Oblate Program at Belmont Abbey, NC

Our real enemy is within our own castle

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Merton-web007Often in the course of the liturgical year the Church complains, in our behalf, that we are pressed down under the burden of our own human activity. That seems strange! To be free to do things in our own way would appear, at first sight, to be "the liberty of the sons of God." But no. As we enter into the ascetic life and advance in the ways of self-denial, we find that our biggest obstacle and our biggest burden is this old man of the sea, this body of death, this inescapable self we carry around with us. He is not our real self at all. He is the caricature of what we ought to be. But he rides us without mercy and, without the all-powerful help of God, we will . never be able to shake him off. And he is the one who makes us act according to the "wisdom of the flesh." He is the father of all our worldliness. He is the one who prevents our liberation from "the world," and our transformation in Christ. He is the one who makes our life and work in the world a sterile and trivial assertion of our own futility.

And so we must remember that our asceticism is not directed against created things as such. Our real enemy is within our own castle. It is only because this enemy surrounds himself with the images and sensations and delights of created things and thus fortifies himself against all efforts of grace to dislodge him, that we must necessarily control our natural love for good things in order to fight him. When the Church prays, as she does, that God may give us the grace to despise earthly things and desire the things of heaven, she does not mean to imply that creation is evil: but that an ego-centered love of the good things of life is a source of darkness and evil in the world.

Thomas Merton, OCSO
Seasons of Celebration

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