Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Rome

August 13, 2019 Peace and Good, We have begun our regular definitory meetings here in Rome. We met yesterday, and will meet again today and tomorrow. Then a number of the definitors have to be off on the road again. I will be staying here in Rome until the end of the month. Then, a long series of trips will begin. It has been hot, hot, hot here in Rome. August has to be the worst month of the year to visit Rome, but the city is packed with tourists. I went to lunch with a couple of friars on Saturday, by foot, and I thought I would get heat stroke. For the first time in my life, I bought a Panama hat. I usually don't wear any type of hat. The government is chaotic, and it seems as if it is ready to fall. The push is from Salviati, a minister from the right who is against immigration. I can really understand a bit of it for the country is much more populated than our own, and there are many, many migrants coming in from all over. But the speeches of the right sound a bit too fascist for my taste. I have finished some reading: All the Shah’s Men by Stephen Kinzer This is the story of how the British and American governments conspired to overthrow the legitimately elected Prime Minister of Iran during the 1950’s. He was accused of being a friend of the Communists. His real crime was that he was a nationalist who took over the oil production in the country previously owned by the British. It is true that some of the reaction was due to a panic lest the Soviet Union get a foothold in this terribly important petroleum rich country. The book leaves one feeling ashamed for what we sometimes did to other peoples for our own purposes. The People from Here: the History and Legacy of the Washoe by Charles River Editors This is a short history of the Washaw people in the Northwestern part of the country. Unlike most other tribes, they were never that organized. Part of this was their choice, and it was partly due to the depredations of other tribes which had adopted horse warfare (for the Washaw never really used the horse). They were a simple, peace-loving people. The latter part of the book deals with their difficulties in being recognized as an authentic tribe by our government. Liar Temptress Soldier Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott This is an amalgam of stories about certain women who worked as spies during the Civil War, two Confederates and two Union. The two Confederates acted as spies against the union forces, crossing the no man land between the two armies to present their information to the Confederate army. One of the union spies was a woman who dressed like a man to serve in the army. The other was a spy in Richmond who obtained information through a slave she sent to work in the house of Jefferson Davies, and she also shielded union soldiers who has escaped from prison. Niels Bohr: the Life and Legacy of the Influential Atomic Scientist by Charles River Editors This is a short biography of the famous nuclear scientist from Denmark who was part of the team that developed the idea of the atom that we now use and who worked for the production of the atom bomb. He later fought the use of the bomb. The story is not spectacular, but it is interesting. Bloodwork by Michael Connelly This is a detective story of an FBI agent who retired for health reasons. He needs a heart transplant which he received. The sister of the heart donor asks him to investigate the murder of her sister. As he does this, he discovers a series of murders of people having the same blood type, which happens to be his as well. This brings on the accusation that he himself had killed the sister to obtain her heart. The story has a number of interesting twists and turns. Pacific by Simon Winchester This is almost an anthology of unconnected stories and issues concerning areas in and around the Pacific Ocean. Winchester is a very good author, and he presents an abundance of information. The topics treated include the situation in North Korea, the loss of the coral reefs, the situation in Australia, a Hawaiian attempt to reproduce a voyage made in a traditional method of the Polynesians, etc. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Friday, August 2, 2019

Ellicott City, MD - Rome

August 3, 2019 Peace and Good, I have returned from my vacation in the States. The trip was as good as can be expected, although the departure from Baltimore was almost two hours late. (Thanksfully, I had a long layover in London, so I did not miss my connection. I have learned that the layover in London is better for summer travel which often gets delayed.) The weather here is hot and surprisingly there was quite a bit of rain yesterday. It is rare to have rain in August here since we have the classical Mediterranean climate. The next few days are dedicated to recovery after my usual jet lag. Then on the 12th we begin a definitory. August in Rome is usually quite slow since many of the locals clear out of town because of the heat. They either go to the sea or the mountains. A number of restaurants even close up for the month. In the early afternoon, there is the saying that the only people walking around are mad dogs and Englishmen. I finished some reading: The City by Dean Koontz This is a very interesting, very entertaining book about a young African-American boy who has an incredible talent playing piano. He has a sainted mother, and a listless father who abandons the family. This is the late 60’s, and there is a plot by some people living in the same apartment block to rob and commit terrorist acts. There is also an interesting figure in the story, the city, who is represented as a woman who intervenes occasionally in the story. I highly recommend this book. It has much the same spirit as the Odd Thomas series written by this same author. Ancient Rome: the Rise and Fall by Simon Baker It seems as if British scholars do an incredible job on ancient Roman history, from Gibbons on. This book is no exception. It is well done, contains enormous amounts of information, and is entertaining. I would recommend it to anyone interested in this topic. The Song of Songs: Interpreted by Early Christians and Medieval Commentaries by Richard Norris This is a collection of commentaries on the Song of Songs. This poem which celebrated matrimonial love (possibly as a marriage song) which came to be interpreted in spiritual terms. The interpretation of early Christians and medieval commentators are very imaginative in the school of Origen, the North African exegete. They are not the easiest read, but they are worth seeing at least once in one’s life. Medieval Europe: Crisis and Renewal by Teofilo Ruiz This is a series of lectures from the Teaching Company on the period of history in Europe from around 1300 to 1500, dealing especially with the changes in government and society throughout this time. This is not the first series of lectures by Ruiz that I have followed. He has some good information, but he often produces a revisionist history which is based on the latest politically correct ideas. The one thing which I do not appreciate is the fact that he tends to be highly anti-clerical whenever he gets a chance. The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles and the Rise of America’s Secret Government by David Talbot This is a history of the involvement of Dulles in the CIA and American intelligence efforts (and efforts at overthrowing governments along the way. The portrait presented is not all that complementary. Dulles is seen as a tool of the military industrial complex who would stop at nothing to further the needs of his rich friends. In the early days, that involved moments of what seemed to be collaboration with the Nazi’s magnates, and then protection of war criminals. Later, it would involve the overthrow of the president of Guatemala and the prime minister of Iran during the 50’s. The author makes a good argument that Dulles was somehow involved with the assassination of JFK and his brother. It is worth reading, even if the conspiracy theory presented is sometimes a bit difficult to accept (or accepted, a bit shocking). Anubis: the History and Legacy of the Ancient Egyptian God of the Afterlife by Markus Carabas and Charles River Editors This is a highly technical account of Anubis, one of the Egyptian gods of the dead. The author shows how his legend grew, and also how it was borrowed by other societies in the ancient world. The account quotes ancient sources extensively, which makes the narrative difficult to follow. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Ellicott City - Castro Valley, CA - Arroyo Grande, CA - Ellicott City

July 23, 2019 Peace and Good, This past week I travelled out to California to be present for the investiture of our new novices. The novitiate in the first official year of being a friar, and we had five young men begin their year of prayer and discernment. At the same time, we had three make their first profession of vows in Ellicott City yesterday, which was also the celebration of the jubilee of profesison of vows and ordination of a good number of our friars. That celebration was well done with beautiful music by the choir of one of our local high schools. I will continue to be in Ellicott City for a week before heading back to Rome. This week I am also doing some short videos for the Companions web site on Bible study. I finished some reading: The Astors: the History and Legacy of One of the World’s Wealthiest Families by Charles River Editors The Astors were one of the richest families in New York society. They made their initial fortune on fur trading and property speculation. The various generations did not always do well either financially but also in terms of the quality of their lives. The Anzac: the History and Legacy of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps during the 20th Century by Charles River Editors This is the story of how Australia and New Zealand passed from colonial possessions which has to be garrisoned by British troops, to the point where they were autonomous dominions with their own armed forces. They especially came into combat in Gallipoli in Turkey during the First World War, and then in various Pacific invasions during the Second World War. Jay Gould: the Life and Legacy of the Railroad Executive who became America’s Most Notorious Robber Baron by Charles River Editors This is the life story of a 19th century investor who built up and bought up a number of important railroads while he made himself rich. The account is actually a bit respectful for his accomplishment, although he did mistreat many of his workers. He was involved in a plot to corner the gold market which ended in a financial crisis during the presidency of President Grant. God’s Secretaries: the Making of the King James Bible by Adam Nicolson This is a very good account of the production of the King James Bible. It was done to give the king (who resented the power of the Calvinist reformers in England) the ability to control the translation of a new version of a Bible. This was done in contrast to the Bishop’s Bible (which was not well done) and the Geneva Bible (whose translations were often done as propaganda against the monarchy). The author goes through the various personalities (which range from holy to scoundrels). He explains how this royal Bible was adopted by the Pilgrims (which is the exact opposite of what one would have expected since they were Calvinists and one would have expected them to favor the Geneva Bible). This book was informative and helpful. World War I: the Great War by Prof. Velas Liliutevicius This is a 24 lecture course on World War I, including what led up to the war, why it happened, how it was fought, how it got out of hand (especially the new technologies for killing), and the ultimate consequences of the war. This is not the first time that I have listened to courses prepared by this professor, and I have been impressed by all of his work. A Little Revenge: Benjamin Franklin and His Son by William Randall This is the story of the relationship between Benjamin Franklin and his illegitimate son who became the royal governor of New Jersey. They became estranged because the elder Franklin supported the patriots cause while the son supported the royal cause. There had been a strange relationship between the two even before this due to Benjamin’s tendency to treat his son with less respect than one would have expected. The story is quite good, although it leaves one a bit uncomfortable. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Monday, July 15, 2019

Ellicott City, MD - Ocean City, MD - Ellicott City, MD

July 15, 2019 Peace and Good, I am on vacation these weeks. The first week back in the States I spent some time at Ellicott City at our provincialate. This past week I have been staying at the friars' condo in Ocean City. I feel myself relaxing quite a bit which is good because this past year was a bit too busy. Today I will be flying out to California for the investiture of our new novice class (this is the beginning of the novitiate year and the reception of the habit). I will be flying back to Ellicott City on Saturday morning. I have finished some reading: The Macedonian Dynasty by Albert Vogt This is the story of a dynasty that rules the Byzantine empire for a couple of centuries. Reading the story makes one realize why the word Byzantine came to be applied to messy situations, for that was exactly what this dynasty experienced. There are tons of names and situations that are not all that interesting, but the general story does give one a sense of how a royal family can come to ruin. Trusting God with St. Therese by Connie Rossini This is a book based on the spirituality of St. Therese of Lisieux which speaks about learning to trust in God’s providence. The author is quite traditional in her approach, but her spirituality his quite advanced. I was impressed on her realization that she could not rely upon external platitudes, but rather had to learn to surrender to God’s will in her life and that of her family. I would (and already have) recommend this book to others (even if at times the vocabulary makes me cringe a bit). The Kingdom of Yugoslavia by Charles River Editors This is a short account of the Serbian kingdom which became the base state for the establishment of Yugoslavia between the two world wars. The minorities were often mistreated, and that led to estrangement during the war (with horrible war atrocities) and the need for a figure like Tito after the war to hold the nation together (which lasted only until his death). The Quartet by Joseph J. Ellis This is the story of how four American patriots led the process for the production and approval of the Constitution. They were George Washington, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. The Articles of Confederation were not working. The government had no way to pay its bills, there was no central authority to mediate between different factions and there was no way to establish a federal army or navy. The convention which produced the constitution was not quite legal, for the delegates had been told to revise the articles and not write a new document, but they had to do it or condemn the new nation to impotence. The last part of the book speaks about the Bill of Rights. The book is very well done, and I would highly recommend it. The Great Voyages by Prof. Velas Liliutevicius This is a Great Courses series of 24 lectures on various voyages of exploration from ancient times to the modern attempt to explore the depths of the oceans and the limitless heights of the skies. The professor who did this course is very informative and has a good narrative style. He speaks of how an initial voyage often led to others which dared even larger risks. St. Peter: the Life and Legacy of Jesus Christ’s Most Important Disciple by Gustavo Lozano and Charles River Editors This is a very good and quick presentation of the life and ministry of St. Peter. Unlike most treatments such as this, the treatment of scripture is really quite good. The author is very respective of the Church and its spirituality. I enjoyed this treatment. Munich by Robert Harris This is a fictional account of the negotiations between Chamberlain and Hitler to “solve” the Czechoslovakia “problem” in 1938 which became a synonym for appeasement. The story revolves around two men, an Englishmen and a German, who work in their respective foreign offices and who were friends in university days. I have read a number of Harris’ books and all of them are well developed and written. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Rome - Ellicott City, MD

July 6, 2019 Peace and Good, I arrived home in Ellicott City this past Monday and I will be in the States until the end of the month (taking one side trip to California for the opening of the year for the new novices). I came from a very, very hot Rome (with the temperature reaching 100 this past week - which is more like August than June) to a hot and humid Baltimore. The week before coming to the States was a good catch up week for me. I have finished all my articles for the Messenger Magazine in Padua til the end of the year. This past week I wrote six new articles for our magazine in Kenya (I have been writing for them for the past few years). I also caught up on daily reflections, so this month I can take it easy. I have finished some reading: The Rise of Humans: Great Scientific Debates by Prof. John Hawks This is a great courses series on the development of hominids upon the earth up to very recent times. Some of the lectures and quite technical and speculative so this is not necessarily a course for everyone. I remember coming in from a walk and telling someone I had just been listening to a lecture on DNA evidence in the mitochondria of Neanderthals. Yet, I learned a lot from this course. John Muir: the Life and Legacy of America’s Most Famous Conservationist by Charles River Editors This is a biography by the Scottish environmentalists who was responsible for much of the conservationist movement in the West of the US, especially leading to the development of Yoshimite National Park. He began his career as a handyman but also wrote beautifully poetic accounts of his observations. The books gained him fame, but also led to the development of a movement to esteem the beauty and at times fragility of nature. The Thugee by Charles River Editors We have the expression, “a thug,” implying a brutal person who does not follow any rules. The thugees were actually a band of highly secretive assassins in India who dedicated their lives to the worship of Kali, an ambiguous goddess who is seen as both creative and destructive. They would ambush their victims and rob and kill them, giving part of the booty to the goddess and keeping a large part of it. The power was only broken by the British army after years of investigation. The Most Famous Battles of the Ancient World: Marathon, Thermopylae, Salamis; Cannae and the Teutenbourg Forest by Charles River Editors This is one of the books by Charles River Editors which is a collection of their other offerings. In this case, it deals with the five battles spoken of in the title. All five of the offerings in this collection were well written. They all speak about the general situation before the battle, of the various combatants, of the battle itself and of the consequences. Day of Infamy by Walter Lord This is an account of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Walter Lord has written a number of this type of books. In this one he tries to examine exactly what happened, giving a large number of eye-witness accounts. It is a bit dated considering what has been discovered in archives in the past few years, but it is still a good read. Wicked Plants: the Weed that killed Lincoln’s Mother and other Botanical Atrocities by Amy Stewart I read the companion volume wicked bugs a while ago. These accounts are very informative with good examples. Sort of makes you want to stay indoor all the time, without any house plants around. It, in a strange way, is entertaining. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Friday, June 21, 2019

Rome

June 22, 2019 Peace and Good, I have been in Rome since the end of the General Chapter which was held in Collevalenza, a shrine about 70 km from Assisi. I had preached all throughout the chapter, so by the end of it I was all talked out. This week has been good to catch up with some projects, but also just to rest a bit. I am working on daily reflections to get as far ahead as possible in these slower weeks. Once summer comes, there is usually a lot of travel here and there and they can be more difficult to do. The weather went from a very cool, very long Spring to Summer almost overnight. The heat is as bad as it usually is in mid-August (with the exception that the evenings are still quite pleasant). Most of the chapter friars have gone home in these days. The new definitors must pack up and travel to Rome in these days. We will have our first big definitory meeting in mid-August. On Monday, the General Chapter had a private audience with the Holy Father. This is the first time that I had met him. It was a very nice event. I have finished some reading: The White Nile by Alan Moorehead This is the companion volume to the Blue Nile which I read a bit back. It is really the history of British exploration and conquest on the Nile River from Egypt down to Uganda. It presents the history well, but for a euro-centric, or I should say anglo-centric point of view. It covers the history of the various explorers and their strengths and their weaknesses (even their strangeness) well. The Great Wall of Gorgan: the History of the Ancient Near East’s Longest Defensive Wall by Charles River Editors This is the story of the building of a protection wall around the Caspian Sea to protect Iran from the barbaric invaders from the north. The author gives a lot of information on the Sassanid dynasty which ruled this country in the early Christian era until the arrival of the Arabs. It gives a lot of information about a topic which is a bit obscure. China, India and the United States: the Future of Economic Supremacy by Peter Rodriguez This Is a relatively short course from the Great Courses Company. It speaks of the incredible growth of India and China. India has grown largely because many of the pre-existing conditions which controlled the growth of the economy by blocking outside influence have been loosened. The economy can grow if the government addresses the urgent question of the infrastructure. China has grown because its leaders have largely abandoned their communist principles. It now has the second largest economy in the world. The US, by contrast, has grown slowly in the past decades. Yet, it is still the largest economy of the world. The professor who presented this course says that the US must accept the fact that their economy will not be the only powerful economy, but this does not mean that it will lose its status as important. Carcassonne: the History and Legacy of the Castles, Campaigns and Crimes in France’s Fabled Walled City by Charles River Editors This is the history of the city that was at the center of the Albigensian heresy during the Middle Ages. This was a dualistic religion which ran into controversy with the Roman Catholic Church. Part of the story not greatly emphasized in this account is the political dimension of the fight (for the king in Paris was trying to steal power from the local nobility). The author is quite prejudiced against the Catholic Church. While it is true that the institution of the Church was often brutal, it was not the only one. It would have been better if the author gave evidence and let the judgment stand where it would. Kraken by China Mieville This is a very, very strange book which takes place in the modern era. A kraken, a giant squid, is stolen from a museum. This leads to an investigation in which it is discovered that the theft is part of a greater plot to bring the end of the world. There are very,, very strange cults and criminals. This book reminded me a bit of the rivers in London series in which a police officer practices magic, but it is a much, much more excited dialog. Overall I liked it, but not everyone would. Great Zimbabwe: the History and Legacy of the Medieval Kingdom of Zimbabwe’s Capital by Charles River Editors This is the story of a great edifice constructed in central southern Africa many centuries ago. There seems to have been a rather large empire in this region. When whites first found these ruins, they naturally assumed that they had to have been created by some other culture (for to admit that locals built them would make them admit that Africans could do great things). This was especially true under the racist government right after independence. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Assisi - Collevalenza

June 9, 2019 Peace and Good, I have been at the General Chapter for three weeks now. We started out in Assisi where we elected our Minister General and the General Definitory. I have been asked to stay on for another term, so it will be another six years on the road. On the 28th we moved to a shrine around 70 km from Assisi called Collevalenza. It is a shrine to Divine Mercy, and there is a massive pilgrimage center here (with over 200 rooms). The shrine receives quite a few pilgrims, along with our 120 chapter delegates. The weather this Spring has been cool and rainy. It is only now warming up (considerably). We will be here until the end of this week. The chapter will have lasted a month. We have our most important business already accomplished, and we just have some odds and ends to take care of this week. I have been preaching each morning at Mass in Italian and English. Since we are meeting all day long, the friars prefer a short and to the point homily - 3 minutes or so. I have the ability to do that, so it has been working well. I have finished some reading: Grover Cleveland by Henry Graff This is a relatively short biography of the life and career of Grover Cleveland, the only president in the history of the country to serve two non-consecutive sessions as president. He is presented as a good, honest, but not overly imaginative man. He sided with business over the worker. He helped guide the US through some difficult years, but was certainly a man of his times. After his presidency he opposed the push for empire under McKinley and Roosevelt. Not exactly a great president, but not a bad man either (especially after the incredible corruption during the presidency of Grant.) Native Peoples of North America by Daniel Cobb This is a teaching company course on Native Americans from a Native American perspective. It is an unusual version of revisionist history. Much of the information is very good, but some of it is so stilted that it is almost ludicrous. For example, the professor speaks of how the Anglo’s are guilty of rights violations against the Apache and Comanche because they hindered their raiding of other tribes. Another example is how he blames the Office of Indian Affairs (which has a sordid history) for the looting of their main office in Washington during a demonstration. As If In An Enemy’s Country: The British Occupation of Boston and the Origins of the Revolution by Richard Archer This is the account of Britain’s first occupation of Boston in the early days of the colonies’ rejection of British rule. The occupation was intended to bring the Bostonians into line after their fight against taxes imposed on various products, but it had the exact opposite effect. The presence of a large number of troops in a city with too much free time on their hands brought a continuous growth in resentment, leading to the point that the colonials began to question whether they had become something else than British, leading to the American Revolution. Hail Holy Queen by Scott Hahn Scott Hahn is a convert from a Presbyterian background where there is very little devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. This volume is a type of apology for his previous attitude and gives a good scriptural and patristic defense of our devotion to Mary. There are a couple of places where he uses sources in a bit of an uncritical manner, but overall it is very well done. I found it informative and enjoyable. The Cardinal of the Kremlin by Tom Clancy I had read this book a long, long time ago, but I did not remember how good it was. It deals with the era at the end of Communism as well as the machinations to develop an arms accord agreement. The first part is very, very good, while the later part gets a bit preachy. It was well worth reading. Shay’s Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion: The History and Legacy of America’s First Domestic Insurrections by Charles River Editors This is a short account of Shay’s Rebellion in Western Massachusetts that occurred during the days of the Articles of Confederation and was one of the events that led the countries leaders to realize that they needed a more developed centralized federal government and the Whiskey Rebellion fought in Western Pennsylvania which was fought over the establishment of excise duties on the production and sale of whiskey (given the location of these settlers over the mountains, whiskey was the only practicable way to bring the excess of their grain harvest to sale in the cities). Both of them did not amount to much, but both showed that the spirit of rebellion that fueled the War of Independence had not yet died out. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude