From the seclusion of his monastery in Kentucky, the Cistercian monk, Thomas Merton, reached out to the men and women of his time with a wise and compassionate heart. The writings of this contemplative priest, poet and author continue to inspire us today. Far from retreating from the pain and troubles of the world, he engaged with people of different cultures and beliefs and worked tirelessly for peace and justice in society. He shared the fruits of his silent prayer- life and in an inimitable way taught that contemplation is not the prerogative of monks but is the gift of the Spirit to all the baptized.
A recent commentator suggested that for Merton there were three fundamental aspects of everyday living which, if we paid attention to them could change us and lead us to a more authentic way of life, vision, affection and direction.
What do I see? Is my horizon limited to my own immediate and often narrow, concerns? Am I like the wealthy man in the gospel who could not see poor Lazarus at the gate? (Lk 16). We may be shocked to discover our vision is distorted by prejudice towards immigrants or people with handicaps, or even the people who live in the next neighborhood. What do I see? More tellingly, whom do I see? Do I see Jesus in those I meet each day?
Whom do I love? Even the best of people can be shockingly self-loving, their thoughts revolving around their dreams, their plans and their comforts. The heart narrows, leaving no space for the outsider. There are those who are congenial, acceptable, one of their own may be loved, but even then the love can be conditional, demanding a return. Do we love with fine words and sentiments, lacking substance, or are we towel and water people, who, like the Lord, get down to wash the feet of the other (John 13), and in the process forget ourselves?
And finally, what direction am I taking? The choices we make determine the road we follow. Do we just drift along, following the crowd without thought or reflection on where our lives are headed? “A lamp to my feet is your word, a light to my path.” (Ps 119)
We all need this compass on our journey, the light and grace of the Holy Spirit, the strength and assurance of his word. In the confusion and cacophony of today's world we are led to Jesus, the Way.
Sister Redempta Twomey is a Columban sister living in Ireland.