Friday, April 14, 2017

Rome - Ellicott City

April 14, 2017 Peace and Good, We finished our definitory meeting a day early in Rome, on Friday instead of Saturday. This was very good given that the past couple of meetings have been packed with things that took forever to resolve. Sunday I flew into Baltimore and have been in Ellicott City this week. I am here for medical check ups and a couple of small procedures. This happens when you reach a certain age. I tell people that you can tell the age of a tree by counting its rings, you can tell the age of a person by counting the medical referrals that the person receives at the annual check up. Doing all the travel I do, I was shocked by the incident on the United flight. I just don't see how the companies cannot guarantee that one can fly when one has made a reservation and paid for a ticket. That would be comparable to showing up at a hotel and being told that the reservation would not be honored. Something has to be done with all of this. Furthermore, I have experienced myself the indifference of United agents to the needs of their customers. I will fly up to Buffalo on Sunday to visit family for a couple of days, and then back to Baltimore to finish up the check ups. I finished some books: War, Peace and Power: Diplomatic History of Europe, 1500-2000 by Vejas Liulevicius This is a Teaching Company course on the various initiatives on diplomacy on the European continent from the time of the Tudors and Medicis up to the present days. The professor is well verse and eloquent. With a course this long, one really only touches the various eras quickly, but this serves as a good overview course on this topic. Father’s Day by Michael Connelly This is a Harry Bosch story about the death of a small child in an overheated car. Was it an accident or was the child left in the car on purpose. It is complicated by the fact that both parents are driven real estate salespersons, and by the fact that the child suffered from some mental defect. Harry is able to sort out the truth from the lies, especially relying on natural tells in the way a person says something (body language that gives away whether a person is lying or not). 1775: A Good Year for Revolution by Kevin Phillips This is a truly exhaustive study of the year 1775 and, as the author explains over and over again, how it was more important to the revolution than 1776. He gives a mountain of details on religious movements, agriculture, trade, politics, slavery and indentured servants, etc. It is a monumental study which leaves one with a wealth of information, possibly more than one ever wanted. Nevertheless, it does not really bog down in the details. I would recommend this book for anyone interested in this period. Crush Point by John Seabrook This is a scientific study on the science of crowd control. The author speaks of various disasters in religious processions (Mecca, India, etc.), at rock concerts and even in the Black Friday sales at Walmart. He speaks of various actions that can be taken by the authorities to minimize the danger to those in the crowd. The Brain on Trial by David Eagleman This is a scientific analysis of how brain chemistry and structure can affect the conduct of people. It asks the question of whether it is right to put people in prison for something that was beyond their control. It gives some very good examples. The author is not against letting the people who have offended run loose on the streets. He favors treatment (medicine, compulse control exercises) so that the person then becomes responsible for his/her actions. Winning by Alafair Burke This is the story of a woman detective who had been impersonating a prostitute to lure men so that they might be arrested for soliciting. She is kidnapped by one who rapes her. She overpowers him and has him arrested, but he is set free on bail. Her husband is crushed by what has happened and murders the man. The rest of the story is how the detective places the blame on herself, knowing that the courts would sympathize with her and let her off lightly. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Monday, April 3, 2017

Rome

April 4, 2017 Peace and Good, This past week I have been in Rome getting ready for our definitory meeting which began yesterday. The agenda for this week's meeting does not seem all that long, so we might even finish early. I will be heading back to the States this coming Sunday for some medical tests (nothing beg - just the usual tests and a small medical procedure which should not be all that important, but for which the doctor wants me in one place for 10 days to make sure there are no infections). For some reason, the jet lag from my last trip was just about the worst I have ever suffered. It might be the changing of the seasons, or my spring allergies, or just the fact that I am getting older. Whatever, I hope that this is not a sign of what is to come. The weather here in Rome is pleasant these days. We did have a thunder storm this past Sunday morning, which was unfortunate because it was the morning of the annual marathon. I have finished some reading: What a Wonderful World by Paul Guyot This is the story of a detective who goes off the deep end trying to investigate the murder of a hot dog vendor. She had caught his imagination by her zany antics and her unconquerable optimism. It is not that he was having an affair with her, but he certainly was smitten by her. When she is found murdered, he does everything in his power to find her killer, eventually even committing a crime to get even with the one responsible. Eye of the needle by Ken Follett One of the greatest tricks that the allies played on the Germans during World War II was to set up a fake army under the command of Patton right before the Normandy invasion. The placement of this virtual army was right across the channel from Brittany, which was one of the most likely landing sites for the invasion. This book proposes that there might have been one Nazi spy who had evaded the British Secret Service (which had captured most of the German spies and turned them into double agents) who visited the site of Patton’s army and found out the secret. Most of the book is the search for that agent by a small group of anti-espionage agents and his attempt to flee to a submarine to present evidence to the ever skeptical Hitler of his findings. Follett is not my favorite author, but this book is very, very well done. Pakistan on the Brink by Ahmed Rashid This is the third in a series of books on Afghanistan and Pakistan. The author speaks of how American policy has fallen short when dealing with Pakistan, especially during the Obama era (although he also traces many of the problems in the area to the presidency of Bush). He speaks of the role of the secret service in society, often all but running the state in secret. He speaks of the various insurgent groups and how Pakistan is all but falling apart as a nation. The book is a good primer on the situation there, even if reading or listening to it is terribly frustrating because it almost seems as if there is no way out of the mess. Great and Terrible King by Marc Morris This is the story of King Edward I of England who ruled at the end of the 13h century. You might remember him from the film Braveheart for he was Edward Longshanks (known this was because he was so tall). He was the first English monarch who conquered all of Scotland and Wales. He was good in certain ways (a legal system) but horrible in others (his conquests, his dishonesty, etc.). He lived a very long life for those times (68 years old). He was followed by a miserable son who lost much of what his father had conquered. The account is very well done and I would recommend it. The Korean Mind by Boye Lafayette Mente I read this book because I was doing the visitation of the Korean province. It has helped me understand how Koreans as a people think and why. As always, it is quite generic in the way it approaches this topic, but I was surprised how it explained certain things to me which puzzled me. One example is how courteous Koreans tend to be, unless they don’t know you. If you hail a cab on the street, it is not uncommon for a Korean to steal the cab, possibly even pushing you out of the way. They have long lived in close contact with others, so they developed a system in which your loyalties were owed to the family and not the outsider. The book was good, but also exhaustive. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Monday, March 27, 2017

Reno, NV - Hermosa Beach, CA - Ellicott City, MD - Rome, Italy

March 28, 2017 Peace and Good, I have been on the go for quite some time now, finishing off my visitation to the California province and then having a long meeting in Ellicott City with the heads of the various jurisdictions in our federation (Australia, Canada, US, Great Britain and Ireland). The visitation in California went quite well. I was able to give a couple of talks in the parish in Hermosa Beach and celebrated a couple of Masses on the weekend. I always feel very much at home when I visit that parish. Our meeting of the federation also went well, but by the end of the week I could feel that the batteries were drained. I am trying to take it slow for these first couple of days back in Rome to recharge things a bit. When I am out on visitation, I don't really feel that tired until towards the end for the effect seems to be cumulative. There were a lot of extremes in weather throughout the trip as well, and that tends to have an effect. I am in Rome for a week to catch up on some of my paperwork, and then we have a week of definitory. I will be heading back to the States on Palm Sunday and will be in the US for three weeks (two in Ellicott City and one in Chicago). On the trip over here from Baltimore, my seating was messed up on one flight and I missed the other flight due to delays in the arrival of the first flight to London. I was very impressed at the way that British Air resolved the problems. They tend to be very efficient. I finished some books: End of War: Europe, 1945 by Charles Whiting This account deals with the last months of the war, especially from the point of view of the war in northern Germany. We hear about Montgomery’s attack against the Germans in a push to the Baltic so that the English could block the Russians from the route to Denmark. We then hear of the end of the Nazi regime and of their surrender to the allied forces. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo This is a tragic account of families living in a slum outside of the Mumbai airport and how they struggle to survive. You hear about the constant bribery for everything that people want or need. This is especially true because the very people who want the bribes the most are those who should be protecting them (police, members of the justice system, etc.). One is left with a feeling of the pointlessness of the struggle, and yet many people hold on and not only survive but even find a way to thrive. The Wicked Wit of Winston Churchill by Dominique Enright This is a collection of the witticisms of Churchill. He was brilliant and used language both for the good and for other purposes. He was able to disarm his opponents with clever expressions. He was not always kind but almost always funny. Venice: Pure City by Peter Ackroyd This is an impressive account of the history and culture and politics of the city of Venice. It is presented as the ultimate city built upon water. The author over and over again shows how this fact influenced the life and thought of those who were found there. This was theoretically a republic, but was actually much more of an aristocracy. The needs of the city were considered to be much more important than the rights of the individual. This was a center of great beauty, but also a closed, very mercantile society. The account is quite poetic and is quite elegant in its description. The World of Byzantium by Kenneth Harl This is one of the Teaching Company’s courses. This one covers the history of the Roman Empire in the East from the time of Constantine the emperor until the fall of Constantinople which became Istanbul. It covers both the history and the culture and politics of this empire. Some of it is extraordinarily magnificent, while other episodes are sadly decadent and sordid. The course is well done and well worth the effort. St. Paul: The Traveler and the Roman Citizen by William Ramsay This is a dated study of St. Paul from the Acts of Apostles. Ramsay did his work in the 19th century, so he was not familiar with much of the archaeological information that has been discovered since his time. He is filled with details, however, which, even if I did not necessarily agree with all of his conclusions, nevertheless offered good raw material for a better understanding of Paul and Luke who wrote Acts. Overall, I would recommend this book as long as one knew from the start that it is dated. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

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