The paradox of identity

Last night I read Thomas Merton’s describtion of his first visit to Our Lady of Gethsemani to the children. He went for Easter 1941 just after he had moved to St Bonaventure University. Reflecting upon the monks of the Abbey, Merton writes in The Seven Storey Mountain:

But what was the answer to this paradox? Simply that the monk in hiding himself from the world becomes not less himself, not less of a person, but more of a person, more truly and perfectly himself: for his personality and individuality are perfected in their true order, the spiritual, interior order, of union with God, the principle of all perfection. Omnis gloria ejus filiae regis ab intus.

The logic of worldly success rests on a fallacy: the strange error that our perfection depends on the thoughts and opinions and applause of other men! A weird life it is, indeed, to be living always in somebody else’s imagination, as if that were the only place in which one could at last become real!

In two paragraphs Merton puts before us the paradox of our world and the paradox of our own identity. Our identity is not tied up in what other people think of us or what other people say we are. It is in the abandoning of self to God that we find who we truly are.

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