Merton Alaska-Talks Catena

Man does not die in a ditch like a dog–but at home in history, while the work toward the conquest of death is in full swing; he dies sharing in this work.  –Boris Pasternak, quoted in Merton, Disputed Questions


thomas merton

During the month before he traveled to Asia (and encountered untimely death), Father Thomas Merton gave some talks to priests and nuns in Alaska.  I thought that some passages from these talks from September 1968 might encourage us, so I made this little catena of quotes…

“God asks us to be men and women of prayer, people who live close to God, people for whom God is enough, God is sufficient.  That is the root of peace.  We have that peace when God is all we seek.  When we start seeking something besides Him, we lose it.  That is His call to us–simply to be people who are content to live close to Him.

…We have made an agreement with God, an agreement to trust His promise.  That is what the covenant is, as God said to Abraham.  He called Abraham out of his land:  leave your people, leave your father’s house, and come to the land I will show you…The covenant consists in listening to the call and believing the promise, and always listening and always believing…We have not covenanted to do any great work.  We have simply promised that we will listen and that we will believe His promise.”


icon“We have to know Christ and respond personally to Him as the one in Whom all the promises of the Father are fulfilled.”


“If our life loses this sense that God has promised everything to us and that His promise cannot fail, then we are disturbed or upset, running from pillar to post.  But God has said that if we will be quiet and will trust in Him and live in peace and not in turmoil and not get too involved in anything that takes us too far away from Him, then He will do the rest.  He will be close to us, and He will work through us and save souls through us.  We need not worry about it–He is going to do it, and once again this returns us to an atmosphere of peace…Think what it means to be called to this specific kind of peace–in a world in which there is so such peace–in a world in which peace is almost impossible…’Why did He pick us out?’  Well, He did; that’s all.  And we are called to keep alive a little flame of peace and awareness and love in a world where it is very difficult for it to be kept alive.”


“The basic principle of education is to teach people to speak to God as their Father and to bow down to no one but God.”


pentecost_with_mary“It isn’t that the world is necessarily evil, but built into it are certain processes which tend to stamp out the life of God and the light of God and the Word of God.  So we have to face the fact that to preserve our own peace we have to know how to fight.  We are in the middle, called to peace and love and simplicity, called by the spirit of freedom which we learn to experience in a life of prayer.  Somehow we have to learn to be guided by the Holy Spirit towards this freedom which can hardly be defined.  And at the same time we are surrounded by conflict and criticism.”


“How does God run His household?  This is what is revealed in the Bible…  The Bible explains what God does with us, His promises to us; how, in fact, He runs His household.  This economy, the plan of God is centered on the fact that man is the image of God, and that God comes down to earth and empties Himself to save man, and the restoration of man is the work of the Holy Spirit.  So the reality of the Christian mystery is precisely the work of the Holy Spirit…the Holy Spirit given as a fruit of the Resurrection, as a result of the Resurrection, and the Holy Spirit is here transforming us, overcoming death in us, and communicating to us the incorruptibility and the risen life of the new creation, which is the Risen Christ…victory over death…

“You may say, ‘There are a lot of people following their consciences and making a lot of noise about it.’  I think the reason they make so much noise about it is that they are insecure.  If a person is securely following his own conscience, he doesn’t have to challenge the whole world about it.  If in order to justify following my conscience, I have to break down the doors of the Synod or set fire to the White House, there is something the matter with my conscience, and I am probably a pretty insecure person…If you think you are following the Holy Spirit and are hitting somebody over the head, then you have a pretty good indication that what you are following is not the Holy Spirit…See authority [in the Church] not as an abstraction but as embodied in superiors who have feelings.”


“The real Christian conscience is way down in the depth where one feels at the same time a complete personal conviction–it is my conviction, it is personally mine.  I am free, and it is my freedom that is saying this, and at the same time I know that I am basically united with all that  the saints and the Church have ever thought.  You can have this and still disagree…People who love one another very well and know each other very well can disagree and even fight like cats and dogs, but yet on a deeper level they are in agreement because of their love and their knowledge of one another…We are all really one in a certitude which is maintained not by anybody being right but by the Holy Spirit holding everybody together in a love and in Christ…And of course the place where this is experienced above all is the liturgy.”


“Too often instead of announcing Christ we are apologizing for Christ.  This is one of the sad facts about the turmoil in contemporary Christianity.  All of a sudden we say such things as ‘You know it’s not all that serious when we present Christ.  Christ is only trying to help us solve our sociological problems,’ and so on and so on.  We try to get around the seriousness of Christ, the seriousness of the Cross, and we transform them into dimensions which suit the secular world, the press, and so forth.

“This is not right:  this we cannot do.  We don’t apologize for Christ, we simply announce Him as a fact.  This has happened; the Lord has come.  His kingdom has been established, this is it and we are a part of it, and we’re living as Risen and Redeemed people in Christ.

“We can be fooled into thinking that we can take care of ourselves with all our modern know-how, and then just go to God on Sundays only.  The more our technological know-how grows and the more equipment is available, the more God is pushed to the periphery these days.

“But this is not the issue.  God is not there just to solve problems, problems or no problems.  God is the center of everything, and Christ is the center of everything.”



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