Thomas Merton had a profound awareness of the self-interested nature of what sometimes passes as “love.”
Often our need for others is not love at all but only the need to be sustained in our illusions, even as we sustain others in their. But when we have renounced these illusions, then we can certainly go out to others in compassion. It is in solitude that illusions finally dissolve. (Love and Living. NY: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1979, 23.)
love is not a matter of getting what you want. Quite the contrary. The insistence on always having what you want, on always being satisfied, on always being fulfilled, makes love impossible. To love you have to climb out of the cradle, where everything is ‘getting,’ and grow up to the maturity of giving, without concern for getting anything special in return. Love is not a deal, it is a sacrifice. It is not marketing it is a form of worship.
In reality, love is a positive force, a transcendent spiritual power. It is, in fact, the deepest creative power in human nature. (Love and Living. NY: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1979, 34.)
Merton believed that love is the path by which we achieve our true humanity.
We do not become fully human until we give ourselves to each other in love. 27
Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another. We do not discover the secret of our lives merely by study and calculation in our own isolated meditations. The meaning of our life is a secret that has to be revealed to us in love, by the one we love. (Love and Living. NY: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1979, 27.)
Writing of Merton’s understanding of love, James Finley suggests that
Love for God and love for others are not two loves, but rather two manifestations of one love. (Finley, James. Merton’s Palace of Nowhere: A Search for God through Awareness of the True Self. Notre Dame, Ind.: Ave Maria Press, 1978, 64).