A House in Order
It is true that we are called to create a better world.
But we are first of all called to a more immediate task:
that of creating our own lives.
– Thomas Merton
Thomas Merton had been a Trappist monk for several years before he became known for his protests against the building of nuclear weapons. His book ‘Seven Story Mountain’ was written soon after World War 2. It attracted a widespread interest in deeper forms of prayer and the monastic life. What he says in the above statement is important for us as individuals but can be applied equally to the Church, parish, social justice group, Vincent de Paul Society and anyone involved in longing for a better world.
A good question in regard to Merton’s statement is to ask ‘why?’ he considers it necessary to put our own lives in order? Even if I am doing fairly well in this department, I’m always going to be someone with feet of clay. We know however, that any criticism of another will always smack of hypocrisy if it is not being lived in our own lives. Merton belonged to a religious order of monks who live mostly in perpetual silence and therefore prayer comes more easily and if we make an effort to let some silence into our lives, we become more capable of seeing our own truth more acutely.
I need to ask therefore, how would I know whether or not I am creating my own life as Merton proposes? What the prophet Micah cried out some 700 years before Christ, surely provides a blueprint for self-examination:
This is what the Lord asks of you: only this,
To act justly,
To love tenderly
And to walk humbly with your God
– Micah 6:8
It is easy to fall into the trap of believing that religious practices portray spiritual maturity. This was the very thing Jesus found fault with, as did the prophets before him. Without compassion and justice, religion is purely empty ritual.
When Merton talks about creating our own lives first of all, he is asking us to examine our spirituality. This begs the question: am I living according to what I believe? Then, when we examine the scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, I believe it impossible to argue against the premise that the way of life proposed by the prophet Micah must be the dictum that influences our every waking moment.
We believe that God is just, that each individual is loved equally by God and while we are invited to walk humbly with God, we also know that God walks humbly with us. If any of this is missing then all the protest in the world will sound hollow. The very things we criticise will be alive and well within ourselves.
Merton was well aware that creating our own lives is no easy task. Growth in this realm is solely dependent upon the grace of God and calls for a death to self-centredness. In Pākehā New Zealand society, our understanding of community is very limited and it is becoming increasingly difficult to form communities whereby people stand together influencing one another. This means that each of us must take responsibility to ensure we are living justly and walking with our God. Our moral compass must not be limited to a few comfortable guidelines. We have to take into account the fact that we belong to the family of humanity and be constantly checking to see if the way we are living as individuals is really in harmony with our scriptures. Then, hopefully, our very existence will challenge the communities within our Church and beyond. Living according to the principles of the prophet Micah is more likely to take place within a community and for this reason individual apostolates within the Church should often be examing themselves in light of the Micah text.
This final quote from Merton perhaps sums up all I am trying to say:
“Instead of hating the people you think are war-makers, hate the appetites and disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed - but hate these things in yourself, not in another.”
DISCUSSION: If you were to give the V de P a new logo based on the above thoughts, what would it be?
Spirit of God
Open my mind
To see myself as I truly am
Let me walk with you
From judgment of others
Fill me with compassion
For all peoples
A love for justice,
And a hatred of all qualities
Not found where you walk.