[Havana] is a city that, although it is physically dirty and full of poor people, is much more a city, and more truly a rich city than New York because it seems to be richer in multitudes of material things, fruits, meats, sugar cane, coffee, tobacco, newspapers, rum, bread, machinery, musical instruments.  New York is only rich in gold and silver and account books full of figures and ledgers and fancy printed stocks and ticker tape and nervous energy and electricity.  Havana is more of a city because it is flesh and blood, bread and wine, matter charged with life.

It is the nature of a city to be full of people doing things for some immediate end, commercial, esthetic, sinful, what you will.  They are doing this in a city because each man, there, can supply someone else with at least one thing he might want.  A city is from a certain point of view a place where proximate satisfaction for almost every order of need or desire is immediately to be had for the asking: you clap your hands, whistle, beckon to the proper person.

If the nature of a city is such that it makes it possible for men to satisfy one another’s needs directly and speedily in its streets and market places and its cafes, it follows that it is better for the city to satisfy needs that already exist and to provide for these well, than for it to create artificial needs in order to dispose of new objects, while neglecting to fulfill men’s ordinary needs properly.  Or, a city that ignores half of men’s needs and desires, and concentrates on only one aspect of life, say the commercial, to the exclusion of the esthetic, the moral, etc., is a poor kind of city.

It is the of the nature of a city to attempt to satisfy every class of need.  Also, a city where large numbers of people are deprived of even a poor imitation of certain kinds of satisfactions, esthetic or religious or something of the sort, is a failure as cities go, because it is also of the nature of the city to try and provide some sort of satisfaction for everybody’s needs.

I can only conclude that a city in which simple needs for everybody are more easily satisfied, in which even the poor have the chance of getting and enjoying more and more of the things that are not essential to base existence, like amusements, etc., and in which more kinds of needs in general are satisfied in more different kinds of ways with less trouble for everybody, that city is better than one where the food is bad for everybody except the rich, where there are only one or two standardised kinds of amusements, where religion is neglected, where more than half of the houses are ugly.

Havana is a thoroughly successful city, it is a good city, a real city.  There is a profusion of everything in it, immediately accessible, and, to some extent accessible to everybody. (57-59)

Thomas Merton | The Secular Journal of Thomas Merton


Love must be free

Charity and freedom are inseparable.  Love must be free.  Only charity is perfectly free.  Love is loved for itself, not determined by anything else outside itself.  It is not drawn by the satisfaction of anything less than itself.  Only in charity, that is disinterested love, is love perfectly spontaneous.

All love that is less than charity ends in something less than itself.  Perfect charity is its own end, and is therefore free, not determined by anything else.  God alone is perfectly free, infinitely free.  He is Love Loving Himself.  Because He is absolutely free, His love can do whatever it likes.

We are constituted in His image by our freedom — which is not absolute, but contingent.  That is, we are free in proportion as we share His freedom, which is absolute.  We are free in the sense that no one determines our free choices: we are so much our own masters that we can even resist God, as we know to our sorrow!  But we are also free to love for the sake of loving, to love God because He is Love, and to find ourselves in the perfect freedom of Love’s own giving of itself.

Pride and self-love are the love of death, because they turn away from God in Whom is all life: they necessarily tend to non-being, and to death. (202-203)

Thomas Merton | The Secular Journal of Thomas Merton

Identity and Sorrow

What we are, our identity, is only truly known to God, not to ourselves, and not to other men.

So the greatest terror of the particular judgment will be, that the moment after death we shall instantly appear before the face of God and learn our true identity: see who we really are!  What we have made of ourselves!

The measure of our identity, or our being (for here the two mean exactly the same thing) is the amount of our love for God.  The more we love earthly things, reputation, importance, ease, success and pleasures, for ourselves, the less we love God.  Our identity gets dissipated among a lot of things that do not have the value we imagine we see in them, and we are lost in them: we know it obscurely by the way all these things disappoint us and sicken us once we get what we have desired.  Yet still we bring ourselves to nothing, annihilate our lives by trying to fulfill them on things that are incapable of doing so.  When we really come to die, at last, we suddenly know how much we have squandered and thrown away, and we see that we are truly annihilated by our own sick desires: we were nothing, but everything God gave us we have also reduced to nothing, and now we are pure death.

Then most of all, by the light of Pure Being, does such nothingness become horrible.  No one knows how to describe how something that is almost nothing retains enough being (since we are immortal) to feel the anguish of its own nothingness forever.

But if we have loved God all our lives and lost ourselves in Him, seeming to die to the things of the world, we find ourselves again in Him, perfected and live forever in joy.

Tribulation detaches us from the things that are really valueless. because their attraction cannot stand up under it, and all satisfactions that are meaningless appear as such when we are filled with tribulation.  Therefore we should be grateful for it if God sends us tribulations and sorrows, because they help us love Him by destroying the value of the things that are insufficient to fulfill our love.  And the reason we suffer under this tribulation is, as St. John of the Cross says, that we have let go of the goods that can no longer please us, while the one thing we most love is not yet given to us: so for the time being we have nothing, and only ache with the sense of our own poverty.

Pray for that kind of sorrow! (243-245)

Thomas Merton | The Secular Journal of Thomas Merton