Trusting Thomas Merton

Brethren, Peace and Good to all of you. Today we remember Mother Elizabeth Ann Seaton in our calendar: may she intercede for us for all our needs.

Over at Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction blog, my better known blogging colleague, Dan Burke, wrote a very good piece, titled, Can I trust Thomas Merton? which I think you ough all to read. Here's an excerpt:

My advice? The Church is in no way lacking in solid and perfectly trustworthy writings on the spiritual life. I personally don’t know why anyone would want to carefully sift through this kind of literature when it is clear that Merton had serious issues even in during the his orthodox period. It seems a bit like sifting through the refuse at the back of a good restaurant. You will no doubt find much that is of nutritional value, but why not just go take your seat at the table for the best and purest meals available? I would encourage you to stick with the spiritual doctors of the Church. To name a few, the writings of St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Catherine of Sienna and St. Francis de Sales will more than meet your needs for spiritual guidance and you need not worry that you might be led down a path that leads away from the Heart of the Church.

PS: I recognize that many have found that through Merton’s writings, they have grown to more fully love and serve Christ. My thoughts here don’t in any way deny that reality or possibility. My intent here is to answer the question asked by the reader. The fact that God uses many means and instruments, including very flawed instruments, to lead people to Himself is assumed and appreciated in a very personal way.
Following another Catholic writer (Anthony E. Clark), Dan made an useful distinction between the earlier published works of Merton - which are orthodox - and his later works - which are not as much. Discussing Merton works, specially his later works in which he attempted to "bridge" Oriental mysticism with Catholicism is a complex endeavor. I myself prefer to read his journals where he was able to "unwind" more freely, and in which it was obvious he remained at heart a Catholic Christian. As I pointed out seven years ago when I quoted from an entry in Merton's journal dated June 26, 1965:
The Feast of the Sacred Heart was for me a day of grace and seriousness. Twenty years ago I was uncomfortable with this concept. Now I see the real meaning of it (quite apart from the externals). It is the center, the "heart" of the whole Christian mystery.

There is one thing more - I may be interested in Oriental religions, etc., but there can be no obscuring the essential difference - this personal communion with Christ at the center and heart of all reality, as a source of grace and life. "God is love" may perhaps be clarified if one says that "God is void" and if the void one finds absolute indetermination and hence absolute freedom. (With freedom, the void becomes fulness and 0 = infinity). All that is "interesting" but none of it touches on the mystery of personality in God, and His personal love for me. Again, I am void too - and I have freedom, or am a kind of freedom, meaningless unless oriented to Him.
I see nothing in Merton's subsequent writings where he recanted from this Theocentric and Christocentric perspective.

The subject of Thomas Merton's ultimate allegiance surges in cycles in the Catholic blogosphere. Most treatments are charitable and commendable, but few allow Merton to speak for himself. I say we should let him.

What do you all think?

The Group of the Twelve

Father Nicolas Schwizer

Icon of the Twelve Apostles

How is Jesus able to inaugurate an entire revolution of the world, a profound transformation of men and communities, in only three years? He utilizes a very adequate strategy: He dedicates himself to forming and preparing witnesses, instruments, his envoys – that is – apostles.

If we look at the Gospels, it comes to our attention that Jesus, in his public life, hardly ever appears alone. We always see him surrounded by his twelve or some of them. They are like his shadow, his permanent companions. Neither do we ever see them alone. Jesus can appear without the multitude, but not without that group of friends. They are associated to his teachings, to his works, to his task. They are his extention, his continuation; not only occasional friends who could not be there tomorrow.

A second aspect is that it is about a fixed group. They are not just a few friends, today some and tomorrow others. The apostles form an unbreakable unity. They are a collection, a college with a very defined number: 12. With this name, “the twelve,” they are almost always designated in the Gospel.
At other times they will be called the 12 disciples or apostles. The list of the group is repeated various times in the Gospel and sometimes the order of the quotation is changed a bit, but new names are never introduced nor is there anyone lacking of the chosen twelve. And the apostles themselves consider – after the death of Jesus – that number important. Thus they will elect Mathias to substitute the lack of Judas.

But the most obvious is that those twelve have been chosen for something very concrete. Jesus does not limit himself to give them a teaching, as He does with the multitude. He does not expound on a series of truths which they may or may not accept. What Jesus confers on them is a mission. It is a mission which commits them totally. Their position as chosen is at risk with this.

And it is not about just whatever mission. They do not have to do a part of Christ’s task – they are not his helpers. They have the same mission as Jesus: “As my Father sent me, so I send you.” And they will not be simple “chroniclers,” they will not only have to relate what Christ did.

They will have to continue it, make it their own, extend it. “Go and teach the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

And it has to do with a salvific mission: a mission for which no man is equipped, if he does not receive his special power from Above because it is the same mission as that of Christ. Therefore, Jesus gives them the Holy Spirit, because only with that supernatural and superhuman power will they be able to fulfill it.

Thus, it remains clear that it is a permanent mission. They will be the witnesses and authentic representatives of Christ. They will be more than simple bearers of his message, authentic actors in the Work of God. And to be able to fulfill this superhuman task, they will also receive superhuman powers: Jesus gives them the power to forgive sins; he gives them the keys to the Kingdom. And He also gives them “the authority to expel filthy spirits and to heal all illness and pain.”

And all of this is not a mission which they can each fulfill on their own, but only all together. Therefore they must “be one” (JN 17,20) because working together will be how the world will believe. Beginning with his apostles, his followers from all nations will constitute a new community, but united to Christ. It is the “small flock” to which its Father will give the Kingdom.

Due to the extraordinary surrender and fidelity of the apostles and by the grace and love of God, we all form part of this flock of the Lord, of that Church which He founded.

Let us ask Jesus that He give to each one of us that apostolic spirit of the forerunners so that we also can be useful instruments for the conquest of the Kingdom of God.

Questions for reflection

1. Do I feel like an envoy?
2. Do I behave like someone who is an extention of Jesus?
3. Do I feel I have a divine mission?