NO MAN IS AN ISLAND
“The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them”
When Pope Francis praised Thomas Merton (born on this day, January 31st in 1915) in his recent speech to Congress, many had never heard of the Trappist monk who was a prolific author of over 60 books. He is known for his deep, reflective interior life which led him to inter-religious dialogue with people such as the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh and D. T. Suzuki.
His is the spirit evoked by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 9 as he first credentializes himself as an apostle, only to set it aside for his greater love for people. Paul, like Christ did not require that people fit a certain mold in order to be acceptable. As Michael Green wrote in his book To Corinth With Love
Paul would not have tolerated the middle-class captivity of the church in the Western world. He would have been as active in evangelizing skinheads as undergraduates. He would have been as much at home talking of Christ in the bar or the open air as at the supper party.
Ministries to the outcasts and marginalized of our day begin to implement the vision of “all things to all people” that Paul presents. Paul compares the evangelistic lifestyle of true believers to athletes who sacrifice normal pursuits for the sake of strict training and a competitive edge in order to achieve, as Cicero said, the Summum bonum – the “the highest good.
1 Corinthians 9:19–27
19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more.
20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law;
21 to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law.
22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.
23 I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.
24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.
25 Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.
26 Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air;
27 but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.
Art: Awaiting the Deliverer by Xu Beihong , 1933
Literature & Liturgy: Thomas Merton
Trappist monk and writer. Born in Prades, in the French Pyrenees, he was educated in England at Oakham School and Clare College, Cambridge (which he left without taking a degree), before he went on to Columbia University in New York. In the USA he became a RC and in 1941 he joined the Trappists at Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky, taking the name of Louis. His autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain (1948; pub. in a slightly abridged form in England in 1949 as Elected Silence) portrayed a traditional conversion to Catholicism, but at the same time it presented monastic spirituality to the public, and it had a very wide appeal. Merton’s development, recorded in his immense literary output, echoes the changes in modern RCism, leading to a greater openness to other traditions (both Christian and non-Christian), and to a deep concern for the moral dilemmas of modern man. His understanding of monasticism also developed, leading him eventually to seek the life of a *hermit. He died, electrocuted by a faulty shower, while attending a world conference of contemplatives in Bangkok.
M. Mott, The Seven Mountains of Thomas Merton (Boston, 1984; Lorndon, 1986). D. Grayston, Thomas Merton: The Development of a Spiritual Theologian (Toronto Studies in Theology, 20 ). Popular Life by M. Furlong (London, 1980; rev. edn., 1995). L. Cunningham in, ANB 15 (1999), pp. 370–2.
F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 1081.