Saturday, August 25, 2012

Ocean City - Ellicott City - Rome

August 25, 2012 The Feast of St. Louis, the King Peace and Good, The feast we celebrate today, that of St. Louis the King, is that of one of the patrons of the Secular Franciscans. St. Francis founded three bands of Franciscans: the friars who live religious life, the Poor Clares who live Francis’ calling in a cloistered life style, and the Seculars, which is lay people who live the ideals of Francis in their daily lives in the world. One could almost say that the Seculars are the oldest of the three groups, because Francis did not really have the idea of founding a religious order right from the start. I have finished off my vacation at an apartment that the friars have in Ocean City in Maryland. I don’t really spend much time on the beach. For me, the most restful thing is to listen to the waves hitting the beach. Ten minutes of that relaxes me. Yesterday I came back to Rome. It was an uneventful trip which nowadays is quite a good thing. The number of tourists in Rome has gone done quite a bit, which is very good considering how hot it still is over here. They say that there is going to be a break in the weather this coming week. I am writing this blog a day early because tomorrow I and the rest of the General Definitory are leaving for Israel to make a pilgrimage and retreat at the end of our years of service. Remember, we are getting ready for our General Chapter which will take place in Assisi from mid-January through mid-February. All ten of our positions are up for renewal or replacement. A few of the assistants have already made it clear that they would like to pass on the responsibility to someone else. I probably don’t have much of a chance of getting out because I have only been here two years filling out Brother John Joseph’s term, and they usually seek some continuity among the assistants to pass on the historical memory to the next team. As I have said previously, I really don’t mind staying on if that is what the Spirit wants, but I wouldn’t mind retiring from this responsibility either. I love meeting the friars and sharing in what they are doing, but the travel gets a bit old after a while. I have finished a few books this week: Urgent Questions 2: Five Flash Fiction Stories by Joshua Scribner I have read short stories by Scribner before. This is a series of five very short stories that deal with a question. For example, why is it that two particular people survive a harvesting of humans from outer space. The answer is that they were wearing a particular insect repellant (which they have just run out of). Why are two others saved – because they are both obsessive compulsive (although one unfortunately started taking medicine which masks the symptoms and makes him vulnerable to attack). This is the general tenor of these stories – science fiction with a twist. The Romanov Prophecy by Steve Berry The story is based on the idea that Rasputin, the mad monk who guided the last czar of Russia, predicted the dynasty’s restoration after 25 years. It is set in the days immediately after communism had fallen, and the country of Russia has established a commission to name the new czar. An American lawyer and a Russian circus acrobat join forces to find a direct descendant of the last czar, but they face incredible difficulties along the way, being attacked by forces that want to take over the throne for their own candidate. Foma Gordyeff (The Man who was Afraid) by Maxim Gorky This is a very strange story of a young man who is born to a rich merchant father and who cannot find his way in life. He turns to drink, to loose women, etc. but it all leaves him feeling that something is missing and he cannot put his finger on what that might be. He drifts through life in anger and drunkenness, eventually raging out at the merchant class for their hypocrisy and their exploitation of the poor to make their riches. His Godfather, who helped raise him, has him locked away in an insane asylum, and when he is released, he wanders the streets spewing out his venom (which is true but ignored). I hope you have a good week. I will not be writing another blog until I get back from the Holy Land right after Labor Day. Shalom Fr. Jude

Monday, August 20, 2012

Buffalo - Ellicott City - Ocean City

August 20, 2012 Peace and Good, Hope you are well. I have managed to get a couple of weeks off to visit relatives and rest. I flew up to Buffalo to visit my brother and his family and my sister. I have not had too much of a chance to see them since I was stationed in Rome. It was good seeing them and catching up on how things are going. I am now on the Eastern Shore of Maryland at Ocean City. The friars have an apartment here which we can use to unwind. The weather has not been all that good, but that doesn’t make too much of a difference. My idea of a vacation is to relax and read and say my prayers and not do much of anything else. I finished a few books. They are: Russia Against Napoleon by Dominic Lieven The is an exhaustive account of the French invasion of Russia during the days of Napoleon. Lieven asks why the Russians were able to defeat the French. One of his responses is that they were much better in supplying their troops with food, horses, and weapons. Furthermore, he shows how the strategy of retreating and drawing the French deep into Russia was the right path. By the time that the French arrived at Moscow, they had already lost much of their strength. They had to retreat for want of supplies, and the retreat destroyed their remaining strength. The scene then shifts to Germany where the troops of Russia join forces with those of Prussia and Austria to fight Napoleon’s newly constituted army. In the early days of the offensive of 1813, it was a close run thing. Napoleon could have easily won. It was the strength and insight of Czar Alexander of Russia that helped keep the coalition together until the allied troops entered Paris and overthrew Napoleon. From Jesus to Constantine: a History of Early Christianity by Bart Ehrman This is a series of 24 lectures from the Teaching Company which speak about the growth of Christianity from its beginning until the time that it was declared the state religion of the Roman empire. The lecturer is good and fair in his treatment of the issues. For me, it was nothing all that new, but it is always good to go over some of the things that one thinks that one knows to remind oneself of them. He asks questions about the background of the faith, how was it that it was so successful, what happened during the persecutions, how did it develop a liturgy, a hierarch, a belief, etc. I do not agree with all of his interpretation of scripture texts, but he is not too bad. And, like I said, it is always good to have a review. Mr. Murder by Dean Koontz Typical of many of the books by Dean Koontz, this is a very violent book. It is about the intersection of two men, one a novel writer with a family and the other a mass murderer for hire. The mass murderer turns out to be an exact clone of the author and is seeking the truth of his life, for all he knows about life is what he has learned from the movies. There are many twists and turns, and it is filled with the dread that one often finds in a Koontz book. His books are not for the squeamish, but it is a good read. Have a good week. Shalom Fr. Jude

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Rome - Assisi - Rome - Ellicott City - Buffalo

August 12, 2012 Peace and Good, Well, this week I finished off my days in Rome catching up on many of the projects that had been put on the back burner for far too long. I was able to finish everything that absolutely had to be done, so I was able to head off on my vacation feeling pretty good about things. On Monday one of our friars from my province arrived in Rome, fr. Michael Lasky. He is the regional head of Franciscans International at the New York office. We spent quite some time comparing notes on the organization and brain-storming about how we could best serve its needs. On Tuesday we headed up to Assisi. I had to go there to give a talk and be celebrant and preacher at a Mass for a large group of young people who were making a pilgrimage to Assisi. This program is called giovani verso Assisi, young people to Assisi, and it is a week of prayer and discussion and fun for young people. There were over 200 of them from Italy, Spain, Germany, the States, Canada, Uzbechistan, Russia, Poland, Croatia, Turkey, etc. It was fascinating giving a talk to them and hearing it be translated into so many different languages. I was pleased the way the talk went. Thursday I headed over to the States. We had a little excitement on the flight from London. One person had a medical emergency, and another person was arrested for being drunk and abusive during the flight. Saturday morning I flew up to Buffalo to visit some family and spend some days off. Tuesday I’ll be flying back to Baltimore. Dillinger’s Wild Ride: The Year that Made America’s Public Enemy Number One by Elliot Gorn It can be very interesting to see how situations and individuals can interact to produce much more than they would appear to be on the surface. John Dillinger was a bank robber in the mid-west during the Great Depression. He was quite successful at his occupation. Some of those who surrounded him were very violent (such as Baby Face Nelson), but he was not all that violent compared to them. He gained a certain fame and appeal because he was robbing banks, and this was the depression. Most people felt that the owners of banks had robbed them (for many of them failed and closed in these years). He became the nemesis of the founder of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, and was named by Hoover as the first public enemy number one. He was eventually killed coming out of a movie theater in Chicago, betrayed by one of the women whom he was accompanying. His father always blamed his life of crime upon the fact that after his first crime he received an unusually long sentence in a prison where he learned to be a true criminal. There were hints even before that, however, that he just didn’t fit into a normal definition of life on the farm. The book was well written, well documented, and an easy read. The Nuremberg Trial by Ann Tusa and John Tusa This trial of the surviving leaders of the Nazi government at the end of World War II established the principal of human rights and crimes against humanity. How was it decided to have a trial? Who was involved? What were the major elements of the trial? This highly documented book speaks about the decision to hold the trial and those who were instrumental first in setting up the mechanism and then those who actually ran the trial. We get to know the judges, the prosecuting attorneys from the US, Great Britain, the Soviet Union and France. We hear about each of the defendants and their defense lawyers. The trial itself went over six months. The documentation to the crimes was mind-numbing, most of it being the documents produced by the defendants themselves. Most of them were condemned to death, but a few received lighter sentences and three were actually acquitted. As one reads the book, one realizes that it was not just about the people being tried, it was also an attempt to establish some crucial principles in international law (the illegality of an offensive war, of genocide and other crimes against humanity, etc.). People had to know that there would be a reckoning. The greatest criticism against the trial is that the allies, and especially the Soviet Union, did many of the same things. Most the time, however, if they did these things, it was as an exception and not as a policy. No first attempt could be perfect, but the trial did serve the world well. Memoirs of a Revolutionist by Peter Kropotkin This is the story of a Russian from a military, middle class family in the days of Alexander II, the czar who freed the serfs (on the positive side) but who also proved to be a reactionary leader, especially crushing a rebellion in Poland with mass killings and exiles to Siberia. The author tells his story from his youth, and how the reactionary climate in Russia led him to believe in socialism (especially after he visited Siberia and Finland during his geologic and geographic investigations). He is eventually arrested by the authorities and put in prison for two years. He is able to escape from prison and takes refuge in Western Europe where he comes into contact with the socialist movement, especially with those who desire no government but rather a true government of the people. His presentation of the people involved in this movement makes them sound like saints, but we know that they had their flaws, some of them murderously obvious (for members of the anarchist movement often became assassins).

Monday, August 6, 2012


August 6, 2012 The Feast of the Transfiguration Peace and Good, I hope you are all well. I have been at home in Rome this past week. This has been a great time to catch up on writing projects for the order and for my publishers. It is difficult to do all of these things when I am on the road, but being here for an extended period of time has been great. Rome is very, very hot this time of the year. My bedroom, fortunately, is air conditioned. Yet, when it is in the 90’s every day, it is hard to find the energy to do things. I will be heading off on vacation at the end of this week, visiting family in Buffalo and spending some time near the shore of the Atlantic (God willing that there are no hurricanes that week). There have been quite a few friar visitors from the States these past few days. One of them, Mike Lasky, will be coming over today. He is the head of the regional office for Franciscans International, the group that lobbies at the UN for the needs of the poor, the environment, etc. We are going to visit a representative of the Community of St. Giles. This is a lay run organization founded in 1968 as a response to the student riots that occurred that year. Their purpose was to develop a meaningful way to live our Catholic lives in an everyday setting. They are really quite impressive in their commitment. Tomorrow I will head up to Assisi to give a talk on the Word of God to a group of young people who are making a pilgrimage to Assisi in these days. These are the books I have finished this week: Lightening by Ed McBain This is another one of the detective novels written by Ed McBain (which is actually a pen name). It has two stories that run in parallel, that of a serial killer who hangs his victims from a light pole and a serial rapist. The treatment of the detectives is good, light, without getting into too much detail. There is an enormous amount of stereotyping, but not in a bad way. The only complaint I have is that the author has a tendency to skip from one character and one story to another without ever telling you, so you read three or four lines before you realize what has happened. Incendiary by Chris Cleave The book begins with a letter from a woman who has lost her beloved husband and son to a bomb planted in a soccer stadium. One of the most poignant phrases that she uses is that the bombers have left a boy shaped hole in the shape of the universe. The irony is that her husband was a bomb disposal expert for the London police, and he had just decided to retire from his job so that he might be safe with his family. She is writing to Osama bin Laden, explaining the pain she feels and what she has lost. She is not a perfect person, having had a fling with a newspaper reporter in the days just before the bombing. She is hospitalized after the bombing, and tries to commit suicide. She eventually decides to push on because she feels that she is like London during the blitz, too dumb and too poor to give up. She gets a job at the police office with the captain in charge of fighting terrorism. One sees how more and more freedom is lost as the fear grows. She has an odd relationship with the newspaper reporter and his girlfriend. She ends up having an affair with the police captain who eventually admits to her that the police knew about the terrorist attempt but didn’t do anything about it because they were afraid of losing one of their informants. It is a tough story, and yet the narrator has a funny way of telling the whole story. Roman Blood by Steven Saylor This is another one of the novels on the period of Roman history around the time of Julius Caesar. This one is placed before Julius becomes important, at the end of the reign of a Roman dictator named Sulla. He was famous for his juridical murders. He would place lists of hundreds of his enemies in the Roman forum and invite the murder of those people. At first they were his political enemies. Later, they were also people whose only crime was that they were rich (for upon their murder, their properties were confiscated). In this confusing situation, a man is murdered. His son is accused of his murder, and Cicero must defend him. This is his first big trial, and he hires Gordianus the Finder, a type of detective, to find out what really happened. There are a number of twists to the story, so much so that one does not find out what is really going on until the very end of the story. It is very well done, as are Saylor’s other books. Hope you have a good week. Shalom Fr. Jude