Monday, June 29, 2009

St. Paul and Religious Life: Holy Cross Sisters: Kensington, MD; June 21 - 26, 2009

June 29, 2009

The Feast of Saints Peter and Paul

Peace and Good,

This past week I was in Kensington, MD, just outside of the Washington Beltway, giving a retreat to the Holy Cross Sisters. This is a residence for retired sisters who can care for themselves. They were all a bit older than I am. As I have said before, I am always so grateful when I can share my scripture learning with priests and religious who did not have the opportunity to have the scriptural background that I did. I feel privileged.

Typical of retreats on St. Paul throughout this year, the sisters walked away with a slightly different view on him. The first time one reads his letters, one can get the impression that he is arrogant. That is not really the case. There is no question that he is opinionated. But many of the angry passages in his letters are really about protecting his spiritual children from the dangers of heresy. He fears that if they were to listen to the false teachers, then they would lose something precious that God had given them. Like any good parents who sees their children endangered, he is forceful in his response.

The sisters watched a series of religious video tapes in the evening. It was a nice relaxing way to spend the evenings for them. One of their favorites was the Assisi Underground which tells the story of how friars and sisters in Assisi hid and saved many, many Jewish people during the war.

I finished a book entitled Rise to Rebellion by Jeff Shaara. He and his father have written a series of fictional history books about American history. They create dialogues for their historic characters. This book was about the period that led up to the American Revolution. It was quite entertaining.

Sunday I had Mass at Relay, a lay run community. Priests come in for sacramental purposes, but the lay boards run the life of the community. When one wishes to become part of the community, one receives a mentor family for a period of six months. At the end of the trial, one can sign up, but one is expected to serve on one of the community's committee (e.g. liturgy, social action, catechesis, etc.) When I say community, I don't mean that they live together. The focal point of their community is the church building (an old Presbyterian Church which they bought). They have one liturgy each Sunday (so that they can remain united as a faith community). I always enjoy celebrating there. People are very involved in music and preparation of the liturgy. There is a real spirit of joy and camaraderie.


fr. Jude

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Decades and decades of service: Priests' Retreat in Priestfield, WV: June 15 - 19, 2009

June 23, 2009

Peace and Good,

This past week I was in Priestfield,, WV, for a retreat with priests from the diocese of Harrisburg, PA. There were about a dozen of them, and most of them were retired or soon to retire. What was remarkable was that even those who were quite elderly (80's and 90's) were still helping out in the local parishes. There was a tremendous fraternal spirit among them.

Priestfield is one of four retreat houses in the Charleston-Wheeling (all of West Virginia) diocese. I have heard a couple of versions of how they were built. The latest was that the bishop was on a ship and was asked by some people to be a fourth in playing Bridge. By the time that the journey was over, he had been given a considerable donation (either an oil well or money from oil, again, the details are different in the various versions). The four houses were built from the proceeds of that donation. Priestfield is a wonderfully prayerful place.

I mentioned to one of the priests that I will be preaching a St. Anne's novena in July. He told me a story about his devotion to St. Anne. When he was in his 30's, he had a very serious heart attack. The doctor told him that he would never be able to work again. He prayed to St. Anne and promised that if he could perform his priestly duties, he would make a pilgrimage to St. Anne in Beauprey, Quebec. He slowly recovered, and then when he made his pilgrimage, he realized that he wasn't suffering from any discomfort from his heart condition. That was well over 30 years ago, and he has been in ministry ever since.

I finished a book on the CIA and KGB during the period that led up to the fall of the Soviet Union. The title is the Main Enemy by Milt Bearden and James Risen. It was fascinating. There is so much going on in the world that we cannot even begin to understand. We hear press reports and think that we know all the details, but there are layers and layers of truth and lies that make it so difficult to figure out what is right and wrong in the world. This book also spoke of two of the great traitors during that era: Aldridge Ames and Robert Hansen. I just don't understand how they could have done it.

This week I am in Kensington, MD, giving a retreat to the Holy Cross Sisters.

God bless and

fr. Jude

Monday, June 15, 2009

A Chance to Rest a Bit: St. Joseph Cupertino Friary, Ellicott City, MD

May 15, 2009

Peace and Good,

I have been home this past week. This has made three weeks in a row that I am not on the road. It was a very good chance to get caught up with overdue projects, to rest a bit, and most of all to reestablish my links with my local community.

I have finished a few books/CD's this past week. (I read a few at a time, so sometimes I finish a number of them at the same time.)

I listened to an abridged version of Derailed by James Siegel. This is not a book for everyone. There is a very brutal rape scene. There is a lot of violence. The premise of the book is that a man wanders from fidelity to his wife and daughter and then has to pay a horrible price for it. It is a good reminder that our actions do have consequences, sometimes disasterous consequences. I found that is was the type of book that I could only listen to in short portion because of the sense of evil and helplessness in portions of the book.

I also finished a set of CD's by Michael Beschloss, a historian, called Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America: 1789-1989. He examined various decisions made by presidents that were not exactly popular but which were nevertheless for the good of the country. I liked the fact that some of his choices were not the golden oldies (such as Washington's support for the Jay treaty and Adams choice to choose peace with France instead of listening to the mob which wanted war). I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in American history and politics. His premise is that we need courage from our leaders and not more political intrigue.

I also read a book entitled The Tsar's Last Armada by Constantine Pleshakov. It is the story of the journey that the Tsar's fleet made from the Baltic all the way to Japan in 1904-1905. When they arrived in Japan, they were utterly defeated by the Japanese under Admiral Togo. This led to the uprise in the importance of Japan and to a crushing sense of defeat and helplessness among the Russians (giving rise to a popular uprising in 1905 which was the predecesor of the later revolution during World War I). One can see how decrepit the Romanov run state was, how nepotism and favortism had sapped it of its vitality.

This past Saturday we celebrated the feast of St. Anthony with a beautiful Mass and the blessing of a shrine to enthrone the reliquary (bust) of St. Anthony that we house in the shrine. The site is based on the theme of a walnut tree, for St. Anthony lived in a walnut tree for the last couple months of his life. He was in a place north of Padua to recover from an illness, and the ground level was very damp at that time of the year. The friars built him a tree house where he might be away from that dampness and hopefully recover. (He did not, he died on June 13 of that year.) The shrine was designed by our Friar Joseph Dorniak. He is the same friar who painted the mural of the Stigmata in the chapel. His work in incredibly beautiful. If you have a chance, visit our shrine to see it. I assure you that it will bring you to prayer.

This week I will be in Priestfield, WV, giving a retreat to some priests of the Harrisburg, PA diocese.

You're in my prayers.

fr. Jude

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Finished a Large Project: St. Joseph Cupertino Friary, Ellicott City, MD: 6/1/09 - 6/08/09

June 9, 2009

Peace and Good,

I have been home for most of the past couple of weeks. It has given me a chance to work on a number of long term projects. I have just finished a very long term project - to change the audio tapes I have done over the years to the CD format. It was not simply a question of transferring the information. I edited all of the tapes to make sure that the sound quality was the best I could make them. This past week I finished the very last of the audio tapes: a series of 12 CD's on the prophets. This was a course that I taught a number of years ago. I will begin on a couple of other taping project in the next couple of months. In fact, someone this past weekend asked me to tape the presentation I was giving on the theological virtues: faith, hope and charity.

This past weekend I gave a weekend of recollection at the Dominican Retreat House at McLean, VA. The sisters there are always so welcoming. The theme that they have for this year is "Behold, I make all things new." I used the presentations on the theological virtues to show how we can change our perspective and allow God's grace to work through us so that our hearts can be made new.

This week I am on jury duty. In our county, you are assigned a week and have to call in every evening to see if your group has to report. It is a little bit of a pain, but I was glad that we were able to find a week when I was home and free to do this.

I finished a book called the Road to Kandahar: Travels Through Conflict in the Islamic World by Jason Burke. He is a reporter who travelled extensively through the Islamic World during the 1990's. This book reminds me of another which I read a few years ago: God has 99 Names. I am trying to read up on Islam and the Islamic World. The reason is that I believe we have to know more to understand what is going on. As Burke states on the terrorists, "Their violence had an aim beyond mere destruction... By sowing fear and anger among victims, by forcing witnesses to choose between support and opposition, by creating complicity among perpetrators and their sympathizers, by creating solidarity among those who have been attacked, the militants' violence aimed to build walls where they were breaking down, create difference where difference was disappearing, maintain distance where people were coming together." Those who use violence want to create communities of hate among their supporters and their opponents. The only way to truly defeat them is to refuse to play their game. That doesn't mean that one can just stand by and let them do their acts of evil. They have to be stopped. But the way that we do this cannot make us like them. This is always the danger of war, even when the war is just.

Burke had one other insight that I thought was quite interesting. He speaks about how at the turn of the century around 1900, there were great social injustices and it gave rise to the socialist and communist movement. In the 1920' and 1930's, there was social turmoil again and it gave rise to the rightist/fascist movement. Now, in the Islamic World, there is turmoil caused by social injustice, corrupt governments, rapid social change, etc. This does not explain how to affront it, but it does explain why it arose in this era. It also suggests, however, that the movement is the symptom and we have to work on the causes.

You're all in my prayers.


fr. Jude

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Catching Up At Home: St. Joseph Cupertino Friary: May 24 - May 30, 2009

June 2, 2009

Peace and Good,

I have been home in Ellicott City for most of this past week. It was good to be back with the friars. As you can see in my other blogs, I am out on the road most of the time, and that is rough for a Franciscan Friar, especially in the Conventual branch of the friars. Our name, Conventual Franciscan Friars, comes from the fact that in our early days we were the friars who lived in the convents in the cities (as opposed to many of the other friars who lived in the countryside). One of our main charisms was living in community. Thus, it is not easy to be away from home so often and for so long. This year's main theme, the writings of St. Paul, has given me a lot of consolation. We all have our special gifts, and mine, I believe, is to be out on the road like St. Paul was. I often ask people how many missionary journeys Paul made. In most Bibles, there are maps which show four journeys, but my answer is that he had only one journey. Once he encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus, Jesus was his home, wherever he might be. That has to be true for me as well. Wherever I am, I have to make my home in Jesus and in those with whom I am staying.

This past weekend I went down to Virginia Beach, Virginia, to officiate at the wedding of my nephew Brian and his bride Sarah. Right from the time of the practice I noticed how respectful the wedding party was. This is not always the case. Brian and Sarah had chosen young women and men (family and friends) who were joyful but also mature. The readings that Sarah and Brian chose were from Genesis (the idea that man and woman were made for each other), First John (that we learn what true love is from God's example), and the Gospel of John (the Wedding Feast of Cana, the idea that God is extravagant in his blessing and calls us to gratitude and celebration). The wedding team at the parish was most welcoming and helpful (again, not always the case in all parishes).

I have finished a couple of books. I read a book by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin called Halsey's Typhoon. Halsey was known as a fighting admiral, and normally that attitude served him well. But in December of 1944 his fleet ran into a terrible typhoon and many lives were lost. He was very slow in reacting to the disaster (possibly because shortly before he had left the troops invading the Philippines largely unprotected as he chased after an enemy fleet and was accused of abandoning his post). It made me reflect on how our actions can be so influenced by what preceded them. It is so important to take context into account for ourselves and others. The authors of this book, unfortunately, have a tendency to look for heroes and villains.

I also finished a book on tape: Ken Follett's World Without End. He is generally a good author, but he has that hero/villain tendency even more than the authors of the preceding book. All of his villains are Church officials: bishops, priests and monks. I am getting tired of books and stories in which Church figures are evil, vain, avaricious, etc. - without any virtue whatsoever. I know full well that this is sometimes true (but not always).

As I listened to the book, I found myself getting angry (and I have a rule of thumb that when I get angry, something is going on inside of my own heart). Obviously, some of my frustration at the book was what I mentioned in the paragraph above. But another part is that in these past few years I have met clergy who are into the power game. Again, they are a minority, but they can do so much harm to the Church when their only concern is their career and the power they can exercise over others. I have to keep going back to prayer on this (both for them and for myself so that I not fall into this tendency).

I finished another set of CD's: the Holy Spirit in the Bible. They are available in the catalog on the companions site, or you can order them at my e mail address ( There are 3 CD's in this set (I think that they cost $18).

I will be home again this week. This weekend I will be giving a retreat at the Dominican Retreat House in McLean, Va.

God bless and

fr. Jude