I think Thomas Merton is absolutely brilliant.
The opening sentence of No Man Is An Island is like a pin prick of light that brightens exponentially with each word that follows. It's one of the most profound sentences I've ever read, and it is a seed of an idea that grows throughout the first chapter to become one of the most succinct description of Christianity that I think I've ever read. The chapter is called "Love Can Be Kept Only By Being Given Away." It's stunning, and I think everyone should read it.
Here's the opening line:
A happiness that is sought for ourselves alone can never be found: for a happiness that is diminished by being shared is not big enough to make us happy.
That is everything that our life is about! We all desperately desire to be happy, to find peace and joy in this difficult life of ours, and we find all kinds of ways to fill the void, to fill the loneliness and emptiness we feel. The crutches that we turn to time and time again never fail to disappoint. It is by loving others out of selfless love where we find true joy.
Here's the next paragraph:
There is a false and momentary happiness in self-satisfaction, but it always leads to sorrow because it narrows and deadens our spirit. True happiness is found in unselfish love, a love which increases in proportion as it is shared. There is no end to the sharing of love, and, therefore, the potential happiness of such love is without limit. Infinite sharing is the law of God's inner life. He has made the sharing of ourselves the law of our own being, so that it is in loving others that we best love ourselves.
And another powerful passage:
The first step to unselfish love is the recognition that our love may be deluded. We must first of all purify our love by renouncing the pleasure of loving as an end in itself. As long as pleasure is our end, we will be dishonest with ourselves and with those we love. We will not seek their good, but our own pleasure.
Imagine if marriages were approached this way? I don't think we'd have a 50% divorce rate! As Lewis says, we need to be about the business of heaven: expending our lives on behalf of those around us. That's loving with an unselfish love, which, as Merton says, "not only prefers the good of another to my own, but it does not even compare the two. It has only one good: that of the beloved, which is, at the same time, my own. Love shares the good with another not by dividing it with him, but by identifying itself with him so that his good becomes my own."
That cuts through me like a knife.