December 10, 2015

What Is Your Relationship with Power?

Rhine-gold! Rhine-gold! / guileless gold! / O would that thy treasure / were glittering yet in the deep! / Tender and true ’tis but in the waters: / false and base are all who revel above!

~ Richard Wagner, Das Rheingold (Der Ring des Nibelungen, Vorabend), 1854, first performance: September 22, 1869, National Theatre Munich.

What is your relationship with power? If you ask me what is my personal philosophy on this, the answer is in the above quoted “Rhine Daughters’ Lament” at the end of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold...

November 28, 2015

The Sainte Baume

The Sainte Baume (click to enlarge)
Photo courtesy of  BACKYARDPROVENCE

Last night while attending a conference on medieval studies, I heard the speaker touching on a subject I happen to be quite fond of, the Sainte Baume, which is a sanctuary in Southern France, in Provence. I first stumbled upon that place almost by chance—and suddenly fell in love with it—several years ago. Since then I went back a couple of times, and always enjoyed the magic of the location.

Most of the charm of the Sainte Baume comes from an old legend or tradition, according to which Mary Magdalene, her brother Lazarus, her sister Martha, Martha’s maid Martilla, Maximinus, one of the Lord’s seventy-two disciples, and Cedonius, expelled by persecutions from the Holy Land, traversed the Mediterranean Sea in a frail boat and landed at the place called Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, near Arles. Then they traveled by land to Massilia (Marseille). Here is how Jacobus de Voragine tells the story:

Then fourteen years after the passion and ascension of the Lord, long after the Jews had killed Stephen and expelled the rest of the disciples from Judean territory, the disciples went off to spread the word of the Lord in the various regions inhabited by the Gentiles. At that time blessed Maximinus, one of the Lord’s seventy-two disciples, was with the apostles, and it was to his care that Peter had entrusted Mary Magdalene. When the disciples went their separate ways, the blessed Maximinus, Mary Magdalene, her brother Lazarus, her sister Martha, Martha’s maid Martilla, and the blessed Cedonius, who had been blind from his birth but was cured by the Lord together with many other Christians, were put on board ship by unbelievers and set adrift on the sea without pilot so that they should be all drowned. But by God’s will they reached Marseilles. There they found nobody prepared to take them in, so they sheltered under the portico of a shrine where the people of the region worshipped. When the blessed Mary Magdalene saw the people streaming to the shrine to sacrifice to their idols, she got up, quite calmly, and with a serene expression on her face and with measured words, began to turn them from their idol worship and with great single-mindedness to preach the Gospel of Christ. Everyone there admired her for her beauty, for her eloquence and for her sweet manner of speaking. And it is no wonder that the lips which had pressed kisses so loving and so tender on our Lord’s feet should breathe the perfume of the word of God more copiously than others.
[The Golden Legend, Jacobus de Voragine]

The Sainte Baume
(Click to enlarge)
After this, Mary Magdalene is said to have retired to a cave on a hill by Marseille, La Sainte-Baume (“Holy Cave”, baumo in Provençal), where she spent the last thirty years of her life.

The route to the Sainte Baume is very beautiful and scenic. Leaving the nice village of Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume, the road winds its way up the hill. Pilgrims and visitors must park their car in the Hostellerie de La Sainte Baume, which is run by the Dominican sisters. From the old Hostellerie, which stands alone in a wooded valley, a path leads to the austere cliff and the sanctuary carved in the mountain.

As I already touched on, every detail of the sanctuary, starting from the physical characteristics of the site itself, has its own magic, but there are no words, or pictures, or videos that can capture the essence and beauty of the place. You just have to go there!

Ah, I almost forgot—when I first went there it was the feast day of St. Mary Magdalene, July 22, as I realized once I was there and unexpectedly got involved in the celebrations...

November 25, 2015

Holden Caulfield's Favorite Books

What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.

~ J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye, 1951.

I couldn't agree more with this quote, which is deeply true in its naivete. Of course, like any great quote, it should be adapted to the current situation—the 50s were the age of telephone, the current age is that of the Internet and the social media...

November 16, 2015

A Christian Story in the Spirit of C.S. Lewis

The story is set in a dystopian future in which humans have built walls and barricades to protect themselves from a world that has become a very dangerous place… A centuries-old wall stands over 30 meters high and 5 meters thick. It encircles the entire village, called the Wee, and keeps the demons out. Of course, at the same time, it locks people in. But one day the demons—not mere metaphors, but flesh and blood living entities—break through the village walls. A restless and somewhat impetuous sixteen-year-old girl named Fox Fire joins Cross Academy to be trained for the fight against the evil monsters. Things get more and more complicated when Fox Fire’s best friend KI—who had his parents killed by the demons several years before—becomes he himself demon possessed.

Pleasantly and colorfully written, Cross Academy is recommended if you like dark epic fantasy. But this book is more complex (structurally and thematically) than you’d think. In fact it is written by an American committed and devout Christian, Valicity Garris, in the spirit of C.S. Lewis. It’s a Christian story, though an unconventional one, which reminds us that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

November 10, 2015

A Powerful and Mesmerizing Story

This book was definitely worth my time and I am glad to have read it! Not that I’m a big reader of the fantasy fiction genre—even though perhaps Blood and Soul, by Allen G. Bagby, transcends its genre and seeks to understand the basis of human existence, and that’s also why I enjoyed the read so much, and once started reading I couldn’t put it down. Fascinating and complex characters, sparkling dialog, and intriguing plots combine to create a powerful and mesmerizing story that I highly recommend to all lovers of fantasy and high adventure.

Set in a world similar to our Middle Ages, in a land called Agontica (a full-color map is available for download from the Author’s web-site), the story is a Hero’s Journey—a physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual one—with all the archetypal, symbolic elements: the Hero (the bastard Prince Ledarrin), the Antagonist (Mathagel), the Mentor, etc.

Simply put, the story has all the ingredients of a blockbuster epic: loyalty, intrigue, betrayal, war, survival, magic… At the same time, though, it is more than that: in this book you will also find history, theology, ethics, and politics. Which is something that adds a lot of value to the book and encourages the reader to think differently about life and the issues we deal with.

November 8, 2015

A Perfect Dystopia

In an Author’s note at the end of the book, Peter Meredith tells us that A Perfect America was inspired by two things. The first is the 2012 election—“a bit of a shock to many conservatives,” he recalls: “It seemed that a perfect storm had aligned against the president—terrible economic news, bad job reports four years running, skyrocketing debt, and poor performance in foreign policy—made it seem like the republican nominee would be a shoe-in.” But no, Romney lost to Obama. “It made me wonder,” Meredith continues, “if Romney couldn’t win in this situation when could another Republican ever win and what would happen if they never won again? I took the thought and ran with it. Though with history as a primer it didn't take much imagination. We don’t have to look past the Bolshevik revolution to see that a culture could be utterly destroyed and replaced with something almost exactly like what is described in A Perfect America. Scary indeed.“ Yep, scary! A perfect dystopia. Take a look at the Timeline of A Perfect State:

“2016— Defense of Marriage Act declared unconstitutional
2018—President offers blanket pardon to all illegal aliens. “No human is illegal!”
2019— Full Implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care act
2020— Cost of Patient Protection and Affordable Care act greater than expected. Top Marginal Tax rate increased to 49%.Healthy Americans Law—among other things the law prohibits use of Transfats and restricts the amount of sugar in canned beverages and cereal.”

And so on, in a crescendo of liberal madness and Orwellian lunacy…, until

“2074— Private ownership of business declared illegal
2077— Freedom of Speech(Including freedom of the Press) is curtailed, determined to be of ―less importance‖ than the protection of the State and the Party.
2078—Fourth and fifth Amendments declared unconstitutional.
2080—Census shows steady population decline and continued negative population growth. New Population Laws are passed—cash rewards are given per child.
2081— Religion is declared illegal. Worship of God is considered subversive.
2082— The Greater Constitution of America ratified—this mainly dictates the rights of the State and the obligations of the citizenry.”

After all, as the good old Abe Lincoln once said “If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”

The second source of inspiration , says Meredith, is the Bible. But let’s postpone it for a while… The story is the following: in the year 2122, in the perfect state of America—in which the government owns everything and is everything, and religion, capitalism, homosexuality, and freedom of speech are illegal—Phil Tarsus is an Inquisitor, a man who is used to inflicting pain and causing terror, who makes a living rooting out and executing those people who have been charged with treason against the sanctity of the State. Yet, Stephen, a self-confessed gay sentenced to death by stoning, challenges him with strange, archaic concepts such as redemption and God…

Did you get it now? Phil Tarsus is nothing else but Saul of Tarsus, the Apostle who tortured and persecuted Christians—and was witness to the stoning of Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr—until, on the road to Damascus, he experienced a vision of Jesus that forever changed his life. The 2012 election and the Bible. “Merge the two halves of the story and A Perfect America is born,” says Meredith.

All in all, therefore, the book provides the reader with both a warning and a sense of hope—there is always a way of escape. Even from the worst of all possible dystopias.

Thought-provoking, fast paced and well-plotted, this book is something I highly recommend for any lover of thriller novels and political fiction. Needless to say, a must-read for Conservatives and Libertarians.

November 7, 2015

Quote of the Day

At what point, then, is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, If it ever reach us it must spring up amongst us; it cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen we must live through all time, or die by suicide.

~ Abraham Lincoln, Address before the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois, January 27, 1838

November 5, 2015

Nehemiah: Becoming a Godly Leader -- A Review

Yet another great addition to The Bible Teacher’s Guide series by Gregory Brown. This time it’s the book of the Book of Nehemiah’s turn to be analyzed and studied in depth.

The Book of Nehemiah is somehow the second part of the Book of Ezra. Not by chance, as Brown himself reminds us, both the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) and the Latin Vulgate made them one book, calling Nehemiah “Second Ezra.” The two books tell us about the time when the Jews returned from Babylonia to their own country called Judah. The Book of Ezra—a priest and scribe—is about the first two groups of Jews who returned to Judah, and how they built their temple again. The Book of Nehemiah tells the story of a man whose name was Nehemiah—a high official at the Persian court, sent by God in order to carry out a special task, namely to help the Jews to build the walls round Jerusalem again, despite the opposition of Israel’s enemies. In turn, Artaxerxes, the king of Persia, appointed him as governor of Judah. The most important part of both Ezra’s and Nehemiah’s work, however, was showing the entire city that it should follow all of God’s laws.

Nehemiah was “a man of great integrity who feared the Lord,” and “a devout person of prayer.” He also had “a strong awareness of God’s sovereignty over all events,” as Brown points out in the Introduction. But mostly, Nehemiah and Ezra were “great leaders who God called to work together.” The first handled the practical aspects, the latter handled the spiritual. “As we consider them,” writes Brown, “we cannot but remember other great leaders who God called to work together throughout the narrative of Scripture. God called Moses and Aaron, David and Nathan, Hezekiah and Isaiah, Paul and Barnabas…”

This leads us to focus on the “background” and the “purpose” of the book of Nehemiah: God’s faithfulness to his promises—despite the fact that the people of Israel had disobeyed him and were exiled from the land, God remained faithful to his covenant with Abraham.

Among the major themes in the Book of Nehemiah are opposition (as soon as Nehemiah came to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls, those who were profiting from Israel’s misfortune began to antagonize and to mock both Nehemiah and the Israelites), prayer (as Nehemiah prays eleven times throughout the book), and leadership (Nehemiah motivated the Israelites to rebuild the wall that had been down for over 140 years, he “encouraged them to be faithful in the midst of persecution from without and turmoil from within”).

Along with the previous volumes of the series, Nehemiah: Becoming a Godly Leader is concise but thorough, scholarly enough for pastors but also simply as an expositional devotional, accessible to everyday Christians with thought-provoking and discussion-provoking questions. This book will be a very useful resource for all those committed to knowing, communicating, teaching, and living out the Word of God in every aspect of life—as men and women, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, workers and community leaders. Highly recommended.

October 26, 2015

Pieve di Sant'Andrea: An Unexpected Visit

Pieve di Sant'Andrea di Bigonzo
Vittorio Veneto (TV)

It has been a long time since I wanted to visit the church just outside the old town of Serravalle, now part of the city of Vittorio Veneto (Province of Treviso, Veneto region). Last Tuesday I succeeded—not by my efforts, but by the grace of God, or by the hand of fate, if you prefer. In fact I was in the nearby area due to family reasons, and I had a two-hour gap… So I wandered around aimlessly, until I found myself in front of that very church, the Pieve di Sant’Andrea di Bigonzo (Parish Church of St. Andrew of Bigonzo)! When I entered the portal, the view that I could see was almost beyond description…

Pieve di Sant'Andrea di Bigonzo: The Interior 

The atmosphere of the interior—thanks to its beauty and its games of light and shadow, and thanks to the history that surrounds and pervades the whole—is charged with spiritual energy and sense of harmony.

Consecrated in 1303 in the presence of the Patriarch of Grado, the Pieve was built on top of a pre-existing church (probably 4th or 5th century). The hut-shaped façade is adorned with a five-sided rosette and two 16th-century shrines. The bell tower was restored in 1635 after being destroyed by an earthquake.

The inside of the church is 108 ft (33 m) long, 14 ft (45 m) wide, and 39 ft (12 m) high. The walls are entirely covered with frescoes and paintings by both known and unknown artists (among them Antonello da Serravalle, Francesco da Milano, Marco Vecello, Antonio Rosso di Cadore, Antonio Zago).

St. Andrew  –  Pieve di Sant'Andrea di Bigonzo
Vittorio Veneto (Tv)

The shrine on the left of the main altar, called "Cappella dei Battuti" (1337)—after the Confraternity of the Battuti (Flagellants)—is particularly worthy of note. It contains a cycle of frescoes illustrating the life of St. Andrew.

St. Andrew dragged through the street 
Pieve di Sant'Andrea di Bigonzo  –  Vittorio Veneto (Tv)

St. Andrew crucified
Pieve di Sant'andrea di Bigonzo  –  Vittorio Veneto (Tv)

Also worthy of note is the recently restored 14th-century crucifix—one of the largest and most imposing Gothic wooden crucifixes in the North East of Italy, being 89.7 inches (228 cm) high and 88.5 inches (225 cm) in width.

Needless to say, I strongly recommend to anyone living or visiting the Venice area to pay a visit to this amazing place.

Info Credits
  1. Address: Pieve Sant'Andrea di Bigonzo, piazza Pieve di Bigonzo, 2 – località Sant'Andrea 31029 Vittorio Veneto, TV (Italy). Tel. +39 0438 53396.
  2. Holy Masses: see here.
  3. Restoration projects: click here to watch a selection of videos (in Italian) about some of the most important restoration projects for the church by Fondazione Cassamarca.
  4. Photos courtesy of GeoplanWikimedia Commons, Tripadvisor, and La Pieve di Sant'Andrea di Bigonzo (click here and here to see more photos of the frescoes and paintings).
  5. Sources: (Diocesi di Vittorio Veneto), Fondazione Cassamarca.

October 19, 2015

When a Book Meets Its Target Audience

It has been said that a book is not complete until it has been read. I would interpret that statement as a book is not complete until it has met its target audience, that is those to whom the book is primarily addressed. In the case of my book, Being Conservative from A to Z, as the Introduction reads, the target audience includes those “conservative-minded readers”—not scholars or experts in political philosophy—who “wish to acquaint themselves with conservative political thought and to get a critical and comparative perspective on what passes for political, social, economic, and cultural conservatism in their own time and place.” Allen Bagby, who has just reviewed the book—very kindly and generously, which I highly appreciate and value—on Amazon and Goodreads, seems to perfectly correspond to the description. This means that the book is a bit more complete…but I hope this is just the first step in the right direction.

October 18, 2015

The Worst Tyranny

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

~ C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock

How true! How wise! C.S. Lewis was not only a storyteller of enduring power and enchantment, he also was a wise man and a keen political thinker. The above quote should be taught in schools from Kindergarten through University.

October 15, 2015

Take a Starry Night Sky, for Example...

Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night (1889)
Museum of Modern Art, New York City

I think that everything that is really good and beautiful, the inner, moral, spiritual and sublime beauty in men and their works, comes from God, and everything that is bad and evil in the works of men and in men is not from God, and God does not approve of it. But I cannot help thinking that the best way of knowing God is to love many things. Love this friend, this person, this thing, whatever you like, and you will be on the right road to understanding Him better, that is what I keep telling myself. But you must love with a sublime, genuine, profound sympathy, with devotion, with intelligence, and you must try all the time to understand Him more, better and yet more. That will lead to God, that will lead to an unshakeable faith.

~ Vincent van Gogh, Letter to Theo van Gogh, July 1880

What a wonderful thought it is that the best way of knowing God is to love many things "but you must love with a sublime, genuine, profound sympathy, with devotion, with intelligence!" Take a starry night sky, for example...

October 14, 2015

First Peter: How to Live as Pilgrims in a Hostile World -- A Review

Peter was one of the original disciples who was called to follow Christ during his early ministry. He was eventually called to be one of the twelve Apostles, and as supported by a wide range of well documented evidence, he was also the head of them. “The Gospel writers,” writes Gregory Brown in his Bible Teacher’s Guide on First Peter, “focused on Peter throughout the narratives, as there is more material written about him than anybody else besides Christ. Also in the book of Acts, we see his importance in the establishment of the church. He leads the Apostles in the selection of the replacement for Judas (Acts 1) and he preaches several sermons that led to the salvation of thousands (Acts 2, 3 and 4).”

Peter writes this letter to Christians in order to comfort them—with the reality of their salvation—in the midst of intense persecution by the Roman Empire. He opens his letter with a greeting to “God’s elect” who are scattered in northern Asia Minor. He calls his fellow Christians a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of God’s own possession. Then he explains how God’s people should behave: they have to abstain from sin, live good lives before non-Christians, be respectful—all Christians should respect everyone, especially those in authority...

The message of the First Epistle of Peter—usually referred to simply as First Peter and often written 1 Peter—has been immensely comforting to Christians in Muslim and Communist societies where, as it is well known, they are undergoing constant persecution for their faith. “For them,” writes Brown, “this letter has been a manual on how to live as a Christian amidst persecution. Even in Western societies this letter is becoming more relevant.” At one time, he adds, “being a practicing Christian in society was not just tolerated but honored […] now with new ideas about marriage, the woman’s right to abort her children, and many other aspects of society, persecution is constantly growing.” How true!

Gregory Brown’s Bible Teacher’s Guide: First Peter: How to Live as Pilgrims in a Hostile World is a very useful resource for all those committed to teaching, communicating, pursuing, knowing and living out the truth of God’s word in its entirety as given to us in the Bible. It may be used very profitably by individual for personal devotions, by small bible study group leaders, and by pastors for sermon preparation. Highly recommended.

October 6, 2015


An interview of mine with ADELAIDE—Independent Quarterly Literary Magazine (New York). Probably the best interview I've ever had.
Hope you enjoy the read!

September 11, 2015

Blessed Are the Reviewers

I appreciate all feedback, from anyone, any type, any time, but it is such a blessing to receive such a wonderful review… Thank you, Kristin Spencer!

If you are interested in meeting many complex and influential contrarians, this is the book for you.
In addition to those points, it seems to me (an American expat living in Europe) that Piccoli is well traveled, and tries to understand other people and cultures on a complex level in stead of making assumptions based on his own familiar background. He describes himself as, European by birth, American by philosophy.” This characteristic is a rare thing to find in an author, and I appreciate it very much.
I should also note that any intellectual Christian will find this book immensely refreshing. I think Piccoli accomplishes in his book what Alfred Edersheim meant when he wrote of the parable of the talents, “It refers general to all that a man has, wherewith to serve Christ; for, all that the Christian has — his time, money, opportunities, talents, or learning (and not only ‘the Word’), is Christ’s, and is entrusted to us, not for custody, but to trade withal for the absent Master — to further the progress of His Kingdom.”

They’re Rugby Boys, Don’t You Know? -- A Review

“The things described here are the grateful response of a Christian who has been rescued from a life of sin and death and reconciled to God for a life of hope and an eternal future in heaven.” That’s what the Author says in the biographical note (“Natalie’s Personal Story”) at the end of her book. In fact, Natalie Vellacott believed God’s promise that, ‘All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved’. And “God, by His grace, planted true faith in my heart and I determined to live a new life before Him,” as she herself recalls a few lines above.

Miss Vellacott, a former English Police Sergeant turned missionary to the Philippines, describes in her book, They’re Rugby Boys, Don’t You Know? how she unexpectedly encountered and fell in love with a group of street teenage boys addicted to what the locals call “rugby”—a solvent used for repairing shoes in the Philippines which also has the effect, if inhaled, to temporarily ease hunger and depression, and is known to be one of the major causes of addiction to teenagers and even children. The book chronicles some of Natalie’s ups and downs, victories and frustrations of dealing with the “rugby boys,” the many mistakes she made and the many lessons she’s learned along the way. To her each one of the boys was worth God’s love and hers as well. “My biggest piece of advice,” she writes, “is ‘start small.’ One of the smallest things we did which had the biggest impact was to learn the names of the boys and to use them. Whoever God calls you to help, I encourage you to treat them as individuals and demonstrate through this that their lives are important. Constantly remind them that it is God who loves them and that this is the reason for your concern. Don’t expect dramatic change straight away, but; be Patient, Persevere, and Pray.”

They’re Rugby Boys is an inspiring read, it’s thought-provoking, emotional, and uplifting. I am very happy to have read it.

This book is not for profit and all royalties will be paid directly to “Olongapo Christian Help and Hope” for the ongoing support of the ministry.

September 4, 2015

Theology Proper: Knowing God the Father -- A Review

Theology Proper is the sub-discipline of Systematic Theology which deals with the being, attributes and works of God, particularly God the Father. Romans 11:33 is perhaps the best summary verse for theology proper: “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!”

Greg Brown’s Bible Teacher’s Guide is a very useful resource for those believers who want to dig more deeply into the Word of God. Of course, as the Author warns in the Introduction of this valuable work, “before beginning we should consider the limitations of our study.” In fact, “no study of God can be considered comprehensive,” and this for three reasons: the first is a theoretical one (the limitation of the human mind), the second is a moral one (we each have been affected by the presence of sin), and the third is a “resource problem” (“God simply has not told us everything about himself. What he has told us we can know, but he has chosen in his sovereignty to not reveal everything”). That being said, there is so much to be explored, learned and understood...

After all, what is the highest good in life that anyone can pursue? What else but “the highest good out of which all good flows,” that is what in Latin is called summum bonum? As a matter of fact—and as this book wants to suggest—nothing on earth compares to the benefits of knowing God. One of those benefits being that if people don’t know God they can’t properly value human life:

Man is made in the image of God, and therefore, has value. I have value because in some way or another, even though I sin, I bear the image of God. Having God as my maker and having been created in his likeness, gives me innate value. Humanity has value. Depression often arises because of a lack of knowing God. One says, I am unattractive; I can’t do anything right; nobody loves me. These types of thoughts happen because we do not truly know our value as people made in the glory and image of God.

The Bible Teacher’s Guide: Theology Proper: Knowing God the Father is concise but thorough, scholarly enough for pastors but accessible to everyday Christians with thought-provoking and discussion-provoking questions. Pastor Gregory Brown has created a useful tool for studying and teaching God’s Word.

May 18, 2015

'The Greatest Stumbling Block to My Conversion'

How I wept, deeply moved by your hymns, songs, and the voices that echoed through your Church! What emotion I experienced in them! Those sounds flowed into my ears, distilling the truth in my heart. A feeling of devotion surged within me, and tears streamed down my face—tears that did me good.
~ St. Augustine, Confessions 9:6, 14

These wonderful words are quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which also reads as follows:

The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. the main reason for this pre-eminence is that, as a combination of sacred music and words, it forms a necessary or integral part of solemn liturgy. The composition and singing of inspired psalms, often accompanied by musical instruments, were already closely linked to the liturgical celebrations of the Old Covenant. the Church continues and develops this tradition: "Address . . . one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart." "He who sings prays twice." (Eph 5:19; St. Augustine, En. in Ps. 72,1: PL 36, 914; cf. Col 3:16)
Song and music fulfill their function as signs in a manner all the more significant when they are "more closely connected . . . with the liturgical action," according to three principal criteria: beauty expressive of prayer, the unanimous participation of the assembly at the designated moments, and the solemn character of the celebration. In this way they participate in the purpose of the liturgical words and actions: the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful.

"Wonderful!" you'll say. Well, things are very different in real life... Here is what a former Lutheran pastor who is now Roman Catholic had to say a few years ago:

I am sorry to say Augustine’s wonderful words do not describe my experience with worship in the Church. Though at times I have been on the verge of tears, that was due to feelings of despair and not devotion. Far from drawing me into the Church, the manner in which the Mass is celebrated in most parishes constituted, in the end, the greatest stumbling block to my conversion.

The rest of the article is also worth reading.

May 11, 2015

My Newly Redesigned Website Is Up!

Dear readers,

I’m very pleased to announce that my newly redesigned website, (also, is now up and running! Any feedback is welcome and really appreciated!

The purpose of my new website is to provide general information about myself, my interests and background, as well as details about my books, including extracts, reviews, interviews, and more.

There you will also find a page of favorite quotations—some 120 at the moment, but the number is expected to rapidly increase—along with an introductory note titled “Why Quotations Matter.” Another page is that devoted to Web resources. Both of them, in my humble opinion, may contribute significantly to a better understanding of myself, even though they are first and foremost tools I use regularly to explore and catalogue my passions and interests.

I hope I did my best to help readers find what they may be looking for. Otherwise, please let me know. Paraphrasing a famous quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, everything in life is an experiment. Therefore, the more you experiment, the more you fail, the more you learn. And the more you learn, the more you realize how little you know, and how much more there is to know and to learn, and how much better you can get if you really work at it. But I'm getting slightly off topic here... so let's get back on track! I'd just let you know that I really appreciate any and all feedback, positive, negative, humorous, or whatever.

I'll be waiting for you at the door. See you soon!

April 23, 2015

And Men Go About to Wonder at the Heights of the Mountains...

Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch)
To-day I made the ascent of the highest mountain in this region, which is not improperly called Ventosum. My only motive was the wish to see what so great an elevation had to offer. […]
While I was thus dividing my thoughts, now turning my attention to some terrestrial object that lay before me, now raising my soul, as I had done my body, to higher planes, it occurred to me to look into my copy of St. Augustine's
Confessions, a gift that I owe to your love, and that I always have about me, in memory of both the author and the giver. I opened the compact little volume, small indeed in size, but of infinite charm, with the intention of reading whatever came to hand, for I could happen upon nothing that would be otherwise than edifying and devout. Now it chanced that the tenth book presented itself. My brother, waiting to hear something of St. Augustine's from my lips, stood attentively by. I call him, and God too, to witness that where I first fixed my eyes it was written: 'And men go about to wonder at the heights of the mountains, and the mighty waves of the sea, and the wide sweep of rivers, and the circuit of the ocean, and the revolution of the stars, but themselves they consider not.' I was abashed, and, asking my brother (who was anxious to hear more), not to annoy me, I closed the book, angry with myself that I should still be admiring earthly things who might long ago have learned from even the pagan philosophers that nothing is wonderful but the soul, which, when great itself, finds nothing great outside itself. Then, in truth, I was satisfied that I had seen enough of the mountain; I turned my inward eye upon myself, and from that time not a syllable fell from my lips until we reached the bottom again. Those words had given me occupation enough, for I could not believe that it was by a mere accident that I happened upon them. What I had there read I believed to be addressed to me and to no other, remembering that St. Augustine had once suspected the same thing in his own case, when, on opening the book of the Apostle, as he himself tells us, the first words that he saw there were, 'Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.'

~ Francesco Petrarca, "The Ascent of Mount Ventoux" (Letter to Dionigi di Borgo San Sepolcro), 1350

A quotation inside another quotation—what a great meeting of searchers of truth! One is a mystic, a theologian and a monk, the other is a poet, a dreamer and a lover. Both of them—Petrarch and Augustine—know very well, possibly even too well, the meaning of the word “temptation”… but that’s exactly why, when they “meet” they cannot help but to shine together. A great piece of writing. One of my favorites ever.

April 21, 2015

Singing the Glory of God

The monks of Norcia describe monastic life according to the Benedictine rule and explain what Gregorian Chant means for them—new album, “BENEDICTA: Marian Chant from Norcia,”
out June 2, 2015! An important document: very well built and informative:

April 19, 2015

Why George Washington Was a Great Man

A degree of silence envelops Washington’s actions; he moved slowly; one might say that he felt charged with future liberty, and that he feared to compromise it. It was not his own destiny that inspired this new species of hero: it was that of his country; he did not allow himself to enjoy what did not belong to him; but from that profound humility what glory emerged! Search the woods where Washington’s sword gleamed: what do you find? Tombs? No; a world! Washington has left the United States behind for a monument on the field of battle.
Bonaparte shared no trait with that serious American: he fought amidst thunder in an old world; he thought about nothing but creating his own fame; he was inspired only by his own fate. He seemed to know that his project would be short, that the torrent which falls from such heights flows swiftly; he hastened to enjoy and abuse his glory, like fleeting youth. Following the example of Homer’s gods, in four paces he reached the ends of the world. He appeared on every shore; he wrote his name hurriedly in the annals of every people; he threw royal crowns to his family and his generals; he hurried through his monuments, his laws, his victories. Leaning over the world, with one hand he deposed kings, with the other he pulled down the giant, Revolution; but, in eliminating anarchy, he stifled liberty, and ended by losing his own on his last field of battle.
Each was rewarded according to his efforts: Washington brings a nation to independence; a justice at peace, he falls asleep beneath his own roof in the midst of his compatriots’ grief and the veneration of nations.
Bonaparte robs a nation of its independence: deposed as emperor, he is sent into exile, where the world’s anxiety still does not think him safely enough imprisoned, guarded by the Ocean. He dies: the news proclaimed on the door of the palace in front of which the conqueror had announced so many funerals, neither detains nor astonishes the passer-by: what have the citizens to mourn?
Washington’s Republic lives on; Bonaparte’s empire is destroyed. Washington and Bonaparte emerged from the womb of democracy: both of them born to liberty, the former remained faithful to her, the latter betrayed her.
Washington acted as the representative of the needs, the ideas, the enlightened men, the opinions of his age; he supported, not thwarted, the stirrings of intellect; he desired only what he had to desire, the very thing to which he had been called: from which derives the coherence and longevity of his work. That man who struck few blows because he kept things in proportion has merged his existence with that of his country: his glory is the heritage of civilisation; his fame has risen like one of those public sanctuaries where a fecund and inexhaustible spring flows.

~ François-René de Chateubriand, Memoirs from Beyond the Grave, 1848 – 1850

I love this quote almost as much as I love and admire both Chateubriand and President Washington.

Arnold Friberg, The Prayer at Valley Forge (1975)

April 18, 2015

Dante's Divine Comedy Now Online

Fantastic news for those who love Dante’s Divine Comedy: a 14th-century Italian manuscript—Egerton MS 943—of the Divina Commedia, containing hundreds of images and a commentary in Latin, has now been published on Digitised Manuscripts (on the British Library website). Via Medieval manuscripts blog.

Beatrice explaining the order of the universe to Dante.
Divina Commedia (Paradiso, Canto XXVIII)
London, British Library, Egerton MS 943, f 130r

April 8, 2015

Why Quotations Matter

It’s not unusual that some of my friends, readers and acquaintances ask me why I so often show a particular predilection for quotations, or better still why I seem to have a sort of veneration for them. My answer is very simple: Because quotations matter, words matter, and words matter because ideas matter... I mean, quotations are a brilliant way to communicate ideas and concepts!

It has also been said that quotations are the best bits of the best minds, and the records of the funniest, truest, wisest and most memorable things anyone has ever said. That’s also why, though expressed through somebody else’s words, quotations—or at least the most evergreen of them—are perhaps the best way to express one’s thoughts and feelings. They can have deep and meaningful impact to anyone.

If you are a writer or a journalist, but even if you are simply writing something—a term paper, sermon, blog post, etc.—quotations are great devices to put that extra “something” into what you are writing. They are great ways to provide evidence for a thesis statement or premises. They can make a difference in an essay, article or book, they make great hooks or attention-grabbers, and are certainly a powerful way of inspiring and motivating people.

They are sometimes mantras for patience and calm, some other times eloquent remarks for use in sophisticated company, and some other times they are jokes that shake the whole room. Good quotations can be irreverent, eccentric, funny, but always they possess great power, and always they are thoughtful, surprising, and, despite their brevity, remarkably rich and often profound, poetic and enlightening. And as such they are worth preserving, repeating, and bringing into our future before they’re forgotten.

As it was not enough, for those who love history—but not only for them—a good collection of quotations may be something like an oral history of history itself, told both by its celebrities and by the people working behind the scenes.

As for those numerous collections of thoughts and sayings we like to call “Favorite Quotations,” it must be said that they are a true record and mirror of an individual’s personality, of his or her complex psychological and cultural history. To make an example, my own favorite quotations have changed over time: some of them have been taken off the list, while some have been added, and that, of course, not by chance, but by thought and will, in accordance with my personal evolution as a human being. One’s favorite quotations reflect the width and depth of his/her interests and the extent of his/her knowledge of life and view of the world.

Great quotations are more than just a source of pleasure. They are like fine wine matured over time. They are the condensed wisdom of the ages. They bridge time and space. They connect the living and the dead. Someone once said: ‘Quotations make the world go round.’ I think that’s not an exaggeration.

From my website's Favorite Quotations page.

February 14, 2015

Yet Another Review of Blessed Are the Contrarians

There are no words to describe how thankful I am for having such a passionate and dedicated reader, and such a generous and thoughtful reviewer (at Goodreads).
Thank you, Diana Stevan, and may God bless you and your family!
Here is an excerpt:

A philosopher by nature and education, Piccoli writes about political life in both his native country, Italy (the whole Berlusconi fiasco) and in America (the ongoing battles between Obama and the Republicans). Because I’m left leaning in politics, it was refreshing to read his point of view, which is more conservative than mine. I was enlightened in ways I couldn’t have imagined.

Some of his essays are about religion. Since I’ve drifted away from organized religion, I was fascinated by his attention to God, and the Catholic church. Though I didn’t agree with all his positions, he made me think, and he opened my mind up to other possibilities.
[Read the rest]