Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Rome

August 16, 2017 Peace and Good, I has been a quiet couple of weeks here in Rome. I am at Santi Apostoli to babysit the General Curia. Most of the friars are away on vacation and someone has to be here to respond to any official request that we receive, such as a call from the Vatican. So far there have only been a couple of phone calls from various parties that needed my attention. The weather is hot, hot, hot. This is true every year in August, and most Italians try to get out of the city to go either to the shore or to the mountains. A number of restaurants and stores even close down for holidays in these weeks. We had a little excitement this past week. Some people squatted in our basilica. They had been kicked out of the building where they had been living illegally, so they chose our basilica to publicize their need. They are mostly immigrants from various countries including Romania and Bolivia. When they first arrived, there was a shouting match between the police and the organizers. Since then, they have pitched their tents in the atrium of the Basilica. Fr. Bruno, who is a real saint, has been providing them with coffee and cookies. We don't want to give them too much lest they become too comfortable there, but we want to show them sympathy and help a little. The city is supposed to be taking care of the situation, but most of the city workers are away these weeks on vacation, so everything is draggin on. I will be here in Rome another week, and then the General Definitory is going together to an island off of Croatia named Cherso in Italian where we will spend a week vacation together. I have finished some reading: Gamal Adel Nasser: The Life and Legacy of Egypt’s Second President by Charles River Editors This is a short biography of the life of Nasser, the father of Pan-Arabism and the leader of his country’s path to independence. While not truly a democratic person, for he persecuted any opposition in his own country, he nevertheless tried to modernize his country as much as he could (given the almost inate tendency in Egypt for corruption at every level of the government). He had a vicious hatred for the State of Israel, and led his country in an ill fated war against the Jewish state in 1967 that led to utter defeat in only a few days. The Roman Pantheon: the History and Legacy of Rome’s Famous Landmark by Charles River Editors I have often visited the Pantheon, and have never been all that impressed with the building. I knew that Agrippa, the friend of Augustus Caesar, began its construction, but this book told me its subsequent history. It is the largest unsupported dome built up to the Renaissance. This construction was possible due to an important Roman discovery: cement. It was completely rebuilt by the emperor Hadrian, who was a devout follower of the Greek philosophy of Pythagorus. This is why there are any number of significant structures in the building based upon numbers which the Phthagorians considered to be important. I will look upon the building with much more attention and respect in the future. The History of Ancient Rome by Garrett Fagan This is a 36 lecture series upon the history of Rome from its foundation until the reign of Constantine the Great. Garrett Fagan is a good and entertaining lecturer. He presents a clear portrait of the material without inserting his own opinion in too often. If he does voice his preferences, he backs his argument up sufficiently. The series includes lectures on periods of time, on individuals and on institutions and classes of society during the Roman days. I would highly recommend this series. Dead Irish by John Lescroat A young man in the prime of his life is murdered or commits suicide in Boston. An investigator, whose full time occupation is bartender, agrees to try to prove that this was murder to assist the widow in receiving her life insurance payment. There are a number of twists and turns in the story. This is the first book by Lescroat that I have read. It was an abridged edition, and one of the few abridged versions that I have read or listened to that showed some bad editing. Furthermore, being a priest, I did not like his treatment of a main character who is the parish priest. I found his treatment pedestrian and shallow. I will give him another try, but… The Sepoy Rebellion of 1857 by Charles River Editors This is an account of the rebellion of Indian troops in India just as the East India Company which actually controlled the country was getting ready to hand authority over to the British crown. Both sides exacted terrible punishment on the other. It was during this rebellion that the famous black hole of Calcutta affair took place. The British were not above massacuring entire villages: men, women and children. Shalom fr. Jude

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Terre Haute, IN - Minneapolis, MN - Arroyo Grande, CA - Carey, OH - Ellicott City, MD - Rome

August 3, 2017 Peace and Good, I hope you are all well. These past couple of weeks I finished off the visitation of Our Lady of Consolation Province in the MidWest. I also visited California to be present for the investiture of our new novices. Investiture means the day when the new novices first put on their habit. The Ellicott City stop was almost an overnight to visit my dentist. I am midway in the process of having a dental implant, and my dentist has done a great job to fit my schedule into the treatment plan. Rome has been very, very hot these days. It is making the jet lag worse, and I suspect it will take a bit of time to get over it this time.. The visitation is a great process. I get to speak with all of the friars and find out how things are going with them. At the end of the visitation, I make a report for us here in Rome and for the friars in the province as they get ready for their provincial chapter. I am baby sitting at the Curia right now. Most of the friars are out on vacation, and someone from the definitory has to be around just in case there is a call from the Vatican. There is little chance of this because almost everyone at the Vatican is on vacation as well. I have finished some books: The 1918 Spanish Fly Pandemic: The History and Legacy of the World’s Deadliest Influenza Outbreak by Charles River Editors This was one of the most deadly outbreaks of flu in the history of mankind. It must be admitted that it cannot even compare with the lethality of outbreaks of smallpox or Ebola, but nevertheless it wrecked havoc at the end of World War I. In fact, it is believed that more people died from this illness than were killed during the war itself. There have been constant scientific debates over the cause of its lethality. Was it because the population was weakened by hunger due to the war, or was it an especially virulent strain? We are still not sure. Testimony by Anita Shreve This is a very good book which is presented as a series of reports by witnesses to a scandal at a boarding school. It is seen from the point of view of the perpetrators of what amounts to a rape, the victim, the school headmaster, the family of one of the rapists, etc. The story is tragic, and has a number of twists and turns that leave one stunned. It is not a book to read when one is feeling down. It is a painful story, but not gratuitously so. Sketches of Jewish Social Life in the Days of Christ by Alfred Edersheim This is a very good treatment of the world of Israel in the days of Jesus. It is a very dated book, and many of the proposals would have to be updated. Yet there are gems of information contained here and there in the book. It was worth reading, but with the understanding that a more recent book would probably be more useful. Those who held Bastogne by Peter Schrijvers This is a thorough retelling of the siege of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge during World War II. It gives a large amount of detail about the attitudes of both the American troops and the Germans (although the author tends to show much less sympathy toward the Germans, which is understandable). A very good dimension of the book is his treatment of the plight of the civilians during the battle. The book probably gives a bit more detail than most people would appreciate, unless one were really into the topic. The Virgin of Guadalupe by Gustavo Vazquez Lozano and Charles River Editors This is a short study of the immage of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the story of its origin. The authors are fair in their telling of the story, without being overly credulous or skeptical. I appreciated this approach. While there are no contemporary written accounts of the events, the accounts written many years later are consistent with traces of information that are available. While the image might have been touched up and slightly changed later in its history, it nevertheless is remarkable and considered to be miraculous by so many of those who have visited its basilica. A number of years ago I had that opportunity, and I was very, very impressed by the faith of the people there. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Mount St. Francis, IN - Clarksville, IN - Louisville, IN - Terre Haute, IN

July 15, 2017 Peace and Good, All is well in the heartland. I have been travelling around southern Indiana and northern Kentucky visiting the friars of Our Lady of Consolation Province. They are good men who really try to live a simple life style. The greatest difficulty is that the friars are growing older quickly. Their average age is over 72, and that has consequences on the number of ministries they can handle, etc. The friars are very open to discussing the various needs that they face now and those they will face in the near future. It has been hot, and unusually raining for mid July. There has even been minor flooding in this area. Today I fly on to Minnesota to continue the visitation there. Then early in the week another trip out to California. I have finished some books: The Eruption of Mount St. Helens by Charles River Editors This is another of the Charles River Editors studies of various events and people. These are excellent short overviews of the topics. This one speaks of the time before and during the eruption of Mt. St. Helens. I visited the site about five years after the event, and was incredibly impressed by the destruction caused by this eruption. The Drillmaster of Valley Forge: The Baron de Steuben and the Making of the American Army by Paul Lockhart This is the story of a German general who came to the US during the revolutionary war and trained the American troops in French and Prussian military drills. This added a great amount of stability to a flatering army, especially during the days of Valley Forge. He remained with the army until the end of the revolutionary war, but continued to live in penury due to his own spending habits but especially due to the lack of gratitude on the part of the Continental Congress (who, to be fair, were sinking under the debts of the revolution with no way to address their need for money). Emma Goldman: The Life and Legacy of the Famous Feminist Icon by Charles River Editors I have always been interested in this unusual figure. Born a Russian Jew, she emigrated to the States and worked with the anarchist movement. She was the girlfriend of Alexander Berkman who tried to assassinate the head of US Steel. She fought for feminist rights and against the involvement of the US in World War I (for which she served time in prison). She was deported along with a shipload of other communist sympathizers to Russia, but quickly left there when she became disenchanted with what she saw of the establishment of the Bolshivik government. She died in France at the beginning of World War I. The Ruins of the Roman Empire by James O’Donnell This is a rambling account of the fall of the Roman Empire in the West. Rather than falling to a series of barbarian invasions, the author presents the fall as gradual and due to the continuous migration of various Germanic tribes into the territory of the Romans. Rather than being total barbarians, many of them were partially assimilated allies of the Romans who simply went from mercenary status to that of taking over control of the situation. He also speaks of the situation in Byzantium and the moves of Justinian to re-establish the empire (which he soundly condemns). He also covers the weakness of the eastern empire due to religious controversies among Christians which left that part of the empire open to the Arab invasion. Overall, the book is good, but the author has some very strong opinions here and there. The English Civil War by Hourly History Limited This is an overview of the various wars that were fought to overthrow the Stuart regime in Great Britain in the late 17th century and the rise of Oliver Cromwell. It is one of the short versions of the story, not unlike the books produced by the Charles River Editors. These endeavors give a good overview of the material in a form that allows for a quick study. The Sea Peoples: The Mysterious Nomads who Ushered in the Iron Age by Charles River Editors This is the story of the Sea Peoples who seems to have been a mix of nomads (by sea and land) who were the early Greeks. They are most famous to us by the fact that they included the Philistines who were such a bane to the early Israelites. They conquered many lands including the Hittite Empire, largely through their advanced military tactics. They were eventually defeated by the forces of the Pharaoh in Egypt, but not before they caused great destruction throughout the Eastern Mediterranean. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Rome - Mount St. Francis, IN

July 4, 2017 Peace and Good, Happy Independence Day! I spent the past week in Rome at our definitory. We actually finished a bit early, so I was able to work on a couple of projects. One was to get ahead in daily podcast reflections since I will be travelling a lot this month. I was quite successful on that. The other was to do some editing for an Asian Christian magazine that is being published by our Theological Faculty in Rome. I am the English editor of the magazine, and some of the authors really don't know English grammar all that well. On Saturday I was able to finish the second last article for a publication coming out later this year. In these next weeks, I must finish the last one. On Sunday I flew from Rome to Dallas and then on to Louisville. In June I did a visitation of the houses of Our Lady of Consolation Province in the Southwest. Now I am starting the Midwest portion of the province. I will be in the States until the end of the month when I then head back to Rome. The weather in Rome has been uncommonly hot and humid until the last day I was there. Then suddenly the humidity broke and we had a great day. That evening we had a cook out on the fourth floor terrazza of our friary, and it was a glorious evening. I finished some reading in these days: Batavia by Peter Fitzsimons This is the true story of a ship wreck in the islands off Australia in the 17th century The boat was a treasure boat on its way to Jakarta to bring money to buy the spices that were so important for the Dutch East India Company. While the admiral in charge of the boat takes sailors on a four week trip to seek assistance in Jakarta, a band of unscrupulous pirate like mutineers seizes control and begin to cull men, women and children in order to cut down the numbers so that those who remain might survive. The murders take on their own logic, however, as the band becomes more tyranical and murderous. It is an awful story that leaves one truly shaken. Consent to Kill by Vince Flynn This is the first novel by Vince Flynn that I have read. I have seen his name and titles for his books, so I was interested in reading this book. It is about an American anti-terrorist Rambo type figure who is fighting against the Islamic attack on this country. The evil figure in the book is the minister of cult in Saudi Arabia who is secretly funding an attempt to assassinate the hero. As a spy novel, it was quite good and avoids some of the more egregious mistakes of some of the other authors in this genre. Deng Ziaoping: A Revolutionary Life by Alexander Pantsov This is an extensive biography of the leader of China after Mao. It gives an honest appraisal of the figure, including the good elements as well as the bad (which verge on the evil). It shows how he manages to survive a number of falls from grace, and how he tried to balance his life and his politics in order to survive in the Kafkaesque era of Mao. The book gives a good overview of the infighting before, during and after the Maoist communist era. A Case of Need by Michael Crichton This is an older novel, written when Abortion was illegal in most states. It takes place in Boston, and a pathologist at a hospital investigates the accusation against a fellow doctor that he performed an abortion that resulted in the death of a young woman. The doctor blamed does perform secret abortions, but he is not the one who performed this abortion. The complicating factor is that the young woman is the daughter of an old Boston family who have considerable pull in the city. Roman Britain by Henry Freeman This book speaks of the inhabitants and culture of the inhabitants of Roman Britain before the invasions of Julius Caesar (unsuccessful) and that of Claudius Caesar (successful). It tries to identify the inhabitants of Britain before the arrival of the Romans (which is quite difficult), it speaks of how Roman culture was already quite present even before the Romans arrived, and it deals with how the Romans did and did not affect the culture of the British Isles. Insomnia by Stephen King This is a rather long book which deals with an elderly man and woman who are suffering from insomnia. This leads them to be able to see the auras that surround people around them. They also encounter three mysterious figures who are like the Fates of Greek myths. Two of them are neutral harvesters of those who are dying, but one is evil and capricious. The novel is intertwined with the story of an abortion proponent who is coming to Darey to give a speech, and the attempt of radical anti-abortionists to stop her at any cost. The book presupposes other levels of reality which the two elderly heroes are able to enter due to their gifts received as recompense for the insomnia. Hope you have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Rome - Assisi - Rome - London - Canterbury - London

May 24, 2017 Peace and Good, The beginning of this week I was up in Assisi for a meeting of the definitory with the Presidents of the various federations of friars throughout the world (they are divided up into seven sections). I was there until noon on Wednesday when I took the train down to Rome so that I could catch a plane to London the next morning. I then went to Canterbury on Friday for the closing of the Theological Institute there. I had taught there a number of terms over the years. I got to see one of my classmates from the Biblicum where I graduated in 1984. The celebration was quite nice, and I have been able to talk with a number of the friars from the custody to get a read of what they are thinking as they prepare for their custodial chapter this September. I head back to Rome tomorrow afternoon where we start a week of Definitory. We had a couple of important decisions to make concerning our provincial in Naples. Things are not going very well there, so the General Definitory appointed a provincial to work on getting things in line with what they should be. We very, very rarely do this, but this was one case where an intervention was needed. Normally, we try to make our interventions in a less obtrusive manner (and I have been a member of the team to intervene over the past couple of years). I have finished some reading: The Hittites by Charles River Editors The Hittites were a great Middle Eastern civilization just before the Biblical era. They resided in Anatolia, what is today Turkey. Relatively little was known of them until relatively recently. What we do know is mostly from archeological remains that have been excavated. They were destroyed by various factors, but especially by the invasion of a Barbarian group known as the Sea Peoples. The Broken Window by Jeffrey Deaver This is one of the Lincoln Rhymes novels. This one involves a murderer who gets his information on his random victims from data entry and data farming companies. He is able to frame various innocent victims in his deluded quest. The thing that trips him up is that he frames Lincoln’s cousin for one of the murders, and Lincoln and his team are slowly able to sort it all out (but not without considerable danger for the murderer declares war on the members of the team. The Mohawk by Charles River Editors This is a short presentation of the Mohawk tribe which, at the time of the colonies, resided in what is today upper New York State and southern Quebec and Ontario. They were part of the five (later six) nations of the Iroquois Federation (whose agreement of confederacy was used by the Founding Fathers as they developed our way of government. The presentation is an honest short overview of their history and culture. Blood Game by Iris Johansen This is a detective novel mixed with some paranormal phenomena such as communicating with ghosts and evil masterminds who think that they are vampires. The style is not all that bad, but I really can’t say that I would read a lot of her books in the future. The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary by Robert Alter This is a new translation of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) along with a literary, linguistic commentary on the material. The author has now translated most of the Hebrew Bible. His original job was literary critic, and he has used those skills along with a masterful knowledge of Hebrew and of the Jewish interpretation of Scripture throughout the centuries to give this new and insightful version of these books. I would recommend any of his books for those interested in Bible study at a higher level. If you want to start, the first book you could read by this author is the Art of Biblical Narrative. I hope you have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Mt. St. Francis, IN - Mesilla Park, NM - El Paso, TX - San Antonio, TX - Rome

June 12, 2017 Peace and Good, I have now returned for a whirlwind trip to the States. It began with my attendance at the funeral of one of our friars, Juniper Cummings. He was 92 years old, and had been an Assistant General, a Provincial, a Custos in Zambia, etc. His death was the end of an era for his province. I was glad that my travel agent was able to change my ticket and arrange for my travel there. On Saturday after the funeral I flew down to New Mexico to begin my canonical visitation of Our Lady of Consolation. Most of the province is located in the Midwest, but part of it is in the Southwest. There are three friaries scattered through New Mexico and Texas, and I visited them this past week. I will visit the rest of the province in July. I have been at all of these friaries a number of times over the years, so it is like coming home again. One of the friaries is a retreat house (with friars involved in other apostolates living there), one a parish for the Native American and Hispanic people in El Paso, and one a house of formation. The weather was very hot, which got me ready for the heat wave going on in Rome right now. I returned yesterday morning. I am still in the arms of jet lag, but that is pretty much par for the course. I finished some reading: E is for Evidence by Sue Grafton This is the fifth novel about a private detective who is investigating an arson. She is accused of trying to cover up the crime. One of the suspects is murdered by a bomb, and then another is killed in another way. The detective is almost killed twice during the course of the story. Grafton presents a very likeable character in the person of the detective, and the action in her stories is always well done. The Goddess of Small Victories by Yannick Grannec This is a very strange, very good novel about an elderly woman who was born in Vienna before the war. There she met a mathematical genius who suffered from mental illness. The book outlines their lives together as it also tells the story of an archival researcher who is seeking the written records of her deceased husband. The woman is not the easiest person in the world, but a relationship develops which enriches both of them. The History of the Supreme Court by Peter Irons This is a Teaching Company course on the history of the supreme court. The course is a set of 36 lectures, talking about judges, what is happening in the country, and the actual cases. The lecturer is an excellent presenter. He shows his prejudice here and there, but he is always clear to identify when that is taking place. This is a very good overview on the topic. Mind vs. Machine by Brian Christian This article speaks about the Turing test, a contest in which a group of people have conversations with real people and with computers which have been programmed with artificial intelligence. They then try to determine who was the real person and who was the computer. The computer programs are reaching the point where it is becoming more and more difficult to figure out which is which. Mount Dragon by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child I have read a few of the books produced by this team of authors. The others were either about a detective living in New York who was originally from New Orleans or a science fiction production. This one is about a genetic engineering project that goes array. These authors have a way of producing a riveting story with moments of genius in their forms of expression. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Rome - Mt. St. Francis, IN

June 1, 2017 Peace and Good, I hope that all of your are well. I spent the last few days in Rome doing some writing projects and getting caught up on paper work. I had intended on being there until this coming Saturday, but one of the friars in Our Lady of Consolation Province passed away and it was important for me to attend his funeral. His name was fr. Juniper Cumminngs, and he died in a nursing home in Minnesota at 92 years of age. He had been an Assistant General, the Provincial of his home province, the Custos of the Custody of St. Francis in Zambia, the Rector of the Seminary for their province, and the rector of the Shrine in Carey, Ohio. He was a kind and generous man, always joyful. I am attending his second funeral here in Mt. St. Francis, IN, just across the river from Louisville. Then, on Saturday, I will fly down to El Paso where I will spending a week doing a visitation of three friaries in that area in preparation for their provincial chapter next year. The trip yesterday was a bit of a jumble. When I got to the airport, the flight that was to take me to the States (Dallas) was already over two hours late. They booked me on another flight through Charlotte, but when I got there, I was three hours late because of thunder storms in the area. That is what happens with summer travel, especially later in the day. I got here, though, and tonight there is a wake service and tomorrow the funeral Mass. I finished some reading: The 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake by Charles River Editors This is a short account of the destruction of the cities of Tokyo and Yokohama by earthquake and fire in 1923. The Charles River authors are former MIT students who got together and have produced a series of short topic books. It is almost like a lengthened form of Wikopaedia. Zoo Station by David Downing This is a book about an English reported living in Berlin just before World War II. The end of the book coincides, in fact, with the takeover of the Czech republic by the Nazis. The reporter has a German ex-wife and son, and we hear about the strained relationship with his son was he is more and more nazified. In the meantime, the reporter risks everything to help a Jewish family get out of Germany. The topic reminded me a lot of the books of Alan Furst, one of my favorite authors. A Disposition to be Rich by Geoffrey Ward This is the story of the son of a Presbyterian missionary to India who became an investor on Wall Street. His partner in this enterprise was the son of ex-President Grant. Grant invested in his fund, and lost everything that he had. It turns out that the investor was a bit of a sociopath who created a big Ponzi scheme. He was eventually sent to prison for ten years. The whole time he was there, he played the martyr, blaming everyone but himself. The book is quite good, although the coverage of his parents years in India is longer than it really needed to be. The irony is that the book was written by the great grandson of the investor. The Crypto-Currency by Joshua Davis This is an article that speaks about the invention and use of Bitcoins, a currency that was invented by a computer programmer that does not have any authority, but which is traded and used for commerce throughout the world. Its only value is what it receives in its trades. The author tries unsuccessfully to identify its reclusive inventor. It is an interesting idea, but until some nation actually back up the currency, it is doubtful that it will have a lasting value. Dream Machine by Rivka Galchen This is the story of a theorist in Great Britain who has spoken of the possibility of inventing a quantum computer. Normal computers communicate in a series of choices between yes and no. This one would have a third choice, both yes and no at the same time. That would allow for an incredible number of possibilities to be evaluated at the same time, thus speeding up the process in an incredible manner. Some prototypes at a very primitive level are already being tried. Machiavelli in Context by William Cook This is a teaching company course on the writings of Machiavelli. He is best known for his work, “The Prince.” His name has given rise to the adjective “Machiavellian,” which means unscrupulous, conniving, etc. Yet, Cook shows that while one could question some of his conclusions, Machiavelli was at heart a republican. He places him in the context of his society (16th century Florence) in an Italy that was torn by divisions (especially after the invasion of the French army). Cook also studies Machiavelli’s other writings, including his history of Florence and his discourses upon the writings of Livi. Cook also produced a course on St. Francis, and both of these courses are enlightening. Have a good week Shalom fr. Jude Winkler