Our spiritual friend and mentor Fr. Thomas Keating is Home! “C’est magnifique” (That’s great news — magnificent.) During his long life on earth he had uniquely “Become” our good God. Throughout his lifetime Thomas’ spirit and God's Spirit merged into One fulfilling Christ’s deepest desire — “Father may they be One in us as you are in me and I am in you.” (John 17:21)
Fr. Keating’s intense life-long search and intimate wholehearted love for God and others has also taught us who we each really are — identified with Christ.
Thomas saw God’s cherished Human Family evolving through three stages of spiritual maturity:
There is an Other
Become the Other
There is no Other
1) There is an Other — As a free unearned gift before the origins of the universe God personally chose to create each of us uniquely in His own Divine-Human Image and Likeness. He is living intimately within us as us. Our whole life is spent “Becoming who we already are.”
For Fr. Thomas, his death was always a beginning, not an end. Each of us mourns the loss of a loved one in our own way. However, I am sure that after losing Fr. Thomas most of us have transformed our grief into Rejoicing! After a long wait, Thomas in his playfulness would say — “It’s Party Time”! He is at a Banquet so sumptuous and yummy, it far exceeds what our mind can comprehend — “Taste and see the Goodness of the Lord”. We might have an intuitive glimpse of the monumental largesse of God’s benevolent generosity; but that true knowledge of eternal happiness far surpasses our imagination! It’s fun to speculate what heaven is all about, but as St. Paul put it so well — “Never has it entered the mind of the Human Family what God has prepared for those who love Him.”
Now, Thomas is present right here with us closer to us than ever before! We can be gratefully confident that he will continue to share himself with us, especially through the rich array of his contemplative experiences found in his writings which he thoughtfully left for our “Lectio Divina”.
St. John Chrysostom (the Golden Mouth) confirms Thomas’ presence with us — “Those who we love and lose are no longer where they were before. They are now wherever we are.” Thomas is intimately present to us in Christ’s own unceasing Presence everywhere. Like the invisible air we continually breathe, Christ’s Spirit of Love is pouring Himself out, giving Himself away into our receptive innermost heart from moment to moment. There, intimately within us as us, He sustains us in a Deified Life that will never cease to be. Nothing can ever separate us from His Image which St. John of the Cross says is the Substantial Union that God has freely Gifted to each of us as essential to our very creation as a Human-Divine Being.
God may not always protect His loveable Human Family from everything (including this tragic pandemic) but He sustains us, always abiding intimately within us, through both thick and thin. Since we are “Nothing” of ourselves and depend entirely on God, it is okay for us to feel the full fragility of our lives, realizing that God at some point in time will bring good out of it.
2) Become the Other:
We spend most of our life becoming who we already are. Through his experience St. Paul knew that — “All things are working together for our good” whether weal or woe and “in all circumstances (every Present moment) give thanks, for this is the will (Love) of God for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Th. 5:17) God’s will in every Present moment and detail of our life is always a manifestation of God’s immense Love for each of us in whom he sees and Loves Himself. By embracing His Love in everything happening we return His Love to Him. It is our way of giving back by trusting that God even brings Good out of the bad things happening. This is obvious from Christ’s tragic Passion out of which emerged His Glorious Resurrection. Christ was able to surrender His own will to His Father’s will since HHHe trusted in His Father’s Love for Him. His Father is also our Father and He always proves Trustworthy as the source of all Goodness.
While our ego is unfortunately struggling to earn the loveableness that has already Been Gifted to us as God’s Image and Likeness, Christ is within us desiring us to be receptive and allow Him to awaken us to His intimately abiding Presence where He dwells as us in our innermost heart of hearts.
His tender Love for each of us is both personal and unique. We are each Special to God who sees Himself in us. It is as if we were each His One and only “Beloved” or “Tight Squeeze”. However, in our spiritual poverty and fragmentation that may sound almost too good to be true. But it is the truth we learned from countless Saints, even if we don’t accept or believe it.
God is more “US” than we are ourselves, or how we think and feel about ourselves. It has nothing to do with our virtuousness nor with our sinfulness, but with “who we Truly are”, identified with Christ. In our brokenness and powerlessness God’s compassionate Love and kindness reaches out to us through all the ups and downs of our daily lives. He protects us from nothing, but is always Present within us, sustaining us through everything happening both good and bad.
As incredible as it may seem, our God became Incarnate as a human being! Both Fr. Thomas Keating and Teihard de Chardin recognized the awesomeness of God’s infinite Love for us when He emptied Himself and became flesh in Emmanuel (God with us). Not only was “God with us”, but born intimately within us as us! Love is our Identity!
God had become a human being to “wake up” His spiritually evolving Human Family to who each of us truly and already is before the origins of the universe (Ep. 1:4). Identified with Christ we are each gifted with an inherent loveableness as God’s own Image and Likeness. With His Incarnation God has “awakened” His whole Human Family, after sleep-walking for ages, to who we Truly are, Oned in Christ. Our spiritual maturation was propelled from zero to infinity.
Not only are we Oned with God, but in Him Oned with One another and creation, all of which are united in Christ. As the mystical Body of Christ, the whole Human Family is spiritually interconnected as sisters and brothers never to be separated from our Loving God or each other.
Since God is not merely “a being” but “Pure Being Itself,” He becomes everything He creates and embraces all of reality in Himself. Our Incarnate God had showed up on earth to let us know how loveable and valuable everyone is, Oned with Him and with each other.
Every human being is extremely important as a unique manifestation of Christ, no matter how broken we are or how distant we may feel from God. He chose each of us personally to share in His own Divine Being. Our life is not our own — we belong to God and are made for Him alone. “You have created us for yourself alone, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you” (St. Augustine). Everything else suffers from “not enoughness” and can never complete or fulfill us. However, we have difficulty accepting this tremendous Gift since we are all spiritually poor and dependent solely on God’s unconditionally Loving and compassionate Heart. God loves us just the way we are as broken sinners in need of constant forgiveness and His Infinite mercy. Nothing can change His Faithful Love for us since that Is who He is — Love. Christ sees and Loves Himself within each of us even if we are the worst sinner in the world. If we sin we “Fall Up” into His merciful embrace rather than “Fall Down” into shame and guilt. When we realize God sees Himself in us and loves us as sinners we try to love God in return.
Identified with Him who is Love, Fr. Keating reminds us how wholeheartedly God desires us to be Equal to Himself. That Truth may sound too good to be True but it is the God Almighty Truth! Only Love Himself can do such things. If you have ever fallen deeply in love with another person, you have experienced your own inmost heart wide awake to the equality you share with each other.
There is an Infinite difference between Creator and creature. Our Equality with Him does not eliminate that distinction. Since we were created both in God’s Image and Likeness, St. John of the Cross said that our Substantial Union with God is the Image of God in us and our Affective Union with God is His Likeness in us which is Love.
Thomas Merton experienced our true identity as Love, since Christ not only lives within us, in our innermost being, but as each of us, manifesting Christ in our own unique way. Merton realized — “that all of us are hidden with Christ in God and whatever is in God is really identical with Him; for His infinite simplicity admits no division and no distinction.” He is totally in every grain of sand. God doesn’t come in bits and pieces! Christ is wholly Present within each of us even though it might take us a lifetime to Awaken to His unceasing Presence and become who we already are. Through His intimate Presence and unconditional Love and Mercy within us, God Gifts us with an inner Peace that surpasses our understanding. No wonder the recluse, Lady Julian of Norwich could say — “All is well … All will be well.” Just like Fr. Keating, we mellow and become peacefully content with our life, just the way it is with all our warts and wayward hearts, aware that God is Loving us into existence from moment to moment, in all the details of our simple and ordinary daily lives.
As finite creatures we are striving to do the impossible and plummet the depths of an Infinitely Loveable God. Our eternal life is a continual celebration of God joyfully awakening us to the Love we already are. This is what St. Gregory of Nyssa called deepening “From Glory to Glory”. He paints the picture of heaven to be a profundity of unitive Love that has no bottom … It just keeps deepening and deepening! The truth is that the happiness of heaven is beyond our wildest imagination even though it is fun to speculate. For example, when I was a little boy a priest promised me I could bring my dog along to heaven with me!
What Thomas Merton cherished most of all was the enormous Gift of Life itself where God has personally chosen to share His very Being and Divinized Existence with him. He realized that — “we all exist solely for this, to be the place of God’s Presence.” Living as our own deepest self, the Indwelling Presence of God is where He delights to make His home in each of us. This Reality is a sadly forgotten Gift that transcends our comprehension. An unspeakable Mystery intimately Oned with us!
Fr. Keating reminded us numerous times in his writings that We Are Born to be contemplatives! As a free Gift, God has personally chosen each of us to share in His own existence and participate intimately in His own Divine Nature (2 Peter: 4).
True humility is not the same as exercising our “inner self critic”. Psychology has proven that this disastrous “inner critic” has a penchant to negativity. We are often on our own case, knocking down our mistaken ego identity which is so in need of our compassion.
Since God has Gifted us with an inherent loveableness at birth as His own Divine Image and Likeness, He wants us to have a healthy well-balanced ego full of good self-esteem. Our loveableness is a pure unearned Gift, not the reward of a hard-earned sparkling personality. Big blow-hard personalities are just as bad as knocking oneself down.
True humility is not only accepting, but happily embracing the truth that we are nothing of ourselves. Rather, we trust solely in the pure unearned Gift of God’s own Goodness in His unconditionally Loving and merciful Heart to heal our brokenness. God wants us to come to Him empty-handed so that He can fill us to overflowing with His Everythingness. Any Love we have for God or others is His Gift to us. It’s wonderful that God, as the source of all Goodness, does not allow us to live our life the way we want to. It would be chuck full of self-serving ego trips. We have nothing to fear from God, since we are all spiritually poor, broken and sinful. “How happy the poor in spirit, the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.” (Matt 5) This quote from St. Matthew is ironic and the very opposite of how we have been taught. The wisdom of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount is essential to His “Good News”. The Beatitudes are brimming with paradox. It is our very Spiritual Poverty and Nothingness that attracts God’s Compassionate Heart to us because He Loves us unconditionally as sinners who are weak and broken. In embracing His unearned Love for us, we return it to Him who is the source of all love. Fr. Keating realized how smitten God is with each of us just the way we are and summed it up — “God knows everything about you and nothing bothers Him”!
Thomas Merton weighed in on this subject of who we really are, as our True Self, and who we are not as our mistaken false ego self. One of the primary questions of the Desert Fathers and Mothers was, “Who are you?”
Countless Fathers of the Church both from the West and the East, in as early as the 3rd Century, identified our True Self with our intimate Oneness with God.
Supported by many Biblical texts Clement of Alexandria (150-215) was one of the first to speak of our Divinization. “I say the Logos (word) of God became a human being so that you may learn from a human being (Christ) how human beings become God.”
For me, Thomas Merton’s most meaningful contribution to the Human Family was his distinction between our True Self, identified with Christ, and the False part of our ego identify which confuses our best ego self with our True Self. Not knowing and not even being told who we really and truly are has been disastrous for the Human Family. Each of us is much more than our psychological self, or how we think and feel about ourself as an ego. We have in all sincerity confused our best or most virtuous ego self with our True Self and continue to live out this lie that is a huge obstacle to the awakening of who we “Truly Are”. Our ego is not bad in itself and, as Fr. Keating said, is necessary for our survival. However, when it becomes our only identity we are in deep troubled waters! We are much more than our psychological self, or how we think and feel about ourself.
Each one of us is united as One Spirit with Christ who is living closer to us than we are to ourself. According to St. Paul, before the origins of the universe each of us is created in the Image and Likeness of God, and is uniquely identified with Christ who has chosen to live intimately within us. Christ (Love) is our True Self. St. Paul experienced this intimate union — “I live no longer, not I (ego), but Christ lives in me.” (Ph. 1:21) When we are awake to our True Self, our ego is gradually incorporated into our Whole True Self and is transformed into an awesome and unique manifestation of Christ.
Until then, when our ego self is controlling and dominant, like a little Napoleon, God is sending us a noisy signal to wake us up. Be Compassionate with yourself. If you are not Compassionate with yourself, you will not be Compassionate with anyone else. God is loving you unconditionally in every moment (Now) of your life. Even when we are wide awake to our True Self identical with Christ, our “mistaken ego identity” never dies!
We can use this ‘negative’ egoic mishap as an effective and ‘positive’ segue to come closer to our Compassionate God. Our union and love for Him is the Be All and End All of our life. Thomas Merton realized through everyone’s invisible intimate Oneness with God and others as Christ’s mystical Body, we have a huge influence on the whole human family. Only when we are home in heaven will we be fully awake and grateful for the Goodness God has shared with each of us. How else could we love our enemies, if true love is not unconditional?
Most of us don’t have a clue of how loveable we are to our good God who abides within us giving Himself away to us unceasingly. Every parent knows there can’t be anything their precious children can do that will stop them from loving them unconditionally. If parents are such good lovers, imagine how unconditionally lovable we each are as God’s children in whom He sees and loves Himself. Our loveableness is a free unearned Gift given to us when our caring God personally chose to create and dwell intimately within us where He delights to make His home.
God becomes everyone and everything He creates. We cannot let our own sinful wayward hearts and fragmentation separate us from God and others. God loves us in our brokenness and sinfulness and we have to love our spiritual sisters and brothers in their sin. The primary purpose in life is for Christ to transform us into Himself. God does not love us if or when we change, He loves us so that we can change. When we fail, we fall up into God’s loving compassionate and merciful arms, rather than falling down into the shame and guilt of a crestfallen ego. Our good Pope Francis realized that when we know who we really are, identified with Christ, we wholeheartedly begin to manifest the Love and goodness Christ has shared with us as free Gift.
Thomas Merton more than 60 years ago clarified the huge difference between our True Self and our False ego self. Most of us don’t get it! Perhaps we don’t understand the difference, because we have never heard we are more than our ego? We have a tendency to cling to our ego because it is familiar to us. We have been told that this mistaken ego identity is who we really are. Not true! Merton was aware the human family was Christ’s own Body brimming with His Spirit, yet still evolving and maturing very slowly. He was full of hope — “We have inherently in our hearts and in the very ground of our being a natural (Sacred) certainty that reassures us we exist and are penetrated through and through with the sense and reality of God, even if we are unable to believe or experience this.”
Everyone is created in God’s Image and Likeness. It is the common denominator uniting the whole human family. Two thousand years before Christ in the Hindu Vedas (scriptures), written in Sanskrit, they experienced a divine union with a Supreme Being. The Hindu’s knew for certain through their experiential knowledge that — “We are Who we seek.” They experienced that they were identical with the Ultimate Reality. As Christians, we know Christ is that Reality. Cardinal Mercier in the early 1900’s said — “Reality is God dwelling within us. Many people are ignorant of this mystery and remain unaware of it their whole lives. The very people whose mission is to preach it throughout the world neglect it, forget it, and when it is brought home to them, are astonished”!
This is amazing! Christ is alive and Present in all of us as our own True Self. Merton, aware of our mistaken ego identity and brokenness, continues to fill us with hope. “Even though we might not know Him, He is at work in all of us drawing us closer to Himself even when we think we are far from Him.”
Then again Merton assures us that “Hope Springs Eternal” — “not because we think we can be good, but because God loves us irrespective of our merits, and whatever is good in us comes as a Gift of His Love, not from our own doing. No one on earth has reason to despair of Jesus because Jesus loves His Human Family. He loves us in our sinfulness and brokenness and we too must love the whole Human Family in their sinfulness.”
Early in his long life, Fr. Keating, when he was still at Yale University, was being consoled by the intimacy of God’s indwelling Divine Presence. He was so deeply moved that he spent most of his time reading and absorbing the Fathers of the Church, even though it interfered with his studies. When reading St. Augustine he discovered the true definition of a Christian:
“Christians you are Christ … For there is but One Son of God.” We are all being identified with Christ as children of God; whether female or male we are all equal. However, we exist solely “in Christ” who is God’s One and only Son. St. Augustine was giving us another indication that the whole Human Family is already Oned in Christ and with one another.
If you don’t believe that Christ is God, the great German theologian, Karl Rahner would still call you an “anonymous Christian”. Christ while on earth defined Himself several times as “I Am”. He said “Before Abraham was, I Am.” This was to identify Himself with Yahweh: God Himself spoke to Moses in the Burning Bush as — “I Am who Am”. God was not merely “a being” but Being Itself and all other beings have to exist in Him. “Yet in fact He is not far from any of us since it is in Him that we live and move and have our being.” (Ac. 17:28)
Thomas while still at Yale was being interiorly called to give himself entirely to God even though his good parents did not understand his vocation. What was so appealing to Keating and so many people is St. Augustine’s famous insight. — “You have made us for yourself alone, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
In his wisdom St. Augustine knew from experience that no one or nothing finite can complete or fulfill us other than our infinite God. Everything else suffers from “not enoughness”. Seldom are we reminded of this, but God longs for an intimate personal love relationship with each of us in whom He sees Himself, and dwells in our own True Self.
The priority of our direct personal love for God also increases our beautiful love relationships with our family and friends in whom we see the Goodness of Christ’s intimate indwelling Presence. We love them the way God loves them unconditionally, not merely as we love ourselves. If that self is our ego self, it can be filled with self-serving and self-centered motivation. “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your soul with all your mind.” When we are intuitively aware of God’s unceasing Presence, we are not only manifesting our love for Him, but simultaneously loving others including our family and friends who abide in Him. We can’t love God directly without at the same time loving others in whom He sees and Loves Himself. Our love for God increases our love for our families and friends in whom we see the goodness and kindness of His indwelling Divine Presence.
Meister Eckhart said — “That the Love by which God loves us is the same love by which we love Him; being aware of this truth deifies us.” God alone is the author and the endless source of all Love because that is who He is. When God chose to create all of us in His Likeness He shared Himself and His Love with His precious Human Family. Merton experienced the truth that we are this same “Identical Love” that Christ is, since we are created in His Image and Likeness. Merton was echoing St. John of the Cross and expressed our identity beautifully:
“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 in my true character.
Love is my name.”
3) There is no Other — I found this 3rd and final stage of our spiritual maturity was most evident to me in Fr. Keating’s beautiful poetry; especially in the poem Twilight of the Self.
“My heart is solitary now
It finds no companionship anywhere
And no wish to find any
My sole desire is You
And You are always absent
Can we have absence so intensely
That even Your Presence
Seems like an intrusion? ”
Thomas might well be referring to St. John of the Cross who has the most enlightening answer to this question when he speaks of the Luminous Dark Night of the Spirit as the safest way to travel to God! Thomas experienced God so close and “Oned with him” that he is blinded by the brilliance of the Divine Light which seems like darkness or absence to him. Thomas had one desire which was to welcome and surrender to whatever God desired for him. He didn’t want to experience God’s Presence if God wanted him to experience His absence. He knew God was unceasingly Present even in His absence. This is another indication that Thomas was at peace and content with his life just the way it was in the simple and ordinary details of the Present moment which he realized was a manifestation of God’s Love for him. Even if we might not understand this right now, we can still enjoy the beauty and Giftness of this Truth. Thomas was in such an intimate union with God that there was no longer “An Other” but only God Alone. Two had become One. Our presence becomes God’s Presence. Thomas had become God’s Presence and the unique manifestation of Christ’s unceasing Presence in the simple and ordinary details of his daily life.
We don’t have a clue of the Joy that Thomas is now experiencing in heaven, but we do know that nothing can ever separate Him from the free Gift of substantial Oneness that we all have with God as our own Image and Likeness.
Thomas spent a life-time searching for our own loving God and discerned God was not merely an object of his thoughts, but the subject of who he already was and now is, identified with Christ. He knew like St. Paul that “For me to live is Christ”.
Is this why Fr. Keating experienced God so intimately close to us that we are more Him than we are ourselves? Thomas often spoke of “One Self” as Christ, whether we experience ourselves living “In Him”, or, we experience Him living “in us” as our own True Self.
God is smitten with us just the way we are and madly in love with each one of us. He desires us to “wake up” and experience who we truly are, identified with Christ. We don’t have a clue of how loveable we each are to Him who is pouring Himself out into our inmost being right “now” moment to moment. There is a difference between believing this with our mind and experiencing it contemplatively beyond our mind.
Along with Fr. Keating and St. Paul we too can have the joy and happiness of an intimate and personal love relationship with Christ who is loving each of us into existence this Present moment.
“Now we see indistinctly as a faint reflection in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now we know only in part; then we shall know fully (1 Cor. 12:12).
It is The Hallelujah we will all become from head to toe in our celebration of eternal life when we are Together Forever!