Read an Excerpt
The Legend of the Monk and the MerchantTwelve Keys to Successful Living
By Terry Felber
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2012 Terry Felber
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe STEPS of the CATHEDRAL
Antonio strained to control the horse as they turned the corner and headed west in the direction of Rome. He glanced over his shoulder to see his grandson, Julio, asleep on a pile of straw in the small rear compartment of the cart. Even though it was the best horse and cart money could buy, they had been traveling for more than two days now, and Julio was beginning to feel it. Truthfully, they were both beginning to feel it. But Antonio didn't mind. He knew that the next few hours would change his grandson forever.
Antonio was nearly fifty-five, but appeared no older than forty-five. He was five feet eight, with long, gray hair and a neatly combed beard that fell cleanly in a sharp angle under his chin. The many days spent on the water and under the sun had tanned his face and highlighted his pale blue eyes. It was clear that Antonio was a man of wealth. His beautifully carved wagon seemed almost out of place in the rural countryside. He wore a cloak that was made from fine wool and lined with red silk imported from China. Around his neck hung a gold cross, and he wore an ornate hat that bore the markings of a distinguished lord. Antonio pulled his cloak over his face as a morning breeze swept across the countryside. The smell of spring flowers filling the air, he breathed deeply. A smile crossed his face as he thought of Julio, fast asleep behind him.
A sudden bump in the road, no doubt the result of the persistent spring rains, jolted Julio to his knees. Another hole sent him face-forward in the hay with a dull thud. "We're almost there, Julio," Antonio shouted back, ignoring the jostling and bumping behind him. A moment later, he felt a hand on his back as young Julio lumbered over the seat and took his place next to his grandfather.
"How much farther?" Julio asked as he attempted to regain his balance.
Antonio pulled the reins to avoid a peasant struggling with a load of wood. "It's just around that next corner." The woman quickly shuffled across the road as the cart passed by. Small buildings and better roads were now appearing on both sides of them, and Julio knew that these were the signs of city life. The scattered structures were soon replaced by larger buildings and ancient ruins. The glory of Rome slowly appeared in front of Julio's eyes. He scanned both sides of the street, looking for the great cathedral.
"Grandfather, how will I know which one it is?" Julio asked.
"Don't worry. You'll know."
The first signs were the massive pillars surrounding a grand plaza. Julio's mouth dropped open, and Antonio turned and smiled. The pillars appeared at least fifty feet high with colonnades towering above them. The white stone sparkled in the morning sun. As they drew closer, Julio could see the ornate stone carvings that adorned the huge structures.
"Welcome to St. Peter's," Antonio said as he pulled back tightly on the reins.
Julio lurched forward as the horse came to a stop, but he never said a word. His eyes were glued to the colonnades in front of him. As they approached the pillars and arches surrounding a great plaza, two Vatican guards recognized Antonio. Although people were not being allowed onto the plaza, the men gestured Antonio and Julio to pass into the main area leading to the cathedral. Julio gazed up at the great dome that formed the centerpiece to St. Peter's. He had never seen anything like it. His heart began to race. How was this ever built? he thought to himself.
As they walked through the front entry and into the main building, Julio couldn't keep himself from looking up. They were the only visitors allowed into the church today. Julio suddenly tugged at Antonio's sleeve and pointed to a wood scaffolding that rose upward toward a massive dome over a hundred feet high in the center of the main hallway. Lying across a crude board was a man staring directly ahead. The man on the board was frozen still, and for a moment Julio was sure he was asleep. "What's that man doing up there?" Julio asked.
"That's the master," whispered Antonio.
"Who?" Julio replied.
Almost as quickly as he said the name, the man on the scaffold leaned over and waved slowly at the two visitors. In awe, Julio returned the greeting.
Julio was eighteen years old and taller than his grandfather. His deep blue eyes darted back and forth across the massive cathedral. He could hardly take in all the beauty of the place. They kept walking ... and looking. Julio noticed several beautifully carved statues and immediately recognized them as Bible heroes. The cathedral was eerily silent as they moved across the floor. The sound of Julio's sandals slapping on the stone seemed to echo in every direction. Julio remembered how he had resisted when his mother had told him to wear the long cloak for this trip. Now he felt suddenly appropriate in his gray coat. He seemed like a monk from one of the nearby monasteries.
Antonio was moving quickly ahead of him, and Julio sped up his stride to catch him. They moved toward the front of the church. Directly before them was the main altar, surrounded by huge golden pillars that spiraled upward. The entire front of the cathedral seemed to be laced in gold. The colors of the mosaics and the stained glass bounced off the white marble floor and reflected in rainbow prisms across the massive room. Julio found himself lost in the beauty of the cathedral, and for a moment he was lost in time.
Suddenly, Julio heard the sound of people in the distance. A young monk had approached Antonio and was talking and pointing toward a hallway to the left. Antonio told his grandson that since the main church was still being painted and was not open to the public yet, a temporary chapel was being used for the morning mass. People were being allowed to enter the side chapel through an entrance on the east side of the building. The young monk led the way into another room, still larger than any church Julio had ever been in, and pointed them toward a stone bench in the back of the already-packed room. As the priests walked by, slowly waving their censers in worship, Julio couldn't help but stare as the smoke curled up toward God and the cavernous domes above them. His grandfather had told him so much about the cathedral, but now he was actually seeing it for himself. It was even more magnificent than he'd imagined. This trip to Rome had been shrouded in mystery from the beginning, and now Julio was beginning to wonder what else he would discover.
Nearly an hour had passed since the end of the mass. Neither one of them had said anything for a long time. They simply sat near the back of the chapel, gazing at the ornate walls and the endless arches and the beautiful stained glass. How did all this ever come to be? he thought to himself again. How could anyone ever afford to build such a grand cathedral? It was all too incredible to take in. Then, in silence and almost in unison, they stood and began to walk back toward the grand entrance and into the brilliance of the Vatican sun.
His grandfather had told him earlier that he had a special story to tell him and a great secret to reveal. And even though Julio had prodded and begged, he was told that he'd only hear it after they had worshiped at St. Peter's. Antonio slowed in front of the cathedral, still in the shade of the massive arches and pillars near the entrance. Julio nearly leapt toward his grandfather, now seated on a marble step, and settled himself onto the stone just a few feet away.
"Is it time, Grandfather?"
"Yes, Julio, it's time."
Chapter TwoThe MERCHANT of VENICE
It was late morning and the sun had settled high above the dome of St. Peter's. A slight breeze from somewhere beyond the plaza made the morning as idyllic as any Antonio could remember. He had been waiting several years for the opportunity to pass down to young Julio the principles that had made him successful. At eighteen, Julio was beginning to look more and more like his father, Valentino.
Julio had been born and raised in Venice with his four siblings, all girls. As the oldest, he was now expected to join in business with his father, who had become a well-known shipping merchant. A natural with numbers, Julio was placed under special tutelage at fourteen. Valentino had himself taken this same trek with Antonio some twenty years earlier and was glad when it was suggested that it was now Julio's time.
"Tell me, Grandfather. Tell me the story. I'm ready," Julio proclaimed in a cool tone, trying desperately to hide his excitement.
"I suppose the best place to start is at the monastery."
"The monastery?" questioned Julio.
"Yes. I was raised in a small monastery on the outskirts of Venice. I can still hear the sounds of the monks as they chanted together during their early morning prayers. I remember the way that Felipo, my father, would lift me into the air as a child and spin me in a circle. He always said it was to get me closer to God," grinned Antonio.
"But, Grandfather, I thought you were adopted." Julio hadn't budged from his place on the cathedral steps, and his eyes were fixed on Antonio's. It was as though he was recording every word in his heart.
"Yes, I was. But I considered Felipo my father. After all, he was the only father that I had ever known. In fact, it had never really occurred to me that I was adopted at all. Since before I could remember, I'd lived at the monastery. I was very young when your great-grandparents died, and as far as I was concerned the monastery was my home."
"Grandfather, what happened to your mother and father?" He wondered if he should ask. But knowing the full story was too much of a temptation.
Antonio took a deep breath and then began.
"The story has been told to me several times. For generations our family had lived on the waterfront working as fishermen and sailors. My parents had been married only three years. I was just a few months old when my father was asked to deliver a shipment of dried fish to Crete. As a new father, he wasn't anxious to leave his son and wife. So he loaded us up and we headed into the open sea. That very night, one of the worst storms anyone could remember bore down on our little boat. The winds whipped the boat in circles and ripped the sail in two. Several days later, a monk from the monastery came across our boat as he was fishing. I was down in the bottom, wrapped in cloth and barely alive."
"And what about your mother and father?" asked Julio.
"My parents were never found."
Julio's eyes were wide and his jaw was dropped open. He'd never heard about his great-grandparents before. The mysteries surrounding Antonio were beginning to unravel, and he found himself hanging on every word.
"What happened next, Grandfather?"
"Not long after the accident Felipo adopted me, and I soon became the youngest member of the order," Antonio said proudly.
"Was it boring growing up in the monastery?" Julio asked innocently.
The sun was beginning to burn through the thin layer of clouds above St. Peter's, and Antonio wiped away a drop of sweat creeping near the edge of his eye. He shifted on the steps and then remembered the gardens near the plaza.
"Come, walk with me," he said as he stood and moved down the steps toward the roses that he knew were just beyond the east colonnades. "Growing up in the monastery was anything but boring. In fact, it was a lot of fun and a lot of work."
"Work?" Julio replied as he kicked a small stone from his sandal and brushed his hand across the large marble pillars near the entrance to the gardens.
"Yes, work. As soon as I learned how to walk, I was assigned simple tasks around the monastery. At first, I would do things like deliver water to the men who were working at the tables, copying the Scriptures. Then I found myself in the vineyards, picking grapes and helping with the harvest."
"How could you stand it?"
"Stand it? It didn't take long for me to discover that I loved to work ... and think. Before long, I was working hand in hand with Felipo, developing ideas to increase the influence of the monastery. By the time I was sixteen, I had pioneered several new ways for the monks to produce their products at a bigger profit." Now Antonio was nearly skipping. Just talking about his innovations had clearly energized him.
"It didn't take long for Felipo to realize that I was passionate about business and God at the same time. It was the custom of the order that young men on their eighteenth birthday would make their decision to pursue a life of consecration as a monk, or to enter the marketplace and become a merchant. It was time for me to choose my vocation."
"Vocation? What does that mean?" asked Julio.
"It's what you do," returned Antonio.
"You mean your job?"
"Oh, it's much more than a job. You see, Julio, your vocation is your calling. It's the thing that you were born to do. And when you do it, it's not really work at all."
"I get it," Julio said. "You mean like father ... and the boats. He's always on the docks with his ships, even when he doesn't have to be."
"Exactly. When a person discovers his vocation, he does it gladly and with joy."
"So what happened next, Grandfather?"
"Well, Felipo knew that it was time for me to choose my vocation, but it wasn't entirely clear if I'd be better suited in the ministry or in the marketplace. Felipo had made a special point to sit with me at the evening meal. During supper Felipo had asked me about my intentions regarding the order. I remember that without even a second thought, I had responded that I wanted to become a monk like him. Though something inside Felipo must have leapt with joy at the thought of me joining the order, he knew that I could only make the decision after fully understanding both worlds."
"Both worlds?" questioned Julio.
"The ministry and the marketplace."
"So what happened?"
"Felipo arranged for me to spend several months with a wealthy friend in Venice who lived about an hour's trek from the monastery.
"He figured this would give me an opportunity to experience the business world. That weekend we packed up and traveled into Venice, and I began my apprenticeship with Alessio."
"Alessio? That was the merchant's name?" asked Julio.
"That's right. Alessio was a wealthy merchant and a close friend of Felipo. I went to work for Alessio for several months. He was a big man with a big heart and a big business. I can still remember the first time I saw him. He must have weighed two hundred and forty pounds. He was completely bald, except for a trimmed beard that went down to his chest. He seemed to laugh every few minutes. And when he laughed, he'd make you want to laugh right along with him. He was the owner of a fleet of boats. And I was assigned to assist in managing his vessels.
"Venice had experienced booming growth after the cure for the black plague was discovered. The shipping industry was growing and was the driving force in the economy. Other merchants, including leatherworkers, blacksmiths, and stone masons, were prospering because of the influx of people streaming into the Lion City, as Venice was known. Also, the city had become famous for the glass it produced. It had experienced so much growth in that industry that the ruler, the Doge, had ordered all the kilns and glassmakers to move to Murano, an island off the coast of Venice."
"Isn't that where you live?" Julio asked.
"Why did the Doge move all the glassmakers?"
"Initially it was done to protect Venice from the danger of fires that were occasionally caused by the factories. But later the glassmakers were also assigned to the island to guard the secrets of their trade. Needless to say, the shipping industry worked hard to keep up with the growing economy, and Alessio's business was at the heart of it. From the time I started with Alessio, I never experienced an idle day."
"Let me guess." Julio smiled. "You loved it."
"You're catching on. After a few months of managing people, counting products, and creating new ideas, I realized that I had discovered my vocation. In fact, at the end of the two months, I was disappointed that it was over. Before I returned to the monastery, Alessio insisted that we have a supper of chicken stew together to discuss my future.
"That night my bags were packed neatly near the fireplace. Alessio had arranged for a carriage to take me back to the monastery. But I was trying to figure out how to tell Alessio that I wanted to stay with him awhile longer."
Antonio and Julio had found a small patch of grass near a towering rose bush. They had lost themselves in Antonio's story when a frail old woman waved for their attention, asking for money. Julio watched as Antonio stood and walked slowly over to the woman. He reached into his pocket and pressed a coin into the woman's hand. With a smile, the woman was gone.
"Are you hungry, Julio?" Antonio asked.
"No, not yet. I want to hear the rest of the story. What did you tell Alessio?"
Excerpted from The Legend of the Monk and the Merchant by Terry Felber Copyright © 2012 by Terry Felber. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.