Thomas Merton and Everybody’s Christian Vocation

As I find myself working with some of Merton’s thought on the subject of vocation, I thought I’d share with you this brief selection from his book Life and Holiness (1963). Ahead of his time, years before the Second Vatican Council’s “universal call to holiness” articulated in chapter five of Lumen Gentium, Merton addresses the broadness of Christian life and discipleship in terms of vocation not being limited to the clergy and consecrated religious.

The way of Christian perfection begins with a personal summons, addressed to the individual Christian by Christ the Lord, through the Holy Spirit.  This summons is a call, a “vocation.”  Every Christian in one way or other receives this vocation from Christ – the call to follow him.  Sometimes we imagine that vocation is the prerogative of priests and of religious.  It is true that they receive a special call to perfection.  They dedicate themselves to the quest for Christian perfection by the use of certain definite means.  Yet every Christian is called to follow Christ, to imitate Christ as perfectly as the circumstances of [his or her] life permit[s], and thereby to become a saint (34).

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3 Responses to “Thomas Merton and Everybody’s Christian Vocation”

  1. “…suppose a person who knew nothing about salt. You give him a pinch to taste and he experiences a particular strong, sharp taste. You then tell him that in your country people use salt in all their cookery. Might he not reply ‘In that case I suppose all your dishes taste exactly the same: because the taste of that stuff you have just given me is so strong that it will kill the taste of everything else.’ But you and I know that the real effect of salt is exactly the opposite. So far from killing the taste of the egg and the tripe and the cabbage, it actually brings it out. They do not show their real taste till you have added the salt. (Of course, as I warned you, this is not really a very good illustration, because you can, after all, kill the other tastes by putting in too much salt, whereas you cannot kill the taste of a human personality by putting in too much Christ. I am doing the best I can.)

    It is something like that with Christ and us. The more we get what we now call ‘ourselves’ out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become. There is so much of Him that millions and millions of ‘little Christs,’ all different, will still be too few to express Him fully. He made them all. He invented-as an author invents characters in a novel-all the different men that you and I were intended to be. In that sense our real selves are all waiting for us in Him.” C.S. Lewis

  2. Really? A “special call to perfection”? Grow up! I think my call to conceive, bear, deliver, and raise children is infinitely more special than your individualistic call. Your clericalism and arrogance are showing.

    • To whom is this comment directed? Thomas Merton? He was writing this long before the Council. His ability to see the inherent Christian vocation of all people (and not just for priests) put him ahead of his time. Elsewhere he writes more explicitly about this. I suggest you reconsider your rather caustic and ostensibly inappropriate remark.

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