“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

The conundrum

“I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives.”
Leo Tolstoy

“He is fond of enigmas, of conundrums, of hieroglyphics; exhibiting in his solutions of each a degree of acumen which appears to the ordinary apprehension preternatural. His results, brought about by the very soul and essence of method, have, in truth, the whole air of intuition.”
Edgar Allen Poe

(an ancient wall to St Kevin’s Monastery, Glendalough National Park, County Wicklow, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

“We live in dangerous times…”

And yet what individual, throughout the course of humankind, has not waxed the same morose sentiment?
Has not our history on this planet been steeped in danger…albeit it primarily of our own making?

Today is no different than of perilous ages past.

Having read several articles in recent weeks, with the latest being today while perusing the BBC, as well as The Guardian, I have noted with rising alarm the palpable fear amongst many French Jews, most recently of those living in the southern port city of Marseille—France’s 2nd largest city that has the second largest French Jewish population after Paris.

In recent years many of France’s cities have seen a wave of rising violence, with many of the incidents directed toward French Jews. Marseille is the latest city in a long list of cities to witness attacks directed at her Jewish population with the most recent being carried out by a machete wielding 15 year old Kurdish Muslim boy against a male Jewish teacher. The boy, who succeeded in slashing the man’s back and arms, when apprehended lamented his shame in having failed at killing the teacher but was proud of his attempt. A student with good grades and a stable family who had come to France 5 years ago with his family from Turkey proclaimed that he had acted in the name of Allah and IS.

Such recent attacks have prompted French Jewish leaders to issue warnings to those men who choose to wear the traditional kippa, otherwise known as a skullcap. A telltale distinct indication of a more devout Jew.

France lives with the painful memory of the dark days of WWII when a compliant French government agreed to the Nazi “request” of rounding up and deporting her Jewish population–who were to be “interred” at “detention centers” (aka death camps) in Germany and Poland. More than 75,000 Jews were shipped out of France.
Victims of Hitler’s final solution.

It is with both troubled hearts and minds that leading Rabbis are making the request of the hiding of one’s identity as a means of safety and actual survival… as such warnings bring back the traumatic memories of events from those terribly troubling days of the Holocaust.
With insanity seemingly having returned, as once again Jews must hide being jewish.

see the full articles here:

I don’t know whether to be mad and angry or simply resigned and sad.

I know that at times, throughout some of my travels within this world of ours, I have found myself dropping the cross that I wear around my neck, never one to take it off, down into my shirt as to discreetly conceal the fact that I am a Christian as the area I may be finding myself is known for being “hostile” towards Christians.

Yet I question myself as to why do I find it necessary to hide the fact that I am a Christian.
Just as the Marseille Jews now believe it is a matter of safety and survival to hide the fact that they are indeed Jews.

Do I want to live in a world where I have to hide those small things of my faith that speak to my devotion…?
Be it a necklace, a head covering, a skullcap, a prayer rope…

I find it a bit ironic that Muslim women, who by French Law have been banned from wearing the burqa, the full head and face covering, are currently being defiant by wearing them anyway.
When in Paris just shortly after this law went into effect, I can remember almost coming unglued passing Muslim women on the street who were defying the law by blatantly wearing the full covering. Being a stickler for the law, I was mad at the blatant show of defiance and disrespect for the law, as well as the country of France, with the thought that if you want to live by Muslim law, live in a Muslim country.
It should be noted that the law is indeed a safety issue as terrorists, even males, have been known to hide underneath the cloak hiding suicide bombs.

In our western society we are accustomed to seeing the faces of those people who we pass on the street, sit alongside on the tram as well as conduct daily business with. Those who hide their entire face could be hiding so much more than simply adhering to strict Muslim law by not being visible in public.
Muslim women may still cover their heads and bodies, all but their faces.
Yet many continue to take a defiant stance to the law, with oddly little to no repercussions.

Muslim defiance verses Jewish and Christian fear….hummmmm

As a Christian I am keenly aware of my historical relationship to the Jewish people.
My Savior just so happens to have been a very devout Jew who some historians even believe to have been of the more Orthodox branch, a Hasidic Jew.
I for one have never blamed Jews, as some throughout history erroneously have, for having been complicit in Jesus’s death. I find that to be a ridiculous thought as such is clearly steeped in ignorance of the history and time period.

I am also very aware of God’s special bond with the Jewish people. The Jews are indeed God’s chosen as is the land of Israel.
I am merely a child by adoption and Grace.

I am also an ardent believer that God has stated that He will show no favor to those who do not honor his children or the land of their ancestors.

All who rage against you
will surely be ashamed and disgraced;
those who oppose you
will be as nothing and perish.
Though you search for your enemies,
you will not find them.
Those who wage war against you
will be as nothing at all.
For I am the Lord your God
who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear;
I will help you.

Isaiah 41:11-13

I am therefore torn with this whole idea of being bold in one’s faith as opposed to being safe by hiding any visible signs or identification…
Should not my life be a reflection and witness to that very faith?
Wearing a cross around my neck, small and not large and gaudy as has become sadly the fashion trend in the hiphop culture, but rather a small tangible bond, as well as a symbol, of being marked as Christ’s…

Yet I can understand parents worries as they send their children off to school or simply out in public wondering whether or not they will be targeted for wearing the kippa or a cross? Will they be victimized for praying the rosary or reading a bible?

Here in the States there has been the occasional story of the business or governmental agencies that have banned all employees from wearing any religious symbols…a cross or star of David…
Sadly as this country of mine wrestles with itself over separating itself from any reminder of faith…
Where is the honoring in that I wonder…..

Yes, we are sadly living in troubling times and those of us who wish to profess or save our faith are indeed in a bit of a conundrum….

“The lost enjoy forever the horrible freedom they have demanded.”
C.S. Lewis

Backwards and forwards

Nobody gets to live life backward.
Look ahead, that is where your future lies.

Ann Landers

(St Kevin’s Monastery / Gleandalough National Park / County Wicklow / Julie Cook / 2015)

Peering over the top of the rock wall, we stare out over an unfamiliar site.
The who’s, the what’s and the why’s of another day and time.
Names forgotten.
Beginning and ending dates, once so important to those whom the comings and the goings of these particular lives truly mattered, are now nothing more than mere worn numbers.

We live,
we perish,
we mourn,
as the living move forward.

Are we different because of those who now are on the other side of the wall?
Are we better?
Are we worse?
Have we been affected at all?

Their voices may now be silent, yet we hear them whisper…
There are warnings, advice, encouragement and guidance
But only if we stop long enough to listen.

Their’s are regrets, sorrows, as well as lives well lived and loved.
Many, such as those across the wall, are all but long forgotten.
A weathered worn marker, ravaged by time and the elements, once a place
for melancholy recollections, stands now as a lonely sage to an unsuspecting future.

We can look and wonder…
We can imagine what may have been,
as we wonder what might yet be…

The way was paved.
For good or for bad.
There were mistakes…grave and regrettable.
Yet there were also moments of greatness and wonder.

Are we better?
Would they be amazed or would they knowingly shake their heads in disbelief?
Do they know what we don’t…
that we too have a date with destiny…
Yet with but two choices remaining…?

We must choose to yield a stone cold will
Either we choose to set that will to stone…
just like many of those on the other side of the rock wall…

Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.
Romans 6:13

Your light comes…

“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Isaiah 60: 1-3

“God constantly encourages us to trust Him in the dark.”

A. W. Tozer

(a window in the remains of the once great Cathedral at the Rock of Cashel / County Kerry, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

Piercing the darkness, cutting cleanly as a heated knife through butter, a great light shines…lifting the heavy shadowy cloak which has hung heavy across my shoulders all these many years.

(a window in the catacombs of Christ Church / Dublin, Ireland / 2015)

Stooping beneath the murky weight of obscurity my head lifts as narrowed eyes ache to overcome the brightness filtering into the blackened cell of my heart.

It is as if I’ve spent a lifetime clawing and digging my way to this point, breaking the heavy stones that have sealed me in this often self-imposed tomb of indifference and frustration…as the world has labored, continuing to layer stone upon stone.

(Sligo Abby, Sligo, County Sligo, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

The realization and joy of being saved and finally resting in healing Light is exhilarating…
Yet the knowledge that darkness waits…
It will fight to hold on…

(St Kevin’s Monastery / Glendalough, County Wicklow, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015

Riding the highs of Light filled days, basking in the swirling warmth, a nagging question of endurance darts in and out of consciousness like a moth seeking a flame.
Longed to be ignored yet annoying and distracting.
Shadows lengthen as a chill fills the air.
Exuberance has worn itself out as giddy filled days are a fading memory.
Can I hold on?
Will It hold on…to me…?

(Sligo Abbey / County Sligo, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

(Timoleague Friary / County Cork, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.
Revelation 21:23

(St. Kevin’s Monastery / Glendalough, County Wicklow, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

Glendalough, boardwalks and getting lost in Ireland

“Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord:
His going forth is prepared as the morning”

Hosea 6:3

(a stand of beautiful ash trees, Glendalough in the Wicklow National Park / County Wicklow, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

“Walk up to the monastery, take a little look around then head left past the church, going on up to the trail head…take the first right…this will lead you to the boardwalk.
The boardwalk will take you to the upper lake where you’ll be greeted with quite the view—it’ll be about a 20 minute easy walk up then 20 minutes back…”

“Will you be coming with us?”

“No, no, I’ll be right here waiting on you when you get back…
Now off you go…”

Meandering through the tiny pig trails which crisscross through the overgrown knee high grass and brambles, all of which offer any casual observer a sense that a fuzzy patchwork blanket had recently been spread across the land, a seemingly long forgotten cemetery sits frozen in time. This once sacred site, littered with ancient and not so ancient graves, beckon to both pilgrim and tourist to come lose oneself in the mystery of time.

(graves litter the ground of St Kevin’s monastery / Glendalough / Julie Cook / 2015)

Stones worn by rain and time now stand as lonely sentinels to what once was. Many are in disrepair, dangerously listing to either left or right and terribly skewed off balance.
Despite the overcast skies, the honey bees busily buzz around the flowering and ripening blackberries reminding all that life indeed continues even amongst the departed.


(rippening blackberries / Julie Cook / 2015)

After wandering through the long lost stone remnants of the 6th century celtic monastery founded by St Cóemgen or better known to the Anglican speaker as St. Kevin, we made our way to the trail head which, after a short jaunt by the lower lake, would take us gently upward for a spectacular view of the two lakes for which Glendalough is so named.

Walking past the lower lake we are greeted by the serene sight of deer grazing on the opposite side of the lake…and something even more amazing…
a joyous and peaceful silence.
Blessed beautiful peaceful silence.
No planes, no cars, no motorcycles—just the wind rustling through the leaves and the sounds of birds chattering overhead.

(a group of fallow deer grazing / Glendalough / Julie Cook /2015)

Continuing on our way we come upon a fork in the trail. Stopping at a sign which points right for a 1.6 km hike upward along the lower lake or straight for a 1.4 km hike upward through a lush canopied forest…we ponder our choice.

Rationalizing our limited time and desire to see as much as possible, we opt for the best of both worlds…it made perfect sense, or so it seemed–we’d take the path leading into the forest, straight up for the journey upward and hit the boardwalk tail for the decent downward.

A no brainer.

As we began our upward journey, we soon noticed that the terrain was changing. No longer was the walking trail smooth–it was now narrowing and littered with meandering roots and stones. Stumbling a bit and tripping over the roots, we pressed onward.

“I’m not dressed for this. . .” one in our party grouses.

(the beginning of an upward journey / Julie Cook / 2015)

Up and up we wander, suddenly realizing that we’re very much alone, as in the other hikers and tourists seem to be now long gone or have mysteriously disappeared. It’s just the three of us and a vast forest reaching ever upward.


“Isn’t it odd that nobody else is around…?”

“What time is it?”

“Well past the 20 minutes it was suppose to take us to the top”

Now huffing and puffing it appears as if the trail has begun to switchback rather sharply indicating we were heading up quite the mountain trail… oddly we had noticed a sign a bit of a ways back pointing to what must be an abandoned mine…
“Lead mine this way”

“Where’s the lake???” we simultaneously ask

“Where’s the view??

“What’s a lead mine?”

“Where they mine lead, duh”

“Way up here?!”


“I wish I’d brought my bottle of water.”

“It’s well past 20 minutes.”

“Reckon we ought to keep going?”

“He’s going to kill us if we don’t find the lake!”

“Who cares, I’m tired and I don’t have on the right kind of shoes for this.”

“Is that rain I feel?”

“I need to go to the bathroom”

“I think you can pick a tree for that”

“Did anyone bring a Kleenex?”

“I just thought this was a quick little stop to see a lake!”

Ya’ll stay here and I’ll go on up to the next turn to see if there’s any sort of clearing, lake or view. I’ll holler for ya’ll to come on up if I see something, otherwise I’ll come back and we’ll just go back down the way we came.

“Deal” the other two offer in unison as the relief of a brief respite is lost on no one.

Heading up the now very narrow tail, all I can see is switchback after switchback with trees still looming overhead. Certainly nowhere near the top and with nary a view in sight.

Part of me longed to keep going, straight to the top, proper shoes or not, as I’ve lived long enough to know of the sorts of rewards that await those who persevere upward…
yet my two traveling companions were having none of it and were more than ready to head downward…after all this was just our first day on this amazing journey and we’d certainly not built up any sort of traveling stamina just quite yet…and anyway, lunchtime seemed to be calling.

Slowly we began our decent while little by little the trail opened up.
Tiny waterfalls trickled down the hills as lush vegetation greeted us each step of the way

(Glendalough / Julie Cook / 2015)

(Irish clover / Julie Cook / 2015)

Catching a view of the lower lake only added an exclamation point to the moniker “the Emerald Isle, as a delightful peace descended over three weary souls…

(Glendalough / Julie Cook / 2015)

Finally back down to the part of the trail that thankfully looked familiar, we glance the now infamous boardwalk to our left.

“Guess we should have just taken the boardwalk in the first place huh?”

” Oh I don’t know…I think what we’ve seen has been pretty darn great!”

“And doesn’t the air just feel so good? So much cooler and better than home…!”

Finally catching a familiar glimpse of St Kevin’s tower, we breathe a gentle sigh of relief as we can rest knowing the safety of the parking area and our van is happily close at hand.

“I guess we need to confess we missed the boardwalk and the lake…”

“Reckon he’s going to be worried, it’s been like what, two hours since we left…?”

(the remains of St Kevin’s Monastery / Glendalough / Julie Cook / 2015)

“Oh I don’t know, maybe that’s the point…just to let go and to lose ourselves…”

Lose ourselves or not, I’ve still got to go to the bathroom!…”

And thus began a marvelous adventure…or perhaps more aptly put, a marvelous misadventure of a lifetime….

…Time and nature have both joined together, allowing all who traverse this area a rare gift—one does not have to ponder long as to why St. Kevin chose this particular place in which to seekout God—anyone stopping long enough, to simply bask in the peace while listening to the engulfing silence, will actually hear the whispers of a Creator’s magnificent joy. . .

(the grounds of St Kevin’s Monastery / Glendalough / Julie Cook / 2015)

***Glendalough, meaning “the valley of the two lakes” is a beautifully serene area nestled within the Wiclow Mountains National Park, County Wiclow, Ireland. Only about 1 to 2 hours south of Dublin.
Glendalough was home to a once thriving celtic monastic community founded by St Kevin in the 6th century.

A City of Roses, a Polish Museum, and Prisoner 16770

Upon our arrival in Zurich (as part of the “Great Retirement Adventure), and after having eaten chocolate for breakfast (see yesterday’s post Feast and Fellowship), we made our way through the old town, past the glorious open- air market that Zurich is so famous for, down to the waterway and docks. Zurich sits on the northern end of Lake Zurich. We wanted to purchase tickets for the ferry for the following morning. There, on the southern end of this large body of water, was the medieval town of Rapperswill—otherwise known as “the City of Roses”.

Thinking that taking the two-hour Ferry ride would be a delightful way to travel down a beautiful lake with views of the Alps, as well as the surrounding woods and small towns, we purchased 3 tickets. It was to be indeed a perfect way to spend the day but one must be aware of the weather in Zurich. One must know before hand if the weather is to be cooperative, for if the weather is poor, which can often be the case, the 40-minute train ride is the better option (which was going to be our transportation back to Zurich later that afternoon). We were fortunate, as this late September day, was cool but the visibility was good. The ferry has indoor, as well as outdoor seating, an offering of light to heavy refreshments with an extensive menu offering. We opted for the hot chocolate.


Rapperswill translates to “city of Roses”. The city is known for the various rose gardens located throughout town, with the most poignant being located in the center of town. It is here, in the city center, that a small garden of roses has been planted for blind residents and visitors alike. Throughout this particular garden area of roses, there are plaques “written” in brail offering explanations for each of the various types of roses. I think this is a truly thoughtful garden—a sensory offering to those who may share in the beauty, not necessarily by sight, but rather in a more intimate way, by scent.

We arrived in Rapperswill without any real plan. We thought we’d just wander throughout the old historic city center. We couldn’t help but notice a fortress up on a hill and decided we would make our way to this “castle” not knowing exactly what it was that we were seeing or particularly what we were looking for.


We climbed our way up to the top of the hill by way of ancient granite steps. Once at the top, we found a beautiful quiet church, which I understand is actually a Capuchin Monastery that dates from the 15th century.
The interior is colorful with a simple beauty. As the church is open for visitors and worshipers alike, it offers a beautifully quiet place for reflection and prayer. Basking in the ancient altarpieces and art work which adorns this medieval church, I sat in awe and found myself wondering about the ones who had created, not only the art work in a time so foreign to our own, but to those who had the vision of erecting a church on this particular bluff. I thank God for their vision, perseverance and desire to share their joy of their deep Faith.

It was, however, what was across the walkway that captured our attention. A castle.


We made our way through the massive stone arch, following the path up a winding walkway lined with beautiful flowers, plants, and fruit trees (figs in particular). The grounds of this “fortress” are manicured with precision; the greenery of the plants, trees and grass, matching the deep blue sky was a beautiful melding of analogous colors. It is here that visitors are offered beautiful views of the steel blue lake.


Thinking we would take a little tour of this castle, we made our way through the gate into a graveled courtyard. Still thinking this was a castle, we wandered inside looking for someone who could maybe provide us with some information. We spied a small sign on the wall: Museum Polskie w Rapperswilu. Ahhh, the Polish Museum I had read about, but here in this castle?

The castle dates to the 1300’s. The Museum has been housed here since the late 1800’s. We found the little ticket office. The woman at the desk spoke no English, and we spoke neither German nor Polish but she handed me three tickets as I hand her a few euros. She also gave me a beautiful hardbound book, written in Polish, showcasing the Museum, it’s contents and its history. I made an offer of more euros to pay for the book but she shook her head, seems it was part of the visit.

When I think of Poland, I think of Karol Wojtyla– Pope John Paul II and Lech Walesa, these two however were but a very small portion of the massive museum. The “museum” wends its way through the once grand rooms and walkways of this mighty fortress. I imagined what it must have been like living here…the massive stonewalls; the spectacular views of the lake and small town…I bet it would be quite drafty and cold in the winter months. This was however early Autumn; all was still green along with some beautiful tinges of color in the leaves creating the anticipation of how beautiful this place must be when Autumn is in full regalia.

Small windows open up throughout the massive stonewalls, once strategic places for bows and arrows as defense of a town, now offers glimpses of a beautiful church/monastery, lake and surrounding cemetery. The cemetery I must add is probably one of the most beautiful cemeteries I have ever seen. It is manicured to perfection. Each grave is adorned with a cross, different from all of the other grave’s crosses.

The individual graves are mini gardens of wonder. Rose trees, moss, living, well maintained, flowers and plants of every description grace each symmetrical grave. There is not space to speak of between the graves. The cemetery sits on a small terrace of land at the base of the castle overlooking the lake. I liken the cemetery to more of a beautiful garden—not a place of sorrow or forgotten loved ones, but rather a nice place to wander.


As we make our way from room to room within the “museum”, our voices and steps on the wooden floor, echoing throughout the hallways, as we are the only visitors this particular day. There are early historical artifacts, period dress and costumes, tributes to famous Poles such as Madame Curie, who I had forgotten was actually Polish. There is also a good bit of information, photographs and paintings as commemorations to Poland’s strong religious foundation—Christian, Orthodox and Jewish. Antique silver menorahs and Kiddush cups sit on display in shadow boxes. Copies of three of Poland’s most famous images of the Madonna grace a small niche.

As we round a corner, taking a turn into another hallway, we are stopped in our tracks. There standing before us is a gated stone arch leading into what appears to be some sort of tomb, burial chamber, or cell. Two large rock relief angels herald, on trumpets, a sort of greeting or foreboding message to those about to enter into the chamber. There on the far wall of the chamber hangs a bronze sculpted crucified body of Christ, bound in chains, no cross, just hanging on the wall. To the right of the crucified Christ is a barred opening, akin to a small jail cell, into the wall.


We enter slowly, not certain as to what we should expect. The sculptured crucified Christ is very moving. It is large, life size and hauntingly beautiful. As we look to our right of the “cell”, we see a large black and white photograph of a man propped up in the barred opening, along with the immediately recognizable gray stripped pajama like uniform from a concentration camp. There is another smaller black and white photograph of the man in the larger picture, wearing the uniform, looking gaunt and almost ghostly.


Immediately I know who this person is, even though I do not know as much about him as I should. It is Father Maximilian Kolbe. I knew that Father Kolbe had given his life in place of a fellow prisoner’s life while interned at one of the Death Camps during the War (remember the War is always WWII). Father Kolbe was a victim of the Holocaust, even though he was a Catholic priest. I made a mental pledge that once I returned home, I would spend some time investigating and getting to know Father Kolbe a bit better.

Fast forward to today.

Once home I went on line and did my typical searching for information concerning Father Kolbe. I bought a couple of books. I am a huge history nut when it comes to World War II. I will one day write about one of my many heroes of this time, in particular Sir Winston Spencer Churchill. But it was Father Kolbe who was holding my attention at the time—as he still holds my attention today.

Father Kolbe was a Catholic Priest in Poland. He was a Franciscan. He traveled extensively early in his vocational career, founding monasteries in places as far away as Japan and India. Upon Return to Poland he opened another monastery, operated a radio station and printing facility to better distribute the Word of God.
When the Germans invaded Poland, Father Kolbe opened the monastery doors to any and all in need of a safe haven. He took in hundreds of refugees with a large number being Jewish. The Nazis discovered Father Kolbe’s printing facility and demanded that he stop the printing and distributing of his “religious propaganda”.

Eventually Father Kolbe was arrested. Thousands of Catholic priests were arrested or out right murdered, along with the thousands of Jews, mentally disabled and physically handicapped from Poland. Father Kolbe was eventually sent to Auschwitz. Where he became known as Prisoner 16770. Because he was both Polish and a priest, this made him a prime target for the wrath of the Nazi guards. He was regularly and viscously beaten. He was ordered to carry out physically demanding chores that his frail body found more and more difficult to conduct. He would often collapse from hunger and exhaustion, invoking only more brutal beatings. However Father Kolbe never complained.

In the evenings, when the prisoners would receive whatever food was to be distributed, Father Kolbe would forego his turn, allowing those whom he deemed hungrier then himself, to take his share. At night, Father Kolbe often chose not to lay down and rest, but rather would make his way throughout the barracks offering prayers and consolation to and for his fellow prisoners.

On one particular day that would prove to have historic repercussions in many ways, a prisoner escaped from Father Kolbe’s unit. When the rare incident of an escape took place at Auschwitz, The Nazis retaliated. It was their custom to take 10 lives for each escaped life. It just so happened that this particular escapee had actually died in camp but by the time the Nazis realized, their reprisal taking was too late. And if the truth be known, it would not have mattered, as the Nazis seemed to relish their “eye for an eye”.

The Nazis chose 10 men. One of the men, Francis Gajowniczek, screamed out in painful protest. He became distraught, concerned for his wife and children if he was to be killed. Father Kolbe stepped forward. The Nazi commander asked what “the polish pig” standing before him wanted. Father Kolbe told the commander that he would voluntarily take the place of the other man as the man had a family who needed him and Father Kolbe was a priest who did not have a wife or children. The Commander agreed.

Father Kolbe and the 9 other men were taken to a starvation cell. They were thrown into the cell and left to die. For two weeks the men languished. Many drank their own urine or licked the damp walls. Instead of cries of hunger and death, the guards heard the singing of hymns, the recitation of prayers and the rosary.
Father Kolbe was often seen standing over the other prisoners, offering them his comfort. When he became to weak to stand or pray in earnest, he could be heard whispering prayers.

After the end of two weeks, 4 of the men were still alive. The Nazis needed the cell and had tired of the waiting. They went into the cell to inject the remaining prisoners with deadly carbolic acid. Father Kolbe was the last living prisoner. As the guard approached him, he readily offered his arm for the injection. He died on August 14, 1941. His body was dumped, along with countless others, into the large crematories to be incinerated.

Francis Gajowniczek survived the war. His wife and children did not. He lived the remainder of his life forever grateful to Father Kolbe. His survival and tribute to Father Kolbe is a deeply touching story. I encourage you to read further about this story of sacrifice, death and life. It is simply amazing.

However, it is my fear that those of us living today, in this oh so modern society of excess, will forget the stories of people like Maximilian Kolbe. They will be the old stories of days long gone. Stories whose relevance to our own lives will sound so foreign. We must always remember the sacrifices made for what it is that we all so enjoy to this day and this simply is our freedom.

The freedom we have to take for granted, to have what we want when we want it, to believe or not to believe. Great sacrifices were made for you and I but I doubt many of us even realize that or give such thoughts much concern. But of course the greatest sacrifice is the one we mark during this Lenten period and soon to be Holy week. May we all take time to remember the countless sacrifices made for us, who enjoy a “free” today.

His fellow Pole, Father Karol Wojtyla, better known as Pope John Paul II, canonized Father Kolbe in 1982.