Sunday, April 29, 2012

Geneva - Rome - Bacau

April 29, 2012 Peace and Good, I hope you are all well. I have spent the last week in Rome. I flew back there last Sunday from Geneva where I had been attending a meeting of the Board of Directors of Franciscans International. This was a week to catch up with some work. I had to translate a document from Italian into English. It was about 7 pages long, so it too a full day just to do that. Then there was another day spent working on daily reflections. I have most of May done and sent in to be posted. I also attended a few meetings. On Monday, there was a reception of the executive committee of the men's and women's conference of major superiors. These are organizations that represent reliigious men and women in the United States. Then, on Tuesday, there was a reception for the leaders of religious communities in Rome and those from the States. Finally, on Friday, I had a meeting with one of the provincials of one of the United States provinces who was in Rome for some other meetings. This is the province that is preparing for an extraordinary chapter on May 15th, so we were able to take care of some preliminaries. I will be heading there when I get back from Romania. Yesterday, I flew back into Romania. I am giving another two retreats here to the friars who have finished initial formation. I will be in the same retreat house where I was at the beginning of Holy Week. Here, like Rome, spring has arrived. I should really say early summer because it is quite warm. That is fine with me, given that it was very, very cold in the retreat house last time (especially since it is in a valley). I will be here for two weeks. Here is some of my reading: Killer’s Choice by Ed McBain Ed McBain is a prolific author of a series of police stories. He is also the author of a book that was made into a film in the 50’s, Blackboard Jungle. This story involves the murder of a young woman who proves to be much more complicated than one would first suspect. It is almost as if she were living a triple and quadruple life. Some reviewers speak of this as a literary version of some of the police dramas on TV in the 70’s. It is an easy read, not all that challenging in characters or action. The Countess of Escarbagnas by Moliere This is a short play by the 17th century French author (read in English) which makes fun of a countess who at best can be called nasty and the servants and suitors whom she encounters in the provinces. It is a strange little production, intended to be a farce mocking the pretensions of the upper class in Moliere’s France. Princes of the Church by Dominic Aidan Bellenger and Stella Fletcher This is an overview of the cardinals of England over the ages, going from the earliest cardinals either residing in Rome or in England to the latest ones. It is an informative volume which gives some insight into why certain men were chosen and what they did or did not do for the church. There is no great polemic in the volume, no axes to grind. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Monday, April 23, 2012

Rome - Geneva - Rome

April 23, 2012 Peace and Good, This has been a week for meetings. From Monday to Wednesday, we had a meeting of the General Definitory in Rome. Actually, it continued on through Friday evening, but I had to miss the last couple of days to fly up to Geneva, Switzerland, to attend another meeting, this one of Franciscans International. A couple of months ago I was named to the International Board of Directors of this group. It is jointly sponsored by all the Franciscan families. Its purpose is to be a voice for those who are poor and oppressed at the United Nations. Every four year, every nation in the United Nations must produce a report on human rights in their country. As an NGO (non-governmental organization) which is fully accredited by the United Nations, Franciscans International can make comments and suggestions to these reports. We must often work through friendly ambassadors of other countries, but at times we can make these comments ourselves in a series of meetings. We produce our comments by checking with the Franciscans who live in those particular countries. Remember, we have the male Franciscans religious, the female Franciscan religious, and all of the secular (lay) Franciscans. I have seen figures that, if you take all of them into account, you arrive at between a quarter and a half of a million people all throughout the world. That is a loud voice for justice. We have seen some success stories from out lobbying, but often you don't succeed in an open manner. (Countries are like people, no one likes to admit that they are doing something wrong.) But, by lobbying this year, they might take something said into account in the future, if only to avoid criticism. Furthermore, much of the work being done by FI (Franciscans International) is not done with a spirit of "let's work together on this," rather than in a more adversarial manner. So Thursday through Saturday we had our semi-annual meeting in Geneva. FI has three offices: New York, Geneva and Bangkok. While New York is the official center of the UN, most of the important preliminary work is done in Geneva. I got to meet the staff there and see the office. (Believe me, it is not extravagant - 16 people working in a space that most of us say would be a work place for 5 or 6). But the people are very dedicated to the cause. Sunday I flew back to Rome and I have a few meetings this week here. For example, this afternoon there is a meeting with the exxecutive committee of the conference of men's and women's religious superiors. Then Saturday it is off to Romania for another couple of retreats. Here is a bit of my reading: Mary, Queen of the Scots by Jacob Abbott This is a short biography of Mary, a Catholic monarch of Scotland, during the days of Queen Elizabeth. She became caught up in forces beyond her ability to handle (religion, factions among the nobles, love affairs). Some of it was her fault, some that of others, and some just the difficult times in which she lived. She ended up being executed for having plotted for the overthrow of Queen Elizabeth (for she was next in line for the throne). This is one of Abbott’s biographies, not very deep but nevertheless informative. Eleven O’Clock Fright: A Novel by Joshua Scribner This is an odd novella which involves a professor of mathematics and his dabbling into profound meditation which leaves him able to transport out of his body. There is a love affair with a science fiction writer, a ghost, ghouls, etc. I have read a few short stories by this same author, and he is a good writer who helps one enter into the minds of the characters involved, even when those minds or the situations in which they find themselves are definitely twisted. Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville This is a strange little story about a scrivener (a copyist for legal documents during the 19th century) who comes to work at a legal office. Unlike the other scriveners, he sets certain limits and refuses to do certain tasks, which infuriate his boss. His response is “I would prefer not to…” Yet, there is a gentleness and efficiency to him, so that for quite some time the boss lets things go on as they are. Eventually, he lets him go, but Bartleby refuses to move, even when the office is moved to another site. He is arrested and dies because he simply prefers not to move from the site where he had found his peace. Facino Cane by Honore de Balzac It is only a short story, but I have never seen so much action and emotion packed into a short space. It deals with a blind clarinet player who turns out to be a disgraced Venetian gentleman of noble heritage who experiences lust, heroics, foolishness, good fortune, imprisonment, exile, etc. The man listening to the story of his life and travails is at first skeptical, then turns into a believer. Yet, it does him no good, for his dreams for wealth vanish before his eyes. Balzac is really a masterful story teller. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Bacau, Romania - Rome

April 12, 2012

Peace and Good,

Well, the travels of Lent have slowed down quite a bit. I finished the retreat for the clerics in Romania this past Wednesday, and then flew into Rome on Thursday. I arrived in time for the Holy Thursday service in our basilica that evening. There was quite a good crowd of people, which is unusual in our basilica. We are in the center of Rome, and most people have moved out to the suburbs. That means that we have a huge basilica with very few people who attend on a regular basis. The one great service that we offer is confessors for the students studying at the Gregorian University (run by the Jesuits) next door. There are about 2800 students from all over the world, mostly priests and sisters. We have confessors on staff so that the students can stop in on their way to school or their way home to go to confession.

The Good Friday service was more spectacular than I usually like. My favorite service throughout the year is the commemoration of the Lord’s Passion. It is so filled with silence and simplicity. According to the rules, there should be very little singing. But this is Rome where everything is done to the Baroque style. Even the Passion was sung, which made it seem more like an opera than a religious service. I am going to look for another Church next year.

These past few days I have been taking care of all the little projects that get put off when one is travelling. On Tuesday I had an appointment at our embassy to add visa pages to my passport. In the year and a half on this job I had used up all the available space in the passport. They added 48 pages to it so that should keep me going for a while. I arrived about 45 minutes early and I expected to have to wait, but they let me right in. The whole thing was done in 20 minutes. When you compare that to the bureaucracy over here, and it was all but a miracle. God bless America!

I have finished some books:

Dead Heat by Dick and Felix Francis

The book starts out with a cook’s description of food poisoning from a meal which he prepared, and it quickly moved into a bomb killing a large number of people and from which he only escapes by dumb luck. The cook is going to be sued by one of the diners who was poisoned and, when he meets her, he and she fall in love. He plays detective to see who actually poisoned the meal, for the food poisoning was not caused by a bacteria, but rather by the fact that someone added uncooked red kidney beans (which have a toxic substance that is made safe in the cooking process) to one of his sauces. The dialog is very clever and British.

Night of the Fox by Jack Higgins

This is a spy novel set in World War II just before the invasion in Normandy. An engineer who has too many secrets is ship wrecked when a mock landing goes awry. He lands on one of the channel island which is occupied by the Germans. The story then tells of a spy and his young accomplice and their adventures as they seek to rescue (or if necessary eliminate) the American engineer. The only complaint is that sometimes the author jumps a bit too much. It almost seemed as if this were an abridged edition, which it was not. Yet, overall, the writing is very good.

The Red Prince: the Secret Lives of a Hapsburg Archduke by Timothy Snyder

This is the story of a Hapsburg prince who seeks to become the king of Ukraine before, during, and after World War I. The prince’s father and family had moved to Poland in the hope of becoming their royal family if they should gain independence or more like autonomy within an expanded Hapsburg empire. Wilhelm, on the other hand, sided with the Ukrainians for much the same reason. Between the wars he lives quite a dissolute life style in Paris. When he has to leave it because of a scandal, he goes to Vienna where he sides with the fascists. This is at the same time that his brother and his family are being persecuted by the Nazis. After the war he is arrested by the Soviets for his activity to free Ukraine, and he dies shortly after being sent to prison for his “crimes.” This is an aspect of history that I had never read about, and it was fascinating.

Isabeau, A Novel of Queen Isabella and Sir Roger Mortiner by N. Gemini Sasson

This is a fictional novel on the difficulties of Queen Isabella, the queen married to King Edward II. He was a wretch of a king. The queen must fight for his affection, and loses to the king’s male friends. While he is having an affair with two of his counselors and giving them rewards that were really due to other members of the royalty, she decides to run away to the court of her brother, the king of France. There she begins an affair with Sir Roger Mortiner, a lord who is living there in exile after he crossed the paths of the king’s favorite. The writing is very good, although it portrays Isabella as completely innocent and the king as completely guilty, which is probably not quite accurate. I did not like the fact that the author rationalizes both adultery and abortion in the case of Isabeau as if it were all part of a romantic adventure.

Have a good week.

Fr. Jude

Monday, April 2, 2012

Rome - Bacau, Romania

April 2, 2012

Peace and Good,

I have travelled to Romania to give a retreat to the seminarians in our seminary in Roman, a city in the northeast of the country.

Over the years I have taught a number of courses at that seminary. The present rector and much of the staff, in fact, are my former students. All told, I took 21 trips over here, usually for a month at a time. I would teach one class in the morning for four hours, and then another in the afternoon for three hours. By the end of a few weeks, I had finished two full courses. All the teaching (as with the retreat I am now giving) was in Italian.

The theme of the retreat is the Gospel of John. This is a country where the majority of the population is Orthodox. We Catholics are only about 10%. Even the friars who are ordained are automatically bi-ritual (Western and Eastern rite). John is filled with symbolism about the marriage of Jesus with the Church, and the liturgy of the East calls this week, Holy Week, the liturgy of the bridegroom.

There are about 50 friars on the retreat. While the numbers are down quite a bit from when I first taught here, they are still significant.

I head back to Rome on Thursday to celebrate the Triduum at home at Santi Apostoli, the basilica where I live.

My reading has been:

The Cat of Bubastes

This is another of the GA Henty historic novels. They were all written for young people in England during the 19th century. I have read a few of them. This is the story of a Mid-Eastern prince who is captured by the Egyptians during a war and his adventures in Egypt. Fortunately, he is adopted (a slave of) a wise priest who also adopts a Hebrew slave girl to be a companion of his daughter. The rhetoric is even more contrived than his other books, and I would have to admit that the only reason I finished was to be able to say that I finished it. (It is hard for me not to finish a book once I have started it.)

A Horse’s Tale

This is an odd little story written by the master story teller of a young girl who is adopted by her uncle, an army officer stationed on the high plains. She is also adopted by everyone around (the soldiers, the inhabitants of the fort, the native Americans living nearby, and even Buffalo Bill and his horse, soldier boy). Each chapter is presented in a different voice (including the horse’s). As always, Twain’s writing is entertaining, even with the sad ending to this book.

Falling Man by Don Delillo
This is the story of a man who goes home to estranged wife in the aftermath of the 9/11 disaster. He was close enough to the blast to be wounded, but the wounds he suffers seem to be more those of the spirit than of the body. Meanwhile, his wife’s elderly mother (a literature scholar) and her lover (a European art dealer) debate on the meaning of it all. This seems to be a story of diminishment and loss (the man and his poker buddies, the wife and her mother who is aging quickly, the group the wife works with, a group of dementia patients, etc. It is also the story of how much one really knows the other. There is a dreamy quality to it, not unlike the nightmarish unreality of 9/11 and the days following that disaster. By the end, the characters seem to be investigating their lives again, asking what the meaning of them might be (or running away from life itself).

Hope you have a good Holy Week.

fr. Jude