Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Ellicott City, Maryland

April 14, 2021 Peace and Good, I hope you are all well. My period of isolation has been completed, and I am able to interact with the local community here in Ellicott City. This time through I am staying in the old Novitiate building at the top of the hill and not in the Provincialate. I had my first vaccination. I was given Pfizer, and I have my second shot on the 28th. I only had a bit of a sore arm for a couple of days. No other reactions. I have been using my time here for some classes on zoom. I have met with a local group twice and I have one more session next Monday. I will be meeting with the novices in California through zoom next week. I am also taping a series of talks with the Companions for broadcast upon their website over the next few months. I finished editing a book. Over the course of the various quarantines that I have gone through in this year, I have written two books and edited another two. I have also had a series of meeting on zoom with friars from all over. I find that an hour and a half on zoom is about as much as I can take without a break. There is something in the zoom meetings that really takes a lot of energy. I finished some reading: Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch I have listened to this book a number of years ago, and had enjoyed it tremendously. Reading it this time was even more fun. The story is of a special unit (only two policemen) in the London police force that deals with magic and other unusual phenomena in the city of London. The older, Nightingale, is hinted to be incredibly old, even if he does not look it. The younger, Peter Grant, is learning the trade. There are murders by mysterious characters, shape shifters, time travel, etc. Yet, in spite of all the unusual happenings, there is a verisimilitude in the story. I highly recommend it as an enjoyable read. The Triumph of Christianity by Bart Ehrman I have always been fascinated on how a handful of apostles and disciples managed to spread the faith to the point that most of the Roman Empire was Christian by the end of the fifth century. How did it happen? What difficulties did Christians face? Did Christianity answer a particular need in the pagan population? Were there pagan groups similar to Christianity in those days? How many Christians were there in the various eras? How quickly did the Church grow? All of these topics are treated in an objective and respectful manner. The History of the Medieval World by Susan Wise Bauer This is a masterful account of the Medieval World from the days of Constantine the Emperor to the days of the crusades. The author is not terribly Eurocentric, for she speaks of Korea, China, India, the Muslim caliphate, etc. There is so, so much information, but it is presented in an interesting manner. I would highly recommend this book. Harun al-Rashid by Charles River Editors This is the story of an Islamic leader of the Abbasid Empire who was both the greatest of its leaders but also the one who set it on the course to ruin. He is often mentioned in the Tales of One Thousand and One Nights, and is a symbol in literature both of a powerful leader but one who tended toward decadence. A Personal Problem by H. Bedford-Jones A man who is a loyal district manager must host his boss, who framed him for a theft many years before and who stole the woman he was to marry. He gets his revenge by having him sleep in a bed which is surrounded by huge cockroaches and centipedes and hunting spiders, things that the boss hates for he has a pathological fear of insects. Robert Harris by Audible Interviews This is an interview with one of my favorite authors. He has written the Cicero trilogy, a book on Dreyfus, the Ghost Author roughly about Tony Blair, and Munich, an account of the four days that led to the compromise that destroyed Czechoslovakia. In the Ruins of Empire: the Japanese Surrender and the Battle for Postwar Asia by Ronald Spector This is a very well done book that speaks about the role of Britain, France, Netherlands and the US in countries formerly occupied by Japan. Many of the countries involved did not want to return to their former colonial status, such as Korea, Indonesia and Vietnam. Then there is the role the US and Russia played in China right after the war. We see many of the tensions in these countries and the stated and implicit intentions of the parties involved. Keep safe. fr. Jude

Monday, April 5, 2021

Rome - Ellicott City, MD

April 5, 2021 Peace and Good, I hope you have all enjoyed a good Easter Sunday. I arrived in Ellicott City from Rome on Thursday. I hated travelling on Holy Thursday, but I am here to receive my vaccine and have a few doctor's appointments, and one has to quarantine before that is possible. I do have an appointment for the first shot of the vaccine now on April 7th, and I will be able to arrange the rest of the appointments shortly. In the meantime, I am in quarantine in Clare House, which is a guest room in the basement of the main house in Ellicott City. I will be editing a book this week as well as having a few zoom sessions with groups on Sacred Scripture. Then, when I am out of quarantine and before my second shot, I will be doing some filming for the Shrine internet site. The weather when I arrived was cold, but yesterday was wonderful. I usually take a 40 minute walk each day, but these days I am trying to do two of these walks because most of the rest of the day is spent in one room. I finished some reading: The Wheel of Darkness by Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston I have already read a slew of books by these two authors. They center on an independent FBI agent from New Orleans who works from his new home in New York City. This one involves his trip with his ward, Constance Green, to Tibet for study and meditation. There they discover that a precious relic has been stolen from the monastery. This leads to a trip across the ocean on a new liner which is cursed by the demon behind the relic, and Pendergast’s, the agent, battle against its power. Watchers by Dean Koontz I like Koontz’s writing style, and this is an excellent example of his style. There is a government experiment to make smart dogs and wild, ferocious beasts, both of whom could be used by the army during war. Two of the animals escape. The smart dog finds its way to a lonely, cursed man and an incredible paranoid woman who are healed by their encounter. The action is well done, as is the character development. Soldiers of Science: An Interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci by Alan Alda This is an interview with the now well-known Dr. Anthony Fauci. He speaks of his early training in medical research and why he chose this particular field. He interned at the NIH, and there he worked with cancer patients undergoing chemo-therapy. Later, he was on the forefront of research concerning AIDS. How to Behave Badly in Elizabethan England by Ruth Goodman This is an interesting and entertaining overview of habits and manners in Elizabethan England. Some of the messages are similar to what we would present today, but other passages and practices are totally different. Goodman is not afraid to tell the whole story, even when it is a bit gross. Moscow Sting by Alex Dryden This is a complicated story of a KGB colonel who has information about a very high level spy who is leaking material to the west. We see the venality of some of the spy networks even those of the west). The action is very well done. The KGB colonel is trying to pave her own way through a very confusing situation, all the while protecting her son from danger. The Life and Times of Prince Albert by Patrick Allitt This is a teaching company course about the life and career of Prince Albert, the consort of Queen Victoria. Always considered to be a foreigner, and therefore not always liked or trusted, he nevertheless helped to teach Victoria how to act like a queen. He also had great influence on the modernization of the army and the political system. He died rather early, and Victoria mourned him (excessively) for the rest of her life. Malcolm and Me by Ishmael Reed This is a short memoir of the author Ishmael Reed and how he came to understand his particular calling through Malcolm X. He met him while he was working at a radio station in Buffalo, NY. I liked this short story because it was a point of view that was totally foreign to me, and I felt as if I saw a new perspective. Have a good Easter week. Shalom fr. Jude

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Rome

March 30, 2021 Peace and Good, I hope your Holy Week is going well. Just this morning the city of Rome cancelled the red zone for a while (until Holy Saturday). When you went out in the street, you had to have a written form where you were going and what you were doing. The weather is getting better. Spring has arrived, but it is still quite cool. I will be leaving for the States this Thursday and spend time in Ellicott City until I am able to get my vaccine and do a couple of visits to the doctors and dentist. I am flying out Lufthansa. I have already gotten three reminders to have my covid test before I get to the airport. Germany has closed down entry to anyone who has not gotten it. We are meeting in our definitory meeting. We will finish sometime tomorrow afternoon. I have finished some reading: Ice by Ed McBain This is one of the Ed McBain detective novels about a police headquarters and the detectives who work there. There is a series of murders committed with the same gun, and there seem to be connections with a cocaine ring. The story is very well done. Red Rain by Dean Koontz This is one of the novellas in the Nameless series. Nameless is a man who works for an unknown operation that tries to determine the truth of murders which are true evil. In this case, he finds an arsonist and his accomplices and sets them against each other. The story is well done. The Mercy of Snakes by Dean Koontz This is the fifth of the Nameless series. He is an avenger for those whose connections to people in power are protected and who do evil things against others. This issue deals with a doctor who owns a five star elderly facility. He hires a detective to discover those who have a relative who wouldn’t mind if the resident were to die early. He and his nurse/lover then kill that person and he get a share of the inheritance. Typical of the series, Nameless is able to engineer a falling out between the co-conspirators. Photographing the Dead by Dean Koontz This is an episode in a series called the Nameless series of an operative who seeks revenge upon notoriously evil characters. In this case, it is a rich young man who likes to kill anonymously simply for the joy of the kill. Koontz is a very, very good author. The History of Spain by Joyce Salisbury This is a Teaching Company course on Spain from ancient times to the present. The professor is good, but I found that she felt that the ancients, the Muslims and Jewish people were fine, while her treatment of Christianity is not all that good. Nevertheless, it is a good account, including many of the cultural elements of Spanish culture. Classics of American Literature by Arnold Weinstein This is a very, very long series from the Teaching Company by a literary critic from the time of the early republic up to the present. Some of the insights of the professor were quite interesting, others were very, very odd, almost as if they were the personal pet peeves of the author. There were 84 episodes in the series. Have a good Triduum. Shalom fr. Jude

Monday, March 22, 2021

Rome

March 22, 2021 Peace and Good, I am still in Rome (for a little more than another week). The weather is slowly warming up. Spring hasn't quite arrived yet, but it is around the corner. Rome is considered to be in a red zone for covid. Most people are not allowed on the street. This will probably last at least until Easter. I finished my quarantine, and now I and the definitory are in retreat. We have a Sister from Padua preaching to us through zoom. She is very good, and she is speaking about Francis' intuitions from the two rules of 1221 and 1223 as well as the writings of St. Anthony. We finish the retreat on Wednesday, and then Friday we begin our definitory. I finished some reading: The Preying Mantis Bride by Dean Koontz This is a long (84 sessions) study of American Literature from its earliest moments to the present (the last book treated is Beloved by Toni Morrison). At times the professor is very insightful, at other times he is selling his own unusual theories on certain works. Rather than say that the whole series of lectures is good, I would have to say that it is spotty at best. Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky These are the musings of a most misanthropic man, dealing with some of his many reasons for hating both himself and the rest of humanity. It is not an especially enjoyable book, but it is good to see the world through this character’s point of view. A Spy by Nature By Charles Cumming This the story of a young British man whose career is going nowhere fast. He is interviewed by the secret services, but not hired. He then begins to work for a British oil company with interests in the Caspian Sea, handing on secrets of a group of Americans who are sponsored by the CIA, in a type of sting operation. Jeffery Deaver by Audible Interviews Deaver is one of my favorite mystery authors, especially with the Lincoln Rhyme series, and this interview was actually quite informative on the development of this particular character. I enjoyed Deaver’s insights, especially in proposing a hero who is basically helpless (being a quadriplegic) and who must depend upon the agility of his assistants. In the Heart of the Fire by Dean Koontz This is the first of a six part series of novellas on a character named Nameless who travels around to right horrible wrongs which the legal system cannot handle. In this first book, he must stop a sheriff whose family basically owns the country and who is practicing murderous pedophilia. In spite of the fact that the book is relatively short, Koontz is an expert at character development, and by the end of the book one is a fan of this series. The Fall of Richard Nixon by Tom Brokow This is a relatively short account of Tom Brokow’s career during the fall of Richard Nixon. I originally thought it would center more on Nixon, but it definitely is not that. It deals much, much more with Brokow (which is not bad, but not quite what I thought it would be). Keep safe, fr. Jude

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Rome

March 14, 2021 Peace and Good, I have been in quarantine this week in my room. As far as I can remember, this is the 12th this year. The friars here are incredible in being available to supply me with anything I need. Four days this week I participated in a zoom meeting of the members of the federation to which our US provinces belong. Here the meeting lasted from 8 to 12 PM. The meeting went very well with us finding good understandings on most matters. Today I exited my room. I will be here until this coming Saturday morning when the definitory leaves for our annual retreat (in the vicinity of Rome). Then, after the retreat, we will be holding a definitory meeting. Italy is still fairly well locked down. Restaurants must close at 6 PM, and there is a night curfew. I finished some reading: Robin Ince by Audible Interviews This is an interview of a comedian who has also studied mental illness among comedians and artists. He has found a correlation between those with a way of seeing outside of the box and those who suffer from various difficulties. Furthermore, he speaks of responses to bad thoughts that run through one’s mind (how everyone has them) and to death (that each person mourns in his/her own way). America’s War for the Greater Middle East by Andrew Bacevich This is an overview of American policy in the Mid-East (including Afghanistan) over the past decades. The author is very critical of the American attitude of running in and thinking that one can solve all their problems, and then abandoning the effort when it proves to be more difficult than they thought. He also deals extensively with military strategy. He is ruthless in his honesty, which make this read so good. I also like the fact that he tries not to be partisan (Republican or Democrat), but basically says a pox on them all. Christ’s Descent into Hell by Lyra Pitstock This is a very technical book on the meaning of the phrase that Jesus descended into Hell after his death on the cross. The author is contrasting Von Balthassar’s position which interprets this descent symbolically with the teachings of Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict. The book has some interesting points, but certainly reads like a doctoral thesis. A Rare Book of Cunning Device by Ben Aaronovitch This is a short story based on the character of Peter Brown, a young London detective who works on the magic squad. There is a problem with a series of unusual incidents in the British Library, and Peter must solve this incident by discovering a book that is much more than a book. Aaronovitch has created a likeable character and is pitch perfect in dialog and plot development. The Cumans: the History of the Medieval Turkic Nomads by Charles River Editors This is a short account of a tribe of nomads from Asia who eventually settled in much of southern Russia and the Balkans, including Hungary and Bulgaria. They eventually melded into local cultures and the Mongol invaders. The History of Spain: a Land on the Crossroads by Joyce Salisbury This is one of the Teaching Company Courses on the history of Spain from prehistoric times to the present era. The professor is well read and prepared. I enjoy some of her insights, but I often get the impression that everything Muslim and Secular is seen as positive, while everything Catholic is viewed with great suspicion. The Kugelmass Episode by Woody Allen This is a strange little story which take place in Russia. It concerns a smuggling ring which the orator accidentally uncovers. He meets a blind boy who is able to travel around the town without difficulty, a beautiful young woman who is always singing, etc. Keep safe. fr. Jude

Monday, March 8, 2021

Saltpond, Ghana - Rome

March 8, 2021 Peace and Good, I finished my retreat in Saltpond. There were 16 friars on the retreat. We had to keep Covid restrictions, which included wearing masks (which in 95 degree heat was a challenge). The weather was hot, hot, hot. At the end of the month is the beginning of the rainy season so it should cool off a bit soon. The trip was filled with covid restrictions. Going and coming, I had to have five separate covid tests. There were tons of documents to fill out at every step along the way, some of which was never collected. Our trip to the airport was filled with a bit of tension. It is only about two and a half hours to get to the airport from Saltpond, but traffic was incredibly bad. It ended up taking about six hours. Then, at the airport, there was some question if they would let me travel. Fortunately, I had a letter inviting me to Rome by the Secretary General which did the trick. Getting into Rome was actually quite easy. I had filled out the right form and found the right table, and was through within a minute. I am in quarantine for a week or so. Then we will be going on retreat, and the week after we will have a definitory. After that, I head back to the States for the vaccine. I finished some reading: The History of Rome in 12 Buildings by Phillip Barlag This is a tour of some of the most important sites in Rome. It speaks about the history of the buildings and the Roman republic and empire. It is quite colloquial, but also for that reason enjoyable. Pirate Women by Laura Sook Duncombe This is an audible book that I listened to about women who were pirates throughout the ages, from ancient times to the present day. The descriptions depend upon written testimony, which is often not available (both because pirates did not often receive a lot of coverage, and because women were not always taken into consideration). I had some difficulty with the story because the author tries to present pirates as heroes, even when they robbed and murdered. This is the worst of a feminist approach to the topic. The Half-Life of Marie Curie by Lauren Gunderson This is a short play of the relationship between Marie Curie and a British suffragette named Hertha Ayrton. Much of it deals with the way that Curie was treated when she was discovered to be committing adultery with a married man after the death of her husband Pierre. There is also a subplot dealing with the radium that she carries, and its effect on her health. (She would eventually die from the effects of the radium she had discovered.) Experiencing America: a Smithsonian Tour through American History by Richard Kurin This is a 24 session course on the history of the US, using objects preserved in the Smithsonian as starting points on each lesson. The presenter works at the Smithsonian, and he is quite good in the way that he handles the topic. It is not exactly an in depth presentation, but it was enjoyable. John C Fremont by Charles River Editors This is the story of the great explorer of passages through the Rocky Mountain. He also served as a general in the Civil War (Missouri and West Virginia) and he was not all that successful. He ran for president in the Republican Party in 1854. He also served as governor in various territories. For all of this, his wife Jesse was a much better politician than he. The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day This is an autobiographical presentation of some aspects of the life and work of Dorothy Day. It is very much centered on her ministry to the poor. As one reads it, one is impressed with her fervor, but one gets the feeling that one is only seeing the surface of who she was. Keep safe. fr. Jude

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Accra, Ghana - Saltpond, Ghana

February 27, 2021 Peace and Good, I arrived here in Ghana at the beginning of the week. The early days were in Accra, the capital of the country. We have a house of studies there with 26 students froom 4 different countries. Wednesday I was driven to Saltpond, a couple of hours down the coast from Accra. Here we have a retreat house and a novitiate. In Accra and here in Saltpond I have given some talks to the men in formation. They have quite a few vocations here. Presently, Ghana is a custody of the Northern Italian Province, and eventually it will become a province (possibly as early as 2025). Monday evening I will begin preaching to a group of 26 friars from the custody. The topic is based on a document passed at the General Chapter called the six year plan, a guideline for conversion over the years between chapters. The main topic will be living in fraternity, a topic that fits in well with the encyclical Fratelli Tutti. The weather is hot, very hot. It is a real challenge to wear a mask in this heat, but Ghana is going through a second wave right now so it is the right choice. I have finished some reading: 1066 The Year of Five Kings by Ray Moore This is an account of the year in which Harold became king of England, when he defeated the Norwegian king who invaded the land to take the throne, and then had to fight William the Bastard (whom we now call William the Conqueror. It is based on the Saxon accounts of those years, but it is historical fiction. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley I read this book many, many years ago. It is now being offered for free by audible, so I decided to listen to it once again. I had forgotten how gothic the book was. It almost ignores the scientific aspects of the story. It is all about the responsibility of the creator, and the loneliness of being the only one of a type. Both the creature and Frankenstein feel betrayed by what has happened. The language is typical of the era in which the book was written, but the underlying premise makes one think. Museum Masterpieces: the Louvre by Richard Brittell I have watched another 24 session course on the Metropolitan Museum in New York. This is a 12 session course on the Louvre in Paris. It is a good presentation, but does not rise to the level of the other course. The Pagan World: Ancient Religions before Christianity by Hans-Friedrich Mueller This is a 24 lesson series on pagan religions before the triumph of Christianity. The presenter is very good, and the material is very useful. This is a course from the Teaching Company. I highly recommend this course for anyone who is interested in the topic. The Poison King: the Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome’s Deadliest Enemy by Adrienne Mayor This is an excellent account of Mithradates, the king of Pontus (in northern Turkey). It deals with the many battles he fought with the forces of Rome. It also deals with Mithradates’ fascination with poison. He was an incredible figure whose entire life was passed in one battle or another. The author presents an excellent portrait of the times and the man. This is a book I can highly recommend. Heather Morris by Audible Interviews This is an interview with the author of the Tattooist of Auschwitz. She speaks about her new volume, Cilka’s Journey. Her first book has now been published in over 50 countries. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling Audible has made a series of books available for free during this quarantine. I had listened to this book a long, long time ago. It was a joy listening to it again. JK Rowling is able to present a full picture of this imaginary world. I have reserved a number of her other books on hold at the local library so that I can go through the whole series. Keep safe fr. Jude