Saturday, August 27, 2016

Rome - Ellicott City

August 27, 2016 Peace and Good, After I returned to Rome from the definitory's trip to the Dolomites, I minded the store while the other Assistants and the General were off on the road. Then last Sunday I flew into Baltimore for a series of medical and dental examinations. All went well, but I have a couple of small follow ups to schedule at the beginning of next year. It has been a quiet week at Ellicott City. I have been running to and from doctor's offices, but I managed to get them all in within a week. On Tuesday I have a short trip to take to Hartford (just for the day) and then on Thursday I head off to Austin, Texas for a meeting with the provincial of that part of the country and the provincial of our Mexican province. We are trying to develop some sort of partnership in that part of the country to help us in the Hispanic ministry. I have finished some books: The Happiness Metric by Madeline Drexler This is the story of a trip to Bhutan, a country in the Himalayan Mountains. They have established a national index to measure happiness. While that sounds silly at the surface, it does measure the impact on policies upon the citizens of the country and not just the amount of money to be earned by a few. In some ways, it is very successful, but in others it has proven most difficult to get an accurate read of what would make the people happier. For example, in a profoundly Buddhist country, what is the consequence of the growth of consumerism. This is a good reflection on some of these issues. Today is Better Than Tomorrow by Benjamin Busch This is a travel story of a retired army officer who travels back to the Iraqi province where he once served as a military governor after the US invasion of that country. This part of the country has continued to deteriorate and is now all but hopeless. That is the reason for the title of the story, for the inhabitants are sure that things will only get worse. The Demon in the Freezer by Richard Preston This is the same author who wrote the Hot Zone. His specialty is stories about the danger of infectious diseases. This one deals with the Anthrax scare immediately after 911 and how the same event could have involved the spread of a genetically engineered smallpox virus. We know that this was investigated in the Soviet Union and now in Russia. We don’t know, however, the exact details of how dangerous this all is. East of Desolation by Jack Higgins This is the story of a bush pilate who files in Greenland. He is asked by the authorities to aid in the investigation of a plane crash. It turns out that there is much more involved in the story than a simple plane crash. There is a question of smuggling and murder. One of the main characters is an over the hill action actor. It is a good story, although not the best that Higgins has written. America in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era by Edward O’Donnell This is a Teaching Company course dealing with the United States from between around 1880 to 1920. It was a time when Robber Barons manages to gain control of much of the industrial production of the country, but also of a movement to bring more social justice to workers and the poor. This course speaks of industrial, political and social movements during the era. It is quite well done and worth listening to. Encountering the Manuscripts by Philip Comfort This is a study of the evaluation of manuscripts of the New Testament text. There are approximately 5,000 important manuscripts, mostly in Greek although some of them are early translations in other languages. There are also quotation contained in the writings of the Fathers of the Church All of these have to be taken into account when one is trying to establish a critical edition of the original New Testament text (or at least as close as we can hope to arrive at it). The book is not for the casual reader for it is highly technical in detail. I had studied some of this when I was a student at the Biblicum many years ago, so this was a good refresher course for me. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Friday, August 19, 2016


August 19, 2016 Peace and Good, I have been in Rome since we came down from the Dolomites (the Italian southern Alps). Rome is usually unbearably hot at this time of year, but this is one of the most pleasant Augusts that anyone here can recall. There are a lot of tourists in town, but many of the Italians have abandoned the city for the months, going either to the sea or to the mountains. Yesterday I traveled up to Padua for the day for the funeral of one of our friars, fr. Enzo Poiana. He was the rector of the Basilica of the Santo (St. Anthony). He was only 57 years old and died of a heart attack while on vacation. The basilica was packed, and there were many bishops, priests, dignitaries. He was very well liked by the people, very down to earth. Before he joined the friars, he was a member of the Alpinisti, the Alpine Italian troops, and there was a very large contingent of them there as well. The day before yesterday word came out that the Pope had named a new rector to the Office for Family Life. We have been expecting major shake ups in the offices, and this seems to be the first out of the bag. We'll have to wait to see what other jobs and shuffled. Sunday I will be heading out to the States for my annual 50,000 mile check up with the doctors. There are multiple visits throughout the week. I finished some books: Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton This is a manuscript of a completed work that was found in his files upon his death. It is about a freebooter in Jamaica during the 17th century who hears about the presence of a Spanish treasure ship in a harbor of a Spanish island not too far away. He decides to capture this ship and its treasure, but he must gather a most unlikely crew of briggands, and then he and his crew must undergo incedible adventures in capturing and holding the ship. It is a fun read, not too serious but not intended to be. Bridge of Spies by Giles Whittell This is the story of the shooting down of the U2 flight flown by Gary Powers as well as the attempt to bring him back from the Soviet Union. He was traded for a KGB spy who had been arrested after making some dumb mistakes. The man, in fact, was a rather horrible spy. Furthermore, there was a graduate student who had been arrested for doing research into the economy of East Germany which was considered to be a form of spying. The author tries to give an objective account of what happened, even showing how deeply flawed many of those involved in the story were. Suez: The Forgotten Invasion by Robert Jackson In 1956, Nasser, the president of Egypt, nationalized the Suez Canal. The Brits and the French were furious, and they plotted with Israel to invade. Israel first captured the Sinai, and then the British and French invaded under the guise of serving as a peacekeeper force to separate the Israelis from the Egyptians. The United Nations (led by President Eisenhower who was furious at this move) ordered a proper cease fire and the evacuation of the invaded territories with the establishment of a neutral peace keeping force. This book is very much written from the British point of view, and although it fully recognizes the military mistakes made by the Brits, it is slow to recognize the diplomatic mistakes (all but blaming the Americans for not joining them in the game). Death Trade by Jack Higgins I always like Jack Higgins’ book. This is not his best, but it is still enjoyable. It is about a secret service in Great Britain under the direct authority of the Prime Minister. They are trying to help an Iranian scientist escape from Iran where he has been coopted to invent a new type of atomic bomb. This involves both Iran and Al Quaida. The dialog is a bit corny, but as a light read, it is quite enjoyable. The Shroud by Ian Wilson This is a historical and somewhat scientific account of the Shroud of Turin. The author has done a remarkable amount of research on the topic. He reaches certain conclusions that are not common to all scholars of the shroud, but his findings are most creditable. He, for example, identifies the shroud with the mandelion of Edessa ( a city in Asia Minor where a cloth containing the image of the face of Jesus was preserved for the first few centuries of the Church. Other scholars sometimes hold that this was a separate cloth mentioned in the Gospel of John while the shroud was kept somewhere else.) I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in this topic. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Cracow - the Dolomites - Rome

August 10, 2016 Peace and Good, After World Youth Day in Cracow, a group of us from the General Definitory drove down to the Dolomites in northern Italy. This is the lower extension of the Alps in Italy, and there is a series of valley cultures throughout the region. It was a fascinating trip, and very relaxing. We don't often get time to spend together for we are always on the road from one place to another. There are miles and miles of paths through the forest and along the mountains. We returned to Rome yesterday where it is much warmer. August is always a hot, hot time in Rome, and it appears as if this month will be no exception. I will be here until the 21st and then head out to the States for my 50,000 check up with various doctors. I have finished some reading: Run to the Mountain by Thomas Merton This is the first volume of Merton’s personal journal which has now been published. This was written in the period in which he was teaching at St. Bonaventure University in Olean, New York. He had considered joining the Franciscans, but given his past (an illegitimate child), he was discouraged from applying to that order. Instead, he decided to choose between a social ministry in New York’s Harlem and the Trappist Monastery in Gethsemane, Kentucky. This volume ends with his choice more of less made for the Trappists but Merton not being sure that they would accept him and also not sure that he would not be drafted (the the volume ends at the middle of December, 1941). I found Merton insightful, but very judgmental and categorical in what he knows about the faith. I will slowly make my way through the other volumes of his journal in these next couple of years. The Cortes Enigma by John Paul Davis This is a mystery story of a professor and his nephew who are searching for lost treasure, a ship that had gone down which carried some of the Aztec gold that Cortes had sent back to Spain. The ship went down near the southwestern islands off of England. There is a strange group of people there, all of whom would like to know where the treasure is. I have to admit that I found the story a bit jumbled and did not really enjoy it all that much. 21st Century Limited by Kevin Baker This is a travel story of traveling on the rail system in the United States. Much of the book is a lament that the government and especially the Republican Party have allowed the passenger part of our rail system to deteriorate so much, especially as compared to the high speed rail system that one finds in Japan, China and Europe. Land of the Lost by Stephen Connely Benz I very much enjoyed this travel story for I can identify with it so much. It is about a Fullbright Scholar who is teaching in the former Soviet Republic of Moldova (just across the border with Romania). Much of what he describes is exactly what I found when I first traveled to Romania, although things in Romania have gotten quite a bit better while those in Moldova have actually deteriorated. There was a grayness to everything, and nothing really worked. Yet the people were most hospitable, and they were also desperate to leave, much as those of Moldova today. An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris I have read a couple of books written by Harris on Cicero as well as one named Ghost which is about a ghost writer for a retired Prime Minister of Great Britain. I have always liked his writing style of historical fiction. This book deals with the Dreyfus Affair in France at the end of the 19th century. A captain in the French Army is convicted of espionage and treason for passing secrets to the Germans. Much of the evidence is trumped up because the high command wants to convict the man since he is a Jew. He is sent to solitary confinement on Devil’s Island off the coast of South America. This book is written from the point of view of the Coronel who discovers the plot and eventually publicizes it, at the cost of his own career. The book is very well written. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Los Angeles - Rome - Cracow

July 31, 2016 Peace and Good, About ten days ago I finished my trip to California where I witnessed the investiture (receiving the habits) and the simple profession (friars taking their first,temporary vows) of the incoming novitiate class and the outgoing class. There were seven in each group. I then flew out of Los Angeles for Rome. I was only there for about 16 hours before I flew out again to Cracow for World Youth Day. There are well over one million young people here for this celebration. The Pope arrived early in the week, and he has been staying on the other side of the piazza from where we were staying (at our friary here in Cracow). Yesterday we got to see him in a small group when he came to our Church for a short prayer service. I was asked to give a talk to one of the small groups for catechism instructions for the English speaking group on Friday. There were about one hundred who came to the talk on Maximilian Kolbe and it went quite well. I attended two days of the full group of catechesis for English speakers. It was in an arena that holds 20,000, and they estimated there were around 18,000 each day. It was sponsored by the Knights of Columbus, and they did a great job. Tomorrow the whole definitory will drive out of Cracow, staying in Vienna for the night at our friary. Then on Tuesday we continue on to the Alps in Italy where we will spend a week of vacation together. This will be great for we are all a bit worn out from travel, etc. I finished some books: The Mantle of Command: FDR at War, 1941-1942 by Nigel Hamilton This book deals with the idea that FDR exercised his role as Commander in Chief, especially during the first full year of World War II. While he listened to his military advisors, he was not afraid to make his own decisions, even in contrast to their recommendations. A good example of this is to go ahead with the invasion of North Africa, a move that his Secretary of Defense and most of his Joint Chiefs of Staff opposed, even somewhat violently. His laid back style sometimes led people to underestimate how much he was in charge, but that he was. Furthermore, his jovial style led some who were natural enemies of his policies to nevertheless like the man who paid so much personal attention to them. Out of Eden Walk by Paul Salopek This is the account of a multi-year on foot adventure to travel from the cradle of humanity in the Rift Valley in Africa to the tow of the South American continent in Tierra del Fuego. The idea is that the author was following the dissemination of the human race as they spread across the various continents. Deep Intellect by Sy Montgomery One would not expect to think of an octopus as an intelligent animal, but that is exactly what researchers have discovered. They seem to be able to recognize certain people whom they either like (shown by the fact that they let themselves be picked up without difficulty) or dislike (shown by the fact that they either hide from that person or even attack the person with water jets that they shoot out). It is difficult to measure the intelligence of the animal given that many of the tests that would be applied to vertebrate animals cannot be used for one that is invertebrate, but there are clear signs that the octopus is smarter than one would think. Behind Closed Doors at Hotels by Gary Shteyngart This is a short, humorous travel essay about getting stuck in a hotel room with a loud, amorous couple in the next room or the next rooms. He goes on about how this only happens when he is travelling alone, almost as if the couple next door are mocking his aloneness. The essay is nothing earth shaking, even if the experience next door seems to be. Ants and the Art of War by Mark Moffett This is a science article on how colonies of ants go to war and the comparison between their techniques and those of human armies. The most expendable ants are usually thrown into the front line, while the truly powerful champions are horded in back until their presence makes all the difference. Some ant colonies establish a modus operandi with other neighbor communities, but others just wander wherever they want. The author describes the horrifying intensity and savageness of the attacks. Hope you have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Monday, July 18, 2016

Rio de Janeiro

July 18, 2016 Peace and Good, All this week I have been at two meetings in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The first was a meeting of the major superiors of the various Latin American jurisdictions. I was here to listen to what they are doing and to get some ideas I could share with the major superiors of my own federation. I was able to follow almost everything spoken in Spanish, but Portuguese was a real challenge. By the end of the week, though, I was picking up a lot more of it. The weather has been quite pleasant. It was warm most of the week, with a couple days of really cool weather. Then the second meeting was a congress to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the presence of the Conventual Franciscans in Latin America. We did not arrive earlier because we had been forbidden by the chancellor of the Spanish Empire, Cardinal Ximenes, to be in any of the Hapsburg dominions. That included all of Latin America, Portugal and Spain, the Netherlands, Austria and the Philippines. He belonged to the other branch of Franciscans and there were a lot of hard feelings. There are around 600 friars now in Latin America, and they in almost all of the countries. The congress presented a history of the friars here, and also talked about the challenges in the years to come. Yesterday we went up to the statue of Christ that overlooks the city. The view was incredible. Today I fly out to Los Angeles for the opening of the new year for the novitiate in Arroyo Grande (half way between Los Angeles and San Francisco). Then later in the week I will fly out to Rome and on to Cracow for the World Youth Day I have finished the following: Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel by John Guy This is a masterful, complete biography of Thomas a Becket who became the Archbishop of Canterbury and was murdered by knights of King Henry II. From a middle class birth, Thomas rose to become chancellor of England and then the most important bishop of the English Catholic Church. His attempts to protect the rights of the church ran head long into the autocratic rule of Henry. Thomas had to flee and was exiled to France for some two years before they were reconciled. But the peace lasted only a short while, and eventually Henry uttered some angry words that were interpreted by four of his knights as an invitation to kill Becket. This account gives a good picture both of Becket and Henry. It is not sparing in pointing out the faults and the talents of both men. I highly recommend this biography for anyone interested in this topic and for the topic in general of standing up for the right, even at the cost of one’s very life. Woodrow Wilson by John Cooper This is a extensive biography of the president who led the United States during World War I. He was the president of Princeton University and governor of the State of New Jersey before he assumed office. He portrayed himself as a progressive in the line with Teddy Roosevelt. He carried out a series of important work reforms and helped many groups of people such as farmers. One blind side, however, was his total failure to address civil rights. His fourteen points during World War I in which he fought to respect the rights of peoples where an insightful contribution to history which won him the Nobel Prize for Peace. His failure after the war was his stubbornness in fighting for the peace treaty and the League of Nations which did not allow for compromise and thus doomed his efforts (a stubbornness which was probably partly due to the damage done when he suffered a serious stroke during his presidency). The Bad Place by Dean Koontz Koontz is a very good author, both of stories such as the Odd Thomas series which is only lightly filled with horror and other stories which are quite horrific, such as this one. The bad place is death, and this tells the story of an evil figure who brings death to all whom he touches. He is the product of genetic damage and inbreeding which gives him supernatural powers, as the ability to teleport. His nemesis is his brother who killed their mother. The brother, Frank, seeks the help of a couple who are detectives. They and the wive’s brother Thomas who has Down’s Syndrome, fight the evil figure. This is not a story where everything ends well, but it is a very good tale. Victorian Britain by Patrick Alitt This is one of the Great Courses Series. This one deals with Great Britain during he reign of Queen Victoria. A bit of it is simple history, what happened when. Some of it is a description of movements and tendencies during the era, e.g. how women were treated, the working class, leisure, etc. The instructor is entertaining and the courses fly along with a great amount of good material being shared. The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean This is a truly beautiful book about a woman who is elderly and has Alzheimer's. She grew up in Leningrad and worked in the Hermitage Museum during the siege of the city during World War II (with all the horror that this involves). As she slowly loses her grip on reality, her mind travels back and forth between a present time that she does not fully comprehend and her time in the museum when she would wander the rooms. The curators had taken down the paintings, but she memorized which painting went where to create a type of memory castle which is now more real to her than the world in which she now lives. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Chicago - Rio de Janiero

July 9, 2016 Peace and Good, Last Sunday I flew to Chicago to be present for the opening of the postulancy located there. I have been at that friary so often over the years that it feels a lot like home. This is the first year that all four US provinces are participating in this program. It took a lot of work to get here, but I am pleased that it is going well. I presided at the opening ceremony. There are 18 young men in the program, which is way up from previous years. Let's hope it is the beginning of a trend. On Thursday evening I flew down to Rio. It is quite cool here. This is winter below the equator. The temperature during the day is in the low 60's. I am hoping that keeps the mosquito's sleeping. I will be here for about 10 days to a set of meetings and the 70th anniversary celebration of the presence of our friars in Latin America. This is the first time I am in Brazil. Last night there were fireworks in part of the town. I asked one of the friars if it was a celebration. He explained that sometimes the drug lords bring their drugs to a neighborhood and set off fireworks to let the people know. This morning they had a huge celebration in the parking lot of the church for the children of the neighborhood. It was like carnival all morning with loud music and dancing. I like the spirit of the people down here. I have finished some books: Lawrence’s Arabia by Scott Anderson This is a short journey to a few places which were significant in the life of Lawrence of Arabia, including some of what we could call archaeological sites in Jordan and Saudi Arabia where he led the Arabs to blow up the railroads that were supplying the Turks in those countries during World War I. We hear some of the tragedy of Lawrence – how he tried to be faithful and honest with the Arabs even while his government was secretly negotiating with the French to double cross the Arabs. He died a lonely, disappointed man. Fallen Founder by Nancy Isenburg This is a biography of Aaron Burr which is written to show that he was not such a bad character. It is clearly revisionist history, re-reading the original sources. The difficulty of the book is the author’s a priori stance that Burr is really a hero and a virtuous person. Every person who declaims him is a lier and a political hack. Every thing that Burr does is for the good of those around him. Even his flaws are not as bad as others. At one point the author even implies that he was attacked because he was a budding feminist. The scholarship seems terribly flawed and I find it difficult to believe anything the author posits (or creates from whole cloth). The Sound of Silence by Lisa Abend This is a pleasant short story of a traveler who goes to an isolated Scottish village by hiking in the hope of running away from humanity for a while. What she finds when she arrives is that it was not humanity that caused her annui, as much as technology. Being out of range of any wifi signal helped her find her balance among the villagers and other hikers in the inn in which she was staying. Masterpieces of the Imaginative Mind: Literature’s Most Fantastic Works by Eric Rabkin This is a Great Courses treatment of literature which features the fantastic. This includes fairy tales and myths, utopian literature, early horror fiction (Frankenstein, the works of Edgar Allen Poe), early science fiction (Jules Verne, Edgar Bouroughs), more modern science fiction (Heinlein, Asimov, etc.) and even punk rock science fiction. The science fiction part is quite good, speaking not only of what is there but also why. Some of the earlier lectures get a bit too much into the literary study of Semiotics for me, a science that has always seemed a bit too contrived for me. Overall, the course presents a good amount of valuable information. Along the Bosphorus by Orhan Pamuk This is a short excerpt from Pamuk’s book Istanbul about the city of his birth. He deeply loves his home city, but he recognizes an annui in its citizens from the fact that they are living in an imperial city that has lost its empire. Unlike Vienna which is kept up and looks like an empty museum for imperial might, Istanbul has lost its glitter. Pamuk speaks of the draw the people of this city have to its waterway, the Bosphorus. They recreate there, find their meaning there. Even the ship accidents seem to draw them to gaze and wonder. The book is filled with antique photographs of the Bosphorus and its shores. Hope you have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Friday, July 1, 2016

Nairobi - Rome

July 1, 2016 Peace and Good, I am here in Rome for our definitory. We are meeting all week, and as usual talking about every corner of the earth. I presented my report on the Korean province and have now sent it off to Korea for their correction. By the end of this month it should be made public to the friars of the province. It will certainly give them something to discuss as they prepare for their chapter in October. Getting here to Rome was a bit of an adventure. I flew from Nairobi to London on British Air without any difficulty. The problems started in London. I boarded the flight to Rome, but they could not fuel the airplane, so we had to deplane. There was very little guidance on what to do at that point. They finally got another airplane, but when it was time to board, they could not find a crew. They rescheduled us for later in the afternoon. They were late in boarding us, and it took us about an hour to get air traffic control permission to leave. In all, I arrived in Rome nine hours late. I really like British Air, but their entire performance that day was horrendous. They still have not gotten back to me about my complaint. I have finished some books: Collision of Empires: The War on the Eastern Front in 1914 by Prit Buttar So mush has been written about the first six month of World War I on the Western Front, on how the Germans all but overran the defenses of the French and were stopped at the Battle on the Marne, resulting in four years of trench warfare. This book deals with the battles fought on the Eastern Front, in Prussia, Poland, Serbia and the edges of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The battles were enormous and bloody. The Germans were the best organized and suffered the least from these conflicts. The Russians were terribly led by generals who hated each other and at times purposely sabotaged the activities of their own forces led by another general. The Austro-Hungardians were terribly led, believed in the force of the offence, which might have worked well before the invention of the machine gun and modern artillery, but which only led to butchery afterwards. The book is well written and worth of a read for those interested in the First World War. How Paris became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City by Joan DeJean This is the story of how the city of Paris came to be the center of culture that we recognize it to be today. King Henri IV began the transformation of the city. Many of the things which we associate with a great city: boulevards, sidewalks, parks, street lighting, haut coutoure, etc. were invented in Paris. The Pont Neuf became a center of city life when most cities were still closed in upon themselves. City planning at a grand scale occurred again and again in the history of the city. We hear of investors and financiers who became the nouveau riche. This is a very good book that describes how simple changes in architecture and planning changed the city from a medieval warren of alleys into a grand city. The Secret History of Mongul Queens by Jack Weatherford This is a study of the role that women played in the governance of the Mongolian empire and people. The daughters of Genghis Khan were married off to the rulers of various neighboring tribes and nations. Those rulers were then expected to join Genghis Khan in his invasions, while the daughters remained in those kingdoms and ruled them. We hear of the role of the queen mother which was very important among the Mongolians. We also hear of various queens who stood out in importance over the centuries. A History of Eastern Europe by Vejas Liulevicius This is a Teaching Company course. Despite the interesting name of the professor, he was born in the States (of Lithuanian background). He is very informative, and this course traces the history of Eastern Europe from the Middle Ages to the present. It is well done and very informative. Who Put the Butter in Butterfly by David Feldman This is a clever book that traces the etymology of words and expressions that seem a bit odd. It is actually a collection of individual studies done by many people over the years. Some of the expressions are more interesting than others, but it is still entertaining to read where these things came from. Hope you have a good week. I am off to Chicago this coming Sunday. Shalom fr. Jude