After browsing through several of Merton’s journals and other writings, I was beginning to think I would never find anything concerning the Sacred Heart of Jesus, until I came upon this entry for the Feast of the Sacred Heart in 1947 in “The Sign of Jonas”:
“I ought to know, by now, that God uses everything that happens as a means to lead me into solitude. Every creature that enters my life, every instant of my days, will be designed to wound me with the realization of the world’s insufficiency, until I become so detached that I will be able to find God alone in everything. Only then will all things bring me joy….Today I seemed to be very much assured that solitude is indeed His will for me and that it is truly God Who is calling me into the desert.” [pgs. 51-52]
Upon first and even second reading I was disappointed; I said to myself, “Thomas, tell me about the Sacred Heart. I want to know what you think about the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Why are you talking about yourself – it is the Feastday; why don’t you write about the Sacred Heart on the Feastday, instead of your own call to solitude?” And then I realized he was writing about the Sacred Heart – about what It evoked for him and in him; about his experience of It.
So I did a little more browsing – googling, to be exact, on the Sacred Heart and solitude. There were some interesting things to be found; for example, The Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Theology of Benedict XVI, by Father Mark D. Kirby, O.Cist. Father Kirby writes:
“At the core of devotion to the Sacred Heart is a passing-over into the prayer of Christ to the Father, a long apprenticeship to silence by which we begin to let the Heart of Christ speak in us and for us to the Father.” [emphasis mine] Among other references, Father Kirby uses quotes from [then] Cardinal Ratzinger’s “Behold the Pierced One”, in which he helps us see the links between Jesus’ solitude, our own solitude, the Sacred Heart, prayer, and communication with the Father.
And so Thomas Merton truly is speaking of the Sacred Heart of Jesus as he describes his assurance of an even stronger calling to solitude, for it is not a call to solitude for the sake of solitude – it is a call to enter into the Sacred Heart, into the solitude of Jesus, and in Jesus’ solitude we share in prayer to the Father.