The identity of Thomas Merton

In those days,
like a fire there appeared the prophet Elijah
whose words were as a flaming furnace.
Sirach 48: 1

Elijah was a fiery Jewish prophet, one whose witness I have come to appreciate more and more.

In my lifetime another prophet who has helped me see the presence of God was Thomas Merton, the US Trappist monk and author who died on December 10, 2011.

His call for contemplation, his openness to other religions, his outcries against racism, and his advocacy of peace and nonviolence have helped form me into the person I am.

But this quote, from his semi-autobiographical novel, My Argument with the Gestapo, has become a sort of guiding light:

 “If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I think I am living for, in detail, and ask me what I think is keeping me from  living fully for the thing I want to live for. Between these two answers you can determine the identity of any person. The better answer he has, the more of a person he is. . . . I am all the time trying to make out the answer as I go on living. I live out the answer to my two questions myself and the answer may not be complete, even when my life is ended I may go on working out the answer for a long time after my death, but at least it will be resolved, and there will be no further question, for with God’s mercy, I shall possess not only the answer but the reality that the answer was about.”

 

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