Love Itself | Thomas Merton

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody's business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy. | Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton could be described as a curator of Catholic intellectual and spiritual life. His writings and social activist work influenced a new group of contemplatives coming out of World War II, playing a part in reviving monastic traditions within and following his generation. Many view him as a contentious figure. The criticisms came when he interacted with leaders of Eastern and Native American religions, when he wrestled with his vow of celibacy while experiencing romantic love, and when he continued to speak out on the racial and economic injustices he saw. Yet these many years after his death, Merton’s relevance to our current faith journey continues.

Here at Costa Mesa First we think the contemplative traditions can bring great value to our lives. Because of that, we asked a few of our church family to react to this week's #mysticmonday quote. Each of them have spent significant portions of their professional and personal lives figuring out how to better love our neighbors. This is what they have to say: 

Molly Brodersen |

One of the best things I was told growing up was that "judging others was never a burden we were meant to bear". My mom told me this while in high school - and I remember feeling "what a refreshing thought!" I felt like a weight had been lifted off.
And the reality is, walking around and judging others is a massive weight - one that denies what Jesus did on the cross. We were never meant to be the ones determining who is worthy and who is not. Because we were not worthy in the first place. Judging others just distract us from doing to hard part of actually loving others and showing them the same humbling grace we have all experienced through Christ.
How much more life giving (and eye opening) to use that same energy to love (or serve, or respect, or talk to, or listen to) others where they are instead of where society (or we) want them to be - isn't that exactly what Jesus has done to us?

Brian White |

My initial reaction is the Merton is speaking the fundamental premise of Biblical Salvation: while we were enemies/sinners Christ still died from us (Romans 8 I think). The model of love the Merton is proposing is modeled after Jesus. When Jesus saw the crowds, he was moved with compassion. He was unaware who every individual was in the crowd, nor knew every story and sin of every individual; what he saw was people in the need of love because within humanity our common ground is found our fragility. When our love for one another engages in our fragility we can find healing within ourselves and one another. When we are told to only love we avoid fixing, manipulating, or coercing. Love is acceptance as is. Love is the catalyst to transformation, to growth, to hope for change. In the same manner that God’s love for us rendered us worthy, so we too extend that love to all we encounter.

Jenne Tourjé |

When I think of loving my neighbor, I'm often reminded of Henri Nouwen's definition of hospitality as the "creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.”
Love doesn't work with requirements or with strings attached. Those calls of worthiness or unworthiness place such a heavy and unmanageable burden on both parties. I love that Merton says that we're both rendered worthy in the act of loving. That before any change happens, love does the work.
If you're interested in learning more about Thomas Merton check out  this documentary  on him, ask one of our staff for a book recommendation, or read  his Wikipedia page  like a normal person.

If you're interested in learning more about Thomas Merton check out this documentary on him, ask one of our staff for a book recommendation, or read his Wikipedia page like a normal person.