Wednesday, June 27, 2012

the 'Church' issue

Conservative Catholics in Louisville are burning my books because I am opposed to the Vietnam War. The whole thing is ridiculous. I do think however that some of the young priests have a pathetic honesty and sincerity which is very moving. Beyond that, I have nothing to say. And I have a thick skin. You can say absolutely nothing about the Church that will shock me. If I stay with the Church it is out of a disillusioned love, and with a realization that I myself could not be happy outside, though I have no guarantee of being happy inside either. In effect, my 'happiness' does not depend on any institution or any establishment. As for you, you are part of my 'Church' of friends who are in many ways more important to me than the institution..."

-- Thomas Merton to Czeslaw Milosz, March 15, 1968
The Courage for Truth: Letters to Writers, pp 85-6
I find Merton's love for Catholicism especially moving because of the almost desperate (and romantic) way in which he was drawn to, and then vowed himself to her truth.  'Church', though, is another story.  I remember reading somewhere his remark that he wasn't "that kind of Catholic".  The above quote seems to qualify his allegiance to an institutional Church, and open to a broader definition of what 'Church' might mean.

HT: Jim Forest


  1. I think there will always be a tension between the "Institutional Church" and the mystical body of Christ: it is built into the structure of things.

    But, as popular and profane parlance so cutely says, it seems to better to be inside the tent ****ing out, than outside ****ing in..

    1. Seems that a certain tension is built into the structure of just about everything! But I suspect that things aren't as tense in India as they are in the USA now. It's all exacerbated with the political situation.

      My thinking sort of goes along with the notion that you can't get kicked out of Church, no matter what. You, yourself, have to actively leave. And I don't know how, theologically, you can separate yourself from the mystical Body of Christ - I mean, we really are all one being - so if you actively leave, you're just being contrary, feeling slighted or something.

      THere's just no getting around that we're all in this together.

      I can understand the need for dogmatic rigidity and consistency, but I wish that it came with a different tone than "follow these rules or you're out!"

    2. The Catholic Church in India is culturally in a very different, and far less individualistic, position to its Western brethren.

      But sadly, congregations are beginning to vote with their feet.

      Also, much smaller families and far more employment opportunities mean vocations for both the priesthood and the religious life are now a fraction of what they were just twenty years ago.

      I know the political position in the USA is seriously strange, with victim-hood or vilification apparently the only current language. But I think it's part of a universal trend. We are experiencing what the Chinese describe as the "curse of interesting times"..

  2. Thank you for this, Beth. Thomas Merton here must be speaking for a lot of us:-)

    1. Gosh, Merton was so far ahead of himself! Who could imagine back in the 50s and 60s that his words would continue to read as if he were right here with us!

  3. The Catholic Church is Christ's Body, both "human" and "divine." Christ was the perfect human. We here on earth have a fallen human nature. Though we must strive for this "human perfection", we will always fall short. Such is the human institution of the Church. Within the institution there are many thoughts and ideas - liberal - conservative - in the middle. I, being a conservative, can't believe what I hear from Catholic liberals. And so it is visa-versa. Still, our faith is not based on an "institution", but on a Person. And that Person calls us to obedience. This "obedience" is never easy, and in the times we live in today - almost impossible. Merton understood this well. He would never be so naive as to think that all Catholics would see all things his way. His words written to Czeslaw Milosz voice his frustration. So it was in the early Church, and so it will be in the future - frustration with those who do not see things "our way."

    Still, when push comes to shove, Catholics of different minds must come together in "obedience" to Christ and his Church. Merton knew that "obedience" was perfect. He is a wonderful witness to the Catholic faith.

    Thank you Beth !

  4. greetrings

    Jim -------------------------

    alas you must realize the Roman Catholic
    dose not follow the teachings of Jesus
    it is a political organ intent on Roman power and
    money only - it is no promoter of freedom
    and represses all that is not institutional
    Merton - DeMillo - and now the Sisters of Mercy
    smile you are in the best of company !

    so this -----------

    is most prudent
    all human error !


    roasted poor
    Sweet Joan
    to a perfect
    medium rare !


  5. greetings

    the line - Roman Catholic
    shoud read -- Roman Catholic Church
    and DeMillo should read - De Mello
    Father Anthony de Mello SJ.writings
    condemned by the Church !
    beware i make mistakes




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