Seven Storey Mountainthe autobiography of Thomas Merton
Overview & SynopsisThomas Merton experienced all 7 stages of Rambo’s conversiontheory beginning from the context of the illness and death of hisfather and the crisis of Merton’s own personal touch of death tothe quest to ﬁnd God. Merton’s encounter with the Romanchurches in Italy was where he began to learn who Christ truly is.It was here that Merton felt the call to monastery life by therealization that he was part of the sins of the world that Scripturespoke about. Over the years with a series of interactionsbetween life at Cambridge and Columbia University and living ariotous life Merton found that he was spiritually empty – theworld no longer satisﬁed him. However, the ultimate rejectioncame from Father Edmund of the Franciscan Order who toldMerton that he did not belong in a monastery.
Overview & SynopsisMerton continued to be unsettled in his spirit. His quest to satisfyhis soul in response to his shifting worldview eventually gave himpeace of mind and renewed spiritual energy.Through a series ofretreats to various monasteries, as well as ongoing interactions, heeventually made his ﬁnal commitment to become a Trappist(Cistercian) Monk at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky.As weall know there are consequences of all of our decisions. Mertonwas challenged to yield his entire life to the monastic rule, whichincluded breaking ties with some of his past relationships andpossibly giving up his passion for writing. Fortunately, the leadersat the Abbey recognized Merton’s gift of writing, and providedopportunities for Merton to live out his monastic calling whileinﬂuencing the world with his literary gift.
Part IChildhood &Adolescence“St. Ives” by Owen Merton(Thomas’ father) 1910
Thomas Merton was born in France duringWorld War I to his parents who were bothartists. Having little money but a highcapacity for work, vision, enjoyment, andexpression,Thomas inherited their keenability to derive enjoyment from life (p.4).He grew up enjoying the freedom to do ashe pleased and admired sailors and theheroes of Greek mythology, which made hisextensive travels to be very pleasant (p.21).Part I – Childhood & Adolescence
Father – Owen Merton – A persistent painter, hewas born of a very pious musician in New Zealandonly to meet his wife in his study of art in London.He worked as a gardener and an organist to supporthis family when they moved to America.Mother – Ruth Jenkins – Artist who’s dreams andambition after perfection caused a young Thomas toremember her as worried, precise, quick, and critical.While she would attend Quaker meetings, she neverinvolved religion in the raising of her children.Thomas’ familyPart I – Childhood & Adolescence
Thomas’ familyBrother – John Paul – “My most vivid memories of him, inour childhood, all ﬁll me with poignant compunction at thethought of my own pride and hard-heartedness, and his naturalhumility and love...” (p.25).Pop & Bonnemaman – Mother’s parents – Pop wasbuoyant and excitable while his wife was deliberate andhesitant. He was a publisher and movies were their religionwith actors raised up as examples of morality. Protestantsby ﬁnancial contribution, Pop instilled in Thomas anunconscious hatred and suspicion of Catholics (p.29).Part I – Childhood & Adolescence
Having only been taught the Lord’s prayer by hisfather’s mother who visited them in Americaonce, they did not attend church until his motherbegan to die of stomach cancer.The children werekept away from her and did not experience herdeath, but it is recalled that Thomas did not eventhink to pray for her.Later when his father was sick in Africa, the notionto pray did come few times, but only in the face ofcrisis. Nothing of faith had been raised in him.Part I – Childhood & Adolescence
After his wife’s death, Owen Merton pursuedpainting once again while Thomas and his brotherresided then with Pop and Bonnemaman. For a largeportion of the time Thomas was allowed to travelwith him and became used to living among strangersand skipping school to be with his father.His father eventually left there alone for Europe andAfrica where he honed his skills as an artist and hadsuccessful viewings and sales thereafter, but as it wasmentioned he became sick in Africa to the point ofdeath. Upon his return to America he had decidedthat he would move his family back to France.Part I – Childhood & Adolescence
Thomas’ birthplace of France is highly reveredin his writing. In his travel through the countryhe ﬁnds the history of the church built beforehim upon the grandeur of the landscape. Just asmany of these cathedrals, monasteries, andcastles were in ruin Thomas proposes thatFrance had been corrupted to the same degreeto which it was once great, and it is to thiscorruption that he also falls victim.Part I – Childhood & Adolescence
“I suppose the most shocking thing aboutFrance is the corruption of French spiritualityinto ﬂippancy and cynicism; of Frenchintelligence into sophistry; of French dignityand reﬁnement into petty vanity and theatricalself-display; of French charity into a disgustingﬂeshly concupiscence, and of French faith intosentimentality or puerile atheism.” (p.57).Part I – Childhood & Adolescence
Owen MertonThomas’s father had become keenly aware of hisdesire to raise his sons in a home where he couldstill be allowed to pursue his art, and so they boughtland in a very small village in the south of France.He would not only build a home for them there buthe would make sure that they were educated inreligion. John Paul never came to live with them inSt. Antonin, France. Here for the ﬁrst time hisfather encouraged him to pray for God’s help.Part I – Childhood & Adolescence
Thomas attended the local school to learn thelanguage but soon was sent to a Protestant school inMontauban, Lycee. Comparatively the Catholic schoolsbore a better crop of children, for the children atLycee were prone to corruption when broughttogether in that school (p.55). Religious instructionwas simply learning the morals of the Biblical storiesand Thomas asserts that the only real religious trainingcame naturally out of the abundance of his father’sheart (p.59). Casual conversations with him were farmore valuable than any religious discourse in school.Part I – Childhood & Adolescence
Thomas describes the Privats as being the polaropposite to his school.When his father was awayhe would stay with them and was foreverimpressed with the supernatural degree towhich they were loving (p.62).While he wouldprofess to them that all religions were basicallygood and led to God by different paths, they heldthat there was only one faith, and one Church.Even in the face of his ignorance, they did notcondemn him and Thomas suspects that theirprayers for him were essential to his salvation.Part I – Childhood & Adolescence
Pop, Bonnemaman, and John Paul came to visit andwith all the pomp and arrogance that an Americancan muster they traveled with Pop up intoSwitzerland but it was a miserable trip for Thomas.It waned in comparison to France’s art and beauty.At the same time Thomas was more than happy tohear that he and his father would be moving toEngland. He left behind his friends with whom hewould write heroic novels and joined his AuntMaud and Uncle Ben in Ealing.Part I – Childhood & Adolescence
Thomas attended Ripley as a preparation for thegreater public school which he would attend, but therewas a guarded innocence surrounding the children thatdid not exist in France nor outside Ripley. He wasrequired to attend church and there did acquire,“alittle natural faith,” (p.71), but in looking back Thomasrecognizes that the formal Church of England lackedthe supernatural faith he had experienced with thePrivats. Based on his father’s ﬁnances and his own lackof English education it was decided that he wouldattend Oakham, an obscure but descent little school.Part I – Childhood & Adolescence
Father’s ConditionOwen Merton became sick with an unknowncondition. He was later diagnosed with amalignant tumor on the brain, and from thiscondition he would die a slow and painfuldeath, which caused a young Thomas toquestion his faith, and the life beyond.Part I – Childhood & Adolescence
Once in Oakham,Thomas continuedhis schooling. In 1930, when Thomasturned 15, he entered the typicalteenage rebellion state and wanted todisplay his independence. He wouldnot listen to other people’s opinionsnor would he obey authority.Part I – Childhood & Adolescence
Father’s Last DaysDuring this time the family visited Fatherin the hospital, where his conditionedhad worsened and Father was neardeath.This broke Thomas’ heart. In thisstate of brokenness Thomas realizedthat suffering is a part of life and itcannot be avoided.To try to avoid it is tobring more suffering on oneself.Part I – Childhood & Adolescence
Father’s Last DaysThomas watched his father battlethe tumor and in doing so saw aman who exempliﬁed the Christianfaith. Owen Merton eventuallydied, and this led to the ultimaterebellion stage in Thomas’s life.Part I – Childhood & Adolescence
Life After FatherThomas is cemented in hisrebellion and his intellectualarrogance.Thomas then seeksa venue to study philosophy.Part I – Childhood & Adolescence
Life After FatherThomas became sick with gangrene, andthought he was going to die (hallucinatingDeath came into his room). Even thoughThomas believed he was going to die, thisdid not make him turn towards God.Thomas was wrapped up in indifferencetowards God and all religion.Thomasultimately recovered from his sickness.Part I – Childhood & Adolescence
Life After FatherHe spends the summer traveling, and in doingso he comes to an old monastery, but believesthere is nothing for him there.When Thomascompletes his education at Oakham and headsto Italy, he continues his rebellious lifestyle.Part I – Childhood & Adolescence
ItalyThomas is living a carefree life, but thisdoes not make him happy.“I was doingjust what I pleased, and instead of beingﬁlled with happiness and well-being, Iwas miserable” (p.117). He realizesthat his freedom and sins hurt others.Part I – Childhood & Adolescence
ItalyWhile in Rome,Thomas takes an interest inthe churches rather than the ancient ruins.During his visit to many churches,Thomasbegins to learn who Christ truly is.“But it wasin Rome that my conception of Christ wasformed. It was there I ﬁrst saw Him” (p.120).Part I – Childhood & Adolescence
ItalyThomas has a deep initial conversionexperience with God.This is the timewhen Thomas ﬁrst thought “I wouldlike to become a Trappist monk” (p.126), but he eventually leaves Romeand goes to America.Part I – Childhood & Adolescence
AmericaWhile in America,Thomas visits severalchurches, but does not ﬁnd one thatsuits him. He loses most of his interest inreligion. He takes a boat back to Englandto begin his studies at the university.Part I – Childhood & Adolescence
UniversityThomas struggles to make sense of life atCambridge. His aunt Maud died, and thiswould be the last time Thomas saw his familyin England. Thomas reads The Inferno, and Dante’swork has a tremendous impact of Thomas. He isbeginning to realize he must surrender hiswill to God. He goes to America in 1934, andhe will never return to England again.Part I – Childhood & Adolescence
The Boat to AmericaThomas decides that he is a Communist and thatcapitalism is the cause of the world’s problems.He decides to enroll at Columbia University.Part I – Childhood & Adolescence
At ColumbiaThomas meets MarkVan Doren, whohas a tremendous impact of him.Thomasbecomes a Communist in order to rightthe world of its problems, but this briefafﬁliation only lasts about three months.Part I – Childhood & Adolescence
At ColumbiaThomas and John Paul spend the summer of1935 watching movies.Thomas joins afraternity to make friends and meet women.Part I – Childhood & Adolescence
At ColumbiaThomas begins to work for the Jester.Thomasand his friends were involved in the “night-life”at Columbia. His internal wrestlings anddiscontentment continues to grow.Part I – Childhood & Adolescence
At ColumbiaIn the fall of 1936, Pop dies (Thomas’grandfather). Upon seeing the body,Thomas involuntarily prays (you areseeing the seeds of God moving inThomas).A few months later,Bonnemaman dies too.Part I – Childhood & Adolescence
After GrandparentsThomas became sick and worries hemay be having a nervous breakdown. Hebecomes gripped with fear. He realizesthat he has tasted of all the world hasto offer, but none of it satisﬁes him.Part I – Childhood & Adolescence
Part I – Childhood & AdolescenceDISCUSSION QUESTIONSAs artists and friends of intellectuals,Thomas’ parents did not want theirchildren to become subject to the superstitions that came with popularreligion and therefore remained silent on the subject. Should they haveplaced their children under the guidance of the church anyway?We see here that formal Christian education was not the primary formatthat impacted Thomas as a child. His father and the Privats are lifted upas his spiritual guides.What has been your experience: is Christianeducation responsible for your Christianity or are Christians?
DISCUSSION QUESTIONSIn what ways did you rebel and stateyour independence? How did this playinto your conversion story?How does one explain loss/death to anunconverted soul, in light of the fact thatChristians preach that God is good?Part I – Childhood & Adolescence
DISCUSSION QUESTIONSWhat was your most real encounter with God?Why do people ﬁll their lives with things thatultimately leave them empty?Part I – Childhood & Adolescence
This section of Merton’s text begins poetically,“But,now in this season of new beginnings, I really hadsomething new to begin” (p.283).This “somethingnew” was following up on his conviction to meetwith Dan Walsh regarding his passion/calling.During this encounter Walsh sincerely comments toMerton,“You know, the ﬁrst time I met you Ithought you had a vocation to the priesthood” (p.284). Merton’s response was one of astonishmentand shame,“It made me feel like a whited sepulcher,considering what I knew was inside me” (p.284).Part II – The Columbia Years
During his conversation with Dan Walsh theydiscussed a number of religious orders includingthe Jesuits, the Franciscans, Dominicans,Benedictines and the Order of Cistercians alsoknown as Trappists. Merton, opening the windowto his self-awareness admits,“I needed a rule thatwas almost entirely aimed a detaching me fromthe world and uniting me with God, not a rule toﬁt me to ﬁght for God in the world” (285).Aftermuch discussion and contemplation Merton feelsdirected towards the Franciscan order.Part II – The Columbia Years
“What I eventually found out was that as soon asI started to fast and deny myself pleasures anddevote time to prayer and meditation and to thevarious exercises that belong to religious life, Iquickly got over all my bad health, and becamesound and strong and immensely happy” (p.287).“He said that it was a good thing the monks didn’thave to talk-with all the mixture of men they havethere, they get along better without it” (p.288).Part II – The Columbia Years
Referral note in hand, Merton made the journeyto the Franciscan Monastery, St. Francis of Assisito meet with Father Edmund. Father Edmundencouraged Merton to make application toenter the novitiate in August. For Merton this isan exhilarating, uplifting progression in thisgreat adventure;“What a transformation thismade in my life! Now, at last, God had becomethe center of my existence” (p.291).Part II – The Columbia Years
Key in Merton’s continuedspiritual development is hisreading of Spiritual Exercises ofSt. Ignatius.This leads to hiscontemplating the question “whyhad God brought me into theworld” (p.294). Even more lifetransforming were his meditationson the mysteries of the life ofChrist, mortal sin and venial sin.“Ileft that meditation with a deepconviction of the de-ordinationand malice there is in preferringone’s own will and satisfaction tothe will of God for Whose lovewe were created” (p.296).Part II – The Columbia Years
“And I learned, with wonder and fear, thatteachers have a mysterious and deadly powerof letting loose psychological forces in theminds of the young.The rapidity, the happyenthusiasm with which they responded tohints and suggestions – but with wrongresponse – was enough to make a man runaway and live in the woods” (p.299).Part II – The Columbia Years
In preparation for an appendectomy Merton visits a local store andbuys a toothbrush and a copy of Dante’s Paradiso. During his tenday stay in the hospital Merton reads Paradiso which brings aboutfeelings of spiritual infancy,“I was still nursed and fed with spiritualmilk” (p.303). Now June of 1940 Thomas Merton is informed byFather Edmund that his application for admission had beenaccepted.With two months remaining before he was to ofﬁciallymove into the monastery, he continues to develop a love for quietsolitude and spiritual reading.“I don’t think I had ever been sohappy in my life as I now was in that silent library, turning over thepages of the ﬁrst part of the Summa Theologica“ (p.317).Part II – The Columbia Years
Now only weeks before becoming a Franciscan, Merton is takenon a Dante like journey of self-examination through the valleysof pride, self-love, lost peace and intense self-doubt. He beginsto question his calling to become a monk. Seeking direction heprays,“My God, please take me into the monastery. But anyway,whatever you want,Your will be done” (p.325).Returning to Father Edmund he confesses his inner turmoil andfeelings of doubt and unworthiness. Father Edmunds listens andasks Merton to return the following day for more conversation.Merton leaves Father Edmund and goes to confession where hiswords are sadly misunderstood by the priest who rashly adviseshim that he most certainly did not belong in the monastery, oreven the priesthood.Part II – The Columbia Years
“When I came out of that ordeal, I wascompletely broken in pieces. I could not keepback the tears, which ran down between theﬁngers of the hands in which I concealed myface… The only thing I knew, besides my owntremendous misery, was that I must nolonger consider that I had a vocation to thecloister” (p.326). Chapter one ends here withThomas Merton certain he will never enterthe vocation that he has so dreamed of.Part II – The Columbia Years
Merton buys Breviaries, the four books thatserve as a symbol of his determinism.“Theysaid that if I could not live in a monastery, Ishould try to live in the world as if I were amonk in a monastery” (p.328).Through theseprayers Merton comes to a renewedrealization of his need for God’s Grace,“All Iknew was that I wanted grace, and that Ineeded prayer, and that I was helpless withoutGod, and that I wanted to do everything thatpeople did to keep close to Him” (p.329).Part II – The Columbia Years
Merton’s continual focus on prayer and the needfor God’s grace eventually lead him to feelings ofharmony, renewed strength and spiritualrebirth.“It was a peace that did not depend onhouses, or jobs, or places, or times, or externalconditions. It was a peace that time and materialcreated situations could never give. It was peacethat the world could not give” (p.344).Part II – The Columbia Years
Merton next makes a retreat to a Trappistmonastery in Kentucky,The Abbey ofGethsemane, during which he continuesto vacillate between following his passionfor the vocation and sincere indecision.He continues to ask, seek and knock.Part II – The Columbia Years
Merton returns from his retreat having growncloser to his Father in heaven and feelingrefreshed, nevertheless still full of indecision.The chapter closes with Merton hinting atthe possibility of his becoming a Trappist.Part II – The Columbia Years
One book, The Spirit of MedievalPhilosophy, inﬂuences Mertongreatly. It changes his perceptionof the Catholic church. Ratherthan being intrinsically afraid ofit, he is now intrigued, and ﬁndshimself longing to attend mass.He now realizes that no humancan adequately understand God.Part II – The Columbia Years
Merton returns to thechurch of his childhood,where his father hadplayed the organ.He says of this revisiting:“I think the reason for thiswas that God wanted me toclimb back the way I hadfallen down.” (p.192)Part II – The Columbia Years
God uses classmates and friendsat Columbia University, to revealhimself to Thomas. He sees thesebrothers as the “Body of Christ”manifested to him.They serve asguides and fellow journeymenthroughout his life’s troubles.Part II – The Columbia Years
Merton begins to writeand draw illustrations forthe Jester, a satiricalpublication at Columbia.Here, he meets Box Laxand Ed Rice, who are tobe his life-long friends.Issue cover of Jester, March 2007 >Part II – The Columbia Years
Baroness de HueckWhile teaching at St. Bonaventure’s,Merton regularly walks alone near thewoods.This is a recurring theme ofsolitude in his life where he ﬁnds peaceas he pursues God. One particular nighthe stops in where a gathering isoccurring, and he hears Baroness deHueck, a prophetess of sorts, who iscalling Catholics to social action. Mertondiscovers that the Baroness’ lifeexperiences, though very difﬁcult, servedonly to strengthen her faith, not weakenit. He recalls,“I never saw anyone socalm, so certain, so peaceful in herabsolute conﬁdence in God” (p.375).Part III – Vocational Priesthood
Baroness de HueckHe begins to join the Baroness in her ministry to youth in Harlem, NY,creating yet another challenge to his vocational call.This ministry tapsinto a deep longing of his soul, as he discovers the value of community.Merton continues to correspond with the Baroness for several months,asking challenging questions of the faith.When they meet again, she askshim if he is thinking of becoming a Priest, but remembering the stingingwords of rejection, Merton denies the call to the Priesthood.Thisrelationship is one of many that help to move Merton forward in hisfaith development. Relationships are key to the entire conversionexperience, and across each of Rambo’s stages of development.Part III – Vocational Priesthood
Our Lady of the ValleyRealizing his need for deep community, Merton arranges anotherretreat at a monastery.“No, it was all too evident: I needed thissupport, this nearness of those who really loved Christ so muchthat they seemed to see Him.” (p.383).This retreat did notprovide any overwhelming experiences that marked the ﬁrstGethsemane retreat, yet it did supply strength, a nourishing of thesoul, and an inner growth marked by “ﬁrmness and certitude anddepth.” Although the retreat proves successful on a spiritual level,he is not compelled in any vocation. He chooses to remain at St.Bonaventure’s to await further clariﬁcation. Signiﬁcantly though,there is not a desire to enter into the Cistercian Monastery.Part III – Vocational Priesthood
Back at Bonaventure’sAfter the retreat, Merton increases his life of spiritual disciplines, spendingextended times of the morning in solitude and prayers, and increasing hisspiritual readings of the lives of the saints. He discovers that the “LittleFlower” is really a saint, named St.Therese of Lisieux, a saint in the mostunlikely of places – the bourgeois. Encountering the lives of these saintsserves to further Merton’s own journey of faith, and reveal to him theextravagant capacity of God to move through people of all ages, classes,and societies. Merton asks Little Flower to take charge of his brother andguide his life, as John Paul has now joined the Canadian Royal Air Force.Part III – Vocational Priesthood
Merton realizes his time at St. Bonaventure’s is drawing to a close. In hisown words he says,“I could no longer doubt that St. Bonaventure’s hadoutlived its usefulness in my spiritual life. I did not belong there any more.It was too tame, too safe, too sheltered. It demanded nothing of me. It hadno particular cross. It left me to myself, belonging to myself, in fullpossession of my own will, in full command of all that God had given methat I might give it back to Him.As long as I remained there, I still had givenup nothing, or very little, no matter how poor I happened to be” (p.393).This tension resonates with the quest of Rambo’s taxonomy, in that hisworldview is unsatisfying, and he must uncover why, and what to do aboutit.This unsettling has now reached its climax, and change must come as hepursues another worldview that will bring satisfaction to his soul.Thispursuit is very active on Merton’s part. He is engaging people, readingbooks, and genuinely seeking counsel and insight from a variety of sources.Part III – Vocational Priesthood
The Call of God?The Baroness de Hueck asked Merton if he was thinking ofbecoming a Priest. He said “No.” Father Thomas, the President ofthe seminary at St. Bonaventure’s asked Merton if he had everthought about becoming a priest. He said,“No.” Mark van Doren,a professor at Columbia and good friend asked Merton about theidea of becoming a priest, and if Merton ever pursued that. Herecalled the early rejection he experienced in pursuit of thisvocation.These three separate encounters all happened withinabout 2-3 months in 1941.Part III – Vocational Priesthood
Act NOW! A Committed ResponseRealizing that continuing to avoid a call to the Priesthood mayactually result in a loss of call to the Priesthood, Merton is compelledto act with haste and resume the pursuit of this vocation.“I suddenlyfound myself ﬁlled with a vivid conviction:‘The time has come for meto go and be a Trappist’” (p.398-9).“I don’t think there was ever amoment in my life when my soul felt so urgent and so special ananguish” (p.400).A Friar conﬁrms this commitment, and immediatelyMerton senses a deep peace in his soul. He writes the Abbot atGethsemane, and begins his journey to Kentucky, where he is certainhe is called to live out his vocation.Part III – Vocational Priesthood
Quotes on the Contemplative Life“The Monastery is a school – a school in which we learn from Godhow to be happy. Our happiness consists in sharing the happiness ofGod, the perfection of His unlimited freedom, the perfection of Hislove” (p.409).“What we have to learn is love” (p.409).“Thebeginning of love is truth, and before He will give us His love, Godmust cleanse our souls of the lies that are in them” (p.409).“That isthe meaning of the contemplative life, and the sense of all theapparently meaningless little rules and observances and fasts andobediences and penances and humiliations and labors that go tomake up the routine of existence in a contemplative monastery: theyall serve to remind us of what we are and Who God is…” (p.409)Part III – Vocational Priesthood
Humble BeginningsThere was no angelic welcoming. No grand celebration to mark hisarrival. In fact, nobody even disrupted their normal routine, exceptBrother Matthew who unlocked the gate to let him in, and FatherJoachim, the guest master, who took him into the house and showedhim his room. Merton begins to read through Spiritual Disciplines, abook given to offer insight into the contemplative life.There areother novitiates seeking to enter at the same time as Merton. Someof their initial jobs include washing and waxing the ﬂoors. FatherAbbot, the head of Gethsemane, challenges them with simplewords,“Each one of you will make the community either better orworse. Everything you do will have an inﬂuence upon others. It canbe a good inﬂuence or a bad one. It all depends on you” (p.416).Merton is later reminded that he did not arrive at the monastery byhimself and that his perseverance may impact many other lives.Part III – Vocational Priesthood
The Soul of a MonkMerton enters the monastery in the advent season of 1941. Heparallels the soul of the monk with Bethlehem, as they await thecoming of the savior to be born.The stones of the monasteryare transformed by the warmth of the presence of Godthrough the singing, disciplines, and spirit of the monks. Monksare not perfect people, and living in such close communityreveals the slightest imperfections of each other. Some stillstruggle with wanting to be recognized. Merton reﬂects andnotes that the holiest men were the ones who often wentcompletely unnoticed. Signiﬁcantly, these were also the menwho were the happiest and most content in their vocation.Part III – Vocational Priesthood
MaturingThe life of the contemplative includes long days of intensephysical labor, as the monastery is self-sufﬁcient.This meansthe monks work the land, planting and harvesting throughthe seasons, all the while being diligent in their spiritualdisciplines. Merton acknowledges that initially he oftenpaused from work to pray, and often found himself hurryingto get to the next task. He says,“The fact that I washurrying and ran into people only indicates that I was muchless of a contemplative than I thought I was” (p.424). Herecognizes that many of his bad habits have followed himinto the monastery.They may have been masked by religioussentiment, but the core of the sin was still present.Part III – Vocational Priesthood
MaturingHe begins to learn what he calls “the grace of simplicity” (p.427).“Theinnocence and liberty of soul that come to those who have thrownaway all preoccupation with themselves and their own ideas andjudgments and opinions and desires, and are perfectly content to takethings as the come to them from the hands of God and through thewishes and commands of their superiors. It meant the freedom ofheart that one can only obtain by putting his whole life in the hands ofanother, with the blind faith that God wills to use our superiors, ourdirector, as instruments for our guidance and the formation of oursouls” (p.427). He begins to practice “active contemplation,” which isthe art of constantly focusing of God while continuing to be about thebusiness of actively doing the responsibilities of the monastery.Part III – Vocational Priesthood
Freedom in GraceMerton’s brother, John Paul, visits him in Gethsemane. John Paul exhibits adeep hunger of the soul, which Merton recognizes from his own journey.Merton shares with his brother everything he knows and understandsabout God, culminating in the truth that “Once you have grace, you arefree” (p.437). Merton realizes that the work of God is more powerful thanany one person’s life of sin, and this truth is powerfully on display in hisbrother who sits before him. Merton and John Paul share communiontogether, and when John Paul leaves, it is the last time they see each other.John Paul dies in April 1943, ﬁghting in WWII.The chapter ends with apoem by Merton written in honor of his brother.Part III – Vocational Priesthood
DISCUSSION QUESTIONSWhat is our motivation for pursuing our call to ministry, or othervocation? What are the consequences of our actions? Is our happinessrooted in our pursuit of God, or our pursuit of human approval?How are we learning to practice the presence of God in our dailyactivities? Do we see our activity as a spiritual discipline infused withthe presence of God, or as mundane details of a dreary vocation?When have you made a strong commitment to the call of God? Howwere you reassured, or conﬁrmed in your faith response? What weresome of the positive and negative consequences of this decision?Part III – Vocational Priesthood
DISCUSSION QUESTIONSGod’s grace is fundamental in the conversion process. How haveyou seen God’s grace at work in your own life? In the lives ofthose around you? How does Merton’s statement “Once youhave grace, you are free” resonate with or challenge yourunderstanding of the Christian journey?When has your worldview become so unsatisfying that you werecompelled to pursue something different?When has God spoken repeatedly to challenge, or encourage, youto move towards a particular faith response, vocation or other?Part III – Vocational Priesthood
It is Christmas, 1943.The last of the threegreat Masses is beingcelebrated. Merton isone of the minorministers in themonastery. Mertonpresents the crosier(the “staff”) to theReverend Father andthe monks.Epilogue
EpilogueChrist is born, the Son madeFlesh – born anew in our hearts.Everlasting beginning withoutend. Everlasting perfection,newness of God. Light of Light,True God of True God.
EpilogueEncounter with an old Jewishfriend, Bob Lax, who convertedto Catholicism. Merton hopesthat Lax will get baptized onlyto ﬁnd out Lax was baptized inNewYork by a Jesuit priest.
EpilogueA new life in Christ: taking off the old and puttingon the new. Leaving old friends behind – Mertonasks Lax about his old friends at the magazine –Merton has not forgotten them. Merton’s poemsfrom his past life are published “Thirty Poems.”
EpilogueWho am I?Merton wrestles with the “old man” from hispast life and how his journalistic abilities canstill be used for God. God uses everythingabout us to glorify His name. Gethsemanestrengthens his spiritual vitality and renewshis interest in writing. Father Abbot instructshim to continue perfecting his poetry.
EpilogueLife at the RetreatActive yet contemplative – the superior vocationembraces both.The active life (the practice ofvirtues, mortiﬁcation & charity) prepares us forcontemplation (rest, suspension of activity,solitude and silence of God).
EpilogueContemplative prayerresults in an overﬂow oflove that communicateswhat it knows of God toothers. Merton’s heroes:St.Thomas, St. Bernard ofClairvaux, St. Bernard, St.Gregory, St.Theresa, St.John of the Cross,Blessed Johyn Ruysbroeckand St. Bonaventure.
EpilogueIn practice there is onlyone vocation: you arecalled to the summit ofperfection; you are calledto a deep interior life evento mystical prayer; you arecalled to pass the fruits ofyour contemplation ontoothers by word and byexample through theChurch and into the world.
Epilogue“The life of each one in thisabbey is part of a mystery.We all add up to somethingfar beyond ourselves. Wecannot yet realize what it is.But we know, in the languageof our theology, that we areall members of the MysticalChrist, and that we all growtogether in Him for Whom allthings were created” (p.459).“We already possess Him bygrace...We dwell in Hislight” (p.459).
“By the time I made my vows, I was no longersure… what my vocation was… for thereasons best known toYourself” (p.460).“I am beginning to see what it is all about…Youhave called me... not to wear a label by which Ican recognize myself... or to think about what Iam, but (only) about whatYou are...” (p.461).Epilogue
EpilogueDISCUSSION QUESTIONSWhere do you see yourself being part of this mystery?At what point was Christ born anew in your life that itwas no longer your will but God’s will?What spiritual, emotional, cognitive, personal, or relationaldifﬁculties might a person of Jewish faith encounter whenconverting to Catholicism or Protestantism?
DISCUSSION QUESTIONSWhat gifts and talents has God given youin your “secular” environment, that can beused for the growth of God’s Kingdom?Where do you see yourself being part ofthis mystery? Why did God call you?Epilogue
EpilogueSt.Thomas – the work of teaching and preachingare only substantiated by contemplation whichmust lead to more contemplation.“The greatest perfection is contemplate tradere.”– St.ThomasPersonal Question: How has being a seminarystudent interrupted your prayer and contemplativelife (your interior life), if at all? What will you doto improve this aspect of your vocation?
CREDITSJEFF HERONDEREK JOYCESARAH GROSSNATHAN SMITHHAYNES MARTINSTEVE GOODYEARCAROLYN THOMAS