Sunday, October 31, 2010

At Home in Rome

October 31, 2010

PEace and Good,

Well, I arrived in Rome on the 27th of October, just in time to celebrate my feast day in my new friary. I am living in the general curia near the Basilica of Santi'Apostoli - the Church of the Holy Apostles. The bodies of Ss Philip and James are the major relics in the Church, brought back by the crusaders (which is a nicer way than saying that they were robbed from the Eastern Church in some of the ugliness that characterized the crusades).

This Tuesday I will be attending my first definitory. This is a meeting of the council of Assistant Generals and the Minister General. We have three assistant generals for Europe, one for North America, one for Latin America, one for Africa nd one for Asia.

I have begun to explore Rome a bit already. Today I went to the Church of the Gesu. This is the headquarters of the Jesuits, and it is only a couple of blocks from where I live. The Church is a masterpiece of Baroque. That is not my favorite art style. I prefer the Gothic which is simple and clean. In the baroque, sometimes it seems as if the heavens are vomiting cute little angels all over the place.

The church was dedicated just after the Council of Trent, and it shows a few of the changes in theology effected at the council. There is no narthex or entranceway. One walks directly into the body of the church. The idea was that no one should be able to hide away in the entranceway of the church during Mass and chat away while Mass was going on. For a similar reason, there are no side aisles. The Church is one large open expanse. There are major relics there of St. Ignatius (his body), St. Francis Xavier (his arm - the rest of his body is in India where he was a missionary), the body of St. Joseph Pignatelli, and the arm of St.Andrew Bobola (I still don't understand why we Catholics cut the bodies up, I just don't find it respective to the remains.)

I live on the 4th floor of my buiilding (which in American buildings would be considered to be the 5th floor because here they count the first floor as the ground floor). There is a beautiful terrazza outside of my room which I can walk upon for my daily walk. (It beats the heck out of trying to dodge tourists in the streets.)
It's odd, one part of me feels everything is new and confusing, and the other feels as if I have always been here.)

I have finished a few books. The first was a CD of Deep Black, Dark Zone by Stephen Coontz. This is not really a recommended one. It was a cheap attempt at a spy novel about the bombing of the Chunnel (the train running under the English Channel) and the Eiffel Tower.

I finished Magic Terror by Peter Straub. This was a collection of truly disturbing short stories. Some of them were ghost stories, other murder stories. I did not so much enjoy as get through it.

I also finsihed a set of tapes called Iron and Silk by Mark Salzman. This was the story of a young American who went to China to teach English and studied martial arts with one of the best experts in the world. It was well written. I'm not sure at all that the experiences would be the same (although some of the beaucratic stories are still valid in many parts of the world, including Italy), but is was good. He even draws a connection between the discipline required to become a good caligrapher and doing martial arts which requires a thoughful and artistic stance.

I'll be here in Rome for the week and then back to the States next Mohday.

Take care and Shalom
fr. Jude

PS I am not that good of a speller, and unfortunately when I write this blog in Italy and try spell check, every English word comes up as misspelled. I'll do the best I can, but please forgive any mistakes.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Packing up

October 25, 2010

Peace and Good,

This past week involved the end of one apostolate and the beginning of another. A week ago I finished my last weekend retreat at the Dominican Retreat House in McLean, VA. Then on Monday I flew out to Louisville to visit on of our American Provincials, fr. Jim Kent. He is the provincial of Our Lady of Consolation Province. This is one of five provinces in the US, one of two Midwestern provinces.

Geographically, it is extensive. It runs from Minnesota to New Mexico to Ohio. There are around 100 friars in it. fr. Jim filled me in on some of the projects of the province. They have spent an enormous amount of spiritual energy to renew their community life. This has been an ongoing project for the past ten years, and the friars feel that it has borne serious fruit in the quality of life together as friars.

They are also very mission oriented. They were one of two jurisdictions to found the province in Zambia where they still have four active friars. They still have a close bond with the friars there and have offered a number of forms of assistance over the years (e.g. with the guidance of a lay volunteer, they sponsored leadership training programs for the people in charge in the province and in various other associated activities).

They also founded a custody in Central America that especially serves the poor in Honduras and El Salvador.

They are not making an outreach to our relatively young province in India to help them develop their apostolates and assist them any way that they might.

I was incredibly impressed by the outreach to these needs. Most impressive was their outreach to India. We friars often assist jurisdictions that we have founded, but India was not founded by these friars. Yet, they have reached out to them.

The main apostolates for the province are parish ministry and retreat work. They have four retreat houses in Minnesota, Ohio, Indiana and New Mexico. They also have a number of friars in education, especially at the university level.

I came home in time for dental surgery. That evening I came down with the flu. Don't you love it. I'm just feeling better now just in time to pack.

People keep asking me whether I am excited about going over. I am not sure that I can use that word. I have absolutely no doubt that the Spirit is behind it, so there is a real feeling of trust. It will all be well.

I finished a few books. The first is actually two short essays on Rembrandt by Josef Israels and Mortimer Menpes. We know so little about this incredibly talented artist. His style went out of fashion even before his death. He lived a bit of an extravagant life style that bankrupted him. Yet, his works are incredible. His mixture of shadow and light take ones breath away.

I read a work on China and the Manchus by Herbert Allen Giles. The last dynasty that ruled Chine before it became a republic at the turn of the 20th century was actually a group of foreigners from the north. They ruled China for some 300 years, and this was an overview of their reign.

Finally, I finished the River War by Winston Churchill. Yes, it is that Winston Churchill. He is actually a good author, although incredibly prejudiced against Africans, Indians, Irish, etc. This is an account of how Egypt and Britain reconquered the Sudan after a rebellion there led by a religious figure who claimed to be the Messiah (Mahdi).

I'll write you from Rome next week.
fr. Jude

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Last Hurrah

October 18, 2010

The Feast of St. Luke

Peace and Good,

This past week has been a whirlwind of getting ready to head over to Rome. There were dental appointments, packing, etc. All has come off quite well.

I have not yet taken my oath of office but already I have begun to assume some of the duties. I am a liaison between the General Offices of the order and the provincials. I am not quite sure what that will mean, but at the very least I will be translating communications to and from Italian into English for each side.

This past weekend I preached my last retreat before I begin those responsibilities. I was at the Dominican Retreat House in McLean, VA for a preached men's retreat. There was a group of around 40 men. It is interesting to notice the different dynamics between men and women on these retreats. Men especially want time to sit and ask questions about the faith and life, etc. Women tend to want more quiet time and one on one discussions. The retreat house in McLean is a wonderful place, and the sisters there make it so welcoming.

Today I fly out to Louisville to meet one of the provincials. Most of the others I will meet when I return from Rome in November, but this provincial will be out of the country. This is just a fact finding trip and to get to know him a bit better and he to get to know me.

I found out that many of my theology books will end up at our house of studies in Nairobi, Kenya. I am thrilled. They will be put to good use.

I finished a number of books and tapes. The first was a book on Mary Tudor by W. Llewelyn Williams. She is commonly known as "Bloody Mary" because of the many Protestants she put to death during her reign. Williams is more balanced that many other authors I have read on the topic. Mary comes across as trapped between divergent choices that led to disastrous results, rather than being a paranoid murderer.

The second work was the Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe. I have heard about this short story forever, but I had never read it. It is a wonderfully gothic tale of tragedy and doom.

The third book was by Carmen Callil and it was called Bad Faith: A forgotten history of fame, fatherland, and Vichy France. It is the story of how an anti-Semite among the French collaborated to deport so many Jews to their deaths during World War II. The Vichy period has always fascinated me because most French like to ignore it or downplay how much they collaborated with the German occupiers. The fact is that most people just did what they had to survive, a small minority actively fought the occupation, but about the same number actively collaborated with the occupiers.

A fourth work was the Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Again, I have always seen this title, but had never read the book. It was the source for the story portrayed in Apocalypse Now. It is the story of a trader in ivory who goes mad and becomes the god for a tribe in the backwoods of Congo during the 19th century. It is well written and fascinating. It always amazes me that Conrad was such a good author even though English was not his native language for he was Polish by nationality.

God bless and

fr. Jude

Monday, October 11, 2010

Packing up

October 11, 2010

Peace and Good,

This past week I have been home sorting through things and deciding what I will be taking to Rome. It is for three to nine years, so it is a pretty definitive move.

The greatest difficulty was sorting out books. I a scholar, a lover of books, and a person who has an uncanny ability to find inexpensive book stores. This means that I have many, many books. I am giving away most of them. Some will go to our novitiate library, some to the library of the house of studies for our men in Washington, some to a student from Africa who is doing Bible studies, and some will be send to Africa for a seminary library.

I will take most of my clothes, but leave some here in the States for when I make visits. In my job, I will be back at least a few times a year to meet with the provincials and for other events.

It is a good feeling to get rid of much of what I have. I really don't need most of it. Even with books, I will be next door to the school where I did my Bible studies (the Biblicum), and as an alumnus, I have library privileges.

This past weekend I preached a retreat for a group of Secular Franciscans in Priestfield, WV. The seculars and candidates were great. It was a privilege to spend time with them. Priestfield is also a wonderful retreat house. It is the best food I have ever had at a retreat house, and the staff goes out of their way to be helpful and friendly.

I finished a few books.

The first was Pyrrhus by Jack Abbott. This was a Greek king who lived shortly after Alexander the Great. He is famous for having won a Pyrrhic victory (which means that he won, but he lost so many of his own troops in the victory that it all but destroyed his army). He was an incredibly restless soul, running from one war to another and never settling down to enjoy the fruits of his efforts.

The second was a book called Absolute War: Soviet Russia in the Second World War by Chris Bellamy. This was an incredibly complete overview of the invasion of the Soviet Union and its eventual victory over Nazi Germany.

The third was a book called Istanbul by Orhan Pamuk. Pamuk received the Noble Prize for Literature many years ago. This is the story of his youth in the city of his birth, and how he eventually came to write. One gets a very good sense of the spirit of the times and the turmoil of his own soul.

This week I am heading to Buffalo for a couple of days to visit family. This weekend I will be giving my last retreat for quite a while to a group of men at the Dominican Retreat House in McLean, Virginia.

Take care and
fr. Jude

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Getting Ready for the Move

October 5, 2010

Peace and Good,

I hope that all is well with you. I was in Sacred Heart Parish in Kingston, Ontario this past week giving a parish mission. Kingston is an archdiocese but is not all that big. It is a very old diocese (either the oldest or second oldest English speaking diocese in Canada). The friars are stationed there.

The theme was the Gospel of Matthew. I based the evening talks (Sunday through Thursday) on that Gospel. Then, in the morning, we had sessions on the other Gospels.

One of the themes from the Gospel of Matthew is how St. Peter receives the keys of the kingdom. This is a theme which leads us to a consideration of the papacy. Last week, CNN was running an expose on what Pope Benedict knew about the abuse scandal. After the main talk, I invited those who wished to remain and discuss the abuse situation. I didn't want to impose that discussion on everyone, but I wanted to give everyone who wised an opportunity to talk about it. I think the discussion went very well. We didn't solve anything, but we were able to talk in a loving and pastoral way. Even though there was a lot of emotion expressed, there was a deep feeling that the Spirit was guiding our discussion.

On Friday I drove back to the States, stopping in two friaries on the way home. I stopped in the friary at Assumption Basilica in Syracuse for coffee with the friars. The friars there run an incredible apostolate (or rather multiple apostolates gathered in the one site). They are truly serving the poor in so many wonderful ways.

I then stopped for supper and an overnight at Mother Cabrini Parish in Shamokin, PA. This is a combined parish, and again, the friars have done a wonderful job of serving the people by binding the disparate groups into one parish family.

I am now in the process of packing and getting ready to go to Rome. I will be going over there on October 26th for a first visit (10 days). I will be back on November 8th. Then, in early December, I will be going over there for good.

I finished a number of works this week. The first is Unconscious Comedians by Honore de Balzac, a 19th century French author. It is about a country bumbkin who visits Paris for some business and runs into his cousin who introduces him to the corruption of the big city. It is a novella and quite good.

The second was Act of Treason by Vince Flynn. This was about a vice presidential candidate who had his wife killed in a supposed terrorist attack in order to win the election and get rid of her. This is a CIA, action packed story. It is not all that good, but rather OK.

A third is Deep Sleep by Greg Iles. A war photographer searches for the murderer of her twin sister in New Orleans. Her sister was the subject of a mass murderer painter who kills young women and then paints them. Some of the story is quite implausible, but overall it is a good read.

The fourth is Bright Shiny Morning by James Frey. This is a long series of vignettes on people living in Los Angeles. They go from a Hispanic young woman who worries about her looks to a gay male movie star who almost ruins his career by his heedless life style to a wino living on the beach to a young run away couple trying to survive. Like LA, the pace is fast, jumping from one topic to the next. It is really quite good.

Take care and
fr. Jude