“The sign Jesus promised to the generation that did not understand Him was the ‘sign of Jonas the prophet’ – that is, the sign of His own resurrection. The life of every monk, of every priest, of every Christian is signed with the sign of Jonas, because we all live by the power of Christ’s resurrection. But I feel that my own life is especially sealed with this great sign, which baptism and monastic profession and priestly ordination have burned into the roots of my being, because like Jonas himself I find myself traveling toward my destiny in the belly of a paradox.”
These words mark the first page of The Sign of Jonas by Thomas Merton. The book is a collection of Merton’s journals during his first six years as a monk at the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani in Kentucky.
I am preparing to travel to West Park, New York, to retreat at the Holy Cross Monastery for the week. Fr. Louis, as Thomas Merton was known at Gethsemani, will be my companion as I read The Sign of Jonas.
During my retreat at Holy Cross, I will be received as an Associate of Holy Cross, which is the culmination of a six-month process of discernment.
Thomas Merton entered the monastery in 1941. Over the almost thirty years he spent in the monastery, American society and the wider world changed dramatically. Social and political norms were overthrown; wars of varying size and intensity raged around the world. Everything was unraveling at the seams.
History repeats and human beings don’t change, so 2017 looks much like Merton’s days.
Somehow, in the midst of the pain and suffering of the world, Merton found peace in the monastery. He did not avoid the world, constant letters and correspondence kept him apprised of the goings on in society. Merton sought the better thing, to sit still and be with God.
My draw to the monastery and to following the Rule of Life as an Associate is a draw to an ordered interior life, to a deeper connection with God, to a commitment to seek “the better thing” in the midst of a legion of disordered desires.
I will travel to Holy Cross – a day’s train ride – to pray and be silent. I go on retreat not to avoid the pain of the world or the chaos in which we find ourselves, but to be rooted in the love and peace of Christ.
I will bring the pain and chaos with me and turn it over to God.
I will pray for guidance in this moment. What is the role of a priest in America right now? What is the role of the Church? How can I witness to the power of the resurrection in this time and place?
I will pray for the peace of God, “which is no peace”.
And I will pray for you.
Join me on retreat, in whatever way you can. In your morning prayer time or afternoon walk, ask God what you are called to do in this moment.
These are chaotic times, but we have saints who have gone before us who are interceding on our behalf.
Fr. Louis, pray for us.
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” -Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude