Sunday, May 19, 2013

Story-time with Cardinal Fratelli, part 5

The cardinal finished speaking. Six, wide-eyed boys peered up at him. Fresh in their minds were images of the grey, grinning gargoyle, the two brothers carrying home treasure, the donkey trotting amidst palm branches and of course, the white-fanged wolf who seemed less scary now. When the cardinal brushed dirt off his red robes, ready to depart, little Paolo begged: “Please tell us one more…please?”
The priest-attendant stopped to examine the sky, minding it was late and shook his head. Cardinal Fratelli strode towards him, inciting many groans of disappointment. Paolo’s small finger dug into the train of his garment and he couldn’t bear to turn away.
“Alright then, I shall tell only one more story,” the cardinal said.
The boys cheered and resumed their places at his feet, Antonio standing, behind Stefano who squatted down, Paolo fidgeting beside them. Wasting not a moment, Cardinal Fratelli began his next tale:

“Two large stones once sat on a tall hilltop. They longed to see what lie on the hill’s other side but could not move themselves. Seeing a mouse, they asked him, “Please go to the hill’s other side and tell us what is there.”
Returning, the mouse said, “Tall grass is on the other side; towering mushrooms and lofty mountains. The creatures there are gigantic.”
No doubt, the rocks were surprised. So, when an eagle perched nearby, they asked her “Please go to the hill’s other side and tell us what is there.”
Returning, the eagle said, “There’s short grass, tiny flowers and small pebbles. The creatures there are itsy-bitsy.”
Then, a man came along, dragging a huge log and the rocks asked him, “The hill’s other side is a wondrous world that we’ve never seen, please carry us there!”
The man obliged. He tied both stones together and lugged them to the other side of the hill. Once there, the stones peered about eagerly. However, they found that this side of the hill looked exactly like the other… So do not be ungrateful for what you have my children."

Monday, May 13, 2013

Story-time with Cardinal Fratelli, part 4

“I am not leaving until I hear the story about the wicked wolf,” Antonio pouted.
He stood man-like, hands clenched into fists, arms crossing his chest. Stefano glanced back at him, somewhat fearful that he would hiss or pinch again. Paolo glued his eyes on the scarlet-clad cardinal.
“It is growing late, near time for Vespers, but I shall tell one last tale,” Cardinal Fratelli decided aloud.
Ceasing his anger, Antonio sat down inches from the cardinal’s feet. Fratelli eyed him, this impetuous, mean-spirited youth and sighed. Slowly, he collected his thoughts and spoke in a voice that commanded attention:

“Oh, the wicked wolf, the wicked, wicked wolf… Everybody knows how scary he was- how wild and fierce! But do you know the way he was tamed? I will tell you then. You see, the wicked wolf prowled at night, growling and snatching away helpless people. Many people in the small village of Cocalo disappeared and they knew the wolf had gotten them. Now, outside this village lived a hermit monk. His name was Ferdo. His hair was dirty, full of clay from the river, his frame was thin from fasting and penance and his clothes hung in rags.
The wicked wolf raised such an outcry that parties began gathering to hunt and kill him. Surely this foul beast was no good, only fit to be slain! When the hunters marched out, Ferdo met them. In kindly voice, he implored, “Spare the wolf, he is just a beast and doesn’t understand. He doesn’t need to die. At least, let me talk to him before you go forth.”
Thinking Ferdo to be a madman, they laughed at him and said: “Sure, go talk to your wolf friend. But be warned, we will use our swords should we see him!”
Thus, Ferdo ventured out into the dark woods, went to meet the wicked wolf. As Ferdo sat in a glade praying, the sound of clawed feet came forth. It was the wolf, staring with bright yellow eyes, bearing his knife-like fangs.
Ferdo hid his fear and stood. Holding out his wooden staff, he spoke:
Brother wolf, you have gotten yourself in some trouble. I know you are hungry and need flesh to live but why eat the villagers? Why take lives that do nothing to harm you? The man are angry and they come to slay you but listen brother wolf, we can help you-if you only promise never to kill again.”
Bewildered, for men always came at him with sword, axe and club, the wolf shook his head. Bowing down, he replied:
            “I am sorry, my brother. Truly I am hungry and need flesh to live. If you help me, feed me, and raise not swords against me, I shall promise never to kill again.”
Right before the huntsmen, Fredo appeared, leading the wicked wolf by his scruff as if he were a tame dog. He reiterated their words, the promise made between them and instead of slaying the wolf; the villagers laid out for him a whole chicken. He ate it timidly and went away. No more people were snatched away in the night. Peace came. From now, they remembered Fredo, remembered not to make the beasts into enemies. For with kind words and understanding, war will cease.”

Story-time with Cardinal Fratelli, part 3

“Tell us another, Good Eminenza!” cried little Paolo.
His sweet, babyish eyes sparkled with delight. Patting Paolo’s messy brown hair, Cardinal Fratelli laughed.
“This next tale is about a donkey…”
“Come on,” Antonio suddenly blurted out, “A donkey? How boring and stupid!”
The cardinal frowned for a moment- then he grinned and chuckled to himself.
“Perhaps Antonio, you can learn from this story…”
Antonio kept silent, not necessarily feeling rebuked but curious as to how a story about a donkey can be anything exciting. As the priest-attendant sighed tiredly and leaned upon the stone railing nearby, Cardinal Fratelli began:

“A long time ago, in a distant desert land, there lived a donkey. His fur was grey, his eyes big and brown and his hooves wide like dishes. He lived on a farm with other animals: cock, ox and horse. They laughed at the donkey and mocked him.
I wake our master in the morn so he may plant the crops we eat,” said cock.
I pull the plow so that the crops planted may grow and we can eat,” said ox.
I carry our master to the market so he may sell the crops and we can have more to eat,” said horse.
Thus, the donkey tried to wake their master at morning but he made an awful braying noise. He tried pulling the plow but it fell loose on his narrow shoulders and would not move. He tried to carry their master but horse pushed him aside. “I am useless, mean and ugly,” said the donkey, “I will run away.”
The very next day, the master left for a journey. He brought with him cock and ox. He rode off on horse, leaving the donkey alone, tied to a fence. Sadly, the donkey hung his head. “Now I shall run away” he said.
However, just as the donkey began chewing through his rope, some strange man came forth and untied him. “Just as well” said the donkey, “If I am stolen and killed so be it…” Suddenly, another man in a red cloak approached. The donkey felt peace. With kind eyes, he beheld the donkey, patted his mane and whispered. Then in one quick leap, he mounted. The donkey had never been ridden before, that was horse’s duty, yet he easily supported this man’s weight. Great noise arose as the donkey was urged forth. Many people appeared in the streets. At once, the donkey raised his head. Crowds of men women and children clamored round, hailing this man: this seeming prince who had borrowed him. Crying out: “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they strewed palm branches about and laid down their cloaks.
The donkey’s master suddenly arrived- along with cock, ox and horse. They halted before him. Yes, his former tormenters gazed in amazement, for the one deemed useless now carried a King. The one not good enough for the master was now goodly for a Lord. The one, ugly and mean, was now a bringer of beauty, nobility and Truth. Ignored, mocked and esteemed not, this lowly donkey bore aloft on his back, the very Son of God, the exalted King of all Kings and Lord of all Lords, Jesus Christ!”

Story-time with Cardinal Fratelli, part 2

Church bells rang in the distance, echoing over fields and trees. Delicately, Cardinal Fratelli signed a cross upon his chest.
“That reminds me…” he then said.
“What!” the children collectively demanded.
“I have another story to tell you: a story about two brothers.”
The boys chimed, “Go on, go on, hurry!”
“There once were two brothers, who lived in the country of Parma, who had an old, dying father . Before he left this earthly life, the old father gave his two sons one request: “Please go to my grave and pray every day. Do this and I shall be happy.”
Both brothers said: “Yes, always dear father!”
After the funeral the two brothers faithfully arrived to their father’s grave to pray. They would sing one Psalm: “Domine Pastor es meus…” pray “Ave Maria” seven times, a “Pater Noster” and then the readings of the hours. In time, however, the older brother became an illustrious merchant and fell in love with a beautiful maiden. He told the younger brother one day, “I don’t have enough time, not even a spare hour, to pray at father’s grave, you do it.”
The younger brother happily obliged. Over many years, even in storms and snow, he trudged up the hill where his father laid and said the daily prayers. By himself, he would sing one psalm, pray “Ave” seven times, a “Pater Noster” and the readings of the hours.
One summer day, news came that a wealthy prince had lost a rare jewel, while traveling through the countryside, lost amidst his great company, and that he searched for it without avail. Upon the cathedral door, a decree was posted, that whoever finds this treasure will be rewarded with riches beyond compare. Now the older brother busied himself in search of the rare jewel. He went out day and night and did not find it. When the younger brother went for his daily prayers, he spoke to his father: “If I find this jewel, I shall be happy and content to the end of my days but if not, my father, I still have you.”
Suddenly, a voice came from heaven. It said: “My son, oh, my dear son, it was you who faithfully climbed this hill every day, wither in storms or snow, to fulfill my dying wish. In heaven, I see everything and I know where the Prince’s treasure lies. Go to it now.”
The young son followed his father’s voice and arrived in a field of wild hay. Beneath some dead grass and dirt, he dug and took in his hands a diamond that looked as if made of pure gold, having many faces, glowing with many colors and hues. He rushed and returned it to its rightful owner, the prince. Blushing joyously, the Prince did as promised and bestowed the younger brother with great riches. Suddenly his older brother stormed into the palace, jealous and angry. “I searched day and night for that jewel and you find it without even telling me!”
Dear brother, don’t be upset. Had you gone with me to pray at father’s grave, you would have found the treasure. No small and meaningless labor goes without reward in the eyes of heaven. In my faithfulness, I was blessed. By giving up my time and earthly comfort, I found favor. But know this: my reward is yours also- whatever is mine, is yours.”.”

Story-time with Cardinal Fratelli, part 1

Sua Eminenza!” cried a small, brown-haired boy, “Tell us a story!”
Holding back folds of red finery, Cardinal Fratelli paused. Several children rushed forth to meet him, one breaking past the attendant priest. He looked down and smiled but his silent thoughts were again broken by the crying voice,
“Alright, little Paolo, I shall tell you a story,” the cardinal agreed.
Instinctively, all the other children gathered around him, each asking for a story.
“I want to hear about the winter witch!”
 “Tell us about the gypsy tramp, the one that turns into a goat!”
A boy with blonde curls begged:

“No, tell us of the dueling prince of Florence!”
Another boy named Antonio easily pushed him out of the way.
“No that is stupid, let’s hear about the mean wolf!”
Being tall and 14 years old, Antonio was arguably just as mean as the wolf.
“Now, now… calm down,” assured Cardinal Fratelli, “There is time yet…”
 He searched for a proper place to sit and saw nothing but a stone railing. It was likely dirty and cold. He simply stood there, raised one hand and stroked his chin in amusement. The children sensed his thoughts and quieted. Six pairs of eyes stared expectantly. At last, clearing his throat, collecting himself, he began.
“Let me tell you about the statue that came to life… On a cold, blustery night, we gathered to say Vespers in the cathedral…”
“What’s Vespers?” blurted out the blonde boy.
Cardinal Fratelli, not irritated at all, answered, “Little Stefano; that is our evening time of prayer when we recite the psalms and ask for God’s protection.”
Antonio hissed and pinched Stefano- lest he dare ask another question and keep them waiting. After some minutes, things quieted again. Fratelli continued:
“How cold and stormy it was that night! The clouds wore cloaks of grey and rain danced about. After we finished our Vespers, one of the priests must have heard something and he gave me a fright. Jumping up and down, he said: “There’s a bat in the belltower! I saw it!
 Now, I told him any bat would surely be gone by morning but he still seemed so frightened, asking what should happen if it flies into our windows at night.  
If I catch it myself,” I said, “You shall have to dust and polish the high altar”
That altar had been dusty for a while…
Without an answer, I marched up into the dark bell tower holding nothing but a tiny candle. My light fell on this large grey face, open-mouthed, snout-nosed, garish and toothy. How I jumped! It was only a gargoyle, carved into the cathedral wall ever since olden times. I continued my away and kept searching for the bat. Suddenly a winged shadow flew overhead and I reached to grab it. Flapping wings brushed my hand- how dreadful! And worse so, it escaped! Swooping in a big circle, the bat dove out into the grey skies. Good, it is gone. Now came time to retire and sleep well. However this strange night would not end yet! When I passed the gargoyle again, I noticed an eerie black space where it once stood. Wasn't it just here? Where had it gone? Gargoyles don’t just get up and walk away, do they?
My terrified feet flew down the stairs and to the sanctuary where my bewildered priests stood. “The bat is gone, do not worry anymore,” I gasped. Then as I ran from the church, they followed, not asking a question. Early the next morning, almost compelled, I again climbed the bell tower and saw the grey gargoyle sitting there, wrinkling his nose and smiling as usual. Good, it was just an illusion, a trick of the eyes played at night. Or so I thought- for as I turned to climb back down, I heard a quiet voice lean over and whisper: “Make sure good Father dusts me off as well!”

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Vacation for Cardinal Fratelli has been published!!

A new Cardinal Fratellli book is out!

The fifth book of “The Misadventures of Cardinal Fratelli series.” A cardinal’s life is full of duties, documents, appointments and ceremonies, this young Fratelli knows well, and after a series of comical mishaps gets him to realize he’s being overworked, he decides upon a lovely vacation in Pisa to the south. He heads along the coast of Italy, reluctantly taking Gianni and several servants with him, including Jan, intent on soaking up the sunshine and lovely scenery.  
However, Fratelli soon finds that even vacations can be thorny as the friendly Archbishop of Pisa wants help with many things, Gianni soon lands himself in trouble and the pestered cardinal just can’t seem to get any time alone! Will Fratelli get the vacation he’s always wanted- or disaster?

Available on Amazon and Kindle!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Mass with Gianni

Mass with Gianni, my oldest altar-boy. He looks like an innocent angel but is not. How do I know this? Because I spent most of the morning peeling chewing gum off the bottom of my episcopal slippers...