Homeward Bound

Thomas Merton’s distinctive Trappist habit hid the poor and fragile man wearing it. Merton had a pilgrim’s restless, searching heart. He understood that we are all homeless until we find our home in God. Maybe that’s why he was attracted to St. Benedict Joseph Labré, the homeless saint who wandered the streets of Rome begging. In his private journals Merton frankly admits he was always in the dark, always on the road, and always in need of God’s mercy to him in all things. In his journals, he deliberately sets out to debunk his status as a spiritual guru or master, a deadly honor his readers bestowed upon him.

Merton scholar Anthony Padovano said, “He writes in his journals about his pettiness, his envy, his sexual temptations, his doubts. He wanted everyone to know that the mystical journey was profoundly human. That it wasn’t exotic. It wasn’t artificial.”

Over the last 65 years or so, Merton was and is symbolic of many lost souls, lonely, isolated people looking for something that they can’t describe, can’t put their finger on, looking for meaning, looking for redemption or recovery…basically, looking for God. Somehow, through his elegant words on a page he connects with our everyday, messy lives of flesh. In him we find a common ground where people from around the world can see, respect, and even embrace each other. In his very real shortcomings and struggles, we see our own…and realize it is OK.

In his journals, he removes his distinctive Trappist habit so we can see his self-deceits, his struggles with competing and conflicting desires, and the darkness of his heart. In the pages of his journals, we see a real flesh and blood human being striving to enter the heart of God, striving to go Home. In his failures, problems, struggles, and disappointments, we see ourselves and know we are not alone…and that even “Saint” Thomas Merton wore pants just like us. No matter what inner difficulties he faced, Merton always moved forward in hope of discovering his true self…and therein was his salvation.

We find salvation by returning to the unity in which we were created. Salvation consists of the restoration of unity with God and all of creation, a unity which has been fractured by sin,
ruptured by our living out of our inner brokenness which causes deeper disunity.

I’m not sure I’m ready to remove my outer habit, that of a globe-trotting, crusading filmmaker striving to be a prophetic voice for the poor while often either hiding or ignoring his own inner spiritual poverty, his own sinfulness, his secretly clinging to things he knows are blocking him from entering a fuller, deeper relationship with God.

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1 Response to “Homeward Bound”


  1. 1 aliceny July 23, 2015 at 9:12 am

    Thank you for this stunning insight, Gerry. It is one of the most haunting descriptions of our search for God and of the human temptations and distractions that we encounter in that journey that I have ever read.


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