In 2000, I spent the first week of Advent alone in Thomas Merton’s hermitage on the grounds of Our Lady of Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky. How I was given that chance is a long story, with which I shall not burden you. But here is a little something I wrote just over twelve years ago:
Wednesday, December 6, 2000 – 10:40am, Merton’s Hermitage. After breakfast, I sat quietly in front of the fireplace. The house was really cold and I had not started the furnace, thinking I would wait until later this afternoon. After meditating for about 20 minutes, a picture flashed across my mind: the interior of an abandoned building in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, where squatters had set fire to the staircase to keep warm during a bitter cold night. I had been in the building – and many more like it – while making the documentary on the St. Francis Inn. One day, Fr. Francis Pompei, OFM found a young man in the abandoned building. He was bundled up against the cold night. His name was Efrem and he had been homeless for about a month. He said, “It’s rough.” A towering example of an understatement. Sitting alone in Merton’s hermitage – living in “rough” conditions – I’m reminded of the plight of the poor who live in far, far worse conditions because of injustice and not out of seeking a “spiritual” experience. We cannot walk toward God and turn our backs on our suffering brothers and sisters at the same time. If you are reading these words in the comfort of a home, put the book down and go show God’s mercy and love to someone who does not have a home. To forget the poor is to forget God.