Sunday, February 26, 2012

London - Rome - Assisi - Rome

February 27, 2012

Peace and Good,

I returned home from London on Monday of this past week. The visit to the various friaries was very good, and I ended up seeing almost all of the friars in the delegation of Great Britain and Ireland.

On Wednesday, the General and I met with a group of pilgrims from the provinces of St. Anthony and Immaculate Conception. A number of them were friars, and the others were our co-workers. These are people who work in our apostolates: parishes, high schools, etc. Every couple of years we offer a pilgrimage to them to Rome and Assisi. It is kind of like showing someone who is visiting where one grew up. Assisi is the very heart of our spirituality. It is great to share this treasure with them. It shows them who we are, or at least who we hope to be.

On Thursday I went up to Assisi to visit with a Korean friar to continue the visitation of his province. He has been working there for seven years, and is a very prayerful person. It was a joy to share some time with him. I also visited some old Romanian friends, and the American friars who are working in the Basilica.

On Friday I returned to Rome and on Saturday and Sunday I met with the last of the Korean friars for the visitation. I am now writing the report that will be presented to our General Definitory here in Rome and to the friars of the province of Korea. As I said at the beginning of the visitation, these visits are done every six years to give the friars encouragement and guide them along the way.

This week we have a week full of meetings, and then this coming Sunday I head out to Africa for a few weeks. I do not know how the internet connection will be there, so don't be surprised if these blogs are a little late.

These are the books I have been reading:

Conspiracy in Kiev by Noel Hynd

This is the story of an woman working for the government who is recruited to undertake a CIA project to check out a Ukranian/Russian mafia figure during the time of a presidential visit to Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. The first part ends is a bloody massacre when assassins try to kill the president. Part two is when this same woman goes to a remote village in Venezuela to investigate threats made against Christian missionaries there. Once again, it ends badly. She had to kill many of the men who are threatening her and the government. This is a Christian novel. Unfortunately, the Christian part does not feel natural, almost as if it was tacked on to make sure that a Christian publisher would sell it. I especially don’t like the fact that the woman whose heritage was Catholic but whose father converted to a Protestant faith is portrayed as having found the truth (subtly implying that Catholicism was not quite there).

White Fang by Jack London

This is the second book I have read by Jack London where he writes from the perspective of a dog in the great north during the Yukon gold rush. This one involves a dog who is actually ¾ wolf. He is treated well or badly by his various owners. He responds to kindness with loyalty, and meanness with greater cruelty. There are some descriptions of nature and how the young wolf/dog responded to it that are incredibly good. Even his image of the wolf/dog thinking of people as a type of god because of their absolute power over him is classic. There is a certain amount of violence all throughout the book which probably makes it unusable for younger children, but other readers would probably enjoy it.

Monsoon: the Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power by Robert D Kaplan

This book is almost a travelogue of someone who is investigating the various cultures that reside all around the Indian Ocean. That is a part of the world that most American don’t know all that well, but the authors premise is that we should. Right now India and China are struggling to become regional powers in the area, and we American have our own interests there as well (given the fact that so much oil is exported through the area from the Persian gulf and Indonesia). The authors descriptions of what is going on in countries such as Oman, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Myanmar (Burma), Sri Lanka, etc. are priceless. By coincidence, I was reading this book as I was flying to the Philippines, and I was passing over many of the areas being described by the author. Definitely a must read for those interested in world events.

Hope you have a good week.

fr. Jude

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Baltimore - Liverpool - London - Manchester

February 19, 2012

Peace and Good,

This past week I have been travelling around Ireland and Great Britain for a series of conferences to the friars of our delegation. This delegation is part of the province of St. Anthony of USA. That province took charge of the delegation to help it back on its feet after several bad years and a loss of numbers. They now have a number of vocations at their programs in Canterbury and Misshawaka.

Fr. Paul, the delegate in charge of this jurisdiction, asked me to give a report on the activities of the Congress of Nairobi on multi-culturality. As an order, we have more and more friars from the southern and eastern world, and this is changing the complexion of the order. This is a good thing, but it does cause certain challenges as we try to deal with different cultural understandings, different ways of seeing things.

I also informed the friars of a few recent developments in the order. That is an important part of my job - to inform friars about other parts of the world and what is going on. Many of them easily get caught up with the world they are doing (which is most often very good work, laudable) and they can lose track of what other friars are doing. It is great to see how interested and excited they become to learn about friars on the other part of the world.

This past weekend I travelled up to Manchester to our parish to help out. One of our older friars here has been ill lately, so the friars have been coming up from London and Canterbury to help out. This didn't work this week because the sisters of one of our friars passed away, and the friars here had to help him out a bit during this difficult time.

Tomorrow I head back to Rome.

These are the books that I have been reading.

Lord of the Scoundrels by Loretta Chase

The best way to describe this novel is to call it a 19th century British romantic farce. It is about a man who, because of the way he had been treated growing up, turned out to be an absolute scoundrel. He meets his comeuppance when he encounters a young woman who turns out to be as clever, sensual, and insightful as he. There are some sex scenes which sort of fit the tenor of the book for those who don’t want to read those things. But it is clever and funny. Not exactly a heavy read, but once in a while you’ve got to cut loose.

Making History: the great Historians interpret the Past by Allen Gorlzo

This is a series of 24 lectures from the Teaching Company on how historians write about history. It helps one to get behind what is said to the question of why it was said that way. What prejudice did the author have in describing events as he did? Did it approach it as a gradual improvement in civilization, or the result of decadence? Were there religious motives (or political or economic or revolutionary) in what he is saying and how he says it. This series was quite good, although it is the kind of thing that you would really have to be a history lover to enjoy.

Lenin: a Biography

This is a long, detailed biography of Lenin, the father of the Russian Revolution. Service has written a series of three biographies about the founders of the communist movement: this one, one on Trotsky and one on Stalin. He is neither too negative nor positive. It is frightening to enter the mind of someone who is so convinced that he has a monopoly on the truth that he was willing to sacrifice countless lives to bring about his vision (which was not all that consistent either). He sacrificed almost everyone in his life to his ideal, including most of his communist collaborators. While some of what he wanted was laudatory (justice for the oppressed in society), his way of accomplishing it was horrifying. The book is long with enormous amounts of detail, but one never gets the sense that the detail was put there just to pad the book a bit. At the end of reading the book, one has a very good sense of who Lenin was. I am going to read the other two biographies when I get a chance.

I hope you have a good week.

fr. Jude

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Jonesboro, GA - Jacksonville, FL - Ellicott City, MD - Dublin, Ireland

February 12, 2012

Peace and Good,

This has been a good week. I began it in Atlanta. From there I drove down to Jacksonville on Monday along with two other friars to a retreat house where I would be preaching a retreat for the friars of the two eastern provinces (Immaculate Conception and St. Anthony). The theme of the retreat was that God was making all things new. This retreat and four others I will be preaching this year were part of a spiritual preparation for the joining of the provinces in 2014. The main purpose of the retreat was to make sure that the union was not simply a superficial joining of two groups of friars, but was rather an opportunity to take a look at our lives and see what needs to be changed. I compared it to moving to a new friary. One has two choices: one can simply pack everything in a moving van (thus needing a bigger one each time someone moves) or one can get rid of what wasn’t really necessary and pack light.

The talks were based on transitional moments in Sacred Scripture: Abraham; Moses; The exile in Babylon; After the Exile; the call to be disciples; the early Church; and the New Jerusalem of the Book of Revelation.

It is never easy to preach to the friars of one’s own community. They know you a little too well. But the friars could not have been more gracious. They entered into the spirit of the retreat wonderfully, and we had some really good conversations.

On a hunch, I also spent ten minutes or so before each of the conferences to talk about things that are going on in the order. Being the Assistant General, I get to see the order at a much wider level than most of the friars, and it is part of my job to let them know what is happening. A number of friars told me how much they appreciated that.

On Friday I flew back to Ellicott City, and then on Saturday night I headed out to Dublin. I will be participating in a series of assemblies (here, in Liverpool, and in London) over this next week. Then I will be heading back to Rome.

I finished a few books.

A Prisoner of Birth by Jeffrey Archer

This book tells of a young working man from London who is falsely accused and convicted of killing his best friend when a band of four rich professionals (one of whom committed the murder) testify against him. He is befriended by a man in prison who belongs to the Scottish nobility who becomes his tutor in school and also in how to comport himself in the world. When the noble is murdered in prison, the young man takes the identity of the noble (for he looks remarkably like him – e.g. The Pauper and the Prince) in order to be released so that he might prove his innocence. This particular detail is a bit unlikely, but the book is quite good overall. I wouldn’t mind reading some more of Archer’s writing.

Typhoon by Joseph Conrad

In this novella, Conrad tells of a captain transporting a group of Chinese coolies to their home city. His ship runs into a terrible typhoon, and they just barely survive. The great thing in the story is that the captain is remarkable dull witted. He never seems to be able to understand the nuances of anything that is said or done. Yet, it is his very slowness that ends up saving the ship from destruction both from the storm and from a rebellion of the Chinese. Once again, Conrad is a great author, and I could easily read anything that he has written. I just cannot believe that English was not his mother tongue. French was, and Polish was his second language. English was his third language, and yet his writing is remarkably good.

Imperium by Robert Harris

This is a historic novel about the rise of the famous orator Cicero to the imperium, the office of Council in the Roman Republic in the early days of Julius Caesar. It is written from the point of view of his private secretary, a slave. (Remember, in Roman times, many of the slaves were educated and quite respected for their expertise.) We hear about the plots and counterplots, the corruption of the later republican era of Rome, etc. Harris has done an incredibly good job in this book. I listened to the abridged version of it, and some day I would love to listen to the longer version of it, something that I could only rarely say for the books that I listen to on my MP3.

Have a good week.

fr. Jude

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Ellicott City, MD - Jonesboro, GA

February 5, 2012

Peace and Good,

This has not been all that busy a week. I came down here to Jonesboro this past Sunday for a series of meetings with the provincials of the United States, Canada, and Great Britain/Ireland. We have a rather large parish in Jonesboro, and we were hosted by the friars living and working there. The parish has an interesting mix of Hispanic, Anglo, African American and African.

We met Monday and Tuesday and discussed a number of important issues, including our assistance in Assisi.

In Assisi, our friars take care of the Basilica of St. Francis where St. Francis is buried and also the Sacro Convento, the very large friary for the friars working in the Basilica. We try to have friars from all over the world stationed there to host the pilgrims and tourists who come to Assisi. It is easy to help them enter into the spirit of Assisi because of the beautiful artwork in the Basilica, including a series of frescoes on the walls of the upper basilica which recount the life of St. Francis by Giotto. These frescoes are really the beginning of western art as we know it. Before that, most art, even in the west, was a Byzantine style in which the figures are represented without any movement or emotion. The basilica marks the beginning of landscape in the paintings and emotion and what is called plasticity (movement). The reason for this is obvious - St. Francis saw this world as a revelation of God's love, so it was a fitting subject for the artist.

Wednesday we took a field trip to the Martin Luther King Jr. center and to the Jimmy Carter Center. I had previously seen the former, but this was the first time that I saw the Jimmy Carter Center. It has the presidential library, a presentation center, and a center for dialogue and negotiation. He has worked hard for free and fair elections and for peace negotiations in trouble spots of the world. Rosylyn, his wife, has worked hard for treatment for the mentally ill. They are both exemplary in the way they have dedicated their time to service of their fellow human beings.

Tomorrow I head out to Jacksonville to preach a retreat to members of two provinces. This is the first of five retreats that I will preach for them this year as they prepare to unite in the year 2014.

I have finished a few books:

The Reign of Henry the Eighth by James Anthony Froude

This is the story of Henry the Eighth from the beginning to the end of his decision to divorce Catherine of Aragon and to marry Anne Boleyn. It goes into some of the economic and social realities of the era. Froude is a bigoted Protestant apologist for what Henry the Eighth did. Anything that destroyed the Catholic Church is seen as positive. While he at times admits that Henry had his faults, his greatest attacks are aimed at the Pope and the venality of the English Church (which did deserve some condemnation in those days). I would not recommend this book to anyone other than to exemplify how history should not be written.

King Alfred of England by Jacob Abbott

You might remember that I have been reading a series of biographies of historic figures that were written by Jacob Abbott for young Englishmen around the turn of the 19th to the 20th centuries. This is not one of his better books. He has so little information for this early Anglo Saxon king that he must pad his book with tons of apologia for the Anglo Saxon race. The book really has a racist overtone, which is to be expected given when it was written (during the reign of Queen Victoria).

Auschwitz by Miklos Nyiszli

This is an eyewitness account of some of the horrors of Auschwitz. Nyiszli is a Jewish doctor who was recruited by Mengele when he arrived at Auschwitz to do autopsies on those killed in the camp (either to find out of some disease had killed them or for some twisted motive on the part of Mengele). It is the kind of book that anyone who might deny the horrors of the extermination camps should read.