Sunday, February 25, 2024

Ellicott City

February 25, 2024 Peace and Good, I hope you are all well. Winter seems to be coming to an end here in Baltimore, and Spring is peeking in the doorway. This week the temperature is supposed to go up to the 60's, so I would expect some flowers to start growing by the end of the week. My days are filled with hospital visits, sometimes for a very short time and sometimes for several hours at a time. I am now 2/3 finished with chemo and radiation. These past few days have been a little difficult in terms of feeling the fatigue and weakness about which they told me at the beginning of the treatment. I don't have too many other side effects, so I should really be grateful. I have a meeting with the chemotherapist and the radiation specialist tomorrow, so I will be asking them what comes after the treatment has concluded. I know that there will be immunotherapy for a year after, but I don't yet understand what that means. I have been doing a lot of thinking about what is happening in my life right now. I feel that my role in all of this is to surrender to God's will (not in a passive way, but accepting that more is going on than I can understand). I have been struck with the fact that my illness has created a netword of people who are praying for me all over the world, so from something that is bad, good has come. I have to keep praying on this idea and see where it leads me. I have finished some reading and listening: Osman I by Charles River Editors This is a short account of the founder of what would become the Ottoman Empire. The author is definitely prejudiced toward the Turks, dealing with their predations and cruelty as if it were the best they could do. Scars of Independence: America’s Violent Birth by Holger Hoock This is a very interesting account of the atrocities that were visited upon soldiers and civilians during the Revolutionary War. The premise of the author is that the Patriots were not entirely innocent in this regard, especially in terms of how they treated the Tories who sided with the British troops. Yet, Washington struggled to keep his troops in line and virtuous in they way they treated prisoners. The author speaks of the horrendous treatment of prisoners (especially by the British), treatment that we would call war crimes. The book is fair and well written. The Russian Revolution: From Tsarism to Bolshevism by Jonathan Smele This course from the Modern Scholars gives an outline of Russian history from the middle of the 19th century and the freedom of the serfs up to the time of the last Romonovs (and how terrible they were in facing the difficulties of a quickly industrializing country and a world war. The professor is quite good, although his style is a bit boring. Destination Mars by Andrew May This is a short study of what it would take to transport humans to Mars and how they might survive there. It deals with the moon landing program and how it could serve (or not) in the Mars project. One of the great difficulties will be the type of engine that will be needed. The author asks the question of whether this will be a governmental or a business project (e.g. Elon Musk). Spain in our Hearts by Adam Hochschild This is an account of American volunteers in the Lincoln brigade in the Spanish Civil War. The author is clearly in favor of the leftist forces (even minimizing their massacres, etc.), but his account is very interesting. Hochschild gives good insight into the personalities of those Americans who fought and the tremendous difficulties from which they suffered. Sicily by John Julius Norwich This is a masterful, very long history of the island of Sicily. In spite of the fact that it is incredibly rich in terms of soil and minerals, its peasant population has remained poor and oppressed over most of its history. Norwich speaks of the poor government, the foreign invasions, and the criminal element as the causes of this tragic fate. It is obvious, though, that he loved the island and its people. Rome by Greg Woolf This is a history of Rome from its earliest days till its collapse. The account is well ordered, and the author presents a tremendous amount of good information. While this might not be the first book I would read about Roman history, it would certainly be among those that I did read. The Transformation of Israelite Religion to Rabbinic Judaism by Juan Bejarano-Gutierrez I have read a number of books by this author, and unfortunately I have always been disappointed. The content of his studies never measures up to the title he proposes. I find one or two good points in each book (such as this one speaking of canonicity being tied to the fact that certain books were copied and passed down), but I find myself getting frustrated that so little is presented when the topic could be much, much richer. Vatican I: The Council and the Making of the Ultramontane Church by John O’Malley After the French Revolution and the revolutions of 1848, there were two movements in the Roman Catholic Church. One fostered local autonomy (a movement that had always been part of the Church) and the other favored centralization with a definition for the infallibility of the papacy. This book outlines the arguments and the political machinations of each of the sides and the calling of the First Vatican Council at which that dogma was affirmed (as well as the honest and not so honest maneuvers by the various players in this drama. The History of the Holocaust by Howard Lipovitch This is a Learn25 course on the years preceding the holocaust (and the various political movements that led to it) and to the actual course of this disaster. The author asks some vital questions: who were the righteous gentiles, who were the gentiles who collaborated in this project, what governments aided the Jews, which aided their persecution, etc. The course is not melodramatic, but it is thorough. One Man Great Enough by John Waugh This is a biography of Lincoln up to the time of inauguration. He is shown in all of his simplicity and cunning. He was constantly underestimated by those who saw him or heard of him, an impression quickly altered when they heard him speak. The story presented is very good, and I would recommend this account. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Ellicott City, MD

February 17, 2024 Peace and Good, As I write this blog, I am looking out at one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever seen. It snowed lightly last night, and tere is a layer of the snow on each branch of every tree. It is already starting to melt, but it was one of those moments that you just can't help but thank the Lord for creation. I have been doing my radiation and chemotherapy at Hopkins. As of yesterday, I am halfway through my present treatment. I have had very few and relatively minor reactions to the treatment, for which I am grateful. Over these weeks, I have been told that people are praying for me from all over the world. I have been reflecting on how this difficulty has created a community of prayer that stretches all over. I had a good zoom meeting with my publisher to outline the next project. It is to edit an older book on St. Anthony of Padua (life and devotions). I like these type of projects because I can work on it when I have the energy. One of the effects of the radiation has been a certain fatigue. I have been staying at home most of the time due to the danger of infection, etc. The chemotherapist, though, told me that the blood tests are very positive and I have not suffered from any crash of the immune system. I finished reading and listening to some works: Kennedy and Roosevelt by Michael Beschloss Beschloss is a brilliant author of presidential stories. This book contrasts a consummate politician who seeks greatness for his nation (Roosevelt) and a very talented businessman whose primary goal is the furtherance of his family. Roosevelt is presented as cany and not always honest, while Kennedy is seen as someone who would sell out his values for a promotion in Roosevelt’s government. Famous Greeks by Rufus Fears This Teaching Company course is a take off on the stories of Famous Greek (and Romans) by Plutarch. Fears presents good information, but his presentation is a bit overly-dramatic with sound effects and verbal reactions that a bit foolish. Witness X by Mark Dawson This is a short story about a British secret service operative who must investigate and avenge an acid attack upon his former lover by a North Korean spy. The Brit is not presented as a Sean Connery as much as an individualist who is simple in his approach to life and his occupation. The Secret Life of Groceries by Benjamin Lorr This is the story of the origin and success of various grocery stores and products (as well as some of the difficulties caused by an industrial production of certain foods, such as shrimp). The author especially tells the story of Trader Joes. There are some interesting points, but the books seems to be various ideas stapled together. The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga This is a very odd but quite entertaining book. It is about a poor young man from rural India who makes a fortune (not quite legally). He is writing a short biography and sending it to a Chinese official who is visiting India. The author emphasizes the gap between the poor and the rich, the dirty politics, the bribery needed to succeed. This is one of those books that gives one an interesting insight into another world (even if many of the facts are strongly exaggerated). Doctored Evidence by Donna Leon This is a volume in a series of novels by the Spanish author Leon who writes about a police commissary in Venice. In this book, he deals with the murder of an elderly, very difficult woman. As an aside, he deals with questions about foreigners within Italy, about gays and attitudes toward them, about the bureaucracy, etc. I always enjoy Leon’s book enormously. Desert War by Stephen Sears This is an American Heritage book, which means that it is of medium length and gives an overall picture of the topic of the book. This one is well done, with a good number of quotes from participants in the events and a fair evaluation of the various characters involved in the action. Finn McCool: Irish Heroes by History Nerds This is a relatively short account of one of the ancestral heroes of the Irish people (and other Celts as well). It tells of his supposed background, recounts a couple of the legends, and speaks of his heritage in the folk culture of the Irish. Archaeology and the Iliad: the Modern Scholar by Eric Cline This is a fine Modern Scholars course on Troy and the question of whether the Trojan War is historic. The professor is an archaeologist, and he gives insights both from the various people who have worked at the site in the past, and from his own observations. He is clear in what his own opinion is without being pushy. What most impressed me is his willingness to admit that what we think about things now might very well change as more excavations are made and evaluated. Thomas Aquinas by Ferdinand Jives This is only a short presentation on the life and works of the famous theologian Thomas Aquinas. It gives a rough background without getting into too many details. There is a chapter of famous and usable quotes from Aquinas’ writings. Gnosticism by Charles River Editors I found this short account of Gnosticism one of the better things that I have read on the topic. Often the author will try to serve as an apologist for the Gnostic movement. The author of this study admits that there are many Gnostic beliefs that cannot be called Christian, but yet studies what they did believe and presents that information in a fair, balanced manner. The Lost Warriors of God: the True History of the Knights Templar by Thomas Madden This Modern Scholars course gives an account of the origin of the Knights Templar (in the context of the crusades), of their development and changing character, and of their sudden and tragic destruction. The professor is balances and speaks of both their strengths and weaknesses. He also speaks of much of the mythology about the Knights Templar that has been passed down through the ages. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Ellicott City

February 7, 2024 Peace and Good, Today I finish the second week of radiation. The side effects from the radiation and chemo have been very light. Thank God! I finished the editing for the book I wrote over these months. It is a minute meditation book on the Wisdom books of the Old Testament. It must now be approved by the Church censors and then it will be published in a couple of months. I also finished a series of short meditations for the Scripture readings in September for one of our magazines in Assisi, Italy. It is good to have some projects like this which can be done when I have the energy, and then put aside when I don't. I will have a zoom meeting with my publisher in a few days to talk about the next project. The weather here in Baltimore has been great these days. I finished viewing a couple of courses from the Great Courses series. One was on the Vietnam War and the other on the Spanish Civil War. Both were very, very good. The professors in each gave a very balanced, very nuanced outlook on those events. I can't believe that Lent is just one week away. I have decided that I should not do any fasting this Lent. I will just offer up all the other stuff that I am experiencing. Besides, the doctors want me to eat as much as I can so that I don't lose too much weight. I find it an irony that I have been trying to lose some weight for years now, and the doctors are telling me to do the opposite. I finished some reading and listening: Wars that made the western world: the Persian Wars, the Peloponnesian War by Timothy Shutt This is a short course by the Modern Scholar on the Persian Wars against Greece (mostly Athens and Sparta) and then the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta. He gives a good account, but the material is too expansive to be able to describe it well in such a short course. Nevertheless, it is worth a listen. Adolf Hitler by Hourly History This is a short story outlining the life and career of Hitler. It is comparable to an extended Wikipedia article, so it gives a good outline but not really an in depth presentation. The Company of Strangers by Robert Wilson Wilson is an author similar to John le Carre. This books covers a period from World War II in Portugal, to the Brezhnev period in East Germany, to the post-Soviet era in England. It follows the life and career of one woman and her acquaintances. There are double crosses and triple crosses. The author works a bit too much to make a complicated plot, but it is very interesting. Dark Star Express by Paul Theroux This is a travel story of a trip from Cairo to South Africa. Most of the voyage was made by bus or train. Theroux had previously served as a teacher in Malawi, so he was able to compare what he had experienced in his early days with the present situation of these countries. I found him incredibly judgmental of most missionaries and workers of social assistance projects. The book was good, but very long. Great Masters: Beethoven, his Life and Music by Robert Greenberg This is a Great Courses presentation on the life and music of Beethoven. Greenberg is a good critic and a humorous presenter. Beethoven comes across as a misanthropic genius who often had his most productive periods during times of crisis. Europe’s Dark Journey: Hitler and Nazi Germany by Beth Griech-Polelle This is a Modern Scholar course on Germany in the years leading up to the Third Reich. It emphasizes much more the years before Hitler’s reign than that reign itself. It begin the story with the unification of the empire under Bismarck, then the effects of World War I, then the chaotic years of the Weimar Republic and its failure. The course does not offer all that much new information, but it is a good overview of what led to the rise of Hitler. Liars and Thieves by Stephen Coonts This is an action story about a thief who works for the CIA and accidentally comes across a plot to kill a KGB defector who has brought an enormous store of information with himself (some of which might endanger someone important in the government). The hero has to twin up with a retired admiral to come to the core of the plot. Teachings of the Buddha by Jack Kornfield This is a series of Buddhist sayings which present a philosophy of seeking peace by surrendering all one’s worries and concerns and even the control of one’s thoughts. Pax Romana by Adrian Goldsworthy Goldsworthy is an expert on Roman history, and this is an overview of the “Roman Peace” which Rome brought to the world. It deals with what that really meant. There were rebellions, wars of capture, etc., but Rome also was able to wipe on the continuous wars between minor states. Goldsworthy is clear that this peace was a side effect of the Roman conquest and not the intention of the Romans themselves. Their only concern was their welfare (safety and profit). This is a very good book which I highly recommend. Reliquary by Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston These two authors are among my favorites. This is a follow up story in which a plant which transforms people to evil creatures is let loose in New York. The heroes must find out what is going on with people (especially people living in the underground tunnels around New York) begin to disappear, and their bodies are at times found decapitated. There is plenty of action. The authors’ works are always just this side of science fiction, but they provide a great thriller. Herodotus: the Father of History by Elizabeth Vandiver Herodotus is known as the father of history. Vandiver speaks of his writings, the factors that influenced what he wrote, and how his writings influenced others. She is quite fair to him, not accusing him of being the father of lies as some others do, but recognizing that since he was the first to write a real history, then some of the criteria we would apply to other writers were not followed. The course from the Great Courses is very well done. Kiev, 1941: Hitler’s Battle for Supremacy in the East by David Stahel This is the story of Hitler’s greatest victory during the Second World War when hundreds of thousands of Soviet troops were killed and captured. The author has written this book to make a point, that even if the Soviets lost, the Nazis did not really win (for they expended so much material an men that they could never win the war. Unfortunately, most of the book is expended on Stahel’s pet theory. You're all in my prayers, especially as we enter Lent. Shalom fr. Jude PS Given that my ministry is somewhat limited in these days, if you have any prayer intentions for which you would like me to pray, just send them to frajude@gmail.com.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Ellicott City

January 23, 2024 Memorial of St. Marianne Cope Peace and Good, The Marianne Cope I mention was a Sister of Syracuse who travelled to Molakai in Hawaii to work with St. Fr. Damian with the lepers. A number of years ago, I was travelling to a friary in Vietnam where our friars work with lepers. I was able to obtain a first class relic of St. Marianne for the friars there. I am getting ready to begin my radiation treatments this Thursday (for seven weeks) and my chemo on Monday (the same length of time). My chemo doctor is turning out to be a gem, Dr. Christine Hamm. She answers my emails on my chart, and she has offered to sit down with me to explain the chemo process. Not all the doctors whom I have run across in these months has been so accomidating. We faced a week of winter weather (although nothing like Buffalo has been facing). I have been asked to write a series of short articles for one of our magazines in Assisi. I will write them in English, and they will have them translated into Italian. I am glad to have projects like that upon which I can work when I feel up to it. One of our former minister generals, fr. Joachim Giermek, passed away in these days. fr. Carlos Trovarelli, our present minister general, came here for the funeral which was very good of him, considering his incredible schedule. I finished some reading and listening: The Apocalypse: Controversies and Meaning in Western History by Craig Koester This is a Teaching Company course on the Book of Revelations: its background, its meaning, and its use throughout history. The professor is tremendous. I don’t agree with every single interpretation, but he is overall great in his presentation. Beginnings for Judaism by Isaiah Gafni This book speaks about Judaism from its earliest days during the Babylonian exile until later developments. This is a Teaching Company course. The presenter is very good, very thorough. Dressed for Death by Donna Leon Donna Leon is a Spanish author who lived for years in Venice. She presents the story of a police detective who investigates various crimes. This one deals with a murdered man found dressed in woman’s clothes. Leon is able to describe the bureaucracy of Italy perfectly. He presents the detective as a loving husband and father (in a very realistic manner). Every one of her books is tremendous. Exploring the Roots of Religion by John Hale This is a Teaching Company course presented by an archeologist whose specialty is the origin of religious beliefs in the early centuries of humanity. He is a tremendous presenter, and he is able to deal with topics such as religious sites, religious time, burials as a sign of belief in the afterlife, etc. I would strongly recommend this course. Henry VIII by Abigail Archer This is a short biography of Henry VIII. It is non-polemical and informative. It would be a good introduction to the topic. Darkfall by Dean Koontz This is a very scary story told about a battle between a Mafia lord and an evil Voodoo priest. The Mafia priest summons demons from Hell to attack the Mafia lord and his family and cohorts. A detective begins to put the pieces together, and he and his family are attacked by the demons. The detective is only protected by the fact that he is a basically righteous man. Nutrition 101: Understanding the Science and Practice of Eating Well by Jamie Pope This is a Learn25 course dealing with the questions of nutrition including diets, what is healthy and what is not, what forms of nutrients are necessary and at what level, etc. The professor is clear in her presentations and challenging in her assigned tasks. War on the Waters by James McPherson This is the story of the use of the northern navy during the Civil War. It includes stories of how the navy collaborated with the army (e.g. the conquest of Forts Henry and Donaldson), the war against blockade runners, the attempt to conquer certain cities and forts (New Orleans, Vicksburg, etc.), the rise of iron clads, etc. The Story of the Bible by Luke Timothy Johnson Johnson is a tremendous exegete, always taking the middle road on questions of interpretation. He is a former Benedictine monk who now teaches at Emory in Atlanta. This was a Teaching Company course which speaks about the origin of the Bible, its being copied in its early days, why certain books were or were not accepted into its canon, and how various groups have used and translated the Bible over the years. I, Michael Bennet by James Patterson This is the story of a detective and his family who are endangered when he arrests a drug lord. His children are threatened, other police are assassinated, he is put in the cross hairs of the drug lords lieutenants. The story is presented in a stereotypical manner, but it is entertaining. Jane the Quene by Janet Wertman This is a novel dealing with the queen of England who succeeded Anne Boleyn and who died giving birth to Henry VIII’s only legitimate son, Edward VI. She comes across as a plain person (which was a great change for Henry who felt himself brow-beaten by Anne Boleyn. Her family is seen as scheming (as was most of the court at the times). Introduction to Judaism by Shai Cherry This is a Teaching Company course that goes through the various aspects of what it means to be a Jew today, including the role of the synagogue, dietary concerns, the tension between integration into the larger society and rejection of that world, etc. It explains the history of the various groups that call themselves Jews (e.g. conservative, reformed, Hasidic, etc.). The course is well done and the topics are handled simply and without polemic. A Brotherhood of Spies by Monte Reel This is the story of the U2, and especially the flight and shoot down of that plane over the Soviet Union during the times of Eisenhower and Khruschev. It deals with the technical questions, but also with the personalities of those who designed the plane and those who flew it. Powers comes out of the story as a sad figure, especially considering his disastrous marriage. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Friday, January 12, 2024

Ellicott City

January 12, 2024 Peace and Good, I finally got word yesterday on what my treatment will be for the next several months. I will begin six to seven weeks of radiation therapy and chemo in about a week's time, followed by a year of immunotherapy. I am just relieved that my quest for answers is finally coming to a conclusion. The weather here in Baltimore is cool and rainy. No snow yet, and they are not yet predicting any. Our Minister General (the big boss) came into town yesterday for the funeral of a former Minister General, fr. Joachim Giermek). He will be here til Sunday. It is good to see him for I worked with him for a few years in Rome. I finished some reading and listening: Age of Henry VIII by Dale Hoak This is a Teaching Company course on Henry VIII and his times. Overall, the course is good, but there was an incredible prejudice on the part of the presenter against Catholicism and in favor of the Reformation movement, something that I would not expect to see from someone who should have been more impartial in his research and presentation. Private Empire by Steve Coll This is a long presentation of Exxon and its leadership and its policies, especially in terms of the environment and the company’s relationship to governments (the US, Indonesia, Nigeria, etc.). The author is skeptical of many of the policies and procedures of the company and of its very powerful lobbying efforts. The Jeffersonian Republicans by Christopher Collier and James Lincoln Collier This is one of the short histories of various periods of American History. This one deals with the rise of the Jeffersonian Republicans at the beginning of the republic. This was the beginning of political parties. It also speaks of how America was drawn into the War of 1812. Each of the presentations is well written and informative. Ebola: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly Virus by David Quammen This book was written during the great outbreak of Ebola in Western Africa. It speaks of what Ebola is and what it does. The greatest part of the book deals with the question of where it is hidden in between outbreaks – what is the host animal (which must be an animal that doesn’t contract the illness but which can host the virus in itself). Exoplanets: World Without End by Scientific American This is a series of articles that were originally published in the Scientific American on the existence and discovery of exoplanets. It deals with the complicated process by which astronomers are able to deduce the existence of planets around distant stars by very small movements of the star or by small variations in the light it is producing. It also deals with the possibility of life on one or more of those planets. The language is somewhat technical at times, but the presentations are very good. Catholic Prayer by James Kulbicki This is a Learn25 course on different forms of Catholic Prayer. The presenter is very, very good. He is involved in the Apostolate of Prayer, and his commitment to spirituality is very clear. He is practical but also clear on the need to be sincere and consistent in our spiritual life in its many forms. I would strongly recommend this course for anyone. England, the 1960’s and the Triumph of the Beatles by Michael Shelden This is a Teaching Company course that speaks about the four members of the Beatles band and their career. I was not sure that I would like it, but the presenter is very good and he presents tons of background information about why this particular band took off and how they responded to a need in British and American culture. The King’s Hounds by Martin Jensen I was not at all sure if I would like this book. It was great. It is a story that takes place at the beginning of the reign of King Canute (King of Denmark and Great Britain), just before the era of William the Conqueror. A murder of a Saxon lord takes place, and he is worried that it will sabotage a meeting he has arranged of Saxons and Danes to unite the empire. He hires two travelers to investigate what is going on. It is ultimately a detective story and it is very well written. Life and Teaching of Geoffrey Chaucer by Seth Lerer This is a Great Courses presentation on the life and writings of Geoffrey Chaucer. The presenter develops a number of themes concerning various tales from the Canterbury Tales that seemed a bit strange to me. Furthermore, the presenter seems to like to read things in middle English. A bit of that would be OK, but he uses the technique way too much. The Modern Scholar: Medieval Mysteries by Thomas Madden This is a series of lectures from a company called the Modern Scholar (similar to the Great Courses). This volume deals with various urban legends from the middle ages and it speaks of how the legends probably originated (e.g. the Knights Templar, the Holy Grail, King Arthur, etc.). The lecturer is very good and I am going to be on the look out for more of his productions. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Sunday, January 7, 2024

Ellicott City

January 6 The Epiphany Peace and Good, Well, winter has arrived in Baltimore, but so far it has meant cold weather and rain. We did not get any snow in the storm that just passed over the East Coast. I have been visiting one doctor after another in these days. I had a video chat with my oncologist this past Friday, and I am going to start radiation therapy as soon as it can be arranged. I fully expected this, for the surgeon was not able to remove the tumor in my lung. They are still not quite sure of what it is. There are some more test results on the way, so hopefully this will help them to identify it and treat it in the best way possible. I am so grateful for all the people who have reached out with cards and letters and prayers in these weeks. It has been very consoling. I have a post-op visit with my surgeon this Thursday. I am still feeling a lot of discomfort from the last surgery. The surgeon had warned me that this might be the case. I have finished some reading and listening: Human Prehistory and the First Civilizations by Brian Fagan This is a series of 24 lectures that run from the very beginning of humanity in Africa up to the dawn of the various ancient civilizations in Asia, America, Africa and Europe. Fagan is well informed and interesting. Verona by Jeffery Deaver This is a short novel based on Romeo and Juliet in which the son of one mob boss and the daughter of a Chinese gang fall in love and have to deal with their fathers who suspect that the other mob is using the kids to steal confidential information about their own moves. It has a bit of a surprise ending. The End of Empire by Christopher Kelly This is an account of the relationship between the Roman Empires (Western and Eastern) and the Huns, especially Attila. The author speaks of the internal weaknesses of the empires, and of the ferocious fighting spirit of the Huns. Ironically, the Romans had to depend upon the assistance of other barbarians in France in order to defeat the Huns. Men of Fire by Jack Hurst This is the account of Grant’s offensive to take Fort Henry and Fort Donaldson at the beginning of the Civil War. He was hampered by enemies who tried to get him removed from his responsibilities, accusing him of drunkenness (probably unjustly) and other military failures. He was one of the first to coordinate the movements of the army and navy in his assaults. The book is well written. The Severin Dynasty by Charles River Editors This is an account of the not all that long lasting dynasty begun by Septimius Severus at the end of the 2nd century A.D. and the beginning of the 3rd century. One of the most fascinating facts about this dynasty is how a series of women (originally from Syria) who were the wives and mothers of the emperors were really the power behind the throne. Agent Garbo by Stephan Talty This is a great account of a Spanish double agent who the Germans thought was their most important asset in Great Britain during World War II but who was all the time working for the allies. He even established a whole network of imaginary agents who helped misdirect the German defense efforts (e.g. the site of the D-Day landing). The Start of World War I by Charles River Editors This is a short account of the beginning of the First World War. The first part if very good, but the author then goes on to give an overview of the fighting on the Western Front (all but ignoring all the fighting that occurred in other areas of combat (e.g. the Eastern Front, Africa, the Pacific, etc.). I got the impression that the author completed his topic in too few pages and therefore padded his account by adding the Western Front material. Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, 1945-1975 by Max Hastings Hastings is a great war author. I have read a number of his books and have never been disappointed. This is true of this masterful (but very long) treatment of the Vietnam War. Hastings works at being fair to all of the parties involved. He has a large number of important remembrances from people who fought or were affected by the fighting. I would recommend this book to anyone who is ready to invest a considerable amount of time in reading it. Early Christianity: The Experience of the Divine by Luke Timothy Johnson This is a course on the beginning of Christianity from the Great Courses Company. Johnson is a great professor. He is very middle of the road in his interpretations. He now teaches at Emory University in Atlanta, but he was originally a Benedictine Monk. In this course, he speaks of the various forms of Christianity as well as the cultural influences from the Greek and Roman world. The Beatitudes: How to Understand and Live Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount by Michael Crosby This is a course from the Learn25 series of lectures. I have to admit that I did not like it at all. Much more than a course on the beatitudes. It was a series of reflections on Crosby’s own life that was lightly associated with the beatitudes. I would gladly recommend most of Learn25’s courses, but not this one. The Two Popes by Anthony McCarten This is a book which is the main text for the film about Pope Benedict and Pope Francis. The author is very honest in his praise and criticism of the two men, not running away from their difficult past (e.g. Benedict’s seeming amnesia of the Hitler era, Francis’ seeming collaboration with the Argentinian authorities during the murderous dirty war). He explains their various moves, especially dealing with the Roman Curia and the practice of the faith. The Trials of Five Queens by R. Storry Deans This is a rather old British book about the trials of various queens, such as Anne Boleyn and Queen Mary of Scotland and Marie Antoinette. The book is factual, giving actual testimony, but this only makes it a bit boring. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Friday, December 22, 2023

Ellicott City, MD

December 22, 2023 Peace and Good, This has been quite a couple of weeks for me. A week ago today I had surgery on my right lung to try to remove a tumor there. This took place at Johns Hopkins in downtown Baltimore. The doctor was not able to remove the tumor because it was entwined with the nerve controlling the diaphragm. It looks as I will be doing radiation and chemo and/or immunotherapy instead. This surgery is taking me longer to get over. The incision was much larger than the one in October, and the body was probably not fully recovered from that one. I am getting stronger every day, and today was the first day I was able to do my 40 minute walk. I finished my meditation book on wisdom literature. I have already seen the proofs of the first third, and it should be complete toward the end of January. I am pleased with how it has turned out. I will be staying here in Ellicott City for at least the next couple of weeks, continuing to recover. After Christmas I hope to have enough energy to return to my taping of daily reflections and writing various projects. I have been reflecting on being ill and what it all means. It is teaching me to surrender more and more, realizing that I certainly cannot control everything. It has also reminded me that there are so many people out there who care for me and are praying for me, and I have to minister to them by sharing information, gratitude, etc. I don't want this illness to make me totally self-centered. I finished some reading and listening: Heaven and Hell: a History of the Afterlife by Bart Ehrman This is a review of what Sacred Scripture and the Jewish and early Christian authorities say about heaven, hell and purgatory. It is a good overview, but the interpretation that the author gives is sometimes confusing. He interprets one verse allegorically, and another as literal (whatever it takes for him to make his point). What really hurts his credibility is that he confesses at the end that he does not even believe in the afterlife. Ten Christian Mystics and What They Tell Us of God by Murray Bodo Murray Bodo is a Franciscan poet. This Learn25 course presents the biography and teachings of ten mystics (a few of them contemporary). Some of the lectures lack significant content, but some of the latter ones are quite well written. Overall, I could say it is worth reading, but not the best book I have ever read. Brutus by Kathryn Tempest This is the history of the man who led the plot to kill Julius Caesar. He was considered to be a man of great virtue (as opposed to most of the other plotters who were seeking their own privilege. He fought against Anthony and Augustus (then known as Octavian). The author presents a very good portrait of the man and his reasoning (to kill Caesar and what he did after that). The Man Who Knew the Way to the Moon by Todd Zeillitch This is a short book about a man who worked at NASA, the space agency. He fought for the idea that the only way that Americans could reach the moon by 1970 (the goal set by President Kennedy) was to use a lunar module instead of trying to land the entire mother ship. He was right, but he faced only opposition in the process. He does not come across as a great hero, but his tenacity enabled a successful landing. Ancient Greece’s Most Important Islands by Charles River Editors This book is a history of the various islands in the Mediterranean which were part of the greater Greek world, such as Crete, Rhodes, Sicily, etc. It gives a history of that period when there was the greatest Greek influence (especially in Sicily which at that time and even today is given the title of Magna Grecia, Greater Greece). The account is well written, although it emphasizes the warfare aspect above all other details of their culture and history. San Francisco is Burning by Dennis Smith This is an account of the famous San Francisco earthquake and especially of the conflagration that followed it. It deals with the politics of the response, and especially of the actions (and failures) of many of the critical figures in the attempt to fight the fires. The army general in the area, General Funston, took control of the situation, but his orders were at times capricious and even dangerous. There were many innocent people shot as looters at this time, and many buildings lost because soldiers decided to evacuate unwilling residents. Gettysburg by Stephen Sears This is a thorough account of the battle of Gettysburg. It deals mostly with the movements and successes and failures of various brigades and divisions. It also tries to enter into the minds of the two combatting generals, Lee and Meade. This battle could rightly be said to be the worst defeat of the South under Lee, and the worst days of general service by Lee. At the end of the account is a good historic overview of the importance of the battle and its aftermath. Brunelleschi’s Dome by Ross King The beautiful dome over the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Flowers in Florence is a masterpiece of the early renaissance in Italy. This book by Ross King (who is a very good author, especially on art) speaks about how the Florentines were able to construct this dome without the use of interior supports during the construction process (which had been used on all other domes made in this era). The process is described in details, especially the rivalry among the various architects and artists involved in the process (as well as the political events during the construction which greatly influenced the history of Florence). The book is very well done. The Man who Haunted Himself by Ishmael Reed This is a novella of an African American scientist who realizes he is dying, and who has his brain transplanted into a young white high school athlete (without permission or the knowledge of the young man’s family). It deals with the confusion of trying to fit into a family whose father is somewhat racist. The book is well done, at least to the end when the author produces an ending too much like a fairy tale (and they lived happily ever after). John F. Kennedy by Hourly History This is a short biography of JFK, dealing with his father and his expectations, his political career, his marriage to Jackie, and of course his assassination. It does not go into depth with anything, but provides a good outline. The Battle of Lookout Mountain by Charles River Editors This is the story of how the Federal forces defeated the rebel forces at Chattanooga during the civil war under General Grant. The rebels had blockaded the federals in the city, and Grant first of all broke the blockade, and he then attacked the forces on the mountains to the south of the city. He originally intended this to be a minor attack, but it met with incredible success, largely due to the fault of the Confederate General in charge. Inca Lands by Hiram Bingham This is a book written about an exploration of the Inca territory at the beginning of the 20th century. It is dated, but it does provide an entertaining travel account. The most important detail is that Bingham discovered the ruins of Machu Pichu which probably served as the royal court for the Incas after the conquests of Pizzaro and before the Incas were finally defeated. The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaur by Steve Brusatte This is a very entertaining book by a paleontologist concerning the history of dinosaurs, told especially from the point of view of archeological discoveries around the world. Brusatte presents a very personal account, presenting many of the people involved in this field. It is half travelogue, half scientific explanation. You are all in my prayers. Merry Christmas fr. Jude