Thomas Merton Christmas Day 1962

Original artwork by Sue Krzowski

An extract from Thomas Merton on Christmas Day 1962, reflecting on the need to get to what lies deeper and beyond superficial religious life:

‘First of all, it is useless and profoundly stupid to judge those with whom I live, I mean of course those whose anguish and insecurity impose on all the rest absurd and futile burdens, ways of conduct and of worship. I must learn compassion for these also, and above all, speak a truth they and I can both understand.

Yet last night after Midnight Mass and Lauds, I was tired and deeply impressed by the superficiality and shallowness of all our three hours – or rather four and a half hours of chanting and ceremonies. In the heart of all was buried and hidden the word of Truth and the sanctifying presence of the Redeemer. But we are so concentrated on the externals and accidentals (even though we think we are not) that we exhaust ourselves in fruitless gestures and play. This has a certain necessity and validity, and the closer to the essence the more valid it is. But – what is gained by singing over and over the Communion antiphon usque ad nauseum (to the point of nausea) – is there any real difference between doing this and listening to a lot of silly carols? Last night we had both; the carols first and repetitious chant of the antiphon afterwards.

After Vigils, for half a moment that made sense, I stood outside in the darkness with snow falling on my cheeks and listened to the deep silence of the words at midnight! If we are thinking of Cuba and shepherds, let us then remember that it was in such silence as this that the shepherds watched their flocks! And heard the message of God!

 Nevertheless, all this nonsense cannot get in the way if one does not let it. To use the best in it and forget the trash, to be patient in one’s own poverty and anguish, to pray with the Church which, no matter what the rest of us do, remains the Church of the poor and the disinherited, to stand before God as a desolate sinner who finds no comfort and little warning in what consoles others – and not to consider what the others are doing, for that is their business – this also is grace and there is truth in it. Above all true hope is comfort and of the wreckage of what is essentially hopeless.

I think more and more in terms of self-emptying and self-forgetfulness – but not in order merely to drown in a communal superstition and hopelessness. …

This is what comes clear: not this or that approach to prayer, but the complete surrender to God. And I see too that I have never really so far come close to meeting this surrender…’



All good wishes for Christmas 2023 to all who read this website.