Thomas Merton wrote many beautiful words on love. In preparation for Valentine’s Day, here are a few of my favourite short Merton quotes on love.
Merton believed that love is the fundamental building block of the universe. Love is our true identity as beings created in the image of God. There are not many kinds of love. There is only one great stream of love pouring out in endless generosity and manifesting in a multitude of ways in different relationships.
the Law of Love is the deepest law of our nature, not something extraneous and alien to our nature. Our nature itself inclines us to love, and to love freely.
The deepest and most fundamental exigency of the divine law in our hearts is that we should reach our fulfillment by loving. (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander. NY: Image, Doubleday, 1966, 121)
Merton saw a fundamental connection between the human ability to truly love and human freedom. Freedom is the ground in which love thrives and the goal towards which love always moves. Love always seeks the full becoming of the beloved and desires for the beloved that they might become fully the person they were created to be.
The beginning of this love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them. (No Man Is An Island. NY: Harcourt Brace & Co., 1955, 168)
to love another as a person we must begin by granting him his own autonomy and identity as a person. We have to love him for what he is in himself, and not for what he is to us. We have to love him for his own good, not for the good we get out of him. And this is impossible unless we are capable of a love which ‘transforms’ us, so to speak, into the other person, making us able to see things as he sees them, love what he loves, experience the deeper realities of his own life as if they were our own. (Disputed Questions. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovic, Publishers, 1953, 104 )
Thomas Merton was not a pessimist; but he was a clear-eyed realist. He sought always to be honest about his experience of life and the realities he encountered. So, Merton did not hide the fact that love always includes the reality of pain.
As long as we are on earth, the love that unites us will bring us suffering by our very contact with one another, because this love is the resetting of a Body of broken bones. Even saints cannot live with saints on this earth without some anguish, without some pain at the differences that come between them.
There are two things which men can do about the pain of disunion with other men. They can love or they can hate. (New Seeds of Contemplation. NY: New Directions, 1961, 72)
Merton had a vast vision of the inclusive nature of love. Everyone and everything in this life is held in and imbued with the presence of love.
If the deepest ground of my being is love, then in that very love itself and nowhere else will I find myself, and the world and my brother and Christ. It is not a question of either-or but of all-in-one. (Contemplation in a World of Action. NY: Image Books, 1971, 171)
For Thomas Merton, to love is to see in our fellow human beings the presence of that light, truth, beauty, and indescribable dignity that, in Christian tradition we call “Christ” and which we believe dwells, even if unacknowledged, in every human being.
I must learn that my fellow man, just as he is, whether he is my friend or my enemy, my brother or a stranger from the other side of the world, whether he be wise or foolish, no matter what may be his limitations, ‘is Christ.’ No qualification is needed about whether or not he may be in the state of grace… any man whatever, is to be regarded as Christ. (Disputed Questions. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovic, Publishers, 1953, 124)
As we prepare to observe the celebration of love on St. Valentine’s Day, may our hearts open to Merton’s vast, inclusive, respectful, expansive vision of love.