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

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Rome - Cochin, India - Rome

January 15, 2017 Peace and Good, This past week I was in India for an extraordinary chapter of that province. I was with two other friars from Rom: fr. Benedict Baek, the Assistant General for Asia and fr. Wojciech Kulig, the exactor general (financial office for the Order). We were dealing mostly with economic issues and how to help the province become more autonomous financially. They are only ten years old as a province so they are still going through a lot of growing pains, but things are on the right path. This was my first time in India. The weather was not all that bad, mostly in the 70's. The facilities were quite nice. The food was great. It is quite spicy, but I don't mind that at all. The friars were very good and the meeting went quite well. I assisted by giving a spiritual talk at the beginning and preaching each day at Mass. The trip was quite long, about three hours from India to the Gulf States and another six hours from there to Rome. I arrived home on Friday just in time for a meeting of the definitory. It was only two hours, but we had to get together to take care of some business. Yesterday and most of today were spent trying to get over jet lag which has hit me quite a bit this time (especially given that I had a change of ten and a half hours going from the US to India and then four and a half hours change coming back to Rome. I think my body is not quite sure if I am coming or going. Today we head over to the Seraphicum, our International Faculty, to begin a week long meeting for the new provincials, custodes and secretaries of the jurisdictions of the Order. There is only one person present from my federation, so it should not be too heavy of a week for me. It ends on Friday and on Saturday I head back to Great Britain to finish off my visitation there. I have to see Manchester, Liverpool, Aberdeen and then back to London. I have finished some reading: Alif the Unseen by C. Willow Wilson Alif is a teenage computer hacker in one of the Gulf States in Arabia. He is half Arab, half Indian. She hosts radical sites and protects them from the attacks of a shadowy figure named “the hand.” He comes across an old book of tales that was supposedly written by a jinn (what we call a genie). He uses it to produce a computer code that is based not an analog system of two choices, but rather has many nuances and twists and turns. He uses this in his battle with the hand, but ends up tortured in prison before the end of the story. This book reads a little like a story from Aladdin, but much modernized and set in the political world of the modern mid-east. It is a bit slow at the beginning, but it draws you in little by little. The Wipeout Gene by Bijal Trivedi How can one fight the mosquito that spreads a terrible disease like Dengue Fever which is found in many tropical countries throughout the world. It’s nickname is bone-breaking fever for how one who is infected feels. A second episode can lead to a much more serious version which can lead to death. This story tells of an experiment to genetically alter mosquitoes so that treated males mate with untreated females, and the females that she produces are incapable of developing wing strength to fly. They sit on the water and die, and eventually this leads to a plummeting of the population of that particular variety of mosquito in that region. It also speaks of ethical and political questions of releasing a genetically altered insect into the environment. 24 Hours by Greg Iles A team of kidnappers takes the child of a doctor once a year in an almost fool proof plan. They take the daughter of a famous doctor and both the wife and husband fight back. They are dealing with a man who not only plans to kidnap the daughter but also kill her, for the gang leader blames the doctor for the death of his mother during an operation (when it was not). The story is quite good, filled with action. Target Tokyo: The Story of the Sorge Spy Ring by Gordon Prange This was a topic that I always wanted to read about. A soviet spy set up a spy ring in Tokyo just before the outbreak of World War II. He was able to obtain invaluable information for the soviets in his unofficial job in the German Embassy. He warned Stalin about the coming German invasion, and also informed him that Japan did not plan to attack the Soviets, thereby freeing up the Siberian troops that turned the Germans back at the gates to Moscow in the first year of their invasion. He was eventually caught and executed with his greatest collaborator, a Japanese man who had good access to the leaders of Japan. Innocent III: Leader of Europe, 1198-1216 by Jane Sayers Innocent III was the pope who approved St. Francis’ way of life as a Friar Minor, so I wanted to read this biography. Much of it deals with his dealing with the Holy Roman Empire and its claimants to its throne. He is also knows for his work in codifying canon law. He proposed crusades against the Muslims in Jerusalem (leading to the 4th crusade in which the crusaders attacked Constantinople and not the Muslims), against the Moors in Spain, against the pagans in the Baltic area, and against the heretical Albigensians in southern France. He was a basically good man, but very active on the world scene. He continued to foster reform in the Church, especially concerning the conduct of priests and the sacrament of reconciliation. This was a good book. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Friday, January 6, 2017

Rome - Ellicott City - Hartford - Totowa - Ellicott City - Rome

January 7, 2017 Peace and Good I have been in Ellicott City, the provincialate of OLA province, for the past couple of weeks. It has been a time with a few meetings, but mostly to decompress before my next trip. Yesterday I flew back to Rome and today I fly out to India for a meeting. During my visit to the States, I visited one elderly friar near Hartford, he is 97 years old, and he asked to speak with me. It was a truly beautiful visit. I think that he is getting ready to meet our Lord, and he wanted to talk over a couple of things. I got to see some of our older friars at the home where he was staying. There are five friars there, in the Felician Sisters motherhouse in Enfield, CT. I also visited my publisher during this visit. He has asked me to do a small number of projects which are the type that can be done in small doses. That is all I can do for them at this time with all the travelling that I am doing in these days. When I flew into Rome, we flew into one of the strongest winds that I have ever landed in. The plane was shifting here and there on the way down, but when the wheels hit the runway, it was as if we had hit a pause in the winds. This time I was a bit of a courier coming back, bringing back a number of things for various friars including a book scanner for our archivist. That last item was quite heavy and I was worried that I might have difficulties in customs, but everything went well. I finished some books: The Grave Tattoo by Val McDermid A body is found in a bog in northern England. It has tattoos similar to those used by sailors who traveled to the south seas during the 18th century. Could this be the body of Fletcher Christian from the mutiny on the Bounty. Furthermore, a scholar searches for a lost document by Wordsworth, a relative of Christian, about the mutiny. A number of murders occur which are all tied in. This is a good “who done it.” Bomber War: Arthur Harris and the Allied Bomber Offensive 1939-1945 by Robin Neillands Arthur Harris is famous for his incredibly destructive bombing of the cities of Germany during World War II. Was he a war criminal, or was he simply trying to win a war the only way he knew how. He was the proponent of the theory that carpet bombing alone could win the war, something that proved very wrong. Nevertheless, the author is quite sympathetic to Harris and what he airmen did during the war. The Fleet that had to Die by Alex Hough Early in the 20th century, the Japanese empire attacked Russia over territory in China and Korea. Japan won an early victory, devastating Russia’s Pacific fleet in a surprise attack. This is the story of the fleet the czar sent from Europe to fight a second battle. It was a hopeless enterprise, something that even the fleet commanders seemed to have realized. Nevertheless, they were faithful to their commitments. SMr. Nhem’s Genocide Camera by Lauren Quinn The author travels to northern Cambodia where a man wants to develop a park dedicated to the mass murders conducted under the Khmer Rouge. The problem is that the village where he will build it was, in fact, the refuge of many of Khmer Rouge murders themselves, including the infamous Pol Pot. The developer comes up with incredibly impossible projections of how many tourists will want to travel from Angor Wat to his theme park. Faster, Higher, Squeakier by Michael Behar This is a science story about a man who has found various chemicals that can short circuit the mechanism that stops the growth of mitochondrial energy producing entities in the cells. When they are used on mice, even mice that were incredibly fat and lazy, the mice lose weight and are able to exercise more than a mouse that normally exercises. Could this be a way for people to be able to get fit without exercising themselves? Nothing to fear: FDR’s inner circle and the hundred days that created Modern America by Adam Cohen This is an overview of the team of experts who helped FDR to prepare his hundred days project in order to address the banking crisis and the unemployment of the depression. The book is well written, and it shows that FDR was an incredibly flexible mind (for both the good and bad meaning of the phrase). While he began the process trying to cut the federal budget, he ended up creating projects that were incredibly expensive but also incredibly effective. I have heard in recent years that FDR’s projects didn’t really help end the depression. That is partially true, for the depression only really ended with World War II, but at the same time the initiatives that FDR and his team dreamed up were effective and helpful. Hope you have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Friday, December 23, 2016

Rome - Geneva - Rome

December 23, 2016 Peace and Good, I have been in Rome for these past couple of weeks for our definitory meeting. The meeting in December always seems to go on forever, and this year was no exception. It seems as if things develop over the fall, and they have to be decided before the end of the year. The meeting went well, but it was very, very long. As I have written before, every time one of us takes a trip, we give a report on it - so the discussion involves all of the situations all over the world. On Wednesday I took a quick trip up to Geneva to help write several documents for Franciscans International. In theory, this could probably have done by e mail or by skype, but I always find it best to do it face to face when that is possible. I have the notes now on what has to be in the documents, and I will be working on them over the next few weeks. It should not take all that long. I will be here in Rome until Sunday. That evening I fly out to London where I will overnight. (It is a frequent flyer ticket, so you have to take the connections they give you.) I will fly into Baltimore on Monday and will be in the States until January 5th. I have finished some books: How to Hatch a Dinosaur by Thomas Hayden This is a science essay which talks about the attempt of scientists to reverse engineer the chicken to develop more of its dinosaur characteristics. Very often the DNA necessary for various traits is still present, but it is being controlled by various stopper DNA which short circuits the ability of the organism to develop in a certain way (e.g. growing teeth). The scientists plan to cancel the effect of that blocker DNA to see how much like a dinosaur they can make the offspring of chickens. Ike’s Bluff: President Eisenhower’s Secret Battle to Save the World by Thomas Evan This is basically a presentation of President Eisenhower’s years as a president. These were not easy years for Ike who much more preferred his status as a war hero. Yet, he managed to guide the US through some very difficult years, especially in regards to its atomic policies. Ike was an ardent card player, and he knew how to bluff. He would constantly talk tough (or use one of his underlings to play tough cop to his nice cop). Yet, he never revealed whether he would actually use nuclear arms. There are indications that he knew what a worldwide disaster their use would have been, but he allowed for their continued development (although he limited their growth which was being proposed by some rather paranoid members of the military and his advisors). This book also nicely covers the development of the U2 and its use and its being shot down. This is a very nice, fair portrait of President Eisenhower. Made in China by Tony Perrottet This is a travel essay on the attempt of various Chinese entrepreneurs to develop an industry of fine food and wine in China. The Chinese have managed to establish wineries and make wines that are capable of winning international honors. They are making fine cheeses (even though most of the Chinese population is lactose intolerant) and caviar. Many of their products are not yet accepted by connoisseurs, but they are slowly being embraced by both the Chinese and even outsiders. The Girl from Krakow by Alex Rosenberg This is the story of a young woman from Krakow who is Jewish. She studies law just before World War II. Even then, she suffers prejudice for being Jewish, but then when the Nazis arrive it becomes much, much worse. She is married and has a child, but things go very wrong. She also has an affair with another man and a woman. The tale is twisted and at times improbable. The gentile characters are often demonized a bit too much. I didn’t especially like this book. Brother Astronomer: Adventures of a Vatican Scientist by Br. Guy Consolmagno This is the story of an astronomer who works at the Vatican Observatory at Castel Gondolfo. He speaks of his vocation to the Jesuits and his choice to work at the Vatican. He strongly argues that the Church does not oppose science, but that faith and science each have their own territory. Nevertheless, science can lead one to faith, and God wanted us to discover this world as an act of praise to Him as creator. He speaks of his work with meteorites and especially the discovery of the source of many of them. He closes with his work on a sabbatical in Antarctica with others to find meteorites in the ice down there. The Long, Curious, Extravagant Evolution of Feathers by Carl Zimmer This essay speaks about the question of how feathers evolved. There are certain bud tissues that give rise to skin at times, and protrusions on the skin such as scales at times. Scientists ask whether they might be the source of feathers. Furthermore, Chinese archaeologists have discovered dinosaurs that seem to be covered by pin feathers, even though they do not seem to have been able to fly. Could that be a major clue as to how feathers evolved? Merry Christmas fr. Jude