No Man Is An Island by Thomas Merton


The above entitled book is the work a Trappist monk whose books have enriched the lives of millions. The following are quotes from his book (N.Y.: Dell, 1957).

"A happiness that is sought for ourselves alone can never be found: for a happiness that is diminished by being shared is not big enough to make us happy" (p. 25).

At first glance, the above statement by Merton may not seem to make sense….???? The point that he is making is that "love can be kept only by being given away" and that happiness that is profound is not diminished when it is shared, but, rather it is increased through the sharing. This is a very powerful and vital position that Merton takes in the first lines of his book (the earlier pages before page 25 are the prologue).

He continues his thought with:

"There is a false and momentary happiness in self-satisfaction, but it always leads to sorrow because it narrows and deadens our spirit. True happiness is found in unselfish love, a love which increases in proportion as it is shared. There is no end to the sharing of love, and, therefore, the potential happiness of such love is without limit. Infinite sharing is the law of God's inner life. He has made the sharing of ourselves the law of our own being, so that it is in loving others that we best love ourselves. In disinterested activity we best fulfill our own capacities to act and to be" (p. 25)

Although some might agree with Merton on these points, few take that agreement and make it a reality in their lives. Why so? In part we tend to fail to realize deep, profound happiness because we are beguiled by transitory, shallow forms of happiness.

For example, why is the Jesuit priest in the movie The Mission willing to risk his life to bring the gospel to the people above the falls? It is, I would contend, because he has experienced what Merton is talking about---he has in his love of God and humans found such a profound love, a love of sharing, that all other motivators cannot distract him. Hunger, pain, even the threat of death cannot distract him because he has experienced a deep shared joyous love, so powerful that it can move whatever stands in his way.

"So, love can only be kept by being given away, and it can only be given perfectly when it is also received" (p. 26).

"Charity is neither weak nor blind. It is essentially prudent, just, temperate, and strong. Unless all the other virtues blend together in charity, our love is not genuine. No one who really wants to love another will consent to love him falsely. If we are going to love others at all, we must make up our minds to love them well. Otherwise our love is a delusion" (p. 27).

If you think on the above lines, you may begin to realize why we have the high violence and divorce rates that we have. We have failed to grasp how important and prudent it is to be charitable. We settle for a form of love that is not genuine. It may be fun at times, it may be enjoyable at times, but, we tend to settle for forms of love that are not genuine, that do not hold within them the depth of sharing essential for the powerful forms of love to grow and mature.

"The truth I love in loving my brother cannot be something merely philosophical and abstract. It must be at the same time supernatural and concrete, practical and alive. And I mean these words in no metaphorical sense. The truth I must love in my brother is God Himself, living in him. I must seek the life of the Spirit of God breathing in him. And I can only discern and follow that mysterious life by the action of the same Holy Spirit living and acting in the depths of my own heart" (p. 28).

"A selfish love seldom respects the rights of the beloved to be an autonomous person. Far from respecting the true being of another and granting his personality room to grow and expand in its own original way, this love seeks to keep him in subjection to ourselves. It insists that he conform himself to us, and it works in every possible way to make him do so" (p. 30).

"Selfish love often appears to be unselfish, because it is willing to make any concession to the beloved in order to keep him prisoner" (p. 31).

"A love, therefore, that is selfless, that honestly seeks the truth, does not make unlimited concession to the beloved. May God preserve me from the love of a friend who will never dare to rebuke me" (p.31).

"To love myself more than others is to be untrue to myself as well as to them. The more I seek to take advantage of others the less of a person will I myself be, for the anxiety to possess what I should not have narrows and diminishes my own soul" (p. 31).