Thomas Merton: A Difficult Gratitude

A number of years ago my sweetie turned over her Thomas Merton books to me. Of a few classics, I now have duplicates on my office shelf. And others, I have yet to read.

Every so often, I return to Merton, and in doing so, I find myself gently drawn and gently drifting away. Drawn, of course, by a kindred spirit: an artist who never seems satisfied, and who chafes at what he considers silly. My sense of Merton is that he possessed a powerful intellect and he suffered no fools gladly. Pushed away at times, by his fussing and sense of entitlement. Which isn’t so much different from my own.

On the day of his entry into Gethsemani (also the day of his death), I went to a few volumes and found some timely entries.

1946:

It is five years since I came to the monastery. It is the same kind of day, overcast. But now it is raining. I wish I knew how to begin to be grateful to God and to Our Lady for bringing me here. (The Sign of Jonas, p 17)

Gratitude. Difficult. There are days when I know I’m so far from it, it’s the best I can do to ask God for a small seed of it.

1964:

And this morning, seeing the multitude of stars above the pine branches of the wood, I was suddenly hit, as it were, with the whole package of the meaning of everything, that the immense mercy of God was upon me, that the Lord in infinte kindness had looked down on me, had given me this vocation out of love, and that He had always intended this. I saw how foolish and trivial had been all my fears and desperation!

The only response is to go out from oneself with all that one is (which is nothing), and pour out that nothingness in gratitude that He is who He is. (A Vow of  Conversation, p 112)

The last quote is fudged somewhat–he wrote it on the 9th of December. But it shows something of a snapshot of growth of the man’s life in the monastery.

It occurs to me that in the coming year, I will be as old as Thomas Merton was in the last year of his life. Sometimes I reflect on a saint’s life–what were they doing when they were my age? What am I doing now? A silly exercise, perhaps. Merton points a better way: the reflection on the immensity of God, and the love God shows us. How foolish are my little games and fears and unsettledness within.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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One Response to Thomas Merton: A Difficult Gratitude

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