Sunday, March 31, 2013

Rome

March 31, 2013 Easter Peace and Good, I hope you had a good Holy Week and a wonderful Easter. I am writing today because tomorrow I will be on the road and I don’t know how the internet connections will be over the next couple of weeks. I will be travelling to Vietnam, Australia, Philippines and England. This has been a good week. I was able to do a huge number of daily reflections and have them posted. I was also able to work on a translation project that is far behind schedule. The Holy Week ceremonies at our Basilica were beautiful. We have a quite large basilica where Sts.Philip and James, the Apostles, are buried. The services are definitely high church, with everything sung and every verse sung. I have a pet peeve about singing too much on Good Friday (because the liturgy is supposed to be as simple as possible). Ours has even the account of the Passion sung. I went to it in a spirit of solidarity with the other friars – to be there for them more than for what I would get out of it. The Pope continues to say things that are making everyone talk. I never remember in these past years that the friars would be speaking almost every day at lunch and supper over when the Pope said that day. His morning Holy Thursday service was a tremendous hit. The weather here is still uncharacteristically cool. That’s OK, it will warm up for me tomorrow. Ho Chi Mihn City will be very hot and very humid. I will be going there to visit the friars and see how they are doing. Then I will fly up to Hanoi to visit a leprosarium which the friars run. This is my first time to Vietnam, so I am a little nervous. I sure all will be fine, but there is always a bit of nerves the first time one visits a new place. Hope you have a good week. I have finished a few books: The Expendable Spy by Max Lerner This is a good book on a young Jewish man who witnesses the death of his parents in Vienna. He flees and ends up being involved in a series of adventures. He becomes a spy for the British, and assists them in many ways. Of course, he is the hero, so his adventures border on the extraordinary. Yet, the author manages to keep the story realistic. There is a sense of tough choices made when battling the ultimate evil such as the Nazi’s. The one criticism I would have is the author’s portrait of women. They really don’t come across that well in the book. Overall, though, the book is a good read. I found myself wanting to read more each day. Dangerous Games by Michael Prescott This is a detective novel about two women, one an FBI agent and one a lone ranger private investigator, who sort of work together to resolve a murder mystery. Someone is kidnapping women in Los Angeles and chaining them in storm systems so that they drown if there is a heavy rain. This person is blackmailing the city for millions of dollars to reveal the location of the woman before she dies. The FBI agent is called in from Denver, but she is being used by the head of the Los Angeles office. She, like the Private Investigator, is an independent figure who follows her own leads. The action in the book is good, and most of the dialog believable. I wouldn’t say that this was War and Peace, but it is not a bad book. Sea of Glory by Nathaniel Philbrick This is the story of the first great sea journey sponsored by the US government to explore unknown regions and to document the scientific, geographic, ethnographic, etc., details of the journey. The ships travelled to the southern edge of South America, passed into the Pacific where they explored islands and part of the coast of Antarctica, explored the coast of the upper Northwest around the Pudget Sound and the mouth of the Columbia River, etc. They gather an incredible wealth of materials, much of which became the original possession of what eventually became the Smithsonian. Yet, the trip was plagued by incredible infighting, caused largely by the bombastic style of the man put in charge of the voyage: Lt. Wilkes. It is interesting that I heard of this man in another book that I had read, this one on the relationship between the US and Great Britain during the Civil War. In that book, Wilkes played a major role by capturing two Confederate representatives on a British postal ship and thus almost starting a war all on his own. Again, he comes across in the affair as brash and arrogant. The book is good, but it centers too much on the personal intrigue and not enough on the remarkable scientific work that the men participating in this voyage were able to accomplish. God bless and Shalom Fr. Jude

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Rome - Assisi - Rome

March 26, 2013 Peace and Good, I have been in Rome all this past week with the exception of yesterday when I took a day trip up to Assisi. This week has been a good week to catch up on daily reflections. Once in a while I wonder whether anyone is listening to them, but every time that I am about to give up on them, two or three people come to me out of the blue and tell me that they often listen to them. I take that as a sign of the Holy Spirit that I should continue working on this project. The weather in Rome has been quite cold, but there are signs of Spring in the air. Many of the Spring flowering trees are already in bloom. I hope we have a nice, warm Easter Sunday. The Pope continues to be a hit. He does not have to do great things. He only has to be himself, and everyone falls in love with him and his style. Yesterday I was at Assisi for a small celebration for the Custos who finished his four year mandate and for the new Custos. This is an assignment made by the General Definitory. We thought about this one for a long time. The previous Custos was doing a good job, but he was better at continuing what was rather than trying something new. We just felt that it was time for a new leader there to guide the friars to continue to examine their lives and try to do a better job at what they are doing. This week I will be in Rome, and then Easter Monday I will be on the road again, this time for a month. I have finished a few books: Rebel by Bernard Cornwell This is a book about a young man who runs away from his family to have a fling with a loose woman. He ends up on the wrong side of the border just as the civil war is beginning. He signs up to fight for the south, even though his father is a famous abolitionist preacher. The leader of the regiment is a rich landlord who organizes the regiment for his own glory. The young man, Nate, come to learn who he is and what he wants though a series of adventures. Some unlikely figures turn out to be much more heroic than those who touted their courage before the battle. The book goes up to the first battle of Bull Run. Overall, I was a little disappointed in this book. It thought it would be a more realistic portrait of the story. Rather, it was in the style of literature of Henty, a 19th century author who wrote books for the edification of young Englishmen to teach them how to act as virtuous conquerors of the world. It had the same feel, especially in certain scenes dealing with the violence of war. Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky And this is exactly what this book is all about. Kurlansky has written a series of book like this that cover one produce and how it is produced and used. I previously read his book on cod. He is a good author who piles on facts both interesting and not so. He speak about the history of salt production and how the presence or absence of salt influenced the history of certain areas. A good example of this is how the northern armies during the Civil War consistently tried to destroy the salt works in the south as one way of forcing them to surrender. One of those area attacked was Avery Island in Louisiana. This place is important because right after the war its owner decided to grow peppers from Central America and to make a sauce from them which we today call Tobasco sauce. He speak of how salt was used to produce long lasting foods when there were few other ways of preserving it, e.g. anchovies, sauerkraut, hams, etc. He speaks of how its use it either considered to be healthy or unhealthy. It is a good book, filled with trivia (which I like). One example is ketchup was originally the name given to a fish sauce, and only gradually came to be applied to the tomato sauce that we know as ketchup today. The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory This is a very interesting book. It is the story of Mary, Queen of the Scots and her imprisonment in England before her death. The story is told in three voices: Mary, Lord Talbot who is her “host”, and Talbot’s wife Bess. Mary is sweet and beautiful and one of the most manipulative people who ever lived. (She learned much of her deviousness in France where she grew up at the French court, becoming the Queen of France for a short time (for her husband died a year after taking the throne). Talbot is a man of honor, faithful to whatever monarch rules in England, but a bit of a fool. Bess is his businesswoman wife. She thinks only of her possessions and especially of her property. She was poor as a child, and she strives never to fall back into poverty again. This is the kind of book that it is good to know a little of the background material, the historic background to be able to follow the story better. The three characters are not exactly likeable, but they are very, very real. Gregory has done a good job with the story. I hope you have a good Holy Week. Shalom fr. Jude

Monday, March 18, 2013

Rome

March 18, 2013 Peace and Good, I hope that you are all well. This has been quite some week. I have been in Rome for one of our definitory meetings. Each morning and evening of the Conclave we turned on the TV to see whether there was white smoke or black. Like the rest of the world, we were surprised when the new pope was elected so soon. I stayed at home and watched it on TV because it was a cold and rainy day, and I was just getting over a cold. I was a little worried when the new pope’s name was announced (his birth name) and when he walked out on the balcony. My first thought was that he was so old. But when it was announced that his name was Francis, my hopes began to spring up. Then, he did so many things in such a simple way. He said “Good evening” to the crowd. Such a human thing to do. He asked for their blessing. He spoke to us with gentleness and kindness. Ever since then he has been doing one thing after another which has endeared us all to him. He reminds me of John XXIII and of John Paul I. There is a goodness and holiness to the man. He genuinely cares for all of us, and especially for the poor. I am very, very hopeful. In the meantime I am also getting ready for my next trip. Right after Easter I will be heading out to Vietnam, Australia, the Philippines and England. I will be on the road for a little over a month. I went to the Vietnamese embassy today to get my travel visa. The travel visa to Australia was easier – I got it over the internet. It only took about five minutes. I will be staying in Rome this week to catch up on my daily reflections and some other writing projects. Then next Monday I will head up to Assisi for a thanksgiving commemoration for the outgoing Custos of Assisi and the greet the incoming one. I have finished a few books: The Killing Ground by Jack Higgins The premise of this book is that a special task force is set up in Great Britain by the Prime Minister to combat the forces of evil that are threatening the peace of the kingdom. This book has a little bit of everything: Muslim terrorists and assassins, Russian Mafia and Plutocrats, ex-IRA thugs, etc. (Interestingly enough, there are also Muslims, Russians and ex-IRA operatives on the good side as well.) The book is packed with action, but it is very one sided. The good side always wins. The suspense is only how badly the bad side will lose. Even if one of the good side is wounded, he of course will survive. Nevertheless, it is a good read, even if it falls short of reality now and then. The Cossocks by Leo Tolstoy This was one of Tolstoy’s first works, one that began to make him famous in Russia. It was written at a time when people did not travel all that much, so news about this distant people from within the Russian empire was fascinating to those who read this work. You can already see Tolstoy’s preference for the simple country life as opposed to the extravagant court and social scene in St. Petersburg and Moscow. It tells of a Russian rich young man who travels down to southern Russia lives among the Cossacks at the border with Chechnya. He lives a life of leisure, hunting and talking and drinking with his new friends. He falls in love. He is torn between his new life in this village where he would always be a foreigner and his old life among his friends back in “civilization.” The Vietnam War: A Concise International History by Mark Atwood Lawrence This is a good, not too long presentation of the history of Vietnam to set the Vietnam War in a greater context. The author speaks of the three Vietnamese Wars: against France, against the United States and against China. He is not partisan in his information. He freely points out the failures in policy and strategy both of the United States and the North Vietnamese. I would recommend this book for someone who simply wants to know more about what happened leading up to the war, during the war, and after the war. Have a good week. Shalom Fr. Jude

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Ellicott City - Rome

March 10, 2013 Peace and Good, I arrived back in Rome on Thursday. I was not sure that the plane would get off the ground on Wednesday due to the snow storm that was coming in from Chicago, but by the time it reached Baltimore it was not all that serious. It was an uneventful trip back, except that on the London to Rome flight a man became very aggressive and had to be quieted by the stewardess who warned him that he would be arrested when they landed if he didn’t calm down. She handled the situation very well and should be commended for defusing a messy situation. Rome is abuzz with papal fever. The conclave begins on Tuesday, and there are actually people going around with figures of how many cardinals are for one candidate or another. I think a lot of it is pure speculation. Cardinal Scola, the Archbishop of Milan, who is the prime Italian candidate had Mass this morning in our Church of Santi Apostoli (this is his titular Church). The place was packed with people from the newspapers and TV networks. We start a definitory tomorrow which will go through Friday. This is very much a follow through with some of the decisions we made right after our General Chapter. We have to see how many of the friars we proposed for various responsibilities are available and willing. Then we will have to go back to the drawing board for certain assignments. I suspect that some positions will not be filled for at least a few months. My frozen shoulder has been unfreezing. I had a cortisone shot and did three sessions of physical therapy in the States. They taught me a series of stretching exercises to loosen up the muscles. It seems to be working. I can now move my arm much farther than I could for the past few months. I will probably have to keep up the exercise for at least another month, but things are looking up. I have finished a few books: The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux It is not often that I read a book with a major figure who I so dislike. This was the case with the cautionary tale of a man who takes his wife and four children down from Hatfield where he was working as a handy man on a farm to Honduras, the Mosquito Coast, to start anew. He believes that everything in the States is falling apart and he wants to set up his own Eden without government or God, etc. He is a very clever inventor, but not a very nice person. He is highly opinionated, a bully, a liar, a narcissist. His older two sons only slowly discover how twisted his ideas are. He even lies to the family telling them that America had been in a war and destroyed just so that he could control them. He does build a settlement with all sorts of clever inventions, but then accidentally destroys it when three armed men come and intend to stay. He moves the family to a mud flats during dry season, and they are flooded out during the first rainy season (something the locals had warned him of but he was too stubborn to believe). He ends up badly, after almost destroying everyone in his family. The Best American Short Stories of 2011 by Geraldine Brooks This is an interesting collection of short stories about any number of topics. It includes the story of a Nigerian businessman who is thinking of getting in contact with an old lover, a married couple that are trying to adjust to each other and her pregnancy while on a honeymoon in Rome, a young man who tried to commit suicide and his relationship with his friends and his eventual foolish death, there is the story of a Holocaust survivor. There is the story of a Russian √©migr√© who has just gone through treatment for cancer and his relationship with his ex-girlfriend. There is one of a teacher who becomes a nanny and her relationship with the family and boy who have entered her life. There is a story of the appearance of phantasms is a town and the confusion they cause. There is one in which a young woman buys an odd book and how the book and the woman change over the years. There is the story of how prisoners are part of an experiment to see how various chemicals would affect their feelings and knowledge and conduct. There is a story about a group of children who play video games and their relationships. One of my favorites was of how an entire town in Minnesota goes to sleep during the snowy season, a type of a hibernation. It is a good cross section of themes, and some of the stories were very enjoyable. Mission to Paris by Alan Furst I have listened to a few of Furst’s books already. They all deal with the period just before the Second World War and at the beginning of the war. The previous books I have read dealt with the situation in the Balkans, that in Poland, and that of the captain of a ship trying to avoid the Nazi navy. This volume deals with an American actor who had born in Vienna and who was now in Paris for the shooting of a film about a Slavic soldier who was trying to find his way back home from Turkey after the First World War. The Nazis were trying to use him for propaganda purposes, but the actor decides to offer his services to the Americans to perform some spying activities for them instead. Furst in incredibly talented in bringing this period of history to life. One can hear about the various political parties secretly fighting and seeking ascendency. One can see how difficult it was to figure out who was telling the truth, and what the truth meant in such charged times. It is a very, very good book. Have a good week. Shalom Fr. Jude

Monday, March 4, 2013

Ellicott City - Arroyo Grande - Ellicott City

March 4, 2013 Peace and Good, Once again I must apologize for letting time get away from me and not having written the blog last week. As soon as I got back to the States, I headed out to Arroyo Grande (near Pismo Beach, half way between Lost Angeles and San Francesco) in California to consult with fr. Chris Deitz, the provincial of the California Province. He has been ill and was not able to attend the General Chapter. I wanted to fill him in on what happened during the chapter and ask his advice on a number of questions. He is doing much better right now, but still has a way to go in his recovery. He has a strange auto-immune disease not unlike MS which attacked the myalin sheath of his nerves in his spine. At first he was paralyzed, but now he has regained most of his movement. The rest of the two weeks has been spend on a series of doctors appointments. I am not in the States all that often, and my health insurance is based here so I have to do all the doctor's visits one after another. The only real problem I am dealing with is some problems with my left shoulder. It has been bothering me since early November. I thought it was a rotator cuff problem, but it turned out to be a frozen shoulder. It limited movement of the shoulder, and caused certain movements to be very painful. I received a cortozon shot and am doing some physical therapy right now. They are teaching me some exercises I can do on my own because I am scheduled to head back to Rome on Wednesday. (I say scheduled because there might be a snow storm here that day and I don't know right now if my flgiht will get off on time.) The friars are gathering at a retreat house down the road (at a place called Mariottsville) these next couple of days, so I am going to join them as much as my schedule allows. The two eastern provinces are getting ready to join together, and there are a lot of details to take care of in the next several months. Before you ask, I don't have any inside information on who our next Holy Father will be. We hear the same rumors that everyone hears on the news. If I were to guess, I think that it might be someone from Latin America, but there is a saying in Rome: He who enters the conclave as pope exists as cardinal. In other words, there are always surprises, and the one who thinks he has the inside track on the job is often surprised. All we know for sure is that the Holy Spirit will give us the pope we need at this moment in our church history. I have finished some reading: William the Conqueror by Jacob Abbott This is another one of Abbott’s short biographies. Last year I read a story about 1066 from the point of view of the Anglo-Saxons. This book is from the point of view of William, showing how he was a hero and really deserved to win. In is an interesting contrast. There is not a lot of new information, but it is good to review the basic details every once in a while. Reversible Errors By Scott Turow This is the story of a black man of low intelligence on death row. A lawyer is assigned by the court to see whether he deserved to have an appeal of his conviction. An ambitious assistant prosecuting attorney defends the state’s case. There are the usual love interests: in the case of the lawyer, it is a judge who was removed from the court for bribery and addictions, in the case of the assistant prosecuting attorney, it is a detective who is married with whom she had an affair a number of years ago. It is difficult to figure out who is telling the truth and who is lying, and it almost seems as if everyone is doing at least a little bit of each. It is very well written, as all of Turow’s works are. (He wrote the book that was the basis for the Harrison Ford film Presumed Innocent.) Reason and Faith: Philosophy in the Middle Ages by Thomas Williams This is a series of CD’s from the teaching company about the use of philosophy from the early until the late Middle Ages. It deals with such philosophers as Augustine, Boethius, Anselm, Bonaventure, Thomas Aquinas, John Duns Scotus and William Ockham. I had studied about all of these figures when I studied philosophy when I was preparing for the priesthood, but that was long ago. Furthermore, I was just starting to study at that level, and really did not understand as much as I would have liked to. Now, listening to these presentations is a kind of review but also the possibility to hear some of these things for the first time. These are not easy lectures for they require a lot of attention and thought, but they are well worth it. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude