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

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Rome - Assisi - Collevalenza

May 28, 2019 Peace and Good, We have begun our General Chapter. The first ten days were in Assisi, and now we will be in Collevalenza (a shrine about 70 km from Assisi) until May 27th. The new Minister General, fr. Carlos Trovarelli, a friar from Argentina, asked me to continue on as the Assistant General for the English speaking countries and I said that I would. This is another six year term, but we can evaluate things periodically given that I am now 65 years old. I am preaching each day at the chapter. I give a very short (usually around 3 minutes) homily first in Italian, and then in English. The friars appreciate that it is to the point, and yet it gives them one or two things about which they can reflect over the day. I will continue to do this until the end of the chapter. We have a good number of new members on the definitory - seven out of ten. fr. Carlos, fr Benedict (from Korea) and I are the only ones to remain. The weather has been miserable. It has been very, very rainy throughout these days. This is the most miserable May that I ever remember in Italy. I finished some reading: March 1917: On the Brink of War and Revolution by William Englund This is a very good coverage of the drift into war of the US during the First World War and the Russian Revolution and how it was perceived in the US and European states. The author gives a good, inviting story and this should be listed among those good treatments of a limited period of time (often a particular year or decade, in this case a single month). Claudius: the Life and Legacy of the Emperor who Stabilized the Ancient Roman Empire after Caligula by Charles River Editors Claudius was the successor of Caligula and the predecessor of Nero. He was considered to be a bit of a dolt by the imperial family, but when he became emperor he enacted a number of good, lasting reforms. The later stage of his reign, unfortunately, was not as successful, a bit marked by a growing paranoia and vicious reaction toward the Senate and other nobles. He is believed to have been murdered by his wife and the mother of Nero. The Blue Nile by Alan Moorehead This is the first of a two set series on the Nile River that I have read. This one deals with the branch of the Nile that comes from Ethiopia and joins the White Nile around Khartoum in Sudan. The author is really dealing with British involvement in this part of the Nile during most of the 19th century, the period of exploration and imperial invasion. The account is very British, at times highly prejudiced, but nevertheless well worth reading if only for entertainment value. The Big Oyster by Mark Kurlansky Mark Kurlansky has written a series of monographs on singular topics such as the cod fish and salt and paper. This volume deals with the exploitation and destruction of the incredibly fertile oyster beds just off the coast of New York City. During Dutch days, British days and the early days of the republic, New York was famous throughout the world for the quality and quantity of its oysters. But a combination of overfishing and pollution destroyed these rich beds. In the course of the story, Kurlansky gives a number of recipes as well as an overview of the social and political history of New York from the time of the Dutch until the end of the 19th century. Alger Hiss and the Battle for History by Susan Jacoby Alger Hiss was the low level employee of the State Department who was accused of being a communist by Joseph McCarthy in his hearings and was eventually convicted of perjury for his statement concerning his relationship with Whittaker Chambers, a repented communist who also testified before the House committee on Un-American Activities. The author never doubts Hiss’ guilt both on having been a communist spy and having committed perjury, but she also attacks the techniques of the right in their attacks, positing that much of their wrath was really directed at old New-Dealers. She is especially vicious in her treatment of Richard Nixon who at that time was a congressman on the committee. Alfred Lord Tennyson: the Life and Legacy of Great Britain’s Most Famous Poet Laureate by Charles River Editors This is a short treatment of the life and poetry of Alfred Lord Tennyson. I had often heard the name, but knew little about him, so I read this volume. It gave me enough information, and I have to admit that I would probably never want to read anything about him again (not out of dislike, but more because of the feeling that it just was not worth it.) Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Rome - Bacau, Romania - Rome

May 15, 2019 Peace and Good, I am back in Rome after heading over to Romania for a long weekend. The Missionary Sisters of Assisi were celebrating their 100th anniversary of their presence in Romania and I went over as a representative of the Minister General to participate. I used to give many retreats and conferences to the sisters in the early years of their rebirth after communism. During communism they were not allowed to live openly as sisters, but many continued to keep contact with their fellow sisters and even invite young women to join them in the underground network they had set up. The weather in Romania has not yet warmed up significantly. Every spring they have a low pressure front that stalls over the country til toward the end of May. Then suddenly, it passes from a rainy and overcast time to summertime in one day. I will be going up to Assisi this Saturday for our General Chapter. That day officially marks the end of my term. We will have to see whether I continue on in Rome or head somewhere else. I am ready for whatever happens. I finished some books: Letters from Berlin: A Story of War, Survival and the Redeeming Power of Love and Friendship by Margarete Dos and Kerstin Lieff This is a very interesting volume that tells part of the life story of a young woman who grew up in Berlin just before and during the war years (World War II). Her foster father was a functionary in the Navy Department. She tells of the destruction of her city and country, of her imprisonment in a Soviet work camp after the war, and of her eventual liberation and her attempt to start a new life. It is so rare to hear the story told from the other side, and I especially appreciated this book to give me a greater perspective on what German civilians must have gone through during the war and in its aftermath. St. Paul: the Apostle We Love to Hate by Karen Armstrong Karen Armstrong is a current theologian, and this treatment of St. Paul is a brief but good overview of his life and theology. She has one or two theories that I think are totally unproven (e.g. such as the idea that Apollos was the leader of the revels in Corinth, something that has no documentary evidence), but for the most part her volume is balanced. She especially tries to show that Paul was not a misogynist, but that rather many of the statements that can be interpreted in that light were either interpolations (a theory of which I am always wary because that allows one to take out anything with which one is uncomfortable) or the product of the later Church (such as in Ephesians or Colossians, something with which I am in agreement). Edible History of Humanity by Tom Standage This is an overview of the growth and consumption of food throughout the centuries. It gives good technical knowledge as well as folk information. It weighs the pluses and minuses of various strategies (e.g. only eating thing grown nearby, the green revolution, etc.). It is similar to Mark Kurlansky’s books on Cod, Salt and Paper in which the author takes one topic and views it from a number of different angles. I would recommend this book. Conclave by Robert Harris I have read a number of Harris’ books, and this is one of his best. It deals with the death of an unnamed Pope (but clearly based on Pope Francis) and the election of his successor. The story is told from the point of view of the Dean of Cardinals who is running the conclave. The facts seems to be essentially accurate. Much of the drama is the subtle fighting and campaigning among the various lobbies: the traditionalists, the Italians, the Africans, the ambitious, etc. The ending is a bit strange, but overall it is well written with a good insight to some of the spiritual matters. The Titanic: the History and Legacy of the World’s Most Famous Ship from 1907 to Today by Charles River Editors This is an extensive treatment of the construction, sailing, and sinking of the Titanic as well as some of the aftermath (the survivors, the ships that assisted and those that did not, the hearings in the US and Great Britain which examined the cause of the disaster and established some remedies for future voyages. It even brings in the search for the wreck of the ship in the last century. The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain and the Birth of the American Empire by Stephen Kinzer This is an overview of the rise of the movement in the US to expand our horizons to foreign colonies favored by Theodore Roosevelt and others, and fought by some such as Mark Twain. This is especially seen in the annexation of the Hawaiian Islands after a coup which overthrew the legitimate government, and after the conquest of Cuba and the Philippines. It deals with the horrible war fought in the latter in which the independence fighters were crushed with cruel and clearly illegal means. The author presents some ideas and incidents which could clearly be applied to our modern situation. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Monday, May 6, 2019

Montreal - Rome

May 6, 2019 Peace and Good, My visit to Montreal concluded last Wednesday, and I flew back to Rome. These days have been the usual slow recovery from jet lag. It seems it takes longer and longer to get over it. The weather here is actually quite cool. I think a cold front must have passed through yesterday. It was the windiest that I ever remember it here. This week I will be home until Friday when I head out to Romania for the weekend. The Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Assisi are celebrating their 100th anniversary there, and I know quite a few of them. Whenever I went over to Romania to teach in our seminary, I would give workshops to the sisters on the weekends. I hope to get ahead in some writing projects and taping for the daily reflections these days since our General Chapter will start on May 18th. Please keep us all in your prayers. I will be preaching again each day at the chapter so I have to work on those homilies as well. I finished some reading: Van Gogh: A Power Seething by Julian Bell This is a rather short biography of the painting genius. It is one that leaves one troubled, as the painter himself was. While we cannot identify the exact cause of his mental difficulties, it is painful to read of his struggle to find himself, and of his gradual loss of himself due to his difficulties. Bethlehem: The History and Legacy of the Birthplace of Jesus by Charles River Editors This is one of those short books on an individual topic produced by Charles River Editors. This, however, was one of the first that I have read that should have been edited much better. There are factual errors in a number of places that left me disturbed. Furthermore, the material presented has an uneven feeling, too much information about non-significant things and too little about relatively important topics. Hamilton: the Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda This book was not about the man Hamilton. It is the story of the rap presentation of Hamilton on Broadway. It comes across almost as a personal memoir, and it gives a good account of the creation of the play and its phenomenal success. It deals with the major actors and writers. It speaks of the importance of this play for African Americans and other minorities. A History of Some of London’s Most Famous Landmarks by Charles River Editors This is a quick overview of some of the most famous sites in London, including the Westminster Abbey, the London Tower Bridge, the London Tower, the Buckingham Palace, etc. The book gives a bit too much detail and it can become tedious at times. Mademoiselle Boleyn by Robin Maxwell This is a fictional account of Anne Boleyn while she served at the court of the French queen. She was only a young girl when she travelled there with her sister who eventually became the mistress of the French King Francis. The story tells of how the two sisters were used unmercifully by their calculating father who only considered them to be economic possibilities. Anne slowly grows in knowledge of the ways of the world and of court love, lessons that would be used in her courting of King Henry VIII. Beyond the Ice Limit by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child This is a follow up volume to an earlier story called the Ice Limit. A group of experts travel to a site off the coast of Chile in the hopes of destroying a meteor at the bottom of the sea which turned out to be the seed of an extraterrestrial creature that had spawned and endangered the earth. Preston and Child have a remarkable partnership in authoring these books. Some are detective novels (Agent Prendergast), others are more science fiction. They all are well worth reading. I think you can see above how ecclectic my reading habits are. I have to confess that a lot of what I read nowadays is either listening to books checked out for free from the public library or reading those books which are free or discounted by Kindle. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude