I have always been moved by the writings of Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk whose consecration name was ‘Mary Louis.’ As his autobiography the Seven Story Mountain depicts, he struggled through the death of his parents and grandparents, as well as through years of rebellion and sin before he was called by God to the the Gethsemani Trappist monastery in Kentucky. There, he wrote many profound books on the spiritual life and found his heart’s true ‘home.’
Yet the struggles with desire did not end in the monastery. At age 51, after being hospitalized with back problems, he met and fell in love with a nurse who he had a several month relationship with–ultimately physically intimate. Certainly none of this is uncommon or even all that surprising. Still, though he ended the relationship for the sake of his vows, did it taint his legacy? Is there something disingenuous about not persevering through to the end?
Part of me thinks so. If he was so called to one thing, why did he turn to another so deeply?
The other part of me wonders what his life and writings would have looked like had he traded the vows to monastic life for the vows of marriage. Certainly most of us are called to the latter, though I am comforted in knowing that in our time of sexual freedom (more what I would call ‘laxity’), there are men and women out there still called to a life of celibacy.