Monday, January 31, 2011

The meetings are finished

January 31, 2011

We have finally finished out three week marathon of meetings. They were all productive and worthwhile, but they went on, and on, and on. The guardian announced Friday night that we would have private prayers for Saturday so people could sleep in a bit. (We usually have prayers and Mass at 7:15.) Everyone broke out in applause.

Saturday I took a quick trip up to Assisi for another meeting (what else). It went very well. It concerns the American friars who are serving there and the hope that we can get one or two more to volunteer to work there. It is a wonderful apostolate, but you have to learn Italian (that is the common langauge in the friary) and you have to be flexible. Living in Italy, there are always surprises. For example, getting up to and back from Assisi was a bit of a trick because there was a 24 hour train strike. It turns out that only certain trains were on strike, but it was almost impossible to find out which ones because the offices were all closed.

Tomorrow I fly out to the States and I will be there for a couple of weeks. On my way back to Rome, I will stop off in England, Scotland and Ireland.

I finished a couple of books. One was Beautiful Lies by Lisa Unger. It is a mystery novel about a young woman who finds out that her parents are not really her biological parents. It turns out that she and a number of other babies were kidnapped from their parents because the kidnappers thought that the parents were incapable of raising the children (because of violence, drugs, drink, etc.) It has quite a few surprises along the way. I enjoyed it.

A second book was Forever Odd by Dean Koontz. This is the third of the odd books that I have read. They are incredibly good, and I actually listen to them and the narrator is excellent. I think he has one more in the series so far, and I am going to try to find it in the States when I am over there.

We have had cold weather, but nothing compared with the east coast of the States. Here, 45 during the day is considered very cold.

Take care and
fr. Jude

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Relics of St. Peter

January 23, 2011

Peace and Good,

I finished the second and last week of "finishing school" for the new provincials and secretaries of the order. This was a smaller group than the first. Most of them were Italian, but we also had a couple from the US, a couple from Honduras, one from Mexico, one from the Philippines, and one from Lebanon. You can really tell how international the order is when we all come together for things like this. Talking with the friar from Lebanon (his jurisdiction is Lebanon and Turkey), he spoke of trying to witness to the Christian faith in a predominantly Muslim part of the world. Every Tuesday, our Church in Istambul is packed with Muslims who want to light candles to St. Anthony. (Tuesday is traditionally St. Anthony day.) When they are in the church, the friars make themselves available to talk. They are not there to convert anyone, just give witness. Certainly, if someone wants to convert, that is great, but it is difficult for they are always disowned by their Muslim families. The friars can share the faith within the church, but they cannot prostelytize in any way outside of the church.

One of the highlights of the week was the pilgrimage we made to St. Peter's Basilica. We visited the "scavi," which means the excavations. In 1940, Pope Pius XII ordered excavations to the made under the main altar to see if they could find the tomb of St. Peter. What they found amazed the archaeologists. They found an entire cemetary that dated back to the first century AD. St. Peter had been buried near the top of a hill. When Constantine wanted to build the basilica, he cut off the top of the hill and filled in the valley to level it out. Then he built a massive basilica over the site of the tomb. When Pope Julius II tore down that basilica and built the present basilica, he had the main altar placed over the spot of the main altar of the original basilica. The actual burial site of Peter was lost for centuries. In 1941, the archaeologists found a burial site and a modest monument. As they checked it out, it was surrounded by other tombs of Christians (they can tell they are Christians because of the Christian symbols on the tombstone and the fact that there is a death date. Pagans would write how long the person lived, the Christians would put when the person was born to heaven.) They also found grafiti around the site that pointed to this being Peter's tomb. They found a few bones that had not disintegrated. They were covered with clay (for tradition was that Peter had been buried in the earth first and only later were his relics placed in the monument that was built over his tomb). They were of a man who was between 60 and 70 when he died, robust, etc. Pope Paul VI had the relics placed in a simple plastic box and put back in their original site. The simplicity of it all is very moving.

On the way out we passed by Pope John Paul II's tomb. I asked when his body is going to be moved (for they are moving him upstairs for the beatification on May 1st), but the guide did not know.

This week I will be in Rome for another set of meetings. Then, Sunday I scoot up to Assisi for a one day meeting. A week from Tuesday I head over to the States for a number of assignments.

I finished a couple of books. One was a short story be Honore de Balzac called Farewell. It is the story of a woman and a French officer who took part in the retreat from Moscow with Napoleon. It gives an incredibly good picture of the horror of the experience. We often hear of the events in history, but this story helps one remember that those events involved individuals.

A second book was the story of Hannibal by Jacob Abbott. I have read a few of Abbott's biographies. He has done a whole series of them on historic figures. This was not his best. It is interesting to see how he tries to defend British colonial policy in his depiction of Hannibal. He wrote this at the end of the 19th century when the sun really did not set on the British empire. Abbott always shows Hannibal as wrong and the Roman as simply defending themselves when the story is much more complex than that.

Hope you have a good week.
fr. Jude

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Rome: Week Two

January 16, 2011

Peace and Good,

This has been a pleasant change, to spend a week home in Rome. I'll be here for another two weeks now. Last week and this week are taken up in a workshop that is presented to new provincials and the secretaries of the provinces to help them in their new job. We had quite a large group of them last week (I think over 30), and this week we have a much smaller group. We English speakers call it "finishing school." I don't think the non-English speakers understand the running joke.

This reminds one of how extensive the order is. 30 years ago, we were in 35 different nations. Now we are in 67. We are about the same number of friars as we were at the beginning of the Second Vatican Council (which is extraordinary because most orders have shrunk enormously). What has changed is that we have gone from a European/North American order to one that is truly international.

This week I also learned quite a bit of an initiative called Franciscans International. It is a lobbying body of all of the Franciscans throughout the world (First, Second and Third Orders) before the United Nations. We have representatives in every country upon the earth, and we often see things from the ground up while officials see them from above down. We call to the attention of the UN situations where there is blatant injustice ocurring. One of our Friars, fr. Michael Laskey, is the representative of the Franciscans International in New York City.

My own provincial, fr. James, and our province secretary, fr. Richard Jacob were here for the week. There are three of us from my province stationed here, and another at one of the other houses in Rome. It was good to be all together and share the news.

This was also a good week for writing. I wrote a series of articles for the Messenger of St. Anthony (not to be confused with the St. Anthony Messenger). I am now way ahead of the game. I have a backlog of 27 articles, which is two and a half years worth. I turned my attention to the daily reflections, and finished the rought draft of the rest of February. I just have to edit them on my computer. It usually takes about 3 to 4 minutes editing for each minute of play.

I finished a couple of works. One was a set of tapes called April 1865: The Month that saved America by Jay Winik. It deals with the closing events of the Civil War. Winik argues some of his own theories which are not always common belief, but it is always great to see it from a different perspective.

The second work was a set of CD's call the Ruins by Scott Smith. Actually, this was made into a movie this past year. It starts out as a college spring vacation story, and ends up as a horror story. It unfolds slowly, and one is never quite sure how it will work out. It is messy (in terms of deaths) and surprising, without descending into some of the cliches used in science fiction.

I hope you ahve a good week.

God bless and

fr. Jude

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Minster Abbey, Kent, England

January 9, 2011

Peace and Good,

This past week was spent in southern England giving a retreat at Minster Abbey. There were two postulants for the English/Irish delegation of our order, and I preached to them about the Gospel of John and the call to be the beloved disciple. (The reason that the beloved disciple is never named in the Gospel of John is that we are supposed to become beloved of the Lord.) Matthew is a former Anglican Franciscan who became Catholic a couple of years ago. He is a talented artist. Benedict is a young man from Nigeria who is joining the delegation. He would truly love for our friars to open a foundation in his homeland. We are talking about it, but the time is not yet right.

Minster Abbey dates back to 670. It was an abbey of Benedictine Sisters until the suppresion of the monasteries under King Henry VIII. It was for sale in the late 1930's, and the Benedictines were able to buy it and reestablish religious life on the site. The sisters who came there were from Nazi Germany, one of them being a converted Jew who was therefore in great danger. They came from the monastery of Eichstatt, which was founded by missionaries from the Minster Abbey long ago.

The sisters sing the entire divine office in Gregorian Chant (most in English, but evening Vespers in Latin). It is most beautiful and prayerful. Yet, I know that this is not how I could pray regularly. I very much like how the friars pray the divine office in community.

While I was passing through, I was able to visit the head of the Franciscan Institute in Canterbury. Just up the hill from the city, we have an international center for Franciscan studies. I have taught there a couple of times. I would love to go back and teach, but with my new responsibilities, the best I could ever do would be to give retreats or short courses every now and then.

The weather was miserable. England is so far north that the days are short. The whole week was cloudy and rainy. It was great to get back to sunny Italy where each day is in the high 50's.

I finished a couple of books. The first if Forests of the Night by James Hall. It is the story of a police woman who goes from Miami to North Carolina to investigate a plot against her husband's family. It involves the Cherokee community there and their traditions. The story is complicated by the fact that their daughter suffers from scitzophrenia. It was quite good.

The second book was The Carnevoir's Inquiry by Salana Murray. This was a truly strange book about a young woman who turns out to be a mass murderer and carnevoir. It made you question as to what was true and what was her own delusion. In this sense, it succeeded. Yet, it was very strange.

Hope you have a great week.
fr. Jude

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Few Days in Assisi

January 2, 2011

Peace and Good,

Well, the meetings are over for the holidays, so I spent the past week in Assisi for some prayer and relaxation. I had not had a chance to have a retreat this year, so this time served as a bit of that. Assisi is beautiful at any time of the year. I arrived there on December 26th, and was able to visit with Fr. Lanfranco Sierini who is one of our previous ministers general. He is showing his age, but he is still vitally interested in what the friars are doing. I visited the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Assisi whose mother house is there. Over the years, I have given conferences and retreats to them on three different continents.

Friday, a few of us took a trip up to La Verna where St. Francis received the Stigmata, the wounds that Jesus had. This happened two years before his death, and typical of authentic revelations, he didn't quite know to make of it. He hid it from others, and most of the friars only found out about it after he died. He is the first knows saint to have had the stigmata.

Yesterday I returned to Rome and had some surpise business to take care of. Two of our benefactors were visiting from the States, and they wanted to talk about the friars applying for grants to help finance their missionary and charitable efforts. They are very generous in time and talent and have already helped us enormously in Zambia. We are hoping to get something more going over the next year.

Tomorrow I will be heading to Canterbury, England, to give a retreat to a group of men in formation there.

As usual, I finished a couple of books. One was a Robert Ludlum book called the Moscor Vector. He is usually good, but this book only really measured OK on the scale. It was about a new president of Russia who hatches a plot to take over the old soviet republics that once formed the Soviet Union. His secret weapon is a virus that kills only the person for whom it is specifically genetically designed.

A second book was The Treasure of the Incas by GA Henty. I have read a couple of other books by Henty. They were written around 1900 for British young people showing the heroism of the British and the failure to measure up of anyone else. Some of the expressions would certainly be considered to be racist today, but in his time he was probably thought of as enlightened. The plot in general is good and there is always pleanty of action.

Keep well and
fr. Jude