extend love and forgiveness

God wants us to receive His mercy and, in turn,
be merciful to others through our actions, words, and prayers.
He wants us to extend love and forgiveness to others just as He extends
love and forgiveness to us.

Fr. Chris Alar, MIC
from his book Understanding Divine Mercy


(hidden creatures amongst the rosemary /Julie Cook / 2021)

Free me from evil passions and heal my heart of all disorderly affections,
that being healed and well purified in my interior,
I may become fit to love, courageous to suffer and constant to persevere.
Love is an excellent thing, a great good indeed,
which alone maketh light all that is burdened and makes all that which is bitter sweet and savory.
The love of Jesus is noble and generous;
it spurs us on to do great things and excites us to desire always that which is most perfect.”

Thomas á Kempis, p. 89
An Excerpt From
Imitation of Christ

revisiting a 6 year old post (Turning Point)

What most of all hinders heavenly consolation is that you are too slow in
turning yourself to prayer.

Thomas a Kempis


(detail of a pinecone / Julie Cook / 2014)

** I made a terrible mistake last evening…I watched the news.
It was Fox, who since the election, I’ve just kind of cut ties with,
just as I’ve cut ties with all major news outlets…
I am more than disheartened with the “conservative” news program’s seemingly
feeble attempts to stand up against the growing national oppression of our freedom
of speech and thought…
yet sadly, they fall woefully short…and still….I watched.

I was quickly reminded as to why I now avoid all news.
It is sickening.
It was a startling reminder that we are living George Orwell’s 1984.
We are living Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.
Maybe we are even living in the midst of the Book of Revelation…

And if that’s the case, things really are scary, but thankfully in that
most frightening of thoughts, there remains hope for those of
us with weary souls because we know Our Redeemer will reign supreme
and this nightmare will end.

We are living in the midst of a massive Spiritual battle..
a battle of light vs darkness.

A place where Americans view one another as their own worst enemy.
Free speech and thought as not free or even allowed.
We have forgotten our past, our history, our ideals…
We have become our own worst enemy.
And it all began when we turned our back on God.

So as I watched, I felt sick to my stomach.

And since we are living life in the Twilight Zone…
I decided to cast my thoughts backwards…tumbling back in time.
I went back 6 years ago…6 years ago to a time that was pre-Trump.
It was life during Obama’s reign.
And oddly what I wrote those 6 years ago did not speak of calm, peace and a kumbiya existence–
but rather it was a shadow of things to come…it’s just that we had no idea of knowing
how bad it would all become…

Here is that 6 year old post….

As a tale-end Baby Boomer and child of the Cold War, the Soviet Union, the USSR,
The Federation of the Russian Republic or simply Mother Russia,
has always been an uncomfortable shadow over my shoulder,
just as it has for most everyone my age and older.
The enigma known as Russia, who most graciously hosted the world last February
for the Winter Olympics only to turn around and shock us all a few months
following with the “invasion” of Ukraine, has remained a conundrum for the free world
since the Russian Revolution of 1917 which gave way to birth of Communism.

When I was in high school, which seems to be many lifetimes ago,
I had the good fortune of taking a Russian History course—with the most memorable
experience being of my introduction to the writings of Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
I had the good fortune of reading several of his books…
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, The Gulag Archipelago and Cancer Ward.

Now all these many years later I find myself drawn back to the writings
and words of Solzhenitsyn,
of which I find more prophetic than I had ever imagined.

For those of you unfamiliar with Solzhenitsyn, in a nutshell,
he was a Russian soldier (WWII), Gulag prisoner (for nearly 10 years),
writer and novelist, historian, Soviet dissident,
Nobel Prize recipient and finally, again, Russian citizen.

As a life long member of the Russian Orthodox Church,
Solzhenitsyn was guided by a deeply spiritual moral compass.
He was a very loud and vocal opponent of Totalitarianism,
of which expedited his forced exile from the Soviet Union,
yet he could also be equally critical of the West and its obsession with Capitalism,
Consumerism and Materialism. All of which reminds me of the chastisement the West
often received from Pope John Paul II,
as well as Mother Teresa—as perhaps those who have suffered more grievously under
the Socialist and ultra Nationalistic Regime of the Nazis and then that of
the Communist Soviets, have perhaps a clearer perspective of our
often blind view of what we consider to be “the good life”

I am poignantly reminded of Solzhenitsyn, his words and wisdom as well wise counsel
and rebukes of those who have witnessed first hand the sinister wiles
and atrocities of Evil, particularly during this time of year as it seems
the world always appears to crescendo to a heightened sense of madness–just
as the holidays come into focus. I don’t know why that is except that
as the world seems to not only witness an abundance of joy and goodwill,
there seems to be an equal measure of evil and chaos.
Perhaps it is because Christians are drawn to the birth of the Savior and Jews
begin the celebration of the miracle of light and the rededication to the Second Temple–
a time of a tremendous pull of people toward God—as it seems Evil
must have its share of the pie by unleashing its part of unimaginable
pain and suffering in order to create some sort of sadistic counter balance.

Perhaps our senses are on hyper drive this time of year as we keenly
feel the highs of Joy and Wonder along with the bottomless pit of despair
and suffering as they each roll in to one. These thoughts reverberate
in my mind just as Sydney, Australia was held hostage Monday
by a radical Islamist madman leaving 3 individuals, including the gunman, dead.
Then on Tuesday, Pakistan witnessed an unimaginable attack on a school
leaving 132 children and 9 adult staff members dead all at the hands of the Taliban.

We currently have a menacing cyber attack taking place at Sony as North Korea
is suspected to be retaliating to the release of a tongue and cheek movie
which sadly mocks an attempted assassination of an, albeit, unhinged world leader.
Sometimes I think we, those of us in the West with our often sophomoric
entertainment industry, have lost our sense of what is considered off limits or
morally wrong when it comes to the exploitation of movie making and entertainment–
but I suppose a moral compass would be needed in the first place in order to be
reminded of such. . .

We have just marked the tragic anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre
as we continue reading headline after headline of local, national and global tragedies.
Just as the world tries to come together in some sort of unity marking two
very sacred holy times of the year as well as the secular merry making
of Santa, Papa Noel and Kris Kringle’s arrival.

In reading Solzhenitsyn’s book Warning to the West,
which is actually a brief composite and compendium of the texts to three
separate addresses made in the US in the late 1970’s,
it is startlingly frightening noting the parallels of then verses now.
I am keenly reminded of the relevance of Solzhenitsyn’s words which were uttered
almost 40 years ago as they could very well be spoken on the world stage today
regarding today’s global state. I will leave you with a few pieces of his
excerpted texts in order to ponder and ruminate the relevance and warnings
which echo across our prosaic landscape as we wrestle to make sense of the
tragic events which continue to unfold before our very eyes this holiday season. . .

“Is it possible or impossible to transmit the experience of those who have
suffered to those who have yet to suffer?
Can one part of humanity learn from the bitter experience of another or can it not?
Is it possible or impossible to warn someone of danger?
How many witnesses have been sent to the West in the last sixty years?
How may waves of immigrants? How many millions of persons? They are all here.
You meet them every day. You know who they are: if not by their spiritual disorientation,
their grief, their melancholy, then you can distinguish them by their
accents or their external appearance. Coming from different countries,
without consulting with one another, they have brought out exactly the same experience;
They tell you exactly the same thing: they warn you of what is now taking
place and of what has taken place in the past.
But the proud skyscrapers stand on, jut into the sky, and say:
It will never happen here. This will never come to us.
It is not possible here.”

“In addition to the grave political situation in the world today,
we are also witnessing the emergence of a crisis of unknown nature, one completely new,
and entirely non-political.
We are approaching a major turning point in world history, the the history of civilization.
It has already been noted by specialists in various areas.
I could compare it only with the turning from the Middle Ages to the modern era,
a shift in our civilization. It is a juncture at which settled concepts
suddenly become hazy, lose their precise contours, at which our familiar and commonly
used words lose their meaning, become empty shells, and methods which have been reliable
for many centuries no longer work. It’s the sort of turning point where the
hierarchy of values which we have generated, and which we use to determine
what is important to us and what causes our hearts to beat is starting
to rock and may collapse.
These two crises, the political crisis of today’s world and the oncoming spiritual crisis,
are occurring at the same time. It is our generation that will have to confront them.
The leadership of your country,
which is entering the third century of existence as a nation will perhaps
have to bear a burden greater than ever before in American history.
Your leaders will need profound intuition, spiritual foresight,
high qualities of mind and soul.
May God granted that in those times you will have at the helm personalities
as great as those who rested your country . . .”

(excepts taken from a speech delivered in New York July 9, 1975,
at a luncheon given by the AFL-CIO)

Love is a strong force

“I see clearly with the interior eye, that the sweet God loves with a pure love
the creature that He has created, and has a hatred for nothing but sin,
which is more opposed to Him than can be thought or imagined.”

St. Catherine of Genoa


(Da with a tired Mayor and Sheriff / Julie Cook / 20201)

“Love is a strong force — a great good in every way;
it alone can make our burdens light, and alone it bears in equal balance
what is pleasing and displeasing.
It carries a burden and does not feel it; it makes all that is bitter taste sweet.
Nothing is sweeter than love, nothing higher, nothing stronger, nothing larger,
nothing more joyful, nothing fuller, nothing better in heaven or on earth; f
or love is born of God and can find its rest only in God above all He has created.
Such lovers fly high, run swiftly and rejoice.
Their souls are free; they give all for all and have all in all.
For they rest in One supreme Goodness above all things,
from Whom all other good flows and proceeds.
They look not only at the gifts, but at the Giver, Who is above all gifts.”

Thomas à Kempis, p. 108
An Excerpt From
Imitation of Christ

love, family, holiness

“O Holy Family—the Family so closely united to the mystery which
we contemplate on the day of the Lord’s Birth—guide with your example
the families of the whole earth!”

Pope St. John Paul II


(Bartolome Esteban Murillo / circa 1660 / Hermitage Museum)

Joseph, the man tapped by God to be the earthly father of Jesus,
is more or less an enigma…just as he remains an enigma in
ecclesiastical history.

As a preteen, after Jesus was lost from the family’s caravan having hung back in Jerusalem to
visit the Temple following the family’s pilgrimage for the festival of the Passover,
we simply don’t hear /read much more regarding Joseph or of his presence in the boy Jesus’s life.

By the next time we hear about Jesus, he is a grown man who has a predestined meeting
with John the Baptist for baptism.
It is simply assumed that Joseph must have died, leaving Mary a widow.
And oddly, throughout the ages, artists have more or less depicted Joseph as an older man…
as we know that Mary was a young woman when she was engaged to Joseph.

Perhaps that has been the rationale…Joseph was older and therefore passed
away when Jesus was just an adolescent.
But I wonder…was he really that much older than Mary?

There seems to be more questions about the man Joseph than there are answers.
And perhaps that is all part of the Holy mystery that embraces our lives.

But the one thing I know…
the most important thing that we do know, is that Joseph had to be
quite the man to be chosen by God the Creator to be the earthly father to God’s only son.

The example of a man as to what a father is meant to be…
the type of man that our sons and daughters so desperately yearn for in their lives.

Our children, now more than ever, need their fathers.
Joseph reminds us of this.

“Love is an excellent thing, a great good indeed, which alone maketh light
all that is burdensome and equally bears all that is unequal.
For it carries a burden without being burdened and makes all that which
is bitter…sweet and savory.
The love of Jesus is noble and generous; it spurs us on to do great things
and excites us to desire always that which is most perfect.”

Thomas à Kempis, p. 87
An Excerpt From
Imitation of Christ

nothing sweeter than love…

“If you do not hope, you will not find what is beyond your hopes.”
St. Clement of Alexandria


(evening comes to Georgia / Julie Cook / 2020)

Nothing is sweeter than love; nothing stronger, nothing higher, nothing more generous,
nothing more pleasant, nothing fuller or better in Heaven or on earth;
for love proceeds from God and cannot rest but in God above all things created.”

Thomas a’ Kempis, p. 87
An Excerpt From
Imitation of Christ

Paris, Portland, Philadelphia, Nice, Milan, Chicago, New York…

“Because to take away a man’s freedom of choice, even his freedom to make the wrong choice,
is to manipulate him as though he were a puppet and not a person.”

Madeline L’Engle

“Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be,
since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be.”

Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ


(a caged collared aracarai / Parrot Mt. and Gardens, Pigeon Forge, TN/ Julie Cook / 2020)

If your senses have been on election overload, you may not
be aware that there are some other very serious news stories taking place.

If you haven’t been paying attention, you may have missed that France has had to raise
its terror threat level to its highest mark due to a recent spate of terroristic attacks
throughout the country.

The attacks, three of which involved machetes, and or knives, left several innocent
individuals dead, decapitated along with many others wounded.

“Allahu akbar” was the cry each attacker was heard to shout over and over while
innocent people had their heads violently lopped off.

These attacks, with three happening within the past two months,
come at the moment when France’s President, Emmanuel Macron
is putting France back under its pandemic lockdown.

Maybe another lockdown will help the innocents keep their heads.

One recent victim was a history teacher in northern Paris who literally
lost his head for having shared with his class some of the political cartoons
published by the satirical paper Charlie Hebdo…of which had
lead to some of France’s deadliest terror attacks back in 2015.

This week’s latest victims in Nice had been attending church.
Three were killed, one decapitated, while others were left wounded.

https://www.foxnews.com/world/france-knife-attack-church-terrorism-suspected

Maybe perhaps you’ve at least heard of the more local violence taking place
here at home.
Violence that has been written off as civil protests due to police violence.

An eye for an eye has become the people’s mindset…
matters not the original offense.
And with that comes the excuse to rob, steal, and take that which is
not theirs to take.

It’s a ‘Black Friday’ each and every night in our major cities as masses
smash, loot, and grab…taking whatever they want…

Did you happen to catch the image of the fellow carting off a
washing machine from the looting of a Walmart in Philidelphia?

What does the stealing of washing machines have to do with the discontent
of precieved police violence?

Nothing.
But then again, I don’t think Joe Biden or any of the Democratic party seem to “get it.”

126 days and counting in Portland, Oregon of violent unrest.

NYC you ask?
Well, just don’t go.

Burning, looting, rioting, violence…
From sea to shining sea.

Chicago has had over 500 homicides.

Philidelphia, the city of brotherly love, has been racked by mass lootings and violence
all this week.

And yet our progressive liberal politician’s focus is on locking down
along with pandemic preemptives.
All the while, they turn a blind eye to the unrestrained violence and stealing…

Riots and mass looting, which are taking place during a time of mandated social distancing,
madatory mask wearing and a variety of versions of lockdowns, just doesn’t make sense.

I just don’t know anymore.

Italy has locked down again, totally.
And Milan is rife with protests due to the now reoccuring loss of freedom.
Small businesses and restaurants have been given a death sentence.
Just like many businesses here.

I don’t know the answer.

But one thing I do know…we are a skewed people.
We no longer know right from wrong.

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world,
but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.
Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear
that their deeds will be exposed.
But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light,
so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

John 3: 19-21

“Be not puffed up, be not overjoyed, nor vainly presume…”

“If God were our one and only desire we would not be so easily upset when our opinions
do not find outside acceptance.”

Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ


(shelf fungus / Julie Cook / 2020)


(shelf fungus / Julie Cook / 2020)

“Therefore, when God gives spiritual comfort, receive it with thanksgiving,
but know that it is the bounty of God, not thy merit.
Be not puffed up, be not overjoyed, nor vainly presume,
but rather be the more humble for this gift and the more cautious and fearful
in all thine actions; for this hour will pass away and temptation will follow.
When comfort shall be taken away from thee, do not presently despair;
but wait with humility and patience for the heavenly visit,
for God is able to restore thee a greater consolation.
This is no new thing, nor strange to those who have experienced the
ways of God: for the great saints and ancient prophets have often felt
this kind of variety.”

Thomas à Kempis, p. 64
An Excerpt From
The Imitation of Christ

do not despair, do not be depressed, do not be afraid..

“Therefore, my brother,
scorned as you are by men, lashed as it were by God, do not despair.
Do not be depressed.
Do not let your weakness make you impatient.
Instead, let the serenity of your spirit shine through your face.
Let the joy of your mind burst forth.
Let words of thanks break from your lips.”

St. Peter Damian


(tulip magnolia bloom / Julie Cook / 2020)

“Who art thou, that thou shouldst be afraid of a mortal man?
Today he is, and tomorrow he appears no more. Fear God,
and thou shalt have no need of being afraid of man.
What can anyone do against thee by his words or injuries?
He rather hurts himself than thee, nor can he escape the judgment of God whoever he be.
See thou have God before thine eyes and do not contend with complaining words.
And if at present thou seem to be overcome, and to suffer a confusion
which thou has not deserved,
do not repine at this and do not lessen thy crown by impatience.”

Thomas á Kempis, p.148

dining partner

“Every pious desire, every good thought, every charitable work inspired by the love of Jesus,
contributes to the perfection of the whole body of the faithful.
A person who does nothing more than lovingly pray to God for his brethren,
participates in the great work of saving souls.”

Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich


(the Sheriff with that hair of his, borrowing his sister’s old ride / Julie Cook / 2019)

So this is a picture of my dining partner last night.

Well, actually this is a pre-dining picture…
And no, we are not trying to be gender-neutral people by having him ride around in a pink walker…
he’s simply using his sister’s old walker until Santa brings him his very own boy walker at Christmas.

I like the notion of boys being boys and girls being girls…girls use pink, boys use blue…
but that’s another story for another day.

This is actually the dining picture—as in, I was eating while he was sleeping.


(The Sheriff the perfect dining partner / Julie Cook / 2019)

Here is a picture of who my dining partner is 99.9% of the time—
it is a pre-dining picture as well:


(The Mayor enjoys the kitchen cabinets / Julie Cook / 2019)

I would offer you a dining picture of the Mayor but her mother had to take her outside
while we were waiting for our dinner to arrive as her behavior was not dining acceptable…
Not by us, and I’m certain, not by any neighboring tables.

Think lassoing a bull who is hell-bent on independence but is in dire and immediate need of
help in maneuvering silverware, glassware, drinks with straws and ice along with very hot food
all the while refusing to sit in a booster seat or highchair because no one else in the party
is doing so and therefore the bull, I mean Mayor, demands to sit in a chair or booth
like everyone else and thus the dining experience becomes more of a wrestling match
interspersed with a few shrieks of defiance.

Whew!

This all from a child who is long accustomed to dining out and who has been no bother,
that is, up until the last couple of months of which she has become the independent
nearly impossible handful.

We are a family that believes in removing unruly children from the surrounding
environment as it is terribly unfair to those in near proximity seeking to have
a “nice” evening out.

We did so with our son ages ago and we are doing so with his offspring.

Booths in the back of a dark restaurant or closest to the bar with music blaring
loudly has become good for us.
Both distraction and cover for and from our defiant one.

I suppose I should have taken a picture of the empty booth across from me while the
sleeping Sheriff beside me allowed me to eat unincumbered.
Once the Mayor and her mother returned, I took over with the Mayor,
as the Mayor happily decided that the perfectly cooked hand-cut french fries made for
a delightful spoon for the homemade accompanying ketchup.

This way, the Mayor’s mother did get to eat…but then the Sheriff woke,
needed a bottle, so it was still eating with one hand.

Good food and good drink, gobbled down, one-handedly with a bull sitting,
not to be confused with Sitting Bull, in one’s lap is usually the course
these days.

And so you say, stay home…don’t go out…especially with the Mayor.
And that would make sense.
But sometimes the Mayor’s mother needs to be out in the real world and I want
that for her.
So we hope, pray and go forth.

My motto as a young mother was ‘have baby will travel’…that now-grown baby
is keeping the same motto with his own kids.

And I will say that not all outings are disasters or nerve-wracking as we take
the calm behavior with the bad.

Such is life with a 22-month-old.

And so when it’s just the four of us, the Mayor, the Sheriff, their mom and me—
we’ll out we go…someplace good but still casual enough that the noise level is up.
Yet when Da and DaDa are along—things do tend to go smoother and thus nicer restaurants
may be chosen.

So why all this talk about dining out with unruly ones?

Well I was reminded the other day, when I caught a news clip, of the images of the more
liberal lawmakers out there calling for the minions of liberalism to do what they can
to make life miserable when seeing a member of the opposing party out and about.

As in derail and disrupt and make miserable.

I think it was Maxine Waters who I saw loudly announcing at a rally a few months back,
and this is a paraphrased quote of her rally speech…
“If they (they being Republicans, Conservative lawmakers, and the same
like-minded news folks) are out eating at a restaurant or are out in public doing what
folks out in public do…
go up to that table, or wherever it is they are, make them miserable until they
get up and leave.”

And so I was pondering that very notion the other night while I was eating
with my small sleeping partner and the Mayor was out strolling with her mom,
calming down—
that we, as a family, go out of our way to ensure that those around us,
no matter their political leanings or life leanings are not disturbed in any sort of way.
They are paying good money hoping to have a nice evening out amongst themselves,
the last thing they want is a screaming baby or toddler interrupting their cherished time.

It matters not that their life’s choices, thoughts and or beliefs differ from mine…
what matters is that they are people who deserve nothing more nor nothing less than
me and my family.

Maxine Waters could be sitting next to us and if our kids started acting up,
out they’d go.

So maybe that’s the difference.

Maybe that’s the difference that lies at the center of the divide of this nation.

We believe that everyone deserves our courtesy and kindness…matters not who they are
or what they have or don’t have, believe or don’t believe.

And so perhaps it’s the whole ‘doing unto others as we would want done unto us’
mentality that is at the core of all of this…

As we sit at the waning of one year and the soon to be start of a new year…
maybe the idea of both courtesy and kindness could begin to make a healing difference
helping to mend some of this divide of ours…

Stop and think about those others around you…
you would certainly want them to treat you with kindness…
so treat them as you would want to be treated…with courtsey and kindness…no matter who
your are or who they are.

“Jesus has many lovers of His heavenly kingdom, but few cross-bearers.
Many desire His consolation, but few His tribulation.
Many will sit down with Him at table, but few will share His fast.
All desire to rejoice with Him, but few will suffer for Him.
Many will follow Him to the breaking of the bread,
but few will drink the bitter cup of His Passion.
Many revere His miracles, but few follow the shame of His cross.
Many love Jesus when all goes well with them, and praise Him when He does them a favor;
but if Jesus conceals Himself and leaves them for a little while,
they fall to complaining or become depressed.
They who love Jesus purely for Himself and not for their own sake bless Him
in all trouble and anguish as well as in time of consolation.
Even if He never sent them consolation, they would still praise Him and give thanks.
Oh how powerful is the pure love of Jesus, when not mixed with self-interest or self-love!”

Thomas à Kempis, p. 88-89
An Excerpt From
Imitation of Christ

the night before the storm

“Faith and love are like the blind man’s guides.
They will lead you along a path unknown to you, to the place where God is hidden.”

St. John of the Cross


(the evening sky before the arrival of a tropical storm…no sailors delight…
Julie Cook / 2019)

“Therefore, when God gives spiritual comfort, receive it with thanksgiving,
but know that it is the bounty of God, not thy merit.
Be not puffed up, be not overjoyed, nor vainly presume,
but rather be the more humble for this gift and the more cautious and fearful in all thine actions;
for this hour will pass away and temptation will follow.
When comfort shall be taken away from thee, do not presently despair;
but wait with humility and patience for the heavenly visit,
for God is able to restore thee a greater consolation.
This is no new thing, nor strange to those who have experienced the ways of God:
for the great saints and ancient prophets have often felt this kind of variety.”

Thomas à Kempis, p. 64
An Excerpt From
Imitation of Christ


(evening sky before a tropical storm arrives / Julie Cook / 2019)