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…

sitting on history’s past and present

Success is not final, failure is not fatal:
it is the courage to continue that counts.

Winston Churchill


(A German band marches through St Peter Port High Street, Guernsey. The island was occupied between June 1940 and May 1945)

Guernsey is a small island located in the southern reaches of the British Channel.
It is located closer to France than England and yet it is a British Island.

During the war, it was occupied by German forces for 5 long years.

I never knew that.

This afternoon, I’ve just gotten in from having gone to the movies…
I can’t tell you the last time I went to the movies…
I don’t think we had cell phones during my last movie outing…that’s how long its been.

And so obviously it had to be something really pretty big to get me back…

And yes, it was.

It was the movie I’d written about several weeks ago…The Darkest Hour.

There we sat in the vast theater with only a handful of other moviegoers on this grey,
dreary and most soggy Georgia day.
We sat poised to watch a film that we actually possessed hindsight over…
in that, we knew how it turned out…
In that, we knew, otherwise currently know, is that the good guys in the end actually win.

But here’s the thing, I don’t really think that those of us who sit on this side of history
can actually comprehend what it was like to sit on that side of history.

How can we?

There is a chasm, a divide that we cannot cross, cannot span…
we cannot live that which was their reality,
just as they could only imagine what would and could possibly be ours.

For them, imagining what our reality would be,
was not what our imagining of what their reality was.
They fretted for us…yet we on the other hand, just know of their eventual victory—
We don’t grasp the overwhelming magnitude of the weight they bore before that victory.

The black and white photographs, the written words, do not pass easily over the chasm of time,
as one might imagine, allowing us to share the adrenaline rush and stress-filled emotional
burdens suffered and bourn by those who went before…

The Darkest Hour did a commendable job offering those of us who possess the gift of
hindsight of that period of history’s successful ending…
offering us a ray of light shed upon the truly unbearable heaviness of the what was
the balance between life and death of Western Civilization.

Today, ‘that which was’ can look almost easy and nearly flawless.

Churchill bore a grave burden, a burden that the still motionless black and white
photographs often camouflage…
a burden of knowing what must be done versus the tightrope of the political dance.

We each owe him a debt of gratitude.

And yet during those dark days of that desperate time in humanity, there are many
souls to whom we today owe our deep gratitude…

Frank Falla is one such soul.

Mr. Falla was a journalist with the BBC who was arrested by the Nazis when they
discovered that he had been covertly sharing information of the German occupation
on his home island of Guernsey.

He was held in Naumburg Prison where he watched fellow prisoners die weekly from torture
and starvation.
A prison where he swapped his food rations for the stub of a pencil just to be able
to record the names of those who had suffered and died—
because he vowed that if he survived, he would not let those who died, do so in vain.

Following the war, Falla worked tirelessly to petition and then achieve
reparations for his reluctant fellow Guernsey prisoners as well as for the families
of those who did not survive.

Falla’s is the story of a quiet unsung hero, whose story has slowly come to light
on what is now a more national stage as his story is currently part of a new exhibition at
London’s Wiener Library–an exhibition about Guernsey’s own “gentle” journalist.

the following link is to the article about his story.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-guernsey-42710086

celebrations

“People of our time are losing the power of celebration.
Instead of celebrating we seek to be amused or entertained.
Celebration is an active state, an act of expressing reverence or appreciation.
To be entertained is a passive state–
it is to receive pleasure afforded by an amusing act or a spectacle….
Celebration is a confrontation,
giving attention to the transcendent meaning of one’s actions.

Abraham Joshua Heschel


(Dad’s cake / Julie Cook / 2017)

Over the years, I’ve read many tales of those who suffered in the death camps
of Nazi Germany.
I also have read a great deal about those who endured exile in the Soviet gulags.
Some of the stories end with liberation while many sadly, or perhaps poetically,
end in liberating death.

One key element that I’ve noticed over and over, that is evident in almost all of the
individual stories of those who endured the horrors of either form of death camp,
is the single element of either anticipatory hope or dejected hopelessness.

Those who chose to hold onto hope, did so in seemingly small, insignificant and almost
unnoticeable measures…

They would simply keep count.

They would count hours, days, weeks, months, years…
the counting of their own particular life’s moments…
Be it birthdays, anniversaries or any of their own personal life’s hurdles or goals…
anything of what life had been outside of the camps to them personally…
They would count and look forward…
forward toward what normal had been….
and holding on to that normal.

Notches were marked on walls, small prayers were silently said as hymns or songs were
privately sung…
As some semblance of recalling and holding onto the marking of these personal moments
could actually keep life sane…
It is what helped those tortured souls hold onto that which was of sanity and routine…
that of life’s normalcy….
all the while as they were being held in the depths of brutal insanity.

There is a bittersweetness found in the holding onto of normalcy during those times
in our lives that are anything but normal.

Those of us who have watched loved ones slowly ebb away due to illness, disease, war, famine,
brutality, paralysis, or any other catastrophic thief understand the importance
of continuing to count.

For if we didn’t count,
if we didn’t hold onto,
if we didn’t hope…even in the face of a seemingly earthly hopelessness…
we would simply succumb to a sorrow so deep, so black and so bitter
that we would be lost to the abyss of utter nothingness…
all of which we would know would equate to utter despair.

One of the hardest bible verses to live out in life is found in the book of James.
(1 James 2….)
We are told to consider it “pure joy” when facing trails.

A seemingly impossible task that many a non-believer throughout time has relished
in taunting the faithful with the sneering
“what kind of loving God would tell you to find joy
in your suffering…other than a maniacally sick puppet master…”

And as it is seemingly impossible to do just that when one’s heart is in the midst of
being torn out of one’s chest….

We continue doing just that….

Because in part we know that what we’ve counted and held onto here in this life,
that which we have considered so dear and so precious…
is but a glimpse of what will be even more so…
once we are liberated and home….

So be we liberated in life or in death…either way…we the faithful…
count our milestones and choose to celebrate…


(this is a really good picture of Dad right now, the other shots look wretched…but there remains
a small twinkle and sly smile in this image)

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,
because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete,
not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God,
who gives generously to all without finding fault,
and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt,
because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.

1 James 2-6

Now is the time

“Whoever does not have the courage to make history,
becomes its poor object.
Let’s do it.”

Alfred Delp

99827001
(Fr. Alfred Delp defending himself in “The People’s Court…the Nazi monkey trial/
January 9, 1945)

“Therefore this year now ending leaves behind it a rich legacy of tasks
and we must seriously consider how to tackle them.
Above all else one thing is necessary…..

Religious minded people must become more devout;
their dedication must be extended and intensified.”

Alfred Delp
Prison Writing

submission

It is, perhaps, one of the hardest struggles of the Christian life to learn this sentence –
“Not unto us,
not unto us,
but unto Thy name be glory.”

– Charles Spurgeon

5a966797f14f6810dda6251e7cb4fe16
(image of Mary, Illuminated Manuscript)

Jesus.
The name of our Lord and of my Order [The Society of Jesus]
shall be the first word I write in the New Year.
The name stands for all the things I desire when I pray, believe and hope;
for inner and outer redemption;
for relaxation of all the selfish tensions and limitations I place
in the way of the free dialogue with God,
all the barriers to voluntary partnership and surrender without reserve:
and for a speedy release from these horrible fetters.
The whole situation is so palpably unjust;
things I have neither done nor even known about are keeping me here in prison. ”

The name Jesus stands also for all that I intended to do in the world,
and still hope to do among mankind. To save, to stand by ready to give immediate help,
to have goodwill towards all men, and to serve them. I still owe much to so many.

And in conclusion the Order, too, is embraced in my invocation of this name–
the Order which has admitted me to its membership.
May it be personified in me.
I have pledged myself to Jesus as his loving comrade and blood-brother.

The Name stands for passionate faith, submission, selfless effort and service.

Excerpt from Fr. Alfred Delp’s diary
January 1, 1945

In 1944, at the time of Father Delp’s arrest and subsequent trial for treason against the Nazi State,
the young Jesuit’s date for his profession of his final vows as a priest had been
indefinitely postponed.
And as Hitler had decreed that no priest was to study for the priesthood,
as he had shuttered all seminaries, Delp’s friends arranged to have a priest, a confrere
with full support of the German Catholic Church, visit Delp while in prison in Berlin.
He would hear Delp’s profession and receive him fully into his order.

The visiting priest, Father Tattenbach,
knew that he had to disguise his visit as merely a sympathetic gesture offered to
a condemned prisoner.
The visit could have no whiff of official Church business as such had been long outlawed.
Nor could he let it be known what the two men were actually doing.
He also feared that the prison guards would be suspicious especially as the vows
were to be made in Latin…
he worried the guards would think that they talking in code while passing secrets.

So Fr Tattenbach explained that he was going to be praying with Fr Delp in Latin
and actually wrote out what he would be saying in German…
yet the guards remained suspicious hovering about as the two men
entered into a sacred, holy and solemn moment in time…
and oddly allowed the two men to conduct their most important “prayer session”…

To be submissive.

It is a word that is growing ever more difficult to act upon as our
society deems the act of submission to be a serious and egregious act of weakness…
Something that is to be scorned, reviled and forbidden.

The negative connotations associated with acts of submission are endless.
Particularly as the militant feminist movement has cast the word into the realm of all things taboo.
As they claim that the very word seethes with all things vile and odious in nature.

Yet throughout this season of Advent,
we are constantly reminded of what complete and utter submission looks like.
It begins in the form of Mary’s selfless, obedient and submissive willingness to play a part in God’s grand plan…
spanning the chasm of time to the Springtime reminder of that same selfless,
obedient and submissive willingness offered freely by her son as he walks from
the start of his life in that obscure stable to his destiny on Golgotha.

And thankfully there remains those few souls among us who make wide their beings…
opening and allowing for the totally emptying of self.
They forgo all aspects of their own wellbeing…
in turn allowing for the betterment of all humankind… at the cost of their own existence.
They act as our polestar.

And just as Father Delp demonstrated,
with hands chained and a noose waiting to be placed around his neck,
submission to the service of God is an act so much greater than any fettered or
tethered limitation imposed by man.

So may we, this season of Advent, learn the importance of submission…
May we be both strong and courageous as we learn to yield our hearts, minds and our very beings
to the will of the One True God…

Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities.
For there is no authority except from God,
and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.

Romans 13:1

News

“I think those are very wrong who say that schoolboys should be encouraged
to read the newspapers.
Nearly all that a boy reads there in his teens will be known
before he is twenty to have been false in emphasis and interpretation,
if not in fact as well, and most of it will have lost all importance.
Most of what he remembers he will therefore have to unlearn;
and he will probably have acquired an incurable taste for vulgarity and sensationalism
and the fatal habit of fluttering from paragraph to paragraph to learn
how an actress has been divorced in California, a train derailed in France,
and quadruplets born in New Zealand.”

C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy

63905_n_21-11-13-22-50-48
(C.S.Lewis busy at his desk / The New York C.S.Lewis Society)

Had I not known that Mr. Lewis had penned these observational words in 1955,
I would have thought they were but a mere reflection of our own current times and condition.

However Mr Lewis may actually have been more soothsayer than mere observer,
as it seems as if our current crisis of all things “news”…fake or real,
is actually what Mr Lewis opines..albeit these 50 years later…
that we have succumbed to believing that our news must smell of the vulgar
and the sensational…
while being heavily accented with that of the unreal, surreal and the fake.

Yet man is so caught up with himself,
spinning about in his tiny world of chaos,
that he has failed to see the real breaking news of the day…
A story that in all truth has the makings of sheer sensationalism, sans the vulgarity.
A story offering both life and death with high stakes drama involved.
A story that is so far beyond us that it seems to be more fiction than fact…

But…that is where the glory is to be found…
in the mere fact that it is a story that seems more impossible then possible…

In 1945, a young Jesuit priest sat in a foreboding jail cell, condemned to death.

Enduring beatings and torture, as he awaited execution, this young priest,
whose hands were shackled both day and night,
began writing profusely about a news story of which he was all too familiar…

One might only imagine that the small dank cell and the overwhelming isolation of
solitary confinement, along with the added weight of certain death hanging over
his head, would diminish any sense or need, let alone excitement or utter joy,
that actually engulfed this young priest who felt compelled to relay this particular news story…
Yet it was to be to the contrary, for the darkness of his current situation only heightened his
sense of wonderment and the urgent burning desire that he share this story at any and all costs.

So each day, with shackled hands, this young priest would write and each day his writings,
one by one,
were secretly smuggled out of the prison.

The news that this young priest felt so compelled to share,
the news which was not of death and passing
but was rather a story of hope and salvation…
is still as relevant and news worthy today as it was during those dark days of 1945…

“The horror of these times would be unendurable unless we kept being
cheered and set upright again by the promises that are spoken.
The angels of annunciation, speaking their message of blessing into the midst of anguish,
scattering their seed of blessing that will one day spring up amid the night,
call us to hope.”

“Let us ask for clear eyes that are able to see God’s messengers of annunciation;
for awakened hearts with the wisdom to hear the words of promise.
Let us ask for faith in the motherly consecration of life as shown in the figure of
the blessed woman of Nazareth.
Let us be patient and wait, wait with Advent readiness for the omen when
it pleases God to appear in our night too, as the fruit and mystery of this time.
And let us ask for the openness and willingness to hear God’s warning messengers
and to conquer life’s wilderness through repentant hearts.”

“Let us then live in today’s Advent, for it is the time of promise.”

web-alfred-delp-ullstein-bild-gettyimages-544308673
(Father Alfred Delp)

Alfred Delp
excerpt:
The Shaking Reality of Advent / 1945
Watch For the Light
Readings for Advent and Christmas
Plough Publishing House.