Friday, December 2, 2011

Merton's Words

As we prepare for Christmas in this Advent season, I'd like to take the opportunity to quote the words of a wise man who realized something wonderful about what Christmas means for us:

It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, 
though it is a race dedicated to many absurdities 
and one which makes many terrible mistakes: 
yet, with all that, God Himself gloried in becoming a member of the human race! 
To think that such a commonplace realization should suddenly seem like news 
that one holds the winning ticket in a cosmic sweepstake.

I have the immense joy of being man
a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. 
As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, 
now I realize what we all are.

And if only everybody could realize this! 
But it cannot be explained. 
There is no way of telling people 
that they are walking around shining like the sun.

-Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

With these words, this trappist of Gethsemane has expressed something that I feel surprisingly often.  (I doubt I feel it as acutely as he did.)

I see people hurting all the time. I see pain both physical and spiritual. I see crushing guilt and debilitating disease. I see everything about people that you could imagine might convince me that human beings are in an awful way and are not anywhere near as well off as Merton thinks.

But I'm convinced Merton is on to something.

Whenever I meet anyone who shows me the ugly, brutal, weak, shameful, or pitiable side of humanity, I am only more aware of the Father's gaze on that person.  I'm only more confident that He first loves that person, before and after his faults.

It's a comforting place to be, not having to be angry or impatient or confounded by all the many lost sheep (among whom I count myself).  The abiding presence of God is a weighty thing that fills every space we enter.  If we were but to notice a small portion of it, then we could not fail to see the glory he has planned for us.

From day one, I have felt that my calling as a priest is to do my best to convince people that they are in fact "shining like the sun."  It's consoling to remember that the Good News really is good news.  It is pleasant to hear, no matter how much it takes us to task.