Friday, December 21, 2012

Biblical Peace

The biblical idea of peace
is not so much the absence of war
as it is the presence of
a right relationship with God.
We sometimes forget
that peace begins in the human soul.
A Chinese proverb explains why:

“If there is right in the soul,
there will be beauty in the person,
there will be harmony in the home.
If there is harmony in the home,
there will be order in the nation.
If there is order in the nation,
there will be peace in the world.”


Mission 2000

by Mark Link, S.J. 

Reflection Questions

How has my relationship with God changed over the last year?
What has been the major factor in producing this change?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Real Work of Christmas

When the song of the angels is stilled;
when the star in the sky is gone;
when the wise men have gone home;
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
then, the real work of Christmas begins.

find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nation,
to bring peace among peoples,
to make music in the heart!

Adapted from the prayer,
Work of Christmas Begins
by Howard Thurman

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Les Miz and Me

Bishop Myriel's
unconditional love
changes Jean
Valjean's life
I don't usually share anything publicly about a work in progress. Like most writers,  my computer is loaded with partially completed projects--some abandoned altogether, gathering digital dust. As a rule, it's best to keep my current projects to myself. Considering the imminent film release of the musical, Les Miserables, I'm going to risk an exception. 

First, some background. My all-time favorite novel is Victor Hugo's masterpiece. For me, it's more than a story. It ranks next to the Bible as a literary sign and sacrament of God's love for our frail, often broken humanity. No surprise, then, that my most beloved fictional characters are Bishop Charles Francois Myriel and Jean Valjean (in that order). 

Over a 25-year novel writing career, I have "fathered" dozens of fictional children. Now, this is where I risk sounding a little bit weird. I have this mystical theory, you see. Its hypothesis is this: every character of fiction created in the mind of an author or original storyteller has a real life in an alternate or parallel universe. I base this on a common phenomenon that fiction writers experience upon completion of their stories. In my case, having lived with my characters for a year--or more--and knowing them as intimately as I do, letting go and moving on sets in motion a grieving process. It's similar to the emotions generated by the loss of a loved one.

My parallel universe theory plays out in There's More (working title), my current work-in-progress. The story begins with Hugo's Bishop Myriel being called from his existence in another realm to serve as companion and guide to Afterlife. A young priest has just died in a freak accident--one that turns out to be a murder. This is not the bishop's first experience in this capacity on Earth, but he considers it the most remarkable. 

Like the bishop in my story, this is not the first time Hugo's characters have populated my own writing. In The Wisdom of Les Miserables: Lessons From the Heart of Jean Valjean, I reflected on my personal life experience in light of the spiritual/theological themes embedded in the novel. Also, one of my most-read blog posts on this site is "A Model for 21st c. Catholic Bishops," in which I urge the hierarchy of my church to become servant leaders after the manner of the Christlike Myriel.  

I can't wait to see the latest earthly incarnations of Bishop Myriel (Colm Wilkinson) and Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman). I wish Director Tom Hooper (The King's Speech) success with Les Miz's most recent rendition. And, in that faraway universe, where our fictional characters live, may the real Myriel and Valjean also delight in it.

(c) 2013 by Alfred J. Garrotto
All rights reserved

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Les Miz Companion Books

I’ve found a kindred spirit in author Rev. John E. Morrison, an Episcopal priest. In his wonderful book, To Love Another Person: A Spiritual Journey Through Les Miserables, his treatment of the spirituality of Victor Hugo’s novel and the amazing Kretzmer, Boublil, Schonberg musical version helped me to deepen my own appreciation of the epic story’s psychological and spiritual themes. Morrison’s approach is more academic than my own in The Wisdom of Les Miserables: Lessons From the Heart of Jean Valjean, but it is no less stirring and inspiring. If, like me, you are a LesMis-ophile, you will both enjoy and benefit from a reverent reading this book.

(c) 2012 by Alfred J. Garrotto

Sunday, October 21, 2012

In Memory of Marilyn

My dear friend, Marilyn Giardino-Zych, passed into eternity on Sunday, October 14, 2012. She was Executive Producer on the project to bring my novel, The Saint of Florenville: A Love Story, to the big screen. Our hearts and our prayers go out especially to her husband, daughters, and other surviving family members. Marilyn possessed a great passion for this story and had built an amazingly talented team of professionals around her. Sadly, her untimely death came in the early stages of development by Hangar 3 Productions and leaves the project in a state of limbo. All of us who knew and loved Marilyn are in a state of grief and shock at her leaving us. Her energy and her desire to see this film go forward gives me confidence that she is still in charge of producing it from her place in heaven. How she will pull it together—and when—is in the hands of God, but I trust that Marilyn will eventually make it happen.

(c) 2012 by Alfred J. Garrotto

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Wisdom of Joseph--Son and Guide

I am honored to welcome Kathryn Davi-Cardinale, author of the inspiring personal story, Joseph--My Son, My Guide: Communications From the Baby I Lost at Birth. Kathryn is a certified grief counselor and clinical hypnotherapist residing in the San Francisco (CA) Bay Area. In her book, she shares with us how her baby, who lived only three minutes, returned years later to communicate with his mother. This week, I had an opportunity to interview the author.

WLM: What inspired you to write "Joseph"?

Kathryn: Actually, the book wrote itself. From the beginning of this unusual experience, I sensed that this needed to be a book, but I had no idea how or if it could become one. Honestly, it didn't matter to me. I have spent years doubting and coming to terms with Joseph's "inner dictations." All the while, I kept writing and documenting everything that was being given to me.

Kathryn Davi-Cardinale
WLM: What is your personal belief about afterlife?

Kathryn: I believe that we are all spiritual beings having a human experience, and that we will return to an eternal place at the end of our earth life. We change from day to day, as we grow in wisdom. We are all teachers and students to each other. I remind myself to see the grace in every person and that negative judgment only causes harm to oneself. For years I have started my morning with a prayer similar to that of St. Francis of Assisi: "Lord, make me a channel of your peace, love, compassion, understanding, and forgiveness."

WLM: How emotionally difficult was it for you to let go of your story and send it out to the world?

Kathryn: Once the messages changed from being personal to "universal," it was not difficult to let go of the story. I was told that the messages were for everyone and needed to be published. Joseph said, "Each ear will hear it differently." From that time on, I knew it wasn't about me. I was only a channel to get the messages out to those who would benefit from them.

WLM: What sort of responses have you received from readers?

Kathryn: My heart has been warmed by so many beautiful responses. Some have come from those who themselves have lost loved ones and now feel at peace, knowing that life continues.

Many readers have written or called me to share their own experiences of communication from loved ones "on the other side." Until now they had never told this to anyone for fear that people might think they were crazy. My story has given them permission to share it with me and feel normal again.

Some have applauded my courage and strength to follow Joseph's guidance in publishing his messages. That sounds strange to me, because it never occurred to me to do otherwise.

Still others have read the book more than once and gained even more insight, realizing that we all have a unique purpose in life. It seems that each reader receives what they are meant to receive for their own spiritual growth. This seems to be the true purpose of the book.

WLM: Do you see this as the one-and-only book? Or, do you have another in mind?

Kathryn: Regarding another book, I have been told that Joseph and my guides will work with me again, and I am willing. So, it seems that Joseph--My Son, My Guide is Book One in what appears to be an ongoing journey.

WLM: Do your "Joseph revelations" continue?

Kathryn: When the book was ready for publication, I received messages on and off from Joseph, thanking me for following through with it. The final message I received said, in part:

WLM: What advice would you offer to someone out there who has an "unusual" true story to tell?

Kathryn: My advice to anyone who has a true story that has changed their life is "go for it." You never know who else is experiencing the same thing you are. Your story can help someone over a hurdle and give them courage. Always honor your own "truth." It doesn't matter who doesn't understand it. Being authentic is truly a gift you give to yourself.

WLM: What is your fondest hope for your book? 

Kathryn: My fondest wish is that Joseph--My Son, My Guide will inspire everyone to listen to and trust their personal "inner voice."

WLM: Thank you, Kathryn. I hope your book will inspire many people to follow their own truth. Visitors to this blog who would like to communicate with Kathryn Davi-Cardinale are invited to e-mail her at

Joseph–My Son, My Guide is available online in paperback. It is also an ebook at Amazon Kindle and will soon be available in all major ebook formats. The paperback edition can also be ordered through local bookstores.

Cover image, 'Ariyanna,' Birth of the Soul (c) Deborah Brooks (used with permission)
Author photo by Franci Lucero

Alfred J. Garrotto is the author of The Saint of Florenville: A Love Story

(c) 2012 by Alfred J. Garrotto

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Wisdom of Sunflowers: Part II--Reunion

We were drawn to the sunflowers the moment we saw "Fresh Bouquet" displayed  among Roman Czerwinski's many paintings. What Esther and I did not understand at first was how deeply connected we were to that work.

Friday is Art Night on Lahaina's Front Street. Over the years we have met and conversed with world-famous artists, including Robert Lyn Nelson, whose marine life paintings are legendary. We've also spent "quality time" with the Italian Twins,  Alessio and Marcello Bugagiar, whose exquisite work we greatly admire. 

On this special Art Night, there was only one artist we wanted to see--the one who, 20 years ago, had invited each of our two little girls to place a leaf on one of his impressionist paintings. By prearrangement, we arrived at Sargents Fine Art where Roman was waiting to greet us.

It's hard to explain, but the three of us felt an immediate bond, as if the intervening years had collapsed into days. We gathered in a small, private showroom to share memories and update our life stories. Then, Roman told us about the painting and what it meant to him. 

The sunflowers recalled his childhood in Poland, playing football while rubbing the golden flowers in the palms of his hands to free and eat the seeds. The bright red vase reminded him of the Solidarity Movement that toppled the Communist regime in his native country--being the first of many dominoes to fall in Eastern Europe by 1989. Roman told of his days as one of many unarmed student activists, who occupied his university buildings, facing down a powerful, teargas-tossing militia. He signs his paintings in red, because Czerwinski means 'red' in Polish. He spoke in a reverent tone of being present at Pope John Paul II's 1979 speech. Employing what has been called "soft power," the pope told the crowds, "Be not afraid." Roman interpreted the message as, "Follow your heart." A year later the Solidarity Movement became a force for freedom. Truly, a David vs. Goliath.

For our part, we shared our emotional 2010 visit to the very shipyard in Gdansk, where dockworker Lech Walesa led a  strike that--after much suffering--succeeded in overcoming the regime. Walesa went on to become president of the newly free Poland.

During the hour we spent together, we came to see that our friend Roman is not only a great artist, but a deeply spiritual, caring, and generous man. As we were parting, I told him that I felt a strong fraternal connection between us.

Czerwinski's "Fresh Bouquet" now occupies an honored place in our home. 

[Note: Our reunion with Roman Czerwinski took place on August 17, 2012.]

See also:

Alfred J. Garrotto is the author of The Saint of Florenville: A Love Story

(c) 2012 by Alfred J. Garrotto

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Wisdom of Sunflowers: Part I--A Leaf

Artist Roman Czerwinski
Lahaina, Maui, HI
On a balmy Lahaina, Maui afternoon, 20 years ago, Esther and I stepped into a Front Street art gallery. In tow, with instructions to "touch nothing, or else" were our daughters Monica (6) and Cristina (5). A young artist sat, back to us, putting the finishing touches on an impressionistic rendition of a large tree. He turned and saw the girls watch in rapt attention as he placed dot after dot of paint on the canvas, each one becoming a single leaf within the whole. "Would you like to help me finish my painting?" he said. With saucer eyes, our girls nodded. The artist dipped the tip of his brush into a rainbow of oils and handed it to Monica. "Place your leaf right . . . there," he said, guiding her hand to the canvas. He did the same with Cristina. The artist's name was Roman Czerwinski, a Polish emigre, seeking to establish himself in the dynamic Lahaina art scene.We've returned to Lahaina a number of times through the intervening years, each time inquiring about Roman along the row of big-ticket galleries. The usual response was, "Oh, he's around, but I don't know where." In 2009, Esther and I were in Lahaina alone. Our now adult daughters were in their twenties and establishing themselves after graduating from college. Sitting upstairs in Front Street's Cheeseburger in Paradise, we reminisced about the artist who had given our little girls not only the thrill of adding to his painting, but imparted a brief lesson on impressionism. He'd pointed out that, when they stepped away from the painting, they could no longer distinguish their dot from all the others. All they saw was a lovely tree in full leaf. Soon our conversation turned to our Maui mantra, "What ever happened to Roman?" At that moment we glanced across the street and gasped when we saw a large banner over the entrance to Sargents Fine Art: ROMAN CZERWINSKI. Sadly, our fondly remembered artist was not in, but we got to see a number of his paintings.

Coming soon . . . "The Wisdom of Sunflowers: Part II--Reunion" 

See also:

Alfred J. Garrotto is the author of The Saint of Florenville: A Love Story

(c) 2013 by Alfred J. Garrotto

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Guest Blogger: Donie O'Connor--"There's Always Something"

Note: I am delighted to welcome to this blog my good friend, Fr. Donie O'Connor. Donie is a Mill Hill missionary priest, who has served the poor in Africa. For the past two years he has served the congregation of Christ the King Church, Pleasant Hill, California, and done so with great generosity of presence and  wisdom.

I ran excitedly into the kitchen, tripped and broke my nose. I can still hear my mother’s words: ‘There’s always something.’ Yes with eight children there was never an empty moment in our home. My mom died peacefully at home at the age of ninety, six years ago. I remember sitting on her bed and joking with her about this incident and what she said. With a gentle laugh she sighed: “When I pass on, put that epitaph on my gravestone: There’s always something.’ ” 

And there always is. All of us identify with my mom. All of us recognize her frustration. All our moments are crowded with uninvited guests and unsummoned grief. There are voices everywhere commanding our attention inside and outside.

There is always something big or small that steals the substance of ‘the now.’ Something casts its slanting shadow that prevents us from entering into the richness of the present moment. An anxiety, a lingering regret, something that should be done or something I should be doing. A lingering headache or heartache, an unpaid bill, a bitterness or a jealousy. Yes, something lurks around the corner ready to rob the present moment of its joy.

The late Dutch spiritual writer, Henri Nouwen in his little gem, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life, documents this. “Our life,” he wrote, “is a story where sadness and joy kiss each other at every moment.” And they can co-exist.

There is a tinge of poignancy that invades every moment of our daily lives. It seems there is never a clear-cut pure joy or a clear-cut pure motive. Even in love’s passionate rapture, there is the reflection of sadness. In every satisfaction, there is the awareness of limitation. In every risk, there is the element of danger. In every love, the fear of hurt. In every success, the dread of jealousy. Behind every smile, there is a teardrop. In every friendship, a distance. In every freedom, there are consequences; and in every embrace, there is loneliness. In every dawn, there is twilight.

There’s always something!

- - - - - - - - - -

Alfred J. Garrotto is the author of The Saint of Florenville: A Love Story

(c) 2012 by Alfred J. Garrotto

Enhanced by Zemanta

Monday, July 16, 2012

The (Dubious) Wisdom of Work

I'm still feeling disturbed after reading M. Allen Cunningham's fictional biography, Lost Son, based on the life of Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke. First, let me say that Cunningham has to be one of our most gifted modern American writers. Rarely has an author chosen such an unappealing protagonist, yet pulled me through his book on the strength of sensitive, mesmerizing--and poetic--prose. In an Amazon review, I gave the author five stars, while mentally assigning but one to Rilke himself.

M. Allen Cunningham
But why this pervading discomfort that refuses to fade days after closing the book? I believe it arises--or descends--from Rilke's personal mission statement: work is everything . . . all else comes second, a far and distant runner-up. The poet abandoned his only child, Ruth, for most of her life, seemingly for no other reason that he saw her as an innocent impediment to his life's work. Though married to the sculptress, Clara, whom he loved, he designed their marriage to be a celibate existence, even during those rare periods when they happened to be in the same European city at the same time. (Clara later filed for divorce.) 

But why does Rilke's strange way of being bother me so much that I want to ring his neck and tell him a thing or two. About what, though? Cunningham's portrayal of the famous poet picks at scabs in my own life, past and present. Early in my adulthood, I bought into a similar "work is everything" philosophy. And I was miserable. I have learned that old ways die hard. After marrying and knowing the joy of children, and now an adored grandchild, I still struggle to fend off the beast of 'work-first.'

Cunningham has given a wonderful portrayal of a flawed literary genius. In doing so, his novel will continue to haunt me for the rest of this summer, at least, and perhaps beyond.
- - - - - - - - - -

Alfred J. Garrotto is the author of the novel, The Saint of Florenville: A Love Story

Enhanced by Zemanta

Monday, June 25, 2012

What ever happened to radical feminism? I think I know.

Truth in writing requires me to preface my reflection on writer-director Lynn Shelton's Your Sister's Sister with a disclaimer. I am 1.5 generations removed from the film's protagonists. My right to an opinion on these Gen Y'ers derives from my having gotten a late start on parenting and, therefore, my two daughters are still in their late twenties--as are most of their friends, both male and female.

Halfway through the film, breathtakingly filmed in Washington State's San Juan Islands, I gave up trying to like what I was seeing. I opted instead to study the film as a sociological commentary. The question that kept nagging at me was, "Fifty-plus years after the rise of radical feminism (so-called "women's lib") in the United States, how is it possible that educated professional women still expect and accept so little of the men they partner with?"  

Iris (Emily Blunt) is madly in love with an immature and  self-confessed loser named Jack (Mark Duplass). In a key scene, Jack admits to Iris that he is nothing but a waste of any woman's time. That's just who he is and that's all Iris is ever going to get from him. Instead of fleeing to catch the next ferry back to Seattle, Iris melts and accepts his non-offer. What she is really saying yes to is being little-boy Jack's mother for the rest of his life. 

Oh, yes, there a bit more to the story, but that's the bottom
line--literally, the bottom.

I left the theater shaking my head. My main worry is that this film might represent the true state of single young women in America today. Has women's lib failed so miserably? Have women given up demanding equal status with their men? Have they given up on finding truly co-responsible life partners? 

What is correspondingly fascinating about all this is that this film arrives amid the Vatican's current inquisition against Catholic religious women (sisters/nuns) in the U.S. At the heart of the churchmen's fear is that these brave women have become "radical feminists" (read 'uppity,' demanding that the "boys" in their faith community grow up and be men!). I can only conclude from my viewing of Your Sister's Sister and the hierarchy's desire to purge strong women from spiritual leadership, that Roman Catholic nuns are America's last-standing daughters of Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem. God, bless them!

- - - - - -
Alfred J. Garrotto's most recent novel is The Saint of Florenville: A Love Story.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Where Has All the Wisdom Gone?

The whole month of May has gone by since my last post. I've tried, but finding big-stage wisdom on the edge of summer during a presidential campaign is nearly impossible. Normally, I can turn to people of faith for wisdom, especially within my own tradition. Not this time. Wisdom is not strident, yet "loud and louder" is all we too often get from religious leaders in the U.S.

So where does sanity reside in the late spring of 2012? Let me toss out a few rays of hope I cling to on these overcast days: Stephen Colbert, the American women religious, National Catholic Reporter, US Catholic Magazine (print and online), Fr. Richard Rohr, Sr. Joan Chittister, Fr. Brian Joyce and the people of Christ the King Parish, Jean Valjean and Bishop Charles Myriel inVictor Hugo's Les Miserables, and--of course--my wife Esther, a truly wise woman.

I invite the readers of this blog post to add their own wisdom sources to mine.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Circle of Life

I'm the "little Italian kid" on the steps
in Butch Minds the Baby  (1942),
co-starring Virginia Bruce.
My first paid job was was as a movie extra in 1942. I was seven years old. Whenever Central Casting needed  Italian-looking kids, my dad got a call. Either my sister Natalie or I were in demand. The photos to the left are proof (unless you can't believe I was ever that cute).  World War II gas rationing destroyed my film career, so I'll never know what might have been. 

Yes, that's little Al at the extreme lower-
right edge of the frame. Co-starring  (with me)
were, left to right, Fuzzy Knight. Broderick
Crawford, and Dick Foran.

Long past fitting the description of "little Italian kid," I treasured my  Central Casting card. Life has taken me on a winding journey, since those bright-light and good pay days ($25 per diem in post-Great Depression dollars). I went from sound stage to  peddling peanuts on Santa Monica beach. From there to the Catholic priesthood, followed by marriage and parenthood. In my forties, I launched a career as a professional writer/editor, beginning with features for periodicals. I then got more ambitious, moving to book-length fiction and nonfiction. Not until my tenth book and most recent  novel (my sixth), The Saint of Florenville: A Love Story, did my work attract any broad-based attention.

Looking back, 7 must be my lucky number, indeed. Having retired from acting at that age, I find myself--in my 70s--I am currently in discussions that I hope will lead to optioning SOF, for production as a feature film. What Elton John wrote about the circle of life in The Lion King is really true. Life journeys often end where they began. 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Easter: Life in the Silence

[Disclaimer: I am not a pet person, so the following won't contain much scientific data or insight.]

Two weeks ago, five caterpillars moved into my office--rent free. They're part of a mail-order nature project my wife put together for our 4-1/2 year-old grandson Dominic. As soon as those little guys greeted the sunny  kitchen light streaming into their plastic container, they received new names. Dominic identified them as Nikki, Dom, Dominique, Penny, and Caleb. And I really think that he alone could tell who was who, as the days progressed. We chose my office for their greater habitat, because my computers are on all night and generate some warmth on chilled Northern California nights.

The caterpillars arrived tiny and skinny. The three of us  watched in awe as they practically doubled in size every day, consuming chunks of poop-like 'food' from the floor of their container. A week later, we had five long, fat caterpillars who each could stretched from the bottom of the cup to the lid (their evolutionary destination). After a lot of up-and-down trips to check out the best locations for their crusted, enclosed chrysalises, the day came to attach. That was our signal to make the transfer to their mesh habitat.

So, here we are on the Vigil of Easter, watching the 'lifeless' chrysalises, waiting, knowing that behind those little  hardened cases, an amazing transformation is occurring. Five fuzzy caterpillar bodies are growing wings that, when strong enough, will burst the walls of  their tombs and fly into a new and world-brightening stage of existence as Painted Lady butterflies (even the guys among them). 

What a wonderful reminder of the meaning and joy of Easter!

- - - - - -

Alfred J. Garrotto is the author of The Saint of Florenville: A Love Story.