Friday, January 04, 2013

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.
(Source)
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?