chains

A christian martyrdom is never an accident,
for Saints are not made by accident.”

T.S. Eliot

“What Saint has ever won his crown without first contending for it?”
St. Jerome


(The Basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli / the Basilica of St Peter in Chains / Rome, Ialy /
Julie Cook / 2018)

So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.

The night before Herod was to bring him to trial,
Peter was sleeping between two soldiers,
bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance.
Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell.
He struck Peter on the side and woke him up.
“Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.

Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.”
And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him.
Peter followed him out of the prison,
but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening;
he thought he was seeing a vision.
They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city.
It opened for them by itself, and they went through it.
When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him.
(Acts 12:5-10)

The bonds, according to tradition, once held fast the limbs of St. Peter the Apostle
and have been cherished by Christians since the first century.

The story of their veneration first appears in the ancient Acts of Saint Alexander,
an early pope who died as a martyr in AD 115.
As he awaited his own execution, he received a visit from Quirinus,
the nobleman who oversaw the prisons in Rome.
The man’s daughter Balbina was desperately ill,
and he had heard that Pope Alexander had the power to heal her.
She was completely cured when the pope touched her with his chains.
Balbina wanted to kiss the chains in gratitude —
but Alexander instructed her to find the chains of St. Peter and honor them instead.

Balbina became a Christian–and, according to some accounts, a consecrated virgin–
and she arranged for the construction of a shrine for St. Peter’s fetters.
It would be rebuilt and moved and expanded through the centuries.

As Rome’s Christians honored Peter’s chains from the Mamertine,
so the Church in Jerusalem kept his chains from the Herodian prison.
In the fifth century, the Christian empress Eudocia, the wife of Theodosius II,
sent a length of Peter’s Jerusalem chains to St. Leo the Great.
According to tradition, Leo held it beside Peter’s chains from the Mamertine Prison,
and the two miraculously, inseparably fused together.

There are abundant testimonies to the presence of these chains in Rome.
St. Gregory the Great, who reigned as pope from 590 to 604,
was intensely devoted to the relic and often sent small filings as gifts to dignitaries–
to Constantina Augusta, the Byzantine empress; to a bishop named Columbus;
to King Childebert of the Franks; to King Rechared of the Visigoths; and to Theodore,
the court physician at Constantinople.
He would place the filing in a key-shaped reliquary–
the key representing Peter’s authority.
He sent each particle with a prayer
“that what bound [Peter’s] neck for martyrdom, may loose yours from all sins.”

The chains are today exposed for veneration in a gold and glass reliquary in the
Basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli, on Rome’s Oppian Hill,
a church built in the fifth century during the reign of Leo the Great.
(Catholic Education Resource Center)

The Basilica of St Peter’s in Chains is what we consider, by Catholic Chruch standards,
as a minor basilica…meaning it is not one of the four Major Basilicas in Rome…
Rather it is a church of perhaps lesser significance but, in my opinion, it is still
significant none the less.

Say what you will about the Catholic Chruch, there is simply no denying that our roots,
our Christian roots, run deep in and through Rome.
That which had become known as the Latin West Chruch.

In the very dust of this city that is oozing with a vast array of sensory overloads,
rests the shadows of those who went long before us, all helping to create the history
we hold dear to this day.

At the time of Jesus’ birth, life, ministry, and eventual death, Rome was considered to be
the center of all that was and is.

A great and mighty empire who’s arms reached far and wide…even to the obscure
desert outpost of Judea.

The Roman Empire and the life of a Jewish carpenter were on a collision course.

Rome was considered the epicenter of this once mighty Empire…the seat of its government.

Scripture tells us that both Peter and Paul traveled to, preached throughout,
were each imprisoned in and were both eventually executed in this once important
center of all of humankind.

Yet today’s chaotic, trendy, chic and often very dirty city is a far cry from the city
that once “ruled the world.”

Just this past weekend there was a massive citywide protest as demonstrators took to
the streets showing their disdain for Rome’s crumbling infrastructure,
its overflowing trash and the fact that rats and even wild boar now roam this once
orderly city seeking out the overflowing trash.

Decades of inept and governmental corruption has taken its toll of what was once
Imperial Rome

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-46003670

Yet Rome remains a rich treasure trove of our human history.
From art to architecture, from the sacred to the mysterious, Rome offers the curious a
fantastic feast.

The Basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli is but one treat in this Roman feast.

Many people come here not so much to see a box of old chains but rather they wish
to see a masterpiece of marble and craftsmanship–
up close and personal, that of Michelangelo’s Moses.


(all images by Julie Cook, Rome, Italy / 2018)

The statue of Moses is only a part of what was to be the massive tomb for Pope Julius II—
the same pope who had a lifelong love-hate relationship with Michaelangelo

The Pope had charged Michaelangelo to construct a massive tomb to be used after his death.
Yet during the same time, the Pope had commissioned Michaelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel.

As Michaelangelo never considered himself to be a painter but rather a sculptor only, he felt
a deep sense of angst over having to work on such a massive undertaking of painting.

A painting that millions of people now flock yearly to see.

He actually ran away at one point, attempting to escape the demands of the man who history
now attributes to be the pope who brought St Peter’s to the glory that we marvel over today.
The Pope actually sent his soldiers to Florence to retrieve Michaelangelo…
bringing him back to finish his commission, of which they did and Michaelangelo in turn
eventually did.

Fortunately or unfortunately, however, Pope Julius II died before Michaelangelo could finish
the massive tomb. Yet luckily today for both the curious and the tourist,
we may view this lesser monument here in the Basilica.

The statue of Moses is the central figure that draws all attention.
It is a single massive piece of Carrara marble.

Looking closely one sees that Moses has what appears to be horns protruding
from his head. But the horns are due to a mistranslation.

Michelangelo’s Moses is depicted with horns on his head.
He, like so many artists before him, was laboring under a misconception.
This is believed to be because of the mistranslation of the Hebrew Scriptures
into Latin by St Jerome.
Moses is actually described as having “rays of the skin of his face”,
which Jerome in the Vulgate had translated as “horns”.
The mistake in translation is possible because the word “keren”
in the Hebrew language can mean either “radiated (light)” or “grew horns”.

(Rome.Info)

And whereas I will always stand in awe and marvel anytime I have an opportunity to stand
and gaze on a massive piece of marble that a seemingly otherworldly gifted man managed to
coax out an unbelievable miracle of vision and craftsmanship,
it is to the box of chains that held my fascination on this most recent visit.

Those who are jaded or who scoff over the significance afforded to something, that may or
may not be what it claims to be, may certainly be that way and question.

And whereas I cannot say yay or nay as to the authenticity of these chains…
Were these the actual chains that held Peter?
I don’t know if any of us can ever say, and  yet to me,
it is not whether they are or are not what they claim to be which is important
but is to where they direct my thoughts.

They have been on display since the year 115,
roughly 47 years following Peter’s execution in Rome.

I have sat in the Mamertine prison.

Sitting in the dark, on a small ledge, contemplating the fate of those who
were once kept in this underground dungeon.
It is, as it was then, a dark enclosed dungeon..an outcropping that now sits at the
foot of Capitoline Hill. A Christian church now sits atop this prison.

Prisoners were lowered by ropes down into this pit of a prison.
It is the prison said to have once held both Saints, Peter and Paul.

Peter was bound in chains when he held as a prisoner in the Herodian prison
as well as the Mamertine prison.

So as to this miraculous union of two separate sets of chains binding together as one,
again, is beyond my ability to say…

But what I do know is that these mysterious chains draw me back to scripture,
they draw me back to a mighty God who uses simple men and women to do mighty works.

No chain, no boundary, no weight, no limitation exists that can hold our Mighty God.
Small things such as a box full of historical chains are but a physical reminder of this.

Sometimes we need, I need, those physical reminders because my mind, our minds,
are so limited whereas our God is so limitless.

And so as Pope Gregory the Great reminds us…
“that what bound [Peter’s] neck for martyrdom, may loose yours from all sins.”

Amen…

a time of signs

The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him
to show them a sign from heaven.

Matthew 16:1

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death,
and you will be hated by all nations because of me.
At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other,
and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.
Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold,
but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations,
and then the end will come.

Matthew 24:9-14

signposts

Today I found myself once again on the interstate, a place that I am more times then not…
As the sun was headed toward the west, I was finally heading home form Dad’s…
who by the way is hanging on and still in the game….but just barely….
Merging onto the interstate, it suddenly dawns on me that the ratio of big rigs to cars
was not in the favor of the cars.

Some days are like that as I suppose as there are certain days that are considered
more or less “travel days” for those transporters of all things commerce.

Those “travel days” tend to make me a bit more nervous as I don’t especially enjoy
barreling down the interstate sandwiched in-between 5 lanes of tractor trailer
trucks and little ol me….

Focusing on keeping up with the flow while my mind drifts back and forth over to Dad
and to the things I need to be taking care of for them, my eyes and mind begin to focus
on the truck in front of me…
“The World’s most award winning Tequila”

Hummmm…I think I’ve had it in a margarita once….

Changing lanes, as I was working my way over to merge onto the next interstate, I
found myself behind another truck boasting the “2013 Award Winning Whiskey Bourbon, Roses”

Hummmm…I’d never heard of it before…yet found myself wondering if it hails
from Kentucky or Tennessee as only Kentucky whiskeys may be labeled bourbon…

As I exit onto the entrance ramp to the next interstate, I’m precariously passed by
a massive Little Debbie’s truck….

Hummmmm…Now I begin wondering if someone isn’t trying to tell me something…
as in…am I suppose to be heading to the nearest bar or to grab some
not so healthy snack cakes….???

Signs were all over the place it seems…
vying for me to remember, to consider, to seek, to find…????

So as I was finally on the home stretch of highway, eventually taking me home,
the whole notion of signs and their meaning flooded my mind,
shadowed by the significant and current visit taking place in Washington of Israel’s
Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu….

I ruminated over the importance of the renewed support offered by our
new administration to Israel…
and to what that now may means for a nation who returns her support to the chosen
of God….

As some would flippantly quip that it means nothing,
while others would bemoan it just means more trouble,
while still others see great significance being found in this renewed support.

I have always believed in the importance of the United State and her relationship with
the Jewish state…

Yesterday we heard in his greeting to President Trump,
along with those gathered in the East Room,
Prime Minister Netanyahu offering an explanation as to why Jews are called Jews.

“Well, the Chinese are called Chinese because they come from China.
The Japanese are called Japanese because they come from Japan.
Well, Jews are called Jews because they come from Judea.
This is our ancestral homeland.
Jews are not foreign colonialists in Judea.”

The age long quest for the acknowledgement of existence.

Yet that acknowledgement continues being met with resistance…

The Middle East is a vast and formidable land..
It has always been shrouded in mystery, hostility, and suspicion.
With the seeming epicenter to be found in the obscure city of Jerusalem…

A city that is the knot in the bow tying and binding the three
greatest monotheistic religions together…
whether they like it or not…bound they are.
Yet it is a city that has been fractured and divided since its very formation…

The hostilities between Jews and Muslims is age old, dating back most notably to
the time of Abraham.
The Christians are really the upstarts in the mix, having entered the fray 2000
years ago.

So say what you will…
be it coincidence, myth, lore, legend, history, the Divine…or a combination of
each component…
The land of Judea is for the chosen of God…and peace will come…but…..

The prophet Zechariah reminds us with his words:
“Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of drunkenness to all the surrounding peoples,
when they lay siege against Judah and Jerusalem.
And it shall happen in that day that I will make Jerusalem a very heavy stone for all
peoples; all who would heave it away will surely be cut in pieces,
though all nations of the earth are gathered against it” (Zechariah 12:2-3)

It seems that conflict will always be found in this epicenter…
only until such time comes that there is a final
collision between both Light and Darkness….

In Psalm 37 we hear David proclaiming that “the meek shall inherit the earth,
and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace”
(Psalm 37:11).
And in Leviticus we are told, “I will give peace in the land, and you shall
lie down, and none will make you afraid”
(Leviticus 26:6)

We are reminded, told, and shown that there will indeed be a day of peace in
this land that has only known dispute, war, hatred and suspicion.

So until that day of peace and reconciliation is upon us…
It may behoove each of us to consider the signs we are offered as we
look, wonder and wait…..

With Christ—“the Prince of Peace”—ruling the earth,
“there will be no end” to the peace that will envelop our planet (Isaiah 9:6-7).
As Isaiah hopefully noted,
“LORD, You will establish peace for us” (Isaiah 26:12).
And as each individual obeys God, he or she will enjoy peace.
“You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You,
because he trusts in You” (verse 3).

(Life Hope & Truth)

Star of Wonder

O star of wonder, star of night,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect Light.

(refrain from the carol “We Three Kings of Orient Are”

DSCN8711

DSCN8711 3

DSCN8711 2
(three images of the same etched star on an antique weathervane / Julie Cook / 2014)

“Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

Matthew 2:2

Men of science, astronomy, astrology, letters and words, who had studied the heavens, the alignment of the stars and the visible planets, as well as spending countless hours deciphering the venerable manuscripts of days gone by, knew that something seismic was soon set to take place. Something so epic, which was far greater than anything they or any living man had ever seen or studied before, was about to turn the world upside down.

Three very learnéd, dare we say, wise men, most likely from Persia or perhaps even the Far East, were the ancient equivalents of modern day storm chasers. They “saw” that something cosmic and life changing was soon to take place and they wanted more than anything to go directly to the source of this most significant event.
They plotted and planned.
They cross referenced information.
They eventually collaborated and corroborated one another’s findings.
They made educated conclusions.
And the only remaining option was to physically document their findings.

They set out in search of the phenomenon. . .
They most likely traveled individually at first, unaware that others were making the same journey of discovery. Then perhaps along their travels, they eventually meet one another, each in pursuit of the miraculous, welcoming a fellow scholar in search of history.
Each man was determined to “see” with their own eyes the predicted event which they knew, without a doubt, would change life as it was known forever.

They rode for hundreds of miles, day and night, continually looking skyward, checking the alignment of one particular star. It was the brightest of brightest of stars. They also read and reread new and old data, plotted and ciphered over their scrolls and maps, eventually making their way to a far-flung Roman outpost in the province of Judea. They sought out and introduced themselves to the region’s megalomaniac ruler, Herod the Great.

Herod, a man whose only allegiance was to himself, saw in these three foreign wealthy wise kings a potential boon to his greedy power-hungry appetite for they were carrying great wealth as gifts for this prophesied event of which they spoke. Yet as they spoke, it became clear that their vision, their predicted monumental life changing event, was to be but a mere birth.
A birth of a king they proclaimed.
But this was not to be just any king.
This was to be a king of all kings.
Suddenly Herod’s gracious yet sly welcome turned to the defensive as a new threat seemed to be appearing upon his kingdom’s landscape.

He bid these strange foreign kings farewell as they set out on the completion of their journey for they knew that their destination was close at hand. Yet Herod gave instructions for the wise kings to return to his court for a grand celebration following their adventure’s end, as he was anxious to hear all about this newly born king they were to soon meet.

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
Matthew 2:9-12

And so it was, just as predicted, that the heavens foretold and would lead and direct great men of wealth and wisdom to a desert village and a humble barn, in order to witness not a mere birth of a mere baby, but rather they were to witness a cataclysmic event which reverberated throughout the entire universe.

Wise men sought him.
Wise men who knew enough that it was to this King’s throne who they, great men of wealth and wisdom, were to yield and bow down.
As it takes a wise man to know when he has met one who is much greater than himself.