Merton and Advent

Today, December 10, is the 47th anniversary of the death of Thomas Merton, poet, peace activist, Trappist monk, prolific writer, mystic, lover of nature, champion of social justice and contemplative.

Merton once wrote, “The Church’s belief in Christ is not a mere static assent to His historical existence, but a dynamic participation in the great cycle of actions which manifest in the world the love of the Father for the ones He has called to union with Himself, in his beloved Son.”

It is a great thought to keep in mind as we approach Christmas.

Our minds fill with images of a young couple who cannot find room in an inn as the woman approaches pregnancy. We focus on a star and shepherds and wise men. We listen to the prophesies of the coming of the Messiah.

And it is right that we celebrate the birth of Jesus into the world. But, even as we do, we need to keep in mind that our faith is about more than the historical existence of a man named Jesus.

Ultimately, it is about the love of God – a God who longs for nothing less than our total union with Him. A God who chooses to become human out of love – to show us what it means to be fully human – and fully divine.

And, as the Merton quote suggests, our realization of this reality demands a response. Not mere a passive enjoyment of that love, but our commitment to “manifest in the world” that love.

As we move through these days of Advent, days in which our world is groaning in suffering, we might ask how we might more fully manifest God’s love in the world.

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One thought on “Merton and Advent

  1. “The Church’s belief in Christ is not a mere static assent to His historical existence, but a dynamic participation in the great cycle of actions which manifest in the world the love of the Father for the ones He has called to union with Himself, in his beloved Son.”

    From a Christian perspective, especially on this Gaudete Sunday, we are encouraged to ‘rejoice’ in our encounters and sharing in life experiences during the current age of New Evangelism, rejoice in the unfolding of this Advent Season and rejoice in having recently entered the year of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. A rejoicing that shines light upon many examples of spiritual (and often undeclared secular) ‘dynamic participation in the great cycle of actions. . .’ Merton spoke of.

    This time of year, many faiths festively celebrate ‘light and life’ – joyfully joining heart, voice and charitable giving emblematic of Judaic, Orthodox, and Roman faiths and Christian faiths born of the Reformation and many other faiths that have since followed – to many, a blessed season of ‘dynamic participation’ expressed in a love that many New Year resolutions intend to reverence, nurture and share continually.
    .
    A ‘Season’ where God’s children of many faiths share reflections and well wishes personalized in card and letter, where invitations are extended to share bounty grown, prepared, served and prayed over upon family table (domestic altar), including invitations to share sacred liturgy with faith communities, and invitations to usher in the dawn of a new year in joyous celebration – “the great cycle of actions” celebrated and sustained by tradition and generation. . .

    Prayers of thanksgiving need continue for lives of prayer, service, discernment, encouragement and challenge similar to Susan’s (and many like her) sharing and enriching our lives through her (their personal) ministry. Is there not a day Susan doesn’t stimulate thought and emotion eliciting action – action most often decoupled from belief or doctrine – action intended to be manifested universally? Like she, all are called to celebrate ‘light and life’.

    Though from a Christian perspective, the celebratory joy of the Season rests tenuously upon profession of ‘truths’ diversely held though seldom spoken in the vernacular. Many of faith’s shepherds are ordained and privileged to call their flocks daily, is it not time more of His shepherds are ‘called out’ for their thoughts, words and actions that are not manifested in furthering the “. . . union with Himself . . . He has called?” How has Jesus’ simple message of, ‘Love each other as I have loved you.” Become so diverse in practice, though beliefs divisive often relaxed seasonally?

    While laud should be celebrated for the mercy offered, with the advent of the Year of Mercy, for those who have had an abortion. Imagine the abandoned or abused spouses, who have remarried and for the first time in recent memory, who with loving families are warmly huddled in crowded pews for Christmas Mass – unable to partake of the Eucharist. So many hearts and the ‘spirit’ within are purported to be ‘read’ by others – and too often judged. . .

    Contrast the spirit in which Luther’s 95 Thesis (1517, “Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed”) was posted (as an invitation) with the ‘spirit’ in which the Papacy and Church responded forcefully to the Reformation and the ‘spirit’ in which the Councils of Trent (1545–1563) addressed far more than the urgency of institutional reform, contentious issues as corrupt bishops and priests, indulgences, and other financial abuses. The Councils called forth and conducted were instrumental in inspiring actions initiated – and many a historian holds that all compromises with the Protestant faiths were rejected.

    During the Holiday Season where God’s family is often most inclusive, more fully embracing gender, race and creed; His words, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father.” (John 14:12) capture Susan’s sentence cited: “And, as the Merton quote suggests, our realization of this reality demands a response. Not a mere passive enjoyment of that love, but our commitment to “manifest in the world” that love.”

    In ‘spirit,’ humanity shares so much. Secularly, as well as Spiritually, we are encouraged routinely to gather hand in hand and in voice to sing carols of the season, can those of the ‘cloth’ who encourage also gather routinely? Gather routinely to begin building permanent bridges between faiths to replace often professed placating ‘bridges of justification’ – bridges most often supported by the ‘sands’ spoken of in Matthew 7:26 “Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.”

    If Jesus were among us this day, how many sentences would He require to end the salvation debate between ‘faith and works’ that separates still? “. . . our realization of this reality demands a response.”

    Would many more sentences be required to similarly resolve the issues of ‘Transubstantiation and Consubstantiation’? “. . . our realization of this reality demands a response.”

    I weep each day when reflecting upon the Eucharist I was introduced to, the Eucharist before Nicaea, the Eucharist of Perpetua’s home church, the Eucharist of Cyprian, the Eucharist that drew Christ’s believers to Himself, to Himself the Sacrificial Presider, to Himself who forms the ‘many grains’ into The ‘One Body.’

    His words, ‘Do this in remembrance of Me,’ convey so much more than our thanksgiving and memorializing the partaking of ‘Bread and Wine.’

    The secular world has much to offer the world of religions. . .

    . . . We are encouraged routinely (seasonally) to gather hand in hand and in voice to sing carols of the season.

    As Christians, when will we gather hand in hand to universally share the Sacred Meal we are all called to partake in?

    As all of God’s children, when will we gather hand in hand as Merton suggests, to not merely enjoy the passivity of love, but to commit to “manifest in the world that love?”

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