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Learning Everything That Is, Is Holy with Thomas Merton

We do not detach ourselves from things in order to attach ourselves to God, but rather we become detached from ourselves in order to see and use all things in and for God (New Seeds, 21).

In chapter four in New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton, reflects on the human person’s interaction with nature and creation. We’ll recall in the post, Unity of All Things In the Love of Christ, we reflected on the contemplatives call to empty ourselves into the love of others in Christ. In this chapter, Merton reflects on the contemplatives emptying of self in order to be in right relation with the beauty of all creation. 

God looked at everything he had made, and found it very good. Evening came, and morning followed—the sixth day (Gn. 1.31).

The Book of Genesis tells us that all God created he found to be not only good but very good. It wasn’t just man and woman, or one species of tree, a particular kind of animal; no, all that He created he found to be very good. Why is it many things in the created world tend to lead our hearts astray? Why do beautiful people and things, food, drink, and objects lead us away from love of God and neighbor? We learn in theology that while we’ve been saved from the spiritual punishment due to original sin by virtue of our baptism our wills are naturally still attracted to pleasure. The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls this inordinate inclination concupiscence, an inclination to pleasure. Our human nature is deprived of holiness, but we’re not totally corrupt, of course. Human Nature is wounded and the wound is waiting to be healed by the love of God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us:

Although it is proper to each individual,original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam’s descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin – an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence (CCC. 405).

So, how do we live in holy relationship with the created world? We do so by loving God above all things, including ourselves. Removing the self, that is, our ego and our wills and fill the gap with the love of God. Unlike men, creation does the will of the Father because it is consumed by God. 

A TREE gives glory to God by being a tree. For in being what God means it to be it is obeying Him. It “consents,” so to speak, to His creative love. It is expressing an idea which is in God and which is not distinct from the essence of God, and therefore a tree imitates God by being a tree. The more a tree is like itself, the more it is like Him (New Seeds, 29).

It’s the self-emptying of that part of us which can make idols of created things; even of creation itself. God gave us the world to use for our good. It’s not for our free consumption, to be freely grasped as a life preserver that can’t save us. Something can’t save us but someone has saved us. When we’re open to God’s grace in this self-emptying we imitate him who emptied Himself on the Cross for all creation.  Not that our self is deficient but longs to be transformed in Christ. We’re called to purify our pride and temper our false desire to be God on our own. Through ongoing conversion in the Christian life we, by God’s grace, become a new image ready to see God and Him in all things.

The Christian life is a pilgrimage, to purify our hearts of the false self and be formed anew in the divine renovation awaiting us in Christ. The obstacle along the way may times is us. We don’t interact with creation for its own sake, but in order to draw closer to Christ. Of course, we need food and drink to nourish our bodies, which are temples of the Holy Spirit.  We need, clothes, money, and so on. But how much do we need? Why do we need it? This is the discernment we’re called to. Do we really need three Chick-fil-A chicken sandwiches?  Or does one suffice?

The obstacle is in our “self”, that is to say in the tenacious need to maintain a separate, external, egotistic will (New Seeds, 21).

When we turn in on ourselves, we make a false attempt to make ourselves god by the abuse of our will and intellect. We’re all called to divinization, the full and perfect participation in the life of Christ. In fact, God’s grace and our interaction with the created world aids us in this divinization. The person striving to live out the Christian life has an appreciation for the world and the things of the world because he knows it is created and given to us by God. It is given to us for our good and not just ours but for the whole world. They are not just mine as it were but given to aid us in working our salvation.

It is not true that the saints and the great contemplatives never loved created things, and had no understanding or appreciation of the world, with its sights and sounds and the people living in it (New Seeds, 22).

The beauty of the world is in its diversity brought together in one divine image. We enjoy the world because it’s a reflection of God’s beauty. His beauty is love itself. His love and power sustain life and creation. It is a gift given to us for the good of the entire human family. Realizing and seeing the world with a contemplative heart means experiencing the world in the love of God. The beautiful love of God surrounds us and permeates us no matter where we find ourselves.

We see in creation a hope, even in the sufferings, a potential, to be transformed by the goodness of God and His grace. In the sick new born, we see the hope of healing. We see the power of creation hidden within the human person, the creative powers of man and woman, and the sharing in the loving creative powers of God to bring forth new life.

The eyes of the saint make all beauty holy and the hands of the saint consecrate everything they touch to the glory of God, and the saint is never offended by anything and judges no man’s sin because he does not know sin (New Seeds, 24).

The saints know in their inmost being the goodness and order of all created reality. The world is subsumed in goodness because it comes from God. His Divine Image is seared into all of creation; especially in the human person who we see as a reflection of His Image. The saint sees the world through the eyes of total submission to the will of God, through the eyes of faith and not the condemning or judging because of a healthy enjoyment of life. 

The only true joy on earth is to escape from the prison of our own false self, and enter by love into union with the Life Who dwells and sings within the essence of every creature and in the core of our own souls (New Seeds, 25).

Mary showed us how to do this in her FIAT, her yes to God and not just her yes but a yes with her whole being. A holy life is not a rejection of creation but an embracing of it! When we embrace the world in love we are imitating and embracing God. It is all in our approach.  The beauty of the world and all the goodness is seen in the way we use it. We don’t let it take over our hearts. We let our love of God take over our hearts in order to see it and cooperate with it. It’s not a selfish self-love but loving God in us who created us in His love, and in who’s love we are sustained. Each of us, sinner or saint, every human person who has been alive and died is a reflection of Him. 

We’re made in His Divine Image, the marriage of soul and body, His human and divine natures are a reflection of the marriage of body and soul, which makes up the human person.  The powers of Jesus’ natures and the body and soul of the human person work together! The body is not evil, nor can it be. It has been redeemed with all of creation. In the Easter season, we rest in the joyful fruits of the greatest act of love in human history; Christ’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection. It is through the Paschal Mystery that the Mystical Body of Christ has been redeemed.

Let no one, then, dare to hate or to despise the body that has been entrusted to him by God, and let one dare to misuse this body (New Seeds, 27).


Fr. Aidan McDermott, OSB

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