A stranger in a strange land

“We are Christians, and strangers on earth.
Let none of us be frightened;
our native land is not in this world.”

St. Augustine

(a surprise flock of deer in the middle of surburn Atlanta / Julie Cook / 2018
talk about strangers in a strange place)

Many years ago my aunt and I were taking an overnight flight from Atlanta to Milan.
This was not our first trip to Italy and I proudly figured that I knew just enough
conversational Italian to get us through any real language barrier.
All would be well I confidently told myself.

Yet in the back of my mind, I knew my aunt.
A panicker if ever there was one.

She knew the word equivalents to hello, yes, no, good-bye and stop.
She depended on me just as a blind person would depend upon a service animal.
I was to be her eyes and ears and mouth while navigating all over Itlay for the
next 3 weeks.
She was simply happy and content being along for the ride.
No thinking, no working, no figuring…just eating, drinking, shopping and seeing.
That was the extent of her comfort level when travelling.
No real thinking—just enjoying…while leaving the details to one more savvy
and experienced.
And in this case, that simply left me…

So what could possibly go wrong?

Arriving early morning in Milan, which was middle of the night Atlanta time,
and having flown for nearly 9 hours in a tin can in the sky with absolutely zero sleep
and limited nutrition…
We deplaned, made our way through the terminal, found our luggage,
then when trying to figure out where the train was located that was to take us into town…
well, I might as well have been hit on the head, suffering from complete amnesia.

Exhaustion was hanging like a thickly spun cobweb in my brain.
Panic was creeping up through my now rapidly and tightly closing throat.
I stood in the middle of the terminal looking around, trying to make sense, trying to translate
signs directing us where we needed to go.
It was as if my brain had gone blank and all that practice of asking in Italian where
the train station was located…as was now gone the time spent memorizing the map of
the airport…it had all instantly, completely and totally left me.

Yet I had to get a hold of myself as I didn’t need my 70-year-old aunt turning into
a wailing Henny Penny.
“GET A HOLD OF YOURSELF” I mentally screamed at myself.

And just as quickly as that sense of panic of a blank brain had engulfed me,
I clamped down on that boiling panic and calmed down… as I casually sauntered over
to the information desk asking the nonplused airport employee if they
“parli inglese”

And no that was not the end of our adventures during that particular trip…
but those are stories for another day…

It does, however, remind me of today’s quote by St Augustine.

A bold reminder that we Christians are strangers on this rather strange planet.

For we are indeed a strange people in a strange land.

Just like my aunt and I when we first arrived in Milan.
Strangers, much out of place, most uncomfortable and seemingly lost in what
was a new strange land.

I am currently grossly far behind reading and listening to both my two favorite
‘across the pond’ clerics, that it isn’t even funny.

This new role of grandmother, dashing around on the fly, with little to no sleep while
being out of pocket from my usual routine and home…
has me terribly out of sync here in blogland.

Yet I did manage to look over Bishop Gavin Ashenden’s latest musings which
actually starts off with a tale about Meghan Markle of all people—
that soon to be bride of Prince Harry.

It seems that Ms Markle has “agreed” to be baptized and subsequently confirmed
into the Anglican Chruch of England…as a gesture of graciousness for her soon to be
Grandmother-n-law who, as Queen, is known as the “Defender of the Faith” and “head”
of the Chruch of England.

The good bishop smells something a bit odious.

Not so much because of Ms Markle herself, who is obviously trying her best to now “fit in” into
her fiancee’s most British world as well as into his family…
but rather odious because of the Chruch of England itself.

As a Christian, I find it a bit odd, awkward and simply wrong that one would want to be
“baptized” as a child of God and in turn confirmed into a church body simply for the sake
of “fitting in”…
Not to mention the notion of a church body that sees such a life-altering decision as a mere

I wonder if Ms Markle actually understands the implications behind what it means to
be Baptized–or as to the requirement of what is required of one who “joins” the church?

I wonder if the Church of England actually understands the life-changing and deeply
mystical experience that resides within the act of Baptism.

When we have a church body baptizing individuals as a means of helping one to fit in
or as a technicality…then I know we as Christians are indeed treading in a strange land.

And here is the dilemma for the Church of England.
A state Church wedded to a state that hates Christian virtue and Christian ethics;
a state that has begun to criminalise Christian witness as hate speech,
where police arrest street preachers and have them thrown in prison at the push of
a SJW’s phone button;
a state that has begun preparations to remove children from their Christian homes
if social workers detect what they improperly label ‘homophobia’ in the parents;
a state where Christian teachers are expelled and sacked if they do not endorse
the secular brainwashing on the fluidity of gender.

Meghan Markle, Justin Welby & The Use And Abuse Of Baptism.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men,
who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
For what can be known about God is plain to them,
because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes,
namely, his eternal power and divine nature,
have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,
in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

Romans 1:18-20


“Intelligence and love are not in separate compartments:
love is rich in intelligence and intelligence is full of love.”

Pope Benedict XVI, Charity in Truth: Caritas in Veritate

(a modern day icon depicting Saints Benedict and his sister Scholastica)

Ok so if the truth be told, I have about 6 or so posts in the making just sitting in
the draft pile waiting for expansion and or completion.
Much like the pile of books that I keep accumulating…
the must-reads that must be prioritized…
add a heavy and liberal dose of life…
and thus so many good things are simply left hanging and or waiting…

But as I am a strong believer in the power of the Holy Spirit,
there will always be a good nudging or even a shove into the direction I need to go.

So since today (yesterday for those reading this as intended on Sunday)
February 10th is the feast day of St Scholastica.

“Who??” you’re probably asking…
We’ll get to her in a minute.

Sometimes I am so tired or weary when putting the finishing touches on a post
that in my strained eyed state, I’ll push publish rather than preview well before it’s time…
In turn, sending myself into a fit of near hysteria as I try to undo what I have
erroneously done lest anyone pop onto a half-finished and more ill edited post
than they should.

Add to my posting troubles that my favorite clerics,
all who oddly are each located on the Isle of Great Britain…
those being that delightfully rouge Anglican Bishop, that no-fuss,
no holds barred free Presbyterian Pastor and that rather conservative Orthodox Australian
Catholic monk stuck in the middle of the UK…
each has been serving up more than the ample plate of refreshing and deeply
heartening truths—all of which is making me run around like some sort of chicken
with my head cut off as I’m finding myself hard pressed just trying to keep up—
Trying to discern and pick what I must in turn digest and later share…

Father, or rather Dom, Hugh offers a most intriguing Latin-based themed post entitled
Contemplatio, Consideratio & Caritas—
or for us laymen, contemplation, consideration, and love, or charity,
whichever word you’d like to use.

Fr Hugh focuses in on St Benedict of Nursia and Benedict’s sister St Scholastica,
along with the power of prayer and what is the true nature of our actions and prayers.

St Benedict is considered to be the father of Western Monasticism and is the patron
Saint of Europe. A saint whose current job,
I would suspect, is quite busy given the growing secularism sweeping
across Europe but that’s a post for another day…
like I say, waiting in the queue.

This saintly brother-sister duo was born and raised in Itlay,
in what is modern-day Norcia, sometime
in the 5th century. Some historians believe the two had been twins,
others merely note them being merely brother and sister.

Benedict is probably best known for his Rule of Benedict.
A playbook of how to live…in a monastery….
but whereas it is most a relevant and practical book for those living a cloistered life,
it is also a book most relevant for those of us outside of the monastery.

This little book is still in huge demand and is widely read today.
In fact, many businesses have adopted Benedict’s Rule as part of a guiding
and directional tool for their employees.

The good Father relays the teaching found in the homily offered on the feast day
of St Scholastica during their morning mass.
Where the notion of Contemplatio, Consideratio & Caritas was put before the gathered monks.

The abbot offering the homily tries to explain the balance between body and soul,
prayer and our often misguided practicalities…

“Put another way, it is to apply the primacy of love to any situation;
not the schmaltzy love favoured in muzak, but the love of God and of our neighbour
as ourselves, seen in one harmonious whole.
A good example would be Our Lord’s healing on the Sabbath:
he did not devalue the sabbath but put it in a proper sense of proportion,
as being made for man not man for it.

The abbot shared a story about Benedict’s sister the nun coming for a visit to
her brother the monk.
Her brother met her at the gate. Benedict and a few of the brothers left the
walls of the monastery in order to visit and share a meal with Scholastica.

Scholastica was keen to spend the day with Benedict and his brothers,
sharing stories about God’s power and grace.

As evening fell, Benedict told his sister that he and his fellow brothers
needed to be getting back to their abbey as she must hers.
She implored him to stay that they still had much to share.
But he insisted that he must leave her.
At this point, Scholastica took her brother’s hands within her own and began to
earnestly beseech God to impress upon her brother the importance that he should stay,
even throughout the night, in order that they may share in God’s good word.

And so a storm suddenly ensued.
Benedict reprimands his sister “What have you done?”.
Scholastica replied, “I asked you and you would not listen;
so I asked my God and he did listen.
So now go off, if you can, leave me and return to your monastery.”
The storm was beating down too hard for Benedict or his companions to return to
his monastery, and they spent the night in discussion.”


The storm had made it impossible for Benedict to take his leave back to the
abbey and in turn, he had to spend the remainder of the evening in his sister’s
company discussing God’s glory and wonderment.

Benedict felt that the rules of his order, that he and the others were bound to follow,
that their return to the abbey was far more important
then talking about God all night long with his sister.

Finally, as daylight arrived and the storm had abated, Scholastica bid her brother farewell
as they each retreated and made their individual ways back to their respective abbeys.

Three days later Scholastica died, and Benedict had a vision of Scholastica’s soul
ascending to heaven in the form of a dove.
He sent his fellow monks to retrieve her body to his monastery and they laid it
in his own tomb.
She died about the year 543.
Her feast day is February 10th.


Benedict later reflected that because his sister “loved” more in her prayer of pure
earnestness, her will prevailed over his idealism of practicality.
Think Martha and Mary.
For her prayer that night was one of the pureness of charity and of a deep abiding love
as she most likely realized that her time death was imminent—
and that to spend what time was remaining together was most important.

Dom Hugh notes that “if we truly have charity for even those who disagree with us,
who peddle a line that reeks of error,
then we will achieve far more by persuasion than intimidation.
The achievement might come in God’s good time rather than our own,
a salutary reminder that instant gratification is not of the Gospel.
A sense of proportion, a healthy discretion, will keep us to this way.
It is all there in the Tradition.

It is interesting to note that when dealing with sinners Jesus was mildness itself.
His more strident tone was reserved for those who should have known better
or thought they knew better.

Caritas indeed.

Contemplatio, consideratio & caritas

A bookstore, a war and a reunion….

“Be swift as a gazelle and strong as a lion to do the will of God in Heaven.”
(as seen on the ex libris of a book looted by the Nazi’s, a reference to
a line form the Mishnah, the Jewish redaction of oral traditions:
Andres Rydell The Book Thieves)

(the interior of a book store in Padova, Italy (Padua) / Julie Cook / 2007)

Today’s tale began many years ago, when my aunt and I found ourselves wandering
and weaving up and down the snake-like alley streets twisting through the old historic district of Padua, Italy…
better known to the Italians as Padova.

We were actually en route from Milan to Florence and opted to stop over for 3 days
in order to explore this deeply rich historical city.
And it just so happened that during our stay, during this particular mid June,
it was the height of the city’s yearly commemoration of Saint Anthony.

Padua is home to the Basilica Pontificia di Sant’Antonio di Padova, or the Pontifical Basilica of St. Anthony of Padua—a massive and beautiful church built to honor the Portuguese born saint who settled in Italy, making Padua his adopted home.
The building of the basilica was begun  in 1232, a year following Saint Anthony’s
death, and was finally completed in 1310—with modifications taking place in both
the 14th and 15th centuries.

It was a wonderful experience being a part of such a festive atmosphere, as
thousands of Catholics worldwide flock to this small Northern Italian town for
the June 13th feast day—
The city goes all out to make a colorfully vibrant yet equally respectfully spiritual
time for the thousands of pilgrims and tourists who flock to this city just south of Venice.

There are parades where the various ancient guilds are dressed in period costume as children, nuns, priests, monks and lay people march solemnly through the
narrow ancient streets all carrying flags as residents drape banners from their windows.

Yet Padua is more than just a spiritual hub, it is also very much of an intellectual
hub as it is home to the University of Padua, one of Europe’s oldest universities,
having been founded in 1222.
It is here where Galileo Galilei spent 18 years, of what he has described as being
the happiest years of his life, while he was the head of the Mathematics Department…
teaching, studying, lecturing and writing.

Italy, so rich in history, also happens to have a wonderful history with
paper making as well as bookmaking.
And Padua has its fair share of both fascinating and beautifully rich paper
as well as book shops–shops selling books, antique lithographs and rare prints.

It is said that after Spain, Italy is where paper making actually had its start.
It was most likely introduced to southern Italy by the Arabs who had in turn first
learned the craft from the Chinese.
Arab influence, particularly in architecture, can still be seen in and around the
Veneto region.

So it was during our visit, as we were wandering about one evening following supper,
that we saw the book store I’ve included in today’s post. The store was closed for the night and as we were going to have to be at the train station bright and early the following morning, I knew I would only get to visit this store by pressing my nose
to the window.

All these many years later, I still think about that store.

It had a wealth of what I surmised to be rare antique and ancient books.
Books, despite the language barrier, beckoned for my further investigation.
I would have easily considered giving up my train ticket to Florence just to be able
to wander in, dig and explore….
but it would take years for me to actually understand the draw as to what I would
be digging and looking for….
And as Life so often has her way, time has simply afforded for my wistful musing of
what might have been.

Having finally finished reading The Book Thieves by Anders Rydell,
the image of that book store in Padua has drawn me back time and time again
as I made my way through Rydell’s book. There is a very strong pull to go back
to look, to seek and to wonder.

There are not words nor adjectives enough for me to do justice to the meticulous story
Rydell lays out as he recounts the Nazi’s scrupulous, maniacal and highly
calculated quest to en masse the books of the all of Europe and Russia with
a keen penchant for those of the Jews.
Not only did they attempt to eradicate an entire race of people, they wanted
to hold, own and control the entire literary word of man—
particularly that of religion, science and history.
As they saw themselves as the new keepers of the history of humankind.

Millions and millions of books, both precious and random were taken…as myriads
are now lost or destroyed for all of time.

The Nazis had a detailed system for categorizing the stolen books.
And many of the books that are now scattered across the globe…
be they in large University libraries or small college collections,
to the random bookshop or second hand store—
many of those books still bare the labels of the Nazi’s numerical filing system.

The long arduous journey of Rydell’s very sad, horrific and overwhelming tale ends
in England with his actually reuniting a granddaughter, Christine Ellse, with a lone
little random book that had belonged to her grandfather–
a man she had never known personally but knew he had died in Auschwitz.
There were never any photographs, no sounds, no memories of a the man
this now grown woman so longed to know.

“Although I’m a Christian I have always felt very Jewish.
I’ve never been able to talk about the Holocaust without crying.
I feel so connected to all of this,” says Ellse,
opening the book and turning the pages for a while before she goes on.

“I’m very grateful for this book, because…I know my English grandparents
on my mother’s side.
They lived and then they died.
It was normal, not having any grandparents on your father’s side.
Many people didn’t, but there was something abnormal about this.
I didn’t even have a photograph of them.
There was a hole there, an emotional vacuum, if you see what I mean.
There was always something hanging midair, something unexpressed,”
Ellse says, squeezing the book.

“You know, my father never spoke about this.
About the past, the war.
But my aunt talked about it endlessly, all the time.
She was the eldest of the siblings, so she was also the most ‘German’ of them.
She coped with it by talking;
my father coped with it by staying silent about it.
I knew already when I was small that something horrible had happened.
I knew my grandparents had died in the war.
Then I found out they’d been gassed, but when you’re a child you don’t
know what that means.
It’s just a story—you don’t understand it.
Then I learned they’d died at Auschwitz. Only after I grew up did I begin to understand and get a grip on it.
It was very difficult when I found out they’d been murdered just ten days
before the gas chambers were shut down.
It was agonizing.
I imagine myself sitting on that train, experiencing the cold and the hunger.
And then straight into the gas chambers.
I’ve never able to get over it.”

Historian Patricia Kennedy Grimstead, a woman with a mission to see that war plunder is eventually reunited with families, notes that “millions of trophy books–although no one can say how many there are—will remain as ‘prisoners of war,”
Today, in Russia, there is no willingness to return books to the countries or families
that were plundered. But we still have to know what books are still represented there
from Europe’s cultural inheritance, a monument to the libraries that were destroyed
and scattered as a consequence of the most terrible war in human history.”

And so my mind wanders now back to that bookstore in Padua—
what book, if any, was there that had once been someone’s personal book
before madness took it away…
a book I now wish I could have found, in order to have brought it back home
to its rightful family.

The Lord will afflict you with madness, blindness and confusion of mind.
At midday you will grope about like a blind person in the dark.
You will be unsuccessful in everything you do;
day after day you will be oppressed and robbed, with no one to rescue you….

All these curses will come on you.
They will pursue you and overtake you until you are destroyed,
because you did not obey the Lord your God and observe the commands
and decrees he gave you.
They will be a sign and a wonder to you and your descendants forever.
Because you did not serve the Lord your God joyfully and gladly
in the time of prosperity, therefore in hunger and thirst,
in nakedness and dire poverty,
you will serve the enemies the Lord sends against you.
He will put an iron yoke on your neck until he has destroyed you.

Deuteronomy 28:28-29, 45-48

who doesn’t love a good mystery, but does it really matter….

“History is much more the product of chaos than of conspiracy”
―Zbigniew Brzeziński

Whenever you’re faced with an explanation of what’s going on in Washington,
the choice between incompetence and conspiracy,
always choose incompetence.

Charles Krauthammer

(vintage wartime child’s lead figure of General Montgomery with a leash around the
Führer’s neck/Julie Cook 2017)

Ever so many years, those various agencies and governmental offices in charge of all
things covert and of all things hidden begin to release aged documents…
declassifying that which was once considered “top secret.”
As somehow time works her magic and renders that which was held sacred
as to now being considered ‘non est dignum’, or no longer of worth.

The most recent and tantalizing declassification has been the Kennedy files.

Ever since that fateful November Dallas day when a young president was gunned down,
mystery and intrigue swirled in the wake of a Nation’s grief.

Did Oswald or didn’t Oswald act alone?
Was it the Soviets?
The KGB?
The Mob?
The CIA?
Jimmy Hoffa?
The Republicans
The Protestants….

On and on goes the swirling madness of whodunit, what ifs and conspiracy…
all of which plays out in the vivid human imagination.

And just this very day, I caught an interesting little questionable news worthy
tidbit…of another story of declassification and some old CIA dossiers…

It seems that as late as 1955, ten years following the fall of the German Reich,
the CIA was chasing credible leads that Hitler was actually alive and maybe
not so well, living first in Colombia, then moving on the Argentina.

Our history tells us that as the Russians stormed into Berlin, Hitler,
along with his long time companion and most recent bride of one day Eva Braun,
hunkered down in an underground Berlin bunker digesting cyanid capsules with Hitler
then making certain things would end by shooting himself in the head.

According to Wikipedia…
In accordance with Hitler’s prior instructions, that afternoon their remains were carried up the stairs through the bunker’s emergency exit, doused in petrol, and set alight in the Reich Chancellery garden outside the bunker. Records in the Soviet archives show that their burnt remains were recovered and interred in successive locations until 1970, when they were again exhumed, cremated, and the ashes scattered.

Accounts differ as to the cause of death; one version stated that he died by poison only and another view claimed he died by a self-inflicted gunshot while biting down on a cyanide capsule. Contemporary historians have rejected these accounts as being either Soviet propaganda or an attempted compromise in order to reconcile the different conclusions.
One eyewitness stated that Hitler’s corpse showed signs of having been shot through the mouth, but this has been proven unlikely. There is also controversy regarding the authenticity of skull and jaw fragments that were recovered.
In 2009, American researchers performed DNA tests on a skull that Soviet officials had long believed to be that of Hitler. The tests and examination revealed that the skull was actually that of a woman less than 40 years old. The recovered jaw fragments were not tested

When the Soviet soldiers advanced on Berlin, they were like a pack of wild
hungry and exhausted dogs—their enthusiasm for having crushed their mortal enemy would border on delirium.

Sections of their soot scrawled graffiti, along with holes made by grenades,
still remain on display in the rebuilt German Reichstag.

I find it hard to imagine that as triumphant as those Soviet soldiers were feeling
as they marched upon that city and finding the remains of Hitler, they would
somehow temper their enthusiasm for a hasty and impromptu burial as if some sort
of common sense suddenly prevailed and they found it important to hide the remains of madness lest any sort of shrine would eventually emerge.

I would think rather that there would be pictures taken, as soldiers would in macabre fashion, parade the now deceased and desecrated remains as some sort of trophy
and confirmation of victory….rather than the tale that the Soviets ferried off the remains, sealing them away.
This as we recall how the Italians who, finally rid of Mussolini, strung his body up
in the Piazzale Loreto for public display and desecration…
why would we expect the Soviet soldiers to show any more restraint?

So without a body, our imaginations have been left to wander and wonder all
these many years…

But what of it?

What does it matter all these many years later knowing that Hitler, who would now
be long dead, had run away?
Should we be surprised that a maniacal lunatic who was already cowering in a fortified bunker, wouldn’t consider escape? Would he be so daring enough of a coward to
have actually committed suicide or would he have run and hid if given the opportunity?

What of a president who was shot to death as our democracy played on…

Does some sort of new hidden truth change our lives or change our fate or the fate
of those gone before us?

The German Reich was over, the war soon ending with two bombs being dropped on Japan…
A president was dead as a vice president was sworn in as an assassin was soon
gunned down himself.

Our lives went forward as history turned another page.

And so man, with his most vivid imagination, races forward….
or races backward depending on who you ask.

Was the landing on the moon real?
What happens when you play a Beatles album in reverse?
Did the Holocaust really happen?
Was Jack the Ripper the Queen’s own physician?
Was it a Hillary body double?

On and on goes the often ludicrous speculations of what was, what could be
and what might have been…

But one thing remains certain…
That there is only one Truth that matters.
One Truth that stands the test of time.
One Truth that speaks to each of us consistently.

As C.S. Lewis again reminds us about the greatest
‘what if’ posed by man when he ponders the actuality that Jesus was who He claimed
to be…that of the Son of God as well as our risen Savior…..

“…He would either be a lunatic —
on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg —
or else he would be the Devil of Hell.

You must make your choice.
Either this man was, and is, the Son of God,
or else a madman or something worse.
You can shut him up for a fool,
you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or
you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God…”

I myself choose to fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God…
as His word is truly the only Word I believe as fact…
man may speculate on everything else in his world, but the one Truth remains…
Jesus Christ is both Lord and Savior….

“You are from below; I am from above.
You are of this world; I am not of this world.
I told you that you would die in your sins;
if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins.”

John 8:23-24



“For in spite of itself any movement that thinks and acts in terms of an
‘ism becomes so involved in reaction against other ‘isms that it
is unwittingly controlled by them. For it then forms its
principles by reaction against them instead of by a comprehensive,
constructive survey of actual needs, problems, and possibilities.”

John Dewey

(a dragonfly readies for take off / Julie Cook / 2017)

In the mid 1930’s there was a very loud and very vocal cry being sounded within the United States..
the voice was sounding the alarm to a rising tide of Communism…
as this rising tide had become a growing cancer on the world’s global stage.

This was at a time just prior to the outright assault of WWII, as war had not
yet been declared…
but Hitler was indeed on the move.

Both Fascism and National Socialism (Nazism in a nutshell) was viewed by most
of Europe, as well as the United States,
as the most serious and fastest growing threat to Western Civilization and
her beloved democracies…

In part because both Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy were within the confines of “Europe”
while Communist Soviet Russia was seen to be more of an eastern threat.
Poland had long served as the lone suffering stalwart blocker in histories past
to invaders, always being the stopgap to regimes set on menacing Europe…
so why should now be any different….

Yet this time Hitler had different plans for Poland and he needed Stalin’s help.

There was however a grim opinion held by a handful of visionary souls that it was
actually Communism which was to be considered the far more sinister sleeping beast.
These hardy and farsighted souls began to formulate a battle cry.

Joseph Stalin had come to power in the Soviet Union in 1929.
Cold, calculating and menacing…a terror the world would not soon forget.
Promoting and spreading the Communist ideal was a top priority.
A totalitarianism manifesto which would eventually dominate the world…if he and others
were to have their way.
Seeds were planted deeply into the various “western” democracies where the grounds were
ripe and fertile as the State would be seen as the
both the new god and guardian of the people…

It would be just a short ten years following his rise to power that in 1939
a toxic union would form between Hitler and Stalin.
A union that barley lasted 2 short years…that was…
once Hitler had decided his need of Stalin was no longer beneficial…
as he merely beat Stalin to the divorce.

And yet we must back up a few years.

Around 1934 Pope Pius XI, along with his top aide Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli
(later Pope Pius XII),
had a meeting with a certain American Catholic Bishop.
His name was Fulton Sheen and his was a bigger than life persona.
He was a dynamic and charismatic personality who was known as both a top
notch educator as well as notable orator.
Sheen was widely popular in the United States with both Catholic and non Catholics alike.
The Pope knew a catalyst when he saw one.

Calling Sheen to Rome, the Pope told the Bishop that he wanted him to study the works
of Karl Marx in order that he could better understand the terrible threat Communism
was to be against not only Christianity but to the betterment of mankind.
The Pope trusted this young vibrant servant of Christ with defending the faith
as well as guarding the dignity of all human life against the growing scourge
of Communism.

Shortly after returning to the States, Sheen addressed the faithful.

“They have thrown down the gauntlet to the world.
The voice is either brotherhood in Christ or comradeship in anti-Christ.
There is no alternative.
If the one does not regin the other will.
They will have chosen the comradeship in anti-Christ —
they can devour anything that is not brotherhood in Christ.
Communism was inspired not by the sprit of Christ but by the spirit of the serpent…
The Mystical Body of the Anti-Christ”

He predicted that neither ‘New Deals [n]or fascism’ would stop communism because they
could not ‘summon’ forth sufficent zeal and fervor.’
They lacked communists’ absolute devotion to their religion”

(excerpt from A Pope and A President / Paul Kengor)

So as we now stand on the landscape of this 21st century…
far removed from the horrors of WWII and it’s battle between the good and evil,
freedom or enslavement…and even decades from that most famous command heard
round the world…
“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”
we must ask ourselves…how different are our times?

Are we not living in what many now call a post Christian society where secularism
and political activism have both risen to the forefront as the new religions?
Have we not merely traded one form of ism for another..that of progressivism, liberalism,
socialism, and even the counter nationalism…

May we each recall the wisdom offered during those previous dark days….

“The anti-God regime is always the anti-human regime”
Bishop Fulton Sheen

heads of serpents

“The final battle between the Lord and the kingdom of Satan will be about marriage
and the family.
Do not be afraid,
because anyone who works for the sanctity of marriage and the family will
always be fought and opposed in every way,
because this is the decisive issue.
However, Our Lady has already crushed his head.”

Sister Lucia

(Madonna and Child with St Anne / Caravaggio / 1605-1606 / Galleria Borghese, Rome)

Caravaggio was a masterful late Renaissance painter who seems to have been able to
capture the overwhelming importance of certain biblical moments with merely the tip
of a brush.
He mixed both arrangement, size, light and proportion to make both impressive,
as well as tremendous, visual impacts.

Yet for many art historians, this particular painting is not considered one of his better works.
However workmanship aside, the visual representation based on the verse from Genesis 3:15,

I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your seed and her seed;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”

is indeed a powerful painted statement none the less.

A little history behind the painting, taken from the site Caravaggio.org

The Madonna and Child with Saint Anne was painted between 1605 and 8 April 1606,
when a final payment to Caravaggio was recorded,
for the Confraternity of Sant’ Anna dei Palafrenieri, or Grooms, of the Vatican Palace.
The composition depicts Christ and the Virgin treading simultaneously on the serpent of heresy,
watched by the Virgin’s mother, St. Anne, who was the patron saint of the Palafrenieri.
It was an unusual although topical theme based on an ambiguous biblical passage, Genesis 3:15,
which does not make it clear whether it was Eve, the antetype of Mary, the ‘New Eve’,
or her offspring who was meant to strike at the serpent’s head.
What started as a theological dispute became caught up in the wider debate between
Roman Catholicism and Protestantism,
with the Protestants not unnaturally arguing in favour of the offspring and, hence, Christ.
The issue was resolved on the Roman Catholic side, however, with commendable textual accuracy,
not to say religious tact,
by a Bull of Pius V which ruled that ‘the Virgin crushed the head of the serpent
with the aid of him to whom she had given birth.’
It is this interpretation which Caravaggio followed, possibly basing himself on a
slightly earlier picture by the Milanese artist Figino.

Yet Papal Bulls, Reformations and denominations aside…
Today’s faithful know that the head of the serpent was indeed crushed following that fateful
Friday afternoon outside of the walls of the old city of Jerusalem.
And if the truth be told, the vice hold on the head began that lone starry night
in Bethlehem 33 years prior.

The quote from above is offered by Sister Lucia, the oldest of the three shepherd children
who, while tending their sheep in Fatima, Portugal in 1917, were visited by a strange yet
lovely lady.

And yet it matters not where you are on your Christian journey as to whether you
take stock in the tale of the shepherd children or of the tale of the miraculous..
Just as it matters not as to whether you believe that there was indeed such a heavenly
encounter now 100 years passed…
The important thing here however is to understand that wisdom and warning both
come to us in a myriad of fashions.

There are many in today’s world, both believers and ardent non believers,
who wonder and even argue that those tales of miracles and those outspoken prophets of
the bible are found only there…
in between the pages of ancient texts…
and that our world has not been privy to such powerful and outspoken voices, with such
names as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Moses, John, Peter, Paul and that we have not witnessed such
miraculous examples as to partings of seas, or to the raising of dead bodies,
or to waters that turn either to blood or wine…
but if truth be told,
both believers and non believers, yearn for that very thing.

It is a yearning for the tangible being found in the miraculous of that of the intangible.

Our current time is precarious at best…
Where persecution of the faithful becomes seemingly more elusive yet more sinister….
as it is an intellectual and spiritual suffocation.

While that which was once overt is no longer clearly visible but rather is now veiled in
the gossamer shadows of confusion.
It is a place where the notions of acceptance and approval pervasively reign for that
which is upside down.

What was once accepted as Truth has now been twisted into something other than
as we are being spoon fed a most palatable mix of half truths and lies…
all the while we continue to clamor for bite after tasty bite.

Yet the time has come…
shall the faithful speak up and speak out?

A final battle will eventually ensue..
there have been preparations, when he left us, he made certain we were well equipped.
As he has provided ample opportunities, all of which have been freely offered..
all the while as a holy foot has held the head of the serpent at bay…

So the choice is now clear, either we opt to crush the head of the serpent or
we become his prey…

He who commits sin is of the devil;
for the devil has sinned from the beginning.
The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.
No one born of God commits sin; for God’s nature abides in him,
and he cannot sin because he is born of God.
By this it may be seen who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil:
whoever does not do right is not of God, nor he who does not love his brother.

1 John 3:8-10

A first…or will it be the last?

(the oldest surviving Icon or image of Christ, the Pantocrator / St Catherine’s Monastery, The Sinai Peninsula)

For the first time in 2000 years a Holy Mass for Easter will not have been held in Mosul.

“So what” you shrug…
“Who cares about Mosul?” you ask…
“Isn’t that in Iraq?” you quip…
“Isn’t Iraq Muslim?” you assume…
“Why would there be Easter in a Muslim land?” you espouse…

Well…yes, because for 2000 years there has been a celebration mass for Easter,
as well as Christmas and every other time a mass is to be said,
in what is now considered a Muslim land.

For Christianity has been practiced, as an organized religion, just following the
Resurrection of Christ, in this region of the world for the past 2000 years.

Christianity has been a long protected religious minority under the rulings and regimes
of various sultans, and in more recent times, dictators such as
the likes of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi.

But how can that ever be…as we are left alarmed asking ourselves.

Because various Muslim leaders throughout the ages have in fact protected the
Christian Church within this Muslim land.

Not all of them mind you, but many have….as they have been tolerant.

In 1219, during the 5th Crusade, St Francis traveled from Italy to Egypt
as a Christian ambassador of sorts.
This was a time in which the Holy Roman Empire was fighting Muslims, Jews and heretics
in order to keep Jerusalem free and open to traveling pilgrims wishing
to visit the Holy Land.

But control of the region became a long, deadly and bloody conflict.

There was much stubbornness on both sides as each faction refused to budge in their
dominance of the region.
Countless lives were being lost and this grieved the heart of Francis.

Francis wished to share his faith with these unbelievers and if need be, he was willing
to die a martyr while proclaiming the Gospel to the unsaved.

Francis was opposed to the killings and bloodshed on both sides and had sought the
current pope, Pope Innocent III’s permission to travel to Egypt to meet with then Sultan,
nephew to the Great Kurd leader, Saladin.

Unarmed, history tell us that, Francis was arrested and beaten by the Sultan’s army.
He was eventually taken to the Sultan,
who was intrigued by this man who came wearing a tattered tunic
while carrying no weapons nor a quest for battle, but rather a love and desire
to share the word of God….
that being that Christ died to save sinners and his teaching was that the first shall be last,
the last shall be first and we are to love our enemies.

Francis won over the Sultan’s respect and favor….
And eventually following Francis’s safe return to Italy,
a peace was brokered between the Sultan’s armies and the European forces.
With Jerusalem once again being open to Christian pilgrims with a promise of
safe passage by the Sultan.

Sadly however…history reminds us that peace is a tenuous affair
wherever man is involved…

We know that there were a total of 9 crusades with the final fall of the final Christian
stronghold in Syria in 1291.
The land has been in Muslim control ever since.
And throughout the centuries that control has been both with and without toleration
for the minority people and faiths of Christianity, Judaism
and other minority sects..

But with the recent toppling of dictators such as Hussein and Gaddafi,
the vaccum which was created with their oustings has been filled by something
much more sinister and vile.

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

ISIS is not tolerant.
Not tolerant of even varying sects of Muslims who do not adhere to the Sunni ISIS strict
following of Shia laws.

ISIS is not a single man who one may perhaps find reason with or
in turn topple and remove.
Rather ISIS is a fanatical organization which will not rest until “the infidel” is vanquished.
And they do not care who or what stands in their way…nor how their ends are met.
No one is exempt from their terror..not children, women, the old or in firmed.
They give new meaning to the words barbarism and sadism.

Eliza Griswold, a journalist who recently returned from an extensive study of the region
and of this anomaly of the systematic eradication of Christians and others sects in places
such as Iraq and Syria, was interviewed by FOX News.

Mrs Griswold offers a very sobering account of what she sees as the death throws of the
Christian faith in a part of the world in which Christianity has
existed since its very inception.

She lays out the argument for the need to eliminate ISIS and its spawned fanatical groups
or either humankind will have to live with the stalk reality that entire ethnic groups,
such as the Yazidis, and certain religious peoples and their existence will be gone forever
from a land which is as old as time itself. And not only gone from a region of this planet,
but gone from earthly existence.

And so my question to all of us…
will the knowledge of this eradication be something we can live with…
down in the depths of our human knowledge and understanding…
and within the soul of our consciousness.
will we allow ISIS and all of its tentacles to spread as far as they wish,
eliminating huge swarths of humankind…
that is until we see them on our very doorsteps?

Please read the article, but more importantly watch the 5 minute video clip of the
Griswold interview.