Tuesday, May 22, 2007
A LETTER TO THOMAS MERTON
In a chapter devoted to "Thomas Merton, Chiliasm, and the "New Christianity" Eugene Rose writes a letter to Thomas Merton, a letter which was likely never sent. It adds a portion of insight into what is happening in our Church, at least from my perspective.
In his letter, Eugene told Merton that "we are witnessing the birth-pangs of...a 'new Christianity,' a Christianity that claims to be 'inward,' but is entirely too concerned with outward result; a Christianity, even, that cannot really believe in 'peace' and 'brotherhood' unless it sees them generalized and universally applied, not in some seemingly remote 'other world,' but 'here and now.'...actually believe all that 'superstition' about the 'other world'--I think they have something 'new' to say to contemporary man. It has been my own experience that serious young people are 'tired' of Christianity precisely because they think it is an 'idealism' that hypocritically doesn't live up to its 'ideals'; of course, they don't believe in the other world either--but for all they know, neither do Christians....
"Christianity become a 'crusade,' Christ become an 'idea,' both in the service of a world 'transformed' by scientific and social techniques and a man virtually 'deified' by the awakening of a 'new consciousness': this lies before us. Communism, it seems clear, is nearing a transformation itself, a "humanizing,' a 'spiritualizing,' and of this Boris Pasternak is a sign given in advance; he does not reject the Revolution, he only wants it 'humanized.' The 'democracies,' by a different path, are approaching the same goal....
"An age of 'peace' may come to weary--yet apocalyptically anxious--man; but what can the Christian say of such 'peace'? It will not be the peace of Christ."
At the end of his letter, Eugene encouraged Merton not to be ashamed of genuine, otherworldly Christianity, no matter how foolish it may appear in the eyes of worldly men. "Above all," he wrote, "the Christian in the contemporary world must show his brothers that all the 'problems of the age' are of no consequence beside the single central 'problem of man': death, and its answer, Christ. Despite what you have said about the 'staleness' of Christianity to contemporary men, I think that Christians who speak of this problem, and in their lives show that they
"The outward Gospel of social idealism is a symptom of this loss of faith. What is needed is not more busyness but a deeper penetration within. Not less fasting, but more; not more action, but prayer and penance... If Christians in their daily life were really on fire with love of God and zeal for His Kingdom not of this world--then everything else needful would follow of itself."
Eugene was one with Dostoyevsky in believing that any true improvement of society must come through the spiritual transformation of each person. As Elder Ambrose of Optina clearly expressed it: "Moral perfection on earth (which is imperfect) is not attained by mankind as a whole but rather by the individual believer according to the degree to which he fulfills God's commandments and the degree of his humility. Final and complete perfection is attained in heaven in the future eternal life for which the short terrestrial life serves only as a preparation."...
In 1966 Merton formally rejected the outlok he had held twenty-five years earlier, when he had entered the monastery and written THE SEVEN STOREY MOUNTAIN. He mocked what he felt to be his former delusion in renouncing the world, believing this to be part of the "negative," "world-denying" Christianity that had existed throughout the centuries but was now outmoded, ready to be replaced by the new vision of Pope John XXIII. In outlining his new way of thinking. Merton said that the true duty of the Christian was "to choose the world."
The tragedy of Thomas Merton--and such it was, no matter what the world may try to make of him--bore witness to Eugene's statement that "the outward Gospel of social idealism is a symptom of loss of faith." ...
By the time of his famous pilgrimage to Hindu and Buddhist centers of Asia, Merton viewed Christianity as but one path among many; he said he felt more rapport with Buddhists than with Roman Catholics, and expressed his desire to "find a Tibetan guru and go in for Nyingmapa Tantric initiation. (Hieromonk Damascene, FATHER SERAPHIM ROSE, pp 246-248)
"The outward Gospel of social idealism is a symptom of loss of faith."
Next time you are at Mass and the liturgy gets crazy, think about that statement. What is the objective of the priest who toys with rubrics? Most likely it isn't defiance so much as a heart for people and what he perceives to be that which will speak to their hearts. He calls into question what he believes in. Does he believe in Christ, God-man, Savior, or does he believe that the work of saving the world is really his own to do?
Think about the sexual abuse scandal. Did the bishops trust Christ and adhere to His laws, or did they think it was up to them to save the diocese by being dishonest if that's what was called for?
Think about the Good Samaritarian Guilt Trip being fostered in Spokane. Are Catholics in the pew being asked to contribute to a charitable cause that furthers the work of Christ, or are they being asked to contribute to a charitable cause that will save diocesan assets? And if they contribute to the cause, are they any better than the bishops who did the same thing in a different way?
We cannot save ourselves. And we certainly can't save the world. All we can do is cling to Christ and do what He has asked of us, and then let the chips fall where they may.
Our faith is in the heavenly kingdom, not an earthly paradise.
Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us!