A reading from an essay entitled ‘The Philosophy of Solitude’ by Thomas Merton
Withdrawal from others can be a special form of love for them. It should never be a rejection of others or of society. But it may well be a quiet and humble refusal to accept the myths and fictions with which social life cannot help but be full. To despair of the illusions and facades which men and women build around themselves is certainly not to despair of mankind. On the contrary, it may be a sign of love and of hope. For when we love someone, we refuse to tolerate what destroys and maims their personality. If we love mankind, can we blind ourselves to the human predicament? You will say: we must do something about their predicament. But there are some whose vocation it is to realise that they, at least, cannot help in any overt social way. Their contribution is a mute witness, a secret and even invisible expression of love which takes the form of their own option for solitude in preference to the acceptance of social fictions. For is not our involvement in fiction, particularly in political and demagogic fiction, an implicit confession that we despair of humanity and even of God?
Christian hope in God and in the world to come is inevitably also hope in man, or at least for mankind. How can we despair of humanity when the Word of God was made flesh in order to save us all? But our Christian hope is, and must remain, inviolably pure. It must work and struggle in the chaos of conflicting policy which is the world of egotism: and in order to do so it must take on visible, symbolic forms by which to declare its message. But when these symbols become confused with other secular symbols, then there is danger that faith itself will be corrupted by fictions, and there is a consequent obligation, on the part of some Christians, to affirm their faith in all its intransigent purity. At such a time, some men and women will seek clarity in isolation and silence, not because they think they know better than the rest, but because they want to see life in a different perspective. They want to withdraw from the babel of confusion in order to listen more patiently to the voice of their conscience and to the Holy Spirit. And by their prayers and their fidelity they will invisibly renew the life of the whole Church.