In my younger days, Cardinal John Henry Newman (now Blessed) was one of the more significant personalities attracting me to the Catholic faith. Another was Thomas Merton. You may be surprised. Anyway, there it is. I still like to read his material. One of his poems especially enthralls me. It has the line in it:
The seed sleeps by the sleeping stone,
but the seed has life where the stone has none.
The same poem has in it the metaphor of his hermits caravan (his “trailer”) being like Elijah’s firey chariot – “faster and faster it stands still”. Or something like that. I don’t have the text in front of me. His Seven Storey Mountain, which was a best seller, is still a good read, as is his “Seeds of Contemplation”, which is my favourite work. He went all Buddhisty later in life, but God got him in time.
Anyway, why Merton this morning? Because my wife is doing a Spiritual Direction course and asked me to buy her “Merton’s Palace of Nowhere” by James Finley (first published in 1978). Like an early Chrissy Present, it arrived from the Book Depository this morning (don’t you just love those guys? No offence, Mary, we love you and the Central Catholic Bookshop too!).
I flicked the book open and read these lines from Merton:
A few years ago a man who was compiling a book on Success wrote and asked me to contribute a statement on how I got to be a success. I replied indigantnly that I was not able to consider myself a success in any terms that had a meaning to me. I swore I had spent my life strenuously avoiding success. If it happened that I had once written a best-seller this was a pure accident, due to inattention and naivete, and I would take very good care never to do the same thing again. If I had a message to my contemporaries, I said, it was surely this: be anything you like, be madmen, drunks, and bastards of every shape and form, but at all costs avoid one thing: success. I heard no more from him, and I am not aware that my reply was published with the other testimonials.
That’s why I love Merton. He may not have been a saint or a doctor of the church, but like the rest of us, well, like me, he was “peccator inter peccatores et insanus inter insanos”, and knew it.