Besides his vocation to contemplative solitude, Merton also had a secular
vocation as a writer. He was obviously attached to this activity but he
was not always sure whether his attachment was inordinate or not. Much
of his correspondence was with individuals requesting advice about spiritual
matters and this was perfectly harmless and often inspiring. Others involved
politics, whether national, global or ecclesiastical. In these matters,
he did not always see eye to eye with his Cistercian censors, and he judged,
rightly or wrongly, that they were excessively influenced by partisan concerns
or personal bias. He even wrote a letter to his friend Archbishop Paul
Philippe, secretary of the Vatican's Congregation for Religious, to use
his influence to obtain permission for him to live in Cuernavaca in a primitive
monastic group under the direction of Fr. Lemercier. He had a great admiration
for Lemercier. But later he saw a newspaper photograph of Lemercier with
his new young bride.
Merton must have grown in spiritual discernment by this time. A reader may or may not read between Shannon's editorial lines on page 226 that Merton valued celibacy as necessary for a contemplative hermit, even though there was a time when this was imperiled by a heart problem when he was confined in a Louisville hospital. This painful problem was honestly faced and prayerfully solved. (Page 238.)
The highest freedom to which Merton's life has given witness is the freedom to grow in communal discernment. Celibacy is communally discerned in many centuries of contemplative spirituality, whether Christian or non-Christian, as the more solid (if not the only) foundation for the lives of consecrated contemplatives. In this tradition, priesthood is optional but celibacy is not.