Tuesday, February 22, 2011

For Faith in Repose: Thomas Merton's Letter to a Young Activist

A little over a week ago, I shared a kind letter from Thomas Merton to a 6th grader. This time, I have another letter that Father Louis wrote someone. He share some advice for a "Young Activist." It too is kind, but geared toward a more mature soul.

As human beings, we are immortal souls in mortal bodies. The irony is that we feel compelled to do many things, and we are called to take actions. And yet, what the contemplatives like Father Louis help teach us is that we must pace ourselves.

See, to only be in "action" is to burn oneself out, and cast our lot with disappointment. We need to pace ourselves, stop running around constantly, and spend peaceful time in contemplation and prayer as well. And then we can also act, but in a more balanced way.

This is a holistic concept that, in our era of the "rise of the specialist," has fallen to the wayside. Father Louis' short letter below has much good advice. And not just for "activists," but for all of us across the spectrum of vocations. It is also fitting for all Christians who are journeying along the Way.

It amounts to staying focused on Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, while remembering the importance of our personal relationships. Good advice from an "active" contemplative.

from A Letter to a Young Activist

Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. And there too a great deal has to be gone through as gradually you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. The range tends to narrow down, but it gets much more real. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.

The big results are not in your hands or mine, but they suddenly happen, and we can share in them; but there is no point in building our lives on this personal satisfaction, which may be denied us and which after all is not that important.

The next step in the process is for you to see that your own thinking about what you are doing is crucially important. You are probably striving to build yourself an identity in your work, out of your work and your witness. You are using it, so to speak, to protect yourself against nothingness, annihilation. That is not the right use of your work. All the good that you will do will come not from you but from the fact that you have allowed yourself, in the obedience of faith, to be used by God’s love. Think of this more and gradually you will be free from the need to prove yourself, and you can be more open to the power that will work through you without your knowing it.

The great thing after all is to live, not to pour out your life in the service of a myth: and we turn the best things into myths. If you can get free from the domination of causes and just serve Christ’s truth, you will be able to do more and will be less crushed by the inevitable disappointments. Because I see nothing whatever in sight but much disappointment, frustration and confusion.

The real hope, then is not in something we think we can do but in God who is making something good out of it in some way we cannot see. If we can do God’s will, we will be helping in this process. But we will not necessarily know all about it before hand.

Enough of this…it is at least a gesture…I will keep you in my prayers.

All the best, in Christ,


Update: Legendary Trappist, and friend of Fr. Louis, Fr. Matthew Kelty passed on to eternity.