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Often we hear the remark that we have live in the world without being of the world. But it may be more difficult to be in the Church without being of the Church. Being of the Church means being so preoccupied by and involved in the many ecclesial affairs and clerical “ins and outs” that we are no longer focused on Jesus. The Church then blinds us from what we came to see and deafens us to what we came to hear. Still, it is in the Church that Christ dwells, invites us to his table, and speaks to us words of eternal love.

Being in the Church without being of it is a great spiritual challenge.

The Church is a very human organization but also the garden of God’s grace. It is a place where great sanctity keeps blooming. It is a place where great sanctity keeps blooming. Saints are people who make the living Christ visible to us in a special way. Some saints have given their lives in the service of Christ and his Church; others have spoken and written words that keep nurturing us; some have lived heroically in difficult situations; others have remained hidden in quiet lives of prayer and meditation; some were prophetic voices calling for renewal; others were spiritual strategists setting up large organizations or networks of people; some were healthy and strong; others were quite sick, and often anxious and insecure.

But all of them in their own ways lived in the Church as in a garden where they heard the voice calling them the Beloved and where they found the courage to make Jesus the center of their lives.

As Jesus was one human person among many, the Church is one organization among many. And just as there may have been people with more attractive appearances than Jesus, there may be many organizations that are a lot better run than the Church. But Jesus is the Christ appearing among us to reveal God’s love, and the Church is his people called together to make his presence visible in today’s world.

Would we have recognized Jesus as the Christ if we had met him many years ago? Are we able to recognize him today in his body, the Church? We are asked to make a leap of faith. If we dare to do it our eyes will be opened and we will see the glory of God.

(Just North of Winston-Salem)

 

This trek begins near Pinnacle.

 

Yes, I’ve been here before:

A shadowed cow wades in a farmer’s pond.

 

The sun becomes

a thin and setting line.  A lone tobacco plant

 

moves thorny underbrush

aside, poking through.  The smell of money

 

no longer dances in the wind.

Coiled cedar roots cling to the earth like

 

young octopi to their eight-legged mothers.

I drink water in long, refreshing gulps,

 

enjoy the evening, flanked by evergreens:

watching an eagle—diving

 

from Pilot’s forbidden ledge, soaring in

concentric circles, charging the down-currents

 

of the gusty wind.

Then, a darkening silhouette:  And he’s lost

 

in the reddening sky.

 

first published in Domicile and later in Gathering the Broken Pieces 

Birmingham, AL 1956


Memphis 1967

Yesterday morning we had our cat Chester put to sleep.  I will spare you the details. Just know we no longer have the pet we had 9 1/2 years and that I am sad.

Pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest —Matthew 9:38

 

“The key to the missionary’s difficult task is in the hand of God, and that key is prayer, not work— that is, not work as the word is commonly used today, which often results in the shifting of our focus away from God. The key to the missionary’s difficult task is also not the key of common sense, nor is it the key of medicine, civilization, education, or even evangelization. The key is in following the Master’s orders— the key is prayer. “Pray the Lord of the harvest . . . .” In the natural realm, prayer is not practical but absurd. We have to realize that prayer is foolish from the commonsense point of view.

From Jesus Christ’s perspective, there are no nations, but only the world. How many of us pray without regard to the persons, but with regard to only one Person— Jesus Christ? He owns the harvest that is produced through distress and through conviction of sin. This is the harvest for which we have to pray that laborers be sent out to reap. We stay busy at work, while people all around us are ripe and ready to be harvested; we do not reap even one of them, but simply waste our Lord’s time in over-energized activities and programs. Suppose a crisis were to come into your father’s or your brother’s life— are you there as a laborer to reap the harvest for Jesus Christ? Is your response, “Oh, but I have a special work to do!” No Christian has a special work to do. A Christian is called to be Jesus Christ’s own, “a servant [who] is not greater than his master” (John 13:16 ), and someone who does not dictate to Jesus Christ what he intends to do. Our Lord calls us to no special work— He calls us to Himself. “Pray the Lord of the harvest,” and He will engineer your circumstances to send you out as His laborer.”

from My Utmost For His Highest

The Church is the people of God. The Latin word for “church,” ecclesia, comes from the Greek ek, which means “out,” and kaleo, which means “to call.” The Church is the people of God called out of slavery to freedom, sin to salvation, despair to hope, darkness to light, an existence centered on death to an existence focused on life.

When we think of Church we have to think of a body of people, travelling together. We have to envision women, men, and children of all ages, races, and societies supporting one another on their long and often tiresome journeys to their final home.

Perhaps an angel told you once of love,
A spirit pure, not knowing fear or shame.
Until that whispered word, perhaps, you came
Less willing to the winds that some hearts move,
After which you had for them a name.          Anon.

“My own peculiar task in my Church and in my world has been that of the solitary explorer who, instead of jumping on all the latest bandwagons at once, is bound to search the existential depths of faith in its silence, its ambiguities, and in those certainties which lie deeper than the bottom of anxiety. In these depths there are no easy answers, no pat solutions to anything. It is a kind of submarine life in which faith sometimes mysteriously takes on the aspect of doubt when, in fact, one has to doubt and reject conventional and superstitious surrogates that have taken the place of faith. On this level, the division between Believer and Unbeliever ceases to be so crystal clear. It is not that some are all right and others are all wrong: all are bound to seek in honest perplexity. Everybody is an Unbeliever more or less! Only when this fact is fully experienced, accepted and lived with, does one become fit to hear the simple message of the Gospel-or any other religious teaching.


The religious problem of the twentieth century is not understandable if we regard it only as a problem of Unbelievers and of atheists. It is also and perhaps chiefly a problem of Believers. The faith that has grown cold is not only the faith that the Unbeliever has lost but the faith that the Believer has kept. This faith has too often become rigid, or complex, sentimental, foolish, or impertinent. It has lost itself in imaginings and unrealities, dispersed itself in pontifical and organization routines, or evaporated in activism and loose talk.

[A] faith that is afraid of other people is no faith at all. A faith that supports itself by condemning others is itself condemned by the Gospel.”


Thomas Merton. “Apologies to an Unbeliever” in Faith and Violence.
South Bend, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1968: 213-214.

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