I’ve never read much by Thomas Merton. When Fr. Barron comes to Grand Rapids in July he will be speaking at Aquinas College on Merton. So I picked up my copy of A Year with Thomas Merton (HarperOne) and began to read some selections from it. The book offers a selection of daily meditations from his journals. The following entry was made on October 7, 1949.
“It is not complicated to lead the spiritual life. But it is difficult. We are blind and subject to a thousand illusions. We must expect to be making mistakes all the time. We must be content to fail repeatedly and to begin again to try to deny ourselves for the love of God. It is when we are angry at our own mistakes that we tend most of all to deny ourselves for love of ourselves. We want to shake off the hateful thing that has humbled us. In our rush to escape the humiliation of our mistakes, we run headfirst into the opposite error, seeking comfort and compensation. And so we spend our lives running back and forth from one attachment to another. If that is all our self-denial amounts to, our mistakes will never help us. The thing to do, when you have made a mistake, is not to give up doing what you were doing and start something altogether new, but to start over again with the thing you began badly and try, for the love of God, to do it well.” (p. 313)
Opinions about Merton are mixed especially within the Catholic community. See this article on “Can You Trust Thomas Merton?” Fr. Barron is less skeptical. In the video below he talks about two items that have caused caution regarding Merton: his “affair of the heart” with a young nurse and his interest in Buddhism. Start at 5:40 to hear his response to those concerns.