Thursday, January 23, 2020

Castro Valey, CA - Clifton, NJ - Troy, NY - Rome

January 23, 2020 Peace and Good, After my visit with the provincial and secretary of the California province, I flew out to New Jersey. I stayed overnight at the parish of St. John Kanty, a parish run by the friars of the Montreal Custody (for most of the people in the parish are Polish immigrants). The next morning I had a good meeting with my publisher, Catholic Book Publishing Company. I do not have a lot of time to write in these days, but they gave me a couple of possible works that I could try over these next months. On Friday evening I drove up to Troy, NY for the memorial mass of Bishop Elias Manning, a friar from Troy who served in Brazil for over 60 years and died there recently. I was representing the Minister General there. Then Saturday evening I flew back to Rome. I lucked out, for both in Neward and in London they were able to transfer me to an earlier flight, which meant I got back to Rome earlier than had originally been planned. Early Monday morning I and the rest of the definitory headed out to the Seraphicum, our seminary on the outskirts of Rome, for a workshop with the new Ministers Provincial, Custodes and secretaries who have been elected in these past few months. This is a course on how to run the provinces and what paper work and procedures must be followed. I will be flying out again on Sunday, this time to Chicago to present a workshop to our postulants. I finished some reading: American Military: from Colonials to Counterinsurgents by Wesley Clark This is a quick history of the American military, especially in its interventions in times of war. Wesley Clark, who was part of the Dayton accords that ended the war in Bosnia, and who served as the head of NATO for a number of years, is the presenter. His insights are good, but not genius. He comes from his own military background, so he tends to defend military interventions even when other scholars might question them. One good thing is that he is able to situate various intervention in their historic background, explaining why certain things were said (even when those saying them knew them to be untrue, e.g. the insistence on the Iraqis possessing weapons of mass destruction when we knew that, if they did, they were not that important). Flinders Petrie: the Life and Legacy of the Father of Modern Egyptology by Charles River Editors This was one of the most famous British archaeologists. He basically invented the modern system of archaeology. Instead of digging up mounds to find the big objects that would then be shipped off to museums in one’s home country, Petrie taught that the excavations should be done slowly, carefully, and with meticulous documentation. Even small broken objects can be of importance in reconstructing the era and culture of the people one is studying. This book deals a lot more with the finds in Egypt than with Petrie’s life, but it is nevertheless good. Don’t Know Much About the Civil War by Kenneth Davis This is an overview of the times leading up to the Civil War and the war itself. It is written in a folksy style, with numerous references to what various main characters said or wrote. The author spends much time insisting that slavery was the only important cause of the war. In general, the book is good, but not the best I have read on the topic. The Great Siege of Malta by Ernie Bradford In 1565, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire tried to conquer Malta. This was to extinguish the Knights of Malta who were a religious order stationed there and who continuously harassed commerce among the Islamic states, but also to establish a foothold in Europe to use for invasion of Sicily and Italy. In spite of the overwhelming military supremacy of the Ottomans, they were unable the island due to the heroic struggle of the knights and the native Maltese. The book is very well told and an enjoyable read. De Gaulle by Aidan Crawley This is a long but thorough biography of Charles De Gaulle, the hero of World War II. The author presents his personality with all of its prickliness. In his second coming after the Algerian Revolt, he is presented as a bit of an egomaniac. Oddly, the author does not really deal with De Gaulle after his resignation from office until the time of his death. It is a good book, but an investment in time and in frustration at the ways at which De Gaulle was at times self-destructive. A Case of Need by Michael Crichton The book is very good, but the topic is unfortunate. It deals with a doctor accused of performing an abortion in Boston before the laws were changed. Crichton defends the idea of free access to abortion all throughout the book. The good part of the book is the investigation into the details of the problem by a friend of the doctor, a doctor who performs medical pathological studies. The Postwar Occupation of Japan by Charles River Editors This is a short presentation of this particular topic. It shows that the US occupation was rather enlightened, even when those in charge of it didn’t know what they were doing. It speaks about the deconstruction of the military dictatorship and the growth of democracy. It also speaks about the horrible difficulties in the early years of the occupation with food, work, etc. This changed radically at the outset of the Korean War when Japanese industry was called upon to provide much of the war materials. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Rome - Los Angeles - Castro Valley, CA

January 15, 2020 Peace and Good, This past Saturday we finished our definitory, and Sunday I headed out to Los Angeles. It was a good trip, but very long - 2 1/2 hours to London and then another 11 hours to LA. The weather here is cool. Tonight we are supposed to get some rain. I rested on Monday after the trip, and on Tuesday I went to our Korean friars' friary in Torrence for their canonical visitation. I will be visiting the Korean province in June, and this is the first of the friars living outside of the province that I have visited. This morning I flew into Oakland to visit our friars in Castro Valley. I met with the provincial and the secretary of the province to talk about a number of different situations. I find it is so useful to speak face to face. You get so much done. Tomorrow I will fly out to Clifton, NJ. I will stay with some of our friars there who work with an immigrant Polish population. Then on Friday morning I will head into Totowa (which is nearby) to visit with my publisher. I finished some reading: Killing England by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard This is part of the “killing” series of Bill O’Reilly. It is well done, informative, but here at there a bit spotty (overlooking inconvenient details that do not mesh well with Bill O’Reilly’s personal politics). Overall, I would rate it a good book to read. Brother Odd by Dean Koontz This is possibly my favorite series of books. Dean Koontz is a good author, using words as an artist would colors. His hero is a young fry cook who sees ghosts whom he helps to continue on to the other side. In this volume, he has sought refuge and peace in a monastery in the Cascades. There is a hospice there for severely handicapped children, often victims of violence. Odd (that is his name) must discover the looming threat that hovers over this place of peace and recovery. The character Odd is kind and generous, and a bit of a smart a.., but always in a gentle way. The Unification of Germany by Charles River Editors This short book deals with the process by which many, many small German states united under the leadership of the Prussians. The genius (some would say evil genius) behind this was Otto Von Bismarck, the Prime Minister of Prussia. He used war as a tool for his diplomatic endeavors. The book covers the period running from the Congress of Vienna until the resignation of Bismarck. The Phaedo by Plato This is another one of those classics which I have read about, but had never read. It purports to me the dialog between Socrates and his friends the last day of his life. It deals with questions about the immortality of the soul, etc. It is always difficult to determine how much is Socrates and how much is Plato, but the dialog is well worth reading (even if some of the arguments presented are not all that convincing since they are tightly tethered to Platonic philosophy). A Gallery of Poisoners by Adrian Vincent This is a collection of stories about people who were convicted or at least accused of poisoning others from the US and Great Britain between the middle of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. The information is interesting, but the style of writing is highly Victorian. Killer Summer by Ridley Pearson This is a suspense novel set in a resort town in Colorado. There is a mysterious theft, which only leads to more difficulties. The sheriff is the hero of the story. The action is well done. I would not say it was my favorite read, but it was mildly entertaining. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Rome

January 8, 2020 Peace and Good, I am coming to the end of spending almost a month here in Rome. It has been a quiet time until this week when we began a new definitory. We will be meeting until this coming Saturday, and then Sunday I head out to California. Rome has been very cold, near freezing every morning. It has not been raining all that much, but a bit grey. The friars are all cautioning me (half joking and half not) about future travel plans considering that I am a US citizen and Iran is not happy with us at all. I will try to avoid taking the Gulf airlines for the next couple of months until things calm down. Furthermore, my schedule calls for me to be at a friary on the West Bank of the Jordan in Palestinian territory right after Easter. We will have to play this by ear. I finished some reading: Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick This is the story of the suffering of ordinary people in North Korea and the attempt of some of them to flee to the South (which is the source of these stories, for no one could have gotten this information except through someone who had already fled). The reach of the totalitarian state is incredible, and their wild disregard for the good of their own people sickening. It is well worth reading an account like this in a time that we are negotiating with this unreliable and evil regime. Kashmir, Gujarat and the Punjab by Charles River Editors This is a short account of these three troubled regions of northern India from ancient times to the present. They have had a mix of different religious populations (Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian). This has led to interminable conflict between Pakistan and India. The British Museum by Charles River Editors This is a short account of the history of the British Museum. It has sometimes been called the largest collection of stolen goods in the world. I visited the museum a few years back, and it is wonderful. But it faces the usual questions of an institution like this: finances, what should be exhibited, what should be repatriated, etc. The Medici by Paul Strathern This is a very, very good history of the Medici family from its origins as a banking clan to its downfall in decadence at the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century. The book speaks of Lorenzo the Magnificent, of the artists who worked for the family, of their role in the Renaissance, of the two Medici popes, of their marriages into European royal families, especially France, etc. The author gives tons of information, but never overloads the account. He gives his opinion on controversies, but never in a judgmental way. I highly recommend this account. Ancient Empires Before Alexander by Robert Dise This is a series of 36 lectures from the teaching company about ancient empires from Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Near East, etc. The lecturer is very talented, and gives a good, balanced account of what happened throughout this era. This is one of the Teaching Company’s better courses. Defending Jacob by William Landay This is the account of the trial of a young boy who is accused of stabbing to death his brutal classmate. The father is an assistant district attorney while the mother is a caring teacher. The boy himself comes across as detached, troubled. He is their only son. The account is painful to read, but in the best sense of the word. A very good book! Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Monday, December 30, 2019

Rome

December 31, 2019 Peace and Good I am still in Rome. It has gotten quite cool here. The heat is on in the buildings, which is not as common as it would be in the States. There are even laws here which regulate how many hours you can heat your buildings based on how far south you are and at what altitude you find yourself (because of the scarcity of oil, etc. here in Italy). I will be here until the 12th of January, when I fly out for a week of travel in the States. The week before my departure is another definitory. The last one went quite well. We have a good mix of friars on the counsel who are willing to share their opinions and work to find a consensus on the issues with which we deal. New Year's Eve is this evening. I always stay inside here for that, given the tendency to throw things out one's window. In Naples, that can include old furniture, etc. I have finished some reading: Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel by Adrian Graham-Dixon This is an overview of the history and message of the ceiling (and Last Judgment scene) in the Sistine Chapel. The book gives a very good artistic and religious reading of the images. The author is not quite as good as Ross King in art history, but this book comes close. Tinkler, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Caree John Le Caree is an expert of the spy story, especially told from the approach of the British decline after World War II. In this one, George Smiley is looking for a double agent in the organization. The story is well told, with great humanity. I always enjoy Le Caree’s books. Amor vs Roma by Bob Chelmick This is an account of the history of the Catheri or the Albigensian movement in Southern France in the 13th century and their destruction by Church and State authorities. The experts cited are all highly prejudiced in favor of the Catheri, so nowhere is there a balanced approach to the story. I am not saying that the Church was innocent in the affair, but it would have been good for the author to research the story a bit more evenly. The Cities that Built the Bible by Robert Cargill This is an interesting treatment of the cities that contributed to the production of the Bible. It is a good archaeological treatment, but the author has two short falls. First of all, he is a name dropper, insisting on speaking of all the important people who are his fans. The second short fall is that he is very disrespectful of things that go beyond the normal. He mocks the miraculous, which is odd in someone who wants to deal with Biblical topics. In spite of this, however, the book is well worth reading. Susa: the history and legacy of the Elamite Capital in the Ancient Near East by Charles River Editors This is one of the Charles River Editors books, this one speaking about a city that was important in the area east of Mesopotamia for thousands of years. It was the Elamite capital, conquered by the Assyrians and Babylonians, an important city during the time of the Persians and Alexander the Great, etc. The book describes the history, architecture, and archaeology of the city. The Good Years: From 1900 to the First World War by Walter Lord This is a collection of stories in a year by year pattern dealing with great events or tendencies between the year 1900 and the beginning of the First World War. This is the same author who produced a number of famous history books, including A Night to Remember which speaks about the sinking of the Titanic. His style is good and entertaining, while he is quite honest about messy details. I would recommend this book. Happy New Year fr. Jude

Monday, December 23, 2019

Rome

December 23, 2019 Peace and Good, I have been in Rome all throughout this week. The weather is turning cooler and more rainy. This is typical weather for Rome at this time of year. We have been in definitory all this week. There is still a lot that must be prepared after our General Chapter this past summer. We managed to get quite a bit of that work done at this definitory. I will be in Rome until January 12th. The days after Christmas tend to be very quiet here which I look forward to. I have finished some reading: The Apostolic Fathers by Moody Classics I have so often read passages from the Apostolic Fathers, those authors who wrote in the period right after the production of the New Testament but whose works did not make the cut to be included in that collection. When I saw this book on sale on Kindle, I decided it was time to read the books themselves. Some of them are very beautiful, but I was greatly disappointed in one of them: the Shepherd of Hermes. I had always read descriptions of this book and thought it would be an edifying tome, but it turned out to be a strange series of very judgmental and hypercritical visions. This is one book that I am glad did not make it into the canon of the Bible. Vlad the Impaler by Hourly History This is a short account of the historic figure who was the basis for Dracula in the Bram Stoker novel of the 19th century. Vlad was a prince in southern Romania who fought the Turks to maintain the independence of his reign. He was incredibly cruel to both his own citizens and to captured enemies. His favorite form of execution was impaling people – somuchso that accounts speak of forests of poles in fields with impaled victims on them. The author deals with the question of whether Vlad actually was the inspiration to the Bram Stoker novel (there are arguments pro and contra). Leningrad: the Epic Story of World War II, 1941-1944 by Anna Reid This is a horrific account of the siege of Leningrad during the Second World War. It speaks of the incalculable suffering of the people from famine (due to the siege but also to the incompetence of the Soviet leaders). He speaks of the continuing suffering of the people by the KGB (the arrests, the murders, etc.). Most of the book presents stories of individuals who wrote or spoke about their experiences. Max Planck: the Life and Legacy of the Influential German Physicist who Pioneered Quantum Theory by Charles River Editors Max Planck was a brilliant mathematician who came up with the theory of Quantums, opening up the whole field of quantum mechanics. He lived in Germany from the late 19th century and died shortly after World War II. He hated the Nazis, but as with many people in significant positions, had to compromise in certain things (although he fought hard to protect Jewish intellectuals whom he knew). He invented (discovered) the concept of quantums when he was trying to describe light and the energy contained in it. The Pharaoh Key by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child I have read quite a number of book by these two authors. Their work is always good, and that includes this volume. Two of the characters appeared in other editions, including a certain Gideon who worked for a magnate in adventurous projects. The two are fired by the magnate and they decide to get their revenge by discovering a hidden treasure under his nose. There are a number of adventures involving their trip to the hidden valley in southern Egypt and what they encounter there. Of Wolves and Men by Barry Lopez This is an interesting book on nature, especially human treatment of wolves. The author gives a number of good points that wolves have often been demonized in the past. The problem is that he canonizes wolves as holy martyrs that are being persecuted for being themselves. He adds a mystical sense to the story. Nevertheless, it gives some ideas that are well worth reflecting upon. Merry Christmas fr. Jude

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Rome

December 14, 2019 Peace and Good, This is one of those rare times when there is only one city in my byline. I will be in Rome from now until January 12th, which is a good time to catch my breath after some quick travelling in these past couple of months. The weather here has gotten cool. The city is all decorated for Christmas. We have a huge tree in Piazza Venezia. A couple of years ago, there was a tree there that was so pathetic, a real Charlie Brown Christmas tree, that it got international attention. This year is is both a nice tree and nicely decorated (even though there is not a strong tradition here in Italy for Christmas trees). We begin our definitory this coming Monday, and will be meeting all week long. I do have one morning event at the Seraphicum (our international faculty here in Rome) where we will have a symposium on Asia (and since I am the editor of our Asian Christian magazine, I should be there). I have finished some reading: Manhunt: the 12 Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer by James Swanson This is the story of the hunt for John Wilkes Booth and those who collaborated in his murder of Abraham Lincoln and tried to kill other members of his government. It presents an honest evaluation of those who were actively involved, and those who got involved by accident. The author tries to build up the drama in his presentation, but overall it is a good read. Mount Athos and Meteora: the History of the Greek Landmarks that became Orthodox Christian Monasteries by Charles River Editors This is the account of two monastery sites in Greece: one a peninsula and the other a set of natural columns upon which a series of monastic communities (of groups and individuals). IT gives the history of the movement and their rationale. Eugene V. Debs: the Life and Legacy of America’s Most Famous Socialist Political Leader by Charles River Editors This is the story of a socialist who worked for a social revolution in the country around the turn of the century. He ran for president four times. He fought for the rights of union men and women, and then in frustration, turned to the idea of a revolution to throw over the capitalist system. He was often demonized, so it was worthwhile reading this story from a different point of view. Russia at War: 1941-1945, a History by Alexander Werth This is a very long account of the war in the Soviet Union from the point of view of a journalist who was stationed in the Soviet Union during the war. For the most part, the author tries to be objective, but some of the rationalizations that he mouths concerning the conduct of Soviet troops (especially in Poland) are sickening. Yet, the book was worth reading. Last to Die by Stephen Harding This is the story of the death of the last person to die by combat during World War II. He was a member of a crew that was taking photos of Japanese air bases in preparation for the allied occupation. His plane was attacked by a group of Japanese fliers who wanted to reject the surrender of Japan by the emperor. MacArthur’s response (not a great fan of the man) was measured and prevented a return to hostilities. The Tudors by G.J. Meyer This is an overview of the reigns of Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward VI, Queens Mary and Elizabeth. The author is clearly Catholic, and he is scathing in his attack on the hypocritical attacks on religion during these reigns. He is also brutally honest in terms of torture, autocracy, violation of human rights, etc. The story is well researched and I learned quite a bit by listening to it. The History of China in 50 Events by Henry Freeman This is a very quick study of the history of China. It is not very deep, but it gives a short view of the history of this great nation. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Rome - Ellicott City - Rome

December 7, 2019 Peace and Good, This past week I have been in Ellicott City for a series of mendical appointments - just the usual annual check up. All went well. I also visited a phyical therapist for a problem with a muscle in my neck which has given me a lot of trouble in these past months. He recommended a series of isometric exercises, and they seem to be having a good effect. I will be in Rome now for the next months or so. The weather is cooling off, but is not as cool at it was in Ellicott City. This week I have some work to do with preparing a couple of projects, and then the week of the 16th we have a definitory meeting. I have finished some reading: The Epistle of Paul the apostle to the Philippians by Fr. Tadros Malaty This is a running commentary by a Greek Orthodox source. I enjoyed this, for it was well worth examining the study of scripture from another point of view. It is not necessarily that I have learned anything new, but it does give a nuance that makes one think outside of the box. Eye of the God by Ariel Allison This is a novel about a group of professional thieves who steal great works of art on contract from a broker who then auctions them off to the highest bidder. A young woman who works for the Smithsonian is drawn into the action. This is actually a Christian novel, but unlike some of the ones that I have read in the past, it is not Christianity in your face. It is well done, if a bit fantastic. The greatest question it offers is what is it that one lives for, a good question. Earthly Remains by Donna Leon This is part of the Commissario Brunetti series by Donna Leon. She is a very good author who captures the spirit of the Italians and especially of the city of Venice in which her novels are set. In this episode, Commissario Brunetti takes a vacation because of stress and ends up on an island where he meets a local caretaker who takes him under his wing. The caretaker is found dead, and the Commissario must investigate his death, which could be an accident or a suicide. As always, the plot is well developed, the characters well drawn out. The Crito by Plato This is one of Plato’s works which revolve around the death of Socrates. In this one, Crito, Socrates’ friend, tries to convince him to run away into exile so that he might avoid the death sentence which has been imposed upon him. Socrates argues that this would be a violation of his duty to the state and to his friends. Even if the state is treating him unfairly, he must not resort to its intrigues and dishonesty. He had to be a man of integrity, even if that would carry him to death. The Counter-Revolution of 1776 by Gerald Horne This is a book which speaks about the whole slavery issue in the 18th century before the American Revolution. This is a topic which the author repeats over and over again, saying more or less that the American Revolution was something that was called to defend the institution of slavery when the British Empire was about to outlaw it. There is a good amount of speculation based upon events that had not yet happened (the outlawing of commerce in slaves and then the outlawing of slavery). The good element in the book is that it deals with a topic that is often overlooked in this particular era. The Church Fathers as Spiritual Mentors by Michael Haykin This book is written by an evangelical author. It is interesting, for they often deal only with Sacred Scripture and overlook the development of doctrine throughout the history of the Church. The author deals with some of the topics very well, while others he tends to cherry pick his quotations to argue the conclusion which he has already reached. Overall, it is quite good. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude