this age which is smothered in language, in meaningless and inconclusive debate in which, in the last analysis, nobody listens to anything except what agrees with his own prejudices.

March 2, 1966, VI.366

Friday, March 23, 2012

A Year With Thomas Merton - March 23

Prodigals Going Home

Yesterday afternoon, when Fr. Amadeus was preaching to us about the Holy Ghost in the infirmary chapel, Fr. George came bursting in, made the sign of "Thank you" three or four times, and departed. Last night he came down and wandered around the monastery.

Reverend Father, who used to be the infirmarian, says that sometimes, when they are near death, they get this urge to travel.

There was a Brother Mary up there who used to be the gatekeeper. He was dying. He had a wooden leg and a cane. He used to take his cane and go clumping around instead of staying in bed. They hid his wooden leg. He found it behind the door, and put it on and got going. They hid it again, in a closet where he couldn't find it. He lay in bed waving his hand and making signs, "The cane! The cane!"

There was another Brother who was dying. It was summer, very hot. He was in bed with very few clothes on. They found him walking out of the infirmary with nothing on him but a shirt. "Where are you going?" they asked him. "Nebraska!" he said. Nebraska is where he used to live.

I think I am beginning to understand something about the fifteenth chapter of St. Luke's Gospel--the lost sheep, the lost drachma, the Prodigal Son. Our dearest Lord is showing that He means everything about the fatted calf and the rejoicing to be taken literally, and that He means to pour out every kind of happiness in rivers upon those who ran away from His mercy but could not escape it.

March 15 and 21, 1949, II.292, 295

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Year With Thomas Merton - March 22

The New Man

The old and the new. For the "old man," everything is old: he has seen everything or thinks he has. He has lost hope in anything new. What pleases him is the "old" he clings to, fearing to lose it, but he is certainly not happy with it. And so he keeps himself "old" and cannot change: he is not open to any newness. His life is stagnant and futile. and yet there may be much movement--but change that leads to no change. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

For the "new man" everything is new. Even the old is transfigured in the Holy Spirit and is always new. There is nothing to cling to, there in nothing to be hoped for in what is already past--it is nothing. The new man is he who can find reality where it cannot be seen by the eyes of the flesh--where it is not yet--where it comes into being the moment he sees it. And would not be (at least for him) if he did not see it. The new lives in this realm of renewal and creation. He lives in life.

The old man lives without life. He lives in death, and clings to what has died precisely because he clings to it. And yet he is crazy for change, as if struggling with the bonds of death. His struggle is miserable, and cannot be a substitute for life.

Thought of these things after Communion today, when I suddenly realized that I had, and for how long, deeply lost hope of "anything new." How foolish, when in fact the newness is there all the time.

March 18, 1959, III.269,

A Year With Thomas Merton - March 21

Christ Is My Own Kind

In Louisville I bought marvelous books for a few pennies--including The Family of Man for fifty cents. All those fabulous pictures. And again, no refinements and no explanation are necessary! How scandalized some would be if I said that this whole book is to me a picture of Christ, and yet that is the Truth. There, there is Christ in my own Kind, my own Kind--Kind, "likeness" and which means "love" and which means "child." Mankind. Like one another, the dear "Kind" of sinners united and embraced in only one heart, in only one Kindness, which is the Heart and Kindness of Christ. I do not look for sin in you, Mankind. I do not see sin in you anymore today (though we are all sinners). There is something too real to allow sin any longer to seem important, to seem to exist, for it has been swallowed up, it has been destroyed, it is gone, and there is only the great secret between us that we are all one Kind, and what matters is not what this or that one has committed in his heart, separate from the others, but the love that brings him back to all the others in the one Christ, and this love is not our love but the Divine Bridegroom's. It is the Divine Power and the Divine Joy--and God is seen and reveals Himself as man, that is, in us, and there no other hope of finding wisdom than in God-manhood: our own manhood transformed in God!

March 19, 1958, III.182-83

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Year With Thomas Merton - March 20

My Divinely Appointed Place

God has brought me to Kentucky, where the people are, for the most part, singularly without inhibitions. This is the precise place He has chosen for my sanctification. Here I must revise all my own absurd plans, and take myself as I am, Gethsemani as it is, and America as it is--atomic bomb and all. It is utterly peculiar, but nonetheless true, that, after all, one's nationality should come to have a meaning in the light of eternity. I have lived for thirty-six years without one. Nine years ago I was proud of the fact. I thought that, to be a citizen of heaven, all you had to do was throw away your earthly passport. But now I have discovered a mystery: that the ladies in the Office of the Deputy Clerk of the Louisville District are perhaps in some accidental way empowered to see that I am definitely admitted to the Kingdom of Heaven forever.

For now I am beginning to believe that perhaps the only, or at least the quickest, way that I shall become a saint is by virtue of the desires of many good people in America that I should become one. Last night I dreamt I was telling several other monks, "I shall be a saint," and they did not seem to question me. Furthermore, I believed it of myself. If I do--(I shall)--it will be because of the prayers of other people who, though they are better than I am, still want me to pray for them.

March 3, 1951, II.452

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Year With Thomas Merton - March 19

Shining Like the Sun

(Feast of St. Joseph; Merton makes Solemn Vows at Gethsemani on March 19, 1947)

Yesterday, in Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, suddenly realized that I loved all the people and that none of them were or could be totally alien to me. As if waking from a dream--a dream of my separateness, of the "special" vocation to be different. My vocation does not really make me different from the rest of men or put me in a special category except artificially, juridically. I am still a member of the human race, and what more glorious destiny is there for man, since the Word was made flesh and became, too, a member of the Human Race!

Thank God! Thank God! I am only another member of the human race, like all the rest of them. I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.

march 19, 1958, III.181-83

A Year With Thomas Merton - March 18

The World Is Our Mother

I have come to the monastery to find my place in the world, and if I fail to find this place, I will be wasting my time in the monastery.

It would be a grave sin for me to be on my knees in this monastery, flagellated, penanced, though not now as thin as I ought to be, and spend my time cursing the world without distinguishing what is good in it from what is bad.

Wars are evil, but the people involved in them are good, and I can do nothing whatever for my own salvation or for the glory of God if I merely withdraw from the mess people are in and make an exhibition of myself and write a big book saying, "Look! I'm different!" To do this is to die. Because any man who pretends to be either an angel or a statue must die the death.

Coming to the monastery has been, for me, exactly the right kind of withdrawal. It has given me perspective. It has taught me how to live. And now I owe everyone else in the world a share in that life. My first duty is to start, for the first time, to live as a member of the human race, which is no more (and no less) ridiculous than I am myself. And my first human act is the recognition of how much I owe everybody else. There is a world which Christ would not pray for. But the world was also made by God and is good, and unless that world is our mother, we cannot be saints, because we cannot be saints unless we are first of all human.

March 3, 1951, II.451

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Year With Thomas Merton - March 17

Freedom Within Boundaries

Cold day with sun. The snow melts slowly.

A jet plane swooped low over the monastery with an interesting roar and then started climbing beautifully into the north, at great speed, with a flight I could not help but love and admire. In a few seconds it was high enough for the exhaust to come out white in a long trail.

Perhaps I have been struggling with an illusory idea of freedom, as if I were not, to a great extent, bound by my own history, the history of Gethsemani, of the country where I have become a citizen, etc. There are only certain very limited and special avenues of freedom open to me now, and it is useless to fight my way along where no issue is possible. This is true not only exteriorly but even interiorly and spiritually. To say that God can open up new ways is perhaps, among other things, to admit only that He has provided ways for me of which I cannot yet be aware, since I am too intent upon imaginary and experimental ones.

March 18, 1960, III.379-80

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Year With Thomas Merton - March 16

My Ruin Is My Fortune

In the Penitential Psalms, Christ recognizes my poverty in His poverty. Merely to see myself in the psalm is a beginning of being healed. For I see myself through His grace. His grace is working, therefore I am on my way to being healed. O the need of that healing! I walk from region to region of my soul and I discover that I am a bombed city.

When I meditated on Psalm 6--"Lord, not in thy fury"--I caught sight of an unexpected patch of green meadow along the creek on our neighbor's land. The green grass under the leafless trees and the pools of water after the storm lifted my heart to God. He is so easy to come to when even grass and water bear witness to His mercy. "I will water my couch with tears."

I have written about the frogs singing. Now they sing again. It is another spring. Although I am ruined, I am far better off than I have ever been in my life. My ruin is my fortune.

March 3, 1953, III.39

A Year With Thomas Merton - March 15

God Is All in Christ

Went out to work clearing brush near the lake by the Bardstown Road yesterday and got my eyes infected. Conjunctivitis, they say. During the night office and especially during my Mass it was extremely painful today. Now I know what Gerard Manley Hopkins was talking about when, after correcting hundreds of exam papers, he said he felt as if his eyes were full of lemon juice. Got the thing fixed up with ointment and even bandaged, and it was better. Practically no reading all day--spent a lot of time "empty" and it was a happy, salutary day--a gift from God!

One thing Christ has said: "He who sees me sees the Father also."

In emptying Himself to come into the world, God has not simply kept His reality in reserve, in a safe place, and manifested a kind of shadow or symbol of Himself. He has emptied Himself and is all in Christ. Christ is not simply the tip of the little finger of the Godhead, moving in the world, easily withdrawn, never threatened, never really risking anything. God has acted and given Himself totally. He has become not only one of us but even our very selves.

March 24 and 25, 1960, III.380-81

Saturday, March 17, 2012

A Year With Thomas Merton - March 14

Love That Forgets It Was Born in Sorrow

My soul is trying to awaken and discover again the beauty of penance. I am ashamed of having made so many confessions of my faults in the monastery with so little sorrow and so feeble a hope of doing better. I want to say, over and over again, that I am sorry. I do not know how I can go on living unless I convince you, Jesus, that I am really sorry. The psalms say this better than I ever could. I am sorry that it has taken me so long to begin to discover the psalms. I am sorry that I have not lived them.

I am sorry for having let myself become so stupid and so torpid, thinking more of myself than of what I owe to your Love--and I owe You everything. Forgive me for paying so little attention. Without compunction and deep sorrow, contemplation is likely to be nothing more than a kind of idolatry. How can I love You if I do not know who I am and who You are? And how can I know this without sorrow? Jesus, I no longer want to have anything to do with love that forgets that it was born in sorrow, and therefore forgets to be grateful. Otherwise I will only go on lying to You, and I want to be done with insincerity forever and forever.

March 18, 1950, II.420

Friday, March 16, 2012

A Year With Thomas Merton - March 13

All Day the Frogs Sing
As soon as I get into a cell by myself I am a different person! Prayer becomes what it ought to be. Everything is very quiet. The door is closed but I have the window open. It is warm--grey clouds fly all night--and all day the frogs sing.
Now it is evening. The frogs still sing. After the showers of rain around dinnertime, the sky cleared. All afternoon I sat on the bed rediscovering God, rediscovering myself, and the office and Scripture and everything.
It has been one of the most wonderful days I have ever known in my life, and yet I am not attached to that part of it either. My pleasure or the contentment that I may have experienced out of silence and solitude and freedom from all care does not matter. But I know that is the way I ought to be living: with my mind and senses silent, contacts with the world of business and war and community troubles severed--not solicitous for anything high or low or far or near--not pushing myself around with my own fancies or desires or projects--and not letting myself get hurried off my feet by the excessive current of activity that flows through Gethsemani with full force.
March 19, 1948, II.185

Thursday, March 15, 2012

A Year With Thomas Merton - March 12

To Love and Serve Society

Came up to the hermitage at 4 a.m. The moon poured down silence over the woods, and the frosty grass sparkled faintly. More than two hours of prayer in firelight. The sun appeared and rose at 6:45. Sweet pungent smell of hickory smoke, and silence, silence. But birds again--presence, awareness. Our sorry idiot life, our idiot existence, idiot not because it has to be but because it is not what it could be with a little more courage and care. In the end it all comes down to renunciation, the "infinite bonding" without which one cannot begin to talk of freedom--but it must be renunciation, not more resignation, abdication, "giving up." There is no simple answer, least of all in the community. The ordinary answers tend to be confusing and to hide the truth, for which one must struggle in loneliness--but why in desperation? This is not necessary.

"All the more wretchedness as we see it about us is our wretchedness and our weakness," says Hromadka, in a powerful article about the Christian's concern for the (godless) man of today. From such a one I am willing to learn. He says the obligation of the Christian in a socialist society is first to understand that society, to love it and serve its spiritual needs, and to bring up children in truthfulness for the sake of helping in the task of building a new world. "Not with groaning but with joyful love for the man of this modern world of ours we want to bring a service which no one can bring in our stead."

March 26 and 27, 1964, V.92-93

A Year With Thomas Merton - March 11

Seeding the Forest in Silence

The Communion antiphon sounded like bugles at the end of the Conventual Mass. This was because it is in the fifth tone and the fifth tone is full of melodies that echo in the new Jerusalem the silver trumpets that sounded in the temple of old. The sun is bright, and the spring is upon us, though the winds are cold. There are daffodils coming out by the door of the secular kitchen and in the beds outside this window. The Traxcavator roars merrily where they are trying to haul beams that weigh three tons up to the top floor of the new brothers' novitiate. And for my own part, I came out of Mass thinking about the trench where Frater John of God and I made haste to heel six thousand seedlings for the forest on Saturday afternoon. Today I hope to take about twenty novices out to the section of woods behind Donahue's and start planting these seedlings in the places we logged most heavily last winter.

When your tongue is silent, you can rest in the silence of the forest. when your imagination is silent, the forest speaks to you. It tells you of its unreality and of the Reality of God. But when your mind is silent, then the forest suddenly becomes magnificently real and blazes transparently with the Reality of God. For now I know that the Creation, which at first seems to reveal Him in concepts, then seems to hide Him by the same concepts, finally is revealed in Him, by the Holy Spirit. And we who are in God find ourselves united in Him with all that springs from Him. This is prayer, and this is glory!

March 17, 1952, II.470-71