the power to give…or not

“If you want God to hear your prayers, hear the voice of the poor.
If you wish God to anticipate your wants, provide those of the needy without
waiting for them to ask you.”

St. Thomas of Villanova


(an olive dries on the tree outside of St Peters, Rome, Itlay / Julie Cook / 2018)

“It is undoubtedly true that each of us, men and women, irresponsible and thoughtless as we often are,
hold within our hands the happiness and sorrows of others.
We cannot help it or escape from it.
The power is in us inalienably almost from birth to death—in us,
because we are persons—and we are responsible for the use we make of it.
Indeed, so mysterious is this power that the very presence of a person who does not realize his
responsibility is often the source of the keenest pain of all…
The failure to exercise the power to give happiness to others is not merely negative in its results;
it is the source of the most positive suffering of all.
Thus there is no escape from the responsibility involved in the possession of this power.
Not to use it where it is due is to destroy all happiness. Strange power,
indeed, to be committed to such weak and unworthy hands;
yet there could be but one thing worse: that none could interfere with the joys and sorrows of others.
We might envy their happiness and pity their sorrows, but we could not help them.
It would be a world of isolated individuals wrapped in inviolable selfishness;
each must take care of himself and the world must go its way.”

Fr. Basil W. Maturin, p. 149
An Excerpt from
Christian Self-Mastery

a plethora…

“Well, you just told me that I had a plethora,
and I would just like to know if you know what it means to have a plethora.
I would not like to think that someone would tell someone else he has a plethora,
and then find out that that person has no idea what it means to have a plethora.”

El Guapo (played by Alfonso Arau) from the movie ¡Three Amigos!


(a vast array of tomatoes and vegetables at Campo di Fiori, Rome, Italy / Julie Cook / 2018)

A plethora…an abundance…a profusion…

And that is exactly what I am grateful for…

I am grateful for the abundance of family and friends that I have both here in
my small corner of the blogosphere as well as those in my small corner of this world
in which we live.

Thank you…each of you for stopping in…
for visiting, reading, caring, writing, sharing, loving…
and for making me smile, laugh, cry…as well as think…

Thank you for being my friend…even for those of you who do not see eye to eye
with what I write.

May God’s Grace abundantly bless each of you…
Keeping you safe, happy, warm, dry, well fed, free from harm and at peace…
during not only this Thanksgiving Day but throughout this season of wonderment,
joy and awe.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!!

Oh, and by the way…The Mayor has requested that her closet aides accompany her on a bit of
an excursion during the next couple of days.
Something about wanting to visit the place where she has her earliest family roots
while taking in a bit of serene history…she’s calling it a working holiday…
she can be such a slave driver…but when she says jump, we aides say how high 🙂

Plus… if you read yesterday’s post, I lived through the pumpkin pie making as well.

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

Numbers 6:24-26

She died stringing beans

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Hamlet / William Shakespeare


(tomb in Santa Maria sopra Minerva / Rome, Italy / Julie Cook / 2018)

“After William Shakespeare’s Horatio sees the ghost of Hamlet’s father and
scarcely believes his own eyes, Hamlet tells him that there is more to reality
than he can know or imagine including ghosts.”

So reads a small excerpt I recently came across when flipping through a new book catalog
I’d just received in the mail.
The catalog is from Ignatius Press and the excerpt was part of a brief overview
for a new book release by both college professor and Christian philosopher Peter Kreeft.

I found the Shakespeare piece, the quote from Hamlet, quite telling.

That there is indeed more to this reality of ours…with death being a bit of a doorway…
not so much the ghost thing…as I do believe in a spiritual warfare…but this is
not about that…not today anyway…

But I should confess that every once in a while I do find my thoughts turning to my
own mortality.
Perhaps that’s a bit morbid, but hey, it happens.

I suppose such thoughts increase as one’s age increases.

Since I hit another birthday last week, I suppose such thoughts concerning both
life and death are just typical brain fodder.

You know when you’re actually closer to that magic number that those supposed experts
keep telling us is a typical life expectancy age for a relatively healthy US woman…
well, the reality becomes a bit hard to ignore.

I’ve mentioned before that if you have ever lived through losing, utterly prematurely, a
loved one or perhaps a dear friend due to a catastrophic illness or tragic accident…
you naturally find yourself wondering, more often than others,
‘when might my your own number get called up??’

So yesterday while I found myself standing at the kitchen sink…a sink full of green beans
that needed snapping and stringing before being cooked…my thoughts wandered off course.

And by the way, I don’t know why but I can never find fresh pole beans this time of year…
just those generic string beans now sold in pre-packaged plastic bags all imported from
south Florida or worse…California….anywhooo, I digress.

So there I was mindlessly stringing and snapping a sink full of imported beans as my mind
started wandering.

My thoughts actually got around to the notion of what if I did just suddenly fall out
here at the sink…
what if I dropped dead while stringing these beans…???!!
I suppose they could sadly write my epitaph “She died stringing beans”

But there are certainly worse ways to go.

And in typical fashion for my life, that’s how it will be you know.
It won’t be like something out of the movies but rather it will be
nothing I will have expected or planned on.
Death doesn’t work that way.

With a healthy melding of both humility and hubris, I’ve always thought it will never
be in some sort of glorious heroic sort of finale.
It’ll be more like something stupid or either something plain awful.

Funny how the brain and ego work in tandem when imagining one’s own ending.

Death waits for no man, and if he does, he usually doesn’t wait long…
That quote comes from Markus Zusak, author of The Book Theif (I didn’t care for the book)

So yes, Mr. Zusak is correct, Death doesn’t wait.

And I think we’d all agree that Death, here in our realm, is mostly perceived as
something most tragic and dreaded…
It’s a permanent-seeming sort of separation and, for far too many, it can be
a painfully slow and lingering happening.
And the odd thing is…that when it is long and painful, we then view Death as a blessed
release.
We even note that the one suffering suffers no more.

Yet death is a thought that leaves all of us unsettled…
particularly when we think about our own demise.

Chances are all of us, at one point or another has mused over when, where, how and why…

Yet what we must remember is that in the mind of God, death is more or less liberating.
It’s the cutting of an earthbound tether… as we humans suffer from
a gravitational pull that keeps us grounded… and Heaven knows, we certainly like
our earthly grounding.
But the cutting of the earthly tether allows for a reunion.
A reunion between Creator and created…
it’s just that we don’t always think of it those sorts of terms.
Instead, we dread it or simply see it more as an ending rather than a beginning.

It’s hard to imagine that death is actually an act of ‘freeing’ us.
Yet for me, it tends to be more of a scary thought than not.

For those of us who lay our hearts, our lives, our sins, our hopes at the foot
of the cross…
those of us who die on the Cross with Christ and are in turn risen from the tomb with
Christ Resurrected…death should not be seen as the ending but rather the beginning…
but yet I’ll be the first to admit, it’s a bit scary walking out into that unknown.

So as I was stringing my beans, I quickly realized that our idea of death is not God’s
idea of death…and that in itself alone is a very good thing.

When I recently visited the Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome, I
was taken aback a bit when I saw two separate tombs that actually had the real skulls
of the deceased embedded into the tombs as part of the elaborate construction.

A somewhat creepy reminder of our own mortality.

Just like those catacombs in France and other places scattered around the world…
catacombs with thousands of human bones..those of deceased monks,
elaborately displayed in a macabre reminder that from dust we come and to dust,
we will return.

And so as we prepare to enter into this season of Advent, that season of waiting and
watching…
A time of anticipation, birth and the newness of life…we must be mindful that the
shadow of the Death remains…
it remains not to frighten us but rather to offer us hope.
The Hope of Life which comes through the Ressurection of a life that overcame Death.

A hard concept to wrap our earth bound heads around, but wrap we must because it is in
our dying that we truly have our life…

It remains not as a harbinger but rather as a reminder…harbinger being man’s idea as
Hope is God’s idea…

And thus the reminder being….that Jesus, through His own death, overcame our death,
allowing us to live…to truly live with Him.

Therefore in Christ, we gloriously find birth, life, death and then finally life eternal…
all intertwined.
A gift as it were…with it being the best gift our Heavenly Father could give…
that being a reunited life free of sin or earthly strife…

So tomorrow when I find myself making a pumpkin pie, who knows where my thoughts will
lead me…at least my epitaph won’t read she died stringing beans…
dying while making a pumpkin
pie certainly sounds so much more festive…complete with whipped cream…


(images from The Bascilica of Santa Maria sopa Minerva / Julie Cook / 2018)

pretty much dead middle

“Ignorant people see life as either existence or non-existence,
but wise men see it beyond both existence and non-existence
to something that transcends them both;
this is an observation of the Middle Way.”

Seneca


(Chaple ceiling Museo Delle Cappelle Mediciee ( the De Medici chapel) / Florence, Italy /
Julie Cook / 2018)

For whatever reason, I have always been one who looks up when I go into someplace new.
Especially when traveling and visiting different locations.

When I walk into a massive Cathedral or other historic building…
I have learned that what’s on the ceiling often makes the ceiling more impressive than
what remains at eye level…

And yet so many people miss out as they never bother looking up.

I’ve even been known to look up in elevators wondering why the ceiling is a mirror.


(the elevator to the Luxembourg Parc Hotel in Paris / Julie Cook / 2018)

Early domed temples such as the Roman temple, the Pantheon,
situated in the heart of Rome, whose open oculus continues to capture our imagination,
is an early case in point.

The Pantheon’s opening was not simply left open in order to be some sort of a famous
architectural oddity or simply to allow light to enter into a windowless temple, but was
rather due to the fact that early engineers and builders could not figure out how to actually
enclose such a massive free-standing dome without wooden beam supports..
of which would prevent it from caving in upon itself from the sheer unsupported weight.

Yet the opening was a cool way to follow the sun, follow the time of day,
while watching the rain pour indoors…


(Pantheon oculus / Julie Cook / 2018)

The open niches along the dome’s surface are not only a decorative purpose but rather
work to help solve some of the weight issues.
The decorative openings required less concrete, therefore reducing the weight of the structure.

Yet figuring out how to close the opening was still a conundrum…

That was until the early 1400’s when the artist, designer, and architect Filippo Brunelleschi
was credited with designing the first successful free-standing dome for the Cathedral of Florence,
the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore…
A cathedral that had gone without its roofed dome for over a hundred years as no one could
figure out how to successfully design and execute such a structure without wooden supports.

Services and rainy days did not mix well.


(a viewoncities.com)

Cathedrals and civic buildings all over medieval and gothic Europe have been constructed
with similar massive domes, impressive soaring towers and open barrel vaults complete
with their flying buttresses and ribbed vaults…
impressive engineering feats accomplished by relatively low tech societies.


(vaulted ribbed ceiling of Sainte Suplice, Paris, France / Julie Cook / 2018)


(ribbed vault of Norte Dame Cathedral / Julie Cook / 2018)

Eventually, ceilings would become extensions of their surroundings, lavishly
painted and decorated…
pulling our eyes upward and beyond.


(Chaple ceiling Museo Delle Cappelle Mediciee / Florence, Italy / Julie Cook / 2018)


(Both of these images, with one being a detail, are in the Pantheon in Paris/ Julie Cook / 2018)


(Both of these domed ceilings are found in Les Invalides / Paris, France
/Julie Cook / 2018)


(Santa Maria sopra Minerva/ Rome, Italy / Julie Cook / 2018)


(St Peter’s, The Vatican / Rome, Italy / Julie Cook / 2018)

I’ll be the first to admit that the better pictures of ceilings are usually the ones when
the photographer is able to stand directly underneath the very center…
much like I managed to do for the first image.

Nice, round, equal and symmetrical.

Most of the other shots are taken at angles due to the inability to get smack dab in the middle.
Therefore they just aren’t as visually appealing and just don’t offer that same sense of
dimensional perspective.

And so whereas the middle seems to be a pretty good spot when wanting to look directly upward
while wanting to take a pretty symmetrical photograph, I’m left wondering about the
middle we’ve seemed to have worked ourselves into in this nation of ours.

We’re nearly smack dab center in this ongoing battle of tug of war.
Or so say our last several years of elections.
With this past week’s elections being not much different.

Contrary to what either side wants, prefers or hopes for…
there were no waves…blue or red.

Deplorables came out in similar numbers as their progressively liberal counterparts.

There were no landslides.

No referendums.

Candidates won not by large margins but in some cases, just by a handful of
just enough extra votes.

Several key elections are still, 3 days after the fact, still up in the air…teetering
like a seesaw swaying toward one then swaying back to the other as the numbers are simply
too close to that 50 / 50 mark.

Recounts and runoffs are more common than not.

Candidates are lawyering up, refusing to concede while others are prematurely claiming
victory.

It’s become a messy situation from sea to shining sea.

We are a divided nation almost right down the middle.
Divided and exceedingly divisive.

Yet as to what this middle is and as to why it seems so hate-filled, I am uncertain…

But what I do know is that we are standing almost divided directly in half.

And whereas equally divided usually means equally weighted and balanced…
that is sadly not our case.

I don’t understand that despite our being divided nearly equally half in half…
there is such a growing divide of vehemence and discord.

Our symmetry is woefully skewed.

And so I think I’ll just continue looking upward.
Setting my sights up above.
Still lifting my view heavenward as the view upward seems much better than what’s
currently here at eye level…

“I can see how it might be possible for a man to look down upon the
earth and be an atheist,
but I cannot conceive how he could look up into the heavens and say there is no God.”

Abraham Lincoln

the Holy Spirit is on the move…

“Often, actually very often, God allows his greatest servants,
those who are far advanced in grace,
to make the most humiliating mistakes.
This humbles them in their own eyes and in the eyes of their fellow men.”

St. Louis de Montfort


(detail from an altar’s funerary tomb within the Chruch of Santa Maria sopra Minerva/
Rome, Itlay / Julie Cook / 2018)

On a warm October afternoon as my husband was back in the hotel taking a much
needed and long awaited nap—
I opted to step out into the streets of the madness which is synonymous
with the Eternal city of Roma…
Wandering with a purpose while drinking in both past and present.

Now I will say that ever since I was a wee child,
napping was just something that was never ever on my radar.
Mother would ‘put me down’ for my nap, gently closing the door, as I’d wail in protest…
Once I realized I was pretty much stuck, I would then defiantly stand up on the bed with
little elbows resting on a windowsill as I’d stare out wondering about the world outside.

What was I missing?
I wasn’t sleepy.
Why waste this precious time offered for living by sleeping??

And before all of you nap advocates out there begin to read me the riot act over the
glorious benefits of naps…
with those first protestors being my cats and my husband…
I will simply plead my defense to my odd wiring…
I am simply not a napper.

So on this early October afternoon, I chose not to nap but rather to explore, meandering
the overtly crowded streets near the frenetic sea of tourists milling in and around
the Pantheon in Rome.
And as usual, I found myself drifting off course.
I cut down a side street that gave way to a quieter and much smaller piazza.
The Piazza della Minerva.

Seeking peace amongst the madness.

I quickly realized I was standing outside of the Dominican Chruch of
Santa Maria sopra Minerva, or rather known to English speakers as
Saint Mary above Minerva—
The name is due to the fact that a Christian Chruch was built over an early temple
dedicated to the Egyptian goddess Isis, or rather the Latinized version being
that of Minerva.

Nothing gives me a greater sense of peace when I’m visiting a large frantic historic city
then finding a hidden, off the radar, church…be it big or small…

Ode to the sacred that beckons me to come in…
Coming in to marvel,
to rest,
to wonder
to ponder,
to think,
to pray…

I am drawn in to such places like an iron ball is drawn to a magnet.
With my eyes open wide, usually adjusting to the dim flickering candlelight,
as my head tilts upward, all the while I try to find my balance as I take in the size
and scope of what it is I’ve been drawn in to.

I allow myself to bask in the utter majesty or rest in the pure simplicity of our
Christian roots.

Such was the case in this ancient gothic church constructed in 1320.

I’ll share more about this visit later as there is a beautiful statue of the risen Christ,
flanking the main altar, carved by Michelangelo…along with the beautiful frescoed altar
paintings by Filippino Lippi
(you remember I was an art teacher right??)

I reverently wandered in this cavernous church while the footsteps of both myself
and those who had also come inside..those who were both curious as well as seeking,
echoed throughout the massive sanctuary.

I stopped before each niche and each chapel, studying and soaking in what I saw.
Soaking in the stories, the emotions, the glory, and even the sorrow offered
to those who take the time to look, read, ponder and imagine.

When suddenly I found myself gazing upon what
appeared to be a large collection of various polished white marble statues.

It was actually more like one particular statue that was just one piece of a much larger
carved funerary tomb which held my gaze steadfast.

There were several statues of women and angels.
Large and imposing, they made me feel very small…both physically as well as metaphorically.

One figure, that of a woman who I initially assumed to be Mary, turned her body away from
the viewers, as well as from her fellow statues.

She was covering her face, turning her body, in what appeared to be a
state of anguish or perhaps even shame…
All the while, a small cherub, also known as putti, looked directly at her in a most knowing
and penetrating fashion.

What did he know about this woman?
What had happened?

Yet rather than being a statute of Mary, this woman was actually a portrayal of Justice…
And rather than being a typical blindfolded image of a woman, as Justice is usually depicted,
this statue, designed by Bernini, was portrayed as a woman who seemed consumed by grief.

There were suddenly a thousand thoughts racing through my mind as I gazed up at this somewhat
painfilled moment of time.
A moment that should have otherwise been private, was here on display for all to see.

No hiding her grief.
No mourning and crying privately.
The putti knew…and now I knew.

But what did I know?

I felt compelled to offer, albeit in some distant fashion, comfort.
I could feel the weight of her pain.
But why?
I had no idea.

Fast forwarding to yesterday morning, I was reading my morning devotions when I came to
the following excerpt from Father Jacques Philippe.
I had a similar reaction to his words as I did to that statue…
there was a sense of the deep weight of both pain and understanding.

Like I say, we will come back to take a deeper and wider look into the beauty and mystery
of Santa Maria sopra Minerva but for now…
The Holy Spirit is busy…
this much I do know…

“When uncertain about God’s will, it is very important that we tell ourselves:
‘Even if there are aspects of God’s will that escape me,
there are always others that I know for sure and can invest in without any risk,
knowing that this investment always pays dividends.’
These certainties include fulfilling the duties of our state in life and practicing
the essential points of every Christian vocation.
There is a defect here that needs to be recognized and avoided:
finding ourselves in darkness about God’s will on an important question . . .
we spend so much time searching and doubting or getting discouraged,
that we neglect things that are God’s will for us every day,
like being faithful to prayer, maintaining trust in God, loving the people around us here and now.
Lacking answers about the future,
we should prepare to receive them by living today to the full.”

Fr. Jacques Philippe, p. 55
An Excerpt From
Interior Freedom

All Souls Day

“Don’t spend your energies on things that generate worry, anxiety and anguish.
Only one thing is necessary:
Lift up your spirit, and love God.”

St. Padre Pio


(a plethoa of peppers and flowers at one of the stalls at the Campo di Fiori piazza in
Rome, Itlay/ this has been an open air market for the past 500 years!! / Julie Cook / 2018)

“Never say, ‘What great things the saints do,’ but,
‘What great things God does in His saints.'”

St. Philip Neri

a house divided and the repeating of history

“History, like love, is so apt to surround her heroes with an atmosphere
of imaginary brightness.”

James Fenimore Cooper, The Last of the Mohicans


( a view of the Collesium not often seen by the general public / Julie Cook / 2018

Having always had a keen interest in history, as well as having to delve deeply into
European Art History throughout college, it only seemed natural that I should then spend
a lifetime of teaching such…
Of which I did.

And so it should then come as no surprise that I am all too familiar with the old adage
that history will always repeat itself.

Words that always haunt me whenever I visit Rome.

Yet if the truth be told, those words could apply to anyone who visits anywhere
throughout most, if not all, of Europe—
all the way from Northern Africa as well as westward into Asia…
Be it from the highlands of Scotland to the arid desert of Egypt,
Rome’s influence remains visible to this day.

Engineering marvels such as massive marble and granite aqueducts can still be
seen crisscrossing an extensive continent…
having once readily delivered fresh and free-flowing water all the way from the Alps
down to the heel of Itlay…it gives pause to our own current day Army Corps of Engineers.

Hadrian’s wall which “ran from the banks of the River Tyne near the North Sea to the
Solway Firth on the Irish Sea was the northern limit of the Roman Empire…”

remains visible to this day…as in the original “Border Wall.”

The borders of the Roman Empire, which fluctuated throughout the empire’s history,
were a combination of natural frontiers (most notably the Rhine and Danube rivers) and man-made fortifications which separated the lands of the empire from the countries beyond.

(Map and excerpt courtesy Wikipedia)

However, most of what we see today as mere tourists or passerbys are mere shadows
of various ruins and rubble of what was once a massively impressive Empire.
Yet Rome’s influence remains…it remains even within our own republic
as it is based on similar practices and principles.

It truly boggles the modern mind when looking at such a classic yet trendy city as the
likes of Rome…
A city rife with darting Vespas, begging gypsies, high-end fashion houses…all the while as
black suited priests and colorful nuns scurry about mingling with some of the best-dressed
businessmen and women in the world.

A city whose past is clearly visible to the naked eye as her ruins run far and wide.
No new building project goes without ancient discoveries just below the current surface…
for Rome is a multi-layered treasure trove of humankind.

We know from detailed documentation that this is what Rome’s Collesium once looked like…

A sports arena that could be filled with water allowing for the reenactment of
famous naval battles or outfitted with a sandy field for blood sports that would
make way for wild animals ripping apart the current enemies of the state…
most often Christians who would be wrapped in canvases soaked in blood and
meat by-products as wild animals, that had been unfed for upwards of a week
or more, would then be loosed upon the hopeless in order to devour the helplessly
bound human victims…
a macabre spectacle played out before the deafening crescendo of bloodthirsty
cheering crowds.

The Collesium could hold 50,000 “sports fans.”
And much like the new Atlanta Mercedes Benz Arena that has a giant sculpted bronze
falcon which harkens to the city’s football team,
Rome’s Collesium once had a 100-foot tall bronze statue of Nero
depicted as a sun god.

So it seems not much has changed with sports fans in 2000 some odd years.
Big, bold, violent with lots of sensory overload.

It was said that the caesars and emperors knew the best way to keep the people happy
while avoiding rebellion…
that was to provide cheap food and free entertainment.

And so when I think of such great empires as that of Rome and her Roman Empire…
it is difficult for me to wrap my head around the realization that such a massive,
feared and impressive society…
one that was far beyond its time in engineering and force could
simply crumble into the annals of time…left now as mere tourist attractions and
archeological mysteries.

Thus would it not behoove us to recall the verse from Matthew about what happens to a
house divided…
for history teaches us that the Roman Empire was indeed divided…
crumpling in upon herself…
just as it seems that we Americans are also equally and bitterly divided amongst
ourselves today.
I wonder what our fate will be if we continue on this current path of self-destruction?

But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them:
“Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation,
and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.
If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself.
How then will his kingdom stand?
And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out?
Therefore they shall be your judges. 28 But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God,
surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.

Matthew 12:25-28