Merton’s Hermitage

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 fourteen 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.

“It is the hour for prayer; if you hear the poor calling you, mortify yourself and leave God for God, although you must do everything you can not to omit your prayer, for that is what keeps you united to God; and as long as this union lasts you have nothing to fear.”

– St. Vincent de Paul


1 Response to “Merton’s Hermitage”

  1. 1 squeaky kneeler December 6, 2014 at 6:16 am

    Gerry, what a privilege, to have stayed in Merton’s “house”! I can only dream of such an honor. At the same time anyone who know’s Fr. Louis knows that it was not his “home”. You and i live in his “home” every day, in this world where there remains, or should i say increases, the giant gap between rich and poor. i grew up around Philadelphia, Gerry. i always considered it my “real home.” How i loved to just wander every street of that great, though sad and broken, city of America. i live in New York now, but i have made sure over the years to bring my children to Philly any time i can.One of the landmarks they want to see is “Rocky’s Stairs”. We went and tried to run them, chanting the Rock’s theme song. But when we walked down those stairs and through that beautiful park, my kids were in for one of the worst shocks of their lives. That is where they saw such great poverty, so many of their brothers and sisters sleeping in cardboard boxes – if they were lucky. Many were just collapsed in the cold. i am happy to say that i showed my kids my “REAL HOME,” and that they were shaken nice n early to their core, and that they own what i consider the Only Real Wealth in this world, namely Gratefulness and Compassion. i can’t wait to hear what Pope Francis will say when he comes to my home next summer.

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