If we could ask Thomas Merton now, he would probably say that the term “men” was also meant to include women. He might even agree that “people” would have been a better word. Assuming my interpretation of his meaning is correct, his agreement would be in keeping with the first point of his commentary on detachment, of which the above quote is the very first paragraph. If we are truly detached from ourselves and any created thing, that includes our work and our opinions and any spiritual consolation we might receive from them.
He goes on to say: “EVERYTHING you love for its own sake, outside of God alone, blinds your intellect and destroys your judgment of moral values. It vitiates your choices so that you cannot clearly distinguish good from evil and you do not truly know God’s will.”
But as we read on about the importance of detachment from all things not God, be they physical, psychological or spiritual; it’s easy to overlook the second point in that paragraph to which he never specifically returns. All it takes is just a few people (even one or two!) to hold everything together. All it takes is just a few people who have lost their lives in order to save them, who have died like grains of wheat in order to bear much fruit, who have sought first the kingdom of heaven before all things, to keep the fabric (spiritual?) or our universe intact.
Recall that all it would have taken to save the city of Sodom was ten righteous people (Gen. 18:32). Just ten righteous people could have saved an entire city. We don’t even know if those people had to be as perfectly detached from all things not God as Merton suggests in order to qualify. What we do know is that ten righteous people could not be found and Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by fire.
Merton’s point is that the sanctity of each one of us is important, not just for our sake but for the whole world. Each one of us is more important than we know. YOU are more important than you know. Everything you do, say and think has implications for the salvation of everyone else. Your prayers for your friends, family, and perhaps especially for people you do not know, living or dead, are heard. And the more successfully you have died to yourself the louder your voice, the stronger you are as a linchpin “keeping the universe from falling apart.”