Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Rome - Assisi - Rome

September 27, 2016 Peace and Good, This past week was quite busy. It began with a meeting with provincials and custodes from all over the world. We had a first meeting with half of them in January, and this was the second meeting. Then on Tuesday we went up to Assisi to be with the Pope as he greeted an ecumenical meeting. On Wednesday we went up to Mt. LaVerna where St. Francis received the stigmata, the wounds that Jesus had. Then on Wednesday night we returned to Assisi and were there until Saturday. On Saturday morning we drove down to Rome. On Sunday morning, I went out to our school in the suburbs, the Seraphicum, where I studied as a student. There I gave a conference to the provincials and custodes who are in charge of our jurisdictions in Africa. All throughout the week I preached in Italian and English to all the friars at the meeting. The homily was only about five minutes in each language, but it took all day to prepare for the next day's homily. I will be heading out to Geneva tomorrow morning and will get back to Rome on Friday afternoon. I have a meeting up in Geneva with the staff of Franciscans International which works as an NGO at the UN office there. We got to see the Pope quite close this past week. From the friars who saw him when he first arrived in Assisi in the morning, they said he was in good shape. Later in the day, however, he looked and acted very, very tired. He is around 80 years old, and he only has only lung because of a disease from which he suffered many years ago, so no wonder he was tired. I have finished some books: White Seed: The Untold Story of the Lost Colony of Roanoke by Paul Clayton I thought that this was going to be an archaeological study of the settlement in Roanoke which had been settled by colonists sent by Sir Walter Raleigh, but which then disappeared before a relief ship arrived with supplies. Instead this is a reconstruction on a fictional and a little meladramatic level of what the colonists encountered between the time they were dropped ashore and when the relief arrived (but too late). Like many historical fiction accounts, it is not bad, but not really great. Divine Droplets by WLG Enterprises The title of this story is from a particular type of Sake that the main character likes to drink before he goes out to kill a young woman. He has just escaped justice because of a police error, and he now feels invincible. The policeman who planted a bit of evidence confronts the lawyer who got this evil but rich man off, and she “accidentally” drops a sketch book in front of him which will certainly convict the man of some murders for which he had not originally been charged. Daughters of the Springs by Lauren Groff This is a cute story about the female divers at Wekki Wachi in Florda. It is a hokey old fashioned show of mermaids, but somehow it works. The writer, who is a bit of a feminist, was nevertheless impressed by the beauty of the divers and their movements while underwater. She had arrived expecting to see something that would annoy her, and yet the reaction was the opposite. The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 by Christopher Clark This is easily one of the best history books I have ever written. So many historians speak of the causes leading up to World War I as being the fault of one country or another. Clark shows the complexity of the relationships and motivations of various countries in this period. He delves into why a relatively minor event in the Balkans would lead to a world war. He exploded various pet theories of historians with concrete evidence. His work is remarkably well researched, but one never gets the feeling that he is simply throwing out quotations simple to use them. I cannot recommend this book enough. The Drought by James Born This is a very well written short story about a police detective on the homicide squad in Florida. The title refers to the idea that there was a period in which there were few murders. The detectives have little to do. Then one of the detectives is called to investigate a police shooting of a civilian. He does his investigation in a methodical, professional manner. He is pressured by the assistant state’s district attorney who wants to blame the policeman for this shooting for political reasons, but he resists this temptation, even if it means he would be transferred out of homicide to a less “attractive” police division. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

San Antonio - Rome

September 14, 2016 The Feast of the Exultation of the Cross Peace and Good, This past week I left San Antonio for Rome on Tuesday and arrived at noon on Wednesday. This was a frequent flyer ticket, so you sort of have to take what is available. I ended up flying from San Antonio to Nashville to Philadelphia to Frankfort to Rome. Fortunately, all the connections went perfectly and my luggage did not get lost anywhere along the way. The weather in Rome is a bit warmer than when I left, and unusually we have had a few thunder storms. That is really not that common here in Rome. Please keep the mom of my former assistant, Linda Johnson, in your prayers. She passed away this past week. Linda's mom's name is Margaret Carver. She died in her home town of Dundee, Scotland. We began our definitory on Monday morning and will go until lunch on Friday. Fortunately, there is not that much on the agenda this week. Next week we have a meeting here in Rome and in Assisi with half of the provincials from throughout the Order. We met the other half in January, and this is sort of a check up on how things are going half way through our six year term. I will be preaching at the Masses throughout the week (in Italian and English). I found out that this week we will be going to Assisi a bit earlier than we had thought to attend a session offered by Pope Francis so we will get to be close to him. I had not seen him in the first few years that he was Pope, and now I get to see him twice within a few weeks. I have finished some reading: Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire by Peter Stark In the early 1800’s, John Jacob Astor launches a plan to establish a settlement on the Columbia River in Oregon so that he might trade various goods for furs that he would then ship to China where they were most valuable. He would then buy goods there and ship them back to the States. He sent two expeditions, one overland and one by ship. Those going overland had a very rough time of it, and many of them died along the way. Those going by ship arrived, but when they got there, it was a very difficult proposal. The expedition ended when it had to be sold to the British during the War of 1812. It was an audacious proposal, but even though it failed, it laid claim to the northwest and led to the settlement by which Oregon and Washington became part of the Union. Six Women of Salem by Marilynne Roach This is the account of the Salem witch trails. It seems as if much of the material is drawn from the trial records, but then the author invents the thoughts of the main characters even if they are not elsewhere recorded. There is no psychological assessment of the hysteria which led to this tragedy. Rather, it is simply a record of what happened, repeating certain reactions among the young girls supposedly tormented by the witches over and over again. It makes for difficult reading because of the highly repetitive nature of the account. Ashes to Ashes by David Farley An American visits the place in India which is considered to be the navel of creation and which in modern times is used for the cremation of many Hindu people. He describes the process of cremation and his interviews with the untouchables who do this work. He himself, because of difficulties, had considered killing himself. This trip was to investigate a place highly associated with the dead so that he might reflect on his own possible death. It is interesting that the trip seems to bring him to a certain peace in which he was able to accept what life visited upon him. The Map that Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology by Simon Winchester This is the story of a heroic and tragic figure who was the first to chart the various geological layers of strata under England. He was from a commoners family, and was thus poorly received by the founders of a geologic association which was made up of titled participants. He squandered his resources on various houses and enterprises and ended up in debtors prison. After that episode, though, he simplified his life and eventually his work was recognized by those who be and he was given a modest pension by the government. His finding proved to be controversial for they challenged the idea of creationism held by most believers in his time (for he was able to date various fossils and layers of rock to their various ages). Sack o’Woe by John Harvey This is the story of a policeman who watches over sex offenders in England. His wife and children leave him because he spends so much time with those difficult people. It is as their hurt has been contagious and been brought home. One of the men who he watches moves in with a young woman who has small children. It does not turn out all that well. The title comes from a blues song that the policeman first heard when he received a record from his father. Ebola: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly Virus by David Quammen This is a short account of the search for the cause of the Ebola disease, including the attempt to find the host that hides the virus between outbreaks. It has an epilogue which speaks of the recent outbreak in Western Africa. It is more of a popular overview, but it does give enough information to have a good sense of what doctors are dealing with. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Monday, September 5, 2016

Ellicott City - Austin - San Antonio

September 5, 2016 Peace and Good, This past week has been in the States. Tomorrow I head back to Rome for some meetings. I finished my doctors' visits. All went well. I then flew down to Austin for a meeting with the provincial of our Mid-Western province and Mexico. These two provincials have a lot on which they could work together, and this meeting was an initial encounter to speak about the possibilities. I am very pleased with the results, and both of the provinces will spend the next year discussing the possibilities and presenting their determinations to their provinces. I then went down to San Antonio. There is a formation house here, and one of the friars, fr. Don Barassa, whom I know since his earliest days in the Order, made his solemn profession of vows on Saturday. These days have allowed me to share with these friars what is going on in the larger Order, especially in terms of the fight for justice and peace. I was very pleased with their questions and the discussions we had. I was able to finish a project this morning of editing a prayer book for our friars in Padua. The prayer book is in English, and it is especially intended for pilgrims to Padua. I have finished some reading: The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng This is a most unusual story that is set in Malaya at the beginning of the Second World War. A young man, half English and half Chinese, the son of a shipping magnate, finds a Japanese friend who teaches him the martial arts. The Japanese man was using the boy to find out information needed for the coming Japanese invasion. When it comes, the boy is caught between serving the Japanese in the hope of saving his family and fighting against the Japanese. It is an incredibly ambiguous story told from the point of view of someone whom most would classify as a collaborator. It is well done. Skinhead Central by T. Jefferson Parker This is a well written short story about a policeman and his wife who move to Idaho upon retiring. Not too far away is a group of skinheads, one of whom steals something from the couple. We also hear about the son of the couple who was shot while on duty as a policeman. In a very short space, the author manages to paint a touching and not trite picture of loss and redemption (although not exactly a whole new start for the thief). The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome’s Deadliest Enemy by Adreinne Mayor This is the story of a king from Asia Minor who challenged the growing power of the Roman republic. He was famous for his use of poison and his remedies to prevent poisoning (which makes sense given that his father was killed after having been poisoned by Mithradetes’ own mother). He was remarkably successful in his battles, but then faced a series of defeats because of bad luck, poor training, etc. This book is very good, but it tries to demonized the Romans a bit too much. Eichmann in Jerusalem by Hannah Arendt Hannah Arendt was a correspondent from the New Yorker who was a Jewish woman born in Germany. She fled and practiced her journalistic career in the States after the war. She went to the trial of Adolph Eichmann in the 1960’s. Her observations are very good. She sees Eichmann as a not too intelligent bureaucrat who probably never thought through the consequences of his choices. She speaks of the banality of evil. The Jewish government of Israel were hoping that they might portray Eichmann as a historic evil figure, and he turned out to be quite different. This is a good reflection on the issue. The Thirteen Colonies by Louis Wright This is an overview of the history of the English colonies in North America from the time of its discovery until the time of the American Revolution. Although I have studies these topics a number of times, it was good to get an overview of the history. The book is not terribly insightful, but it does give a good portrait of the issue. The Last Days of the Incas by Kim MacQuarril This is a thorough study of the Inca Empire at its inception and then during its conquest by the troops of Francisco Pizarro, the Spanish Conquistador. How is it that so few troops were able to conquer a mighty empire of millions of people. The Spanish soldiers do not come out looking all that good. For all their protestations that they were doing this for the spread of Christianity, they proved to be incredibly greedy and cruel. They certainly didn’t act like Christians. The book also treats of the discovery of Inca ruins, including the famous remains of Machu Pichu. I hope you have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Rome - Ellicott City

August 27, 2016 Peace and Good, After I returned to Rome from the definitory's trip to the Dolomites, I minded the store while the other Assistants and the General were off on the road. Then last Sunday I flew into Baltimore for a series of medical and dental examinations. All went well, but I have a couple of small follow ups to schedule at the beginning of next year. It has been a quiet week at Ellicott City. I have been running to and from doctor's offices, but I managed to get them all in within a week. On Tuesday I have a short trip to take to Hartford (just for the day) and then on Thursday I head off to Austin, Texas for a meeting with the provincial of that part of the country and the provincial of our Mexican province. We are trying to develop some sort of partnership in that part of the country to help us in the Hispanic ministry. I have finished some books: The Happiness Metric by Madeline Drexler This is the story of a trip to Bhutan, a country in the Himalayan Mountains. They have established a national index to measure happiness. While that sounds silly at the surface, it does measure the impact on policies upon the citizens of the country and not just the amount of money to be earned by a few. In some ways, it is very successful, but in others it has proven most difficult to get an accurate read of what would make the people happier. For example, in a profoundly Buddhist country, what is the consequence of the growth of consumerism. This is a good reflection on some of these issues. Today is Better Than Tomorrow by Benjamin Busch This is a travel story of a retired army officer who travels back to the Iraqi province where he once served as a military governor after the US invasion of that country. This part of the country has continued to deteriorate and is now all but hopeless. That is the reason for the title of the story, for the inhabitants are sure that things will only get worse. The Demon in the Freezer by Richard Preston This is the same author who wrote the Hot Zone. His specialty is stories about the danger of infectious diseases. This one deals with the Anthrax scare immediately after 911 and how the same event could have involved the spread of a genetically engineered smallpox virus. We know that this was investigated in the Soviet Union and now in Russia. We don’t know, however, the exact details of how dangerous this all is. East of Desolation by Jack Higgins This is the story of a bush pilate who files in Greenland. He is asked by the authorities to aid in the investigation of a plane crash. It turns out that there is much more involved in the story than a simple plane crash. There is a question of smuggling and murder. One of the main characters is an over the hill action actor. It is a good story, although not the best that Higgins has written. America in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era by Edward O’Donnell This is a Teaching Company course dealing with the United States from between around 1880 to 1920. It was a time when Robber Barons manages to gain control of much of the industrial production of the country, but also of a movement to bring more social justice to workers and the poor. This course speaks of industrial, political and social movements during the era. It is quite well done and worth listening to. Encountering the Manuscripts by Philip Comfort This is a study of the evaluation of manuscripts of the New Testament text. There are approximately 5,000 important manuscripts, mostly in Greek although some of them are early translations in other languages. There are also quotation contained in the writings of the Fathers of the Church All of these have to be taken into account when one is trying to establish a critical edition of the original New Testament text (or at least as close as we can hope to arrive at it). The book is not for the casual reader for it is highly technical in detail. I had studied some of this when I was a student at the Biblicum many years ago, so this was a good refresher course for me. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Friday, August 19, 2016

Rome

August 19, 2016 Peace and Good, I have been in Rome since we came down from the Dolomites (the Italian southern Alps). Rome is usually unbearably hot at this time of year, but this is one of the most pleasant Augusts that anyone here can recall. There are a lot of tourists in town, but many of the Italians have abandoned the city for the months, going either to the sea or to the mountains. Yesterday I traveled up to Padua for the day for the funeral of one of our friars, fr. Enzo Poiana. He was the rector of the Basilica of the Santo (St. Anthony). He was only 57 years old and died of a heart attack while on vacation. The basilica was packed, and there were many bishops, priests, dignitaries. He was very well liked by the people, very down to earth. Before he joined the friars, he was a member of the Alpinisti, the Alpine Italian troops, and there was a very large contingent of them there as well. The day before yesterday word came out that the Pope had named a new rector to the Office for Family Life. We have been expecting major shake ups in the offices, and this seems to be the first out of the bag. We'll have to wait to see what other jobs and shuffled. Sunday I will be heading out to the States for my annual 50,000 mile check up with the doctors. There are multiple visits throughout the week. I finished some books: Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton This is a manuscript of a completed work that was found in his files upon his death. It is about a freebooter in Jamaica during the 17th century who hears about the presence of a Spanish treasure ship in a harbor of a Spanish island not too far away. He decides to capture this ship and its treasure, but he must gather a most unlikely crew of briggands, and then he and his crew must undergo incedible adventures in capturing and holding the ship. It is a fun read, not too serious but not intended to be. Bridge of Spies by Giles Whittell This is the story of the shooting down of the U2 flight flown by Gary Powers as well as the attempt to bring him back from the Soviet Union. He was traded for a KGB spy who had been arrested after making some dumb mistakes. The man, in fact, was a rather horrible spy. Furthermore, there was a graduate student who had been arrested for doing research into the economy of East Germany which was considered to be a form of spying. The author tries to give an objective account of what happened, even showing how deeply flawed many of those involved in the story were. Suez: The Forgotten Invasion by Robert Jackson In 1956, Nasser, the president of Egypt, nationalized the Suez Canal. The Brits and the French were furious, and they plotted with Israel to invade. Israel first captured the Sinai, and then the British and French invaded under the guise of serving as a peacekeeper force to separate the Israelis from the Egyptians. The United Nations (led by President Eisenhower who was furious at this move) ordered a proper cease fire and the evacuation of the invaded territories with the establishment of a neutral peace keeping force. This book is very much written from the British point of view, and although it fully recognizes the military mistakes made by the Brits, it is slow to recognize the diplomatic mistakes (all but blaming the Americans for not joining them in the game). Death Trade by Jack Higgins I always like Jack Higgins’ book. This is not his best, but it is still enjoyable. It is about a secret service in Great Britain under the direct authority of the Prime Minister. They are trying to help an Iranian scientist escape from Iran where he has been coopted to invent a new type of atomic bomb. This involves both Iran and Al Quaida. The dialog is a bit corny, but as a light read, it is quite enjoyable. The Shroud by Ian Wilson This is a historical and somewhat scientific account of the Shroud of Turin. The author has done a remarkable amount of research on the topic. He reaches certain conclusions that are not common to all scholars of the shroud, but his findings are most creditable. He, for example, identifies the shroud with the mandelion of Edessa ( a city in Asia Minor where a cloth containing the image of the face of Jesus was preserved for the first few centuries of the Church. Other scholars sometimes hold that this was a separate cloth mentioned in the Gospel of John while the shroud was kept somewhere else.) I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in this topic. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Cracow - the Dolomites - Rome

August 10, 2016 Peace and Good, After World Youth Day in Cracow, a group of us from the General Definitory drove down to the Dolomites in northern Italy. This is the lower extension of the Alps in Italy, and there is a series of valley cultures throughout the region. It was a fascinating trip, and very relaxing. We don't often get time to spend together for we are always on the road from one place to another. There are miles and miles of paths through the forest and along the mountains. We returned to Rome yesterday where it is much warmer. August is always a hot, hot time in Rome, and it appears as if this month will be no exception. I will be here until the 21st and then head out to the States for my 50,000 check up with various doctors. I have finished some reading: Run to the Mountain by Thomas Merton This is the first volume of Merton’s personal journal which has now been published. This was written in the period in which he was teaching at St. Bonaventure University in Olean, New York. He had considered joining the Franciscans, but given his past (an illegitimate child), he was discouraged from applying to that order. Instead, he decided to choose between a social ministry in New York’s Harlem and the Trappist Monastery in Gethsemane, Kentucky. This volume ends with his choice more of less made for the Trappists but Merton not being sure that they would accept him and also not sure that he would not be drafted (the the volume ends at the middle of December, 1941). I found Merton insightful, but very judgmental and categorical in what he knows about the faith. I will slowly make my way through the other volumes of his journal in these next couple of years. The Cortes Enigma by John Paul Davis This is a mystery story of a professor and his nephew who are searching for lost treasure, a ship that had gone down which carried some of the Aztec gold that Cortes had sent back to Spain. The ship went down near the southwestern islands off of England. There is a strange group of people there, all of whom would like to know where the treasure is. I have to admit that I found the story a bit jumbled and did not really enjoy it all that much. 21st Century Limited by Kevin Baker This is a travel story of traveling on the rail system in the United States. Much of the book is a lament that the government and especially the Republican Party have allowed the passenger part of our rail system to deteriorate so much, especially as compared to the high speed rail system that one finds in Japan, China and Europe. Land of the Lost by Stephen Connely Benz I very much enjoyed this travel story for I can identify with it so much. It is about a Fullbright Scholar who is teaching in the former Soviet Republic of Moldova (just across the border with Romania). Much of what he describes is exactly what I found when I first traveled to Romania, although things in Romania have gotten quite a bit better while those in Moldova have actually deteriorated. There was a grayness to everything, and nothing really worked. Yet the people were most hospitable, and they were also desperate to leave, much as those of Moldova today. An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris I have read a couple of books written by Harris on Cicero as well as one named Ghost which is about a ghost writer for a retired Prime Minister of Great Britain. I have always liked his writing style of historical fiction. This book deals with the Dreyfus Affair in France at the end of the 19th century. A captain in the French Army is convicted of espionage and treason for passing secrets to the Germans. Much of the evidence is trumped up because the high command wants to convict the man since he is a Jew. He is sent to solitary confinement on Devil’s Island off the coast of South America. This book is written from the point of view of the Coronel who discovers the plot and eventually publicizes it, at the cost of his own career. The book is very well written. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Los Angeles - Rome - Cracow

July 31, 2016 Peace and Good, About ten days ago I finished my trip to California where I witnessed the investiture (receiving the habits) and the simple profession (friars taking their first,temporary vows) of the incoming novitiate class and the outgoing class. There were seven in each group. I then flew out of Los Angeles for Rome. I was only there for about 16 hours before I flew out again to Cracow for World Youth Day. There are well over one million young people here for this celebration. The Pope arrived early in the week, and he has been staying on the other side of the piazza from where we were staying (at our friary here in Cracow). Yesterday we got to see him in a small group when he came to our Church for a short prayer service. I was asked to give a talk to one of the small groups for catechism instructions for the English speaking group on Friday. There were about one hundred who came to the talk on Maximilian Kolbe and it went quite well. I attended two days of the full group of catechesis for English speakers. It was in an arena that holds 20,000, and they estimated there were around 18,000 each day. It was sponsored by the Knights of Columbus, and they did a great job. Tomorrow the whole definitory will drive out of Cracow, staying in Vienna for the night at our friary. Then on Tuesday we continue on to the Alps in Italy where we will spend a week of vacation together. This will be great for we are all a bit worn out from travel, etc. I finished some books: The Mantle of Command: FDR at War, 1941-1942 by Nigel Hamilton This book deals with the idea that FDR exercised his role as Commander in Chief, especially during the first full year of World War II. While he listened to his military advisors, he was not afraid to make his own decisions, even in contrast to their recommendations. A good example of this is to go ahead with the invasion of North Africa, a move that his Secretary of Defense and most of his Joint Chiefs of Staff opposed, even somewhat violently. His laid back style sometimes led people to underestimate how much he was in charge, but that he was. Furthermore, his jovial style led some who were natural enemies of his policies to nevertheless like the man who paid so much personal attention to them. Out of Eden Walk by Paul Salopek This is the account of a multi-year on foot adventure to travel from the cradle of humanity in the Rift Valley in Africa to the tow of the South American continent in Tierra del Fuego. The idea is that the author was following the dissemination of the human race as they spread across the various continents. Deep Intellect by Sy Montgomery One would not expect to think of an octopus as an intelligent animal, but that is exactly what researchers have discovered. They seem to be able to recognize certain people whom they either like (shown by the fact that they let themselves be picked up without difficulty) or dislike (shown by the fact that they either hide from that person or even attack the person with water jets that they shoot out). It is difficult to measure the intelligence of the animal given that many of the tests that would be applied to vertebrate animals cannot be used for one that is invertebrate, but there are clear signs that the octopus is smarter than one would think. Behind Closed Doors at Hotels by Gary Shteyngart This is a short, humorous travel essay about getting stuck in a hotel room with a loud, amorous couple in the next room or the next rooms. He goes on about how this only happens when he is travelling alone, almost as if the couple next door are mocking his aloneness. The essay is nothing earth shaking, even if the experience next door seems to be. Ants and the Art of War by Mark Moffett This is a science article on how colonies of ants go to war and the comparison between their techniques and those of human armies. The most expendable ants are usually thrown into the front line, while the truly powerful champions are horded in back until their presence makes all the difference. Some ant colonies establish a modus operandi with other neighbor communities, but others just wander wherever they want. The author describes the horrifying intensity and savageness of the attacks. Hope you have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude