Monday, March 8, 2021

Saltpond, Ghana - Rome

March 8, 2021 Peace and Good, I finished my retreat in Saltpond. There were 16 friars on the retreat. We had to keep Covid restrictions, which included wearing masks (which in 95 degree heat was a challenge). The weather was hot, hot, hot. At the end of the month is the beginning of the rainy season so it should cool off a bit soon. The trip was filled with covid restrictions. Going and coming, I had to have five separate covid tests. There were tons of documents to fill out at every step along the way, some of which was never collected. Our trip to the airport was filled with a bit of tension. It is only about two and a half hours to get to the airport from Saltpond, but traffic was incredibly bad. It ended up taking about six hours. Then, at the airport, there was some question if they would let me travel. Fortunately, I had a letter inviting me to Rome by the Secretary General which did the trick. Getting into Rome was actually quite easy. I had filled out the right form and found the right table, and was through within a minute. I am in quarantine for a week or so. Then we will be going on retreat, and the week after we will have a definitory. After that, I head back to the States for the vaccine. I finished some reading: The History of Rome in 12 Buildings by Phillip Barlag This is a tour of some of the most important sites in Rome. It speaks about the history of the buildings and the Roman republic and empire. It is quite colloquial, but also for that reason enjoyable. Pirate Women by Laura Sook Duncombe This is an audible book that I listened to about women who were pirates throughout the ages, from ancient times to the present day. The descriptions depend upon written testimony, which is often not available (both because pirates did not often receive a lot of coverage, and because women were not always taken into consideration). I had some difficulty with the story because the author tries to present pirates as heroes, even when they robbed and murdered. This is the worst of a feminist approach to the topic. The Half-Life of Marie Curie by Lauren Gunderson This is a short play of the relationship between Marie Curie and a British suffragette named Hertha Ayrton. Much of it deals with the way that Curie was treated when she was discovered to be committing adultery with a married man after the death of her husband Pierre. There is also a subplot dealing with the radium that she carries, and its effect on her health. (She would eventually die from the effects of the radium she had discovered.) Experiencing America: a Smithsonian Tour through American History by Richard Kurin This is a 24 session course on the history of the US, using objects preserved in the Smithsonian as starting points on each lesson. The presenter works at the Smithsonian, and he is quite good in the way that he handles the topic. It is not exactly an in depth presentation, but it was enjoyable. John C Fremont by Charles River Editors This is the story of the great explorer of passages through the Rocky Mountain. He also served as a general in the Civil War (Missouri and West Virginia) and he was not all that successful. He ran for president in the Republican Party in 1854. He also served as governor in various territories. For all of this, his wife Jesse was a much better politician than he. The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day This is an autobiographical presentation of some aspects of the life and work of Dorothy Day. It is very much centered on her ministry to the poor. As one reads it, one is impressed with her fervor, but one gets the feeling that one is only seeing the surface of who she was. Keep safe. fr. Jude

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Accra, Ghana - Saltpond, Ghana

February 27, 2021 Peace and Good, I arrived here in Ghana at the beginning of the week. The early days were in Accra, the capital of the country. We have a house of studies there with 26 students froom 4 different countries. Wednesday I was driven to Saltpond, a couple of hours down the coast from Accra. Here we have a retreat house and a novitiate. In Accra and here in Saltpond I have given some talks to the men in formation. They have quite a few vocations here. Presently, Ghana is a custody of the Northern Italian Province, and eventually it will become a province (possibly as early as 2025). Monday evening I will begin preaching to a group of 26 friars from the custody. The topic is based on a document passed at the General Chapter called the six year plan, a guideline for conversion over the years between chapters. The main topic will be living in fraternity, a topic that fits in well with the encyclical Fratelli Tutti. The weather is hot, very hot. It is a real challenge to wear a mask in this heat, but Ghana is going through a second wave right now so it is the right choice. I have finished some reading: 1066 The Year of Five Kings by Ray Moore This is an account of the year in which Harold became king of England, when he defeated the Norwegian king who invaded the land to take the throne, and then had to fight William the Bastard (whom we now call William the Conqueror. It is based on the Saxon accounts of those years, but it is historical fiction. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley I read this book many, many years ago. It is now being offered for free by audible, so I decided to listen to it once again. I had forgotten how gothic the book was. It almost ignores the scientific aspects of the story. It is all about the responsibility of the creator, and the loneliness of being the only one of a type. Both the creature and Frankenstein feel betrayed by what has happened. The language is typical of the era in which the book was written, but the underlying premise makes one think. Museum Masterpieces: the Louvre by Richard Brittell I have watched another 24 session course on the Metropolitan Museum in New York. This is a 12 session course on the Louvre in Paris. It is a good presentation, but does not rise to the level of the other course. The Pagan World: Ancient Religions before Christianity by Hans-Friedrich Mueller This is a 24 lesson series on pagan religions before the triumph of Christianity. The presenter is very good, and the material is very useful. This is a course from the Teaching Company. I highly recommend this course for anyone who is interested in the topic. The Poison King: the Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome’s Deadliest Enemy by Adrienne Mayor This is an excellent account of Mithradates, the king of Pontus (in northern Turkey). It deals with the many battles he fought with the forces of Rome. It also deals with Mithradates’ fascination with poison. He was an incredible figure whose entire life was passed in one battle or another. The author presents an excellent portrait of the times and the man. This is a book I can highly recommend. Heather Morris by Audible Interviews This is an interview with the author of the Tattooist of Auschwitz. She speaks about her new volume, Cilka’s Journey. Her first book has now been published in over 50 countries. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling Audible has made a series of books available for free during this quarantine. I had listened to this book a long, long time ago. It was a joy listening to it again. JK Rowling is able to present a full picture of this imaginary world. I have reserved a number of her other books on hold at the local library so that I can go through the whole series. Keep safe fr. Jude

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Castro Valley, California - Rome

February 14, 2021 Peace and Good, I finished my visitation in California and have returned to Rome. The trip back was actually postponed a bit due to the fact that a visa I had applied for was not ready on time, so I only left Castro Valley this past Tuesday (and not the previous Thursday as was originally planned). The trip was not bad, but the paperwork is becoming more and more stringent. I would not advise anyone to travel these days unless it was essential. I am in quarantine right now. These periods in my room give me some time to catch up on projects, but I am getting tired of them. I hope to fly to the States at the beginning of April and will stay until I can get my vaccine. The weather here is cool and a bit rainy. There was snow in northern Italy yesterday, including Assisi. Yesterday, we began our General Definitory meeting. I am attending by zoom, even though the definitory is meeting just down the corridor. In Italy isolation doesn't only mean to stay at home, but also in one's room. I finished some reading: The Soviet Invasion of Hungary in 1956 by Charles River Editors This is a book that speaks of the history of Hungary from the time of the First World War until the Soviet invasion in 1956 that crushed an attempt by the people and even the government to break free of the crushing embrace of the Soviet system. Twenty-one Stories by Graham Greene This is a series of very interesting, entertaining short stories. They were mostly written between the two World Wars, although one can hear in some of them the drum beats of the coming conflict. The stories tend to be filled with irony, and often deal with sad relationships between parents and children. Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis I have always heard about this book, but I was able to listen to it in these days. Elmer is a professional preacher whose only goal is success, even if that means sinning against the very things that he preaches upon. Lewis was a bit of a socialist, and this book mocks many aspects of religion and its promulgation, but it is well, well done. It leaves one a bit sad, but it has something well worthwhile to say (and can serve as a good examine of conscience to ask myself why I am really doing certain things). My Philosophy by Woody Allen This is a short, comical approach to philosophy. Allen is able to use the right terms, and then twist it into something comical. This is only a short piece, originally a magazine article. Donna Leon by Audible Sessions Donna Leon is one of my favorite authors. She writes detective novels about an Italian Police Commissioner in Venice, and her Italian flavor in her books is perfect. Her hero is a decent man with a real family. His battle against the Italian political system rings so true. I have always recommended her books. This 15 minute interview was well, well done. Second Son by Lee Child This is the story of Jack Reacher as a young teenager who already shows his physical and mental prowess which would be seen in later periods of his life. He is the son of a Marine officer who has been transferred to Hawaii. He runs into difficulties with a local bully, but is able to put him in his place. Keep safe. fr. Jude

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Castro Valley, CA

February 6, 2021 Peace and Good, I have been in Castro Valley this past week finishing up my visitation. I have met the friars in person, on skype, on zoom, by phone, by iternet email, etc. In spite of the limitations of the method, I feel that I have gotten a good picture of where the province is at this moment. There are two major decisions coming in these years. The first is to raise the delegation in Vietnam up to the status of a custody. The second has to do with the unification of the provinces of friars in the United States. I spoke with the provincial and his definitory this past week, and the meeting went well. I have to write up the preliminary report in the next few days, and then submit it to them for their comment. I will also present it to the General Definitory at the end of the month. When everyone is OK with it, then it will be sent out to the friars of the province. The weather has been excellent here. We had a bit of badly needed rain (which became blizzards as the front moved east). But it is mostly sunny and in the 60's and even the 70's. I was supposed to head back to Rome this past Thursday, but the Ghanian Embassy took a long time to give me a visa to Ghana and to return my passport, so I am now leaving this Tuesday. Later today I head out to get another covid test. I have finished some reading: The Other America by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This is a short speech which speaks about how the poor people in our country are not lazy or evil, but rather have to struggle against unconquerable obstacles. It is good to hear a different approach to many of the social problems about which we speak so easily. Roman Emperors by Ron Carver This is a medium size treatment of some of the major emperors of the Roman Empire. It is a bit odd in its organization (not being historic nor thematic). The material is basically accurate, but it is very superficial. British Covert Operations in World War I by Charles River Editors This is a short account of some of the secret diplomacy during World War I, including many of the agreements which led to so many difficulties during the rest of the 20th century (e.g. in the Middle East). It does not really go into the question of spy craft which I would have expected. Pompeii: Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City by Professor Steven Tuck This was a 24 lecture presentation on the city of Pompei (and life in a Roman city at the beginning of the first century AD. It deals with the foundation of the city, the economy practiced there, the buildings and what they tell us about life there, etc. Only the beginning and end really deal with its destruction by the explosion of Vesuvius. The rest deals with individual studies of topics about the life of the city, and especially of the normal people living there. The Third Reich in Power by Richard Evans This is the middle of a three book series on the Third Reich. Evans gives an incredibly thorough and good presentation of the many, many different social, political, economic, religious, etc. considerations of what happened between 1933 and 1939. I marvel at how well researched and written Evans’ books are. An Introduction to Infectious Diseases by Dr. Barry Fox This was a free gift from the Teaching Company due to the present Pandemic. It was a series of 24 lessons, and it was of the quality of the other Teaching Company courses. The most interesting lecture was that which dealt with possible future pandemics. The presenter was not all that far from what happened, although he sided with the idea of another version of influenza and not the coronavirus. The Origins of World War II by Keith Eubank This is one of the books which I purchased through Chirp books. The topic was well presented, but the reader did a terrible job of the pronunciation of names. All in all, it was worth the listen, but… Christian Eschatology by Charles River Editors This is a Charles River production, so it was a very quick study of a very complicated topic. Nevertheless, it gives a good outline of the topic. I was quite impressed. The author seems to be more affiliated with the evangelical approach to the question, but they have also written the most in the past century, especially the Pentecostals. Keep safe. fr. Jude

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Castro Valley - Coalinga - Arroyo Grande - Pismo Beach - Castro Valley

January 30, 2021 Peace and Good, I am completing my visitation of the California province. Last Sunday I went down to Coalinga which is in agricultural territory in the central valley of the state. I then went to the coast to visit our novices and to visit our parish along the coast in Pismo Beach. I will head back to Italy on the 4th if all works well. The one problem is that the Ghanian Embassy has my passport because I needed to send it to them for a visa request, and they have not yet sent it back. If needed, I could stay here a few extra days. The weather was very rainy for two days, something which is badly needed this year. Otherwise, it has been very nice, with the temperature between the mid 70's and mid 60's. I have been doing most of the visitation by phone due to covid. The rules for travel, etc. seem to change every 15 minutes. I have finished some reading: Cemetery Dance by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child This is another of the books by Preston and Child that I have read and enjoyed. They mostly involve mysteries in which the central figure, Inspector Pendergast, a ghostly genius who is incredibly eccentric, must resolve the difficulties. This volume involves a series of murders around a chapel where there is a strange cult meeting and performing animal sacrifices. There are possible zombies, a type of voodoo, etc. It is, as always with these authors, a book well worth reading. Canada is Awesome by Neil Pasricha This is a wonderful short book on how great Canada is. It is written and read by the son of an immigrant from India. The book shows the typical pride (always a humble pride) in the community nature of their country. The Seven Wonders by Steven Saylor I have read several books by Saylor on a figure in Rome in the days of Julius Caesar known as the finder (a type of detective). This book involves a trip taken by the son of the Finder to visit the seven wonders of the ancient world (the statue of Zeus at Olympus, the pyramids, the mausoleum in Halicarnassus, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Colossus of Rhodes, the temple of Aphrodite in Ephesus, and the Lighthouse in Alexandria). In each stop, the young son of the finder and his mentor (a Greek poet) must solve certain mysteries and crimes. Poverty of Spirit by Johannes Metz This is an incredible book that deals with the humility of the human condition and how it is only through our embracing of that condition that we can find peace and reach our full destiny. It is one that I am sure to read and reread again and again! Why Gettysburg Matters by Allen Guelzo This is a short treatment of the topic by a major author who has written a vast study on the Battle of Gettysburg. It was produced by audible books, and is one of a set of interviews by the company. Cat and Mouse on the Niger by Charles River Editors This is a short book dealing with the rush for colonies in Africa by the British and the French, especially on the Niger River (Nigeria, Benin, etc.), but also reaching out to the source of the Nile and the near war that occurred in Fashoda when the French arrived there and the British sought to expel them. End of Days: the Assassination of John F. Kennedy by James Swanson This is a very good treatment of the assassination of Kennedy. It mentions the various conspiracy theories and largely discounts them. It speaks of the strange personality of Oswald. It is generally favorable to the Kennedy’s and also the family of LBJ. I could recommend this book. The Devil’s Workshop: a Novel of Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad by Alex Grecian This is a strange novel of a group of vigilantes in London who capture criminals such as Jack the Ripper and torture them to make them pay for their crimes. A group of prisoners escape (something planned by the group) and cause havoc in the city, especially among the police and their families. Keep safe. fr. Jude

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Castro Valley, California

January 23, 2021 Peace and Good, I have been in our friary in Castro Valley (just outside of Oakland) for a couple of weeks. After five days of strict quarantine, I began to associate with the friars a bit. However, I came down with some symptoms of chills, fever, muscle aches, etc. It didn't look good, so I had my Covid test. It turns out it was negative, so the symptoms must be a return of an infection I had a few weeks back. I have treated the infection with my supply of Cipro, a strong antiobiotic, but the Cipro was very old and must not have been totally effective. I am now treating it with some new Cipro from the Vatican Pharmacy (I wonder if it was blessed). Feeling better. I have been doing my visitation of the province, almost completely by skype or phone. I am not going to LA where we have a friary because the Corona Virus situation is so bad there. But I am going to the central coast tomorrow (Coalinga, Arroyo Grande and Pismo Beach). I will be back here on Wednesday. The weather is tremendous. It has been in the 70's almost every day, and not too much rain (although the area does need some more lest there be another drought). I head back to Rome on the 4th, if they let me in. Travelling these days is always uncertain, with flights being cancelled and new regulations being established every 15 minutes. Can't wait to get my vaccine. I finished some reading: The Long 19th Century by Robert Weiner This is a series of 24 lectures on the 19th century in Europe from the French Revolution to the end of World War I. It deals with social issues (the effects of the industrial revolution, the growth of the labor movement, racial questions, etc.). It deals with nationalism and the unification of the German Empire and the kingdom of Italy. The professor giving the lectures has done a very good job of the many aspects of culture in all of the lands involved (especially Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Russia, etc.). The Mongol Conquests by Captivating History This is a short history of the growth of the largest empire the world has ever seen. While the Mongols were often known for the horror of their conquests and pillaging of the land, they also allowed the development of the Silk Road (for merchants could now travel in safety through the large empire). They allowed a great amount of religious freedom. The book deals with the splitting of the empire among its various components, and its eventual demise. Meteorology by Prof. Robert Favell This was a video course that I obtained from the Great Courses Company. The presented is good, but the presentation is more technical than is easy to understand. I intend to listen to the whole thing again on some future date. Normally I don’t buy the video version of these courses, but I am glad I did so with this course for one could not have understood anything without seeing the charts and maps and radar presentations. Frederic Remington by Charles River Editors This is the story of the great sculpture of the Old West. It turns out that he was not really a western figure – more a wantabe. He did both drawings and sculpting. Furthermore, he was more than a bit of a racist, something that was all too common in the era of Theodore Roosevelt and Social Darwinism. Mad Anthony Wayne by Charles River Editors This is a quick biography of one of the generals during the Revolutionary War. The author of this edition has a tendency to include long passages from the letters of the characters, with their original spelling and form of expression. This makes reading this particular volume a bit tedious. Jane Austin by Hourly History This is a good, short biography of the English author Jane Austin. Being a woman author was very unusual at this time, but writing under an assumed name, she was somewhat successful during her lifetime. She only acquired her great popularity later, long after her death. Ben Aaronivitch: Audible Originals Interview I have only recently subscribed to Audible books, largely to obtain the Great Courses audio courses at a discount price. Aaronivitch is the author of the Rivers of London series, about a detective in London who learns magic and uses it in his work. This interview was free, and in its half hour gave a good idea of the personality of the author. Keep safe. fr. Jude

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Rome - Castro Valley, CA

January 14, 2021 Peace and Good, I left Rome this past Monday to begin my canonical visitation in the province of California. Most of the visitation will probably be done by phone and skype, but at least I will be in the right time zone. The regulations concerning covid were not all that bad. I had had myself tested a few days before the flight even though it was not yet required. Now the rules have changed and flight to the US will require testing. The flight from Rome to Frankfurt was fairly full, but that from Frankfurt to San Francisco was only about 1/4 full. We hit some awful air turbunlence at the Canadian/US border, the worst I have every experienced (for intensity and length of time). I am at our friary in Castro Valley. I am quarantined to the friary for ten days, but the first five days I will even avoid contact with the other friars. I just don't want to get anyone sick. I finished some reading: Caffeine: How Caffeine created the Modern World by Michael Pollan This is an audible books presentation. It is one of their original productions, and in two hours the author is able to present his relationship with caffeine, as well as a scientific and social study of the substance. I was able to obtain it for free (they allow two free audible presentations per month as part of their purchase package). The presentation is quite well done. The Sun Dog by Stephen King I always like King’s books, for he is a master of language and symbolism. In this case, a young man receives a polaroid camera as a present, but the camera only produces a picture of a scene in which a wild dog slowly becomes aware of the picture taker and prepares to attack him. This story takes place in New England, and there is an elderly store owner who has an emporia where he sells just about everything (and also is involved in other not so favorable activities such as loan sharking). Splendid Solution by Jeffrey Kluger This is an account of how Dr. Jonas Salk and his team were able to develop a vaccine against polio in the 1950’s. Salk comes across as quite a favorable figure, while his opponent, Dr. Lou Sabin, comes across as a petty, vindictive person. The account gives quite a bit of detail without getting lost in the minutia of scientific topics. I quite enjoyed the book. 36 Revolutionary Figures by The Teaching Company This is a collection of quick biographies of important figures who changed history throughout the ages. Some of the presentations are better than others (for they are taken from different courses and at times are really not intended to be a presentation of a person’s life). Yet, it was worthwhile listening to this course. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens This is a book I had written in high school, but I had not touched since. It was a joy to listen to it. I had not remembered much of it at all. Dickens has his style which is a bit flowery, but pleasant. Rome: A History is Seven Sackings by Matthew Kneale This is a fine book which speaks about the history of the city of Rome throughout its history from its founding until the present day. It includes the attacks by various groups of barbarians and by medieval and renaissance invaders. Sometimes the defenders of Rome were more successful than others. Sometimes the defeat of the Roman forces led to a terrible sacking, other times it led only to a change of very often arrogant leaders. The author is rather good in his portraiture. Genghis Khan by Walter J. Scott This is a short account of the life of this great Mongol invader. It presents the history just before his arrival, what he did, and what followed his reign. Rather than creating an actual empire, he created more of a movement that only loosely ruled the domains which he conquered (at a horrible cost for those who resisted him). The Battle of Bunker Hill by Hourly History This a short account of the Battle of Bunker Hill when the British attacked the top of a hill outside of Boston. While it was technically a victory for the British, it was what is called a Pyrrhic victory – that it cost the British so much that they realized that it would be difficult if not impossible to defeat the Patriots. Keep safe, fr. Jude