I’m reading Life and Holiness by Thomas Merton, so over the next few weeks you will likely find my blog posts exploring some of the ideas from that book.
Merton says that moral goodness is an infantile conception of holiness. He observes that we don’t appreciate the meaning and greatness of our vocation to Christian holiness because we don’t know how to value the divine redemption and infinite mercy of God, so we content ourselves with exterior signs of respectability.
An article I read recently in Weavings magazine referenced three phases of discipleship described by Father Ron Rolheiser. The most basic phase, Essential Discipleship, is defined as the struggle to get our lives together. Moral goodness would seem to fit into this lowest level of discipleship. If being good in the sight of God and others is my goal, I remain in the shallow end of the pool of discipleship.
The second and third phases of discipleship are Generative Discipleship, defined as the struggle to give our lives away and Radical Discipleship, the struggle to give our deaths away. Jesus gives us the ultimate picture of what giving one’s life and one’s death away looks like. Jesus’ path of downward mobility, giving up one’s rights and privilege for the sake of others, is the way of holiness. This is not an easy way, especially when we are the ones who have rights and privilege. Merton notes that the way of Christian holiness means embracing hardship and sacrifice for the love of Christ and in order to improve the condition of people on earth. He says, “We may not merely enjoy the good things of life ourselves, occasionally ‘purifying our intention’ to make sure that we are doing it all ‘for God.’. . . Our love of God and of man cannot be merely symbolic, it has to be completely real.”
Such a love means we cannot close our eyes to the injustice that surrounds us in our own communities and across the globe. We cannot excuse our indifference or inaction by saying someone “deserves” their lot in life, or that exploitation is okay because it’s the cultural norm or that the problem is too big for me to make a difference.
The amazing thing about the path of holiness is that in giving ourselves away we discover freedom that is not possible when we content ourselves with being morally good and respectable. When all we have is available to others, life becomes joyful.