Sunday, May 26, 2013

Dublin - Wexford - Dublin - Barton - London - Rome

May 26, 2013 Peace and Good, Yes, I visited all of those places in just one week. I have been on planes or trains most of that time. We had out meeting for friars in Ireland in Wexford which is on the south coast. We take care of a shrine church which is situated between two huge diocescan parishes. The people love the friars for confessions and spiritual direction. The next day I had off and I did some writing but I also visited Dublin. It is not a big city, but there is more than enough to see. The only problem was that the weather was not all that good. It was cold and rainy most of the time. A group of us then flew to Manchester and two of us stayed at Barton for the night (just outside of Manchester). This used to be the novitiate, and it is being used for prining a magazine that the friars distribute free of charge. They receive enough donations to pay for the magazine and then some. Friday evening I took the Virgin Train to London (the same company that owns Virgin Atlantic). When I booked the ticket, it cost 74 pounds for a 2nd class ticket and 51 pounds for a first class ticket. I kept looking at the screen to make sure I was reading it right. Sure enough, that is what it was. There was hardly anyone in the first class car, so that must be why they put it on sale. It was a beautiful ride into London, a little over two hours long. Everyone in England was very shocked at the brutal murder of the soldier on the street. It must be similar to what the Bostonians felt after the bombs during the Marathon. I do not know why the networks insisted repeating the murderers rant over and over again. This is exactly what he wanted, the publicity. Then Saturday I flew back to Rome. The weather is much, much better here. Tomorrow we start our meetings which will go all week long here in Rome, and then we move up to Assisi for another week of meetings. I finished a few books: The Book of Genesis by Professor Gary Rendsburg The is one of the teaching company’s courses. Rendsburg is a Rabbi, and it is always interesting for me to hear how books of the Old Testament are interpreted by Jewish scholars. It just a whole different perspective. He deals with the text as it is found (and does not speak of various sources which went into the composition of the book). Some of his literary insights are brilliant. I am not sure about some of his historic suppositions (e.g. the date of Abraham the patriarch, the date of Joseph going down to Egypt). He is thoroughly familiar with the Hebrew text, so he can notice various allusions and alliterations that we miss in our English translations. Overall, this was a very good course. The Retreat by Michael Jones This is a historical account of the retreat of the Nazi forces who were investing Moscow at the beginning of December, 1941. They thought that they had thoroughly defeated the forces of the Soviet Union, but Stalin and Marshall Zuchov had been secreting a number of fresh divisions (newly formed and those brought from Siberia) to launch an offensive against the Germans when they were most fully extended. The offensive was incredibly successful, pushing the German back many, many miles with horrendous casualties and incredible losses of material. It could have almost ended the war if the Soviets had not themselves overreached allowing the Germans the time that they needed to launch a counteroffensive. Complicating this all was the Russian winter for which the Germans were woefully unprepared (although they had been fully warned long in advance). Their machines wouldn’t work, their canons and machine guns would not fire, the men suffered from frostbite, etc. This book also outlines the almost bestial attitudes of the Germans and the Russians toward each other and even toward civilians and prisoners. The book is well written, but it is a painful subject. Absolute Friends by John Le Carre Like most of Le Carre’s books, this is quite well done. It tells the story of two men, one the son of a cashiered army officer and the other the son of a German pastor who come to know each other in Berlin during the Cold War era. In the early years, they both work on peaceful anarchist projects to fight the imperialist powers, but especially the US. Later, Ted (the Brit) and Sasha (the German) join forces to spy against the government of East Germany. The books carries them along into the post cold war period when they become involved in a strange, potentially dangerous plot. The personalities of the two men characters are well developed, and even though they are both deeply flawed, one can’t help liking them. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Hope you have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Monday, May 20, 2013

Rome - London - Canterbury - London - Dublin - Wexford

May 20, 2013 Peace and Good, I hope you are all well. I have been getting ready for and participating in a series of assemblies for the friars of Great Britain and Ireland these past days. We had our first meeting in Canterbury. We have a study institute uphill from the main part of the town. The meeting went all day long, and we had some very good discussions about the future of the jurisdiction here. In years past, this had been a province but then vocations fell off and they were in a bit of trouble. They were downgraded to being a delegation which means that all the important decisions are made by the province under whose protection they are placed. They are now ready to be upgraded to the next step which is to be a custody. What is going right? For one, they have been getting a steady slow stream of new vocations. They now have nine men in formation, which is quite good considering that they had not had anyone for some twenty years. There is a real sense of hope in the jurisdiction. They still have a long way to go, but they are on their way. The delegation now has three segments. There are the older native friars, some of whom have gotten very old. There is a middle group of foreign friars who came here to help out (from the US, Canada, Malta, India, Poland and Romania). Then, there is the younger group of friars. So far, all of these groups get along quite well. We have to keep working at that so that they can work in harmony. I got to visit my favorite book shop in London: Foyles. It is the only bookshop which I can enter and find five books on every topic I ever thought of. Then, I went to Chinatown to get a bowl of my favorite soup: Tripe noodle. I flew to Ireland for the next meeting on Saturday. I then took a train down to Wexford (on the southeast coast of Ireland) for our meeting tomorrow. On the way, I have been able to fill friars in on what is happening in the order throughout the world and listen to what is going on in their lives. I have finished a few books: Union 1812: The Americans who Fought the Second War of Independence by A.J. Langguth. This is a history of the War of 1812 with a good amount of information on the periods that preceded and followed the war. It is a well written history book, not dry in any way. It gives enough information to get to know the characters involved in the various decisions. My favorite presentations were on Dolly Madison and Rachel Jackson (the wife of Andrew Jackson). On China by Hery Kissinger This book oulines the history of China throughout the centuries and especially deals wth the history of China since its opening to the est during the Mao and Nixon era (in which the author played a major role). I was worried that it might just be an apologia by Kissiner for whatever he did toward China, but it was not that. It is very valuable to understand why the Chinese and Americans see reality so differently. Kissinger speaks of American policy during some of the crisis moments since the early days of rapprochement (such as after the Tian a Min massacre). If nothing lse, Kissinger is highly pragmatic, and possibly at times amoral. I found this book to be a good read and very, very informative, well worth reading for anyone who wans to know about this new world power that will have so much to do with us over the next century. Hide by Lisa Gardner The beginning of the book pivots around two axis: a father wh continuallymoves his family and has them change identities at every change, and the horrific discovery of sx mummified bodies of young girls upon the grounds of a closed mental health facility. The police investigate these murders, and the two stries become one as the young woman (once the girl who was moved from place to place by her father) comes into a police station to report that she is not one of the girls whose body was found (but that it is her best girlfriend). The rest of the book is a search to see who killed the girls, why the family moved so often and so stealthily, and how the young woman can be protected from a man who still wans to kill her many, many years later. It is a good "who done it," worth reading. I hope you have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Monday, May 13, 2013

Canterbury - London - Rome

May 13, 2013 Peace and Good, I hope you are all well. I finished up my time in Great Britain and headed back to Rome this past Monday. I have been there all this past week, catching up on some of the projects that I have been doing. This is especially true in terms of the daily reflections. I am about a month ahead now in the reflections, but that quickly get used up and it can be difficult to do them when I am on the road. The problem is not the editing because I can do that just about anywhere. It is the question of finding a place quiet enough to tape the reflections. I had a good meeting with one of the provincials who was in Rome for a meeting. We will have another series of meeting at the end of the month and the beginning of June in Rome and Assisi with the presidents of the conferences (the zones into which the order is divided). Tomorrow I head back to England and Ireland for another series of meeting with the friars there. They are getting ready for their chapter in September. That will be when they pass from being a delegation (a jurisdiction that is guided by the provincial from a distance) to being a custody (an autonomous jurisdiction but still under the general guidance of the provincial). I think that they are ready for this move, especially considering how well they are doing with vocations. I finished a few books this week: Empire of Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the rise and fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe by S.C. Gwynne This is a history of the Comanche tribe in the southwest of the United States and northern Mexico. Originally they were a poor tribe without much prospect for the future. Then came the arrival of horses from the Spanish conquistators. That changed everything. They became the lords of the high plains, controlling a huge empire. They were not truly administrators for they had no central organization. Rather, they were raiding bands that hunted the buffalo and harassed their enemies. The history then tells the story of how they clashed with the Texans and eventually were defeated and ended up on reservations. They ending chapters talk about Quana Parker, a half Comanche and half white (his mother was a captive) who ruled the tribe at the beginning of the twentieth century and became the first chief of the entire tribe. The book is well written, but there is a lot of violence in the story. The Future Church: How Ten Trends are Revolutionizing the Catholic Church by John Allen This is a truly remarkable book that talks about the current trends that can be seen in the Church today. He especially emphasizes the growth of the Church in the southern hemisphere: South America, Africa and Asia. He speaks about how this will affect the Church over the next century. The Church will become more traditional in terms of doctrine and moral conduct, while it will become more liberal in terms of economic justice. I strongly recommend this book for anyone who wants to get a reasoned evaluation of where the Church is today and where it is heading. The author has been a long time reporter on the Vatican, and his information is well documented, well reasoned, and not inflammatory. He is not out to make any particular point, he simply wants to describe what is happening today. Nathaniel Hawthorne by George Edward Woodberry This is a decent biography of the author of the Scarlet Letter and the House of Seven Gables. Hawthorne is a very interesting character, but there is something sad about him. He was all but a recluse in the years following his college education. He married a woman who was homebound with migraine headaches (which disappeared around the time they married). He was not exactly a prolific writer. He wrote almost exclusively about a narrow band of land which he inhabited. His characters tend to be wracked with guild. He ended up as a counsel in Liverpool, England under the presidency of Franklin Pierce, a friend of his. He did not too long after he returned from his service there and his time spent travelling in France and Italy. One honestly feels that there is something missing in Hawthorne’s personality, and unlike some other authors, he did not seem to find it in his trade. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Tagaytay - Manila - London - Canterbury - London

April 6, 2013 Peace and Good, I hope you are all well. I made it safe and sound from the Philippines. It was an incredibly long trip from Manila to London. The first stretch to Dubai was about nine hours, and then the second stretch to London was another six and a half. There are eight hours of time difference, so I am suffering from some world class jet lag. When I got to London, I overnighted at our friary near Waterloo station. Then the next morning I took the train down to Canterbury to give a day of recollection to our men in formation. We went out to a place near the sea called Whitstable. It was on figures of faith in the Bible, much like the conferences that I gave in the Philippines. I had some good talks with the young friars here on how they see their future. The older friars here are quite old, many in their 70's. For many years they did not have vocations. Now God is blessing them with one, two or three vocations a year. The younger men have a bit of a different outlook on religious life. They would like to return to many of the traditional values. The older friars are used to living a certain way, and it will be a challenge to bring these two outlooks together. I will be returning to Great Britain and Ireland for a series of meetings with the friars to discuss this with them in a couple of weeks. Today I head back to Rome for a week. I don't have too much on my agenda. I have to do a series of daily reflections and work on some articles. I will also be meeting with one of our provincials from the States who will be in town for a meeting. I finished a few books: The Ghost Way by Tony Hillerman This is another of Hillerman’s books about a Navaho policeman and his crime fighting but also his stuggle to remain truly Navaho. The woman he loves seems to want him to move to the big city and to adopt white ways. He wants to be a medicine man for the tribe. This particular novel also involves the customs that the Navaho use when they bury someone. A person is buried in what the person thought was the Navaho way, but something was off. Furthermore, it involves the idea of ghosts (which are sort of an accumulation of all the evil that a person has done in his life). Once again, this was a great book. Hillerman has a way of writing that you enter right into the culture of the Navaho’s. He does it without being preachy, and you tend to develop a deep respect for what is truly good in the traditional ways. I thoroughly enjoy all of his books and would recommend them to anyone who asked me. Washington’s Crossing by David Hackett Fischer This is the story of George Washington’s attack upon the Hessian forces fighting for the British on Christmas Day, 1776. This has both a good year for the rebellion and a bad year. In the early part of the year, Washington was able to force the British to evacuate from Boston. But then later in the year, a large army had landed in New York and had defeated Washington’s forces in a series of battles that left New York City and most of New Jersey in the hands of the British. In December certain decisions were made that saved the rebellion. First of all, the Continental Congress agreed to back off a bit. They had been trying to micro-manage the war and that was causing a disastrous confusion. They put the military matters into the hands of Washington. Secondly, Thomas Paine released a pamphlet which spoke of these being the times that tried men’s hearts, and how it was a time for true patriotism. This helped staunch the melting away of Washington’s army. A third factor was that, given that most of the army’s terms were ending on New Year’s Day and they were getting ready to go home, Washington and the Continental Congress were able to find the money to bribe most of them to sign on for a few more week. Finally, by attacking the Hessians and defeating them, and then fighting the British the next few months in a series of small but effective skirmishes, Washington was able to raise the morale of the army to the point where it could survive the coming difficulties. The book is well written. It gives both good information and a balanced analysis without overwhelming one with details. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in this period of history. Sword Song by Bernard Cornwell This is the second book that I have read by Cornwell in the past few months. The first one was about the beginning of the Civil War, and I was a bit disappointed in it. It was really not a very good production. This one is about the days of King Alfred and a period in English history when England was divided among the Danes (Vikings), the Saxons and the Britains. It was a very rough time when life was very cheap. The hero of the story is a Saxon who is still a pagan but who is a vassal of King Alfred (who is very Christian). The book is very, very well written. One can get a good sense of the times. The characters, including the women (who were all but ignored in that Civil War book) are portrayed as people with real emotions. I very much enjoyed this particular production. I hope you have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude