Contrasts

Never to suffer would never to have been blessed.
Edgar Allan Poe


(Getty image)

For whatever reason, I get daily Travel and Leisure as well as Conde Nash travel emails.
I suppose it’s because once upon a time, I most likely subscribed to something.

Yet during this time of quarantine, I have not much cared to be a virtual traveler.
I might be an armchair quarterback when watching my beloved college football
but I definitely prefer to be a real-life traveler.

And so I’ve pretty much trashed all the travel notices I’ve received these oh so many weeks,
as I’ve wondered if travel will ever be what it was.

While scrolling through emails yesterday, something interesting actually piqued my curiosity.

It was an article with 21 pictures of what a locked-down Italy looked like.

If you’ve ever been to Italy then you know it seems as if the country is comprised of
more tourists than local residents.

Tourism has gotten so overwhelming that the Italian government was having to issue hefty
fines to bring a bit of calm amongst the throngs of madness.
It is said that there are very few real Venetians or even Florentines who still remain
in their collective overrun cities.

And so I was curious as to what a mostly deserted Itlay might look like.

The images were eerily serene.
However, knowing of the death toll that Itlay has experienced and the hardship this tiny country
has endured, viewing the images was not necessarily for a cursory glance on a rainy
Sunday afternoon.

There was a poignancy found in the images.
An emptiness.
A sadness.

There was the image of a single figure, a pope, clad in white and sitting alone in a darkened and
empty St Peter’s square observing the solemnity of the Easter Vigil…

To the ruins of the Coliseum surreally quiet and alone for the first time in centuries.

The empty gondolas bobbing up and down in eerily empty canals…

Yet I think it was the image (seen above) of the small church in Venice with photographs of
its parishioners taped to the pews that touched me the most as to how this pandemic has effected our
collective human family.

The small parish priest had asked his parishioners to please mail or email him
their pictures so he could, in turn, tape them to the pews in order that they could “be in attendance”
with him…there in the quiet and still little church, as he conducted Easter mass…alone.

Since all church services were canceled this Easter,
one pastor in Venice asked his parishioners for their photographs,
then placed them in the sanctuary and performed Mass for them on Easter Sunday.

https://www.cntraveler.com/gallery/photos-of-italy-on-lockdown-from-a-vacant-colosseum-to-empty-churches-on-easter?utm_source=nl&utm_brand=cnt&utm_mailing=CNT_Daily_PM_041920&utm_campaign=aud-dev&utm_medium=email

I next read a heartbreaking story of a woman who was unable to visit her dying father in the
the hospital due to the quarantine.
The hospital was only five miles from her home, but her dad had contracted the virus
after having to go to the hospital following a fall at home.

He had been in good health up to his fall and was expected to be fine.
But while in the hospital, he developed a cough and fever…with the hospital realizing its greatest fear…
their patients were contracting the virus within the hospital itself.

The story is difficult to read as it is helplessly sad.

One of his four grown children relays how she and her siblings
stayed on the phone with their father for his final 36 hours of life
simply listening to his labored breathing before finally, there was no more sound.

‘We hear you, Dad’: A daughter stays on the phone for hours and hours as
her father dies alone from coronavirus

https://www.yahoo.com/news/hear-dad-daughter-stays-phone-120345094.html

And yet the enormity of all of this heartbreak, sorrow, isolation and emptiness is contrasted
by petty partisan politics.

Following the first two articles, I read two very different types of articles.
Articles by Newt Gingrich.

Mr. Gingrich is indeed a very smart and astute man.
He is currently on lockdown in Itlay as his wife is US Ambassador to the Vatican.
A position the late journalist Cokie Robert’s mother once held.

The former Speaker of the House was expressing his frustration with the current speaker,
Speaker Pelosi, and the squabbles she is currently having with the President over passing
a bill intended to bring financial aid to small businesses.

If anyone is hurting right now, it is our small businesses.
They have had to either shutter their doors or operate
very sparingly.
They have had to let go of employees.
Many cannot contiue paying their bills with no business to be had.

Yet the Speaker continues to refuse to work with the President.

The impeachment fiasco was bad enough…but we now have real people,
not celebrities, not high-end athletes, not entertainers, not politicians, but real people…t
he you and me kind of people..who need help— and they need it now!

And yet…we have people like Madame Speaker who continues to want to play cat and mouse.

Madame Speaker was being interviewed from her home by a late-night talk show host.
It seems she was standing in her kitchen in front of her two rather fancy Wolf sub-zero
refrigerators while babbling on about having to spend 58 dollars for 5 pints of ice cream as she
desperately needed to restock what she and her husband had already eaten.

58 bucks on high end ice cream while there are folks who can’t pay their bills
because they’ve lost their livelihood or worse, their health.

Something is wrong in all of this.

When we need help–many of the very people we elected to help us, choose to eat
expensive ice cream instead.
No wonder Speaker Gingrich sees the correlation between Marie Antoinette telling
a starving French population to simply eat cake while our Speaker of the house
eats her posh ice cream—as a President is trying desperately to bring aid
to those in desperate need.

Newt Gingrich: Coronavirus crisis makes some leaders believe they have god-like decision-making capacity

https://www.foxnews.com/opinion/newt-gingrich-coronavirus-crisis-makes-some-leaders-believe-they-have-god-like-decision-making-capacity

Newt Gingrich: Like Marie Antoinette, Princess Pelosi enjoys luxuries but ignores needs of desperate people

https://www.foxnews.com/opinion/newt-gingrich-the-job-killing-democrats

reparations vs Grace

“Seeing the sun, the moon and the stars, I said to myself,
‘Who could be the Master of these beautiful things?’
I felt a great desire to see him, to know him and to pay him homage.”

St. Josephine Bakhita

When speaking of her enslavement, she often professed she would thank her kidnappers.
For had she not been kidnapped, she might never have come to know Jesus Christ and entered His Church

Catholic.org


(St Josephine Bakhita)

Firstly this business about paying reparations for slavery is about the dumbest thing our
legislators have ever opted to take up and pursue…let alone conduct a three ring circus
of unbridled idiocy over.

Now whereas I’ve written about this notion before…as in will we pay those free blacks who
were also slave owners. Will we pay the Native American Indians…and of course will the
Egyptians pay the Jews, will the various African tribes pay the other tribes, will the
Chinese pay the Koreans, will the Russians pay the Russians…yada, yada, yada.

No nation is exempt from this sinful crime.

But this is not so much a post about reparations as it more about Grace.

The following story is about a woman who was born in Darfur in 1869.
As a young girl, she was kidnapped and sold into slavery to the Arabs.

Her’s is a harrowing tale of slavery, torture, and cruelty that lead to
serving not man, but instead, Jesus Christ.

How could one begin to pay reparations for Josephine’s life of servitude to man?
How could one begin to remove the 114 lasting stripes across her back?

Josephine would never expect nor accept such…her greatest gift,
coming to know Jesus Christ.

If ever there was one who should have quit, given up all the while begging to simply die…
It would have been Josephine Margaret Bakhita.

But she did not…
What can money do in the place of everlasting Grace?
Nothing.

May we all come to know that Grace…

Saint Josephine Margaret Bakhita was born around 1869 in the village of
Olgossa in the Darfur region of Sudan. She was a member of the Daju people and
her uncle was a tribal chief.
Due to her family lineage, she grew up happy and relatively prosperous,
saying that as a child, she did not know suffering.

Historians believe that sometime in February 1877,
Josephine was kidnapped by Arab slave traders.
Although she was just a child, she was forced to walk barefoot over 600 miles
to a slave market in El Obeid. She was bought and sold at least twice
during the grueling journey.

For the next 12 years she would be bought, sold and given away over a dozen times.
She spent so much time in captivity that she forgot her original name.

As a slave, her experiences varied from fair treatment to cruel.
Her first owner, a wealthy Arab, gave her to his daughters as a maid.
The assignment was easy until she offended her owner’s son,
possibly for the crime of breaking a vase.
As punishment, she was beaten so severely she was incapacitated for a month.
After that, she was sold.

One of her owners was a Turkish general who gave her to his wife and mother-in-law
who both beat her daily.
Josephine wrote that as soon as one wound would heal, they would inflict another.

She told about how the general’s wife ordered her to be scarred.
As her mistress watched, ready with a whip, another woman drew patterns on her skin with flour,
then cut into her flesh with a blade. She rubbed the wounds with salt to make the scars permanent.
She would suffer a total of 114 scars from this abuse.

In 1883, the Turkish general sold her to the Italian Vice Consul, Callisto Legani.
He was a much kinder master and he did not beat her.
When it was time for him to return to Italy, she begged to be taken with him, and he agreed.

After a long and dangerous journey across Sudan, the Red Sea, and the Mediterranean,
they arrived in Italy.
She was given away to another family as a gift and she served them as a nanny.

Her new family also had dealings in Sudan had when her mistress decided to travel
to Sudan without Josephine,
she placed her in the custody of the Canossian Sisters in Venice.

While she was in the custody of the sisters, she came to learn about God.
According to Josephine, she had always known about God,
who created all things, but she did not know who He was.
The sisters answered her questions.
She was deeply moved by her time with the sisters and discerned a call to follow Christ.

When her mistress returned from Sudan, Josephine refused to leave.
Her mistress spent three days trying to persuade her to leave the sisters,
but Josephine remained steadfast. This caused the superior of the
Institute for baptismal candidates among the sisters to complain
to Italian authorities on Josephine’s behalf.

The case went to court, and the court found that slavery had been outlawed
in Sudan before Josephine was born, so she could not be lawfully made slave.
She was declared free.

For the first time in her life, Josephine was free and could choose what to do with her life.
She chose to remain with the Canossian Sisters.

She was baptized on January 9, 1890 and took the name Josephine Margaret and Fortunata.
(Fortunata is the Latin translation for her Arabic name, Bakhita).
She also received the sacraments of her first holy communion and confirmation on the same day.
These three sacraments are the sacraments of initiation into the Church and were always
given together in the early Church.
The Archbishop who gave her the sacraments was none other than Giusseppe Sarto,
the Cardinal Patriarch of Venice, who would later become Pope Pius X.

Josephine became a novice with the CanossianDaughters of Charity religious order on
December 7, 1893, and took her final vows on December 8, 1896.
She was eventually assigned to a convent in Schio, Vicenza.

For the next 42 years of her life, she worked as a cook and a doorkeeper at the convent.
She also traveled and visited other convents telling her story to other sisters
and preparing them for work in Africa.

She was known for her gentle voice and smile.
She was gentle and charismatic, and was often referred to lovingly as the
“little brown sister” or honorably as the “black mother.”

When speaking of her enslavement, she often professed she would thank her kidnappers.
For had she not been kidnapped,
she might never have come to know Jesus Christ and entered His Church.

During World War II, the people of the village of Schio regarded her as their protector.
And although bombs fell on their village, not one citizen died.

In her later years, she began to suffer physical pain and was forced to use a wheelchair.
But she always remained cheerful.
If anyone asked her how she was, she would reply, “As the master desires.”

On the evening of February 8, 1947, Josephine spoke her last words,
“Our Lady, Our Lady!” She then died.
Her body lay on display for three days afterwards.

In 1958, the process of canonization began for Josephine under Pope John XXIII.
On December 1st, 1978, Pope John Paul II declared her venerable.
Sadly, the news of her beatification in 1992 was censored in Sudan.
But just nine months later, Pope John Paul II visited Sudan and honored her publicly.
He canonized her on October 1, 2000.

Saint Josephine Bakhita is the patron saint of Sudan and her feast day
is celebrated on February 8.

Catholic.org

the bracelet, the Saint, the mystery

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The human mind and heart are a mystery; but God will loose an arrow at them, and suddenly they will be wounded. Psalm 64:7

Growing up I had a vague idea about the Saints. Those ancient mystical individuals who lived and died heroes proclaiming the Gospel. Stories exotic and fanciful, taking place in lands far away from the world I knew. We weren’t Catholic, however as Episcopalians, the concept of saints was not a foreign notion. My family attended the Cathedral of St. Philip, the chapel was named St. Michael and I had a St. Christopher medal. So saints abound, all around my little world. There just wasn’t much of a personal relationship.

One of my favorite hymns we sang in children’s church was I sing a song of the Saints of God. It totally captured my imagination as it reveled in the lives of Queens and shepherds and of people being slain by fierce wild beasts. I imagined a dragon on some far away land doing battle with a brave knight. Perhaps the reference was to St. George.

The hymn went on to proclaim the virtues of “average” folks as well, those you’d meet at school or at a store… the hymn proclaimed that saints not only lived in ages past but are still here today, rich and poor– just everyday folks doing what they do in their daily lives but also working and doing the will of Jesus…”and God help me to be one too” I’d sing with great enthusiasm! So saints were not necessarily individuals who lived in ages past in ancient books, they were actually timeless.

I say all of this as I’ve learned that, although many of these individuals lived long ago and have stories associated, many with, magical legends, their stories, and that of their faith, are as fresh and relevant today as they have been down through the ages.

There is one Saint, however, who I’ve had an interesting relationship with over the past several years. San Antonio di Padova, better known to English speakers as Saint Anthony of Padua. The funny thing is that Saint Anthony is not from Padua, Italy but actually Lisbon, Portugal. It is as the finder of lost things that many of us know of Saint Anthony and of his role in our modern day world. The person we call upon if something, say like, keys or a book goes missing.

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My first introduction to this “miracle worker” who finds all sorts of lost things was at school. Our bookkeeper would often invoke Saint Anthony when something went missing in her office. She’d start chanting this little “prayer”

St. Anthony, St. Anthony
Please come down
Something is lost
And can’t be found

I found the chant a little silly not to mention sacrilegious. I knew most folks at work were not familiar with saints, let alone the Catholic Church, and that this little chant was more voodoo than heartfelt prayer. But she believed in it and who was I to rain on her parade. If she felt it helped, so be it. It wouldn’t be long before I too found a need to invoke the assistance of St Anthony.

Years ago, shortly after my mother’s death, my Dad and I found ourselves practically turning around burying my grandmother. After the sad dust of our lives had settled, it was the time for sorting out the small details of losing two loved ones almost back to back, Dad decided that I should have her my grandmother’s jewelry. She had a beautiful diamond tennis bracelet.

The bracelet was very special and something I would only wear on very special occasions, otherwise it would need to stay locked up and safe.
As the years passed by, I became less particular when deciding what was to be a “special” occasion. I had adopted the mind set that if you had something special it should be enjoyed all the time, not relegated to the occasional ” dress up” affair. Life was short, I needed, we all needed, to enjoy the todays as the tomorrows may not ever come.

So one night when we were invited out to eat with another couple, I put on Nany’s bracelet. I had taken to wearing the bracelet even to work; the thought of a casual evening out seemed equally appropriate. How was I to know that once I got back home, I’d go on autopilot and “forget” taking off the bracelet and putting it in my pocket. I always checked my pockets before either hanging up my pants or tossing them in the wash. Didn’t I?

About a week went by before I thought about the bracelet. The bracelet! Where was the bracelet!? Oh my God!!! I suddenly felt sick. I didn’t know which was worse, losing the bracelet, letting Nany down or telling my husband, who had been telling me ever since Dad gave it to me, that he didn’t like me wearing it –it was just too expensive for me to wear.

As I began telling my husband, I immediately started crying. Maybe that saved me from certain death by an angry “I told you so.” I called the restaurant, the dry cleaners, I scoured the house, the car—I went through every single pair of pants in our closet—both my husbands and mine. I even had him in a panic thinking that maybe I had handed it to him at some point that night and that perhaps he had misplaced it—shared guilt in a crisis is not a bad thing, providing a bit of comfort.

I thought of Saint Anthony. No, I wasn’t thinking of that silly little nursery rhyme plea, but rather an honest to goodness prayer of intercession. I feverishly began researching St. Anthony and prayers asking for his assistance. I found a legitimate prayer of intervention.

Now I know enough about our Christian faith, despite our denominations or affiliations, that there is indeed a mystery involved in our use of prayer. I also believe that there is indeed power in prayer. I also believe in miracles but this, however, was not the place in which I was to ask for such—a miracle is to save a life, heal the sick…not intended for the recovery of a piece of materialism. Sadly it wasn’t just the fact that I had lost an expensive piece of jewelry. Nor that I had let down my grandmother, my husband, or myself…but now I was going to have to tell me dad what I had done.

When I was in the seventh grade my Grandmother had given me her college ring. It was from 1918. It was a very small gold ring from a small middle Georgia woman’s college. The ring was so small, as my grandmother was a very petite woman, which at age 12, my finger was the only finger around that it would fit.

That summer the entire family took off on a road trip to Louisiana in order to attend my cousin’s wedding. I can remember it as if it was yesterday rather than 41 years ago. We stopped for gas in the middle of nowhere Mississippi. I went to the bathroom. I slipped the ring off my finger so I could wash my hands, and failed to put it back on. Why I thought I should take it off to wash my hands is beyond my soul, but take it off I did.

My dad made me tell my grandmother, once we all made it to Lake Charles, that I had left her ring in a bathroom of a gas station back in Mississippi. I can remember the same sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. My grandmother, who was gracious and not nearly as concerned over its loss as my dad, told me not to worry about it. She certainly didn’t intend on wearing it again. Even though I was somewhat off the hook, I still felt terrible. To this day I still can get bothered thinking about my carelessness. And here I was, all these many years later, in the same sick feeling boat. Damn my luck, or blast my careless stupidity.

And now here I was, in another sticky wicket again, seeking the assistance of a Franciscan monk who had died over 700 years prior. I wasn’t expecting to be “heard” as this was not, in the big scheme of life, registering on the scale of most important life issues. Not worthy of a noteworthy saint, let alone something I should bring before God. He had much more important issues to attend to and desperate prayers to hear from those who were truly in need.

However I still felt compelled that I should pray the prayer, adding my own “I know this is a materialistic object and that losing it was not the end of the world but boy, it sure felt like the end of the world.” I conceded that perhaps I had not taken the care I should have when entrusted with something of value. I also told St Anthony that I was use to praying directly to God and that by no means was I trying to circumvent that approach but just that I had heard that he, St Anthony, was helpful in these sorts of troubles.

I then relinquished it all. I had said my prayer. The bracelet was gone, I had searched, I had screwed up, and it was now over.

A couple of weeks passed by since saying my prayer—it was now the Friday before Spring Break—the long awaited “holiday” had finally arrived. As a teacher there was a spring in my step this morning. The weather was warm, the day sunny and we were about to have a week off. I grabbed a pair of khakis that I thought I’d to put on to wear. The kids and I would be doing a little spring-cleaning in the classroom so casual was the call of attire for the day. As I put on the khakis, I pushed my hands down into the pockets straightening them out. I felt something in the right pocket. I pulled out of the pocket what I had felt and just stared. The bracelet.

The pants had come and gone to the dry cleaners. How in the world had I not found it when I was checking all of the pants, turning in and out every pocket in our closest? The cleaners also double-checked all pockets. I had talked with them about the bracelet; they knew I was desperately searching. How in the world?!

I ran into the kitchen screaming. My husband was dumbfounded.

Fast forward about 5 years. My aunt and I were plotting one of our adventures– Italian of course. Flying into Milan then taking the train the remainder of the way to Padua (Padova in Italian), Florence (Firenze), Assisi, Cortona and eventually Rome (Roma). I don’t know why I chose Padua. Maybe it was the Giotto frescos in the Cappella Scrovegni. Maybe I thought going to Venice would break the trip’s budget, as it is an expensive destination. Padua is not always on the tourist’s radar. It is a part of the Veneto region but it is Venice that takes the top-billing draw for this region.

It just so happened that during the time, in which our plans took us to Padua, the feast day of St Anthony was to take place, June 13th. A feast day for a hometown boy in the massive basilica of his same name is a big deal. The Feast day of Saint Anthony is a strongly recommended pilgrimage for Catholics. I had never been a part of a true pilgrimage, one with a true destination on a true day of a Feast day.

Arriving in Padua on the 12th of June there was indeed electricity in the air. People were already gathering at the Basilica as vendors were setting up all around the perimeter of the church. I’d love to tell you all about Padua. It is a lovely city –part Renaissance, part Moorish as it was under Moors rule at one point in its history. Padua boasts the oldest University in Europe. Galileo is still a recognized Chair of Mathematics here. I had the best Asparagus risotto at the famously ancient Café Pedrocchi but time will not permit me to give proper credit to Saint Anthony if I explore Padua.

Time unfortunately also will not permit me to go into a great depth about this humble Franciscan monk—who, by the way, started out as an Augustine monk. I will provide a few links for those of you wishing to know more. His life story is full of adventure, attempted trips to Morocco, desired martyrdom, illness, shipwrecks, and more—there were the trials and the joys. He was well known for his very knowledgeable preaching. He possessed eloquence and a fire about his preaching. He is a Doctor of the Church and it was St Francis who first assigned him as the instructor of theology for the Franciscan brothers.

St. Anthony was only 36 at his death, in1231, and was proclaimed a saint by Pope
Gregory IX, who referred to Anthony as “the ark of the Testament”, less than a year after his death, due in part because of a litany of miracles taking place at the humble friar’s tomb. His is the second fastest proclamation of a saint in history.

Today St. Anthony is venerated as a Saint for sailors and fishermen, barren woman and pregnant women, travelers and the poor, as well as those who seem have lost something. I like to think that perhaps the lost item may be more intrinsic rather than always something materialistic.

I marveled at the throngs of the faithful who had traveled to the Basilica for his feast day. At his tomb, hundreds lined up just for an opportunity of touching the huge cool marble edifice. There were a myriad of photographs and letters taped to the tomb and wall surrounding the tomb of people from all over the world who sought this humble saint’s assistance—many miracles are attributed to Anthony. The sheer number of people seeking Anthony’s aid overwhelmed me—I felt both a sense of sadness as well as comfort.

I can claim that I had a miracle—a truly undeserved miracle. It’s not something I proclaim by loudspeaker, as it was not deserved. I left an anonymous donation at his tomb, when we were in Padua, asking that the money be used in the ministry for the local poor, which a huge part of the works of the Franciscans at the Basilica.

Skeptics, non-believers, as well as many believers, would tell me that finding the bracelet was purely coincidental. Maybe so. But I know that I scoured every nook and cranny. There was no answer as to why the bracelet was in the pocket of a pair of pants that had been checked, taken to the cleaners, rechecked, dry-cleaned, eventually making their way back to the closet.

I have lived long enough to know that I cannot explain everything logically that takes place in our lives. Some things remain a mystery. Some things cannot be easily explained away. It is our nature to want to answer all questions and it is our arrogance in thinking that we can have all of those answers to all those questions. I, for one, am glad that it is not ours to know all.

St Anthony was dead for almost 40 years when a new Basilica was built in his honor—the church we see today. His body was to be moved to this new place of honor. It was St Bonaventure who presided over the removal of the body. Upon opening the tomb, St Anthony’s body had turned to dust, all but his tongue. His tongue was said to still be intact, fleshy and pink. St Bonaventure proclaimed “O Blessed Tongue that always praised the Lord, and made others bless Him, now it is evident what great merit thou hast before God.”

I know that not everything we pray for seems to be answered nor in the way in which we often desire. People will still get sick, people will still die, bad things will still happen to good people. Why is it to some things and why not to others? As I stated in the “about me” section of this blog, I marvel in the fact that I am the created and not the Creator—it is not for me to know all of the whys and the why nots.

http://st-anthony-medal.com/index.htm

http://www.stanthony.org/index.php/st-anthony-of-padua/

http://www.saintanthonyofpadua.net/portale/home.asp

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