Monday, February 18, 2013

Assisi - Rome

February 18, 2013 Peace and Good, Well, our General Chapter has come to an end. We had the closing Mass yesterday and travelled back to Rome. Today we have a definitory meeting to try to set up the full team for the next six years. Then tomorrow I head off to Baltimore. I will be there and in California for a few weeks. In Baltimore, I will be taking care of annual check ups with various doctors. Furthermore, I must visit the doctor for a problem with my rotator cuff. In California, I will be visiting a minister provincial who was ill and could not attend the General Chapter. I will be coming back to Rome on the 7th of March, so I should be back in town when the conclave begins, unless they move it forward. The first two weeks of the General Chapter involved an evaluation of where the order is now and what we have done the past six years. Then we had the elections for the Minister General and his definitory. After that, we began to look at proposals for the next six year mandate. There are not a lot of changes. Some provinces are joining together such as five provinces in central Italy and two provinces on the east coast of the US. There is a new province: Mexico. There is an old province that will be downgraded: Holland. The liturgical celebrations in Assisi were magnificent, but it will also be good to get a few celebrations in these days that are not huge musical presentations. The basicila choir was incredible. They must have practiced for months and months. Here are some books I have finished: He Who Hesitates by Ed McBain This is another of the detective novels written by Evan Hunter under the pseudonym Ed McBain. It is quite different from the other volumes that I have read so far. While those center on the action of a group of detectives in a police station in a big city, this volume deals with one individual and the people he meets. He feels that he should report something which he did (probably a crime), but he continues to hesitate all throughout the story. It is well done, leaving one wondering exactly what happened right up to the very end. Sacred Clowns by Tony Hillerman This is another of Hillerman’s books on two Navaho policeman, Lt. Joseph Leaphorn and Jim Chee, and their investigations on and near their reservation. The title comes from a native American custom to have a group of clowns perform during sacred ceremonies. These clowns mimic certain activities and serve as a kind of examination of conscience for the tribe as to whether they are maintaining or abandoning tribal customs. There is a major theme in this book about the difficulty of understanding other’s cultures. This is applied both to a question of tribal laws concerning marriage and how Chee’s girlfriend who is half Navaho but was raised off reservation cannot fully understand Chee’s difficulties, and also how one tribe finds it difficult to understand all the nuances of certain activities within another tribe. The whole series is well done. The characters are well developed, and they provide a good insight to another world of thought and custom. Devil and the White City by Erik Larson This is actually a double story. On the one side, it is the story of a mass murderer who killed many, many people in Chicago at the end of the 19th century. Chicago was growing rapidly, and any number of young women travelled there from their small villages to find a new life. They were often lonely and naive. This murderer played upon this and murdered them, at times even using their bones to form medical skeletons. He was not caught until much later when he was convicted for insurance fraud for murdering his partner and then collecting his insurance policy. The other part of the book is the story of the 1892 world’s fair in Chicago to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the discovery of Christopher Columbus. It was called the “white city.” It was a magnificent presentation that marked the moment when Chicago, then the second largest city in the country, came to central stage. The architect and landscape designer, famous even in those days, created a masterpiece. The architect was Daniel Burnham who designed some of the most famous buildings in Chicago. The landscape designer was Frederick Law Olmsted who designed Central Park. This was where a number of new inventions were first presented: cracker jacks, cream of wheat, juicy fruit gum, Pabst Blue Ribbon, shredded wheat, Quaker Oats, and electricity with alternating current, etc. There was a tremendous challenge to be more beautiful, larger, etc. than the Paris exposition. The Ferris, in fact, was the attempt to make something more grand than the Eiffel Tower. The book is very good. The only critique is that the author has the tendency to tell one what people were thinking when he in fact has no way of knowing it. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Assisi - Vatican City - Assisi

February 10, 2013 Peace and Good, I am sorry that I did not write a blog this past week, but the General Chapter had me hopping. In these past two weeks, we have had meeting after meeting. There are the general sessions at which all are present, there are the discussions in language groups, and then there are all the other meetings that I have because I am an Assistant General (I am on one of the committees that works on documents for the chapter, we have had a few General Definitory meetings to get some things ready for the next few years, and I have had a whole series of meetings with provincials alone and then with provincials and the General). The big event last week was the elections of the Minister General and his Definitory. The General was re-elected, which was a very good thing. We have had two Ministers General in a row who had only one term, and that leads to instability. The term is six years long, so fr. Marco is the Minister General now until 2019. I was re-elected to be the Assistant General for the English speaking part of the Order. I had a bit of a scare because my name had been mentioned as being a possible candidate for Vicar of the Order, the number two spot. I didn't really think I had the talents necessary for that job. It is an administrative position, and my gifts are more charismatic - preaching, giving retreats, etc. Fortunately, enough friars recognized that, and I was saved from it. The spirit of the Chapter is quite good. The friars are honestly trying to shape the future to be more faithful to what we say we are and what we truly want to be. It is not always easy, because we always fall back on what is familiar and comfortable, but as fr. Marco says, it is time to take a risk. On Wednesday we went down to Rome to be part of an audience with the Holy Father. He looks good, but he is getting very old. (I think he is 85 right now.) We were part of a general audience, so there were thousands of people, but we were given a place right up front. I was probably not more than 50 feet from the Pope. I sat next to one of our former Ministers General, fr. Lanfranco Serini. He is 89 years old, and not in the best of health, but he is making the effort to be present at all of the meetings. We so appreciate his heroic effort. I am starting to calendar my year right now. I can foresee trips to the US, Canada, England, Ireland, Australia, Vietnam, India and the Philippines. Then there will be all the other things that get put into the schedule. I am trying to give myself a little more leeway on each of the trips so that the travel will not be quite so grueling. We have one more week here in Assisi. Then, the 19th I head back to the States. I am going to visit one of the provincials who is in California who is ill, and I am going to take care of some visits to various doctors (a 50,000 mile check up). I have finished some books: The Battle for Leyte Gulf by C. Vann Woodward This is an account of the greatest naval battle between American and Japanese forces during the Second World War. The Japanese realized that if America conquered back the Philippines, then they would be cut off from their supply of oil which they obtained in Indonesia. They would be forces to surrender. They therefore gathered all their naval forces in three groups and attacked the American ships. The Americans, on the other hand, had enormous forces. Far from the days after Pearl Harbor, they had dozens of aircraft carriers (some of them full size and many abbreviated versions). The Americans successfully countered two of the attacks, destroying most of the Japanese ships. But one of those attacks was actually a decoy to draw most of the American forces north so that another group of ships could attack the forces left and then bombard the landing ships of the invading troops. They perfectly read the personality of Admiral Halsey who was impetuous and very aggressive. Somehow the few forces left to defend the beaches were able to hold off the enemy until, for some reason which to this day remains a bit mysterious, the Japanese pulled back, not pursuing their advantage. The book is well written, giving a good perspective of what each of the groups was attempting to do and what they actually accomplished. Short Stories by Joshua Scribner This is another set of short stories by Scribner. He is what could be called a science fiction/horror writer. Among the stories I read were Hell and Back about a man who is given the opportunity to see his punishment in hell if he joins a criminal organization as an enforcer. There was Within, a story about a woman who is haunted by an evil spirit contained in a doll which causes her to murder. There was the Safest Place, a story about a man who is fleeing others who want to kill him and how he must choose the abilities of a particular ocean animal to save him. Oklahoma Dust and Nothing Happened tell of ghosts, one of which entices someone to join it and the other seeks revenge for a perceived wrong. All of the stories are well written and are filled with suspense, even if they are a bit strange at times. Xerses by Jacob Abbott This is the story of the Persian emperor who tried to invade Greece with millions of his slave troops. He even has his engineers build a massive pontoon bridge over the Hellespont (the waterway that divides Asia from Europe). He then has the engineers dig a canal through a peninsula to aid the transport of this huge fleet. The army is first slowed at the pass of Thermopile by the famous Spartan 300. The fleet is then defeated at Salamis. The totally unexpected occurs: the Greeks are able to defeat the Persians and chase them back into Asia. The story ends with Xerses assassinated by a member of his own family, a deserved fate considering all the pain and suffering he brought to the Greeks and even the members of his own army and navy. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude