Quotations by Merton, Thomas


The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence.

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) French-American religious and writer [a.k.a. Fr. M. Louis]
“Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander”
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We who claim to love peace and justice must always be careful that we do not use our righteousness to provoke the violent, and in this way bring about the conflict for which we, too, like other men, are hungering in secret, and with suppressed barbarity.

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) French-American religious and writer [a.k.a. Fr. M. Louis]
“Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander”
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It is both dangerous and easy to hate man as he is because he is not “what he ought to be.” If we do not first respect what he is we will never suffer him to become what he ought to be: in our impatience we do away with him altogether.

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) French-American religious and writer [a.k.a. Fr. M. Louis]
“Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander”
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It is in the depths of conscience that God speaks, and if we refuse to open up inside and look into those depths, we also refuse to confront the invisible God who is present within us.

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) French-American religious and writer [a.k.a. Fr. M. Louis]
“Creative Silence,” Love and Living (ed. N Stone, P. Hart) (1985)
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Thus, we never see the one truth that would help us begin to solve our ethical and political problems: that we are all more or less wrong.

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) French-American religious and writer [a.k.a. Fr. M. Louis]
“New Seeds of Contemplation”
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One of the first things to learn if you want to be a contemplative is to mind your own business. Nothing is more suspicious, in a man who seems holy, than an impatient desire to reform other men.

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) French-American religious and writer [a.k.a. Fr. M. Louis]
“New Seeds of Contemplation”
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The things I thought were so important — because of the effort I put into them — have turned out to be of small value. And the things I never thought about, the things I was never able to either to measure or to expect, were the things that mattered.

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) French-American religious and writer [a.k.a. Fr. M. Louis]
(Attributed)
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The biggest human temptation is to settle for too little.

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) French-American religious and writer [a.k.a. Fr. M. Louis]
(Attributed)
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My life and death are not purely and simply my own business. I live by and for others, and my death involves others.

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) French-American religious and writer [a.k.a. Fr. M. Louis]
(Attributed)
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We do not want to be beginners. But let us be convinced of the fact that we will never be anything else but beginning all our lives.

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) French-American religious and writer [a.k.a. Fr. M. Louis]
(Attributed)
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Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) French-American religious and writer [a.k.a. Fr. M. Louis]
(Attributed)
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Prayer and love are learned in the hour when prayer becomes impossible and your heart has turned to stone.

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) French-American religious and writer [a.k.a. Fr. M. Louis]
(Attributed)
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The truth that many people never understand, until it is too late, is that the more you try to avoid suffering the more you suffer, because smaller things begin to torture you in proportion to your fear of suffering.

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) French-American religious and writer [a.k.a. Fr. M. Louis]
(Attributed)
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To consider persons and events and situations only in the light of their effect upon myself is to live on the doorstep of hell.

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) French-American religious and writer [a.k.a. Fr. M. Louis]
(Attributed)
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If I had a message to my contemporaries, I said, it was surely this: Be anything you like, be madmen, drunks, and bastards of every shape and form, but at all costs avoid one thing: success …. If you have learned only how to be a success, your life has probably been wasted. If a university concentrates on producing successful people, it is lamentably failing in its obligation to society and to the students themselves.

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) French-American religious and writer [a.k.a. Fr. M. Louis]
(Attributed)

quoted in Kiefer, Thomas Merton: Monk, Poet, Spiritual Writer
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May God prevent us from becoming “right-thinking men” — that is to say, men who agree perfectly with their own police.

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) French-American religious and writer [a.k.a. Fr. M. Louis]
(Attributed)

Quoted in I. Shenker, "Thomas Merton Is Dead at 53," New York Times (11 Dec 1968)

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Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time, there would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed. I suppose the big problem is that we would fall down and worship each other.

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) French-American religious and writer [a.k.a. Fr. M. Louis]
Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (1966)
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I think a man is known better by his questions than by his answers.

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) French-American religious and writer [a.k.a. Fr. M. Louis]
Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, ch. 5 (1965)
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When religion becomes a mere artificial façade to justify a social or economic system — when religion hands over its rites and language completely to the political propagandist, and when prayer becomes the vehicle for a purely secular ideological program, then religion does tend to become an opiate. It deadens the spirit enough to permit the substitution of a superficial fiction and mythology for the truth of life. And this brings about the alienation of the believer, so that his religious zeal becomes political fanaticism. His faith in God, while preserving its traditional formulas, becomes in fact faith in his own nation, class or race. His ethic ceases to be the law of God and love, and becomes the law of might-makes-right: established privilege justifies everything. God is the status quo.

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) French-American religious and writer [a.k.a. Fr. M. Louis]
Contemplative Prayer
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Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) French-American religious and writer [a.k.a. Fr. M. Louis]
Disputed Questions, “The Power and Meaning of Love” (1953)
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To serve the God of Love one must be free, one must face the terrible responsibility of the decision to love in spite of all unworthiness whether in oneself or in one’s neighbor.

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) French-American religious and writer [a.k.a. Fr. M. Louis]
New Seeds of Contemplation, ch. 10 (1961)
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How do you expect to arrive at the end of your own journey if you take the road to another man’s city? How do you expect to reach your own perfection by leading somebody else’s life?

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) French-American religious and writer [a.k.a. Fr. M. Louis]
New Seeds of Contemplation, ch. 14 “Integrity” (1962)
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True faith is never merely a source of spiritual comfort.  It may indeed bring peace, but before it does so it must involved us in struggle.  A “faith” that avoids this struggle is really a temptation against true faith.

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) French-American religious and writer [a.k.a. Fr. M. Louis]
New Seeds of Contemplation, ch. 15 (1961)
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Hell is where no one has anything in common with anybody else except the fact that they all hate one another and cannot get away from one another and from themselves.

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) French-American religious and writer [a.k.a. Fr. M. Louis]
New Seeds of Contemplation, ch. 17 (1961)
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No man who ignores the rights and needs of others can hope to walk in the light of contemplation because his way has turned aside from truth, from compassion, and therefore from God.

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) French-American religious and writer [a.k.a. Fr. M. Louis]
New Seeds of Contemplation, ch. 3 (1961)
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A man becomes a saint not by conviction that he is better than sinners but by the realization that he is one of them, and that all together need the mercy of God!

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) French-American religious and writer [a.k.a. Fr. M. Louis]
New Seeds of Contemplation, ch. 8 (1961)
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May God preserve me from the love of a friend who will never dare to rebuke me.

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) French-American religious and writer [a.k.a. Fr. M. Louis]
No Man Is an Island, 1.9 (1955)
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Our self-denial must first of all be humble. Otherwise it is a contradiction in terms. If we deny ourselves in order to think ourselves better than other men, our self-denial is only self-gratification.

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) French-American religious and writer [a.k.a. Fr. M. Louis]
No Man Is an Island, 6.7 (1955)
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When we are strong, we are always much greater than the things that happen to us.

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) French-American religious and writer [a.k.a. Fr. M. Louis]
No Man Is an Island, 7.7 (1955)
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There is no true intimacy between souls who do not know how to respect one another’s solitude.

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) French-American religious and writer [a.k.a. Fr. M. Louis]
No Man Is an Island, 9.3 (1955)
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We are obliged to love one another. We are not strictly bound to “like” one another.

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) French-American religious and writer [a.k.a. Fr. M. Louis]
No Man Is an Island, 9.6 (1955)
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It is easy enough to tell the poor to accept their poverty as God’s will when you yourself have warm clothes and plenty of food and medical care and a roof over your head and no worry about the rent. But if you want them to believe you — try to share some of their poverty and see if you can accept it as God’s will yourself!

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) French-American religious and writer [a.k.a. Fr. M. Louis]
Seeds of Contemplation, ch. 14 (1949)
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The more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt. The one who does most to avoid suffering is, in the end, the one who suffers most.

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) French-American religious and writer [a.k.a. Fr. M. Louis]
The Seven Storey Mountain (1948)
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