I’m in the process of reading one of my favorite books for the 3rd time. It’s the autobiography of Thomas Merton, entitled , “The Seven Story Mountain”. It’s his spiritual odyssey from a young man growing up in the US and Europe,…. English prep schools, to Cambridge, and then to Columbia…a life of dissipation to gradual conversion, becoming a Catholic, and ending up as a monk in Gethsemani, a Trappist Monastery in Kentucky. Fulton Sheen called the book a 20th century form of the Confessions of St. Augustine.
Merton had a great knack of honestly describing his soul when lost in sin without sugar coating it. He also was able to describe the magnificence of our salvation as he came to understand and accept it.
Let me share his succinct comments on hell and why we don’t have to go there. It’s better that I just quote a few lines. “Why should anyone be shattered by the thought of hell? It is not compulsory for anyone to go there. Those who do, do so by their own choice, and against the will of God, and they can only get into hell by defying and resisting all the work of Providence and grace. It is their own will that takes them there, not God’s. In damning them he is only ratifying their own decision— a decision which he left entirely to their own choice. Nor will he ever hold our own weakness alone responsible for our damnation. Our weakness should not terrify us: it is the source of our strength. Power is made perfect in infirmity , and our very helplessness is all the more portent a claim on that Divine Mercy who calls to himself the poor, the little ones, the heavily burdened.” (“The Seven Story Mountain, Thomas Merton, copyright 1948, Part 2, section 1, section vi)
I find this presentation very helpful to the timid and frightened soul who knows his own weakness, and feels his weakness will ultimately land him in hell….. somehow he’s ultimately going to screw everything up. Divine Mercy trumps our weakness. Sister Faustina develops this wonderful truth even more in her Diary. Our hope is in the love and forgiveness of God and not in our “unreachable perfect sinless life”.
Well, there’s much more to say about all of this, but the key is that our great and powerful and loving God takes care of his own. All we need to do is give our life to him…fall into the arms of our great savior and allow him to do the rest.
In the book, “A Time To Die”, Nicholas Dias quotes a Benedictine Abbot who is comforting one of his dying monks who is no longer able to pray due to his serious illness. He simply says that “you have rowed with your brothers for many years and now you are no longer able to row, so now we will row for you”. When we are unable to row, to do our part, to do what’s necessary, our Lord will row for us. When our weakness prevents us from doing our part, our gracious savior will take care of us. He will not let us be lost. That’s what the love of God is all about, and that is very good news.