In a book by Henri Nouwen entitled Thomas Merton: Contemplative Critic, I read a quote yesterday from Merton’s autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain that I found quite ingenuous. It was from an incident early in Merton’s life of searching, when he was at college in the company of his friends, Bob Lax and Mark Van Doren. He remembered the conversation and recorded it word for word (as Nouwen then does in his book) and reads as follows.
Lax suddenly turned around and asked me the question:
L: What do you want to be, anyway? M: I don’t know. I guess what I want is to be a good Catholic. L: What do you mean, you want to be a good Catholic?…What you should say…is that you want to be a saint. M: How do you expect me to become a saint? L: By wanting to. M: I can’t be a saint, I can’t be a saint… L: All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don’t you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let God do it? All you have to do is desire it.
The next day I told Mark Van Doren: Lax is going around saying that all a man needs to be a saint is to want to be one. “Of course,” said Mark.“
The conversation first made me smile and then got me wondering what I think (or what I had been taught in my early days in Catholic school) was necessary to become a saint. I rather like how Merton’s friends see the process. I intend to go back to smiling and remembering to “want to be one” every day.