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Theology Notebook: Br. Paul Quenon's Homily on 35th Anniversary of Merton's Death

Patrick Collins posted this homily by one of the monks at Gethsemani that was given on the anniversary of Thomas Merton's death, which I mentioned a few weeks ago. I rather liked it, so I thought I would post it here for anyone who might be interested in such a reflection....


ANNIVERSARY OF THOMAS MERTON'S DEATH,

DEC.10, 2003

LOUISVILLE CATHEDRAL

Isaiah 40:25-31

Matt, 11:28-30

Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened...

THERE IS AN ODD TWIST HERE, AS THERE OFTEN IS IN STORIES ABOUT JESUS. HE MAKES OVERTURES OF THE MOST INTIMATE KIND, AND YET HE IS ADDRESSING A CROWD. HARDLY A CONTEXT FOR SUCH PERSONAL LANGUAGE.

THERE IS ANOTHER CURIOSITY.

JESUS SAID TO THE CROWD, COME TO ME.

HE SAID COME TO ME TO A CROWD THAT HAD ALREADY COME.

FROM THAT CROWD DOES HE SELECTIVELY CALLS SOME, THOSE WHO LABOR AND ARE BURDENED?

ARE SOME BURDENED AND SOME NOT? BUT WHO IS NOT? NOT BURDENED WITH LABOR OF SOME SORT?

SO EVERYONE CAN RECOGNIZE THEMSELVES IN THAT CALL TO COME.

THEY CAN, THAT IS, UNLESS THEY ARE AVOIDING THE TRUTH, THEIR ACTUAL STATE OF AFFAIRS

SUPPOSE JESUS SAID, COME TO ME YOU ACHIEVERS

COME TO ME YOU WHO WIN

OR COME TO ME YOU WHO ARE RELIGIOUS AND DEVOUT

YOU WHO HAVE EXPERIENCED DIVINE UNION

OR YOU WHO ARE FED UP WITH THE WORLD

INSTEAD JESUS SAID, COME TO ME YOU WHO LABOR AND ARE WEIGHED DOWN

THIS SAYS A LOT ABOUT WHO JESUS IS AND WHAT HE IS ABOUT

HE IS NOT PROMOTING SUCCESS, HE IS NOT INTO RELIGIOUS REVIVAL, HE IS NOT GATHERING A SPIRITUALLY DEVELOPED ELITE, HE IS NOT REVOLTING AGAINST THE STATUS QUO.

WHAT IS HE DOING? IS HE INSTEAD CALLING THE COMPLAINERS, THE SHIRKERS, THE SLOTHFUL? I AM SLOTHFUL WHEN I WORK HALF-HEARTEDLY.

I AM A SHIRKER WHEN I PRETEND I AM A FREE SPIRIT WHO TAKES ON NO BURDENS. I AM A COMPLAINER WHEN I TAKE ON OTHER PEOPLES WORK, THEN CLAIM I AM BEING PERSECUTED. NO, THE SLOTHFUL WOULD NOT WANT TO HEAR HIM SAY: TAKE MY YOKE UPON YOU. THE SHIRKERS HAVE ALREADY ABANDONED THEIR OWN RESPONSIBILITIES. THE COMPLAINERS WANT CREDIT, ATTENTION, SYMPATHY, AND WOULD BE AT A LOSS WERE THEY SET AT REST. THEIR IDENTITY IS INVESTED IN THEIR MISERY.



WHO THEN IS JESUS CALLING? AT THE COMMUNITY MASS AT THE MONASTERY THIS MORNING FR. ELIAS SAID IT WAS THE PROUD. THOSE WHO CARRY AN ENORMOUS BURDEN OF SELF-IMPORTANCE.

WHAT KIND OF REST DOES JESUS CALL ME TO? IT IS ONE OF LOWLINESS OF HEART AND A MEEKNESS OF SPIRIT.

PERHAPS MY GREATEST BURDEN IS THE BURDEN OF TRYING TO BE SOMEONE I AM NOT. ALL SIN IS A BURDEN, BUT THERE IS SIN AGAINST MYSELF, WHICH SPREADS OUT IN EVERYTHING I DO. HERE IS WHERE MERTON IS SO HELPFUL. AN ENORMOUS AMOUNT OF ENERGY CAN BE EXPENDED IN TRYING TO BE SOMEONE I AM NOT. IT IS A LONELY TASK, ONE THAT ISOLATES ME FROM OTHERS.

"EVERYONE OF US, (MERTON SAYS), IS SHADOWED BY AN ILLUSORY PERSON: A FALSE SELF. THIS IS THE MAN THAT I WANT TO BE BUT WHO CANNOT EXIST, BECAUSE GOD DOES NOT KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT HIM. AND TO BE UNKNOWN OF GOD IS ALTOGETHER TOO MUCH PRIVACY" (NEW SEEDS 34)

I MAY WEAR THIS FALSE IDENTITY, THIS MASK, BECAUSE WHILE ISOLATING ME IT PROVIDES A FALSE CAMARADERIE BASED ON COMPLIANCE WITH OTHERS. THIS SELF IS AN INVENTION OF MY OWN FEAR AND DISTRUST, OR OF MY OWN AMBITION AND PRIDE.

WHEN ISAIAH SAYS: "MY WAY IS HIDDEN FROM THE LORD", HE IS SPEAKING OF THOSE WHO LIVE IN SUCH HIDING. WHEN HE SAYS: "MY RIGHT IS DISREGARDED BY MY GOD", HE SPEAKS OF A GOD WHO DISREGARDS SUCH A SHAM. I MAKE CLAIM TO MY RIGHTS TO A PAY-OFF FROM A SCAM WHICH CONSISTS IN BEING WHAT EVERYONE ELSE WANTS ME TO BE. MERTON SUGGESTS: "PERHAPS I HAVE NEVER ASKED MYSELF WHETHER I REALLY WANTED TO BECOME WHAT EVERYBODY ELSE SEEMS TO WANT TO BECOME. PERHAPS IF I ONLY REALIZED THAT I DO NOT ADMIRE WHAT EVERYONE SEEMS TO ADMIRE, I WOULD REALLY BEGIN TO LIVE AFTER ALL. I WOULD BE LIBERATED FROM THE PAINFUL DUTY OF SAYING WHAT I REALLY DO NOT THINK AND ACTING IN A WAY THAT BETRAYS GOD'S TRUTH AND THE INTEGRITY OF MY OWN SOUL. (NM 125-6)

WHEN I COME TO JESUS, WHEN I ENTER INTO PRAYER, THERE IS NO ROOM FOR PRETENSES. GOD SEES EVERYTHING. I PUT DOWN THE BURDEN OF THESE FALSE IDENTITIES AND SEE THEM FOR WHAT THEY ARE.

THAT HOWEVER IS NOT WHERE IT ENDS. WHEN JESUS SAYS: "I WILL GIVE YOU REST", HE ADDS, "TAKE MY YOKE UPON YOU". THEREFORE I COME TO A REST THAT IS ALSO A WORK. THE WORK AND THE REST ARE ONE THING. HOW CAN THIS BE? IT IS SIMPLE. IT IS LIKE THE REST OF AN EAGLE WITH WINGS OPEN TO THE WIND. "THEY WHO HOPE IN THE LORD, SAID ISAIAH, WILL RENEW THEIR STRENGTH. THEY WILL SOAR ON EAGLE'S WINGS; THEY WILL RUN AND NOT GROW WEARY, WALK AND NOT GROW FAINT."

JESUS CALLS ME TO GIVE MYSELF UP TO THE TRUTH THAT IS WITHIN ME. THAT TRUTH, MERTON CALLS A PRIMORDIAL YES THAT IS NOT OUR OWN. HE SAYS: "IT IS NOT AT OUR OWN DISPOSAL; IT IS NOT ACCESSIBLE TO OUR INSPECTION AND UNDERSTANDING; WE DO NOT EVEN FULLY EXPERIENCE IT AS REAL (EXCEPT IN RARE AND UNIQUE CIRCUMSTANCES). AND WE HAVE TO ADMIT THAT FOR MOST PEOPLE THIS PRIMORDIAL "YES" IS SOMETHING THEY NEVER ADVERT TO AT ALL. IT IS IN FACT ABSOLUTELY UNCONSCIOUS, TOTALLY FORGOTTEN.

"BASICALLY, (HE ADDS), MY BEING IS NOT AN AFFIRMATION OF A LIMITED SELF, BUT THE "YES" OF BEING ITSELF, IRRESPECTIVE OF MY OWN CHOICES. WHERE DO "I" COME IN? SIMPLY IN UNITING THE "YES" OF MY OWN FREEDOM WITH THE "YES" OF BEING THAT ALREADY IS BEFORE I HAVE A CHANCE TO CHOOSE." (CGB 243)

SO IT IS NOT SO STRANGE THAT JESUS SPEAKS SO INTIMATELY TO THE CROWD AS IN THIS GOSPEL. THIS IS HARDLY DIFFERENT FROM THE ACTION OF THE HOLY ONE MENTIONED IN ISAIAH. "HE LEADS OUT THE ARMY (OF STARS) AND NUMBERS THEM, CALLING THEM ALL BY NAME. BY HIS GREAT MIGHT AND THE STRENGTH OF HIS POWER NOT ONE OF THEM IS MISSING."

MERTON'S WHOLE LIFE WAS A FOLLOWING OF THIS CALL INTO THE REPOSE OF BEING IN THE BEING OF THE HOLY ONE WHEN HE DID COME TO FINAL REPOSE ON THIS DAY 35 YEARS AGO, IT WAS AS ONE CALLED BY NAME AMONG THOSE CALLED BY NAME.

I REMEMBER BEING IN CHOIR DURING THOSE DAYS AFTER HIS DEATH, AND REPEATEDLY HEARING THE PRAYERS OF PETITION: FOR BR. LEO AND FR. LOUIS. BR. LEO HAD DIED 5 DAYS EARLIER, ON DEC. 5, AND WE PRAYED NOT FOR FR. LOUIS (MERTON'S MONASTIC NAME). NO, WE PRAYED FOR BR. LEO AND FR. LOUIS

NONE OF YOU EVER KNEW BR. LEO, AND NEITHER DID HARDLY ANYONE ELSE AT THE MONASTERY. HE WAS ONE OF THOSE STRANGE MONKS WHO HAD ODD WAYS, OFF-PUTTING MANNERS AND REMAINED ON THE MARGIN OF THE COMMUNITY. HE LIVED A LONG LIFE THERE AND MAY HAVE BEEN THE KIND OF UNKNOWN SOLITARY THAT FR. LOUIS WANTED TO BE. OR HE MAY HAVE JUST BEEN AN ECCENTRIC; WE WILL NEVER KNOW.

BUT THE INVOCATION OF BR. LEO AND FR. LOUIS STILL RINGS IN MY EAR, AS DOES A STRING OF OTHER DOUBLE INVOCATIONS THAT CAME DURING THE LATE SIXTIES.

IN 1966: BR. PAUL AND FR. STEPHEN, WHO DIED 2 DAYS APART

IN 1969: FR. ARNOLD AND BR BONIFACE, WHO DIED 13 DAYS APART.

IN 1968: BR. LEO AND FR. LOUIS, WHO DIED 5 DAYS APART

LIKE A PROCESSION OF STARS CALLED IN ORDER, TWO BY TWO, EACH ONE NAMED BY THE DEATHLESS STRENGTH OF THE HOLY ONE, NOT ONE OF THEM MISSING



BROTHER PAUL QUENON

gethsemani abbey

Tags: theological notebook, thomas merton
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