Finally, on the Thursday of that week, in the evening, I suddenly found myself filled with a vivid conviction:
"The time has come for me to go and be a Trappist."
Where had the thought come from? All I knew was that it was suddenly there. And it was something powerful, irresistible, clear.
I picked up a little book called The Cistercian Life, which I had bought at Gethsemani, and turned over the pages, as if they had something more to tell me. They seemed to me to be all written in words of flame and fire.
I went to supper, and came back and looked at the book again. My mind was literally full of this conviction. And yet, in the way, stood hesitation: that old business. But now there could be no delaying. I must finish with that, once and for all, and get an answer. I must talk to somebody who would settle it. It could be done in five minutes. And now was the time. Now.
Whom should I ask? Father Philotheus was probably in his room downstairs. I went downstairs, and out into the court. Yes, there was a light in Father Philotheus' room. All right. Go in and see what he has to say.
But instead of that, I bolted out into the darkness and made for the grove.
It was a Thursday night. The Alumni Hall was beginning to fill. They were going to have a movie. But I hardly noticed it: it did not occur to me that perhaps Father Philotheus might go to the movie with the rest. In the silence of the grove my feet were loud on the gravel. I walked and prayed. It was very, very dark by the shrine of the Little Flower. "For Heaven's sake, help me!" I said.
I started back towards the buildings. "All right. Now I am really going to go in there and ask him. Here's the situation, Father. What do you think? Should I go and be a Trappist?"
There was still a light in Father Philotheus' room. I walked bravely into the hall, but when I got within about six feet of his door it was almost as if someone had stopped me and held me where I was with physical hands. Something jammed in my will. I couldn't walk a step further, even though I wanted to. I made a kind of a push at the obstacle, which was perhaps a devil, and then turned around and ran out of the place once more.
And again I headed for the grove. The Alumni Hall was nearly full. My feet were loud on the gravel. I was in the silence of the grove, among the wet trees.
I don't think there was ever a moment in my life when my soul felt so urgent and so special an anguish. I had been praying all the time, so I cannot say that I began to pray when I arrived there where the shrine was: but things became more definite.
"Please help me. What am I going to do? I can't go on like this. You can see that! Look at the state I am in. What ought I to do? Show me the way." As if I needed more information or some kind of a sign!
But I said this time to the Little Flower: "You show me what to do." And I added, "If I get into the monastery, I will be your monk. Now show me what to do."
It was getting to be precariously near the wrong way to pray-- making indefinite promises that I did not quite understand and asking for some sort of a sign.
Suddenly, as soon as I had made that prayer, I became aware of the wood, the trees, the dark hills, the wet night wind, and then, clearer than any of these obvious realities, in my imagination, I started to hear the great bell of Gethsemani ringing in the night-- the bell in the big grey tower, ringing and ringing, as if it were just behind the first hill. The impression made me breathless, and I had to think twice to realize that it was only in the my imaginination that I was hearing the bell of the Trappist Abbey ringing in the dark. Yet, as I afterwards calculated, it was just about that time that the bell is rung every night for the Salve Regina, towards the end of Compline.
The bell seemed to be telling me where I belonged-- as if it were calling me home.
This fancy put such determination into me that I immediately started back for the monastery-- going the long way 'round, past the shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes and the far end of the football field. And with every step I took my mind became more and more firmly made up that now I would have done with all these doubts and hesitations and questions and all the rest, and get this thing settled, and go to the Trappists where I belonged.
When I came into the courtyard, I saw that the light in Father Philotheus' room was out. In fact, practically all the lights were out. Everobdy had gone to the movies. My heart sank.
Yet there was one hope. I went right on through the door and into the corridor, and turned to the Friars' common room. I had never even gone near that door before. I had never dared. But now I went up and knocked on the glass panel and opened the door and looked inside.
There was nobody there except one Friar alone, Father Philotheus.
I asked if I could speak with him and we went to his room.
That was the end of all my anxiety, all my hesitation.
As soon as I proposed all my hesitations and questions to him, Father Philotheus said that he could see no reason why I shouldn't want to enter a monastery and become a priest.
It may seem irrational, but at that moment, it was as if scales fell off my own eyes, and looking back on all my worries and questions, I could see clearly how empty and futile they had been. Yes, it was obvious that I was called to the monastic life: and all my doubts about it had been mostly shadows. Where had they gained such a deceptive appearance of substance and reality? Accident and circumstance had all contributed to exaggerate and distort things in my mind. But now everything was straight again. And already I was full of peace and assurance-- the consciousness that everything was right, and that a straight road had opened out, clear and smooth, ahead of me.
Father Philotheus had only one question:
"Are you sure you want to be a Trappist?" he asked me.
"Father," I answered, "I want to give God everything."
I could see by the expression on his face that he was satisfied.
I went upstairs like somebody who had been called back from the dead. Never had I experienced the calm, untroubled peace and certainty that now filled my heart. There was only one more question: would the Trappists agree with Father Philotheus, and accept my application?
Answer: yes, they did. :)
The fact that he finally conquered through the intercession of St. Thérèse ("the Little Flower") resonates with me too. On those rare occasions when I find myself up against the same obstacle-- some strange and very powerful unwillingness in my own mind to do what I know is God's will-- I pull out the big guns: "All you angels and saints in Heaven, please pray for me!" Then I find strength in my soul I didn't have before, and I manage to do whatever it is I know I'm supposed to do, and it's such a straightforward simple thing that I don't understand how it seemed so confusing and difficult. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, and they are not indifferent. They want to help us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Merton's autobiography was an unexpected joy. I didn't think I had anything in common with this man who was born in 1915 and lived a completely different kind of life, and indeed the first half of the book was alien to me. But when he started moving towards becoming a Catholic monk, it all became delightfully familiar. I don't know much about his later career; apparently he studied Eastern mysticism and some seem to think that he fell away from the orthodox faith, but I haven't looked into it-- I just know that Seven Storey Mountain is awesome.