"I do not pretend, in these pages to establish a clear formula for discerning solitary vocations. But this much needs to be said: that one who is called to solitude is not called merely to imagine himself solitary, to live as if he were solitary, to cultivate the illusion that he is different, withdrawn and elevated. He is called to emptiness. And in this emptiness he does not find points upon which to base a contrast between himself and others. On the contrary, he realizes, though perhaps confusedly, that he has entered into a solitude that is shared by everyone. It is not that he is a solitary while everybody else is social: but that everyone is solitary, in a solitude masked by that symbolism which they use to cheat and counteract their solitariness. What the solitary renounces is not his union with other men, but rather the deceptive fictions and inadequate symbols which tend to take the place of genuine social unity - to produce a facade of apparent unity without really uniting men on a deep level. Example - the excitement and fictitious engagement of a football crowd. This is to say, of course, that the Christian solitary is fully and perfectly a man of the Church.
Photo by Thomas Merton
"Even though he may be physically alone the solitary remains united to others and lives in profound solidarity with them, but on a deeper and mystical level. They may think he is one with them in the vain interests and preoccupations of a superficial social existence. He realizes that he is one with them in the peril and anguish of their common solitude: not the solitude of the individual only, but the radical and essential solitude of man - a solitude which was assumed by Christ and which, in Christ, becomes mysteriously identified with the solitude of God."
- Thomas Merton, Notes for a Philosophy of Solitude, in the book Disputed Questions (New York: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1960) pp. 187-188