Fire, Salt, and Light

“Fire, Salt, and Light” is the name of the blog written by Fr Arthur Joseph, a Roman Catholic Priest ordained for 29 years who lives as an urban hermit in Canada:

“The guidance, if you will, for the way I try and live faithfully each day the life of an urban hermit priest comes from first the example of Christ in the Desert, in the lonely places, in the Garden.
My second source of inspiration comes from the Desert Fathers and there is no better synthesis of all this wisdom, from the Gospel, from the Church East and West, to my mind at least, than in the classic work of the Servant of God, Catherine Doherty: “Poustinia”.
Poustinia book
On page 52 of her classic the Servant of God stresses that: “For a…hermit…Anyone at any time of day or night can knock at his door. Remember, he is in the poustinia not for himself but for others. “
For the modern urban hermit that ‘knock’ can be the phone ringing, the computer pinging an email has arrived or there can literally be a knock on the door.

Today such knocks involved encouraging a senior seminarian in another country who is going through a rough patch; a call from a priest in another part of this country who is simply exhausted; conversation with another ‘poustinik’ about a mutual friend who needs our prayers as he is very ill; visiting and helping at a local soup kitchen; visiting a dear elderly brother priest in the cardiac unit of one of the city hospitals.

This meant ‘my’ routine and plan of the day turned to dust, as well it should have.

I try, and beg your prayers I do better, to live each day the maxim of St. Gerard Magella: “Here the will of God is done, as God wills, and as long as God wills.”

The ‘here’ of course must be the present moment, for we should live only in the present moment, faithful to the duty of the present moment.

I believe when the disciples asked Jesus where He lived, and He said to come and see then immediately set off, He was leading them into ‘the moment’, the moment of His Father’s will, which is truly where Jesus ‘dwelt’ on earth.

So since I want to dwell with Him always while on earth there is not better place than in the reality, the grace, the duty of the present moment!”

“Here in the heart of the city, where cement and asphalt are more prevalent than trees and lawns, unless you have a place to live, or can get inside the mall some dozen blocks away from where I write, shelter to cool off – alternately shelter in the winter to get warmed up – is rare and difficult to find.
city street
Let most of us when I reflect upon the plight of the homeless my first thought is their need for shelter, food and water, water especially in this extreme heat and humidity which has endured for two weeks now.

Given the heat I go very early in the morning, usually just after dawn, for my walk.

It is a time not merely for exercise but to pray for everyone who lives in the neighbourhood, works in this area, trolls the alleys to dumpster dig for food or bottles that can be turned in at the recycle plant for some cash.

Many of the elderly people I chat with who dumpster dive do so to stretch their pension so they can pay rent or buy food.

It is mostly the younger ones who are seeking money to feed their addictions.

This area is a mixture of apartment buildings, halfway houses, and the usual sprinkling of small shops, crack houses, and, to use the old expression: ‘houses of ill repute’.
Crack house
The city has been spending millions to spruce up the area, actually planting trees where there is a strip of grass between the curbs and the sidewalk and has held open house meetings for input from people who live here as the city finalizes plans to begin next spring when roads, sidewalks, streetlights, water and sewer lines will all be renewed, combined with a program called “in-fill”, where the small, very old pre-war houses, which occupy lots considered too big, are torn down and replaced with duplexes, in an effort to get more families into the area.

Walking past one of those new places with, literally, a white picket fence along the front I noticed the sign – the wording of which would be too harsh and gross to put here exactly, so an edited version: “Would you vile people stopping using this fence as a place to eat and relieve yourself.”

I was stunned by how the very sharp style of handwriting contrasted with the harshness of the message.

More importantly I was struck by how, while knowing and trying to be faithful to the words of Jesus: “I was hungry, thirsty, a stranger….” I have never given much thought to some very human and basic needs of the homeless.

Always grateful for food, shelter, clothing I am not aware of having given thanks for access to a bathroom, to shower and clean myself, to, as we say ‘go to the bathroom’; access to machines, soap and water to clean my clothes; a refrigerator in which to keep food fresh, a stove to cook upon, plates and utensils to use while having a meal.

As terrible and stressing a thing as it is to be homeless, to scrounge in dumpsters for food or empty cans and bottles to trade for food, how much like salt ground into wounds having no place for other basic bodily needs.
While giving thanks for what I have until now taken for granted, it is also time to pray cities will become inventively compassionate and establish safe and secure public washrooms especially in neighbourhoods where the homeless are, water fountains to slake their thirst in the hot days of summer.

This far north, cities do a rather good job of shelter in the winter, of roaming vans with hot soup, blankets, and sleeping bags – but even in winter a hot shower, a bathroom, a place to get or clean clothes would be such a gift.”


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