Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Ellicott City, MD - Reno, NV

March 14, 2017 Peace and Good, I hope you are all well. This past week I had a couple of meetings with the definitory of Our Lady of Angels Province and its provincial. This is my home province, and it extends all along the East coast of the US. I also preached a retreat to the post-novitiate students from our house in Silver Spring. This is an interprovincial house, and there were students from all four US provinces on retreat. The topic of the retreat was the Letter to the Hebrews. I did a lot of preaching on this book earlier in the year, so the topic was fresh in my mind. On Friday evening I also gave a talk at the shrine in Ellicott City on the Passion Narratives in the four Gospels. There were over 100 people there, which was a great turnout. Sunday I flew into Reno to do my visitation here. The friars have been serving in the Cathedral for the past 30 years, although they just announced that this will be their last year here. There are three friars serving here. This afternoon I fly out to Los Angeles where I will visit our friary in Hermosa Beach. I will then meet with the California definitory, and that will complete my visitation here. It has gone quite well. I have one more province in the Mid-West to visit this year. The shift in the weather has been something. When I left Baltimore, it was freezing, literally. Here in Reno it is around 70 during the day. I have finished some reading: Beautiful Brains by David Dobbs Why is it that teenagers have such a tendency to take unreasonable risks. This scientific study speaks of the fact that during the adolescent years, the brain goes through a series of processes which could be compared to a rewiring of the circuits. Many of the stop gaps that are present in older brains are just not yet developed in the teenage brain. Thus, when we accuse a teenager of not thinking something through, it is not as if the teenager has not tried. Still, speaking in terms of evolution, what would have been the advantage of going through a process such as this? The author explains that it would have been most helpful occurring in the period when the young adult was expected to fend for himself/herself. This ability to take risks would be most useful as that person separated him/herself from the tribe. Furthermore, the author explains that scientists have discovered that the teenage brain sets the teenager up to need more contact with peers than people of another age group. The teenager draws his/her cues on conduct from the people that surround him/her, and that those people are preferably peers. The Mask by Dean Koontz This is a horror story involving a young woman who is the victim of some form of reincarnation in which the tragedy of her death is repeated over and over again in succeeding generations. Some ghosts who are good and loving try to forestall the latest repeat of this tragedy by warning those involved of the impending danger. As always, Koontz is an expert both in language skills and the ability to build a spirit of terror. Pope Francis Encountering Truth This is a collection of notes taken upon 186 of Pope Francis’ daily homilies at the chapel in the St. Martha residence where he lives. His Masses there are celebrated for those staying at the residence as well as for a small group of those who have received invitations. The homilies are down to earth, and reveal many of the central messages of his pontificate. I have to admit that I don’t especially like the style of his preaching (it is a bit too repetitive for me, and the examples used don’t speak to me), while I very much enjoy the message. Fisherman’s Bend by Linda Greenlaw This is the story of a policewoman from Miami who gives up the big city to work as a deputy sheriff and insurance investigator in seaside Maine. The story is fairly well told, but I would not say it is the best written book that I have ever read. It is the kind of book that one might read for relaxation and not having to think all that much. What You Don’t Know Can Kill You by Jason Daley This is a fascinating study on why people seem to panic about certain possibilities that are very rare (e.g. radiation poisoning, airplane accidents) when they don’t about probabilities that are very high (e.g. high cholesterol, lack of exercise, car accidents). What is the mechanism that causes this disconnect and this failure to judge things objectively? Rule Number One by Bev Vincent A policeman takes a ride along for a trip around his beat. The ride along is a beautiful woman who is writing an novel about police work, or at least that is what she has told him. What she really is is a plant who wants to learn about police procedure so that she and her accomplices might rob a jewelry store. They story is well written. Hope you have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Castro Valley, CA - San Pablo, CA - Coalinga, CA - Arroyo Grande, CA

March 2, 2017 Peace and Good, I hope that you Lent has begun well. I am at our novitiate now in Arroyo Grande. It is a combination of continuing my visitation of the California province and offering my annual workshop to the novices. Right now there are six novices: three from Our Lady of Consolation Province, two from St. Joseph of Cupertino Province, and one from my home province, Our Lady of Angels. fr. Giles is the novice director, and fr. Maurice, one of my former students, is the assistant. Arroyo Grande is a small town a bit inland from Pismo Beach, half way between Los Angeles and San Francisco. I will be here til early Sunday morning when I fly out to Baltimore to preach another retreat and give a presentation at the definitory of Our Lady of Angels Province. This past weekend I visited and helped out at a parish in Coalinga. There are two friars there: one works in the parish and the other works in one of the State Prisons not far away. They are both doing great work. On Friday I had visited one of our parish in San Pablo, not far from Oakland. This is an incredibly diverse community with Masses in English, Spanish, Tagalog (from the Philippines), Vietnamese and Kmu (from Cambodia). The workshop this week is on the Gospels and the Psalms. It is just five mornings, so it is a cursory overview with some applications to our religious life. I am trying to get over a heavy cold that I caught in Rome. During our definitory, we all caught the cold that the Minister General had when the meeting began. I finished some reading: The Barbarian Empires of the Steppe by Kenneth Harl This is a 36 lecture in the Great Courses. The professor gives a great overview of the various barbarian invaders from Central Asia (the Huns, the Magyars, the Mongolian invasion, etc.). These invasions were famous for being ferocious, but they also allowed for a cross cultural communication between East Asia and the Arab world and even Europe. This course is very informative. Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon This is one of the series on Commissario Guidi Brunetti, a police detective in Venice. A world famous conductor is killed by cyanide during a performance of an opera. He is an elderly German who has a mysterious past which might have involved Nazi connections. He presents himself as a paragon of virtue, but that is not really the case (as one sees as the investigation continues). Donna Leon has a masterful talent in tracing the Comissario as a real person with a real family. Her presentation of the city of Venice and its inhabitants is equally masterful. It was a real joy reading this book. Contact and Cover by Greg Rucka This is a short story concerning three policewomen who have had the same male partner fail them when he was supposed to provide them cover. It is obvious it is because he does not feel that they belong on the force. When they complain, their complain is revealed to them and he threatens them. They manage to get their revenge and teach him a violent lesson, filming what they do so that they might have cover if he every tries to bring them to charges. Unlikely Allies by Richard Paul This is the account of the first American representative of the revolutionary government of the 13 colonies who had just started their rebellion against Great Britain, Silas Deane. He preceded Benjamin Franklin and John Adams. There is also a French officer who many suspect of really being a woman, who confesses to being a woman and lives as one for many years, but who at death is discovered to really be a man. Finally, there is the author of the play The Barber of Seville and Figaro, which are then made into operas by Mozart. This is a true story, but it is incredibly convoluted. It shows that the portrait we have of our founding fathers as disinterested heroes of independence is a bit distorted. They were all too human, too fallible. This is a very good read. The Feedback Loop by Thomas Goetz This article is based on the idea that when there are signs which indicate the speed with which cars are travelling, and even if there is no threat of a fine or anything like that, the vast majority of cars will tend to slow down. This indicates that people will tend to do the right thing if there is enough information provided in the right way. This principle could easily be used in addressing various social problems (overeating, drinking, gambling, etc.) that don’t seem to respond to a more strident message. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Rome - Castro Valley, CA

February 23, 2017 Peace and Good, I hope you are all well. I finished off the definitory meeting in Rome. It was a bit of a marathon meeting, lasting eight days. By the end, we were all exhausted and all of us had caught a cold. The first day, the Minister General had come in with a cold, and by the end of the meetings it has spread to all of us (which is common when you are closed up in the same room with others for over a week). Sunday I flew out from Rome to San Francisco. I am staying in a town just outside the city, Castro Valley, where I have begun the visitation of the California Province. I will be doing that off and on for about a month. It involves visiting all the houses and meeting with all of the friars in the province (here and wherever they reside). Next week I will be combining the visitation with a workshop that I will give at our novitiate to the present class of novices. The weather here has finally cleared up. It is odd that I was in Manchester and Aberdeen (which are famous for their miserable winter weather) and it was clear, and I get to California and it was raining cats and dogs. The Californians, while inconvenienced by the travel problems due to mudslides and flooding, are nevertheless thrilled that the drought is over. I have finished some reading: Whirlwind by Barrett Tillman This is the story of the aerial bombardment of Japan during World War II. It goes from the Doolittle raid in 1942 up to the final attack on Japan by planes from the air force (which was still part of the army) and the navy. This includes the fire storm attacks on the Japanese cities led by Curtis LeMay and the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The author is definitely writing from a point of view that intends to defend the actions of the United States and denigrates any criticism of our actions, even when they were quite questionable. The Price of Love by Peter Robinson A young boy who has lost his policeman father is on vacation with his mother and his new “uncle.” He feels left out of everything, a fifth wheel. He wants to follow the example of his father, so he investigates some suspicious activity of the uncle, eventually uncovering that this man and his mother conspired in the plot that led to the death of his father. The Touchy-Feely Methods of Wallace J. Nichols by Michael Roberts In this essay, a scientist explores whether people might be more willing to invest in saving the environment, especially the seas, if they were to meditate more on how they feel about water and its creatures. It comes across as a new age, touchy feely method of approaching people, but it seems to be bearing some results. People often react to situation on an emotional level, and this approach tries to get in touch with that level and harness it for good. The greatest Battle: Stalin, Hitler, and the Desperate Struggle for Moscow that Changed the course of World War II by Andrew Nagorski This is an epic study of the German invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II and their drive on Moscow. The author speaks extensively of the motivations of Hitler and Stalin (neither of whom comes off looking all that good). He reports the eye witness accounts of many of the events. He gives an enormous amount of information without getting bogged down in minutia. This is a book well worth reading if one is interested in this topic. Sleeping with the Enemy by Elizabeth Kolbert This is a scientific essay on the study of the DNA of Neanderthals and their relationship to humans. The author finds that there is more similarity to European and Asian human DNA and that of Neanderthals than we once thought, while that of African human DNA is much less. This would indicate that humans and Neanderthals had interactions and probably at least occasionally interbred. The essay asked the question of why Neanderthals disappeared, and it was probably due to the pressure of human presence in their territory (whether this means hunting for similar resources, or more violent means, it is not clear). Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Rome

February 15, 2017 Peace and Good, I have been in Rome since the beginning of last week. The weather has been very nice in these days, much warmer than I remember in past winters. We are meeting in definitory - a longer one than normal because we have a number of reports from various Italian provinces which are preparing for their provincial chapters this spring. They have been hit by the vocation crunch, and things are not going all that well in some of them. I have now finished with my visitation in Great Britain and Ireland. I met the last friar this past Sunday at the Vatican where he is a confessor. I will be flying out to California this coming Sunday to begin a visitation there. I will be in the States for well over a month this time, mostly on the west coast. Another of the Assistant Generals will be visiting my home province on the east coast to do the visitation. The rule is that an assistant cannot do the visitation to his own province. I have finished some reading: City of Saints: Pilgrimage to John Paul II’s Krakow by George Weigel I was going to World Youth Day in Cracow, so when I saw this title, I decided to read it while I was travelling. It was a good choice. It gave a good introduction to the sites and the culture of the people living there. It described Pope John Paul II’s fight against communism and other forms of belief that sap the vitality of the souls of people. It helps me understand better what I was seeing and experiencing while there. The Soul of the South by Paul Theroux Paul Theroux is a professional travel writer. This essay concerns some trips he made in the southern US. He visits various towns in the deep South that have been all but abandoned by industry and business and their inhabitants. There is a deep sense of sadness as he travels through areas where all that is left is the foundation of their once beautiful buildings. Lincoln’s Battle with God by Stephen Mansfield This is a well thought out, well documented book on Lincoln’s faith life. The danger in this topic is that it is so easy to quote one-liners from Lincoln’s life which could prove almost anything. The author shows that Lincoln was heavily affected by the fundamentalist Presbyterian upbringing that he received, especially for the negative. He seems to have resented the religious hypocrisy of his cruel father. He rejected all organized religion when he was a young scholar and lawyer, but through the various crisis of his life and by the example of reasonable religious figures, he seems to have come back to a belief in God and his goodness. This is especially evident by some events during the Civil War and his second inaugural address. Ship of Wonks by Iris Smyles This is a travel short story. A young woman who is a bit of a science geek takes a trip that is a physics workshop. She expects to meet the love of her life, but instead encounters people much like herself. In the course of the story, she comes to be comfortable with herself and her probable future. Baked Alaska by Christopher Solomon This is the travel story of an adventure to a national park in Alaska which is almost never visited. The author and his friends visit the Amniakchuck Volcano crater. In previous eras it had been described as a paradise on earth, but since its most recent explosion it had become more of a site for Dante’s description of Hell. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Monday, February 6, 2017

London - Rome

February 6, 2017 Peace and Good, I finished my visit to London by having meetings with a few different friars whom I had not visited during the other visits to friaries throughout Great Britain and Ireland. Then on Thursday I flew back to Rome. On Saturday I changed my room with another friar on the definitory. This past summer they had placed a new air conditioning/heating system in the building and they placed the blower right above his room. He is a light sleeper and it was difficult for him in his room. I, on the other hand, am rarely here, and for me the noise from the blower was like white noise, so it was not problem. This gave me a great opportunity to get rid of a lot of clothing that I have not worn for a number of years and a lot of books that my predecessor had accumulated. The minute I set up my things in my new room, I felt at home. That is probably credit to the fact that I am used to sleeping in a different place every couple of days anyways. This week we begin our definitory on Friday, and up to then I have some time to catch up on my writing projects. The weather when I got back to Rome was cold and clear. Yesterday, it turned rainy but a bit warmer. This is typical winter weather here in Rome. I finished some books: Bonfire of the Humanities by Patrick Symmes This is a travel story of a man who goes to Timbuktu, but even more it is the story of a group of people who rescued a mass of ancient manuscripts from the Muslim fundamentalists who wanted to destroy them. Timbuktu was, at one time, a crossroads for Islamic scholarship (as well as other forms of study). Some heroic people managed to hide some manuscripts, secret others out of storage rooms, carry others to safety in nearby cities, etc. The New Middle East: The World After the Arab Spring by Paul Danahar Paul Danahar is a journalist who has traveled extensively in the Middle East. This is his considered evaluation of the situation in a good number of countries after the Arab Spring (Tunisia, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Israel). It is not in any way polemic, but it is very clear on areas that the author considers to be policy disasters that will plant the seeds for generations of battle. The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Potzsch This is the first of a series of books by Potzsch that I have read. It is about a hangman, his daughter, and a doctor in southern Germany during a series of murders that could easily lead to a witch-hunt and the deaths of any number of people. The book is based on some remembrances of the ancestors of Potzsch with a lot of fictional content. The action and story are very good. Burying Mr. Henry by Polly Nelson This is a story of a murder in the old West in which Mr. Henry has set up a house for abuse run away women. He treats them with respect and helps them get back on their feet. It turns out that Mr. Henry has a secret past of his own (for he is really a runaway woman him/herself) and he is killed by her abusive abandoned husband. Oaths, Ohana and Everything by Diana Hansen-Young This is a clever mystery story which takes place on the eve of the annexation of Hawaii by the United States. The hero is a Hawaiian policeman who wants nothing to do with this event or with his Anglo father who abandoned his Hawaiian mother who then committed suicide. It doesn’t work out for him in the way he thought for he must take care of his sister (who has become addicted to opium) and younger brother (who kills the opium den’s owner) and he must attend to lowering of the Hawaiian flag for the last time so that he can secure it for the Queen who is worried that it might be desecrated. I hope you have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Monday, January 30, 2017

London - Manchester - Liverpool - Aberdeen - London

January 30, 2017 Peace and Good, I landed in London last Saturday to finish off my visitation of the British/Irish custody. Monday I headed out to Manchester where we have a friary and a filial house. Then a short distance up to Liverpool where there is another parish. Then on Friday I headed up to Aberdeen in Scotland where we are chaplains at the University of Aberdeen (which was founded in the 14th century). Then yesterday I flew back to London where I met with the custodial definitory this morning to present my findings. It was a positive report with a number of suggestions on how things could be changed. It is not a question of them doing the wrong thing, but rather they are now ready to do the right things because of circumstances changing. A lot of times on visits I have to be careful not to impose my ideas, but rather to suggest and invite. The weather, for being the end of January in England and Scotland, has actually been quite nice. I actually had sunny days in Manchester and Aberdeen, which at this time of year are slightly more probably than meeting a herd of unicorns. It was good to make contact with some of the friars again whom I had not seen for quite some time. Two of them, Philip and Columbkille, are quite elderly and not all that well. I am here for a couple of days yet and will meet with two friars tomorrow and another one on Wednesday. Then on Thursday I head back to Rome. I finished some reading: The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers by Thomas Mullen This is a strange book which speaks about the death and continued resurrections of two brothers who are bank robbers. This takes place during the depression, and it gives a good insight into the tragedy of this era and how and why bank robbers were considered to be heroes by many of the people. The book never really tells one why the brothers keep resurrecting, but it does provide a good bit of action (at times funny, at times graphic and very messy). Bass, Bill and Jefferson, Jon Beyond the Body Farm by Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson Bill Bass is the man who established the body farm which is an experimental site where bodies are left outside to decay so that forensic scientists can determine how and why things occur as they do. This is a series of stories about a number of cases that he has been involved with since he retired from his full time job. This is not a book for the squeamish, but it is quite interesting. St. Maximilian Kolbe: Saint of Auschwitz by Elaine Murray Stone I do not often reread books, but this one had to be reread for a purpose. It is a relatively short book that details the life and ministry of St. Maximilian Kolbe. I had been asked to give a talk on him to a break out group at the English language catechesis, and I needed to review the details of his life. This books is good because it is not overly detailed, but gave me enough to give a decent presentation. Explorers of the Nile: The Triumph and Tragedy of a Great Victorian Adventure This is a good overview of the men and women who traveled to Africa to determine the source of the Nile and the difficulties of their adventures. At times they overcame horrific experiences. They were often very proud, arrogant men and they often fought among themselves for honors and titles. Their work also often led to unexpected, tragic consequences (e.g. the difficulties in South Sudan today can be traced to decisions made in their days, as well as the brutal colonialization of the Belgian Congo). The Guardian of Mercy by Terrence Ward This is the story of how a couple discovered a masterpiece by Caravaggio that was hanging in a small, almost forgotten Church in Naples. It is also the story of the custodian who was an uneducated man who worked himself up from collecting garbage to being one of the great experts on this painting. It was commissioned by a charity group that wanted to practice the corporal works of mercy, and the painting depicts them (e.g. visiting prisoners, feeding the hungry, burying the dead, clothing the naked, etc.). This is a truly good book, well worth reading. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Rome - London

January 22, 2017 Peace and Good, This past week I have been taking part at a meeting for the new provincials and custodes and their secretaries at the Seraphicum, our theological school just outside of Rome. This included friars from India, Korea, Japan, Zambia, Venezuela, California, Abruzzo, Malta and Brazil. We went from Monday to Friday with a number of side trips on the evenings from Monday to Thursday (to our general houses in Rome). I was asked to preach at all of the Masses all throughout the week. It was a good week for my preaching, and the response of the friars was very gratifying. Saturday I flew to London to finish off my visitation for the custody of Great Britain and Ireland. I head back to Rome on the 2nd. In the meantime I will be travelling to Manchester, Barton, Liverpool and Aberdeen. Most of that will be by train. I finished the following: The Scent of Your Thoughts by Deborah Blum This is an essay on the study of how phernomes affect animals and even humans. The premise is that a researcher believes that women in a common environment eventually coordinate (unconsciously) their time of the month. That could only be done if they were receiving subliminal messages in terms of chemical emissions of which they were not even familiar. The author makes a good point for the need to study these and other phernomes (e.g. that are released in times of fear or depression). A History of England from the Tudors to the Stuarts by Robert Buckholz This is an extensive (48 lessons) course from the teaching company that deals with the history of culture of England and eventually the United Kingdom from before the era of the Tudors (around 1450) to the beginning of the era of the Hanoverians (c. 1725). This is not the first course by Buckholz to which I have listened, and he is both a fair historian and entertaining. I would recommend this particular course to anyone. Stalin’s Secret Agents by Stanton Evans and Herbert Romersteing This book provides a ton of information about communist agents who were at the heart of the government during the presidency of FDR. A lot of what the author says is very credible, but some of it is obviously intended to discredit a more leftish approach to unemployment and social needs. Yet, the authors have attempted to document what they are arguing and they give one a lot of things about which we should think. The problem is that Stalin and his type were incredibly subtle and devious while we in the West tend to be rather naive when it comes to espionage (at least we were in past eras). The Fool by Laurie King This short story is about a homeless man who dresses up in a monastic robe and helps out other homeless people. He is English and has lost his wife and child. This has driven him to the streets. He speaks mostly in quotes from literature or the Bible. He also helps a police detective solve a mystery of the murder of a young woman and the disappearance of the boy whom she was babysitting. The detective goes from hostility and incredulity to respect and even reverence. Camino Real by Monte Reel This is a travel story of a bus trip from the eastern part of Brazil to the other coast in Peru on the Pacific. The author makes this trip which turns out to be quite a difficult journey with break downs and other problems. The bus on which he travels is primitive at best, and the announcement that a modern road now connected the two coasts of South America was more wishful thinking than an actual accomplishment. I hope you have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude