Recently I was able to coordinate our annual young adult retreat. In more normal times, we typically go away for a weekend in the fall. In our present situation we made the retreat a day-long experience rather than a weekend. How different it was to be in a room together spread out and masked up! The ability to be together in person, reflect on our lives and enjoy some of the beautiful trails at the retreat center was a great blessing (and it was the weekend before snow started falling, so the right time!)
One of our materials on prayer featured the life of the Trappist monk Thomas Merton from the 1960s. It was enlightening to reflect on his life as a young adult, and spiritual experiences that led him to desire personal growth in faith and holiness. His experience ultimately led him to a religious community, but all of us could relate to reflecting on where we are in our lives with faith, jobs, relationships, and our present world still dealing with this pandemic and so much unrest. How has God called each of us with our own gifts and talents to help bring about God’s Kingdom?
One of Merton’s most famous quotes came from a mystical experience he had on a fairly random day in Louisville, Kentucky. I was reminded of it at the retreat and it has stayed with me since then. Merton wrote: “In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world. . . There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”
Merton connects this experience in part to the Incarnation of Jesus. One of the most precious realities of God’s becoming a human being is that we are called to relationship with God and each other in a new way. Wherever we are and whoever we are with, “they are mine and I theirs,” as he put it.
We are just coming off one of the most divisive presidential elections in our country’s history; we may still not know who won the election. No matter the result, a significant part of the country will be unhappy with the result. One almost constant temptation will be to demonize those with whom do not agree. While we will not all have the same experience of Thomas Merton on that street corner, what if we could “wake from a dream of separateness” and try to see those around us “shining like the sun”? In what ways are we being called to bring about more civility, peace and connection in a world that remains so broken and fragmented? Perhaps our prayer this week can be to ask God for that wisdom to be aware of those opportunities, and the courage to act with grace and mercy.
Coordinator of Young Adult, Young Family, and Marriage Ministry
The Basilica of Saint Mary