Book Review: The Living Bread, by Thomas Merton

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This is a review of one of Thomas Merton's rarer books.

Thomas Merton was to my mind a giant in his religious writings. He mixed mysticism with simple spirituality.

He was probably the most influential American Catholic author of the twentieth century.

His autobiography, which was titled, "The Seven Storey Mountain", sold well over one million copies. To date it has been translated into more than fifteen other languages.

His writing changed lives!

The man, and his books

"Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone - we find it with another."

This quote is one of many by Thomas Merton (1915 to 1968), an American Catholic writer, mystic, and Trappist monk.

Merton was actually born in France. His mother was American, his father a New Zealander. The man was a prolific writer, writing more than sixty books, of which this total doesn't include all of his other articles, and poetry, as well.

The book in question, "The Living Bread", is an interesting one.

Perhaps the title of the book, "The Living Bread", refers of course to Jesus Christ's last supper where bread and wine were given out to his disciples.

Jesus also mentions living water in the bible as well.

One such reference is to be found in Saint John's gospel at chapter 4, and verse 14.

"Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

Thomas Merton's main message here is that any message must be "eaten" to become real, and to become known, and that it must be lived from by its being integrated into your own make-up, mind, and soul in this way to be real, or to become real for us.

The title page in the book has an apt quote from the bible

"I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world."

This is the quote from the title page in this book. It comes from Saint John's gospel, chapter 6, verse 51.

Thomas Merton wrote his autobiography entitled, "The Seven Storey Mountain" in 1948, twenty years before he died at only 53 years of age.

This beautifully written almost entirely poetically inspired book introduced the world to this great man.

Many people have said consequently that his writings have changed their lives.

This book "The Seven Storey Mountain" was his very first book, and it was a best-seller. It tells about how he was lost, and how he became found. He tells us also to become who we are too.

Thomas Merton asks us to both question our life, and the that way it is, and also to question alongside of this, who we who are living it.

"Why do we spend our lives striving to be something we would never want to be, if we only knew what we wanted? Why do we waste our times doing things, which, if we only stopped to think about them, are the opposite of what we were made for?"

If we could stop ourselves from what we are currently doing in our busy lives enough to find the time to try to honestly answer both of these questions, we might then change both our lives, and who we are, as well!

The Living Bread, one slice at a time

This book writes about what is known by Catholics as the Eucharist. Catholic teachings tell us that the Eucharist is made up from the elements of the living presence of Jesus Christ himself.

It makes the ever present presence of Jesus real for the partaker of this mystery, which is described as being a divine mystery of faith.

Peace, hope, knowing, certainty only come from following this practice in a way, because only by doing this can Jesus's presence in these elements become more than real for you then.

The Eucharist is of course the Sacrament of the Body and the Blood of Jesus Christ. The wine and the bread are said to be transformed within this ceremony to being the actual blood and body of Jesus Christ, himself. The wine is his blood, the bread is his flesh.

The author backs this up with this quote from the Council of Trent.

This council was one of the Roman Catholic Church's most important ecumenical councils that was held in middle of the sixteenth century, (1545 to 1563).

"In the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist there is contained truly, really, and substantially, the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, together with his Soul and Divinity, indeed the whole Christ."

The Eucharist, and Jesus Christ's great love for us all

The connective-ness of love allows the bread and water or wine elements to converse with each other and this conversation draws Jesus to you, and you to him.

This is the word that becomes real when love is received in this way for you.

Saint John described this in his great gospel of Saint John, bearing his name.

John, chapter 1, verse 14 says this:

"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us."

Thomas Merton tells us that man is made perfect by his union with Christ in this Eucharist.

This is how he describes this as happening in his book.

"In Holy Communion, then, it is not we who transform the Body of Christ into ourselves as happens with ordinary food. He, on the contrary, assimilates us and transforms us into Himself."

We are absorbed into the mystical body of Christ by this process. We become one with Jesus, or with God.

This book is rather a hard one to find. It was first published in hardback in 1956.

The book is also a bit difficult in parts to read, and to get your head around the heady stuff that he talks about here, but then again it is only a short book, of only 132 pages. It will well repay you for the reading of it.

The Dalai Lama loved this great man, but then he loves all other people too!

"Every moment and every event of every man's life on earth plants something in his soul."

This is another great quote from Thomas Merton.

If this sentiment is really true, the reading of his book will probably do this for you too!

Thomas tells us in his book that we are all meant to grow and develop ourselves more and more in that which he refers to as being, "the Eucharistic life".

This is all about our realizing what it means to receive Christ sacramentally, and how we can grow by allowing him to live within us.

We become part of his mystical body then, and so it functions more fully for God because we are an activated part of it, rather than just being like unto a cancer within it instead.

It is all about our producing fruit on our own branch of this tree of life, which is God.

Jesus Christ himself put this very strongly in the bible.

These are his own words about this, as they are recorded in Saint Matthew's gospel, chapter 7, verse 19.

"Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."

This might all sound rather severe, what did Jesus mean by this statement of his then, and what exactly is this fire?

You are made whole when you stay on the tree of life within God's orchard, so to speak, but if your branch is cut off for some reason from the life-giving water of his love, you will wither away and produce no fruit.

Only then will you be thrown then into the fires because to warm the spirits of others will be your only use then, that is if you do not produce fruit that benefits these others too.

A tree is for everyone not just for yourself, this was Jesus's lesson here for us all, I feel.

Picture credits: All pictures used here have been freely taken from the free media site, Wikimedia Commons.


Book Review, Book Reviews, Books, Catholic Church, Dalai Lama, Eternal Life, Eucharist, Gods Orchard, Holy Sacrament, Religious Writing, Spirituality, The Living Bread, The Living Bread By Thomas Merton, Thomas Merton, Trappist Monk

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author avatar spirited
I have been interested in the spiritual fields for over thirty five years now. My writing is mostly in this area.

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author avatar Fern Mc Costigan
12th Nov 2014 (#)

What a beautiful post Spirited and wonderful full of thoughts, God Bless you too my friend!

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author avatar spirited
12th Nov 2014 (#)

thanks Fern, I'm glad you liked it

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