Sunday, September 16, 2018

Seoul, South Korea - Rome

September 16, 2018 Peace and Good, I finished my time in Seoul where I met with the definitory of the South Korean Province. I had been the visitator twice in a row, and this visit was halfway between the last chapter and the next one. It was a visit to see how things were going, and they are going quite well. I then travelled back to Rome. This week I have been hosting a friend, a priest from Ghana whom I know from when he stayed at our friary in Ellicott City while he was studying. I have given a retreat at the seminary where he was teaching, and also to the diocescan priests of his diocese. It is good when I have guests like this, for I get to see the sites of Rome that I don't see otherwise. My favorite church is of St. Clement, not all that far from the Colosseum. It is an 11th century church built upon a 4th century church built upon a series of appartments which it is believed to be the dwelling place of the fourth pope. The weather in Seoul was quite nice, but I was told that it had just broken a bit for it had been quite hot in previous weeks. The weather here in Rome is still summerlike. I have finished some books: The Cambridge Five: the History of the Notorious Soviet Spy Ring during World War II by Charles River Editors This is a quick account of the five Cambridge students during the inter-war period who agreed to spy for the Soviet Union. I have read a more complete account of Kim Philby lately, and this version is in agreement with the details of the other book. Typical of Charles River books, it is short and to the point (which has both advantages and disadvantages). Chernobyl and Three Mile Island by Charles River Editors This is a Charles River account of two separate nuclear disasters. It is really just a cobbling together of two related topics. The Three Mile Island accident was serious enough, but does not even have the slightest similarity to the seriousness of the Chernobyl disaster. The account gives both a good amount of information as well as first hand reactions to what happened and how it affected the lives of those involved. Antoni Gaudi the Life and Legacy of the Architect of Catalan Modernism by Charles River Editors Gaudi is a great architect from the Barcelona area who designed the long anticipated Church of the Holy Family. His style was decidedly unusual, and it marked a whole type of architecture that became famous between the two World Wars. He lived an ascetical life, and is now being proposed for beatification. There is no question that he was dedicated to his faith, but there was also a certain strangeness in him toward the end of his life. The League of Nations by Charles River Editors This is the story of the establishment and the short duration of the League of Nations. The short book goes into the developments before and during World War I which showed the world leaders the need for some sort of international organization to short circuit the mechanism of the march to war. Unfortunately, the US never joined the organization, and the economy of the world disintegrated during the Great Depression. Furthermore, many nations turned to autocratic governments that all but ignored the rulings of the league, while the democratic governments put up with the decisions of those governments in order to practice appeasement and keep the peace, eventually destroying the league. The History of the Goths by Charles River Editors This is the story of the Ostrogoths and the Visigoths, two eastern tribes that invaded both the Eastern and the Western Roman Empires. They were responsible, in fact, for the fall of the Western empire, the king of the Goths overthrowing the last Roman Emperor. It also deals with the attempts of the Eastern Emperor to invade the West and reestablish the empire. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Monday, September 3, 2018

Rome - Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam - Seoul, South Korea

September 4, 2018 Peace and Good, After a couple of days of rest following the General Chapter, I went out on the road again. The first trip was to Saigon in Vietnam. I had asked the Minister General to stop there on my way to Korea to attend the ordination to the priesthood of three of our friars and to the diaconate of two of the other friars. The delegation there is doing very well. The friars have a wonderful spirit, a real joyful attitude. There is a sense of hope and future possibilites. They are at an important point right now in their developement, for the first friars to complete formation are now leaving the seminary and the friars there have to find a number of new apostolates for them. Furthermore, the numbers in formation continue to be good, so I can see them becoming a custody at the end of four years or so. I travelled to Vietnam with fr. Louis. P, who is the Secretary for Formation for the Order. This was his first time there, while I have visited four or five times already. The friars there are building a new seminary for their postulants (the first stage for those coming into the Order). They only began a couple of months ago, but it is already well along. The Vietnamese are quite industrious, and they tend to finish projects beforetime and under budget. On Sunday I flew to Seoul which was about five and a half hours from Saigon. I am here to do a half term visit to a province that I have visited canonically twice already. At the end of a visitation, we give a series of recommendations, and I am here to see how they are doing with what was suggested. I have finished some reading: The Enthusiast by Jon Sweeney This is the story of Brother Elias, one of the early companions of St. Francis. He was one of the first Minister Generals of the Order, but after the death of Francis he seems to have betrayed the charism of the Order’s founder. He even ended up being excommunicated for his siding with the Holy Roman Empire against the Pope. The book is supposed to be about Elias, but it really is more about Francis with Elias thrown in until after Francis’ death. World War II Biographies by Hourly History This is a series of short biographies on such figures as Ernst Rommel, Benito Mussolini, Adolph Hitler, George Patton and Joseph Stalin. The presentations are a quick overview, but they nevertheless provide some good information on each of these people and how they influenced the outcome of the war. Terminal Freeze by Lincoln Child I have read a number of books by the team of Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston which includes the Special Agent Prendergast series. This one is by Lincoln Child alone and it deals with an Artic expedition to find traces of previous eras in the melting ice (due to global warming) of a glacier. The team comes across a frozen animal, possibly a saber tooth tiger. The TV firm that is funding the expedition decides to defrost the animal live on TV. They send a team for this TV special. The animal, though disappears. It has defrosted itself and it turns out to be a much more dangerous animal than expected. The rest of the book is about the team’s hunting it and its hunting them. It is quite well done. The Khufra Run by Jack Higgins A nun is looking for a plane full of treasure that her family tried to carry out of Algeria around the time of independence. She finds two disreputable but nevertheless not that bad characters who assist her in the hunt, the proceeds of which will be used to build a hospital for the needy. An evil Algerian colonel seeks to steal the treasure. This particular volume by Higgins bears a remarkable similarity to another of his books in which the treasure is hidden in a delta in Vietnam. The Name of God is Mercy by Pope Francis This is a two part book. The first part is an extended interview of Pope Francis on the topic of mercy. The second part is the text of the document that he wrote to inaugurate the Holy Year of Mercy that we celebrated a couple of years ago. There is nothing new here, but it is good to hear what it contains. Wolfgand Amadeus Mozart by Hourly History This is one of the short biographies that speaks of the life and times of Mozart. It gives an honest appraisal of his life and influences, especially that of his father. It shows how he learned from previous masters and was a source of learning for those who followed. It speaks of some of the misconceptions contained in the famous movie Amadeus. This is well done. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Monday, August 27, 2018

Nemi - Assisi - Rome

August 27, 2018 Peace and Good, I am writing this from Santi Apostoli, my home in Rome. We finished our General Chapter this past Saturday. We were up in Nemi, which is just outside the city near Castel Gondolfo, for the chapter. The retreat center where we stayed was on a hill overlooking Lake Nemi, a volcanic lake. This has always been a place for Romans who wanted to escape the heat of the city during August. It was actually quite comfortable each evening. Strangely, there has been over a week of thunder storms almost every day. This is the first time that I remember this happening at this time of year in Italy. The chapter has now passed the constitution and in a couple of weeks we will be handing it over to the Vatican (the Congregation for Religious) for their approval. That process should take about a year. We have our ordinary chapter in late May of this coming year. I will be heading out to Vietnam and South Korea tomorrow. Vietnam is an ordination of two of our friars from Vietnam who have been studying here in Rome along with one living in Vietnam, and Korea will be a meeting with the provincial and his definitory. I was the visitator there twice in these years, and now I am visiting them half way before the next visitation to see how they are doing. I have finished some reading: All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot This is about the first years of the career of the veterinarian James Herriot. It thought from the title that the book was going to be about the animals, but instead it is about his relationship with the veterinarian who hires him and gives him experience, the vets brother who is incredibly irresponsible but at the same time fun, the woman who would become his wife, and many of the characters into whom he came into contact. In spite of my misconception concerning the content of the book, I found in enjoyable. Empire of Cotton by Sven Beckert This is an extensive treatment of the growth, use and business of cotton. There is a tremendous amount of information contained in the book, but I often found that I wished he had used a better editor for it was often repetitive. He speaks of the early years of the use of cotton when it was tied in with the colonialist movement which was based on terror and conquest. The later period of its use was tied to the industrial revolution (cotton in fact being one of the catalysts of that event) and the capitalist exploitation of poorer parts of the world (often destroying their homegrown industries to force them into cultivation of cotton, which was a far less rewarding enterprise). It was well worth reading, but, as I said, the book could have used a bit of work before it was published. April 1865 by Jay Winik The title pretty much tells one what this book is all about. It is about the last month of the Civil War in the United States, which includes the conquest of Richmond, the surrender of Lee and the other generals, the death of Abraham Lincoln, the confusion sewn by the assassination, and the end of the Confederacy. The author is more sympathetic to the plight of people living in the south after the war, which is probably good to get a different perspective than that which one often receives. The book is well written. Ghana Must Go: A Novel by Taiye Selasi The is the story of how a family from Ghana living in the US heals after the death of their patriarch. The mother (an Ibo from Nigeria) had been divorced by her Ghanaian husband, and she attempted to bring up her four children. Each of them was somewhat damaged by what had happened, the their journey to Ghana for the funeral of the surgeon ex who had died of a heart attack proves to be the crisis that forces the family to face some ugly issues and get over them. It is very, very interesting to hear a story from a different cultural starting point which ultimately is not fully either Ghanaian nor American, for like many immigrant families they are neither and both. Secret Weapons of World War II by Gerald Pawle This is an overview of the special squad established to experiment with odd concepts during the Second World War. This was a favorite endeavor of Winston Churchill who often had outrageous ideas that sometimes turned out to be quite brilliant. The greatest difficulty of the inventors was to be listened to by the establishment organization which tried to kill any creativity before it could get off the ground. I really could not recommend this book because it turns out to be wordy and gives more detail than most readers would like, but it was interesting all the same. 12 Major World Religions by Jason Boyett This is a quick overview of the twelve major world religions, with a bit of their history, their major figures, their major sources of literature, their geographic extension, etc. It is really very cursory, but it nevertheless gives some good information on some religions that are not usually treated in a similar study such as the Jains, the Baha’i, etc. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Monday, August 13, 2018

Nemi, Italy

August 13, 2018 Peace and Good, We have finished the third week of our Extraordinary General Chapter. Things are going quite well. We are actually ahead of schedule, although not enough that we could finish early. It just means that we will not have to work from morning to night as we have in the earlier part of the chapter. There are a couple of committees, though, which put in a lot of hours once we have finished our work, and I admire their commitment. One of the friars from my province, fr. Tim Kulbicki, was instrumental in the revising of the constitutions, and he is basically running the chapter. He is doing a fine job. We will finish two weeks from yesterday. The Friday before we end will be a one day pilgrimage to Assisi to celebrate what we have done. Saturday after lunch I travelled into the city to sleep in my own bed at least one night. It felt great to get off the property where we have been for the past three weeks. The city was very hot, probably about 10 degrees farenheit warmer than here. Furthermore, there were 60,000 young people in pilgrimage there to meet the pope, so the city was very crowded. I am still preaching every morning. I am down to about 10 more days of preaching. I have finished some reading: The Titanic and the Lusitania This is one of the Charles River Editor books which is actually a combination of two shorter books on the Titanic (its building, its luxury, its passengers, its sinking and the aftermath) and the Lusitania (a passenger ship that was torpedoed and sank off the shore of Ireland during World War I with a large loss of life, including many Americans. This proved to be a remote cause of the US entry into the war. The difficulty with the Lusitania is that it was later discovered that the ship was carrying more munitions than was allowed by a passenger ship, something that the Germans had claimed all along. The twelfth Imam by Joel Rosenberg I have to say this is one of the most disappointing books I have read in a long time. The author has talent when he writes about spy craft in Iran, but then he resorts to the lowest ethnic slurs and attacks on Islam all in the name of proposing Christianity. The twelfth Iman proves to be a diabolic figure who is opposed by Jesus who appears (and mouths pious Gospel verses and is a cardboard figure in this book) and the CIA. This is one of those examples of Christian literature which commits the heresy of implying that the US is always on God’s side and anyone who opposes the US is with the devil. An Army at Dawn by Rick Atkinson This is the story of the first major ally offensive against the Germans and their allies in World War II – in North Africa. The author is fair to all of the participants, speaking of the American unreadiness for combat (which quickly diminished as the troops learned their role) and the British arrogance (especially certain British generals who looked down on the Americans when they themselves had little about which they could brag at this period of the war). This is part of a trilogy on American involvement in the war, and it is very well written. Ghosh, Amitav In an Antique Land This is a very interesting book about a student anthropologist who visits Egypt (the ancient land in the title) and comes across an account of traders and a particular slave/partner of the traders from India, the author’s homeland. These passages were found in the Cairo Geniza, a storage room in an ancient synagogue that contained discarded sacred texts along with almost anything else written by the community. He deals with human relationships in the villages where he lives, and the peasants’ incomprehension of anything that lay many kilometers outside of their village. It is a book that invites one to imagine other worlds and times, and is very, very well written. Cod by Mark Kurlansky This author has taken to writing books on a particular topic such as cod, or salt, or paper. He studies the history of the use of the item. In this book, he includes a number of historic recipes for the use of cod. He also speaks of how it was tied to the slave trade (for dried cod was a cheap source of protein for the slave plantations on the sugar islands. Finally, he deals with the overfishing and the collapse of the cod population in many parts of the world. He is an excellent author, and this is worth reading Black Fire, the True Story of the Original Tom Sawyer by Robert Graysmith This is the story of the original Tom Sawyer whom Mark Twain met in San Francisco and used as a model (at least in terms of his name) for his famous work. The book deals with the problem of lawlessness in the early days of San Francisco, especially with the case of arson set by outlaws to cause panic and give them an opportunity to loot the gold being held in various safes throughout the city. The author also recounts the origin of the vigilante movement in the city. The style of writing is folksy, and while I enjoyed it, might not be appreciated by everyone. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Nemi, Italy

August 4, 2018 Peace and Good, We have been in Nemi, not all that far from Castel Gondolfo, just outside of Italy, holding our General Chapter. We had to work out some growing pains during the first few days, but it is now going smoothly. Each morning I give a reflection at Mass in Italian and English. It is just a short thought to get the friars thinking, and so far it has gone very well. We meet six days a week, from morning to evening. It is a lot of work, but we just finished our 100th vote, with another 560 to come. I have finished some reading: Americanos by Charles River Editors This short book deals with many of the famous figures who fought for independence in Latin America from Spain and Portugal. The author shows how like our own revolution, it was not an easy struggle. Much, in fact, depended on the invasion of Napoleon into Spain and Portugal which was the spark that ignited the call for freedom. Like our own founding fathers, most of the figures in this story are a bit flawed. One sees this especially in the tendency to massacre the immigrants from Spain by those who were born in the new world and especially by those who had mixed ancestries. Away Off Shore by Nathaniel Philbrick This is a history of the rise and fall of Nantucket. It started out as a refuge from some people fleeing the authority of the Congregationalists in Boston. Eventually it made its riches first in fishing and then in hunting for and processing whales. For some time, many of the inhabitants embraced Quakerism (but of a very capitalist bent). This book also deals with the relationship between the inhabitants and the native Americans on the island, which started out quite good but ended in tragedy. New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton This is a book on the concept and process of contemplation. Much of the work deals with what it is not rather than with what it is, which is necessary given that there are so many mistaken ideas on what it means to be a contemplative. He speaks of passing outside of one’s own little world into the fathomless reality of God which cannot be described or measured. This really is a fine book, something I could easily recommend to someone in spiritual direction of a certain maturity. I say this because I am glad I did not read it when I was younger for I am not sure that I would really have understood most of what he was saying. America Scoundrel by Thomas Keneally This is the story of John Sickles, a famous Civil War General. He started out as a pawn of the Tammany Hall group in New York. He was a congressman in the line of President Buchanan, ready to extend to southerners whatever they desired in terms of slavery in order to preserve the union. When the south broke away, however, he became a fervent unionist. His greatest battle was Gettysburg where he moved his troops in a very controversial manner, leaving them open to attack by General Longstreet of the rebels. He lost a leg in the war, and afterward served as an envoy of the government. Along with his eventful political and military life, there is a very controversial personal life. He was a constant philanderer, but had the nerve to kill his own wife’s lover. He reconciled with his wife, but then ignored her for years on end. He truly was a scoundrel. Maimonides by David Yellin and Israel Abrahams This is a famous philosopher and scholar from the Middle Ages who codified much of the Jewish legislation at the time. He also produced the vastly important philosophic work, A Guide for the Perplexed Mind. He helped guide his community through many difficulties, all the times serving as the physician for the Muslim leader of Egypt. Stonehenge by Jesse Harasta and Charles River Editors This is an overview of the site of Stonehenge in England and the various theories of its meaning and construction. It also deals with its use/misuse in the modern era, both in terms of archaeological discoveries and in terms of New Age religions, especially the revival of the Druid cult. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Friday, July 27, 2018

Rome - Nemi

July 27, 2018 Peace and Good, I returned from Nairobi just in time to get ready to head out to Nemi for our General Chapter. Nemi is not all that far from Castel Gondolfo, the residence where previous popes would spend their summer. It is in the hills outside of Rome (hills which are extinct vulcanoes). It is a bit cooler than Rome, usually around 8 degrees, which makes it very welcoming. In fact, many ancient figures had summer houses in this area. The chapter will last for five weeks. We are revising our constitutions which requires a lot of discussion and over 700 votes. I have been asked to preach each day in Italian and English. It is only a short homily each morning - an outline of the topics in the readings and an application to what we are doing in those days. At the end of the day, a taped version is placed on our Order's web site along with an outline of the homily in the four official languages of the Order (English, Italian, Spanish and Polish). It is just a spiritual shot in the arm before we face a day of discussion and debate. I have finished some reading: A Spy Among Friends by Ben Macintyre This is an account of Kim Philby, one of the famous Oxford five, students at Oxford who became spies for the KGB and rose in status in the British Secret Services (especially MI6). Macintyre has written a number of true spy stories, and he is a good author. This version of the story deals especially with the friends whom Philby cultivated and how they defended him over the years in the numerous times that he was accused of being a double agent. It shows how the English upper class took care of their own, even at the cost of betraying the nation. The Fall of Dynasties by Edmond Taylor This book deals with World War I and the fall of four dynasties: that of Germany, that of Austro-Hungary, that of Russia, and that of the Ottoman Empire. It speaks of the inner rot in most of these dynasties, and the almost inevitable forces that led to their downfall. It also follows the story a bit after their downfall to speak of what happened to the newly independent fragments of the empires. It is quite good. The Edge of the World by Michael Pye This book is an epic history of civilization and especially trade in the North Sea for the earliest historic times to the beginning of the modern era. I had purchased it because I was especially interested in the history of the Hansiatic League, a loose federation of trading cities in Belgium, Netherlands, Northern Germany and Northern Poland and even Sweden and the Baltic States. It covered this topic well, but also many others such as the effects of the Black Death, the role of women in this society (surprisingly advanced), Learning in the Universities, the movement of the Beguines (a lay women movement of spirituality and mutual support), the Vikings, etc. The Death of Caesar by Barry Straus This is an account of the assassination plot and death of Caesar with the immediate effects upon the Roman Republic. Barry Straus paints a good picture of what was happening. His style reminded me of the writings of Anthony Everitt who is a very good author on this era. I would recommend this book. The Great Dissent by Thomas Healy This book deals with the friendships and influences upon Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, a jurist at the beginning of the 20th century, whose opinion in a Freedom of Speech case was a minority opinion but which came to shape the way that the Supreme Court interprets the right of the freedom of speech. He invented or at least used the criterion that speech had to present a clear and present danger before it could be curtailed. He further argued that opposing speech, even that which one clearly disdains, can be helpful to develop a fuller sense of the truth. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Friday, July 20, 2018

Rome - Nairobi - Rome

July 20, 2018 Peace and Good, This past week was taken up with a quick trip to Kenya. The custody there was having an extraordinary chapter, and fr. Thaddeus, the Assistant General for Africa, and fr. Casimir, the custos, asked me to come down and help them with the spiritual dimension of their decision making. They were meeting to decide whether to ask to become a province or not. I had been the General Visitator for the past two chapters, so I knew the situation well. There were two other presenters. The first presented the question from the point of view of canon law, and the second from the point of view of the economy. I was surprised at how cool the weather was while we were there. It was in the 60's and low 70's every day. This is their cooler season, and even though Kenya is on the equator, Nairobi is on a plateau which is over a mile high which makes the weather much more temperate. I left Kenya early Thursday morning, and was not there for the final vote. I have heard in the meantime that they voted with a 2/3's vote to ask the General Chapter next year to become a province, which I think is a very good decision. They will be one of two new provinces in the Order, the other being Indonesia. I have finished some reading: Catherine the Great by Hourly History This is one of those short overviews of the life and career of an historic figure. These accounts are under 100 pages, and they only present the general outline of the story, but they give enough information to be able to shape an educated opinion on the topic. In this case, we see the contradictory opinions and actions of a woman who esteemed the enlightenment and yet ruled like an autocrat. Maya to Aztec: Ancient Mesoamerica Revealed by Edwin Barnhart This is a teaching company course that deals with the civilizations of Meso-America including the Aztec, Maya, Tolmec and Olmec. It speaks of their cultures, religions, recreations, food, etc. It deals with the mysterious disappearance of whole populations from certain cities which were abandoned (plague, famine, the end of an era on their calendars??). The professor who presents the course is good, but the length of the course sometimes means that he gives more information than that which would really interest me in a particular archaeological dig. A Death in Vienna by Daniel Silva Like most of Silva’s books, this is about Gabriel Allon, a Mossad agent. He is trying to find out who assassinated some women at a claims office for persecuted Jews. He finds that the prime suspect is a hidden former Nazi officer who was responsible for covering up what the Nazi’s had done to the Jews during the war. The most dangerous aspect of the story is that officer is the father of the main candidate for being prime minister of Austria. The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story by Douglas Preston I have read a number of novels by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. This is a true story of an expedition to a jungle covered city in Honduras which is called the while city or the lost city of the monkey god. Douglas Preston accompanied the expedition as a reporter for National Geographic. It was an incredibly dangerous trip, and in fact, most of those on the trip came down with a dangerous tropical parasite. They had discovered the city by running a new type of radar over the jungle and they found shapes which were obviously a manmade city. The book is quite good. Lincoln’s Spymaster by Samantha Seiple This is the story of Alan Pinkerton. He was one of America’s first detectives. He served the Union during the Civil War, especially in protecting the newly elected president from an assassination plot while he was on his way to Washington. The account is positive, and avoids speaking of some of the more sordid episodes when the Pinkerton’s were used against organized labor. It is a good, although not very profound book. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude