Monday, October 29, 2012

Mishawaka, IN - Ellicott City, MD

October 29, 2012 Peace and Good, This past week I spend in Mishawaka, IN. This is where our novitiate is located. Novitiate is a year of prayer and discernment before a man takes his vows to become a friar. We have one central novitiate in Mishawaka, which is just down the road from South Bend, IN. There are two novices from St. Anthony Province, three from St. Joseph Cupertino Province in California, one from Our Lady of Consolation Province in the midwest, two from Our Lady, Help of Christians Delegation in Australia, and one from Blessed Agnellus of Pisa Delegation in Great Britain/Ireland. There were also a number of novices and postulants from the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist whose mother house is across the street from our novitiate. I gave a workshop on the Gospels and the Psalms. I had about two and a half hours of class each morning from Monday to Friday. The afternoons gave me the opportunity to catch up on a couple of projects which were overdue. I drove back to Ellicott City on Friday and Saturday. Today I was supposed to fly back to Rome, but my flight was cancelled because of the hurricane. I am rebooked for Thursday evening. This gives me a couple of days to rest up a bit and to write some articles for the two magazines for which I write. These are a few of the books that I have finished: The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War by David Halberstam This is a good history both of the Korean War and of the events which led up to the war. It presents many of the characters involved in the important decisions just before the war (e.g. those involved in the fall of China, in the decision to allow the army to wither to almost nothing right after the end of World War II, the character of Truman, McArthur, Mao, Chiang, etc.). The response to the war is clouded by the China lobby, a group of conservative politicians who back Taiwan, no matter what that would cost to the nation. We hear about MacArthur’s successes (especially the landing at Incheon which turned the war around in an instant) and his failures (his incredible blind pride, his arrogance, his disobedience to civil authorities including the President). We hear about the tendency of the Americans to misjudge the Chinese once they enter the country, and how it was only General Ridgeway that the Americans learned to use their strengths (especially modern military hardware) against the enormous numbers of Chinese who were there. We hear of how Truman fires McCarthy and what the political consequences were, and how Truman realized that while he would be misjudged at first, history would judge him having done the right thing (which is exactly what happened). The war ended in a terrible stalemate that was able to be resolved only when Stalin died (for Stalin was quite happy to have the Chinese and Americans killing each other, thus leaving him to do what he wanted). This is an excellent book, well researched both at a political/military level and at a human level. Soldiers of Salamis by Javier Cercas This is an interesting book about a writer who decides to tell the story of a Felange author who was almost killed during the Spanish Civil War. He was part of a group of rightest prisoners who were shot. He somehow avoided being shot and escaped. He eventually became part of the Franco government. As the writer investigates the story and the man’s history, he begins writing his book. He is dissatisfied with the final product, until he meets a man who was part of the leftist forces who were in that village when the execution took place. The book investigates questions of heroism and duty. It asks for the sense of all the killing. It bemoans the fact that those who gave so much for their cause would later be forgotten and sent out to pasture. It is a really fine book, a translation from Spanish. Lisbon: War in the shadows of the city of light: 1939-1945 by Niel Lockery During World War II, the dictator Salazar ruled Portugal with an iron fist but managed to keep it out of the war. This was quite a deed, for Spain, which all but surrounded Portugal, was very favorable to the forces of Germany and Italy and in fact had organized plans to invade Portugal. England had had a mutual defense treaty that dated back to the 1300’s, and she called upon that bond to keep dragging Portugal back to the middle. This is not to say that Portugal had nothing to do with either side. She was one of the world’s greatest sources for wolfram, which we call tungsten. This mineral was essential for the production of hardened steel which was used in armor and armor piercing shells. Portugal made a fortune selling this mineral both to Germany and England. Much of the money paid for the wolfram obtained by Germany was paid for in gold, much of which had been pillaged from invaded countries and from individuals (including the melted down gold teeth of Jewish victims of the holocaust). There is also the question of the allied use of the Azores Islands. They lie one third of the way across the Atlantic, and produced an excellent base for defense against submarine warfare. England was able to call upon its treaty to gain access to a base on the islands, remarkably without having Portugal break relations with Germany. There is quite a bit of information about the allies attempt to limit Portugal’s commerce with the axis powers. There is also quite a bit of information about the spies and counter-spies who lived and worked in Lisbon during the war. There is also quite a bit of information about all of the refugees who were seeking to flee from Europe through Portugal. This book is an excellent treatment of the topic. Keep safe. Shalom fr. Jude

Monday, October 22, 2012

Doylestown, PA - Ellicott City, MD - Mishawaka, IN

October 22, 2012 Peace and Good, This past week I finished my series of five retreats to the friars of Immaculate Conception and St. Anthony Province in the east of the United States. All of the retreats went very well and I was very pleased with them. The last retreat was in a retreat house in Doylestown, PA. This is a shrine in honor of Our Lady of Czestochowa. The monks who run the shrine are the Paulist Order from Poland. The food all week was definitely Polish (pierogi, pigs in the blanket, cabbage, etc.). The welcome from the staff was also typically Polish, very warm are sincere. I traveled out to our novitiate in Mishawaka this past Saturday and Sunday (breaking up the trip a bit so that I would not overdo it). I have begun a workshop for our novices and for the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist novices and postulants (whose motherhouse is next door). I have given a retreat to those sisters, and I have found them wonderful women of prayer and joy. The workshop is upon the Gospels and the Psalms. St. Francis felt that the Franciscan life was one simply of living the Gospel in our own days. Furthermore, we friars and sisters pray the psalms every day in our Divine Office, and yet at times we do not understand the symbolism because they were written over two thousand years ago in a very different language. I have finished a few books: The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner This is the story of an NPR reporter who travels around the world looking for the secret of happiness, especially in certain countries which traditionally (and measurably) have a high quota of happiness. His travels take him to Netherland, Switzerland, Bhutan (which instead of measuring income in a gross national product, they measure happiness is a gross national happiness), Quatar, Iceland, etc. It is interesting that the happiest people are not necessarily in the richest countries, or the most democratic. The happiness of the people in these various countries varies, and one has to ask how much true happiness in a country like Qatar where there is an extravagant luxury bought by an incredible treasure of natural gas. He also travels to the unhappiest country on the list: Moldova. I had to have a laugh reading that section, because that country is less than 10 miles from where I taught when I was offering courses in Romania. It used to be part of Romania until Stalin cut it off and incorporated it into the Soviet Union during the War. So much of his description reminds me of the early days of my work there, in the early 90’s. The only problem is that Romania has moved on, and Moldova is caught in a time trap. The author then goes to England to visit the town of Slough which has a reputation for being depressed. The BBC had an experiment there to see if 5 happiness experts could work with 50 members of the community to create a critical mass of happiness. The people involved in the experiment turned out to be happier, but it didn’t really affect the town all that much. He also travelled to India which one can love and hate at the very same time. He speaks of how happiness does not depend on how much one has or more external things. It largely depends upon relationships, upon having enough but not too much, upon tolerance, upon trust. He also asks the question proposed by a wise easterner: is happiness the most important thing or is love the most important thing. Shaken by J.A. Konrath This is a story told at three time levels, over 20 years ago, three years ago and the present. The present is especially important because the investigator who is the hero of the story is tied up and about to be tortured by the mass murderer whom she has been pursuing since the earliest period in the story. The technique of telling the story at all three levels at the same time is not all that difficult to follow. On kindle, in fact, they have an alternate version of the story told in the proper order in case the former is too difficult or confusing for one. It is a messy story with a lot of physical violence. It is, after all, the story of a mass murderer who tortures his victims. I would not recommend this book for everyone, but it was worth reading. Six Days of War by Michael Oren This is the story of the war between Israel and Egypt, Jordan and Syria in 1967. The Russians are seen to have instigated this particular war by spreading untrue rumors that Israel was about the attack Syria. The reason seems to have been to isolate the US as the ally of Israel. The war ended with a tremendous defeat of Russia’s allies, the Arab states. Israel pre-empted the war and attacked on the morning of June 5th, destroying almost all of the Egyptian air force. She then invaded the Sinai. When Jordan cooperated with Egypt, even though it had been warned not to by Israel, it was the next target. Finally, when the northern Israelites could no longer stand the constant bombardment from Syria upon their settlements, Israel attacked the Golan Heights. The war only lasted six days, but it was an incredible victory for Israel. The victory was almost too great, for Russia threatened to attack Israel if it did not accept a cease fire. God bless and Shalom fr. Jude

Monday, October 15, 2012

Ellicott City - Wappingers Falls - Chicopee

October 15, 2012 The Memorial of St. Theresa of Avila Peace and Good, This past week I was preaching a retreat to a group of our friars at a retreat house near Brewster, NY. It is run by the OFM friars and they were most welcoming. There were 40 friars on the retreat and it went very well. This is the fourth in a series of five retreats for the two eastern provinces to help them prepare for their union in 2014. I chose a number of instances in the Bible where people faced moments of transition. A lot of the older friars are especially grateful because they did not have a great preparation in Sacred Scripture when they were in theology school. By the time that I did my studies, they had changed the program extensively and I had a very good preparation. I am also talking about what is going on in the order throughout the world. Every few months there is a magazine that is mailed to all the friars about these things, but most of the friars feel overwhelmed by all the documents they are now receiving and which they are expected to read. It is a whole different thing for someone who is on the inside to explain what is happening. When the retreat ended on Friday, I drove down to Chicopee, MA where we have a rather large friary. I stayed in the house for the older friars, so it was nice and quiet. On Saturday morning I visited the Missionary Franciscan Sisters at their convent in Holyoke. I celebrated Mass for them and had breakfast with them. It was great catching up with them. There are sisters from Italy, Korea, Zambia and Romania - a true international community. I then went out and visited a few of our friars who are now in nursing homes. There is fr. Marion who used to be our provincial. He cannot walk any more due to neuropathy and he is suffering from a bit of dimentia. I visited fr. Pascal who is very ill with cancer (although you would never know it given his joyous temperament and his crushing handshake). Then I drove down to Enfield, CT to visit fr. Joseph Grzybowski. He was one of two brothers in the order. His brother Robert passed away a few years ago. (In fact, fr. Joe was anointing him, and Robert took his last breath as they reached the Amen of the ritual.) He, too, is suffering from neuropathy. Today I head down to Doylestown, Pa for the last of this series of retreats. These are some books that I have finished: Cold Vengeance by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child This is another of the Agent Pendergast novels by this pair of authors. He is a clever, sophisticated FBI special agent from New Orleans with an interesting pedigree (mental illness runs in his family) who must battle against black forces which are difficult to first of all come to know and then defeat. Yet, he seems to have a limitless source of innovation. The novels in this series that I have read so far all have him on leave from his job. I am beginning to wonder whether he ever actually shows up at the office. Yet, once one gets into the mind set of these novels, they are quite entertaining. In this one he must battle a plot launched by ex-Nazi’s and their successors. There is also a quest for Pendergast’s wife whom he had presumed dead after a lion attack many years before in Africa. I like the style, it is very eccentric to say the least. God is an Englishman by R. Delderfield The book is about the founder of a carriage company during the middle of the 19th century. It is very English in tone, and actually an enjoyable read. A soldier who comes across a fortune while fighting Britain’s wars in the Crimea and India uses it to set up a business. He marries the feisty daughter of a ruthless industrialist. She only gradually comes to appreciate the value of her husband’s work (her judgment earlier being clouded by her experience at home growing up). Furthermore, her husband only slowly learns how to treat her with responsibility and not as a mindless play thing to respond to his sexual needs. A number of incidents occur which cause the husband to trust and respect his wife more and more, until when he is sidelined by a terrible accident, she takes over his complicated business. There is a sub-theme throughout the book upon the treatment of women in 19th century England. This is almost a paean to capitalism which made England great. Yet, there is another sub-theme of treating one’s employees justly, as the hero of this story does. Not a bad book, but it is a bit wordy here and there. St. Francis of Assisi by G.K. Chesterton This is an outline of the life and times of St. Francis of Assisi, but seen through the optics of Chesterton. The style is very British from the beginning of the 20th century. It is flowery and polemic. While all the basic details are there, I found that I just did not enjoy the presentation. One just has to remember that much of it is polemics addressed at the 19th century tendency toward secularism in England.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Chicago - Assisi - Rome - Ellicott City

October 7, 2012 Peace and Good, It has been another busy week since I last posted the blog. We finished out meetings in Chicago on Wednesday the 27th of September, and then on the 28th we took a field trip to Milwaukee. The friars have a beautiful basicila there: St. Josaphat. We received it at the beginning of the 20th century. The previous pastor had run up a huge debt and the church was going to go bankrupt. The friars were able to pool all the funds at their disposition and pay off the debt in a couple of years. The church is a magnificent example of a certain type of architecture and decoration. It is often used for symphanies because it is so beautiful. The next day most of us flew out. A good number headed back to Rome, while others travelled in the States. One of the assistants headed down to Mexico on his way to Chile. I flew to Rome and took the train right up to Assisi. I was there until the afternoon of the 4th attending a series of long and difficult meetings. One day the board I am on met with the Ministers General of all of the branches of the Franciscan Order. They are a very nice group of men and women. I was quite impressed at their spirit. On the 4th, I concelebrated at the solemn Mass in the upper basilica of St. Francis for the feast of St. Francis. Each year a different section of Italy brings the olive oil that will be used to light the lamp at the tomb of St. Francis, and this time it was a province from the northeast of Italy, Venezia Julia and Fruili. That afternoon I headed back to Rome to catch a flight back to the States on Friday. I am at Ellicott City until tomorrow morning when I head out to a retreat house in upper New York State to preach a retreat to the friars. Here is the reading I finished this week: Medicus: A Novel of the Roman Empire by Ruth Downie This is the story of a doctor in the Roman Empire who has been assigned to service in Britain at the end of the beginning of the reign of Hadrian. He is suffering from economic difficulties (paying the debts of his father). He ends up with a young woman who he buys as a slave to rescue her from her brutal owner. Without wanting to, he also ends up being an amateur investigator of the murder of two women who work in one of the local brothels. There are a number of twists and turns. One gets a good sense of how the Roman occupying army would act in a conquered country. One also gets a sense of how slaves were treated. The book deals with serious topics, but is also very funny. The Final Storm by Jeff Shaara The Shaara’s, father and son, have made a bit of a cottage industry of writing fictional historical works on warfare. The father wrote a famous book on the Civil War, The Killer Angels. This book is part of a series written by the son on the Second World War. Most of the series is about the war in Europe. This book is an exception for it speaks about the end of the Second World War, especially the invasion of Okinowa. The normal pattern is to write chapters from different points of view, going from the ground soldier to the general to the leaders of the countries. This particular volume is a little bit weak in this format because it is mostly the story of one soldier told in all of its blood and gore. When Okinawa is finally captured, the book shifts to the story of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. It is almost as if it is two separate books. This book is not for everyone, and probably not the best product of the Shaara’a. The Demon of Walker’s Woods by Dan Dillard This is an odd little story about a group of kids who are frightened by a strange old woman who lives in their neighborhood. It is not at all clear until the end whether their imagination is running wild or whether they have intuited something that is real. It is quite good, if a bit strange. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude