Saturday, April 16, 2011

"No Man is an Island" by Thomas Merton


The Christian must not only accept suffering: he must make it holy. Nothing so easily becomes unholy as suffering.

Merely accepted, suffering does nothing for our souls except, perhaps, to harden them. Endurance alone is no consecration. Suffering is consecrated to God by faith- not by faith in suffering, but by faith in God. To accept suffering stoically, to receive the burden of fatal, unavoidable, and incomprehensible necessity and to bear it strongly, is no consecration. Suffering has no power and value of it’s own.

It is valuable only as a test of its faith. What if our faith fails in the test? Is it good to suffer then? When is suffering useless? When it only turns us in on upon ourselves, when it only makes us sorry for ourselves, when it changes love to hatred, when it reduces all thing to fear.

Faith knows that the mercy of God is given to those who seek Him in suffering, and that by His grace we can overcome evil with good. Suffering, then, becomes good by accident, by the good that it enables us to receive more abundantly from the mercy of God. Thus what we consecrate to God in suffering is not our suffering but ourselves.

What after all, is more personal than suffering? The awful futility of our attempts to convey the reality of our suffering to other people, and the tragic inadequacy of human sympathy, both prove how incommunicable a thing suffering really is.

When a man suffers, he is most alone. Therefore it is in suffering that we are most tested as persons. How can we face the awful interior questioning? What shall we answer when we come to be examined by pain? When suffering comes to put the question: "Who are you?” we must be able to answer distinctly, and give our own name. By that I mean that we must express the very depths of who we are, what we have desired to be, what we have become. All these things are sifted out of us by pain. But as we live under the grace of God as His child, our name and our work and our personality will fit the pattern stamped on our souls by the God who made us.

The saint is not one who accepts suffering because he likes it. He is one who may well hate suffering as much as anybody else, but who so loves Christ, that he will allow His love to be proved by suffering. If we love God and love others in Him, we will be glad to let suffering destroy anything in us that God is pleased to let it destroy, because we know that all it destroys is unimportant. We will prefer to let the accidental trash of life be consumed by suffering in order that His glory may come out clean in everything we do.

If we love God, suffering does not matter. Christ in us, His love, His Passion in us: that is what we care about. Pain does not cease to be pain, but we can be glad of it because it enables Christ to suffer in us and give glory to His Father by being greater, in our hearts, than suffering would ever be.



A selected reading condensed from No Man is An Island by Thomas Merton, 1915-1968
Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk and a Catholic writer who authored 70 books.

Blogger's note: I do not really understand the meaning of suffering in a Christian's life. I have spent the past almost three years trying to make sense of it. I have done some reading by Catholic writers that have helped me more than anything else I have read. This is one such reading. I post this for myself, and perhaps others who are searching for meaning. I love that he understands the isolation of suffering. It is difficult to explain suffering to others. It is also difficult to explain it in a way that is healing. I give him credit for his insights and his courage to tackle the most difficult of all human subjects. He at least dares to venture into the unknown and I appreciate that very much.  I am still sorting it all out for myself, and likely will be for a very long time.

3 comments:

karen gerstenberger said...

That is a powerful piece. There is much in it that is good, and some that is challenging. I am not sure that I agree with every single thing he believes, but I loved reading and pondering it. Thank you for sharing it here.

Anonymous said...

Whew, that certainly filled my soul! Like the other Karen it gives me much to think about and also to put myself into where I think I am with things. Loved it
Thanks dear heart. Love Sharon

Anonymous said...

"What after all, is more personal than suffering? The awful futility of our attempts to convey the reality of our suffering to other people, and the tragic inadequacy of human sympathy, both prove how incommunicable a thing suffering really is."
This statement explains grief added to grief, for you and other grief bearers.
I also find myself angry at times with God who allowed the suffering as well as the One who offers the healing.
Gary