Tag Archives: Thomas Merton

Ambition and Cleanness of Heart

Even when I try to please God, I tend to please my own ambition, his enemy. There can be imperfection even in the ardent love of great perfection, even in the desire of virtue, of sanctity. Even the desire of contemplation can be impure, when we forget that true contemplation means the complete destruction of all selfishness – the pure poverty and cleanness of heart.

~~~ Thomas Merton

Merton June 17Ambition, by itself, is not evil. When we have ambition, we improve ourselves and the world. Ambitious business people have built great companies that have provided goods and services to people and improved their lives. Doctors and scientists have developed medicines, vaccines and medical procedures that have saved the lives of untold numbers of people. The entrepreneurs and others were ambitious people who wanted to make a difference. Ambition does have a dark side. It turns dark when it is no longer shares with the welfare of others, but it is simply for self-satisfaction and aggrandizement.

Merton says that we even try to please God and yet simply feed our ambition. If we are seeking to love, serve, be virtuous or live out the fruits of the spirit for our own satisfaction it is worthless. Even in contemplation we can feed our selfish ambition. We must seek to please God outside of our self-satisfaction. God is not impressed with the works we do, the purity we possess or the prayers we pray unless they are offered to Him and not for our own drive to succeed.

In my years as a pastor and teacher I have seen this scenario carried out countless times. A person is so driven to be a model Christian that they for forget why they should be Christian. Their works are so big that they make others look small. Their words are so high and mighty that they put others down by their very nature. Their walk with God is truly a walk with themselves. This is the type of spirituality that Jesus warns about in the Sermon on the Mount. “Be careful not to perform your righteous acts before men to Ambition 1be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 6:1)- This is what ambitious Christianity can evolve into, and it is the opposite of the selfless lives we are called to live.

Merton gives us some sound advice and direction. He directs us to please God by emptying ourselves of self. The emptying of self means that we offer all that we do to our creator without expectation of return or praise. We may not even be deemed successful by our neighbors and peers. Remember God sees in secret what we do in secret and rewards us greatly. This allows us pure poverty and cleanness of heart.


Prayer

Lord, Allow me to use my ambitions to please you and not myself. Help me to discern the difference between selfish ambition and pureness of heart, a pure heart the prays and serves to please you and not myself. It is extremely hard in our driven and competitive world to keep a selfless focus but with your grace and help I know that it is possible. Keep me on the right path this day and give opportunities to live out my mission to you.

Amen

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Solitude,Silence and Recollection

Physical solitude, exterior silence and real recollection are all morally necessary for anyone who wants to lead a contemplative life, but like everything else in creation they are nothing more than a means to an end, and if we do not understand the end we will make a wrong use of the means.

We did not go into the desert to escape people but to learn how to find them; we do not leave them in order to have nothing more to do with them, but to find out the way to do them the most good.

~~~Thomas Merton (New Seeds of Contemplation)

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Many times in our lives we find ourselves caught in turmoil, and all we seem to be able to do is react. I believe that the underlying reason for reactionary thinking is that we never have taken the time to be alone with God. This alone time with God gives us a perspective that we can never find in any other place. Merton reminds us that silence, solitude and recollection are morally necessary to living a life that is joined with God. When we do so, we can be of greater service to the world. Doing the most good has the prerequisite of finding unity with God. Too many lay and clergy attempt to deal with the world through the means of the world. They are usually angry, utter failures who are only venting to the world in the world’s own language. I lack answers for the great dilemmas of the world, but I have some suggestions about solitude, silence, and recollection.

Solitude is a scary word that we have all come to know from one experience or another. Most times of solitude are forced upon us by some outside circumstance such as a broken relationship, sickness or even a global pandemic, but God-centered solitude is voluntary. It is a solitude that we go into to seek the face of God. Most of us do not have gobs of time for solitude, so let us begin with 15 minutes to an hour of purposeful solitude each day.

Silence is boring in a world that demands noise. The purpose of silence for the Christian is to hear the “voice” of God. When we are silent, we are open receptacles of the words of God. His words are crowded out by the white noise of day to day living. As we practice silence our ears are open to His gentle nudging. That nudging leads to words and wisdom beyond our imagination.

Recollection is painful because it requires us to examine our selves for the good and the bad. It is not until we can face the reality of our failures that we can win the real victories that God wants to give us. Take time every day to recollect your day, from the eyes of God, and you will be surprised where it takes you.

DSC00315Solitude, silence, and recollection can help us to march on to the highpoint of the Christian life. Through these simple practices we find the means to be the light of the world.


Prayer

Lord, Help me to see the necessity of taking time to be in solitude, silence, and recollection every day. Assist me to find the time necessary for these practices. I trust that you will use my practices for not only my benefit but the benefit of all creation. I ask you this day to allow me to grow in such a way that I will be pleasing to you in all that I do.

Amen


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Love Without Inquiring

“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy if anything can.”

—–Thomas Merton

Our job is to love one another without inquiring about their worthiness. That is not the entire context of the Merton quote, but I believe it is the heart of the matter. So much of our love, our service, our commitment is hinged on the worthiness of the recipient. When we think in this manner we spend a large portion of our Merton-30efforts judging our brothers and sisters. Christ never acted in such a way. He said: “Come to me, all who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.” As we learn to follow the example of Jesus it lightens our burden of judgment, assessment or whatever you may call it and makes us free to love and serve.

Today’s world is certainly one of wars and rumors of wars. The greatest war that most of us have to fight is a self-inflected war of harshness and unkindness to one another. We fail to help those who are in need because we are too busy trying to find out why they are in need and too selfish to give them the simplicity of God’s love. I can only imagine what the world would really be like if we were willing to carry one another’s burden without assessing the cost, risk and worthiness of the recipient of our kindness.

Perhaps we can take a lesson from the monk when he says to us: “…love itself will render both ourselves and neighbors worthy if anything can.”

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Prayer

Lord help me this day to look upon my brothers and sisters as, just that, brothers and sisters. May I see them as fruits of your creation that are worthy of my love just as they are recipients of your love. In this ONE truth we find the peace and harmony that will fill the vastness of the void that lies in our souls.

Amen


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Self Discovery

Midweek Thought #1


“What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves? This is the most important of all voyages of discovery, and without it all the rest are not only useless but disastrous.”

― Thomas Merton


Merton challenges us to look inside of ourselves with great introspection that allows us to see ourselves as God and others see us. Many times we are shocked by theExplorer 2 comment of a loved one or friend about something we have said or done. Our first reaction may be to say that we are misunderstood, but we will never really understand until we pause and take a deep look at ourselves.God sees in us what we cannot see in ourselves. The creator made us in his image and likeness with the knowledge that we would never live up to our full potential. Too often we hide behind our accomplishments and never take that voyage to the most difficult destination of all – our true self. Merton reminds us of this, but how do we begin that scary voyage? Let me suggest a few possibilities.

  • Learn to sit quietly in the presence of God.

  • Learn to say, “I was wrong.”

  • Learn to value others more than yourself.

These three possibilities are not a silver bullet to finding our true selves but some tools that will drive us deeper into that uncharted territory that lies within all of us.  As we venture deeper into ourselves, God will give us the wisdom and courage to confront the bad and the joy of the discovery of the good. Remember, the image of God is imprinted in our DNA, and it is the desire of God that it come out.  Spend some time today pondering the possibility that that image can emerge and I know God will bless you.


Midweek #1

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New Seeds of Contemplation 6

Bird and seedsEvery moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul. For just as the wind carries thousands of winged seeds, so each moment brings with it germs of spiritual vitality tat come to rest imperceptibly in the minds and wills of all men. Most of these unnumbered seeds perish in and are lost, because men are not prepared to receive them: for such seeds as these cannot spring up anywhere except in the good soil of freedom, spontaneity and love.

…..Thomas Merton

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New Seeds of Contemplation 5

CrowTree-v3-1200-1200x675Nothing is more repellent than a pseudo-scientific definition of the contemplative experience. One reason for this is that he who attempts such a definition is tempted to proceed psychologically, and there is really no adequate psychology of contemplation.

—–Thomas Merton

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New Seeds of Contemplation 3

Contemplation is also the response to a call: a call from Him who has no voice, and yet who speaks in everything that is, and who, most of all, speaks in the depths of our own being: for we ourselves or words of His.

Thomas Merton
Merton at his Hermitage

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Our Encounter with Evil

As we travel the Christian journey, we are invariably going to discover that we are confronted by evil in many forms. In Athanasius of Alexandria’s biography of Anthony of Egypt this is referred to as his conflict with demons. We seldom reference demons in the postmodern church, but we do know about evil. Anthony the Great had a process to rid himself of evil / demons that I think we can use as well. Let’s look at his ideas.

Evil as GoodWe must remember evil hates good. That is the key to recognizing the evil that so surrounds us. Evil always seeks to find a way to counter or cheat in any good thing. The first thing that Anthony heard was what he called a whisper about the sacrifices he had made to follow God’s calling. The evil one wanted him to remember his wealth, his sister, his friends and all the pleasures he left behind. The hope of that evil one was that he would grow resentful and turn back to his old life. Though Anthony’s endeavors would be considered strange and selfish by some, it would have been wrong for him to decide to abandon God’s purpose in life and go back to his old ways.

That’s an important point to remember. The devil does not always lead us to blatant evil, but he does lead us away from God’s purpose in our lives. Only you know what God’s purpose is in your life and only you can pursue it. Simply put, the devil, the demon wants you to abandon that purpose. He does not always lead you to do wrong and despicable things but rather to simply abandon the purpose of God in your life. Anthony was a good man with a good life, but God was calling him to a new life and the devil did not want him to follow that calling.


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The greatest temptations are not those that solicit our consent to obvious sin, but those that offer us great evils masking as the greatest goods.

Thomas Merton

That’s the challenge we all face. We are to recognize when the devil is really trying to turn us away from God’s plan for our lives. It can seem so innocuous and harmless, but it still leads us away from our “God path.” The work of the evil one is not always scary but is always deceptive. Anthony recognized this and we must do so as well because if we do not, we can lose our way.

This can be combated in many ways. We can maintain a life of prayer and awareness that always seeks God’s face. We can read and study the revelation of holy scriptures. We can surround ourselves by others who seek to follow their own “God Path.”

We can surmise from the words of Athanasius as he describes to us life of Anthony the Great, that one of the great concerns we must all have is interference from the demonic in our lives. We would do well to keep this in mind every day we live.

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

Ephesians 6:12

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The Best of New seeds of Contemplation 2

Merton 2

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February 3, 2020 · 9:04 am

The Best of New Seeds of Contemplation 1

Merton 1

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January 27, 2020 · 5:44 am