Pope Francis on the balance of ‘being’ and ‘doing’

Pope Francis boards commercial flight for Brazil for World Youth Day.
Pope Francis boards commercial flight for Brazil for World Youth Day.

Pope Francis reflects on the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42):

“[The two sisters] both welcome the Lord, but in different ways. Mary sits at Jesus’ feet, listening, whereas Martha is absorbed in domestic tasks and is so busy that she turns to Jesus saying: ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me’. And Jesus responds rebuking her with sweetness. ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is the need for only one thing.’

What does Jesus wish to say? Above all it is important to understand that it is not a matter of two contrasting attitudes: listening to the Word of the Lord – contemplation – and concrete service to our neighbor. They are not two opposed attitudes but, on the contrary, they are both aspects that are essential for our Christian life; aspects that must never be separated but rather lived in profound unity and harmony.

So why does Jesus rebuke Martha? Because she considered only what she was doing to be essential; she was too absorbed and worried about things to ‘do’. For a Christian, the works of service and charity are never detached from the principle source of our action: that is, listening to the Word of the Lord, sitting – like Mary – at Jesus’ feet in the attitude of a disciple. And for this reason Mary is rebuked.

In our Christian life too prayer and action are always profoundly united. Prayer that does not lead to concrete action toward a [sister or] brother who is poor, sick, in need of help … is a sterile and incomplete prayer. But, in the same way, when in ecclesial service we are only concerned with what we are doing, we give greater weight to things, functions and structures, forgetting the centrality of Christ; we do not set aside time for dialogue with Him in prayer, we run the risk of serving ourselves and not God, present in our [sister or] brother in need.”–Pope Francis

From the Vatican Information Service

Thomas Merton: ‘Contemplation is Incomplete if Not Shared’

Thích Nhat Hanh and Thomas Merton, 1966
Thích Nhat Hanh and Thomas Merton, 1966
“The ultimate perfection of the contemplative life is not a heaven of separate individuals, each one viewing his own private intuition of God; it is a sea of Love which flows through the One Body of all the elect, all the angels and saints, and their contemplation would be incomplete if it were not shared, or if it were shared with fewer souls, or with spirits capable of less vision and less joy.”–Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton: Solitude


“Is it true to say that one goes into solitude to “Get at the root of existence”? It would be better simply to say that in solitude one is at the root. He who is alone and is conscious of what his solitude means, finds himself simply in the ground of life.”–Thomas Merton

Love and Living by Thomas Merton (Harcourt, p 22)

Thomas Merton: Both Question and Answer

“The life of contemplation implies two levels of awareness: first, awareness of the question, and second, awareness of the answer. Though these are two distinct and enormously different levels, yet they are in fact an awareness of the same thing. The question is, itself, the answer. And we are ourselves are both.”–Thomas Merton

From New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton (New Directions Books, p.4)

Merton: Made in the Image of Love

“To say that I am made in the image of God is to say that love is the reason for my existence, for God is love. Love is my true identity. Selflessness is my true self. Love is my true character. Love is my name.” –Thomas Merton

New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton (New Dimensions Press, 1961)

Richard Rohr: ‘For the Ego Everything is a Commodity’

Thích Nhat Hanh and Merton in 1966

We don’t teach meditation to the young monks. They are not ready for it until they stop slamming doors.–Thich Nhat Hanh to Thomas Merton in 1966

The piercing truth of this statement struck me as a perfect way to communicate the endless disguises and devices of the false self. There is no more clever way for the false self to hide than behind the mask of spirituality. The human ego will always try to name, categorize, fix, control, and insure all its experiences. For the ego everything is a commodity. It lives inside of self-manufactured boundaries instead of inside the boundaries of the God-self. It lives out of its own superior image instead of mirroring the image of God.

The ego is constantly searching for any solid and superior identity. A spiritual self-image gives us status, stability, and security. There is no better way to remain unconscious than to baptize and bless the forms of religion, even prayer itself, instead of surrendering to the Substance Itself. First stop slamming doors, and then you can begin in the kindergarten of spirituality. Too many priests, bishops, and ministers are still slamming doors.

In the name of seeking God, the ego pads and protects itself from self-discovery, which is an almost perfect cover for its inherent narcissism. I know this because I have done it all myself.–Richard Rohr, OFM

Adapted from Contemplation in Action by Richard Rohr. Read more by Richard Rohr and learn about the Center for Action and Contemplation.

Richard Rohr: ‘In the Economy of Grace, Nothing is Wasted’

“We only become enlightened as the ego dies to its pretenses, and we begin to be led by soul and Spirit. That dying is something we are led through by the grace of God and by confronting our own shadow. As we learn to move into a Larger Realm, we will almost naturally weep over those sins, as we recognize that we are everything that we hate and attack in other people. Then we begin to become and to live the Great Mystery of compassion.

God’s one-of-a-kind job description is that God actually uses our problems to lead us to the full solution. God is the perfect Recycler, and in the economy of grace, nothing is wasted, not even our worst sins and our most stupid mistakes.” –Richard Rohr, ofm

From A Lever and a Place to Stand:The Contemplative Stance, The Active Prayer , pp. 39, 42

Thomas Merton: Abyss of Solitude

“However, the truest solitude is not something outside you, not an absence of humans or of sound around you; it is an abyss opening up in the center of your own soul.

And this abyss of interior solitude is a hunger that will never be satisfied with any created thing.” —Thomas Merton

New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton (New Directions Books 1961, p. 80- 81)

Thomas Merton: The Prayer of the Heart

by Courtney Shapiro

The prayer of the heart introduces us into deep interior silence so that we learn to experience its power. For that reason the prayer of the heart has to be always very simple, confined to the simplest of acts and often making use of no words and no thoughts at all.–Thomas Merton

Contemplative Prayer by Thomas Merton, (Image Books, 1996, p 42).

Thomas Merton: Vocation is Working with God

“Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in the creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny. We are free beings and [children] of God. This means to say that we should not passively exist, but actively participate in His creative freedom, in our own lives, and in the lives of others, by choosing the truth.”–Thomas Merton

New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton (New Directions Books, 1961, p 32)