imports and exports

“Jesus, help me to simplify my life by learning what you want me to be,
and becoming that person.”

St. Therese of Lisieux


(a lovely orange bell pepper / Julie Cook / 2018)

Here it is the height of the summer despite many school systems already heading back
for the start of the new school year.

Living down South, in a place where summer’s luscious produce is hitting its zenith, despite
the stores beginning to put out their fall and Thanksgiving goods, I happened to notice
an odd occurrence when stopping by the local grocery store.

I ran in the store in order to pick up a few things the other day and grabbed one
of the colorful bell peppers stacked ever so neatly on the grocery store’s produce shelf.

I usually prefer the red, yellow or orange varieties over the innocuous green ones as
they taste no different but add a splash of color to whatever one is preparing.

Once home, as I was putting away the groceries, I pulled out my bell pepper.
I looked at the tag stuck to the pepper, reading to see if my bell pepper came from
either Florida or California…all the while secretly hoping it would read Georgia.
It’s that time of the season you know here in Georgia—when gardens are now fully bearing
their long-anticipated fruits of a farmers labor.

Yet I am well aware that our Nation’s produce belts lie in our more temperate climate states…
States such as California and Florida…for various fruits and vegetables and places like
Nebraska or Iowa for corn.

However, imagine my surprise when I read that my beautiful bright colored pepper hailed from none
of the aforementioned states but was actually born and raised in Holland.

The last place I think of when I think of something like a bell pepper is Holland…as in this
low land, country is known for several other things besides bell peppers.
Beer yes, peppers no.

If I still had a garden, this is the time when my own peppers were coming into their own.
Would it not make more sense to have a pepper from right here in Georgia…
since this is our time of year for the likes of produce such as peppers???

Instead I picked a pepper, not a peck of peppers mind you, that had to actually come to me
via a cargo container…and yet despite an arduous journey from the land of canals and windmills
over the Atlantic Ocean, a beautiful orange pepper arrives at my grocery store…
looking pretty as the day it was most likely plucked.

Makes me wonder as to how this pepper has stood up so well during its travels from Holland
to my fridge here in Georgia.

And so yes, it may not be convenient for me to trek out to the local farmer’s market–
getting grocery items at the grocery store and produce items at the produce market and then
butcher goods from a local butcher (of which we no longer have in our smaller community)
I just might want to rethink my shopping habits as I would prefer a fresh locally grown
pepper as to this lovely trans Atlantic pepper.

And nothing against Holland nor this beautiful pepper…but I do prefer local when I can find it.

There are things that each country does well—think Chocolate form Belgium, Beer and sausages from Germany, olive oil from Italy, Spain and Greece…along with olives…
think wines from France, Italy, Portugal and yes, California…

We all have something that is indicative to each of our home nations…
products that we do well…and it should be noted that some nations have been
doing what it is they do now for centuries…

But when it comes to summer produce…well, I kind of prefer mine to grown a bit closer to home…
because Heavens knows that here in the South, we are in the height of the season…

Makes me think about my own seasonal worth and productivity…
that of my own exports and imports…

What has God labored over within me that is now ready for harvest…

And once harvested, it’s time to share…

“However great our efforts, we cannot change ourselves.
Only God can get to the bottom of our defects, and our limitations in the field of love;
only he has sufficient mastery over our hearts for that.
If we realize that we will save ourselves a great deal of discouragement and fruitless struggle.
We do not have to become saints by our own power;
we have to learn how to let God make us into saints.
That does not mean, of course, that we don’t have to make any effort…
We should fight, not to attain holiness as a result of our own efforts,
but to let God act in us without our putting up any resistance against him;
we should fight to open ourselves as fully as possible to his grace, which sanctifies us.”

Fr. Jacques Philippe, p. 14-5
An Excerpt From
In the School of the Holy Spirit

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

when man becomes God

“Communism begins where atheism begins.”
“Communism abolishes eternal truths,
it abolishes all religion all morality”

Karl Marx


(a thistle blooming in a meadow / Julie Cook / 2017)

Since his expulsion from his once beautiful and safe garden home,
man has vied to become his own creator, his own director, his own God….
Thinking, no actually more like proclaiming,
that he knows best and simply… that he IS the best…

In yesterday’s post, we read a quote by Sister Lucia—the Carmelite nun who as a child in
1917 along with her two cousins, experienced several Divine encounters with the Virgin Mary.

Over the course of several months, Mary actually shared several prophecies with the children.
With one such prophecy being about the final confrontation between Good and Evil—
or more precisely between Christ and Satan…

“The final battle between the Lord and the reign of Satan will be about marriage and
the family.
Don’t be afraid, because anyone who operates for the sanctity of marriage and the family will
always be contended and opposed in every way,
because this is the decisive issue.
However, Our Lady has already crushed its head.”

(the quote is taken from a letter written by Sister Lucia to Cardinal Carlo Caffarra of Bologna)

The holy sanctity of both marriage and family, it appears,
is to be a lynchpin in that dramatic collision…

And are we not seeing that same “lynchpin” proving to be a divisive issue in our own current times?

I’ve recently started reading a new book, I was more than a little intrigued when
first, from out of the blue, I found that quote by Sister Lucia then later, when reading,
I was broadsided by what appears to be another piece of the puzzle
presented earlier by Sister Lucia….
two vastly different encounters yet now oddly apparently connected.

And as I’ve said before, I don’t believe in happenstance or coincidence.

The book, I initially concluded, was going to be a typically political and historical
book based on two leading world figures..

A Pope and A President
by Paul Kenogor

The book is based on the relationship between Ronald Reagan and John Paull II and
“the extraordinary untold story of the 20th century”

A story I pretty much assumed would center on the work and contribution of both men
in the dismantling of the Soviet Union—the toppling of communism as it were.

I’ve read several previous books showcasing the relationships between Reagan, Thatcher,
Gorbachev and John Paul…each of whom were instrumental in the tearing down of
that infamous wall….

But this book has an unusual beginning, not what I expected…
It begins in Fatima, Portugal 1917…
and intermixes with the death of the Romanov family and the Russian Revolution.

There’s much I feel I already want to share but I’m not even to page 50….
For to digest the book properly, it is a bit of a slow go as I read and re-read certain
passages.

While reading last night I was struck by an incident that had taken place involving the
newly formed Communist Congress spearheaded by Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin and others,
involving the Russian Orthodox Church.

“The Russian Orthodox Church’s long-standing prohibition against divorce was lifted,
leading to an explosion in divorce rates and havoc upon the Russian family.
Lenin made good on his June 1913 promise to secure and “unconditional annulment of all
laws against abortions.
By 1920, abortion was legal and free of charge to Russian women.
The number of abortions skyrocketed to levels still unmatched in human history.”

I no longer find it coincidental that with man attempting to become God, the first thing
he wants to dismantle is marriage…that sacred union as mandated by God.
Because if you are now you’re own god, then why listen to the One claiming to be the same?

And so too the man god, it appears, finds it most natural to throw caution to the wind
while tossing the proverbial baby right out with the bath water…
….cause that’ll work, right?!?

And so we see that man has decided that he has a better idea of how living should work.

Of which has a direct impact on the family unit—
that bond that God deemed to be a Holy unit…
and naturally the man god decided that that too is also utter rubbish….

Thus with the dissolving of what God originally intended marriage to be,
we instead have the erosion of that very sacred union between man and woman…
with a direct resulting decay of, in turn, the essence of humanity….

But obviously that whole notion of a decreed sacred union along with the subsequent family unit
is no longer of importance to the now ruling man god….

Throughout the course of mankind, when man has attempted to usurp control from the
Divine Creator, the consequences have proven to be disastrous…
so why should today’s time be any different.

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife,
and they will become one flesh.

Genesis 2:24

Feast Days and Remembrance

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“Among all things that are lovable, there is one that is more lovable than the rest, and that most lovable of all things is life.”
-St Anthony of Padua

Today, June 13th is the feast day of Saint Anthony of Padua—-Santo Antonio di Padova. Please see my previous post The Bracelet, the Saint and the Mystery for a more in depth story regarding this wonderful Franciscan.

May we all be reminded of the importance of life–all life is precious in the sight of God—no one on the planet is ever “less than” anyone else. I think Mother Teresa so poignantly demonstrated this in her respect for the sick and the dying of Calcutta as she would walk the streets in search of those very individuals forgotten and discarded by mainstream society. Her belief was that all people deserved to be tended to and cared for– allowing for all to die with dignity.

Those individuals who are less fortunate then me and you, those who live on the streets, who call a box home, who wander into food banks in search of something to eat, who lay sick and dying on a park bench—-they are no less important or loved by God, than you or I—as we are all the same. It is merely our clothing, our home, our car, our job, our position… that falsely separates us—the us and the thems—-
and it is but for the Grace of God go I….

Today, on this particular saint’s day of remembrance—a saint claimed by Padova, Italy–born in Lisbon, Portugal who regarded the poor of his day as precious in the sight of God, may we all be mindful of the people we see, or perhaps don’t see, as we go about our daily routines—an act of kindness or remembrance—a helping hand, a donation—is all it may take to make the difference in someone else’s life……

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