hope for us all…

“Where there is no obedience there is no virtue,
where there is no virtue there is no good,
where there is no good there is no love,
where there is no love, there is no God,
and where there is no God there is no Paradise.”

St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina


(a willet shorebird / Rosemary Beach, Fl / Julie Cook / 2019)

Recognition that lost periods of a life can never be returned can provoke
an intense desire to give completely to God what is yet remaining in a life.
The soul scarred by former sin is sometimes, after grace, the soul that will give without reserve.
It is not at all an exaggeration to affirm that great sinners often do become hidden saints.

Fr. Donald Haggerty
from Conversion

looking for saints in all kinds of places

This is the very perfection of a man,
to find out his own imperfections.

St. Augustine


(St. Augustine of Hippo painting by Philippe de Champaigne, 1650)

Great are you, O Lord, and exceedingly worthy of praise;
your power is immense, and your wisdom beyond reckoning.
And so we humans, who are a due part of your creation, long to praise you –
we who carry our mortality about with us,
carry the evidence of our sin and with it the proof that you thwart the proud.
Yet these humans, due part of your creation as they are, still do long to
praise you.
You arouse us so that praising you may bring us joy,
because you have made us and drawn us to yourself,
and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.

The passage above appears to have been written by a person who was painfully aware
of his own mortality and sins yet yearns, nay longs,
to be in the arms of the Beloved Creator.

And so perhaps it might be hard for those of us reading these long ago penned words
to imagine that this person was not always so deeply attuned to
living life worshiping the Triune God.

For the past couple of days, my posts have veered toward the idea of saints.
No particular reason really…and when there seems to be no real rhyme nor reason for my
ramblings, that usually just means the Holy Spirit is at work and not so much
me.

Yesterday’s post offered two quotes summing up the notion of sainthood quite nicely…
yet it was especially the Kierkegaard quote which serves to remind us that God’s mastery
of creation is one thing, but to be able to make saints from sinners…
well, that’s something else altogether.

Augustine of Hippo…
a giant when it comes to thought and theory has been studied down through the ages by
all sorts of students—from theologians and philosophers to literates and historians…
many of whom have been Believers and many who have not.

Yet Augustine was not always one of Christendom’s most learned and revered theologian
turned saint.

According to Wikipedia,
“His first insight into the nature of sin occurred when he and a number of friends stole
fruit they did not want from a neighborhood garden.
He tells this story in his autobiography, The Confessions.
He remembers that he did not steal the fruit because he was hungry,
but because “it was not permitted.”
His very nature, he says, was flawed.
‘It was foul, and I loved it.
I loved my own error—not that for which I erred, but the error itself.”
From this incident, he concluded the human person is naturally inclined to sin
and in need of the grace of Christ.”

Augustine went on to have a long-lasting affair with a woman who bore him an
illegitimate son.
He later broke off that relationship in order to marry a 10-year-old heiress but had to wait
two years until she was of legal marrying age.
During his wait, he took up with another concubine.

Yet the time came in which Augustine abandoned all concubines and fiancees alike
lamenting“that he was not a lover of wedlock so much as a slave of lust”

Eventually, at the age of 31, Augustine broke off all his relationships with these
various women because he, like many before and after him, had his Road to Damascus moment.
He was struck from his lofty, self-absorbed, carnal way of living by the
One True Omnipotent God who literally called out to him..

As Augustine later shared
“his conversion was prompted by a childlike voice he heard telling him to
“take up and read” (Latin: tolle, lege), which he took as a divine command to open the Bible
and read the first thing he saw.

Augustine read from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans –
the “Transformation of Believers” section, consisting of chapters 12 to 15 –
wherein Paul outlines how the Gospel transforms believers,
and the believers’ resulting behaviour.
The specific part to which Augustine opened his Bible was Romans chapter 13,
verses 13 and 14, to wit:

“Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness,
not in strife and envying,
but put on the Lord Jesus Christ,
and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.”

It was at this moment that his life turned.

Augustine eventually penned an autobiography of sorts which many of us,
trained in the classics were at some point, required to read— Confessions.

It is from the pages of his Confessions that we read these beautiful and deeply
haunting words:

Late have I loved Thee, O Lord; and behold,
Thou wast within and I without, and there I sought Thee.
Thou wast with me when I was not with Thee.
Thou didst call, and cry, and burst my deafness.
Thou didst gleam, and glow, and dispel my blindness.
Thou didst touch me, and I burned for Thy peace.
For Thyself Thou hast made us,
And restless our hearts until in Thee they find their ease.
Late have I loved Thee, Thou Beauty ever old and ever new.

And thus what we have learned is that many of those who are known to us today as saints
seem to have, at some point or other figured things out.

Namely, that life isn’t all about them.

But life, rather, is a yearning…and that yearning is the created’s longing to be
one with the Creator.

Some seem to understand this better than others.

Many have been rogues and scallywags.
Some have been liars and drunkards.
Some have been rich and arrogant.
Some started out as cowards and turncoats yet became brave and true.
And some will simply be known only to God and God alone.

And so with all this talk about saints and sinners, I am struck by a current circus of sorts.

Brett Kavanaugh, the latest Supreme Court nominee, has been in the center of a maelstrom.

I don’t know much about him, but from what legal experts and judges on ‘both sides of the
aisle’ have said, he is a stellar wealth of legal prowess.
A fair and just man who is deeply knowledgeable with regards to right and wrong.

Yet his experience, his record, his knowledge, his examples don’t seem to matter to
this pack of hearing committee members who are foaming at the mouth,
as they rip into this man for the simple reason that they hate the man who nominated him.

Desperate Democrats are grasping at ugly straws to do their darndest to stop this nominee’s
chance of confirmation…even resorting to highschool hearsay.

And in so doing…these very politicians who so vehemently cling to the separation of
Church and State and find themselves cringing over the notion that their precious
Roe v Wade would be overturned… these worshipers of all things cultural and secular
now seem to be seeking a saint…a saint who doesn’t exist.
As all of this is just one more example of the irony of man standing at odds with
his blinding self-serving pride.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Micha 6:8

won’t back down

“You can stand me up at the gates of Hell,
but I won’t back down!”

Tom Petty


(rod iron fence to Colonial Cemetery / Savannah, Ga / Julie Cook / 2016)

The first official Christian martyr, or protomartyr,
was Stephen, who was killed in 36 AD.

What we know about Stephen comes to us from the Book of Acts.

A Greek speaking foreign born Jew, Stephen was elected to serve as a deacon to his community. Stephen, along with others, had appealed to the apostles that the
elderly widows within their community were being passed over and forgotten.
So Stephen, along with 6 others, were elected as official deacons who would in turn
attend to these elderly widows.

Yet Stephen was also known for being quite the evangelist.
He was an ardent speaker and witness of a new faith based on the teachings
of Jesus of Nazareth.
Stephen was known to lead many Jews to conversion.

Now we must remember that Stephen was both a Jew, born and raised,
as well as a follower of the Resurrected Christ.
A conundrum in dry and dusty Palestine.
As a Jew, he was still expected to answer to the Jewish governing body.

It was however his gift of speech and witness, along with the numerous conversions
of Jews, that would lead to Stephen’s swift demise.

Stephen was brought before the ruling Sanhedrin on charges of blaspheming.
The council believed Stephen to be nothing more than a heretic.

Eloquently, standing before the tribunal, Stephen presented his case as he spoke
of a natural and holy thread of events spiraling down through the ages as he linked
Abraham, Moses, Solomon, the Temple, David and finally culminating with Jesus Christ–
the inevitable final link in the chain.

Stephen continued explaining that the true Son of God who will come again to
judge both the living and the dead….
As he told those gathered that God’s kingdom was not to be found here on earth and
was not to be found in manmade buildings such as the Temple or in earthly accumulated treasures but rather was to be found only in the the risen Son.

Stephen closed his testimony by turning his gaze upward while announcing to those
gathered that
“I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right side of God!”
(Acts 7:58)
At which point the members of the council descended into chaos as they shouted and
covered their ears against hearing such seditious and heretical talk.

Shadows of Caiaphas tearing his clothes over the words of Jesus…
“You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you:
From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the
Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Matthew 26:64

Stephen was immediately sentenced death…being stoned to death.

Remember this was the time of pre Christian Paul–rather this was the dangerous
time of Saul, Paul’s ‘old man’ of persecution and hate…
For it was Saul who was the agent who took keen personal interest in crushing
any and all ‘heretics’ who were promoting the teaching of the crucified Nazarene.

It was Saul who paved the way for Stephen’s death and it was Saul who approved it.

Now imagine if you will what would have happened if Stephen had recanted
his teachings?
What would have happened had Stephen been frightened by the knowledge that he would
be sentenced to death.
What if the thought of having people throwing rocks at him until he died…
a death brought about slowly and painfully from rocks beating against his body,
what if the thought of such a horrific death made him change his mind?
What would have happened had he thought it would best, be easier, if he just opted
to cooperate and renounce his preachings?

What example would be set?
What presedent would then be set as a witness to other followers.
What if other followers had been too afraid?
Afraid for their own physical wellbeing and the wellbeing of their families?
How would those decisions of so long impact today?

But Stephen had seen Christ in all His glory—
there was no backing down.
There was no turning back.
He would stand against the gates of Hell and he would not back down.

…..and it was this tale of Stephen and the sacrifice of faith that came
flooding front and center to my thoughts when I read the follwing
words offered by the Scottish Pastor David Robertson regarding the latest
news coming out of both England and Scotland regarding the Anglican Church.

“The Anglican Church is officially distancing itself from biblical and historic Christianity.”
David Robertson

Whoa!

The Church, the very bride of the Christ the groom, is actually distancing herself
from Jesus Christ???!!
As she is currently turning away from the Word of the God and the tenants of Biblical teaching… choosing rather instead to go the way of the current culture gods….

We are at present witnessing the Church of Western Civilization turning herself
away from her very foundation and yet thankfully, at the same time, we are witnessing
the Church of Africa rising powerfully to the defense and forefront of that same faith…
steeped in the Truth of God’s word….

The Bishop of Uganda has addressed this very issue….

“Archbishop “The British sent missionaries to Africa in the 19th Century telling us to trust the Bible as the Word of God, now they are telling us not to”
Archbishop of Uganda

“It is one way, Henry Orombi says,
of keeping faith with those long-ago Englishmen in muttonchop whiskers who brought
the church to Africa.
“A hundred or so years ago, the fire was in the Western world,” Orombi says.
“And many of their great people went over to the countries in the Southern Hemisphere,
and reached out there, and planted seeds there.
And then things changed in the Northern Hemisphere. . . .
It now looks like the Western world is tired and old.
But, praise God, the Southern Hemisphere,
which is a product of the missionary outreach,
is young and vital and exuberant.
So, in a way, I think that what God has done is he took seeds and he planted them
in the Southern Hemisphere, and now they’re going to come back,
right to the Northern Hemisphere.
It is happening.
It is happening.”
(excerpt from an article in The New Yorker / A Church Asunder April 2017)

As I pray that Bishop Orombi is correct…

May those of us of the Faith, as we find ourselves now standing against the
very gates of Hell, may we hold fast to God’s word, being not afraid of what the world
may do to us as we continue to proclaim His Glory…

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church,
and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.

Matthew 16:18

Good for the goose

“A wild goose never reared a tame gosling.”
Irish Proverb quotes

The early Celtic Christians called the Holy Spirit ‘the wild goose.’ And the reason why is they knew that you cannot tame him.
John Eldredge

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(a goose in search of his breakfast Harvey’s Point Lodge, Louge Eske , County Donegal, Ireland / Julie Cook)

An Geadh-Glas, otherwise known to English speakers as the wild goose, is most likely the furtherest thought in one’s mind when thinking about Christianity, Christian symbolism or especially when pondering the most mysterious component of the Triune Godhead, the Holy Spirit.

Yet the early Celtic Church, that amazing amalgamation of deeply mystical Christianity and equally mystical yet enigmatic Celtic culture, saw not a docile gentle cooing dove as the supreme representative of God’s Spirit but rather the often loud, raucous, stubborn and determined goose as a more true emblematic example of God’s most untamed and fiercely determined nature–a nature much like their own.

The Celts were a fierce warrior nation comprised of the bloodlines of Vikings, Danes, Druids, Picts and members of the northern regions of ancient Albion (northern Great Britain)
The Roman Empire never occupied Ireland, nor did the Anglo Saxons who later filled the void in the Birtish Isles following the fall of Rome.

These very supertisious people were fiercely independent, steeped in their haunting pagan rituals and customs–much of which remain as a continuing mystery to modern historians and archeologists.

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(Drombeg stone circle, known as the Druid’s altar, County Cork, Ireland /Julie Cook / 2015)

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(Drombeg stone circle, known as the Druid’s altar, County Cork, Ireland /Julie Cook / 2015)

It was in this land of lush misty covered greens, haunting shifting shadows and talk of the wee folk…where land, sea and sky join as one, that both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolken roamed, finding abundant inspiration for each of their most famous literary works.

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(Killarney National Park within the Ring of Kerry / Julie Cook / 2015)

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(Killarney National Park within the Ring of Kerry / Julie Cook / 2015)

“Lá fhéile Pádraig sona dhuit, translated simply as St Patrick, is probably the best known and most famous Irishman who in actuality was Scottish by birth. Patrick had been spirited away to Ireland as a young child by marauding pirates yet eventually became the revered patron saint of the entire Irish nation. It is Patrick who is credited for not only having introduced Christianity to the Emerald Isle, but for being the “designer” behind what we know as the celtic cross.
That most familiar image of a latin cross wrapped with a circle.

DSCN1628
(celtic cross in the graveyard at Dumcliff Church / County Sligo, Ireland / 2015 / Julie Cook)

It is said that the pagan Celts considered the sun to be an integral part of their worship. Circles have been found etched and carved on many excavated Celtic ruins. I think it’s rather easy to understand the importance behind worshiping the sun for the Celts— if you’ve ever spent much time in Ireland, you know how wet and grey it can be. There are parts of Ireland which receive up to 225 days of wet rainy weather each year, in turn making any and all sunny days a rare and treasured commodity.

Patrick had to be inovative if he wanted to get the Celts attention and gain their trust as the ultimate goal was total conversion and allegiance to the one true God. So Patrick set about with a brilliant plan combining both a component most important to the Celtic nation, that being the sun–a revered circle, bridging the abyss to the most important image to Christians, the Latin cross, with the addition of a circle ringing around the cross–a combination representing both sun and Son as the circle is also a Christian symbol representing God’s endlessness.

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(covering of one of the many purported wells used by Patrick to baptized the new converts to Christ, found buried near the site of present day St Patrick’s Cathedral /Dublin, Ireland / 2015 / Julie Cook)

Patrick is also considered as the one person who established the shamrock as one of Ireland’s most endearing symbols. The Celts were an agrarian nation as Ireland is a rich fertile island due in part to being on the receiving end of the warming and wet energies of the Atlantic gulf stream. As an island people they were deeply connected, attuned as well as dependent on the land. So Patrick utilized those things that were common and entrenched in the common man’s life. A most humble yet prolific example being the clover. The clover was a perfect teaching tool as it so beautifully manifests the image of the Holy Trinity.

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(early clover images on an ancient carving on a crypt in St Patrick’s Cathedral / Dublin, Ireland / 2015)

In the early days of the young Christian Church, many a humble yet determined monk of the fledgling Christian Church came and went from this mystical isle in hopes of further spreading the Gospel.
Some traveled freely while others sadly disappeared…lost in time…victims of pirates, invaders, and local hostilities.

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(plaque commemorating the lives of the Teelin monks who set sail for Iceland in the 5th century / Teelin , Slieve League, County Donegal, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

Yet for all the anguished years of famine and immigrations, for all of her tumultuous history of waring invaders and defiant fought battles, Ireland has held fiercely fast and tight to her Christian roots. We are all aware of the growing insidious cloud of secularism that is sweeping across Europe and Western society…we are also all painfully aware of Ireland’s past “troubles”—the deep and often bloody mistrust and resentment between north and south, Catholic and Protestant, British Crown and Independent…yet despite all the years of bloodshed, turmoil, both internal and external, Ireland has laid claim and held on undeterred to her faith…a faith of deep respect for the God of all Salvation as well as the Great Creator of both land and sea, heaven and sky.

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(both cat and goose wait for feeding / Harvey’s Point Lodge, County Donegal / Julie Cook / 2015)

Christ be with me
Christ before me
Christ behind me
Christ in me
Christ beneath me
Christ above me
Christ on my right
Christ on my left
Christ where I lie
Christ where I sit
Christ where I arise
Christ in the heart of every man
who thinks of me
Christ in the mouth of every man
who speaks of me
Christ in every eye that sees me
Christ in every ear that hears me
Salvation is of the Lord.</em
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