Fr Thomas Merton speaks with blazing clarity of true spiritual war:
What is it that makes every man struggle with himself? It is the deep, persistent voice of his own discontent with himself. Fallen man cannot abide to live with himself. Now the apparent peace which the world gives is bought with the price of continual distraction. Distraction merely drowns out the inner voice, it does not answer any questions, or solve any problems, it merely postpones their solution. And behind the smokescreen of amusements and projects, the inner dissatisfaction marshals all its forces for a more terrible assault when the distraction shall have been taken away. At last, the spirit that has fled from itself all its life, is stripped of its distractions at death and finds itself face to face with what can no longer be avoided: there is nothing now to prevent it from hating itself utterly, and totally, and for ever.
The peace which Christ brings is the outcome of this war faced and fought on earth: mans war with himself, in which (by God’s grace) he overcomes himself, conquers himself, pacifies himself, and can at last live with himself because he no longer hates himself. But this conquest of himself can never be definitive unless it is a surrender to another: to Christ, and to our brother in Christ. For our destiny is to be one in Christ, and in order to love others as ourselves, we must first love ourselves. But in order to love ourselves we must find something in ourselves to love. This is impossible unless we find, both in ourselves and in others, the likeness of Christ.
Once again, in order to find Christ we must give up our own limited idea of Christ. He is not what we think He is. He is not, and cannot be, our own idealized image of ourselves.
The Christ we find in ourselves is not identified with what we vainly seek to admire and idolize in ourselves—on the contrary, He has identified Himself with what we resent in ourselves, for He has taken upon Himself our wretchedness and our misery, our poverty and our sins. We cannot find peace in ourselves if, in rejecting our misery and thrusting it away from us, we thrust away Christ Who loves in us not our human glory but our ignobility.
– Thomas Merton
The above passage is found in a collection of Merton’s letters, meditations and essays, titled, “The Monastic Journey”. The text is the property of The Trustees of the Merton Legacy Trust, Copyright 1977.