Thomas Merton (1915-1968) is the most admired of all American Catholic writers. His journals have recently been published to wide acclaim.

The collection of Merton's letters in The Hidden Ground of Love were selected and edited by William H. Shannon.

Read More Show Less
... See more details below
The Hidden Ground of Love: Letters

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 7.0
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 10.1
  • NOOK HD Tablet
  • NOOK HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK eReaders
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
BN.com price


Thomas Merton (1915-1968) is the most admired of all American Catholic writers. His journals have recently been published to wide acclaim.

The collection of Merton's letters in The Hidden Ground of Love were selected and edited by William H. Shannon.

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781429966764
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 4/1/2011
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 458,226
  • File size: 967 KB

Meet the Author

Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, is perhaps the foremost spiritual of the twentieth century. His diaries, social commentary, and spiritual writings continue to be widely read thirty years after his untimely death in 1968.

Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

The Hidden Ground of Love
To Catherine de Hueck DohertyCatherine de Hueck Doherty, born into a wealthy Russian family in 1900, was married at the age of fifteen to Baron Boris de Hueck. When she was twenty she and her husband were forced to flee Soviet Russia, and they arrived penniless in Canada. Her business astuteness, combined with hard work, enabled her to recoup their fortunes, and by 1930 she had become wealthy again. Wealth did not satisfy her, however, since for a long time she had been haunted by Jesus' words: "Sell all you have, give to the poor and come follow me."In 1930 she made the decision to live among the poor, first in the slums of Toronto (where she established the first Friendship House), and then in New York City in Harlem. It was there that she met Eddie Doherty, the well-known journalist, whom she married in 1943. They founded Madonna House in Combermere, Ontario, Canada, a rural community that has become a place for the sharing of life and prayer, and a center of training for the lay apostolate.In 1941, Thomas Merton at twenty-six was teaching English at St. Bonaventure College, Olean, New York, where Catherine had come to speak. After hearing her, Merton volunteered to help out at Friendship House in Harlem, and thus their friendship started. The letters written to her during these crucial months in his life reveal why and how he decided that his vocation was to be a Trappist monk. He arrived at Our Lady of Gethsemani monastery in Kentucky on December 10, 1941, and was received as a postulant on December 13, 1941. The first three letters here are the only ones in this book Merton wrote before becoming a monk. 
St. Bonaventure CollegeOctober 6, 1941First, thanks very much for letting me stand around Friendship House for a couple of weeks of evenings: I hope I can do that more often.I liked most of all the clothing room, but wasn't there much. I think the "cubs" are certainly very smart fine kids, and think about them a lot ...You will be interested in this one: I have a nun in a freshman English class (one from the kitchen here--the only nun I've got in regular classes for this year), and she wrote an essay about St. Bonaventure in which she listed all the things that had impressed her since she had first come here. Baroness de Hueck was outstanding on this list: the sister was very impressed with what you said, and although she didn't go into details, evidently agrees with you. Well, I nearly gave her an A on the strength of this, but I didn't. Charity is one thing: art another. In heaven they are identical, on earth too often distinct. A for charity, B-plus for technique was what I gave the sister, only the first grade remained unspoken, and that was just as well too, because today she gave me a big argument about some obscure point of grammar.For a couple of minutes I talked to a Quaker woman who was passing through here. She had spent the summer in Kansas working among Negro sharecroppers, not without some guarded hostility on the part of the local authorities. She had with her a lot of students from Allegheny College, Meadville. I talked of you and Friendship House and got a smarter and more enthusiastic reaction than you get from the average Catholic ...Right now besides my work I am doing a lot of reading and studying and meditation, and a little writing but nothing systematic, just notes on what I am thinking about, when I am thinking about anything that doesn't look disgusting as soon as it gets on paper.Mostly it has something to do, in general, with the question of lay vocations, both in an academic sense and in a personal one too. The academic sense is maybe more interesting. There is one problem about lay vocations that interests me a lot, and it is obviously very important to Friendship House too: except that you probably have it all doped out to your satisfaction. I haven't yet. The problem is this: where does Catholic Action stop and politics begin?First of all, it seems to me that you yourself illustrate the proper balance between them. That is: Catholic Action, which is another word for Charity, that is Love, means, for one thing, feeding the poor, clothing the needy, and after that, saving souls. A person who is really interested in that must also necessarily be interested in certain political movements which tend to help feed the poor, clothe the needy, etc. Also, a person who is charitable, and really loves the poor, realizes just how little pure political action, without any charity behind it, really means.If you make laws to provide the nation with old age pensions and the nation is populated by people who beat up their grandmothers, your old age pension law doesn't mean much.If you make a law (and this time nobody is being funny) providingthe unemployed with unemployment insurance, and then refuse to employ certain classes, or types, or races of people in any decent job, your law is never going to eliminate unemployment ...When you get down to it, Catholic Action means not voting for anybody but going out and being a saint, not writing editorials in magazines, even, but first of all being a saint.I said it was a problem. In any place where people are engaged in doing things, as you are at Friendship House, for the love of the poor and, through them, God, there isn't much of a problem. Where it comes in with me is trying to explain guys like Franco, or some of the Medieval Popes, in whom Catholic Action (or what they imagined to be that) got totally submerged in a completely materialistic and political struggle between certain social and political groups. The problem I am getting at is, is it possible for there to be a completely Catholic government? Is there any point in these Catholic political parties, like the ones that used to exist in Germany and Italy? and so on.If a Catholic gets into a position of power in a country where the political atmosphere is made up of struggles between a lot of irreligious and frankly selfish minorities, how can he ever do anything at all except by compromising with religious principles, or, worse than that, fooling himself that he is leading a crusade, and then turning the country upside down in the name of religion, the way Franco did, or the way the Third and Fourth Crusades did to Europe. I think the Reformation was a divine punishment for the Fourth Crusade, in which the businessmen of Venice inveigled the whole army of Crusaders (recruited with promises of plenary indulgences if they died in battle) to conquer, for Venetian business, the Christian empire at Constantinople!On the other hand, I believe there is only one free and just state in the world, and that is the Vatican City: but that is less a state than a glorified monastery. Now assuming all the people in a given country were good Catholics, it might be possible for that country to be ruled the way the Vatican City is ruled: that is, politics would be, all down the line, subordinated to salvation, and ordered to the salvation of souls as its ultimate end. Then you would have real freedom, real justice, and everything else.Which brings us back to the same conclusion: the first thing to do is to feed the poor and save the souls of men, and in this sense, feeding the poor means feeding them not by law (which doesn't do a damn bit of good), but first of all at the cost of our own appetites, and with our own hands, and for the love of God. In that case, feeding the poor and saving them are all part of the same thing, the love of our neighbor ...And when it comes to saving souls, once again writing and talking and teaching come after works of love and sanctity and charity, not before. And the first thing of all is our own sanctification, which was the lessonI got out of my retreat at the Trappists,1 and keep finding out over and over again every day ...If I can only make myself little enough to gain graces to work out my sanctification, enough to keep out of hell and make up for everything unpleasant, in time, the lay vocation, as far as I'm concerned, presents no further problems, because I trust God will put in my way ten million occasions for doing acts of charity and if I am smart maybe I can catch seventeen of them, in a lifetime, before they get past my big dumb face.At this point I realize that this letter is disordered and obscure and badly written and probably extremely uninteresting to everybody. But even if it doesn't make sense, the very fact that I used up so many words talking about lay vocations and writing means that I think I am finding out something about writing and about the lay vocation for me: which is that my vocation is probably to go on finding out this same thing about writing over and over as long as I live: when you are writing about God, or talking about Him, you are doing something you were created to do, even if you don't feel like a prince every minute you are doing it, in the end it turns out to be right: but when you are writing or talking about some matter or pride or envy to advance your own self, you feel lousy while you are doing it and worse afterwards and ten times worse when you read the stuff over a week later ...Meanwhile, I hope you will come up here again2 and make some more speeches. The seminarians could do with some ideas about Harlem. I understand the clerics (who have now long ago returned to Washington) are still in a ferment. I'm going to write to one of them and find out, anyway. By the time I get to writing to him, I will probably have thought up another dull and complicated treatise instead of a letter!But I think a lot of Harlem, and I'll tell you the one reason why: because Harlem is the one place where I have ever been within three feet of anyone who is authentically said to have seen visions--what was the old lady's name? I have forgotten. But believe me when the angels and saints appear among us they don't appear in rich men's houses, and the place I want to be is somewhere where the angels are not only present but even sometimes visible: that is slums, or Trappist monasteries, or where there are children, or where there is one guy starving himself in a desert for sorrow and shame at the sins and injustice of the world. In comparison with all these, St. Bonaventure occasionally takes on the aspects of a respectable golf club, but then again I won't say that either, because the place is, in spite of everything, holy, and when you live under the same roof as the Blessed Sacrament there is no need to go outside looking for anything ...This letter is being written not according to plan, but according to the clock, and now it is time for me to wind up and turn in. Maybe you are lucky. But anyway, God bless everybody in Friendship House and in Harlem and hear all your prayers, and please pray sometimes for us here ... 
November 10, 1941... I feel rather astonished, to begin with, at the subtle way you interpreted the big fanfare of speculation that came along with each one of those two letters I sent to Canada, because, when I wrote them, I was deliberately steering clear of anything that might be interpreted as having anything to do with vocation ... So when you started out, in the car, while we were riding back from Buffalo, by saying that any person who asked all those questions probably wanted to be a priest, you (1) surprised me, (2) woke me up to the fact that maybe I am very bad at being abstract about anything, (3) you scared me. The priest business is something I am supposed to be all through and done with. I nearly entered the Franciscans. There was a very good reason why I didn't, and now I am convinced that Order is not for me and never was. So that settles that vocation.Meanwhile, about being at St. Bonaventure: that's easy. I cannot even give myself half an argument that this is the place for me to stay. From the moment I first came here, I have always believed nothing about the place except that, for me, it was strictly temporary. It is not enough. There is something lacking, for me. I have plenty of time to write, and that has been nice, I am sure. The teaching is like a sort of harmless hobby: about on the plane of stamp collecting. In any visible results it may have, as regards the Kingdom of God, it is just about as valuable as stamp collecting, too. But of course this is only my second year. And besides, visible results aren't much, and it is a kind of weakness to strain your eyes looking for the results that men are capable of seeing on earth ...I don't know what it is that will help me to serve God better: but whatever it is, it doesn't seem to be here. Something is missing. Whenever I read about the young rich man in the Gospels, who asked the Lord what he should do, beyond keeping the Commandments, and turned away, sad, "because he had great possessions," I feel terrible. I haven't got great possessions, but I have a job, and this ease here, this safety, and some money in the bank and a pile of books and some small stocks my grandfather left me, nothing that the average housemaid or A & P clerk doesn't have, in good times. But I don't feel comfortable at all when I think of that sentence in the Bible. I can't read that and sit still. It makes me very unquiet.And then when I am filled with that unquietness, I have learned at last that the only thing that will take it away again is to go down into thechurch and try to tell God that everything I have, I give up to Him, and beg Him to show me how He wants me to give it to Him, in what way, through whom?Just before you came down here, and I wasn't really thinking of Friendship House at all, I had been saying that prayer and finally started a novena to find out how to give God what He was asking of me: thinking all the time of possessions: maybe some poor person would be brought to my knowledge and I could give him something of what I have received through God's goodness.So then you turned up. If you are surprised that I gave you one feeble argument and then shut up, that is why. Not that I wouldn't, in ordinary circumstances, be so full of arguments I couldn't even see straight. But in this case it was altogether too clear for argument, nor have I been able to work up even the slightest interest in any argument against leaving here since you have left ...However, at least by God's grace I know what to pray for harder and harder every day. Nothing but the strength of His Love, to make me love to deny my fears every time they come up. A nice high ideal. The very thought of how I have always been, under difficulties, makes me so ashamed there is nothing more to do but shut up.Also, there is this.I don't know if you are concerned about the past of people who come to work for you. I am bringing this up because it might possibly be important. I got in some trouble once, which I don't particularly want to tell anybody about. If you absolutely want to know, I will tell you, but otherwise I can say in good conscience that I don't believe, myself, that it would disqualify me from working in Friendship House, or bring any scandal to be connected with FH in any way, or reflect on you or anybody else, nor is it anything that makes me in any way different from anybody else, but once I did get in some trouble, enough for it to be an impediment to my becoming a priest. I repeat, to the best of my knowledge it does not in any way affect my fitness to work at Friendship House. On the other hand, it is something that definitely demands a whole life of penance and absolute self-sacrifice: so that if I thought the Trappists would take me, I think I would want to go to them. But I have to do penance, and if Harlem won't have me, then where may I turn?If I had never mentioned this, I am sure that it never would have come up in any other way, and I am sure it could not possibly be dragged up out of the past, because it remains only something between me and God and the other persons involved, with whom I have unfortunately lost all contact: or so it seems. Maybe it would have been better to have ignored the whole thing.However, it came up and spoiled my last "vocation" [see SSM, pp. 296--98], and I don't want to leave anything in the background to spoilthis one. I assure you that it is something which, if the president of this college knew, I don't think he would fire me for. I just got a sudden attack of scruples, maybe, when I brought it up.But if you have any doubts at all, say so, and I will tell you the whole story, in which I am no white-haired hero, no model of self-sacrifice or of holiness either.The general burden of this letter is to let you know that, in me, you are getting no bargain, and I feel I should especially tell you this, because you have done me an inestimably great honor, far above my own worthlessness, in asking me to come to FH, even before I got around to asking it myself. I believe that, since with God all things are possible, with His help I can some day be a Saint, if I pray without ceasing and give myself totally to Him. In all this, I depend on a miracle: but His grace is always a miracle. Apart from that miracle, however, there is the present fact that I am not only not a Saint but just a weak, proud, self-centered little guy, interested in writing, who wants to belong to God, and who, incidentally, was once in a scandal3 that can be called public, since it involved lawyers. So that's the dirt. Never forget me in your prayers! 
December 6, 1941Many thanks for your fine letter from Chicago. I feel very guilty for bringing up all that business while you had so many other things to worry about, especially since certain things have occurred since then that make it seem pretty definitely that I am not to have the privilege of trying a year or two at FH.But the problem I felt I had to put before you had been bothering me so much: and the fact I brought it up shows that; and also, it finally led me to do something I ought to have done long ago.You see, I have always wanted to be a priest--that is, ever since my conversion. When someone told me that there was an impediment against my ever being ordained, I was very unhappy, and really, since then, I had been really quite lost, in a way. I knew I wanted to belong to God entirely, but there didn't seem to be any way particularly suited to fill up everything in me that I had hoped would be filled by the priesthood. I tried to get as close to it as possible by coming to Bona's and living just like the priests here, under the same roof as the Blessed Sacrament: but the work itself didn't seem to mean an awful lot, and everything seemed to be a little dead. I simply stayed here, praying and waiting to be shown what I was to do.When you came along, everything you said made perfect good sense, and I was glad to think that perhaps this was what I had been prayingfor. I saw FH, and liked it: what actually inspired me was the idea of complete poverty, real poverty, without security: and also the fact that Harlem is where Christ is, where the Blessed Mother is more likely to appear than anywhere--except, perhaps, a Trappist monastery! As to the actual routine of work, I can't say it meant any more to me than St. Bonaventure and teaching. I like teaching ... But always it would seem to me like marking time, like waiting for something else, filling in an interval.Meanwhile I had made a couple of Trappist retreats, and was practically driven silly by the conflict between my desire to share that kind of life and my belief that it was absolutely impossible. Of course, the obvious thing to do was to ask somebody else about this impediment: whether it was really as serious as I had been told.There were two reasons why I hesitated. First, I had been told it was a total, complete, irrevocable impediment in such strong terms that it seemed fantastic even to question them. Second, the devil made use of this to try and kid me that all this thinking about a religious vocation was just a silly, dramatic self-indulgence, and that I would never really be able to stand up under the life, in actuality, and that I had best forget all about it. Well, I could not forget about it, but I stalled around, having argued myself into such a state that it was almost impossible to do anything: and all along I had been arguing with myself instead of praying, which of course didn't help matters, but definitely guaranteed that I would end up in what you refer to as a "pretzel": and what a pretzel! A regular Gordian knot of a pretzel I was in!Well, when I had agreed to go to Harlem, it seemed as though the question was answered, for the time being. I could try Harlem, and if the question came up again, well, then I could see about it then.Then I made Father Furfey's retreat. His retreat was all about Harlem and nothing about Trappists, except that it dealt with the one infinite source of life that nourishes both Friendship House and the Trappists, the Mystical Body of Christ: but all from the point of view of the former. It was a terrific retreat, and I came back here all on fire with it.And what happened? I started thinking about the Trappists again. This time, I was in such a pretzel that it was evident there was no use fooling any more, the question had to be settled. This time I didn't argue, I prayed, and the most apparent thing after that was the desire to question this impediment, and question it with every question I knew how. In short, I went to one of the priests here, who ought to know, and he told me at once that in his opinion there was no impediment and never had been. He was so definite, in his turn, that it knocked me flat. I rushed out of the room saying all I could remember of the Te Deum and went and fell on my face in the chapel and began to pray and beg and implore Almighty God to let me be admitted to the Trappists as a choir religious.So then I wrote to the Trappists, simply saying I was coming for a retreat, and, this was in line with the priest's directions: I intended to ask for admission then, nothing about it in the letter. Of course, it might possibly happen that the retreat would change my mind (which just seems absurd) and then I would return to the idea of Harlem. What is much more likely, it might happen that the Trappists would not have me anyway. Then, again, I would know I should try Harlem for a while. But anyway, I was now getting to some definite answer to all my problems.A few days later, another thing happened, that now rules out Harlem for good.All this time I had been assuming that the classification 1B I got from the Draft Board last spring was going to be definite for a while. However, they now want to reclassify me; and if they make me 1A I am liable to be sent off at once. What is going to happen about that is still unknown. It is all in God's hands. I have asked for three months, to find out whether or not the Trappists will take me. I still don't know whether the Draft Board will give me that time, or merely drag me into the army without any more speech. All I can do is pray, and wait patiently to do God's will, meanwhile begging Him with every breath that He may forgive me for resisting my vocation so long, and may now, in His infinite bounty, let me be accepted into the cloister, not by reason of any merit in me, but only because of His goodness.That is what has been happening. So you see, it is apparently not God's will that I should serve Him in Harlem now. Needless to say, all this has felt like being ground between two millstones, but one thing is more and more clear each time the stones go round: I don't desire anything in the world, not writing, not teaching, not any kind of consolation or outward activity: I simply long with my whole existence to be completely consecrated to God in every gesture, every breath and every movement of my body and mind, to the exclusion of absolutely everything except Him: and the way I desire this, by His grace, is the way it is among the Trappists. FH made sense to me, but I was not eaten up with this kind of longing for the lay apostolate that I seem to have for a contemplative community and a life of prayer and penance. Only these things and the thought of them makes me live, interiorly, now. Everything else actually seems not only dry, but painful: but the thought, and fact of prayer and fasting are totally sweet and peaceful. Never forget me in your prayers, B., especially now. I am unshakably rooted in faith in this vocation: but there is the army [that] may try to kill it in me. So pray for me! My love to everybody. Bob Lax wants to be a staff worker: he is a very good guy.P.S. Remember me especially between the 14th and 20th when I expect to be down at Gethsemani, Kentucky, trying to be admitted!Abbey of Gethsemani, Trappist, Kentucky December 13, 1941I entered the community as a postulant this afternoon. After that it will no doubt be hard, but at least I will know there is nothing keeping me from God any more--I can belong entirely to Him by simply consenting to each trial as it presents itself, and that is enough! It is everything. I only want to belong entirely to Him. I will never forget FH in my prayers! And pray for me! And write, sometime! Merry Christmas. 
In 1948 The Seven Storey Mountain was published. It became a national best-seller and brought fame to its monk-author. 
February 14, 1949After all these years I have an excuse to say hello and ask your prayers. The excuse is this. A lady in California thought, for some reason, that she ought to give away seventy copies of The Seven Storey Mountain, a book I wrote, for people to read. My job was to get them distributed. Friendship House in New York distributed twenty, and forty more went to prisons, and I thought you would be able to handle six. I am also sending one to you personally in case you have not read it. Not that it is so wonderful.But I would be very grateful if you could handle this for us. As you know, out here we are not in touch with spots where these things would do the most good.In the last seven years I have found out somewhat of what God wants to do with people, and what His love means. When I say this life is wonderful it doesn't mean that every other vocation isn't wonderful too: but to be in the sort of place where God wants one: that is certainly a marvelous thing. As soon as you get set in your groove, boy do things happen!People still accuse me of being enthusiastic, but I guess I am a little saner than I used to be? Anyway it is good to be quiet enough to let God work and not get too much in His way with one's own pep, because when my own steam obscures everything things don't move nearly as fast.It seems funny to talk about things moving in a place where nothing ever happens. But more has happened here in seven years than I would have imagined could happen anywhere else in seven centuries. And yet, on the surface, nothing has happened. Somewhere in it all there have been a lot of prayers for you and for Friendship House and I know I have been getting a lot in return. In fact now that I have written a book, I am being prayed for much more than I have prayed for others and this reversal of the usual situation for a Trappist is disconcerting. But it is also very nice, because I sure feel the benefit of those prayers. Maybe I can store some up for the future ... But if I can't I'll take it out in trust.This is my first chance to say how happy I was to hear of your marriage[to Eddie Doherty in 1943] and to send you congratulations and best wishes and blessings. I can see where being married can bring those whose vocation it is much closer to God. Also it is good to hear, once in a while, that Friendship House is branching out here and there.We read your book on FH in the refectory and it made a big impression, and I read Dear Bishop and thought it packed a great big punch. I hope it has done some good. But I can guess what kind of letters you got. I got one or two myself. Including one priest who flattered me by saying he didn't like me any more than he liked you. So we are sitting in the same boat. Let us pray that it may speed us to heaven with a million or two Americans for our companions and crown, something to give to Our Lord. His Providence certainly designed a rough age for us to be saints in.So let us pray that we will get there: or you, who are on the way, pray for me who have been seven years starting and not getting very far. But I like it anyway. 
August 22, 1956... I am so glad we are getting around to the publication of that ancient, prehistoric Journal [first called The Cuban Journal, finally published in 1959 as The Secular Journal]. But I am especially glad that it keeps me in your growing spiritual family. I am a member of the Domus Domini,4 at least by virtue of a manuscript which works for you in my place. I hope you will let me know the details of what is growing into a firmly established institute ...Now, as always, God's real work remains obscure and humble in the eyes of the world. Now more than ever, we have to be suspicious of results that are achieved by the efficient, over-efficient technological means of which the world is so proud. Christ works always humbly and almost in the dark, but never more than now ...Nothing is more important than prayer and union with God, no matter where we may be. Christ is the source and the only source of charity and spiritual life. We can do nothing without Him and His Spirit, and I know you are now, as always, seeking no other Mover than the Spirit of Christ. That is why the Cross will cast its shadow, still, over your life. But then, in that shadow, you will see the Light of Christ, the Light of the Resurrection. He lives in us, and through our poverty He must reign. And I need not tell you how poor He makes us in order to reign in us. If we knew how poor and desolate we would have to be when we began to follow Him, perhaps we would have fallen back.Thus we are left as children, as the saved remnant which is forgotten, we are like the animals in Noah's ark, which floats off on the waves of the deluge of materialism without anyone but God knowing where we will end up.We have got to be people of hope, and to be so we have to see clearly how true it is that the hopes of a materialistic culture are the worst form of despair. We have to build a new world, and yet resist the world while representing Christ in the midst of it. I have been taken to task for yelling so loud that this is a perverse generation and no doubt I have put a lot of my own frustration into the cries: the people of the generation are good, so good, so helpless, some of them: the culture, the generation, is perverse and I see little hope for it. Why? Because by its very essence it is against Christ. I hope that I am wrong.In the end, no theory that neglects real people can be of any value. It is in those that He sends to you that you see Him and love Him, and there you have a reality which cannot be taken away, a treasure like the one for which St. Lawrence died on the gridiron. You have Christ ... 
December 28, 1957We have all been waiting a long time for the final judgment of the censors of the Order as to the publication of the Cuban Journal. Naomi Burton may have told you that it finally got to a fourth censor and the score, at the close of the thirteenth-inning, was three against publication and one in favor. There are apparently to be no more innings after that. In other words the Order is officially and definitely against. So much so that the Abbot General has written me a very long letter to this effect, instructing me as to the attitude which I myself am to take in the matter. He tells me that he feels it is my duty, in the circumstances, to ask you if you would consider forgoing your right to publish the book. In other words, while you do in fact retain the right to publish the book if you want to, he asks you in charity to take into consideration the feelings of the Order in the matter. He is concerned above all with passages which he feels would shock certain readers coming from a priest, a member of this Order, and the effect of the shock would make itself felt in a harmful way, he believes.My position is such that in practice I have no choice but to conform to these wishes of my Highest Superior (below the Pope), and hence I have to communicate these wishes to you as my own. I am very sorry to have to do so. But, knowing that you, as well as I, will be disposed to see the whole business in the light of faith, and to accept the judgment of those higher up in the Church as God's will for us--always remembering of course that you haven't made any vow of obedience to my Superior, and you remain free to do what you want. I think we can certainly differ, privately and speculatively, with this opinion of censors who may not beblessed with a superabundance of judgment in such matters. Yet at the same time, they have reasons of a different order, and I think it would be rash for us to ignore these altogether. Incidentally there was no question of anything definitely against faith or morals, just the general tone of carping criticism of "nice" people which they think is undesirable in one of my present status. Maybe so. It certainly is somewhat adolescent, and I thought the preface took sufficient account of this fact. They did not agree.If you are still very anxious to publish the book, the only hope I can offer is the vague possibility that they might consent after abundant cuttings--but perhaps the cutting would be so abundant that the bulk of the book would be gone. My own opinion is that we ought to just drop the idea for the moment, and if God wills, we will have another chance some time later on.So you see, the Cistercians of the Strict Observance are very much opposed to any voice with even a slightly radical sound being raised in their midst. I do not know whether or not I feel this is something for which we ought to be proud. However, every Order has its own spirit, and our General has been clamping down on all expressions of anything, on the rather reasonable theory that the monks came to the monastery in the first place to shut up. I cannot deny the validity of the argument. Father Abbot tells me that there was a $500 advance on the ms. and that we will take care of that, so that at least you will have got something out of the transaction.I was happy to have a few words with Eddie [Doherty] when he was down here ... 
February 11, 1958Today we are celebrating the hundredth anniversary of Lourdes, and part of the celebration, for me, is to send you a piece of good news. It shows that Our Lady is with us, and that there is still a very solid hope that the Secular Journal (Cuban Journal) will be published after all.Yesterday afternoon I heard from the Abbot General again. I had written him a letter after receiving your humble acceptance of his demands about the book. I explained to him simply that I still wondered if we were entitled to deprive your cause of such an important source of support. Previously he had shown himself opposed to the publication of the book even if I made the changes suggested by the censors. Now however I repeated the plea that at least I might be allowed to make those changes and submit the book once more.Father General agreed to this, and expressed himself very content with the way both you and I had acted, and promised to reconsider the whole thing after the corrections had been made. The book will start off again to the two censors (or two out of that group of four) after I havemade the corrections ... I am sorry to have to mutilate it a bit, but perhaps it is just as well. My plan at present is simply to cut, not to change or rewrite if I can help it. However, it may turn out that some passages could be kept with a little rewriting, and if that seems to be so, I will try my hand at it.There is one consolation in all this: I don't feel that the book is of such a nature that it has to be preserved intact the way it was written. I mean, it is not the same kind of document as the Autobiography of the Little Flower and nothing much depends on the fact that it may have been changed here and there, since in this case the changes may well be for the better. I wasn't a saint when I wrote the book, and I am probably still less a saint now, not that anyone knows anything about who is or who isn't a saint. Because all, even the saints, are sinners--except, as today reminds us, Our Lady.The emendation of the Secular Journal might well be a matter of suppressing material that is sinful, offensive against charity perhaps. If that is true, then the job will be a welcome one. Pray in any case that I do it the way the Holy Spirit wants it to be done.I am happy to have this chance to wish you joy on Our Lady's feast.Now, most important of all. I will have to write a new preface, and this will give me an opportunity to talk about Madonna Villa and all that it stands for and all you are trying to do. Please send me all the material possible, so that I can get a good clear idea of what is going on. I didn't even know until recently that you and Friendship House had parted company. Tell me all about the Institute (?), how you stand, what are your rules, etc. What is the official title again??? (Do you think it is smart to have an official name in Latin?) (Or don't you have an equivalent in English?) ... 
September 18, 1958Your deeply moving letter came the other day, just before I received from New York proofs of the Secular Journal ... I wish you would look over the proofs of the preface and straighten out any errors. You are forbidden, under obedience, to delete any compliments addressed to your person ...The great paradox of Superiorship is that no one can be a Superior unless he is fully worthy, and yet no one is fully worthy. There is only one solution: that Christ Himself, in us, must be the Superior, for He alone is worthy. And we must be content to struggle to keep out of His way. Above all, as you say so wisely, we must be glad if those under us see our defects, and are even aware of our sins in some way. Because that means that they will not expect too much from us, and will place their hopes in Christ. The crux of the whole "problem" of being a Superior is right there, in the shame we feel at letting everyone down, the shameat not being up to our task, the fear that everything will be known, that our nothingness will be seen and realized. So many Superiors, thrown into a panic by this fear, become harsh and demanding or suspicious and resentful. And that is not to "govern" but to "dominate." The same thing works the other way, of course, a hundred times over. Because there are subjects also who want to dominate, and who do not want the Superior to know their shame, and who try to get in the first blow ... May God spare you from such.In the end, though, the solution is Love--you have said it. And love, it seems to me, implies the realization that perhaps already those subject to us know our failings very well, and accept them with love, and would not dream of holding them against us, because they know these things do not matter. That is the great consolation: in the joy of being known and forgiven, we find it so much easier to forgive everything, even before it happens.Pray for me, Catherine, in my own sins and struggles. After so boldly advertising to the world that I was out to become a saint, I find I am doing a pretty bum job of it. It is really funny, and I am not surprised or distressed to see what a damn fool I have been: maybe I have a call to that peculiarly Russian form of sanctity--yurodivetsvo--to be a fool for Christ and to really enjoy it, in a quiet and inconspicuous way, because in a way He enjoys it ...But it certainly is a wonderful thing to wake up suddenly in the solitude of the woods and look up at the sky and see the utter nonsense of everything, including all the solemn stuff given out by professional asses about the spiritual life: and simply to burst out laughing, and laugh and laugh, with the sky and the trees because God is not in words, and not in systems, and not in liturgical movements, and not in "contemplation" with a big C, or in asceticism or in anything like that, not even in the apostolate. Certainly not in books. I can go on writing them, for all that, but one might as well make paper airplanes out of the whole lot.I must stop now and devote myself to the folly of getting up a conference for the novices. But it is not so bad: I prepare conferences and then tell them something entirely different. If I gave them what I had prepared, then that would really be folly.Catherine, one of my mad ideas--which is really mad and I don't pay attention to it--is to break off and start a new kind of small monastery in Ecuador, a sort of an ashram for local intellectuals and men of good will and Indians, part of the time devoted to discussions and spiritual works of mercy (and some corporal, like a clinic) and part of the time devoted to sitting in a hermitage and getting the straws out of my hair. The whole thing from a certain aspect looks more like Madonna House than O.C.S.O. [Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance]. Anyway,there is no indication that it would possibly be the will of God, or at least not in the extreme form, and so I put it away as a temptation ... 
July 22, 1961Your letter was written on May 26 (anniversary of my ordination) and here we are already at the Feast of St. Mary Magdalen. I am sorry for all the delay, but I did want to acknowledge your letter with at least a brief note of some sort. Your two poems were very welcome and they will be posted on the novices' board for their enlightenment. They can use some. I keep trying to remind them that they are not alone in the world, and that they have brethren suffering and struggling very often with much greater problems than we have here, and much greater difficulties. We remain pretty bound up in our relatively small concerns.However, no one is exempt from anguish. I share the agony of spirits you speak of, and for the same reasons. There is no doubt that we are all involved in a social structure that is rotting from within. The fact that so many good people are able to identify this futile and transient structure with Christian civilization or even, worse still, the body of Christ, is enough to cause anyone agony. I think this agony is simply the inevitable form our suffering takes at such a time. We feel useless, bound, helpless ... We are stopped, blocked, tongue-tied. When we open our mouths we run into so much contradiction that we wonder whether or not we can believe our own convictions. As Christians we are not really "with" any of the big social movements in one direction or another, left or right. We no longer have the support of a really Christian society. When we lean on the society that is built on what used to be Christian, it gives way and we fall with it ... yet we cannot commit ourselves to the even more transient secularism that claims to possess the key to the future. It is a very salutary solitude, and one in which I for one think more and more that I will have to stop preaching or to preach only by silence, because no matter what you say, you seem to be saying yes to something you cannot in conscience approve of.I send you a poem in return for yours. Not exactly a nice little spiritual nosegay. Pray that I may be allowed to print it somewhere. That is not yet by any means certain. I will send along one on the "bomb" which, by some miracle, is getting printed ["Original Child Bomb"] ... 
[Cold War Letter 79
June 4, 1962Your long, wonderful letter has gone for nearly three months without an answer. But you can guess all the reasons. And now perhaps if I answer it is because the voice which was shouting, momentarily, about peace, has been told to shut up. And I have a little time to return to other things such as writing letters.I knew I didn't have much time to get said what I felt ought to besaid. So I got it all out as best I could, in a jumble of words and articles, and even finished a book. The book is on stencils, and when the last stencil was typed the order came in not to print or publish anything more on topics "not befitting a contemplative monk." Apparently the most crucial problems, and the struggle with the demon, these are out of range of a contemplative monk. I was told it would be all right if I prayed over these matters, however.You ask me if I am weary? Sure. Perhaps not as weary as you are, but weary in the same way, weary of the same things. It is complicated by the fact that one is tempted to feel he has no right to be weary of the actions and pronouncements of a lot of very good, sincere people who are themselves weary of something or other. We are like a bunch of drunken men at the last end of a long stupid party falling over the furniture in the twilight of dawn. I hope it is dawn. Probably not, though. But the thing that eats one up is the anguish over the Church. This of course leaves me inarticulate because I know that anyone can show where and how and why I am not a good Catholic, a good Christian, a faithful member of Christ. And yet there is this conviction that the Church is full of a terrible spiritual sickness, even though there is always that inexpressible life ...It is at such a time as this that one has to have faith in the Church, and the fact that we suffer from the things that make us suffer, the fact that we cannot find any way out of the suffering, is perhaps a sign of hope. I do not pretend to understand the situation or to analyze anything. Your answer is correct. What is wanted is love. But love has been buried under words, noise, plans, projects, systems, and apostolic gimmicks. And when we open our mouths to do something about it we add more words, noise, plans, etc. We are afflicted with the disease of constant talking with almost nothing to say. From that point of view I suppose it is just as well that I am saying nothing more about the war business. Saying things does not help. Yet what is there to do? You're right again, that what one must do is meet the needs that He brings before us, when and as He does so. We will not see anything clear, but we must do His will. We have to be heroic in our obedience to God. And that may mean cutting through a whole forest of empty talk and clichés and nonsense just to begin to find some glimmer of His will. To obey always and not know for sure if we are really obeying. That is not fun at all, and people like to get around the responsibility by entering into a routine of trivialities in which everything seems clear and noble and defined: but when you look at it honestly it falls apart, for it is riddled with absurdity from top to bottom ... 
November 12, 1962... I was deeply moved by the Poustinia [i.e., hermitage] project. That is ideal. It is just right. It will be a wonderful contribution. It is thekind of thing that is most needed. And though it is certain that we must speak if and when we can, silence is always more important. The crises of the age are so enormous and the mystery of evil so unfathomable: the action of well-meaning men is so absurd and tends so much to contribute to the very evils it tries to overcome: all these things should show us that the real way is prayer, and penance, and closeness to God in poverty and solitude. Yet there is no question that sometimes this too is also preached as an invasion of responsibility. It is a terrible situation, and each case must be judged on its merits, with fear and trembling, by the gift of Counsel. Indeed it is very hard now to simply lay down a line of action and say this is it. I will not deviate from this. The next moment you may be forced to change your direction.So it is usually when I have just resolved firmly to be perfectly silent that I find I have to speak: and when I have resolved to speak out boldly, that I am reduced to silence. At the moment I am pretty well reduced to silence on the war question, and that is all right. It is what I expected, and what I accept. And yet behind it is an evasion, a failure to measure up to the test of the times, for the Church has been too slow to speak and to take a definite position, and this has been weakness and betrayal on the part of those whose responsibility it was: they have been too deeply identified with secular interests.... On the other hand I have the greatest sympathy for the rough and tumble peace movement with its all kinds of wacky people. They are certainly not saints, and some of them think themselves atheists. They are not all leading what we would call good lives. Yet perhaps the peace movement, begun imperfectly and followed with all kinds of errors and misjudgments, may be their way to find the real meaning of love. I know many such people who have despaired of finding love in our cold institutional gatherings and our official pronouncements. God alone knows what He means to do through these people. And He knows too that they are not easy to handle or to live with, for Dorothy Day has had her share of difficulty with them. And yet they are there, and I suppose it is my job to be at least remotely the Church's arm around them, as nobody else much (in the clergy) seems interested.... I think what I need to learn is an almost infinite tolerance and compassion. At least this is I think my great need, because negative thought gets nowhere. I am beginning to think that in our time we will correct almost nothing, and get almost nowhere: but if we can just prepare a compassionate and receptive soil for the future, we will have done a great work. I feel at least that this is the turn my own life ought to take.... This must end here, though there would be much more to say. I am editing and correcting a manuscript of a Russian Orthodox scholar called Bolshakoff, who is at Oxford but doesn't write very goodEnglish. It is about the Russian mystics and full of very interesting material ... 
November 21, 1964... I have known for a long time that in the contemplative Orders of this country the accepted framework has not been adequate to take care of the vocations. The monasteries both of common life and of hermits (if one can call a hermit group a monastery) are organized in a rigid and stereotyped way for one kind of life only, which is not bad in its own way, and which seems to persist because it is relatively easy to keep in order. It is a matter of rules and observances which keep the monk busy and enable him to live a life of comparative recollection and prayer, protecting him against some of the distractions of life, keeping him in trim by a certain amount of austerity.Unfortunately this regimented form of existence, which is sound enough when based on the best traditions, tends to be rather empty and frustrating, to many vocations, and indeed there is a very general feeling that the life easily becomes a dead end. It retains its meaning for those who have some kind of responsibility in the community or who work in a way that contributes to the community, while for others, well, they tend to vegetate. There are few real contemplatives who can continue simply to live the monastic life as it is organized and really grow as they go on. The older generation still manage it. The younger ones, after my age group, tend to be more and more dissatisfied and disoriented.There is no question that the hermit life is a legitimate and traditional development of the monastic vocation. Simply to block this off and forbid it has kept the question from being raised in the past. It can no longer be kept out of sight. I think in fact that in the monastic Orders we are going to frankly face the need of allowing temporary or permanent hermitages for some of our members. And in fact I already have a dacha or something, which I suppose is somewhat like yours, though perhaps bigger because it was originally built to house groups of ministers coming for dialogue. They go there to converse with us, not to live there. It is a three-room cottage, very simple.There is also a very keen sense of need for a simpler, more "open" type of monastic life, in which the work will be more "real" and there will be more sense that one is living as ordinary poor people live, not as institutionalized and dressed-up "poor monks" with personal poverty in a rich community. This is one of the great trends in the Order today. It is shaking the Order up quite a bit, especially in Europe. There we have Dutch monks who want to go out and work in factories. Their aspiration is good but the way of fulfilling it seems to me to be off the track. At least for monks.You say they come to you with all sorts of complicated questions.Yes, that is true. They have been reading and hearing all sorts of things, and in many cases they may be, though smart, spiritually confused. The basic trouble is perhaps that they are still very immature in the spiritual life, because they are very centered on a "self" for which they want to attain the best of ends: they want to possess "contemplation" and "God." But to think contemplation is something that one can "attain" and "possess" is just to get off on the wrong road from the very beginning. What they really need is solid and simple direction, and more than that, what they need is the kind of really basic sort of training that the Desert Fathers and the early monasteries gave: to shut up and stop all their speculation and get down to living a simple laborious life in which they forget themselves. I am sure that around Madonna House you can help them find a more authentic and realistic simplicity than they may have had in monasteries.As for the "hermit," well, the danger is that there is no precedent among us and no one to lead the way. It would be a great shame if what I think to be a genuine movement proceeding from God would in fact be discredited by a lot of false and immature hermits trying it out and making a mess of it. I would say that very probably at Madonna House you could really be of service to two or three mature and trained monks with a capacity to be hermits ...My advice in the concrete would be to have a couple of hermitages, or three near Madonna House, and allow well-tested men to try out there temporarily, say for Lent, or for three months in summer, etc., and see what develops ...I must close now. I am involved in this myself, and have definite hopes of living in a hermitage here in the woods sometime in the not too distant future. In fact I do spend much time there already, and sleep there, etc. I am sure it can all be worked out very simply and quietly, but unfortunately people have a mania for organization and complication, trying to draw up detailed programs for everything all the time, and they forget to just live. I hope they will just let me get out there and live with God and work things out in a simple practical way as time goes on, instead of making up a rigid and legalistic set of rules. However, I will take whatever my Superiors see fit to impose ... 
January 12, 1966I have been wanting to answer your Christmas letter and your Advent anguish. It is probably gone now, unless the Lord has been keeping you in it as He sometimes does. Living in the hermitage permanently now I am learning the ways of anguish better and the ways of tears too, but also I am taking myself in hand about it, because I am coming to realize that there is a subtle way in which the world grips us and will not set us free: for we must realize that the tyranny of worldly power today holds peopleprecisely by continual anguish and torments them with insecurity, in order every day to get a little better grip. That is the demonic thing about this cold war and hot war and the ceaseless news ... One must weep for the world, like Staretz Silouane, whom I love as you do. One must even, as he did, keep our souls in "hell" without despairing. But also we must gradually get so that the world and its rule of terror does not reach in to try to dominate our inner soul.That is why with the business of Dan Berrigan, for example, it is not so great a reason for anguish as one might at first sight think and Dorothy [Day] in the Catholic Worker I think is quite right when she says it was perhaps a good thing for him to be shipped out. As far as I know, the authentic story is this: it is not as simple as those protesting against it have made it out to be. Rather his Provincial is a fairly good sort, is trying to be broad-minded and open, and is generally loosening things up, but there were fears in the province that because of Dan the General might descend on the Provincial and spoil everything. Thus (and I don't doubt the Chancery had a hand in it) it was thought wise to smuggle Dan out for a while (I know him very well). Actually, the uproar was justified in the sense that, taking Dan as an occasion, people simply expressed their disgust once for all with the "old way" of doing things, a way which has in any case been deplored by the Council itself. Hence, on this occasion, people simply began to vent their wrath on this particular Superior indeed, but aiming at all Superiors who have habitually and flagrantly abused their power for years, consistently tricking and circumventing subjects, never frank with them, always trusting them in a way that is an implicit insult to the dignity of the Christian person, and so on. The lid had to come off at last and it did. I am sure there will be more of the same, and there is no indication that there can be any really widespread change without it. The old ways are established and I suppose that most people just seem to think they are the right ways and there can be no other. Well, the Church will never wake up unless there is a change in this also, as in the Holy Office (I bet it will take time for that one to change too). Thank heaven there are plenty of good Superiors too, who are open-minded and ask for nothing better than to give their subjects some initiative especially in things like race relations. I am sure there is no question of impeding Dan Berrigan in this regard: it is the "pacifism" that is the trouble, in Cardinal Spellman's bailiwick.I thought it might be useful to say these things, as we are going to have more and more of these same alarms. Let us pray for one another to grow in hope and freedom and do so precisely in and by that anguish which is really a great good though we would certainly prefer any other at the time it is with us ... I was very anguished myself over Roger La Porte's burning himself alive and had a six weeks' struggle with the peace people I am associated with, Dorothy included, but we came out all right,and I think we have all profited by it. Some tried to make out that Roger was a martyr, but in fact I think he was a kind of sign of judgment, in his well-intentioned confusion, something to teach the Catholic peace movement that there is something far more important than just getting coverage in the press and on TV.Well, we won't really get out of the wilderness until everything is pressed out and there is nothing left but the pure wine to be offered to the Lord, transubstantiated into His Blood. Let us look forward to that day when we will be entirely in Him and He in us and the Father in and over all. Then there will be true peace which the world cannot give ...Copyright © 1985 by the Merton Legacy Trust
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 26, 2011

    more from this reviewer


    Thomas Merton's writings are at the same time deep and yet easy to grasp. This is a must jave for anyone wantimg to understand spirtual formation.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)