Monday, December 31, 2012

Rome - Toronto - Buffalo - Baltimore

December 31, 2012 This is my second post for the day because I messed up and never posted the December 24th one until this morning. Christmas Day was nice and peaceful in Rome. The meals were incredible. The Italians go all out for their Christmas meals, and this year was no exception. The day after Christmas, Boxing Day, I travelled from Rome to Toronto. (It is called Boxing Day because in England the servants could not celebrate Christmas on December 25th because they were on duty. They got the next day off to open their Christmas boxes.) My brother Tom and sister-in-law Nadine picked me up at the Toronto airport and drove me to their home in Buffalo. Of course, it was snowing. We got about 12 inches that evening. We also all came down with the flu. It seems as if I am very healthy with all the travelling I am doing, but then when I slow down I get a cold or a flu. There must be some psychologial basis to that. The 30th I flew down to Baltimore to visit some good friends and I will fly back to Buffalo later this evening. (Thank God for frequent flyer tickets - the trip cost $5.) It has been good to get a week away before the beginning of our General Chapter. When I get back, we have one more week of Definitory, then a week off, and then it is time to go to Assisi. I finished a few books. The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America by Timothy Egan This book is about the founding of the national forests and the opposition that Theodore Roosevelt received from the robber barons who wanted to be able to exploit its resources without any regulation. He created a huge forest system, but as soon as his chosen successor, President Taft, takes over, the system is systematically looted. This comes to an end with when there is an apocalyptic forest fire in 1910. An area the size of Connecticut burns and many, many people are killed. The fire was fanned by hurricane force winds. Town after town were burned to the ground. The fire became the clarion call to America to protect its resources. After this time, the forest service which was bound to protect the forests is taken more seriously. Unfortunately, the message which is learned is also flawed, for they adopt a zero tolerance policy on forest fires (which is not healthy to the forest for it allows the underbrush to accumulate instead of being periodically burned out). Up Country by Nelson Demille This was a truly excellent book. The hero is a retired army crimes investigator who is called back to investigate a possible murder that occurred over 30 years ago in Vietnam. The clues come from a letter from a North Vietnamese soldier to his brother in which he describes the murder by a US captain of a US lieutenant. The investigator must go to Vietnam and try to find this witness and find out what is happening. A woman helps him in the investigation and one wonders what are her motives. Likewise, everyone around the investigator is hiding something. There is plenty of action. The sex scenes are handled discretely (at least in the version I listened to). The picture of how Vietnam now runs is enlightening. I truly recommend this particular book. The Fallen Man by Tony Hillerman This is another of the stories about a police force on the Navaho reservation. The hero of the story is Lt. Chi, and the elder wise man is Joe Leaphorn. A body is discovered upon a high sacred peak. It turns out to be a man who has been lost for the past ten years. There are questions of an inheritance of a ranch. In the meantime, there is a sub-story of a love affair between Lt. Chi and a lawyer, but there are complications for he is fully Navaho (which looks down upon ambition) and she is half Navaho but very ambitious for herself and for him. Furthermore, there is a cattle thief in the neighborhood. This series gives a great insight into the cultural difference between an anglo culture and a native American one. It is very enjoyable. Shalom fr. Juude

Rome - Assisi - Rome

December 24, 2012 Peace and Good, This past week we had our second last definitory for the term. We will have one more in January to take care of last minute details before the General Chapter which begins on January 19th. You can see the fatigue in the faces of all of the definitors. This has been a long haul, and we are reaching the end of the journey. I am always fascinated how we can discuss the situation of the friars in so many different lands. This time, from what I can remember, we discussed Chile, Columbia, Brazil, US, Poland, Italy, Belgium, Holland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, China, Philippines, Japan, Zambia and Ghana. That is from what I can remember. On Friday I took a train up to Assisi to visit a couple of friends and get some prayer time in before our chapter begins. Once it begins, there will be an awful lot of business to take care of. Assisi is quite a bit bolder than Rome and it has less sunlight because of a winter fog that covers it for days on end. I had an interesting incident while I was there. I was praying in the Basilica of St. Clare before the San Damiano Cross, the cross which spoke to St. Francis telling him to rebuild the church. When I finished, I walked out into the main body of the church and realized that the sisters had locked me in during the lunch break. Fortunately there were still a couple of sisters in the church to let me out. I came back to Rome yesterday evening, and I will be here for the Christmas celebrations. Then the day after Christmas I will fly out to Toronto to visit family and friends. Hope you have a wonderful Christmas. I have finished these books: Horror and C..p: 11 Short Stories by Joshua Scribner Joshua Scribner is a very creative science fiction, horror author. This is a series of eleven very short stories, each not more than a couple of pages long. Some of the themes covered are when a group of goblins torments a couple in their new home. A neighbor comes over and explains that the goblins are only hungry and since the toilet is blocked, they are starving for their usual fare (fill in the blank). In another, a man has a switch given to him by his psychiatrist to turn on and off his impulse to smoke. Little does he know that the switch is also connected to his wife’s impulse to murder him. One very short selection has a couple arguing whether they should tell others about a tsunami that is approaching. It turns out the couple are cats, and they abandon their family for higher ground. Each of the stories comes across as a short “Outer Limits” selection. His writing is always entertaining, if not a bit strange. Tudor Rose: The Story of the Queen who United a Kingdom and Birthed a Dynasty by Margaret Campbell Barnes This is the story of Elizabeth of York, the daughter of King Edward who dies early after a dissipated life. She is the niece of King Richard III who kills her two young brothers and then seems to want to marry her after his son and his own wife die. She eventually marries Henry VII who conquers the kingdom with a very poor claim for the monarchy other than conquest. Henry is the founder of the Tudor dynasty. He is not the warmest of men, more like a calculating machine. Yet Elizabeth remains a faithful wife. She is the mother of Arthur who died before he reigned and of Henry VIII. This is a fictional historical account which is quite good. The Eagle has Landed (Liam Devlin) by Jack Higgins I have come to like this author. He tells a very good tale. This is a story that takes place during the Second World War. Hitler has challenged the army intelligence to be as creative in their efforts as his special forces were when they rescued Mussolini from a mountain top prison. A plot is launched to capture or kill Churchill when he visits a small town in northern England along the coast. One of Germany’s few spies, an elderly Boer woman who is still angry at England for conquering her people in South Africa, is spying for the Nazis. An IRA agent is sent in to help her in the plans. The commandos arrive and all heck breaks out. The book is written with more sympathy, at times, for the Germans and the IRA agent than for the allies. It reminds us that not all Germans were Nazi monsters (although it makes clear that some were). Likewise, it reminds us that not all of the allied troops were knights in shining armor. It is a very good book. I have to apologize that this is late. I had written it on Christmas Eve, but I forgot to post it until today. Yesterday a couple of friends pointed out that there had been no posting since December 17th. I was so confused because I remember writing this. It was only last night that I put two and two together. Have a great New Years. Shalom fr. Jude

Monday, December 17, 2012


December 17, 2012 Peace and Good, I hope that all is well with you. This has been a quiet week at home working over a laptop. I had about 130 pages (single spaced, for the most part) of documents to translate from Italian for our General Chapter. The work went better than I had expected. It is all done, and another friar, Peter Damian, our guardian, had the job of putting all the material in the right format. That has all been done as well. So now it looks as we are ready for the Chapter, at least in terms of documents. This week we will be meeting in our usual Definitory. We will certainly take care of last minute details for our meeting in mid-January in Assisi. There are some other details to take care of for various provinces, but not all that much on the agenda. However, all week has been scheduled, and it remarkable that material tends to expand to fill in the time available. I will be here in Rome for Christmas Day and then am flying back to Toronto on Boxing Day (December 26th). It is called boxing day because in Victorian Britain, the servants had to take care of the needs of their Lords on Christmas Day. They were given the next day, the 26th off, to open their Christmas boxes. I will spend the next week or so in Buffalo (with a quick two day trip down to Baltimore to visit friends and take care of some business). I am shocked and hurt like all of us over what happened in Connecticut. We just have to something about out gun laws. I understand hunting and even some weapons for defense, but our laws are way too lax. You don’t need an assault rifle to shoot a deer. I feel so bad for the families affected. Let’s keep them all in our prayers. I finished a few books: Typee by Herman Melville The story begins with the escape of two sailors from their whaling vessel while on a visit to the Marchese Islands. Their captain had been a tyrant, and they were not willing to continue to serve under him. The difficulty is that the Marchese chain was not entirely civilized. It had only recently been claimed by the French, who in the style of most colonizing groups proved almost if not more savage than the natives. Furthermore, there was a group of natives on the island who were famed as cannibals. The author finds himself among the Typee, that cannibal group, along with a companion who runs away with him, but then also abandons him in the Typee village. One hears about their customs (e.g. making of cloth from the fiber in plants, the making of their foods, etc.) One hears an honest account of their daily life and their religion. One has to remember that this is being written in the early 19th century, and it probably served as a travel adventure for readers of that time. He is quite negative to the way that some missionaries had destroyed the cultures of certain islands, especially attacking the hypocrisy of some of the missionaries in the Hawaiian Islands. He finally escapes his captors who turn out truly to have been cannibals. It is quite entertaining. Ultimate Punishment by Scott Turrow Scott Turrow, in addition to being an author, is also a lawyer. He served both as a federal assistant attorney and a defense attorney. In the 1990’s, he was asked to serve on a commission formed by Governor Ryan of Illinois to make sure that the death penalty of that state was more accurate and fair. In recent years, 17 of those who had been convicted and sentenced to the death penalty were later found to be innocent. By this, I do not mean that their sentences were reduced or there was some doubt. They were irrevocably found innocent because someone else was found guilty of the same crime. How could someone be put to death when there was the possibility that he or she was innocent? Turrow was not against the death penalty when he entered into the dialog. He recognizes the arguments for and against. Could the process be fine-tuned so that the death penalty could be fairer? He asks whether it is a deterrent (studies show that it is not). Is it cheaper than holding someone for life imprisonment (because of the court costs in a death penalty case, it is not). Does it help society to recognize the horrific nature of murder (it does as long as everyone executed is fully guilty). The commission eventually developed a whole series of recommendations but the legislature was afraid the enact them. Eventually Governor Ryan put a moratorium upon capital punishment in the state, pardoned a few prisoners who were clearly innocent, and commuted the rest of the capital cases to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The book is a good reflection on the subject. Turrow doesn’t argue one side or another. He just outlines the problems and some possible (but often politically impossible) solutions. Thirteen Diamonds (Lillian Morgan) by Alan Cook This is the second of the Lillian Morgan books that I have read. She is a retired math professor living in a complex for the elderly in North Carolina. One of the people with whom she is playing bridge drops dead after getting a perfect hand, thirteen diamonds. She investigates the death with the idea that she believes that it was a murder. The man who died was allergic to shell fish, and it was someone included in a tuna casserole that was served just before that hand was dealt. The dialog is good and the action is both believable and funny. I am not sure that the author has the thoughts and actions of older folk down perfectly, but he does a creditable job. This was just a fun read. I hope your last week before Christmas is peaceful. Shalom Fr. Jude

Monday, December 10, 2012


December 10, 2012 Peace and Good, I hope you are all well. I have been in Rome for the past week. We are getting ready for our General Chapter, and I have been asked to translate some of the documents for that chapter. This includes the Minister General’s report and the new proposals for the next six years. (We call this the Instrumentum Laboris, or the “working document”). I was at the meetings that put together these documents, so I know a lot of the reasons why things were said the way they were. There is just over 100 pages to translate. So far it is going well. I have finished one entire document and am about a third of the way through the second one. I should finish everything by this Saturday, which is very good because the next week we have a General Definitory all week long. Furthermore, the General Secretary was hoping to e mail these documents out to all the friars who will be present at Chapter sometime before Christmas, and my translation will be ready in plenty of time. We have been celebrating our novena for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception this past week. Every evening we have Mass and a different cardinal is invited each day. I was one of the main concelebrants two of the evenings. This is the first time that I concelebrated with a cardinal. It has been very, very cold in Rome these past week. It is always a bit damp, but it has been bitterly cold also (at least bitterly cold by Roman standards – the Minnesota folks would consider this to be a balmy Spring day). I finished a few books: A Most Wanted Man by John le Carre I listened to this book in an abridged form. It was one of those books that was so good that I wish I had the unabridged version. It is about a young man from Chechnya who had been arrested by the Russians, the Turks and even the Swedes. He is seeking asylum in Germany. He also turns out to be the heir of a considerable fortune left him by his Russian father (who had conceived him by raping his Chechen mother). Issa, the young man, seems out to be an absolute innocent. He is helped by a German asylum lawyer and the banker who cared for his father’s fortune. The secret services of Germany, Great Britain and the US all get involved. One ends up wondering who is telling the truth and where moral good and evil actually lie. It is very, very good. The Americans: The Colonial Experience by Daniel Boorstein This is a series of essays on the various colonies and what made each tick. We hear about the Puritans of New England. They were not all that concerned with doctrinal purity as much as unity in government. There were the Quakers of Pennsylvania who were so concerned with doctrinal purity (which included pacifism) that they did not foresee protection against the Indians for their settlers in more dangerous areas. Then there were the planters of Virginia who founded an aristocracy which controlled the government of the colony. Borstein then passes on to culture. He speaks of how culture developed differently in America than it had in Europe. It was not bound by history and tradition. The book continues with all sorts of issues such as the colonial attitude toward literature, the press, the military, etc. The book is well documented and helps you to understand what our country was like before our revolution. It is not a difficult read, and it is insightful. One comes to realize how much of a miracle it was that the thirteen separate colonies with their separate cultures, religions, etc. were able to gel as one nation. Widows by Ed McBain This is another of Ed McBain’s detective novels. He presents some detectives in a precinct and usually deals with two crimes which they must solve. In this case, a girl friend, a wife and a former wife along with a man and his dog are all gunned down by a mysterious killer. The other case is the father of one of the detectives is murdered in his shop by a couple of drug addicts. The novels are a good read, but they are a bit confusing when you first start reading his worked because he shifts from one character and story to another without any notice. Eventually you get used to it and they are an entertaining read. Hope you have a good week. Shalom Fr. Jude