All or nothing?
Thomas Merton was no saint. He himself would have balked at the notion of being called a saint since he was very aware of his own weaknesses and his need of God’s grace and sanctification. Perhaps it was this awareness, then, that made him a fearless proponent of the marvellous workings of God’s love on poor sinners, and our need to witness to this. In his book “Thoughts in Solitude” he writes, “A life is either all spiritual or not spiritual at all. No man can serve two masters. Your life is shaped by the end you live for. You are made in the image of what you desire.” In Merton’s thinking, we have to unify our life by allowing Christ’s merciful love to reach every corner of it, and then we have to joyfully witness to that love.
We are coming to the end of something of a sacramental conveyor belt at the moment. All the deferred celebrations of First Holy Communion and Confirmation have come in a glut. It is truly impressive. Many of them, particularly the confirmandi, are young people, children from our parish and school. Others are teenagers, some are adults, even fathers and sons have been confirmed together, and others are confirmed as they are received into the Church. Each brings their own story, and each brings something in common — a desire to know and love Christ more, and a desire to love the Church more. These joyful celebrations are an encouragement to all of us, and, please God, might put fresh heart into even the most battle-weary of souls.
Merton’s lines from “Thoughts in Solitude” could be taken in two ways. One might, on first glance, think that he is promoting a kind of gung-ho, absolutism, where it is all or nothing, and there is little space for doubts or fears or questions. Perhaps he is saying something else. If we are made in the image of what we desire, perhaps it is possible for all of us, even those who may have drifted a little, to be made anew, to be made a new creation by looking again to see what it is our hearts really desire. When the worries about what the world tells us, and the thoughts about getting our own way can be set aside for a moment, what is more desirable to us than a love that always forgives, that leads us on from good to better, that heals us and makes us anew? Whether we experience him in the Sacrament of Penance, or in silence as the ‘prisoner of the tabernacle’, that is precisely what our Lord holds out to us, and it shapes us, it gives our life new meaning.
The rule of St Benedict, which was the guide of Merton’s life, reminds us that with the Lord, always we begin again. Whether our confirmation was a few years ago or forty, perhaps we can call on that Spirit which has been poured into our hearts to awaken a new desire for the one who gave all in sacrifice for us, and then see where that will take us.