“It takes intrepid courage to live according to the truth, and there is something of martyrdom in every truly Christian life, if we take martyrdom in its original sense as a “testimony” to the truth, sealed in our own sufferings and in our blood.
Being and doing become one, in our life, when our life and being themselves are a “martyrdom” for the truth. In this way we identify ourselves with Christ, Who said: “For this was I born, and for this came I into the world; that I should give testimony to the truth” (John 18:36). Our vocation is precisely this: to bear witness to the truth of Christ by laying down our lives at His bidding. Therefore, He added to the words we have just quoted: “Everyone that is of the truth, heareth my voice.” And in another place He said: “I know my sheep, and they know me” (John 10:14).
This testimony need not take the special form of a political and public death in defense of Christian truth or virtue. But we cannot void the “death” of our own will, of our own natural tendencies, of the inordinate passions of our flesh and of our who selfish “being,” in order to submit ourselves to what our own conscience tells us to be the truth and the will of God and the inspiration of the Spirit of Christ.
Therefore asceticism is unavoidable in Christian life. We cannot escape the obligation to deny ourselves. This obligation is made inevitable by the fact that the truth cannot live in us unless we freely and by our own volition recognize and cast out falsity from our own souls.
This is the one job that we alone can do, and we must have the courage to do it if we wish to live as we were meant to live, and find out true being in God. No one else can turn our minds to the truth, renounce error for us, convert our wills from selfishness to charity and from sin to God. The example and the prayers of others may help us to find our way in this work. But we alone can do it.
It is true that God is the One Who produces in our hearts both our good desires and their effect, “for it is God who worketh in you both to will and to accomplish, according to His good will” (Philippians 2:13). Nevertheless, if we do not ourselves freely desire and manfully carry out His will, His grace will be without effect: since the effect of grace is to make us freely do His will.
Consequently, the truth of God lives in our souls more by the power of superior moral courage than by the light of an eminent intelligence. Indeed spiritual intelligence itself depends on the fortitude and patience with which we sacrifice ourselves for the truth, as it is communicated to our lives concretely in the providential will of God.
The importance of courageous sacrifice, in accomplishing our work of finding and witnessing to the truth, cannot be overemphasized. It is all-important. We cannot possess the truth fully until it has entered the very substance of our life by good habits and by a certain perfection of moral activity. And we cannot act so without a terrible struggle against temptation, a struggle that divides our whole being against itself with conflicting loyalties. The greatest temptations are not those that solicit our consent to obvious sin, but those that offer us great evils masking as the greatest goods.
These apparent goods must be sacrificed precisely as goods before we can tell accurately whether they are good or evil. What is more, the things we are called upon to sacrifice may indeed remain perfectly good in themselves. That does not mean that our sacrifice of them is vain, or that we can take them back as soon as we have seen they are not evil. No: the fulfillment of every individual vocation demands not only the renouncement of what is evil in itself, but also of all the precise goods that are not willed for us by God.
It takes exceptional courage and integrity to make such a sacrifice. We cannot do it unless we are really seeking to do the will of God for His sake alone. The man who is content to keep from disobeying God, and to satisfy his own desires wherever there is nothing to prevent him from doing so, may indeed lead a life that is not evil: but his life will remain a sad confusion of truth and falsity and he will never have the spiritual vision to tell one clearly from the other. He will never fully live up to his vocation.”
~ Thomas Merton, No Man Is An Island, 138-139.
[Art: I Ching Hex 6 —> 1 ]