Monday, February 05, 2007

Seven Storeyed Selections I

I am nearing the conclusion of Thomas Merton's The Seven Storey Mountain, an astonishing book which seems to tell my own life story as well as Merton's--and not only my past tense life story, but my present tense life story: unlikely movements of grace rocking me at the precise points they were nudging Merton toward contemplation. (Let me hasten to add, I am no Thomas Merton, by any stretch of the imagination!) I was touched also by the role Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, played in his story; she has played a considerable role in mine as well.

Anyway . . .

Some quotes, especially near the beginning, seemed to have "Athos" written all over them:

How did it happen that, when the dregs of the world had collected in western Europe, when Goth and Frank and Norman and Lombard had mingled with the rot of old Rome to form a patchwork of hybrid races, all of them notable for ferocity, hatred, stupidity, craftiness, lust and brutality--how did it happen that, from all this, there arose the poems of Prudentius, the commentaries and histories of Bede, the Moralia of Gregory the Great, St. Augustine's City of God, and his Trinity, the writings of St. Anselm, St. Bernard's sermons on the Canticles, the poetry of Caedmon and Cynewulf and Langland and Dante, St. Thomas' Summa, and the Oxoniense of Duns Scotus?

How does it happen that even today a couple of ordinary French stonemasons, or a carpenter and his apprentice, can put up a dovecote or a barn that has more architectural perfection that the piles of eclectic stupidity that grow up at the cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars on the campuses of American universities? (p. 30)


And . . .

The church had been fitted into the landscape in such a way as to become the keystone of its intelligibility. Its presence imparted a special form, a particular significance to everything else that the eye beheld, to the hills, the forests, the fields, the white cliff of the Rocher d'Anglars and to the red bastion of the Roc Rouge, to the winding river, and the green valley of the Bonette, the town and the bridge, and even to the white stucco villas of the modern bourgeois that dotted the fields and orchards outside the precinct of the vanished ramparts: the significance that was thus imparted was a supernatural one.

The whole landscape, unified by the church and its heavenward spire, seemed to say: this is the meaning of all created things: we have been made for no other purpose that that men may use us in raising themselves to God, and in proclaiming the glory of God. We have been fashioned, in all our perfection, each according to his own nature, and all our natures ordered and harmonized together, that man's reason and his love might fit in this one last element, this God-given key to the meaning of the whole.

Oh, what a thing it is, to live in a place that is so constructed that you are forced, in spite of yourself, to be at least a virtual contemplative! Where all day long your eyes must turn, again and again, to the House that hides the Sacramental Christ!

I did not even know who Christ was, that He was God. I had not the faintest idea that there existed such a thing as the Blessed Sacrament. I thought churches were simply places where people got together and sang a few hymns. And yet now I tell you, you who are now what I once was, unbelievers, it is that Sacrament, and that alone, the Christ living in our midst, and sacrificed by us, and for us and with us, in the clean and perpetual Sacrifice, it is He alone Who holds our world together, and keeps us all from being poured headlong into the pit of eternal destruction. And I tell you there is a power that goes forth from the Sacrament, a power of light and truth, even into the hearts of those who have heard nothing of Him and seem to be incapable of belief. (p. 37)

6 comments:

Athos said...

Beautiful insights from Merton, Porthos. Cheers.

Athos said...

I found the last paragraph that your cited of Merton extremely apropos and helpful re: a friend who is drawn to the Catholic Church, Porthos. Much obliged.

Porthos said...

Glad it was of relevance, Athos. The book is truly a great conversion story (from conversion to conversion to conversion). You might want to recommend it to your pal. I wish I had read it ten, nay, twenty, nay, thirty years ago . . .

Athos said...

Porthos -

Am reading Ian Ker's The Catholic Revival in English Literature, 1845-1961. In it, he quotes from Newman's Letters & Diaries:

We went over not realizing those privileges which we have found BY going ... I could not have fancied the extreme, ineffable comfort of being in the same house with Him who cured the sick and taught His disciples ... When I have been in Churches abroad, I have religiously abstained from acts of worship, though it was a most soothing comfort to go into them ... but nopw after tasting of the awful delight of worshipping God in His Temple, how unspeakably cold is the idea of a Temple without that Divine Presence! One is tempted to say what is the meaning, what is the use of it? (18-19)

Very Mertonesque, isn't it?

Aramis said...

“Only when we see ourselves in our true human context, as members of a race which is intended to be one organism and ‘one body,’ will we begin to understand the positive importance not only of the successes but of the failures and accidents in our lives. My successes are not my own. The way to them was prepared by others. The fruit of my labors is not my own: for I am preparing the way for the achievements of another. Nor are my failures my own. They may spring from failure of another, but they are also compensated for by another’s achievement. Therefore the meaning of my life is not to be looked for merely in the sum total of my own achievements. It is seen only in the complete integration of my achievements and failures with the achievements and failures of my own generation, and society, and time.”

- Thomas Merton
No Man is an Island [NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, - page xxii]

I think here that we see how the real sense of person, as lived in, by and through Jesus, needs to be nurtured in a way as to be an open space, for receiving and giving, rather than hardened into some independent and protective self.

Porthos said...

Did not see these two posts until alerted by Aramis. Kind of far down on the scroll bar . . .

Cool, guys!