The Vocation of a Soldier, Service and the Act of Love

…the soldier ought to train himself in every variety of change and irregularity, and, above all, to bring himself to endure hunger and the loss of sleep without difficulty.” Plutarch

Warfare has always been a part of the human condition and throughout recorded history philosophers and historians have taken a paradoxical, perhaps even schizophrenic take on warfare.  On one hand ancient historians, philosophers and theologians have debated the causes of war, recorded it horrific effects and the morality of governments employing warfare .  On the other hand, people have always been fascinated by the drama of war and our common myths  and histories have reflected this.  Greek historian Thucydides  recorded the horrors of a world-wide thirty year-long Greek civil war (The Peloponnesian Wars) with its terrors of mass destruction of cities, disease and famine while Herodotus records the heroism of outnumbered Greeks defending their polis and families from Xerxes’s Persian armies.   We have been enthralled with the mythical heroism, tragedy and yes, adventure of Homer’s Iliad and the Odyssey as well as the true adventure of Greek general Xenophon’s successful evacuation of ten thousand Greek mercenary soldiers under his command from deep behind enemy lines in Persia.   War brings out the best, and the worst of us and does so with cold honesty.  As Julius Caesar noted,  the stress of combat would crack open the truth of a man’s hidden inner strengths, virtues and weakness for all to see.  As he observed in the heat of battle:  “It was the hour that proclaimed the man.”

But war had its heroes too and ancient historians noted that war also held the lure of adventure and personnel glory.  It is a recurring theme in Plutarch’sLives of Noble Greeks and Romans” that talented men sought leadership in war as a means of adventure and political ambition.   However, some of Plutarch’s noble Greeks and Romans had more altruistic motives:  Roman General Titus Flamininus  lead an army into Greece, not as a conqueror, but a liberator.  He freed Greece from the invading tyrant King Phillip of Macedonia and took great satisfaction in “reconciling Greeks with Greeks.”

Flamininus  himself sought war only to bring about a more just peace.  Plutarch lauds him as a man of courage and wisdom who knew not only the art of war “but how  to employ that success [of war] to generous and honest purposes.”  Flamininus was one of the first practitioners of nation building and encouraged the newly liberated Greeks to “obedience to law, of constant justice, and unity, and friendship with one another. “

The New Testament has two other examples of soldiers serving in a foreign land engaging in “nation building” with the Roman Centurion of Capernaum from Luke’s Gospel and the Roman Centurion Cornelius in the Acts of the Apostles.  As you read through the accounts below notice how the Centurion’s acts of charity towards the Jewish people are acts of love not just duty.  Even more startling,  neither Jesus or the Apostle Peter ask these men to leave the Roman Army  even as they follow God! The Roman Officers’ faith in God and their love of their follow human beings are totally compatible and interwoven into their responsibilities as soldiers and leaders.  The implication is that a soldier,  serving with justice and love toward others, is a vocation.

When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people who were listening, he entered Capernaum. There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” So Jesus went with them. He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.

Luke Chapter 7 v 1-10

There was a man in Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion in the Roman Army.  He and his whole household were pious, Gentile God-worshippers. He gave generously to those in need among the Jewish people and prayed to God constantly. One day at nearly three o’clock in the afternoon, he clearly saw an angel from God in a vision. The angel came to him and said, “Cornelius!”Startled, he stared at the angel and replied, “What is it, Lord?” The angel said, “Your prayers and your compassionate acts are like a memorial offering to God. Send messengers to Joppa at once and summon a certain Simon, the one known as Peter.  From the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 10

As I reflect on Titus Famininus, and the two Roman Centurions I recall an insightful and illuminating incident early in my deployment to Afghanistan.  When I first arrived in February of 2006, I like most of my fellow soldiers were filled with thoughts of our upcoming year-long deployment.  We faced a year of danger, hard work and long hours away from our families and comforts of home.  Although we were not filled with self-pity, we were for the moment self focused.  All of that changed when a slightly heavy-set older Afghan man in a rumbled suit insisted on speaking at our commanding general’s assumption of mission ceremony in Bagram Afghanistan.  Our general was visibly flustered being pushed off the center stage.  After all, it was his moment.  He was going to lead American soldiers into battle and it was his right to sound the charge!
The 10th Mountain Division assumes command of Military operations in Afghanistan, Feb 2006

Into this breach of protocol this quiet, unassuming man stepped up to the podium.  He was the Afghan Minister of Defense, Abdul Rahim Wardak and his heart-felt, unprepared remarks changed my perspective on the year ahead in an unexpected way.

He began by saying how amazed he was at the dedication of the American military for traveling thousands of miles from their homes and families, especially since he lived in a country were most people rarely ventured a few miles from the village they were born in.  It was nice of him to notice our sacrifices to deploy to Afghanistan but what he said next changed everything:

The People of Afghanistan are touched by the generosity and bravery of Americans. … Their willingness to leave their families, to sacrifice even their lives so that the people of Afghanistan can have a better future. I am touched by such love and I can only hope that the people of Afghanistan will show themselves worthy of such love shown to them.

– Abdul Rahim Wardak February 2006

I was stunned,  In the mist of war, this man talked about love.  How sacrifice on behalf of those we served as soldiers was love.  From that moment on thru the rest of my deployment, I vowed to see my service in Afghanistan as an opportunity to practice love and not ever allow myself a moment of focus on my circumstances.  Thank you Mr. Wardak, for your words of wisdom and for having the courage to speak out that day even though it ruffled the pomp and circumstance of the moment.

A young boy seeks shelter behind a soldier with the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne division after gunshots rang out at the scene where just a few minutes earlier a suicide car bomber blew himself up in a busy commercial district in central Baghdad on Monday, May 28, 2007, killing at least 21 people and wounding 66, police and hospital officials said. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed )

Post Script:

I want to take a moment to thank all of my family members who have served with love and honor in the military over the years. They were not only good soldiers, but more importantly they were, and are, good men.

  • Brother David Bolton Lt. Colonel (US Army): Gulf War
  • Brother Peter Bolton Staff Sergeant (US Army): Cold War
  • Cousin John Heslin Lt. Colonel (US Air Force): Afghanistan
  • Cousin Jim Heslin Captain (US Army): Cold War
  • Uncle Thomas Savoie Lt. Colonel (US Army):  Cold War
  • Uncle Paul Savoie  Technical Sergeant (US Air Force) Cold War
  • Uncle Jack Heslin Lt. Colonel (US Army)  multiple tours Vietnam
  • Great Uncle James Bolton Sergeant (USMC)  India and Pacific WWII
  • Great Uncle Thomas Bolton Chief Petty Officer (US Navy) WWII Pacific theater, only survivor of the USS Bain
  • Great Uncle Raymond  Gaffney  Sergeant (US Army)  WWII
  • 5th Great Grandfather Laurent De Soly, Spanish soldier served with a Swiss Regiment in Ft. Louisbourg, Acadia, Canada
  • 18th Great Grandfather Amadeus VI Count of Savoy (Crusades)
  • 47th Great Grandfather Flavius Richomeres General (Roman Army):  At Adrianople he tried to persuade Roman Emperor Valens to wait on additional forces for support before engaging the Goths. When the Gothic leader Fritigern demanded hostages to secure peace from the Romans Flavius Richomeres volunteered and departed the Roman camp to bring the other hostages safely to Fritigern, but before he arrived some elements of the two armies got out of control and engaged, starting the famous Battle of Adrianople. Richomeres ended up at a battlefield in complete chaos but he saved himself and a portion of the Roman Army from annihilation by withdrawing. However the Roman army of Valens was largely destroyed and many officers fell including emperor Valens.

My Uncle Jack is certainly one of my heroes.  When I was a child during the Vietnam War, he took on an almost mythical in stature. He is also a dedicated historian of the Vietnam and hosts an informative website on the Battle of Kontum late in the Vietnam war.  If you have served in Vietnam, or the military or just  have a deep respect of what our Vietnam veterans sacrificed for our country then please visit his website.

It has all of the drama, tragedy and heroism worthy of Plutarch, Thucydides , Herodotus and Xenophon.

“I Love”: A Sanctifying Response to Adversity

Humility is a genuine sense of your place in the universe and understanding that it is OK to play a quiet, supportive role in the lives of others.      -Paul David Hewson

When I was young my memories of my grandfather, Joseph A Bolton II, or “Granddad” as he was known to us, were straight forward and simple:

-He especially loved the Red Sox as well as all Boston sports teams

-He liked to laugh and joke

-He was strong and could still beat me in an arm wrestle when I was a teenager

-He was always willing to give a hug

-He would give us each a quarter to “go get some ice cream” at Bliss Bros Dairy in Attleboro MA at the end of our visits with him

Granddad’s life was beset by tragedy and missed opportunities.  A gifted student who loved school, Granddad was heartbroken when his father pulled him out at sixteen to get a job to support the family. Two years later, the Red Sox invited him to try out in spring training.  A talented catcher, he seemed destined to be a great professional baseball player. His father, however, would not give him the money or his permission to take the train to the try outs. Granddad begged on his knees to no avail.

My Grandfather Joe Bolton as a catcher (first row on left) on the Hebronville (Attleboro Massachusetts) youth baseball team
Joe and Teresa Bolton wedding October 1938

He married my grandmother in October instead of waiting until the following spring so he could get her out of a dangerous home situation.

My grandparents share a laugh a few months before they were married

 They were still a young couple when their married life was radically altered when my grandmother became an invalid.  Suddenly Granddad had four  children and a wife to take care of.  This meant doing all of the house cleaning, cooking, and washing on top of working up to three jobs.  A lesser man would have folded and an average man might have persevered only grudgingly. Granddad never complained and with a quiet cheerfulness supported his family.  He tenderly loved and cared for my grandmother always.

A strong and handsome man, he was loyal to his wife in thought and deed and never felt that he was “entitled” to look for companionship elsewhere.  Later in life, tragedy struck again when his beloved older brother Eddie died just before I was born.

Eddie Bolton (L) and my Grandfather on the right

Granddad had a strong sense of justice and fairness. One night, dressed in a tuxedo walking to a boxing match in Providence, he saw a group of men roughing up a teen aged boy. Unlike some of his more pugnacious brothers, Granddad never looked for a fight.  Given the odds, no one would blame him if he walked on by on the other side of the street. But Granddad’s courage matched his sense of fair play and he jumped into the middle of the men and took them on allowing the boy escape and call the police.

Granddad understood the proper roles in the family and the importance that respect for your elders plays in them. For example, he was charitable to his father in law, even though he was not a good man.  One summer at the beach, my father struck my grandmother’s brother Harold who was teasing and bullying him.  My grandfather’s sense of the natural order of things would not let my father escape punishment for hitting his uncle.  However, Granddad understood that justice had been served to Harold when afterward he pulled my father aside and explained that while he had to spank him, he thought that Uncle Harold had that slug coming to him.

The Bolton family camping on Horseneck Beach, Massachusetts. My father is on the far left foreground with infamous Uncle Harold lurking in the back.
The Bolton Family on their annual vacation on Horseneck Beach. Left to right, my father, Nana, Granddad, and in the front, Aunt Patty, Aunt Gerri and Uncle Ray.

Granddad’s unwavering dedication and sacrifice for his family, his generosity, sense of justice and perseverance proclaimed him a good man. To be a saint though, there was one more thing that set him apart: every day, even thru all the jobs, caring and cleaning he had to do, Granddad still made time to kneel at his bedside and say the Rosary.

The last couple of years of his life Granddad suffered with a relapse of stomach cancer. Two days before he died, Granddad had a dream of heaven.  As he explains; “there were all these bright lights, and my mother was there. I kept yelling for my brother Eddie and my mother would reassure me that Eddie was right here.” The day before he died, he hung up his best suit on his bedroom door and placed his rosary in the pocket of the jacket. The next day, he signed his will and within minutes he had a heart attack and was taken to the hospital.

His last words perfectly encapsulated his response to all life gave him as a brother, husband, father, grandfather, and yes, saint:

“I love”



Who is Paul David Hewson? Here is a picture of him receiving communion at a Mass in Bogota after a concert.

Mr. Hewson is also known as Bono from the Irish band U2.  My thanks to my cousin Tom Savoie for sharing the quote at the top of the page and helping to inspire this blog post.


Hippocrates on Social Justice

Wherever the art of Medicine is loved, there is also a love of Humanity

Hippocrates of Kos 460-370 BC

Hippocrates of Kos was an ancient Greek physician who is considered the father of clinical medicine.  He was the first known healer to understand the importance of observation in the diagnosis of illnesses.  Hippocrates realized that by carefully noting the progression of a disease in patients in the past a physician could predict how that disease would affect a new patient and how they would respond to treatment. He also advocated a holistic approach to medicine, noting that exercise, diet and mental well being had a significant impact on a persons health.

Hippocrates placed the art of healing on a firm scientific foundation by teaching that illnesses had natural, not supernatural causes. Science, not magic or superstition, would help humanity to discover the causes and treatment of ill health.  But Hippocrates was more than an early scientist, he placed medicine on an ethical foundation that was predicated on a love of the patient and of people in general.

Ask someone about the Hippocratic Oath and they will likely tell you that it has two precepts:

  • Do no harm
  • Maintain patient confidentiality

Few people outside of the medical profession have read it and until I picked up Hippocrates in my collection of Britannica’s Great Books of the Western World  (Volume 10) neither had I.  Fewer still have ever heard it recited and fewer still have heard in recited in the language that Hippocrates himself would have used.  Before I go any further listen to the Hippocratic oath as spoken in Ancient Greek at the link below.  Close you eyes if you like, and immerse yourself in the poetry that is the common inheritance of all humanity.

Did you listen? You may have been surprised at how long it is and if you read along with the translation you now know that Hippocrates has a lot more to say than: “Do no harm” and “maintain patient confidentiality.” And I would dare say, Hippocrates is speaking to a larger audience than the medical profession.  Let’s take a closer look…

I swear by Apollo the Healer, by Asclepius, by Hygieia, by Panacea, and by all the gods and goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I will fulfill according to my ability and judgment, this oath and this covenant:

Notice that Hippocrates doesn’t swear by his fellow Greeks or their laws. Instead he acknowledges that he must ultimately obey higher laws of justice, above the fickle laws of human civilization.

To hold him who has taught me this art as equal to my parents; to live in common with him and if he is in need of money to give him a share of mine. To look upon his children as my own brothers, and to teach them this art -if they desire to learn it- without fee and covenant;

We need to love our teachers, our mentors, our elders in general who have given us much; their love, their knowledge, wisdom and experience. We are not self made and we need to have the humility to acknowledge that we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us.

To give a share of precepts and oral instruction and all the other learning to my own sons, and to those of him who has been my teacher and to disciples who have signed the covenant and have taken an oath according to the medical law, and no one else.

In turn, we can not be selfish with the gifts and wisdom that has been entrusted to us. In our past we received the gifts of others, in time we must also be givers to those who come after us. 

I will apply dietetic measures for the benefit of the sick according to my ability and judgment; I will keep them from harm and injustice.

We must protect those who have been entrusted into our care from the harm or injustice caused by others. Not just as the practitioners of medicine, but also as parents, teachers, coaches, caregivers and supervisors. 

I will give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked, nor suggest any such counsel. Similarly, I will not give to a woman an abortive remedy.

Human life is sacred, even 2400 years ago. Its no accident that Hippocrates places his prohibition of subscribing deadly medicine and abortion together.  All human life is to be protected, young and old, the weak and the powerful, rich or poor.

In purity and holiness, I will preserve my life and my art.

We must be pure and unselfish in our motives when we serve others. Our vocations in life, or “Art” as Hippocrates might say, proclaim who we are, not just what we do on the side. 

I will not use the knife, even on suffers from stone, but will let this operation to specialized practitioners.

Our actions must stay within our knowledge and experience of what we can competently do. We must avoid unnecessary risks that could harm others and ourselves.  

Whatever houses I may visit, I will come for the benefit of the sick, keeping myself far from all intentional injustice and ill-doing, among others, of sexual deeds on bodies female or male, be they free or slaves.

We must protect the innate dignity of all human beings, revering them as the sons and daughters of the Creator. No person exists, regardless of their origin or status to be used or abused by us. 

What I may see or hear in the course of the treatment or even outside of it in regard to the life of men, which ought not to be spread outside, I will keep secret, considering them improper to talk about.

We don’t gossip and we protect the privacy of others.  We protect the dignity of others while they are vulnerable. 

If I keep this oath and not violate it may I enjoy my life and my art respected by all men and in the time to come.  But if I transgress it and swear falsely, let the reverse be my lot.

The side benefit of conducting ourselves well in our vocations can be the respect of others.  Nevertheless, we need to hold ourselves and well as others accountable. 


Sadly, the Hippocratic Oath no longer seems taken at medical School graduations.  The modern criticism is that “it is sworn to a Pagan god(s)” or that “it’s to restrictive” and that modern doctors don’t like being bound by an Oath that in this litigious society could be used against them.  Others want to be able to perform abortions and euthanasia making the Hippocratic Oath outdated.  I have seen updated versions of a Hippocratic Oath that remove the restrictions on euthanasia and abortions. They lack the poetic power of the original and to be frank, don’t seem to be worth the trouble to swearing to.

Is treating people with respect and God given dignity outdated? If ancient people could at least strive to respect the dignity of human life, could we, who are far more advanced do the same?  As far as I know, Hippocrates never left a commentary on why his Oath says what it says.  Nevertheless, I think my own assessment is close to his intent:

  • Respect the laws of God and man
  • Love others; as individuals and as members of the human race
  • Respect the bodies and personhood of others
  • Protect others from harm or injustice
  • Respect those who came before you and pass on what you know to others who come after you
  • Protect human life, no matter how old, small, sick or vulnerable
  • Respect the privacy of others
  • Hold ourselves and others accountable when we fail to treat others with dignity and justice.

Not a bad creed to live by…


Here is the Hippocratic Oath in its entirety without commentary:

I swear by Apollo the Healer, by Asclepius, by Hygieia, by Panacea, and by all the gods and goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I will fulfill according to my ability and judgment, this oath and this covenant:

To hold him who has taught me this art as equal to my parents; to live in common with him and if he is in need of money to give him a share of mine. To look upon his children as my own brothers, and to teach them this art -if they desire to learn it- without fee and covenant;

To give a share of precepts and oral instruction and all the other learning to my own sons, and to those of him who has been my teacher and to disciples who have signed the covenant and have taken an oath according to the medical law, and no one else.

I will apply dietetic measures for the benefit of the sick according to my ability and judgment; I will keep them from harm and injustice.

I will give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked, nor suggest any such counsel. Similarly, I will not give to a woman an abortive remedy.

In purity and holiness, I will preserve my life and my art.

I will not use the knife, even on suffers from stone, but will let this operation to specialized practitioners.

Whatever houses I may visit, I will come for the benefit of the sick, keeping myself far from all intentional injustice and ill-doing, among others, of sexual deeds on bodies female or male, be they free or slaves.

What I may see or hear in the course of the treatment or even outside of it in regard to the life of men, which ought not to be spread outside, I will keep secret, considering them improper to talk about.

If I keep this oath and not violate it may I enjoy my life and my art respected by all men and in the time to come. But if I transgress it and swear falsely, let the reverse be my lot.



Helene Menard and the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary

When Helene Menard (Lataille) 1925-2017 passed away her son-in-law, my Uncle Tom Savoie asked if I would lead a Rosary during her internment at Notre Dame Cemetery in Pawtucket RI.   I was honored to do so.  Even though the internment was on a Wednesday I asked that we use the Luminous Mysteries normally reserved for Thursday.  Added to the Rosary by Pope John Paul II in 2002, the Luminous Mysteries  are the newest mysteries and are only said once a week.

The Luminous Mysteries blend in Jesus’s humility and love for us; in the Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist, in a call to action, in a mother’s tender love and in the wonderful promises of Jesus’s Transfiguration. The Mysteries of the Rosary are an inexhaustible wellspring of insights on God’s love for us for those that take the time to meditate on them.  That’s the key to understanding the Rosary; it’s not a repetition of Our Fathers and Hail Marys but a meditation on the life of Jesus set to the music of our prayers.

As I prepared for the internment, I reflected on how the Mysteries illuminated the life of Helene Menard.  Below is a transcript of my introductions to each Luminous Mystery at the internment.

1.The Baptism of Jesus: Jesus is baptized by St John the Baptist in the Jordan River.  People gathered on the shore, some to be baptized, others to self-righteously gawk at sinners who would come to St John to be cleansed from their sins.  A humble yet sinless Jesus comes to a shocked John the Baptist asking to be baptized.

By His Baptism Jesus brings His Divinity into our fallen and weak human nature. In turn, through our baptism, Jesus promises us to take our human nature into His divinity.  Jesus has kept that Baptismal promise to Memere and with her passing has taken her to Himself.


2.The Wedding feast at Cana: Jesus, His Mother and His apostles attend a wedding. Here Jesus, at the request of His Mother, turns water into wine.  With motherly concern she wanted her Son to perform a miracle to save the young newlyweds from the embarrassment of running out of wine at their own wedding.  His Mother Mary, like all loving mothers, was tuned into the little troubles of life.

Jesus gave us everything that was exclusively His. Why should we be surprised that He would give us His Mother as well?  And not only His mother, but a mother especially for each of us, like Memere.  Memere loved Jesus’s mother very much, and like her she was concerned about us, not only in the important things, but also the small things that only a mother would worry about.


3.The Proclamation of the Kingdom: Jesus charged not only His apostles to preach the Gospel but gave us the same task as well. Not only are we use our words, but our actions. Memere’s words and actions brought Jesus to those around her.

How did Memere preach the gospel?  Through her example of daily prayer and daily Mass, and by donating her time and treasure to those in need.  For example, even as her eyesight dimmed, and her hands became unsteady, she continued to make Rosaries for others like the one I am using today.  Let’s follow her example and through our love bring Jesus to others.


4.The Transfiguration: Just days before the agony of His crucifixion, Jesus strengthened His three closest apostles with a stunning vision of His glory.  All that seemed forgotten in the sadness in Jesus’ death but only to be remembered again in the joy of His Resurrection.

We too should take comfort in the wonderful moments when Memere was among us and look with hope to the joy of our reunion with our family in Heaven and in the Resurrection to come.


5.The Institution of the Eucharist: Jesus, who loved us to the end, could not bear the thought of leaving us orphans. To be with us always, He instituted at the Last Supper the great gift of His presence in the Eucharistic Bread and Wine. Jesus is truly present in every tabernacle of every church across the world. He waits patiently there for us, wanting to hear of our joys and sorrows and to come to Him out of pure love.

When we sit in front of the Eucharist, Jesus is there with us.   At the same time, all of those who have gone before us in the friendship of Jesus are there with Him also.  So what does that mean? When we encounter Jesus, we also encounter His saints in Heaven because where He is, they are also. Do you want to be close again to Memere and our family in heaven?  Stay close to Jesus in the Eucharist.

Post Script Notes:

Why Memere?

Even though Helene Menard is not my biological grandmother, I could not imagine calling her anything else but Memere.  Memere, French for grandmother, is a term of respect, reverence and endearment.  Even my mother’s sister’s husbands are “Uncle” Jack and “Uncle” Dave to me.  Doing so has laid the firm foundation for a close, loving relationship of respect and mentorship.   Even at 53,  all of my older relatives are referred to by me as “Uncle” or “Aunt.” When my niece Elizabeth got married I asked her new husband Collin to call me Uncle Joe.  By doing so I hope to grow into a close relationship with him like my relationships with Uncle Jack and Uncle Dave.  I really hope so, because he’s a great young man and I am very fond of him.

I have that relationship with my first cousin’s son Andrew Savoie and his wife Rosalyn.  He is the same age as my oldest daughter and after taking about it, I became Uncle Joe.  Just “Joe” felt awkward to both of us because it felt like a barrier rather than a facilitator for communication. We all have plenty of buddies but uncle and aunts are far rarer in our lives and I would rather have a few more of them then more pals to hang out with.

Memere’s Rosaries 

Memere was a prolific Rosary maker and her typical output of these treasures was two per day. I am blessed to have a couple of her home made Rosaries. The one I used for her internment in Pawtucket Rhode Island is extra special and rare because Memere made an obvious mistake making it.  In the middle, one decade only has nine Hail Mary beads instead of ten and is followed by two Our Father beads.

Memere’s daughter Aunt Jackie said that Memere would normally never let an error like that escape without being corrected. The nine bead decade reminds me that human hands, not a factory, made this Rosary and that even as Memere began to fail she continued to make them even to the end.

Memere’s Obituary can be found here (It will take a moment to load):

Saying the Rosary:

Plutarch: Ancient Philosopher reflects on even more Ancient Heroes and their Virtues

It was for the sake of others that I first commenced writing biographies; but I find myself proceeding and attaching myself to it for my own; the virtues of these great men serving me as a sort of looking glass, in which I may see how to adjust and adorn my own life.

Plutarch, Greek historian and biographer, 46 to 120 AD


When I began Augustine’s Alley three years ago after my brother died, my initial  posts were released in a torrent as from a broken dam.  For years I have been thinking about Faith, Reason and Science and how they dance and intertwine with each other in our pursuit of truth and meaning.  Writing the blog was a heartfelt relief from the pressure of keeping those thoughts bottled up and it was an effective therapy from the stress of my brother’s long decline from ALS.  The blog also coincided with the discovery of the Savoie family history confirming our Savoie family legends and discovery our connections to some of Catholicism’s influential and inspiring saints.

I choose Saint Augustine as the blog’s namesake because of his tireless pursuit of truth and ultimately his courage in going to where ever that pursuit of truth would lead him to, even if it cost him personally.  Greek philosopher Aristotle’s maxim “The Unexamined Life isn’t Worth Living” provided Augustine’s Alley with it’s motto.  Aristotle believed that self-reflection, inquiry and contemplation of truth were essential to human nature.  Lurking in the background is medieval philosopher and theologian Saint Thomas Aquinas (Also the Savoie family’s 20th great Uncle).  Great Uncle Saint Thomas, standing on the shoulders of Aristotle and Augustine, put the Catholic faith on a firm foundation of reason.

If this all sounds like a goodbye to Augustine’s Alley it isn’t.  However, it is an admission that that blog writing is hard to sustain in the long run. If you have been a follower of blogs you can count many them that have faded away in neglect.  Nevertheless, Augustine’s Alley is here to stay.

OK, If Augustine’s Alley is staying then what’s the point? It’s fashionable among elites to today to deride the ancients as irrelevant as best, ethnocentric at worse and that there is no value in the study of the lives and thoughts of ancient “dead guys.” After all, the thinking goes, we are modern,  we are hip and enlightened far above anyone born before 1900.

Ironically,  ancient philosophers and historians asked similar questions of those who came hundreds of years before them.  Plutarch began his “Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans”  as a project for others and not himself.  Like many of us today, he saw himself as a sufficiently educated and had no need of the wisdom of the past.  A couple of lives in, while writing the beginning of a biographical sketch of Greek general Timoleon, Plutarch had a revelation. As he put it: It was for the sake of others that I first commenced writing biographies; but I find myself proceeding and attaching myself to it for my own; the virtues of these great men serving me as a sort of looking glass, in which I may see how to adjust and adorn my own life.”

Aristotle noted that the beginning of wisdom is to first acknowledge how little we really know and understand.  True learning takes humility, and without it learning becomes route memorization or even worse just indoctrination without contemplation of truth.  Plutarch himself was humbled studying the lives of the noble Greeks and Romans who came before him. It was only then in that spirit of openness  that Plutarch was able to draw out lessons of virtues and flaws and reflect them to himself and grow in wisdom.

So why the classics? Why study ancient philosophers?  Because true education draws us to truth, makes us grow in virtue as individuals and as a society.  The pursuit of philosophy, in a true spirit of open inquiry and humility, make us truly human. As Plutarch notes:

Education and study, and the favor of the muses, confer no greater benefit on those that seek them, than these humanizing and civilizing lessons, which teach our natural qualities to submit to the limitations prescribed by reason, and to avoid the wildness of extremes.

But virtue, by the bare statement of its actions, can so affect men’s minds as to create at once both admiration of the things done and the desire to imitate the doers of them.

So that it becomes a man’s duty to pursue and make after the best and choicest of everything, that he may not only employ his contemplation, but may also be improved by it.


Post Script Notes:

Augustine’s Alley story on my family history can  be found here..

for my brother Davy’s story…

Anyone who works in a dynamic and stress full office environment can understand the pitfalls of office politics. I found this gem from from Plutarch that I printed and promptly posted on the wall next to my desk:

So true it is that the minds of men are easily shaken and carried off from their own sentiments through the casual commendation or reproof of others, unless the judgments that we make, and the purposes we conceive, be confirmed by reason and philosophy, and thus obtain strength and steadiness.

I certainly have had occasion to glance at it while at work.


So what are you reading now? It’s fashionable to fuss and obsess over what we put in our mouths but ignore the effects of what we are putting in our minds.  As Plutarch noted of the ill effects of junk reading:

With like reason may we blame those who misuse that love of inquiry and observation which nature has implanted in our souls, by expanding it on objects unworthy of the attention either their eyes or their ears, while they disregard such as are excellent in themselves, and would do them some good.

Maybe its time to go on that mental diet for our philosophical health? For some ideas please look at my post of Britannica’s Great Books.

Post Script notes #2:  Plutarch has been posted for a few hours now and after reflecting on what I wrote, I feel I may have shortchanged this man and his work. The Roman and Greeks presented to us by Plutarch are real human beings and not just in a historical sense.  Plutarch conjures up intricate and tangible portraits of real people, all with a mix of virtues and vices, and strengths and weaknesses  navigating a tough and sometimes terrifying world.  It’s good stuff and in my opinion exceeds even Game of Thrones in drama. Why? Because it’s real…

Silence and the Last Temptation of Father Rodrigues

Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat.  

Luke 22:31 Jesus’ warning to Simon Peter

Warning Spoilers!

Martin Scorsese’s epic Silence, based on the 1966 novel by Shūsaku Endō is a stunning but challenging work of cinematic achievement.  Like all truly beautiful art, Silence requires demands our full attention to even begin to process it subtlety and symbolism.

Silence starts as a Heart of Darkness search for a brilliant Jesuit priest Father Cristóvão Ferreira (played by Liam Neeson) who may have apotheosized his Catholic Faith during the Christian persecutions in 17th Century Japan. Horrified at the slander to their mentor and spiritual father, two younger Portuguese Jesuits, Father Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver) volunteer to search Japan for him.  At best they hope to clear his name, or if the worse be true, to save his soul for God.

Their guide to the hidden Christian communities in Japan is the drunken outcast Kichijiro who has apostatized his Catholic faith.  Of course apostatizing is very simple: all one needs to do is to step on a carved icon called a “fumie.”  Kichijiro has survivor’s guilt after watching his entire family martyred for their Christian faith.  He begs Father Rodrigues to hear his confession and laments that he is a weak man who should have been born in a more peaceful time.

Fr Rodrigues and Father Garupe find the faith still alive in small, isolated villages. The Japanese Catholics they find there have been without a priest and the Sacraments for years. Christ’s lambs are starving and eagerly embrace the priest who in turn feed them with the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Confession. For a short time the priests minister their flock but with the Inquisitor, Inoue Masashige, closing in Father Rodrigues and Father Garupe decide to split up.

Kichijiro, the weak man that he is, betrays Father Rodrigues to the Inquisitor and is placed with other captured Christians. Defiant, Father Rodrigues says that persecution only makes him stronger and says he wants a “real challenge” to his faith. That severe challenge arrives in the person of Father Ferreira, who has indeed apostatized.

Liam Neeson’s Ferreira is a broken, joyless man, who nervously glances back to his Japanese handlers under the shocked accusations from Rodrigues.  Not only is Ferreira a defeated man but he is also an evil man in the sense of St. Thomas Aquinas. He’s evil not because of what he does but by what he lacks. He is a man deprived of almost every good: his faith, his culture, his courage, his vocation as a priest, even his very identity.  Ferreira’s inward damnation is effectively symbolized by the Japanese name of an executed criminal that is now forced upon him as his own. Very little of Ferreira is left in the shell of a man that sits across from Rodrigues. As Ferreira himself states, “I am he is no longer the man that you once knew”.

That night, Father Rodrigues is forced to watch five Japanese Christian tortured by anazuri (a method that involves being hung upside down over a pit and slowly bled).  In the shadowy darkness of the Father Rodrigues’s prison cell, Ferreira’s eyes shine black. He taunts Rodrigues, saying that the tortured screams he is hearing is his own fault, if he would just but lightly touch the fumie with his foot it the prisoners would be released. With the fumie just a step away, Ferreira administers the coup de gras, telling Rodrigues if Christ was here right now He would step on the Fumie to save the tortured people and that it would be Rodrigues greatest act of love if he would just step.  At this moment, Christ apparently breaks His silence to Rodrigues: “Come ahead now. It’s all right. Step on Me. I understand your pain. I was born into this world to share men’s pain. I carried this cross for your pain. Step.”

As Rodrigues steps, a cock crows three times …

Was the voice of Christ real? Was it just the delusion of a sleep deprived, tortured brain? Or was the voice something else entirely? One hint seems to emerge as the voice continues after Rodrigues steps: “Your life is now with Me.”  Jesus said that the greatest love is for a man to lay down for the sake of others but only the Devil would ask a man to lay down his very soul to save himself from pain.

So what about us? Rodrigues fumie undid him because he fell victim to two lies: The belief that the innocent can be made responsible for the evil actions of others, in this case the torture of the Japanese Christians, and that doing evil to counter a greater evil will bring about a good. For Rodrigues the results were tragic, he lost everything and at best he may have only one a temporary reprieve for the Japanese Christians who will likely still face death at a later time.

We are faced with Fumies whenever we believe that doing a “small” evil in the hope of preventing an even greater evil add up to a good. It is only with faith, trust and above all else humility that can give us the strength not to step when we should not.


Faith and Doubt

Moderator introduction: I’m please to introduce guest blogger Thomas Savoie. Like his name sake and and 20th great uncle Thomas Aquinas, he reminds us that reason and a searching intellect go hand in hand with us on our journey of faith.


The Nature of Faith and Doubt

Intellectual pain is an underrated cost of following Christ.   If I didn’t care about following Christ, I wouldn’t care so much about being honest, seeking truth, facing reality.   I would be more tempted to simply go with the flow, take the easy way, and maybe anesthetize my intellectual pain instead of persevering through it toward the truth.”                                                                                                                                                                                                    —Brian Mc Laren


Among the more troubling aspects of my Catholic faith have been my misunderstandings and confusion concerning the nature of Faith and Doubt.  I believed that my doubts weakened my soul, displeased God, and hindered my quest for salvation.  Others around me didn’t seem to experience the number of doubts, disbelief and turmoil in their faith life that I did.  As a child I believed everything I thought Catholicism told me to believe.  How and why did my faith get so far off track?  I began to believe that my lack of faith put my soul in jeopardy.

About two years ago I resolved to carefully examine my beliefs on faith and doubt through a structured reading plan.  I’ve read much of the Catholic Catechism; Catholic Doctrine; Catholic Dogma; and the writings of theologians, early Church Fathers, and contemporary authors.  I learned that many of my assumptions about Faith and Doubt were just flat wrong.  My troubled attitude towards my faith began to lift.

This blog article is a humble attempt to summarize what I’ve taken away from my reading program.  I offer no assurances that the Church would agree with all my findings.  Nor do I recommend you accept my conclusions without doing your own “due diligence”.  If this blog article causes you to prayerfully reflect on your own Catholic beliefs, then publishing this article in Joe’s blog will have been worth my effort.

This article uses a Question and Answer format.  I wanted the article to be an easy but thought-provoking read.  I hope I’ve succeeded.   Your questions and comments are always appreciated.

Q  What conclusions did you find most surprising in your study of faith and doubt?

  1. First, both experts and lay people offer widely differing views concerning the nature of faith and doubt. Some theologians, clergy and religious authors appear to draw opposite conclusions concerning the nature of Faith and Doubt.  Catholic laity seems to largely rely on grade school religious education to support their adult beliefs.
  2. Second, some Christians, particularly Christian Fundamentalists, consider doubt to be the work of the devil and a hallmark of a troubled or weak faith. Some preach that doubt is something to be cast out if one wants to attain salvation.  Through my studies I now believe every man or woman has experienced doubt as a part of their faith journey.  Popes, saints, even Jesus Christ, struggled with doubt.  St. Teresa of Calcutta suffered spiritual torment and feelings of abandonment by God for nearly 50 years.   During Christ’s anguished night before His death He prayed “Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” Later, He cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Surely we must consider doubt as a benign part of our faith.
  3. Third, doubt can often be a doorway to spiritual growth, but not always. Author Brian McLaren reminds us that all Christians are committed to lifelong spiritual growth. That means five years from now, your set of beliefs will likely be different from today’s set of beliefs. Hopefully your beliefs will be more judiciously considered, more mature, and more balanced. What causes us to examine a belief and test it?  Perhaps it’s that something inside us isn’t at rest about a particular belief … something in you doubts that belief.
  4. Lastly, many Christians (myself included) who professed a strong faith in God, could not list what they consider the most important or essential beliefs of their faith. This begs a question in my mind. Have I carefully considered which specific beliefs of my faith I am totally committed to believe, and those I disbelieve or doubt?

Q  Is faith an emotion?  Is it the same as belief?

Feelings are of no account.  Faith is not a feeling, but an act of will.  God reveals the truth of his love to us and empowers us to believe and trust.  Though love and faith can sometimes spring from the emotions, they are nourished and sustained in the will.  As one author put it “I am not moved by what I see. I am not moved by what I feel. I am moved only by what I believe.”

Faith is a gift of enlightenment given to us by God.  It’s not the same as belief.   Once enlightened, we then choose to believe truths and make them a part of our faith.

Q  Is doubt the “work of the devil”?

Fundamentalists have little tolerance for any doubt and a strict literal interpretation of the Bible. Some Fundamentalist and Evangelical Christian authors warn “Christians with doubts are on a sure path to wickedness because doubt is a device of the Devil.  Satan wants to rob us of our faith in the Word of God because it leads us straight into sin. Satan is the source of all doubt.”  Fundamentalist preach a literal translation of the bible.  “Interpreting the Bible is the bane of Fundamentalism and a primary cause of wicked doubts.”

On the other hand, a Second Vatican Council document on Divine Revelation points to the importance of considering history, culture, literary forms and the intentions of the sacred writers when interpreting Scripture.

Most mainstream Christian denominations acknowledge that doubt and imperfect faith are part and parcel of every person’s faith journey, saints included.  And it’s more than just possible, even probable, to have a weak faith and to achieve salvation.

Author Madeline L’engle wroteThose who believe they believe in God but without passion in the heart, without anguish of the mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even at times without despair, believe only in the idea of God, and not in God Himself.”

My conclusion is that doubts do not necessarily endanger your chance for salvation.  As St Augustine wrote, “Doubt is but another element of faith.”

When Thomas the Apostle required forensic proof of Jesus’s resurrection before he’d believe, Jesus showed immense patience and love toward his doubting Thomas.  I am greatly comforted by that, and firmly believe Jesus accepts our doubts with patient love.  I continue to pray that Jesus will gift me with a deeper faith that will reveal over time other beliefs critical to my faith life.

Q  Isn’t doubt a sign of a weak or flawed faith that could cause you the loss of heaven?

As I mentioned earlier, at one time I was plagued by this fear, and I brooded over my many doubts.  Interestingly, most of my serious doubts had little or nothing to do with Catholic dogma.  The majority of my doubts were focused on elements of Church doctrine, i.e. teachings, traditions, papal pronouncements, church rules, and seemingly endless explanations and embellishments of Jesus’ words and actions.

It may be useful at this point to review the differences between doctrine and dogma.   In general, doctrine is comprised of all Church teaching in matters of faith and morals. Dogma is more narrowly defined as that part of doctrine which has been divinely revealed and which the Church has formally defined and declared to be believed as revealed.  An example may illustrate the differences:  Some Catholics have lobbied Rome to elevate Mary’s status beyond Virgin Mother of Jesus.  Some wish Mary to be referred to as the Mother of Salvation, the Co-Redeemer, and the Mediatrix of all Graces.  These titles for Mary are considered by some in the Church to already be a part of Church doctrine.  But the changes haven’t been elevated to Church Dogma.  Supporters say they will not rest until they are successful in their efforts to raise Mary to Co-Redeemer with Jesus.

  1. What are the sources of Catholic Dogma and Catholic Doctrine?

As a result of my study of Faith and Doubt, I’ve tried to narrow what I consider the essential beliefs of Catholicism.  Interestingly, in my opinion, nearly all the essential beliefs are sourced from Church Dogma, the revealed word of God, rather than from Church Doctrine.

The full body of beliefs that define our faith would fill hundreds, if not thousands of volumes.  There is a huge array of sources that have become important for the practicing Catholic to heed.  Sources include Church Dogma and Church Doctrine, with Doctrine being the far more detailed set of the two.  Doctrine includes Church Teachings, Catholic rules, traditions, Pastoral Letters, papal Encyclicals, Papal Bulls, etc.  Conversely, Dogma is the set of beliefs that have been Divinely revealed.  In my opinion, Catholic Dogma comprises most, if not all Catholicism’s most essential core beliefs.

If Catholics simply claim full faith in everything contained in Doctrine and Dogma, without really knowing which specific truths they claim to believe, do they not feel the need for a rational basis for what they claim to believe.   I wonder how many Catholics shrug their shoulders, say that they believe everything a Catholic should believe, and then walk away comforted that they have near perfect faith.   I have come to find it preferable to focus my faith on Catholicism’s most essential core beliefs rather than simply claim that I believe everything the Catholic Church says and teaches.

Q  What specifically does the Church consider the essential elements of Catholic Dogma

The essentials of Church Dogma are, for the most part, clearly laid out for us in clear, concise, terminology.  These are elements of Catholicism that we either fully accept as true and believe, or that we make an explicit act of will to believe.  Further, beyond believing, remember that we are called to live in full accordance with those beliefs.

I’ve made a partial list of dogmatic sources that include essential statements of belief of the Catholic faith.  There are other sources of Dogmatic truths I have not included.  This is just my current list and is enough to fill my plate for the time being.

Some Essential Sources of Dogma:

  1. The New Testament
  2. The Lord’s Prayer
  3. The Nicene Creed
  4. The Apostles Creed
  5. Statement of Faith from the Rite of Catholic Baptism

Celebrant:    Do you reject Satan?

Parents & Godparents:  I do.

Celebrant:    And all his works?

Parents & Godparents:  I do.

Celebrant:    And all his empty promises?

Parents & Godparents:  I do.

Celebrant:    Do you believe in God the Father, almighty, creator of heaven and earth?                                                                   

Parents & Godparents:  I do.

Celebrant:    Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead and is now seated at the right hand of the Father?               

Parents & Godparents:  I do.

Celebrant:   Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?

Parents & Godparents:  I do.

Celebrant:   This is our faith.  This is the faith of the Church.  We are proud to profess it, in Christ Jesus our Lord.                                                      All:  Amen


The New Testament is at the top of my list of sources of Catholic Dogma.  I suggest you reread the four gospels.  They are a treasure trove of dogmatic faith essentials.   As you may know, some New Testament texts are printed with Jesus’ words in a red font.  When you read those words, you are reading our Catholic Dogma.  There are no more essential truths than Jesus’ own words.

I fully embrace the Divinely Revealed Truths of Catholic Dogma as the bedrock of my Catholic faith.  I humbly acknowledge there are parts of Church Doctrine I doubt and that remain as yet unresolved in my heart.  I fully trust that Jesus will have gentle patience with me if I prayerfully remain open to discern other important faith elements that may be gifted to me by Him.