Tuesday, January 20, 2009

poverty

In winter the stripped landscape of Nelson county looks terribly poor. The houses of our neighbors between here and Bardstown are pretty miserable. We [Trappists] are the ones who are supposed to be poor. Well, I am thinking of the people in a shanty next to the Brandeis plant, on Brook Street, Louisville. We had to wait there while Reverend Father was getting some tractor parts. The woman who lives in this place was standing out in front of it, shivering in some kind of rag, while a suspicious looking, anonymous truck unloaded some bootleg coal in her yard. I wondered if she had been warm yet this winter. ...The world is terrible, people are falling to pieces and starving to death and freezing and going to hell with despair, and here I sit with a silver spoon in my mouth and write books and everybody sends me fan mail telling me how wonderful I am for giving up so much. And what, I'd like to ask them, have I given up anyway except headaches and responsibilities?
-- Thomas Merton
Entering the Silence, Journals Volume 1
Jonathan Montaldo, editor
San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1997, p 264

4 comments:

  1. It is a painful dichotomy, isn't it? I bet he felt it keenly. He vows poverty (indirectly)but lived with more economic security than his neighbours.

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  2. I know that road that lead to Gethsemani during the 1950s - very, very poor people living in shacks. He saw them every time he left the monastery for his Dr's appointments, etc.

    I was just a child then, and even I noticed the poverty. Especially in the winter.

    Throughout history, the priests (and nun, monks, etc) have lived much better than the poor. They have had food and economic security. I'm not sure what this means. Perhaps if society were more patterned after the economics of a monastery - each giving according to his/her talents, each recieving according to his/her need - the world would be better.

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  3. That's an interesting perspective on the dichotomy, Beth. Monasteries have seen themselves as ideal Christian societies, but, alas, their example is not often taken.

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  4. I can't resist leaving my usual literary reference, this time the novel "Saints in Hell" by Gilbert Cesbron about the worker-priests in France in a mining community. The contrasts of wealth and poverty in the Church are explored with fairness to both sides ( and it's one of the best things I've read on the worker-priests)>

    I've noticed a lot of fear mongering on the news recently about "poverty" threatening the american worker: I wonder if anyone else out there notices how affluent we are?

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