Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Thomas Merton - The Gardener

This comes from the weekly reflection from The Merton Institute at


Father Stephen

There was an old Father at Gethsemani-one of those people you get in
every large community, who was regarded as sort of a funny fellow.
Really he was a saint. He died a beautiful death and, after he died,
everyone realized how much they loved him and admired him, even though
he had consistently done all the wrong things throughout his life. He
was absolutely obsessed with gardening, but he had an abbot for a long
time who insisted he should do anything but gardening, on principle; it
was self-will to do what you liked to do. Father Stephen, however, could
not keep from gardening. He was forbidden to garden, but you would see
him surreptitiously planting things. Finally, when the old abbot died
and the new abbot came in, it was tacitly understood that Father Stephen
was never going to do anything except gardening, and so they put him on
the list of appointments as gardener, and he just gardened from morning
to night. He never came to Office, never came to anything, he just dug
in his garden. He put his whole life into this and everybody sort of
laughed at it. But he would do very good things-for instance, your
parents might come down to see you, and you would hear a rustle in the
bushes as though a moose were coming down, and Father Stephen would come
rushing up with a big bouquet of flowers.
On the feast of St. Francis three years go, he was coming in from his
garden about dinner time and he went into another little garden and lay
down on the ground under a tree, near a statue of Our Lady, and someone
walked by and thought, "Whatever is he doing now?" and Father Stephen
looked up at him and waved and lay down and died. The next day was his
funeral and the birds were singing and the sun was bright and it was as
though the whole of nature was right in there with Father Stephen. He
didn't have to be unusual in that way: that was the way it panned out.
This was a development that was frustrated, diverted into a funny little
channel, but the real meaning of our life is to develop people who
really love God and who radiate love, not in a sense that they feel a
great deal of love, but that they simply are people full of love who
keep the fire of love burning in the world. For that they have to be
fully unified and fully themselves-real people.

Thomas Merton. "The Life that Unifies" in Thomas Merton in Alaska. New
York: New Directions Publishing Corp., 1988:148-149.

Thought to Remember:

The purpose of monastic life is to create an atmosphere in which people
should feel free to express their joy in reasonable ways. The final
integration and unification of man in love is what we are really looking


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