Roger Conant: Courage through Humility

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.      – Mathew Chapter 9, verse 5

Of all the important Puritan forbearers of 17th century New England, none is more undeservingly unknown than Roger Conant.  Or if he is known, no one is more unjustly misunderstood in the popular imagination.

A kind man, he was the first Englishman to bring to North America the virtues that became the bedrock of our great democratic experiment: Patience, Humility, Tolerance, Compromise and Civil Discourse.

Never heard of Roger Conant?  Not surprising but odds are you are familiar with his statue in front of the Salem Massachusetts Witch Museum.

Take a closer look…

Ah yes, Salem Massachusetts, infamous for the witch trials of February 1692-May 1693.  This statue, with with the broad hat and flowing robes must be of a witch, or if he isn’t a witch, he looks like the tyrant that persecuted them in the very least.  And there is the great injustice. Roger Conant, who founded Salem in 1626 was never a witch, never persecuted anyone and died long before the Salem witch trials.  Nevertheless, every Halloween when television crews descend to Salem Massachusetts for stock footage of the city’s annual macabre festivities Roger Conant’s statue is always featured to capture the spirit of the moment.

Born in a quaint and beautiful village with the charming name of East Budleigh in Devonshire on April 9, 1592, young Roger initially found work in London as a drysalter. Roger Conant and his wife Sarah Horton later joined the second wave of Puritan settlers arriving in Plymouth Massachusetts around 1624 aboard the Charity

Plymouth’s colonists,  under pressure from starvation and uncertain leadership gave in to fear and that fear lead to fanaticism and intolerance.  The slightest offense was punished with beatings, the most infamous being when John Oldham was compelled to run a gauntlet of his fellow Plymouth neighbors hitting him with their muskets.  Roger Conant, much like his philosophical fellow traveler Roger Williams, found the fanatical intolerance of his fellow Puritans distasteful.  Like Roger Williams, he chose not to add to the civil strive by confrontation but instead left to start a new colony built on peace and nonviolence.  For Roger Conant, it was a move north along the shore to Nantasket and Cape Ann.  There he and his fellow settlers found a community based on civil cooperation, not confrontation. It also was where everyone was free to worship as they pleased. 

A short time later Roger Conant was supplanted as governor by John Endicott.  Unlike others, Roger Conant did not seek power for his own ends and in an example of humility, he stepped aside without protest for John Endicott.  It was here that Roger gifted the future United States with an example of the peaceful transfer of power and of public service guided by a humble desire to serve and not be served.

Misery is always seeking company and the unhappy people of Plymouth were not content to let the Cape Anne settlers enjoy their peace and contentment.  In 1625, a conflict with the fishermen of Cape Anne was instigated to provide justification for an expedition lead by Captain Miles Standish to bring the wayward settlers under heel.  Defending his community from the violence of Miles Standish was Roger Conant’s greatest test. 

It takes courage to stand in front of one angry armed man. It’s takes even more courage to place one’s self between two angry and nervous armed groups looking for a confrontation.  Yet, that is exactly what Roger Conant did. Not giving in to fear, he choose not to get caught up with the moment and join in the violence. Roger courageously placed himself, unarmed, between the groups and negotiated a peaceful solution.  This moment is captured in a beautiful new painting “Blessed are the Peacemakers” by English artist John Washington. 

Blessed are the Peacemakers by John Washington, copyright 2021

Roger Conant’s courageous stand successfully defused the situation. In doing so, he set the example of settling political disputes with patience, peace, cooperation and non-violence. This painting, sponsored by the the village of East Budleigh in honor of his 400th anniversary of his journey to America, is a far more fitting tribute to Roger Conant than his statue in Plymouth.

Much was uncertain in the English colonies of North America in the early days of the 17th century. Would they survive? If they did survive, how would they be governed? Would they fall into tyranny and fanaticism? It was no sure thing but the roots of the best of what became the United States have their beginnings with courageous and farsighted men and women like Roger Conant. He gave the fledgling country to be the sturdy foundation of Patience, Humility, Tolerance, Compromise and Civil Discourse. His spirit lives on today in our democracy.

Postscript: I would like to thank Mr. John Washington for his gracious permission to use the image of his painting “Blessed are the Peacemakers” for this blog post. All rights are of course otherwise retained by the artist. Please visit his website and consider purchasing a copy of this painting for your home and office. Studying the painting, I have noticed the dark and stormy clouds above the hot tempered Miles Standish. A very nice touch.

I would also like to thank Mr. Michael Downes of East Budleigh Devonshire, United Kingdom for honoring Roger Conant. His blog is found here and is a great and enjoyable read for historians.

Lastly, it has been a pleasure for me to discover East Budleigh, the birthplace of Roger Conant. The “Blessed are the Peacemakers ” painting will be displayed in a place of honor in All Saints Church in East Budleigh. It looks like a beautiful village and I will be sure to visit when I am touring in England.

Lastly on a more personal note, I am blessed with wonderful ancestors and Roger Conant, who is an ancestor of my father, is no exception. My daughter Rachel who lives in Salem Massachusetts will wave to Grandad Roger when she walks by his statue.

Phidias and Tekton and the Crown of Poseidon

Phidias and his Centaur apprentice Tekton contemplate the mysteries of the square

The following is an except from the upcoming book: The Homeric Misadventures of Phidias and Tekton

Look for it summer of 2022

Prolegomenon: A goddess falls from Mount Olympus
The shepherd and his son were startled by a loud thump as Atë landed in the middle of his herd of sheep. His amazement turned to worry when a woman crawled out of the crater in the ground.
“Boy, hurry home!” The shepherd knew that only gods and goddesses fall out of the sky and when the gods come, trouble surely follows, and he wanted his son Aristophanes to have no part of it.
“Don’t just stand there!” The strange woman shouted. “Lay down your cloak for me to walk on. I am Atë, the goddess of mischief and mayhem and I have no intention of walking through your sheep dung.”

The shepherd obediently laid his cloak before Atë. “Mistress Atë, I am Timaeus, my wife Hyacinth and I welcome you to our village. We don’t have much, but I would be honored to share my bread, grapes, and cheese with you.”

“What I need Timaeus, are directions to the workshop of the renowned builder and mathematician Daedalus and his apprentice Asterion the Minotaur.”

“Daedalus and Asterion! Mistress Atë, you will only find trouble with them!”

“Trouble?” Atë sneered, “I don’t find trouble, Timaeus… I bring it!”

Chapter 1:   Tekton has an Anniversary!

“Tekton! Hold this wooden tube in place while I make the final adjustments on this water screw.” The young centaur walked over to Phidias’s workbench and held the tube in place.

“Tekton, today is a special day.” Phidias smiled at his young apprentice.

“Master, is it because we are finishing the water screw for the village?”

“Well that but even more importantly, it has been ten years today since I welcomed you as my apprentice.” Tekton remembered the first day his adopted human parents brought him to Phidias:

“Master, tell me about your teacher.”

“Thales? He was a second father to me. He taught me all I know about Mathematics, Engineering, and History.”

“Above all else Thales taught me that talent and hard work must be infused with virtue and purpose toward the common good. For example, look at this water screw.”

Phidias placed one end of the water screw into the tub and let the other end rest above a bucket.  Turning the handle caused the screw to rotate and bring water up from the tub and flow out from the top.  

“Mechanical ingenuity is for naught if this screw remains in our workshop. But placed in the canal, the screw can be used to irrigate the farmer’s fields and feed the village. The same goes for living beings, we must direct our talents towards the common good.”

Tekton placed his hand in the running water as he studied the screw. “But Master, this screw doesn’t seem big enough and we only have one. We will need more for an entire village!”

“You have correctly observed Tekton! This screw is a model with which we will use to show the farmers how to use it and teach the village craftsmen how to build it. We have too much to do to go into the water screw business full time.”

“But Master, we can make a lot of money building and selling these water screws throughout Greece.”

“The villagers will pay us a just reward for our efforts, Tekton. If we charge too much, we will hurt the village and poison ourselves with greed. On the other hand, if we did the work for free, we would not be able to support ourselves, buy new materials for our workshop nor would I be able to support my aged Master Thales.”

“You support Master Thales?”

“Of course, Tekton! It was the great physician Hippocrates who taught us: 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.” 

Tekton reflected for a moment: “I see now Master, justice is giving to others what they are due or receiving from others only what you have earned, no more or less.”

“Tekton, you will be a fine teacher when you take on an apprentice of your own! Now, let us get ready, the Mistress of Mathematics herself, Athena, will be here soon to take us to the Corinthian Games.”

Chapter 2:    A new client for Daedalus and Asterion

Long ago, when the world was young, there lived in ancient Greece a brilliant builder named Daedalus and his young minotaur apprentice Asterion. From all around the world criminals, robbers and con artists sought out Daedalus and Asterion, paying handsomely for their ingenious devices. Kings feared their power and philosophers despised their ill gained fortune. Daedalus and Asterion’s workshop was beside a rock face just outside the Greek city of Dion at the foot of Mt Olympus.

Daedalus bent over his workshop table. “Asterion! Come here and hold this gear in place while I make the final adjustments to the Antikythera mechanism.”

Asterion held the gear in place.“ With this device Mentor Daedalus, anyone can predict the movements of the sun, planets, the moon and determine when the next eclipse will occur. Kings and philosophers will make us richer than Croesus to buy one from us.”

“Sell the Antikythera? Oh no Asterion, that will not do. Knowledge is power and knowledge shared is power shared. No, we will make much more money selling the knowledge we gain from the Antikythera. You have been in my service now for ten years, you should know this.”

“You are wise, Mentor, I will study harder.” Asterion reflected on when Daedalus first found him on the street, alone and weak.

Suddenly the workshop door flew open, and a fearsome woman filled the entrance.

“Are you Daedalus the Builder?”

“Yes I am.”

“I am I am Atë, the goddess of mischief and mayhem and I seek revenge on my sister Athena for convincing our father Zeus to throw me off Mt Olympus.”

Daedalus did not have time for theatrics, “We have a rather select clientele Mistress Atë, I am not sure that I…”  A bag of gold crashed onto the top of the worktable.

“Oh, my apologies, glorious Atë… how may we be of service?”

“Athena and her bumbling protégées Phidias and Tekton will be at the Games in Corinth so we are going as well.”

Asterion’s eyes lit up. “It’s Phidias, Mentor Daedalus! We now have a chance to put him in his place!”

Atë sighed, “Yes, I am sure the Corinthian Games will provide many opportunities for you to settle old scores.”

Atë turned her eye towards the Antikythera. “I’m sure you have seen the owl that Athena has perched on her shoulder?”

“Yes Atë, Mekros the Small Owl”, answered Asterion, “He is a symbol of her wisdom.”

Atë smiled at Asterion and then turned to Daedalus. “As of today, you are in my service, and today you can start that service by fashioning my own owl… with that!” Asterion looked with horror as Atë pointed to the Antikythera.

Daedalus barely finished with “As you wishMistress Atë” before Atë disappeared from their sight.

Asterion spoke up first as Daedalus stared at the Antikythera. “Mentor! The Antikythera is your life’s work! She can’t do this to you!”

“Oh yes she can Asterion. Life is what my teacher Hieron the Tyrant taught me: “The strong take what they can and the weak suffer what they must”.

“As much as we expect those weaker than us to bend to our will, we must in turn obey those stronger than us.”

“But Mentor Daedalus! The gods are dangerous!”

Daedalus began to laugh, “Yes Asterion, the gods are dangerous. But as my teacher Hieron always said: “For the wise, great opportunity often lies hidden within danger.”

Daedalus glanced at the bag of gold. “Atë is a great opportunity for us!”

Shakespeare, Art and human frailty

Visits to antique shops are like prowling around your grandparent’s attic. Some true treasures can be found by the diligent searcher among of the dusty tools, toys, furniture and books. I have a time-tested criteria for deciding if an old book is to be brought home:

  • Intact The book must be physically readable. If it cannot be read what is the point?
  • Interesting This one is not always easy to determine. Old books do not provide much information on their contents.
  • Obscure and uncommon. Why buy an old version of a book I already have on my shelf?
  • Affordable. My investment is intellectual, not monetary.

In a nice little shop in the Berkshires a book with the intriguing title of “Human Life in Shakespeare” by Henry Giles found its way into my hands.  Originally Published by Lee and Sheppard in 1868 (Boston), this small book of essays on the works of Shakespeare met the criteria and I opened it to the author’s preface:

I was holding a true treasure, the last writings of a dying man as he gifted his thoughts and insights to future generations. It was a unique testament and Henry Giles’s frailty at the end of his life accented and illuminated the art contained within.  

Henry Giles did not life long after he wrote those words.  Flipping through a few pages I came to the editors introduction to this 1882 edition:

Next to seeing a beautiful human life fade, flicker, and go out, unrecognized and unappreciated, is the sadness of seeing a beautiful book sink into the almost hopeless death of “out of print.” …This series of lectures or essays on the humanities in Shakespeare ought never to have disappeared from site in a cultivated community. … This is the rare quality that has brought Henry Giles’s book from the darkness to the dawn of another publication. It is a book of inestimable value to any one desiring a clear view, as it were, of Shakespeare’s mind and method.  

John Boyle O’Reilly

Boston Massachusetts, March 15th 1882.

So there it was… Henry Giles filled auditoriums with his lectures only to be on the verge of being forgotten less than twenty years later. Now in 2021, his greatest legacy was entrusted into my hands.

Henry Giles book was not my only encounter with Shakespeare in the Berkshires. Last week I attended an evening performance of Shakespeare’s King Lear with my daughter, my nephew and his girlfriend.  The stage at the Shakespeare and Company in Lenox was austere and brand new. In fact, this performance was the first ever on the New Spruce Theatre outdoor stage.  There are no lights, no special effects, props are minimal, none of the actors use microphones.

Artistic Director Mr. Allyn Burrows set our expectations before the performance. “This is a preview performance”, he explained. “The rain the last few days prevented us from rehearsing on this stage and in fact, it has never been performed in its entirety by this cast. We don’t know how long the play will take to finish, and do not be surprised if cast members ask for lines during the performance.”  Mr. Burrows was not apologetic, he was excited and we in the audience were also caught up in the high adventure of a performance without a safety net. If that wasn’t enough, the air was damp and cool and thunderstorms still prowled in the mountains around us.

It has been a trend the last few decades to turn Shakespeare’s plays into mega performances with A list actors, sweeping vistas and special effects. This performance was Shakespeare at its fundamental form. Our eyes, starved of overwhelming visual spectacle, no longer overwhelmed our ears allowing us to accentuate our sense of hearing. Shakespeare’s true genius as a wordsmith now becomes apparent as his prose invades our imaginations. Castles, battles, ghosts and witches emerge in our mind’s eye as Shakespeare’s careful and poetic lines create each scene for us.

From the opening lines of the play, Mr. Christopher Lloyd as King Lear did not disappoint. An accomplished actor of 82 years of age, Mr. Lloyd’s performance was not about fame or money but for the love of the art of the theater. We could feel the tension build as King Lear, who in his arrogance believed that his office and duties as king were his alone to dispense with as he saw fit. We could feel the pain of the serpent’s tooth of ungrateful daughters Goneril and Regan and the shock and horror of a tragically misunderstood Cordelia.

All objects of art are really composed of two sperate but intricately linked arts. The most obvious one is the object of art itself. For a sculptor it is the sculpture itself, for a painter it is the actual image on the canvas, for a writer like Henry Giles it is the words on a page, for a playwright like Shakespeare it is the play itself on stage. Then there is the meta-art, the art of making the art itself. Most of the time the audience is not consciously aware of this meta-art. We do not usually witness a sculptor sculpting or watch a painter painting or a writer writing.

But within this performance of King Lear we could witness both. Christopher Lloyd the actor had to contend with the damp and the cold, he occasionally had to ask for his lines, and the early evening overcast sky grew darker and visibility rapidly reduced. I admired Mr. Lloyd’s courage and determination to perform even knowing that the conditions were not optimal. As the play continued, the art of Christopher Lloyd as he created King Lear and the character of King Lear began to merge on stage. We saw the meta-art of acting merge with the art of the play. It was a very human and heroic moment. Likewise, we can visualize Henry Giles heroically compiling his essays knowing he was dying. In both cases the art of creating and the art of the object created merged into equal importance.

Nevertheless, as the darkness continued to envelop us and as the thunderstorms converged, Mr. Allyn Burrows called the performance around the second scene of the fourth act. No one seemed to mind, and the unexpected ending seem to properly cap a night of adventure. It seemed to be a fitting monument to human endurance in the face of uncertain conditions. The performance illuminated the beauty of always striving to create and expand our horizons thru art.

Postscript: As I mentioned, Henry Giles book was published by Lee and Shepard, Boston Massachusetts. Mr. Giles book looked vaguely familiar to me and when I looked for my volume of Shakespeare in my home library I found this book, also published by Lee and Shepard around the same time:

Postscript II: If you are lucky, you may still find tickets available for Christopher Lloyd in King Lear. Do not wait!

Behold! I make all things new!

Happy New year Everyone! I thought we would kick start the New Year with happier thoughts… how about…Heaven!

A common perception of Heaven is filled white clouds with adorable little winged Cherubim, with a vague concept of a place of rest and peace, even eternal sleep.  We may hope to be reunited with grandparents, parents and other relatives and friends.  Our imagination  may include Dante-esque images of concentric heavenly spheres with God on his majestic throne forever inaccessible behind legions of fiery and frightening Seraphim.  Other cultures see the afterlife as a clear continuation of life on earth, only now with riches, food and the domination of other people bringing us happiness or of the emptiness of ending suffering with the annihilation of the self.

Our ultimate fate beyond life is a great mystery and our vision of it is obscured by it’s incomprehensibility and clouded by our limited imaginations.

Jesus, however, has assured us that, I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. John 14:18

Like a good Father, God revels to us in through the Bible much of what we can expect as much as our human limitations can understand.  

Heaven will be like a wedding feast.  It will always be new and every changing. Our family will be there with us with singing, dancing and laughter.  We will never feel loneliness again as we celebrate with our family.Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.” Matthew 22:4

We will not be in a vast heaven ruled by a distant and unapproachable God surrounded by a pressing multitude. We will be with Jesus personally, always. And Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” Luke 23:43

Our place in heaven will be unique, created just for us and no one else. Our room in the Father’s house will be for us alone if we choose to accept it and it will be forever empty if we reject it. In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and welcome you into My presence, so that you also may be where I am. John 14:3

Our relationship with God in heaven will also be unique compared to the relationship between God and every other living thing ever created.  No other creature, angel or human, will have that particular friendship with God, ever.  Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and We will come to him and make our home with him.  John 14:23

We will be given full knowledge of our lives, of how our good actions helped ourselves and others. The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Mathew 25:40

We will be joyfully surprised to know that every one of our prayers was answered during our life on Earth. We will be amazed to understand how they were answered in unexpected ways.  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Luke 11:10-11

We need to be like children and leave behind our sense of self accomplishment.  In Heaven, the least is the greatest. At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.” Mathew 11:25

Our own sins that we have expressed contrition for and have entrusted to the love of God will no longer bring us sorrow but will instead glorify God’s Mercy. Why? Because the forgiveness of our sins will be the triumph of God’s Love. The pain of our sins, now forgiven, will be healed through The Holy Spirit in Purgatory so we can enter Heaven free of sin’s effects on our soul.  And the One sitting on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new”.

Revelation 21:5


Postscript: The lead photograph is of Saint Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal. it  was taken by my great Florence Savoie sometime around 1950. The sunset is over South Pond on Savoy Mountain in Massachusetts and was taken by my self.  The illustration is from my new book: Pathways of Our Fathers: Two Journeys of Love, Sacrifice, and Family. This book was written by me and includes fifteen full size illustrations by renowned LA based artist Masami Kiyono.

The English version is available on Amazon here:

Pathways of Our Fathers (English)

And the French version can be found here:

Les Chemins Qui Mènent à Nos Pères: Deux parcours remplis d’amour, de sacrifice, et de famille (French Edition)

I have five copies signed by myself and Masami Kiyono to give away.  Just leave a comment here on the blog and send me an email with your address  at:  and I will be happy to send you a copy!

Other related Augustine’s Alley Blog posts you will enjoy

The Dream of Lone Tree Hill

The Truth Points to Itself

Pathways of Our Fathers: Two journeys of love, sacrifice, and family

Welcome to my first published book: Pathways of Our Fathers: Two journeys of love, sacrifice, and family


And in French!!

It is a collection of two stories that emphasis the importance of fathers.  The first story, The Prayer of Atsena, shows the importance of:

– Our Guardian Angel’s role in our life

– The reality of Purgatory

– The importance of praying for the souls in Purgatory

– How the souls in Purgatory in turn help us with their prayers

– And how death does not separate us from the love of our family as part of the Communion of Saints

The Prayer of Atsena: In 1916, a young childless French-Canadian couple desperately pray a for a child of their own at Sainte Anne de Beaupre in Quebec. In the Shrine they are observed by their First Nation ancestor seeking closure to his own two hundred and fifty-nine-year journey of redemption leaving all their paths irrevocably altered.

The second story is a tribute to my father framed within a re-telling of a hike he took my brother and I on as young boys.

Frankenstein Cliff: A Father’s Love from Strength: After fifty years, a middle age man returns alone to the White Mountains of New Hampshire to where his father took him and his brother hiking as young children. Standing at  the trail head with the memories of that day fading, he tries to reconnect with his father’s life of heroic virtue and love.

What makes this book unique is the fifteen color full page illustrations by Los Angeles based artist Masami Kiyono. The book is in a sense a hybrid between a traditional text only book and a full graphic novel.  In effect, the words and illustrations work hand in hand equally to tell the story.

The book is available in English and French
and French:


I created a video of The Prayer of Atsena using Masami Kiyono’s illustrations.



Living the Vocation of Love

Chiara Petrillo was seated in a wheel chair looking lovingly toward Jesus in the tabernacle. Her husband, Enrico, found the courage to ask her a question that he had been holding back. Thinking of Jesus’s phrase, “my yoke is sweet and my burden is light,” he asked: “Is this yoke, this cross, really sweet, as Jesus said?”

A smile came across Chiara’s face. She turned to her husband and said in a weak voice: “Yes, Enrico, it is very sweet.”

Servant of God Chiara Petrillo, January 9, 1984 – June 13, 2012

The nature of love has been debated by poets and philosophers since the beginning of history.  The ancient Greeks had six words for love:

  • Eros, or sexual passion. …
  • Philia, or deep friendship. …
  • Agape, or love for everyone. …
  • Ludus, or playful love. …
  • Pragma, or longstanding love. …
  • Philautia, or love of the self.

Myself, I once stumbled  into my own definition of love working back from quantum physics!*  Recently, I made the mistake of walking into the middle of a discussion of the nature of love: “True love“, I interjected, “will always include suffering“.  At that point, my high hopes of an interesting philosophical reflection abruptly ended when the person I was engaging stormed away, vehemently denying my premise.  Earlier, this same person said that “love is an exchange of mutual benefit between two beings.”  At that point I asked how could God, who needs nothing from us, could love us according to that definition?  That discussion didn’t last long either.

But I don’t totally blame him from walking away, suffering isn’t something we like to dwell on and at first glance it doesn’t make sense that suffering, which means pain, is intertwined with love, which brings us happiness.  Suffering and Love...   I did indirectly touch on this in an earlier post on my grandfather’s relationship with his ill wife: “I Love” A sanctifying Response to Adversity

My grandfather was not the only example of this kind of heroic love.  I’ve known my Uncle Dave for over fifty years, ever since he married my mother’s sister Phyllis.  A gentle and patient man, he always had time for us grand kids when we were growing up.  He was the adult who would literally stoop down to listen to us children, caring about what we had to say.  I never saw him impatient with anyone or angry.  If I had to describe him to someone who didn’t know him with one sentence it would be: “Uncle Dave loved his children, his grandchildren and his nephews and nieces unconditionally and as kids growing up we knew that  instinctively.” 

My Uncle David Sale lived the vocation of the meaning of true love when he took care of his wife Phyllis during her final illness.  For the last couple of years of her life my Aunt Phyllis developed a devastating and debilitating illness.  As the illness developed,  Uncle Dave took on more responsibility as a caretaker.  By watching him tenderly care for Aunt Phyllis, Uncle Dave’s  true inner strength was reveled to all.

My mother helping her sister Phyllis, November 1969, North Attleboro MA

At times, he was exhausted, other times frightened.  In the end, it was tragic to lose his wife just months after celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.  Uncle Dave bore it all with patience and above all else with love.  Did Uncle Dave experience suffering?  Yes, Uncle Dave did suffer but he was never miserable.  How can that be?  The key is to understand that suffering and misery are not the same thing.  Misery is always coupled with despair, without hope.  Misery is filled with self pity and doesn’t think of others.  Quite often misery is angry and lashes out.  In the end, misery never has meaning and it is never heroic.

Suffering though, has hope and trust, it understands that all works for the greater good of those who love God and who love others.  Suffering is never inwardly focused but is always putting the needs of others first.  The suffering person is wiling to sacrifice himself, even including his life.

When I visited Uncle Dave and Aunt Phyllis during the illness, he would sometimes let his guard down just a tiny bit and confess that he was tired and a bit sad.  Even in this very human moment, Uncle Dave still radiated out inner peace, love and at a deep level, joy.  Through it all, Uncle Dave modeled for all of us how heroic suffering can be.

So how are suffering and loved linked?  Well if they are not linked then my uncle’s deep love for Aunt Phyllis and every thing he did for her during her illness would be incomprehensible.  When we are  willing to suffer for the ones we love as an act of love we participate in the very life of God, who is Love.

Without God, without Love as God, love is reduced to just an economic exchange “… of mutual benefit between two beings.”

Without God, love is incomprehensible and suffering to bring about a greater good is ultimately futile.

Without God, only misery remains when we are confronted with pain and loss.

Pain and loss in our lives is unavoidable but seen in the context of love, we can have peace and even joy in within suffering.

True love can be difficult, especially when we are called on to suffer and sacrifice for others.  Not everyone can do it or even know how to do it, and we need examples to follow and Uncle Dave was, and is, one of those examples.

Thank you Uncle Dave…

Simon and Garfunkel: Book Ends

John Michael Talbot: Eternal Light


For more on Servant of God Chiara Petrillo:

Servant of God Chiara Corbella Petrillo: Shining a Light on the Value of Life

*  I was reading once how the further you go back in time close to the Big Bang there exists higher energies and higher densities.  At these higher energies and densities the four fundamental forces collapse into each other.  Those four forces:

  1. Gravity
  2. Nuclear Strong Force
  3. Nuclear weak force
  4. Electromagnetic force

would combine into a single “super” force just after the Big Bang.  All of these forces act on particles both fermions and bosons.  As the universe cooled after the Big Bang the super force would break down into the four forces we know today. So I asked: “This primeval super force right at the Big Bang, is there a force even more fundamental than that?”  Well, it seemed to me that there should be a more fundamental force.  A force that creates ex nilo everything that which it acts upon.   At that point it seemed to me that this “creative force” was just another description of the creative attribute of God: creating all from nothing. ”  Of course, God is love, everything that exists was created out of and from love.


The Continuity of Time and the Event Horizon of Information

Time Stand Still

I’m not looking back
But I want to look around me now
See more of the people
And the places that surround me now
Time stands still
Summer’s going fast
Nights growing colder
Children growing up
Old friends growing older
Freeze this moment
A little bit longer
Make each sensation
A little bit stronger
Experience slips away
Experience slips away
The innocence slips away
Lyrics by Neil Peart, Performed by Canadian rock band Rush


I recently stumbled on a remarkable video:

The TV show was called “I got a Secret” and this episode’s guest from February 8th 1956 was Mr. Samuel J. Seymour, the last living witness to the April 1865 assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.  Born in 1860, Mr. Seymour lived through through 4 depressions, the Spanish flu pandemic,  2 World Wars, witnessed the invention of the light bulb, the automobile, invention of aircraft, and saw President Lincoln alive.  Dying just a few months after this show was aired Mr. Seymour just missed the launching of Sputnik.  It’s a good assumption that in his long life Mr. Seymour met some young children growing up in the 1950s, some of whom would be in their 70s today.  So in the year 2020, there are people alive today who can say they knew someone who actually saw the assassination of President Lincoln, 155 years ago.

My father, who was born in 1939, remembers seeing Civil War veterans marching in parades growing up in Attleboro Massachusetts.  I remember in 1970 seeing Spanish American Veterans from 1898 marching in similar parades.  The oldest person that I ever personally met was born in 1879.  Of course, I never knew anyone born in the 1700’s but is it likely as a small child this man who was born born in 1879 did.  This would make me one degree removed from someone born in the 1700s.

Pocket watches belonging to both of my grandfather’s  paternal grandfathers

Our deep connections with the past show up in other ways.  My brother Davy was the spitting image of our Great-Uncle George Savoie (Brother Donald).  Even the way my brother smiled was an echo of our uncle who died before we were ever born.  My daughter resembles my mother’s sister.  A cousin of mine resembles our great grandfather.

My daughter and my mother’s sister taken at about the same age


Jim and Granny’s father Adelard St Goddard

Each of us have felt the surprising disorientation looking at family and catching a glimpse of long dead relatives .  Other times it could be just a quick look, a habit, a quirk or even they way they walk that connects them to someone long gone.  Even our talents and interests seem to circle back to our grandparents and great grandparents.

Modern technology enables us to reach even father back.  I have had the DNA tested of my mother and five of her siblings.  All of them have a small amount of native American DNA.  Our Native American ancestors all lived back in the 1600s and early 1700s and yet, 300 plus years later, they literally live on in us.  In truth, the past is always present with us.

We can run this thought experiment forward too.  I took my daughter to a Ringo Star concert a couple of years back.  The highlight was singing “We all live in Yellow Submarine” lead by Ringo himself.  I remarked to my daughter that when the 100th anniversary commemorations of the Beatles come around she can tell her grandchildren she saw one of them perform.

There are millions of people alive today that will be alive in the year 2100.  One of those future residents of the 22nd century will be the grandchild of one of those young children who met Mr. Seymour back in 1956.  Amazingly,  there will be a person alive in 2100 who will be able say that they actually met someone who knew a live witness to the assassination of President Lincoln, an event that will have occurred 235 years earlier.

All of this may tempt us to believing that the our connections to the past is durable and always accessible when we need it.  But is that so?  Much of the information about the past is lost forever behind the Event Horizon of Time.  Most historical records from antiquity have been lost with the destruction of the Library of Alexandria.  Advanced civilizations have disappeared under natural disasters, disease and war.  Languages are disappearing across the world.  Recent history is not immune to this either.  Many early films have decayed or have been destroyed by fire.  Books no longer in print fall apart or just discarded.  No medium for storing information lasts forever.  This process has only accelerated in the computer age as we have gone from vinyl records to CDs to cloud based services and data streaming.  Unless that information is continuously transcribed to the latest up and coming new format or media it is inevitable that it will be eventually lost.  Within our families, we have only limited stories of our grandparents and great grandparents.  Whole lives are reduced to just a few anecdotes, if that, especially if generations don’t take the time to talk to each other.

Perhaps the truth is that some connection to our past may be durable but without our intervention and effort those connections may only be trivial and random.

What can do about it?  Value the past and our history.  Record the stories and achievements of our parents and grandparents.  Encourage our children and grandchildren to take an interest family history.  Go to the library and read good books with true stories.

Oral stories are important!  Much of the ancient knowledge we have was past down to us over thousands of years without the benefit of a written language.   Oral communications are just as important today.  My Aunt Phyllis recently passed away and during the Memorial Mass my cousin’s husband Ian gave a wonderful remembrance of his mother-in-law. The presiding priest in his homily captured the wisdom of my aunt.  Both stories illuminated a unique part of my Aunt Phyllis’s life  I am glad I was there to hear them both.

At a family gathering the night before my aunt’s funeral, my Uncle Jack held court with a group of his grand nieces and nephews, all of whom are in their twenties.  As I listened to Uncle Jack,  I took a moment to remind my nephews and nieces how lucky they were to have a Vietnam veteran share his stories.  I asked them to carry it forward forty plus years from now during the centennial of the Vietnam War and share with their grandchildren the stories of Uncle Jack.  Perhaps, in the year 2100, someone will gather around a group of youngsters and say: “My grandfather (or grandmother) knew a man who fought in the Vietnam War and here is his story..”

Make the connections, remember the past, and carry forward.


What is an Event Horizon? It is the one way  boundary around a black hole.  Matter, light and information can cross the boundary from the outside but nothing from within the black whole can cross over the event horizon to the outside.  What ever is within the event horizon is lost forever. But this applies to us too.  Everyday we pass through an Event Horizon since yesterday with all its opportunities are lost to us.

Uncle Jack’s story

Do not go gentle into that good night
Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Poem by Dylan Thomas


Plutarch the Historian acknowledges Humanity’s Ancient Enemy

Plutarch is among my favorite authors within the Britannica’s Great Books of Western Civilization Series.  His biographies of the Great Lives of Noble Grecians and Romans are filled with deeply touching observations of the human condition with its heroic virtues and tragic failings.  Like another Greek historian, Herodotus (the father of history), Plutarch will flavor his dramatic prose with observations of the cultures and beliefs of his time.  One could blog full time on the treasures Plutarch has buried in his writings.

Great Books just taken out of the box and laying on my living room floor.

I’m almost finished with Plutarch, and one of his last biographic sketches is of the Greek philosopher and general Dion.  Dion was a student of Plato and in this bibliographical sketch Plutarch describes Dion and Plato’s efforts to instill,thru education virtue and justice in a young dissolute tyrant of Syracuse,  Dion’s nephew Dionysius.

The young Dionysius himself was the son of an evil tyrant, the elder Dionysius. The elder Dionysius  deliberately withheld an education from his son out of fear that the young man would learn to love and emulate virtue, justice and love, and seeing his evil father as the man he was, overthrow him.  Not unexpectedly, Dionysius the younger took the reins of government after his father’s death terrorizing his subjects, ignoring his duties and spending his time with his friends “drinking, singing, dancing and buffoonery…”

Dion seeing his nephew “deformed and spoilt in character for want of teaching”  secured the best education he could for the boy by persuading Plato himself to be Dionysius’ teacher.  Plato saw this as an opportunity to demonstrate that nurture could overcome nature in instilling virtue.  Think Professor Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady.

Tragically, Dion and Plato’s efforts were ultimately violently rebuffed.  Their failure was not in their own virtue, or their patience in trying to reach the young Dionysius but in most part to the bad influences of other older “mentors” that wanted to see the young Dionysius remain in his unconstrained and licentious condition. Why?  Mostly because they were envious of virtue but also because in his weakened nature, the young Dionysius was easier to control for their own evil ends.   Another reason was the weak and mercurial human nature of the people of Syracuse who would in turn support their tormentor Dionysius to the determent of their liberator, Dion.

The end result is universal tragedy for all.  Dionysius is only removed from his tyranny through military force.  Syracuse itself is devastated, it’s people murdered by Dionysius’  vengeful  henchmen.  Dion, for all is sacrifices in trying to save Syracuse, is betrayed by a man named Heraclides and murdered.  The grievous irony is that Heraclides betrayed Dion not once but twice before.  Dion, who believed in his heart the virtue he was taught by Plato, forgave Heraclides.  In each case, Heraclides begged Dion for his forgiveness and to spare his life.  Plutarch states that Dion, ever the optimist of human nature when lead by virtue and justice, had hoped that clemency to Heraclides would lead him to redemption.  As Plutarch explains:

The malicious humor of men, though perverse and refractory, is not so savage and invincible but it may be wrought upon by kindness, and altered by repeated obligations.

Now, almost to the end of his Lives you would think that Plutarch would have moved toward a cynical view of human nature after watching time and time again great and virtuous men fail because of their own weakness and the weakness of those around them.  Far from it.  For Plutarch and other ancient Greek Philosophers like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle etc, Virtue, Truth, Justice, Love, Beauty, Benevolence and Wisdom have a reality above and independent of the ever changing whims of human fashion.  These Philosophers taught that living theses Virtues was the key to human happiness and that they are part of what we would call today the Natural Law.

As Plutarch explains, a person’s happiness comes from conforming  “his nature to the truths of virtue, and living, after the likeness of the divine and glorious model of Being, out of obedience to whose control the general confusion is changed into the beautiful order of the universe, so he in like manner might be the cause of great happiness to himself…”

So there it is: happiness comes from conforming our thoughts and actions continuously toward the Divine Natural Law of the universe.  Although few of them admitted it directly, ancient Greek philosophers knew from reason that there was an overall, singular divine Being over the universe, the source of all Good.  To read the ancient Philosophers is to understand that this belief permeates their writing.

But is human nature only to blame for our failings and self inflicted sufferings?  Nearing the end of  his book, after years of close examination of triumph and tragedy, Plutarch offers a hint that something else that maybe at work in human history:

I know not how we can avoid admitting again the utterly exploded opinion of the oldest times, that evil and beguiling spirits, out of envy to good men, and a desire of impeding their good deeds, make efforts to excite in them feelings of terror and distraction, to make them shake and totter in their virtue, lest by a steady and unbiased perseverance they should obtain a happier condition than these beings after death. 

Wow, I was shocked to read this last night from a man who wrote it at the end of the 1st Century AD.  Plutarch never mentions Christianity or Judaism in any significant detail his Lives .  And yet, the above statement could have been written by Saint Thomas Aquinas himself in his chapter on Angels and Demons in his Summa Theologica.

Here Plutarch is talking about a personification of evil active in the world.  He is not referring to the flawed Greek gods who would sometimes torment human beings.  Plutarch’s evil spirits are not  a “fill in the gap” attempt to explain natural disasters.  Reading it again we can see Plutarch makes some rather interesting claims about these evil spirits acting in our world:

  • Belief in them is ancient, even in his time
  • Belief in these evil spirits is universal among human societies
  • They are personal beings, who act against humanity out of envy
  • The frequent targets of their hatred is good people in order to discourage them from obtaining eternal happiness in the afterlife
  • That good and virtuous people need perseverance in order to over come the feelings of “terror and distraction”  that evil spirits may subject them too

This theme is echoed in the Old Testament’s Book of Job, where Satan elicits God’s permission to torment a good and virtuous man, Job, in order that Job would curse God.  Satan fails in breaking Job, but even so, Job suffers tremendously thru no fault of his own but at the hands of this evil spirit.  Saint Paul in his Epistles warns us of a personification of evil that seeks us out to devour us like a hungry lion.

Now belief in demons today seems to swing between two extremes. On one hand is an over fixation on them manifesting as extreme fear or obsession with the occult.  On the other side is the belief that evil spirits are relics of a superstitious age and are a way for people to personify the fully human evil in the world.  The better approach is to acknowledge that while much evil is of a human origin, there are beings of far greater intelligence and and malevolence that can and do act upon us.  For all of us,  that action may only be temptations to sin.  Rarer still, people maybe harassed by evil spirits, both physically and emotionally and maybe even a manifestation.  In extremely rare cases, possession.  In all situations, we can do as Plutarch implies and persevere with the understanding that as powerful as demons try to make us think they are, they can not overpower us with out our consent.

But there is an even better way: by Prayer, Confession, Mass and and Eucharistic Adoration.  I can speak from experience on this. Without going into details that some may find sensational, I will admit that I have experienced what I believe is harassment.  It was through, the Rosary, Confession, Mass and Eucharistic Adoration that it would come to an apparent end.  I also know of a family member whose honesty I trust that has told me that they experienced evil manifestations.  I mention this not to encourage fear or idle curiosity but rather to inspire a turning to God in love and trust as a small child would do with their loving parent.  Jesus in his great love for us has given us the tools to overcome and persevere to include our Guardian Angels.  Just don’t under estimate the maliciousness of our ancient, envious enemy.


George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord”

Patrick Cassidy : Na mBeannaíochtaí (The Beatitudes I)

Patrick Cassidy : Na mBeannaíochtaí (The Beatitudes II)


See also: plutarch-ancient-philosopher-reflects-on-even-more-ancient-heroes-and-their-virtues


The Loudest Quiet Girl: Messages of Hope in a Dark World

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.– Saint Paul

It is a wonderful mystery that God has not only created us dependent on Him, but also dependent on each other.  We need each other not only for our physical well being, but for our spiritual growth.   All of us are tasked by God to drag each other over the finish line to Heaven.   Out of love for us, God will often place in our path those who can help ease our pain.  When we are open to the love of God and the love of our neighbors, tragedy can transform and heal.

Every year my brothers Pete and Patrick and I spend a “Brother’s Weekend” together as a way to remember our brother Davy who died of ALS in November of 2013.   This year we spent it in Foxboro Massachusetts and on Sunday we went to Mass at Our Lady of La Salette Shrine in Attleboro.  See National Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette

Walking into the Shrine conference center before mass,  a poster featuring a portrait of a beautiful young woman caught my eye.  As I started to read it, a man quietly came up and invited me to join a presentation on his daughter, Erin Rodriques.  Erin’s parents, Abel  and Kathy Rodriques, have just published a collection of their daughter’s journal writings from her teenage years.

Erin is their only child and she died at the age of 23 on December 9th, 2013,  just months before her marriage.  I cannot imagine the pain and sorrow of Abel and Kathy.  Yet, out of our brokenness, God can craft something beautiful.  For Abel and Kathy Rodriques, that beauty was a long forgotten collection of Erin’s journal writings.

All who read Erin’s writings were stunned by the depth of her love for Jesus and compassion for others.  Erin’s style of writing was unusual: she seemed to be addressing a future reader rather than herself.  She expressed a simple, trusting love of Jesus.  Her prayer life with God was conversational, friend to friend:

“I really need to work on my relationship with God.  I am still totally religious and spread the word but I think that I have been trying too much to help others with their relationship with God that I have been barely been paying attention to mine.   I think tonight, instead of saying the Rosary, I’m going to just talk to Jesus and pray for peace, strength and help.  I know he will not abandon me.  Lord, I know you can read this and you know me better then I know myself, please know that I love you more than anything in this world and my desire for you is so strong that when I feel like I haven’t talked to you for even just one day, I feel dead. I need to remember to place all my stresses and worries into your hands and have you help me and guide me along my life’s path. I love you Lord and I need you. Please always be at my side and help me even when I do not think to ask. I can never thank you enough for all that you have done for me. ”                                                                             Erin Rodriques December 20, 2005

On March 4th 2017, Erin’s mother Kathy found a previously unknown journal  that Erin started on March 14th 2014.   Inside were  letters by Erin to her Mom and Dad, written nine years before she died.  Below are some excepts from those letters.  Keep in mind these letters to her parents were written nine years before she died.  Her parents only saw them two and a half years after the accident that took Erin’s life.

For Mom:

…I love you so much! I’m so sorry for all the times I made fun of you and said you were stupid, crazy and uncool. You were really as cool as cool could be! I would ever trade you in for all the riches in the world. You are the best mom ever and I will miss you so much until we see each other again! All the times I spent with you were the best times of my life! I’ll be missing you and praying for you! Anytime the sun shines on a spring day, know that it’s me smiling and laughing.  Love you!! Love from your daughter, Erin Kate Rodricques”                               Erin Rodriques, 2004

For Dad:

Dear Dad, First I want you to know how sorry i am that I have yelled at you and treated you badly alot. It’s hard to say but, it was like the more I did, the more I loved you… I’ll always remember the great times we had together.  I can’t wait for the day that we see each other together again and all  the wonderful times we’ll have together again. I’ll be missing you alot and will always be thinking of you…                    Erin Rodriques, 2004

There’s much more to these letters and to the book as a whole.  I cannot do it justice and it’s not my place to re-tell Erin’s story.  That belongs to her parents.  I will say that Erin’s story and her journals have been a blessing to me as I deal with the loss of my brother and my father.  It certainly was not a coincidence that I had a “chance” meeting with Abel and Kathy Rodriques at La Salette Shrine in Attleboro.

So, who needs to hear Erin’s story?  All of us, but most of all our young people.  Like Erin, they are constantly bombarded with messages about how faith is “uncool” or “backward.”  This is the book for the young person in your life and it should be read together, one copy for them and one for you.  And please, talk about it and above all else, give that young person that extra hug… today.

Eventually after waiting and holding on to what little hope I did have, things worked out. My prayer life began to get stronger and I started noticing God quietly working in my life. In fact I noticed he had been working in my life the whole time but I just wasn’t opening my eyes to it.                                                                                                                                                        Erin Rodriques, late 2010 (twenty years old)


Abel, Erin and Kathy Rodriques

You can order the book thru Amazon in color, hardcover or kindle format: The Loudest Quiet Girl Book by Kathy Rodriques

Because the unexamined life isn't worth living