Thomas Merton on Suffering

I Corinthians 1:18-25
18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19For it is written;
‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’
20Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

From Thomas Merton’s No Man Is An Island, Chapter 5: The Word of the Cross
• The Christian must not only accept suffering: he/she must make it holy. Nothing so easily becomes unholy as suffering. Merely accepted, suffering does nothing for our souls except, perhaps, to harden them. Endurance alone is no consecration. True asceticism is not a mere cult of fortitude. We can deny ourselves rigorously for the wrong reason and end up by pleasing ourselves mightily with our self-denial.
• Suffering is consecrated to God by faith – not by faith in suffering, but by faith in God.
• Suffering has no power and no value of its own. It is only valuable as a test of faith. To believe in suffering is pride; but to suffer, believing in God, is humility.
• Pride tells us we are strong enough to suffer, that suffering is good for us because we are good. Humility tells us that suffering is an evil which we must always expect to find in our lives because of the evil that is inside of us. But faith also knows that the mercy of God is given to those who seek Him in suffering, and that by His grace we can overcome evil with good. Suffering, then, becomes good by accident, by the good that it enables us to receive more abundantly from the mercy of God. It does not make us good by itself, but it enables us to make ourselves better than we are. Thus, what we consecrate to God in suffering is not our suffering, but our selves.
• The Cross of Christ says nothing of the power of suffering or of death. It speaks only of the power of Him Who overcame both suffering and death by rising from the grave.
• What after all is more personal than suffering? The awful futility of our attempts to convey the reality of our sufferings to other people, and the tragic inadequacy of human sympathy, both prove how incommunicable a thing suffering really is. When a man/woman suffers, they are most alone. Therefore, it is in suffering that we are tested. How can we face it? What shall we answer in the pain? Without God, we lose our humanity.
• When suffering asks, “Who are you?” we must be able to answer distinctly, and give our own name. By that, I mean we must express the very depths of what we are, what we have desired to be, and what we have become. All these things are sifted out of us by pain, and they are too often found to be in contradiction with one another. But when we live in Christ, our name and our work and our personality will fit the pattern stamped on our souls by the sacramental character we wear. We get our name in baptism. Our souls are stamped with an eternal identification. Our baptism, which drowns us in the death of Christ, summons upon us all the sufferings of our life.
• Suffering should call out our own name and the name of Christ.

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