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Wednesday 18 June 2014

The Brothers of Malta-Three

Rumors of the fleet began months before the ships were sighted. Fishermen who travelled beyond Sicily and trading vessels disappeared, without any trace of ruin or survivors. Widows cried and lit candles to St. Publius and St. Paul all over the island. Spanish, French and Roman ambassadors came and discussed plans for a great sea battle with the commander of all the Knights, Jean Parisot de Valette. They came in stealth, and with little pomp due to their status. Plans made in secret need to be kept secret in a small place, on a small island.

Frederico was given orders to get more volunteers to fight and defend the coastlines of the west and south. All knew that the small peninsula would see the great part of the fighting. The harbor, so deep and easily accessible invited invasion.

Valette had been elected as Grand Master in 1557, because a battle would happen. The inhabitants looked towards him as a messiah, as a savior. As a monk as well as a soldier, Vallette gained admiration from Frederico, who honored the Grand Master's efforts to be an example of chastity, prudence, and obedience to God. Unlike so many of the Knights, Valette was stamped with an inner as well as exterior greatness. He inspired his men because he invoked God, and was, unusually, a humble man.

Frederico was called into a meeting in late July, on the Feast of St. Anne, to discuss plans for the inevitable. Tomas, also, had an invitation. When Frederico met the two in a small, quiet back street in Mdina, near the Cathedral, he was surprised, but pleased, with a third attendant. Immanuel walked into the cool room, resplendent in his newly acquired Italian clothes. But, on his face was joy and relief. Immanuel desired nothing more than to help with the battles to come. His youth and energy flushed his fair face. His mother had been beautiful.

"Immanuel, sit next to me, and look at these diagrams. I need your advice." Frederico smiled, but Tomas beamed. His decision to call back his son had proved to be right. He silently thanked his own judgement, with a nod to Claire's memory. He would have a Mass of thanksgiving said, as soon as possible.

"I need five large estates on which to grow necessary food stuffs in case of a siege. In my mind, at night, in the darkness of this small room, I see our dear people unable to get help from other Christian nations, for weeks, for months."

I want you to start what I shall call "state farms". Here, near Rabat, here on Gozo, on your father's estates, here in new city I want to build, and here in or near the Grotto of St. Mary. I want these estates to be so large that all the people will eat well, even if they must eat like rabbits, for as long as the battles take place. Can you do this? And continue to make wine, as well? I shall provide workers."

Immanuel remained quiet. Then, he cleared his throat and said gently, quietly, "With the Madonna's help, I shall do this. And, for Christendom, not merely for Malta."

Tomas could hardly conceal his pride. Here, his blond, blue-eyed son of the north and south, answered with a graciousness and humility Tomas could hardly believe.

Frederico thought, "And, Our Lady will help this good, young man."

Vallette took out several bags of gold coins from an old chest on the floor behind him. "I give you money from France and from Spain, good gold, for you to start now. Purchase what you need and pay your laborers well. We shall all be grateful, all the Maltese."

The Grand Master stood up, and the three began to leave. "Immanuel. I cannot accept you as a Knight, but if you succeed in feeding our people, I shall see if I can change the Order's rules. You understand."

Immanuel blushed and glanced at his father, who started forward. Frederico stopped Tomas, with his arm. "Be quiet, Tomas. You created this obstacle, not Immanuel."

Tomas stepped back and bowed. No one noticed his blush, perhaps the first blush in his long life.

As the three entered the dark night, Tomas slapped his son on the back. "I am so proud of you, my son."

"Father, I have never wanted to be a Knight. My example has not encouraged me to see the beauty of the order. Now, let me go do what I must."

Tomas dropped his arm, and the youth walked away quickly into the dark. The two brothers stood side by side. Frederico spoke, softly, "It is not too late to make your son proud of you brother. Think on this."

"I shall, but not tonight. Good night, Frederico. We all have work to do, you in the courtyards with swords and shields and me on the ramparts."

to be continued....

The Brothers of Malta Two

Tomas wandered over to the gate of his vineyards. The day had become stifling hot. He walked to the top of  a small hill, crunching rock and sand under his boots. He wanted to look north, to the deep blue sea. For some reason, Frederico's words bothered him, like giant gnats flying into his face when he fought so long ago in Cadiz. These gnat-words would not leave his memory. Tomas did not respect Frederico, except as a solider respects another soldier who is more proficient and skilled in swordsmanship. Frederico had enough medals, which he kept in a drawer, to decorate half of the large wall of his small apartment. But, the ribbons and accolades lay in dark and in silence.

Tomas could not understand his brother. He could never understand his brother. Perhaps the priests got to the youth too early and perverted Frederico's imagination with views of heaven and the love to come.

Tomas liked to be loved now, and he distrusted dreams. He rarely remembered his dreams, as he slept so soundly, and so quickly, like an experience soldier in the field. But, today, looking over his vineyards to the deep sea, Tomas remembered a dream. It happened the day Immanuel was born, in July, on one of the hottest days of the year. Immanuel's mother had sent word to Tomas that her time for birth was happening, and the Knight rushed to the capital, to a small apartment near the village of Floriana, to watch his son being born. Mother and father had agreed that if the child was a girl, the mother would keep the infant, being supported by Tomas, but if the child were a boy, Tomas would come and take the child when he was weaned.

This child was a boy, handsome from birth and strong. As he was born on the feast day of St. John the Baptist, all thought Tomas would name him John. But, for some strange reason, Tomas chose an usual, albeit Catholic name for the infant, Immanuel.

Some thought the name seemed presumptuous. But, Frederico heartily agreed with the choice and prophesied, like the father of John of old, that Immanuel would help to save his people in the future.

Tomas liked the boy so much, that he took him everywhere. On his sea voyages, Tomas wrapped Immanuel in the best clothing, as if he were a little prince. In fact, the boy's nickname was "Prince." No one seemed to mind.

The night of the boy's birth, Tomas dreamt of Claire. She had drowned five years before, and the last view of this young beauty had been her terrified eyes and uplifted hands, as the currents pulled her down, down into the deep sea. Many tried to save her, but she was never found. Those Knights who jumped into the cold waters to save her could not believe how fast she sunk, so far beneath their abilities to breath. She was so small, so thin, and yet, she sunk as if being pulled by unseen hands.

In his dream, Tomas saw Claire in a field of wildflowers unknown to him. The flowers resembled those in paintings from England, where, Tomas was told, someone had written a book about gardening. None of the flowers in Tomas' dream would be found in Città Umilissima.

Claire walked among the flowers, picking a few to make a small posy. Her dress was white lined in red, and on her shoulder was a star embroidered in gold. As she walked, she sang. Then, suddenly, she stopped and turned to face Tomas, who was watching this charming scene. Claire reached out and gave the posy to Tomas, and then, she disappeared, like a small cloud fading on the horizon. But, when Tomas looked at the posy in his hand, it had changed into a large basket heavy and overflowing with fruit and vegetables, some he did not recognize.

Tomas thought of this dream in the context of Frederico's words about Immanuel. On the day of the youth's birth, did Claire come and give a sign to Tomas as to the boy's future? Why did the flowers, so small, so strange, turn into an abundance of food? Why flowers to fruit? Why on the day of Immanuel's birth?

Tomas had a painter paint the vision dream shortly after Immanuel's day of weaning, when the boy was four and came to live in the villa.

The artist had strict orders from Tomas to paint the flowers exactly as he saw them. Tomas made the painter create the largest, most abundant basket of fruits and vegetables one could imagine.

And, Claire? She looked like an angel.

Many years later, Caravaggio would see the painting in Valletta, and use the idea for one of his paintings of a boy with a basket of fruit. But even Caravaggio's painting could not match the splendor and excess of the unnamed painter from Sicily who worked this piece for Tomas.

The painter refused to put his name on the painting for one reason. He said it was not his creation, but a creation of God's, a vision, a dream.

Tomas thought about all of this today, on the hill overlooking his vineyards in Gozo. He resolved for the first time in his life to heed Frederico's words. When he returned to his house, Tomas wrote and sent a letter to Immanuel in Milan. The youth was to return immediately and help his father with the three estates.

But, Tomas rationalized that he was not listening to Frederico, but to Claire. Perhaps, although Tomas did not yet understand this, both Frederico and Claire had listened to a Higher Voice, the Voice of the Holy Ghost.

to be continued....

Several Doctors of the Church

Instead of reprinting the series, I am encouraging new readers to put the tag on the doctors of the Church series in search, or use the labels on the side.

Excellent saints for this week... although dear Catherine of Siena's feast day is in April, I also suggest reading the copious posts on her.

The Witness of Love-St. Therese

Some Catholics want to stand on soap boxes and cry out, "All religions are the same. The Church is accommodating. Do not worry about salvation."

Some want to shout from the rooftops, "Woe are you, as most of the world's population will go to hell."

I want to share with everyone the love of God. I remind my readers what I wrote almost two-and-a-half years ago, the love of God is much of the time "unfelt love".

St. Therese of Lisieux coined that phrase. Unfelt love is complete trust in God and His Providence.

How can we not trust Him Who has loved us into existence? The Father thought of us from all time, and the Son could hardly wait to free us from sin and death. The Holy Spirit comes to us in the sacraments.

Much for which to be grateful and much to share...

Unfelt love-our way to perfection and union with God forever.