Merton is baptized and then gets lost again . . .
I had come, like the Jews, through the Red Sea of Baptism. I was entering into a desert—a terribly easy and convenient desert, with all the trials tempered to my weakness—where I would have a chance to give God great glory by simply trusting and obeying Him, and walking in the way that was not according to my own nature and my own judgement. And it would lead me to a land I could not imagine or understand. It would be a land that was not like the land of Egypt from which I had come out: the land of human nature blinded and fettered by perversity and sin. It would be a land in which the work of man’s hands and man’s ingenuity counted for little or nothing: but where God would direct all things, and where I would be expected to act so much and so closely under His guidance that it would be as if He thought with my mind, as if He willed with my will.
It was to this that I was called. It was for this that I had been created. It was for this Christ had died on the Cross, and for this that I was now baptized, and had within me the living Christ, melting me into Himself in the fires of His love.
This was the call that came to me with my Baptism, bringing with it a most appalling responsibility if I failed to answer it. Yet, in a certain sense, it was almost impossible for me to hear and answer it. Perhaps it demanded a kind of miracle of grace for me to answer it at once, spontaneously and with complete fidelity—and, oh, what a thing it would have been if I had done so!
For it was certainly true that the door into immense realms was opened to me on that day. And that was something I could not help realizing however obscurely and vaguely. The realization, indeed, was so remote and negative that it only came to me by way of contrast with the triviality and bathos of normal human experience—the talk of my friends, the aspect of the city, and the fact that every step down Broadway took me further and further into the abyss of anti-climax.
Father Moore had caught us just as we were going out the door and rushed us into the rectory for breakfast, and that was a good thing. It had something of the character of my good Mother, the Church, rejoicing at having found her lost groat. We all sat around the table and there was nothing incongruous about the happiness I then felt at all this gaiety, because charity cannot be incongruous with itself: and certainly everybody was glad at what had been done, first of all myself and Father Moore, and then, in different degrees, Lax, Gerdy, Seymour, and Rice.
But after that we went out, and discovered that we had nowhere to go: this irruption of the supernatural had upset the whole tenor of a normal, natural day.
It was after eleven o’clock, and nearly time for lunch, and we had just had breakfast. How could we have lunch? And if, at twelve o’clock, we did not have lunch, what was there for us to do?
And then once and for all, the voice that was within me spoke again, and I looked once again into the door which I could not understand, into the country that was meaningless because it was too full of meanings that I could never grasp. “The land which thou goest to possess is not like the land of Egypt from whence thou earnest out ... For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways my ways, saith the Lord ... Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near ... Why do you spend money for that which is not bread and your labor for that which doth not satisfy you?”
I heard all this, and yet somehow I seemed not to be able to grasp or understand it. Perhaps, in a way, there was a kind of moral impossibility of my doing what I should have done, because I simply did not yet know what it was to pray, to make sacrifices, to give up the world, to lead what is called the supernatural life. What were the things I should have done and that it could not even occur to me to do?
I should have begun at once, in the first place, to go to Communion every day. That did occur to me, but at first I thought that was not generally done. Besides I believed you had to go to confession every time you wanted to go to Communion. Of course, the simple way out of that would have been to keep going to Father Moore and asking him questions.
That was the second thing I should have done: I should have sought constant and complete spiritual direction. Six weeks of instructions, after all, were not much, and I certainly had nothing but the barest rudiments of knowledge about the actual practice of Catholic life, and if I had not made the absolutely tragic assumption that now my period of training was finished and done with, I would not have made such a mess of that first year after my Baptism. Probably the very worst thing I could have done was to hesitate about asking questions that occurred to me, and to have been too ashamed of my weakness to approach Father Moore about the real, fundamental needs of my soul.
Sometimes, the hardest thing to do is to ask for help. This comes from the mistaken idea that needing assistance indicates failure or weakness in some way. Because you aren't able to solve your own problems or pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. I think that's a particularly American attitude, as citizens of the United States grow up believing in the power of the individual. Each person is the captain of his or her own destiny.
Of course, that's a load of shit. There is no weakness in need. Homelessness is not a choice. Someone doesn't wake up one morning and think, "I would rather live on the street, not knowing where my next meal is coming from." Mental illness is not a choice. No one wants to battle his or her own mind every minute of every day.
Addiction is a unique monster, however. Nobody wants to become an alcoholic or meth head or sex addict. I know I don't want to wake up every morning and immediately think "I need a drink" or "How much codeine do I have left?" or "Do I have hepatitis?" Addiction can lead to homelessness. And it is a cousin to mental illness. Yet, there is choice involved.
Pouring yourself a glass of gin is a choice. Placing pills on your tongue or shoving a needle in your vein is a choice. Meeting a stranger from the Internet for a sexual encounter is a choice. There is personal culpability and responsibility in addiction. An addict in my life was recently confronted by a close family member. The addict's response was this: "Just love me. I don't ask you to understand. Just love me. Please."
Love is not the solution to addiction. I can't love an addiction out of a person. I can love a person who has an addiction, but, ultimately, that love leads to disappointment and heartache and loneliness. And an addict, truly, doesn't care about the pain s/he causes a spouse or child or sibling or parent. Because all that matters to the addict is the next bottle of whiskey or the next fuck in the back seat of a car. Brief pleasures that wear off quickly and leave the addict empty and hungry again.
Eventually, over months or years, addicts drive away every person who loves them and cares about them. Children grow up. Spouses give up. Siblings get fed up. And the addict ends up sick or homeless or jobless or utterly alone. Probably all of those things.
I know I've written about this topic before. Many times. Addiction is something that is all-consuming--for the addict as well as the addict's loved ones. It's a disease predicated on choice. The only way to break the cycle of addiction is by choosing to do so.
I know the addict in my life will eventually read these words. They won't make a difference. Because she has convinced herself that she IS the addiction and the addiction IS her. She has told me, on more than one occasion, "This is who I am."
Here is what she doesn't realize: nobody loves an addiction. That's like loving a hangover or overdose or gonorrhea. It's impossible. So what does that leave?
Long, sleepless nights. Confused, angry children. Embarrassed, exhausted spouses. Worried, indifferent siblings.
And the addict. Approaching unemployment and homelessness. Becoming more and more isolated.
Miracles happen. I know this because I've seen them. Benefitted from them. The miracle my addict needs, however, I fear, is to be completely and utterly broken. In spirit and health and heart. Then, and only then, will she understand how much she is harming herself and her loved ones. And then, and only then, may she make a choice to get better.
So, that's the miracle Saint Marty is praying for tonight. A tough miracle, watered with tears and fertilized with pain.
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