A reader writes:

I'm wondering if you can either help me understand this or else point me in the right direction?

I have zero experience with Thomas Merton. But last August I picked up one of his books and it spoke to my heart. So you know I have to go and buy a Year with TM because much of what he says goes way over my head but the parts that don't are useful.

From this morning's meditation:

On March 3, 1951, he writes in his journal, I have come to the monastery to find my place in the world, and if I fail to find this place, I will ... There is a world which Christ would not pray for. But the world also was made by God and is good, and, unless that world is our mother, we cannot be saints, because we cannot be saints unless we are first of all human.

From this short excerpt - which I suspect is an already-excerpted writing - can you help me figure out what world Christ would not pray for? I think I understand his overall meaning, but this part is really puzzling to me.

Thank you!

This typically Johannine passage gives the background to Merton's remark:

"Do not love the world or the things in the world. If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides for ever." (1 Jn 2:15–17)

The Johannine term "the world" is polyvalent (i.e., It has multiple meanings). It can refer to the created order, which is good, fallen, and the object of redemption ("For God so loved the world, that he gave is only begotten Son...") or it can mean the cosmic order of fallen power, and principalities--"the prince of this world" governing the "kingdoms of this world" that is completely set against Christ and to be totally rejected by the Christian. Merton is referring to the latter.

The New Testament often tends to slip seamlessly from one sense of "the world" to the other, expecting us to keep up. And keeping up is often hard. On the one hand, partly because we are becoming less familiar with the New Testament and, on the other hard, partly because (I suspect) the authors themselves are in a struggle to distinguish between the powers and principalities (who are the true enemies we fight) and the human beings who, by their free cooperation with those powers, become their lackeys and pawns in the persecution of the Church. So Paul tells the Ephesians "we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places." (Eph 6:12). But he also loses his temper at times with various foes he contends with, such as the Galatians and the circumcision party seeking to seduce them: "O foolish Galatians!"... "I wish those who unsettle you would mutilate themselves!" That struggle to distinguish between the human dupes and their demonic handlers is a struggle that remains with the Church till the last day, because humans are also responsible moral. When we sin, we sin. The devil doesn't "make us do it." We choose to do it.

But we can also, with the help of grace, choose to undo it. That is the hope of the gospel and the advantage we have over the powers and principalities. They have made their one, irrevocable and timeless choice in the instant of their creation. We live in time and our sinful choices are not (yet) irrevocable. Repent and believe the Good News!