Sunday, June 30, 2013

Canterbury - Whitstable - Canterbury - London - Baltimore

June 30, 2013 Peace and Good, This past week I was up on the coast of Southern England at a small retreat house giving a retreat to some of our friars from Canterbury. They are students who are preparing for the priesthood. The topic was the Letter to the Hebrews. This letter, written sometime around 70 A.D., speaks of Jesus as our High Priest and it offers many useful insights into ministry today. Even more than that, though, is the fact that it presents reality as existing on two different levels: that which we see everyday and the supernatural, eternal meaning of all of that which surrounds us. As friars, we are living for something more than the everyday, but often we can get caught up in it like everyone else and let it get us down. This was one of the themes that I emphasized at the General Chapter - that we have to look beyond what we can see to that which we believe. I finished on Friday and came to London yesterday. This afternoon I head to Baltimore and then I have to play it by ear. My travel agent made a reservation for me to fly to Los Angeles on Monday, but I realized last night that he never sent the actual ticket. I don't know if I will be flying out on Monday or not. That is OK, though, because if I don't, I can spend a week at Ellicott City and get caught up with writing and taping projects. Either way, it works out fine. I finished a few books: Restoration: Charles II and His Kingdoms, 1660-1685 by Tim Harris This is a book that speak about King Charles II of Great Britain. His father was killed and he was exiled to the continent while Cromwell ruled. When Cromwell died, Charles was invited back to be king. He was able to navigate through difficult times by currying public opinion, playing one side off against the other, telling his nobles just what they wanted to hear, and finding alternative sources of support. He was king during an era when kings on the continent tended to be absolute monarchs (e.g. King Louis XIV, the Sun King). He was an absolutist in his own way, especially in Scotland where he allowed a system of persecution against his religious opponents. His brother, James II who succeeded him, was not as successful in handling all the opposing tensions and was overthrown after a few years of reign. The book is incredibly well documented, too well. It reminds me of a doctoral thesis that made its way into print. In other words, it is not an enjoyable read, even if it is informative. Van Gogh’s Room at Arles by Stanley Elkin This is not exactly what the title says that it is. It is a series of short stories (actually long enough to be called novellas). The first one is about a professor whose wife has just left him and who must arrange for a party with his students that he doesn’t really want to have. The professor is caught in self-pity and makes a very unlikable character. A second story is told in the context of a young woman selling her story to the tabloids. She recounts her engagement to the heir to the throne of England. A third story is about a young man who received a grant to spend time in Arles, and is actually housed in Van Gogh’s room there. He has never travelled before, and all is new and threatening to him. He is a teacher at a community college in Indiana, while most of the other fellows staying at Arles are great figures of one or another field. In all three stories one gets a sense of people not quite fitting in and not knowing how to address it. The President is a Sick Man by Matthew Algeo This is the story of a secret operation that was performed on President Grover Cleveland on a boat in Long Island Sound to remove a cancerous tumor from his mouth. This was only a decade after President Grant had died of cancer of the throat. The country was going through its worst economic downturn up to the time of the Great Depression. Cleveland was worried if the public knew about his illness, there would be a panic. He had a reputation for being an honest man, and he used that reputation to hide his operation and, when a newspaper reporter ferreted out the truth, to deny it and allow the reputation of the reporter to be ruined. There are some books that are sweeping in character, dealing with many people and many different situations. This is not one of those books. It deals with one small (but important) situation and its aftermath, and in that it does a good job. Hope you have a great Fourth of July. Growing up in Buffalo, we used to say that it was one of the two seasons in Buffalo: winter and the Fourth of July. Shalom fr. Jude

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Pittsburgh - Chicago - Pittsburgh - Ellicott City - Canterbury

June 23, 2013 Peace and Good, I left last week's blog off with the baptism of my grant-niece in Pittsburgh. The next day I flew out to Chicago. A good number of the friars of one of the mid-western provinces (Our Lady of Consolation) were on retreat at the retreat house of the other mid-western province (St. Bonaventure). I was able to visit with the friars of each of the provinces. I was only there for the full day of Tuesday, but I managed to meet with the two provincials and speak with a good number of the friars of both of the provinces. Sometimes my job is just to be present and see what happens. The trip there was all but free since it was a frequent flyer ticket from Southwest Airlines. All in all it was time well invested. I flew back to Pittsburgh on Wednesday and picked up my car at the motel lot where I had stayed for the weekend. Then I drove to Ellicott City. Friday night I flew out to London and took the train to Canterbury. Tomorrow I begin preaching a five day retreat to the students here. Actually, we will be staying at a retreat house in a place called Whitstable just down the street a bit. I will be basing my talks on the Letter to the Hebrews. That letter speaks of the two layers of reality: what we see on the surface and the more profound reality that lies below the surface. It is a good concept for friars to keep in mind because we can get caught up with what is going on, and forget that the spiritual layer of things is the more important one. I finished a few books: Armageddon: A Novel of Berlin by Leon Uris This is a typical Uris epic like the book Exodus. This one describes the situation in Germany and then especially in Berlin toward the end of the war up to the time of the end of the Berlin Blockade by the Soviets and the allied airlift to bring in the needed provisions for the population of the city. It especially follows a group of officers in the American army who try to do their best in a confusing situation. There is also German family which is torn apart by what occurs to them during and right after the war. While the Americans are presented as the heroes, they are nevertheless flawed characters. It is a good book. From Midnight to Dawn: The Last Tracks of the Underground Railroad by Jacqueline Tobin This is an excellent book that speaks about the connection between the underground railroad and the settlements that escaped slaves made in Canada. Midnight was the code word for Detroit. There is a story of how one of the conductors of the underground railroad would keep the escaped slaves in his basement while he was hosting the slave catchers upstairs. Then, at midnight while the slave catchers were drinking, he would effect the escape of the slaves. Dawn was the name of an escaped slave settlement in the province of Ontario. The author speaks of how the slaves would get to Canada, difficulties they faced once they arrived there, divisions among the escaped slaves (some of whom wanted to stay in the States and fight for equality and freedom there, others wanted to escape to Canada, and some proposed resettlement in Africa). Some slaves would escape through the help of kindly managers of ferries that plied the Great Lakes (some of whom were black themselves). The book gives a good overview of the topic. Once in a while one can hear a bit of an ax being ground, but that is understandable considering the topic being treated. Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut This is a series of short stories by Kurt Vonnegut, the author of Catch 22. Some of his material is quite strange, such as the underground group that fights ethical birth control. The population of the world has grown so large that legalized suicide is encouraged and everyone has to take pills that make them numb from the waist down. There a very disturbing story about a southeast Asian war lord who takes a plane full of army personnel prisoner and plays a game of chess with them being the play pieces (which are killed if taken by the opponent). Then there is the story of the young man who insults a young, beautiful woman largely because he is lonely and how she conquers his love. There is a funny story of a rich man who lives on Martha’s Vineyard during the Kennedy era and how he cannot stand the family. He has a Goldwater searchlight put on this house to annoy them. When his son decides to marry a distant Kennedy cousin, he gives up and does not even light the searchlight. That night John Kennedy visits him and asks him to put the light on so that he can find his way home. There is also a touching story of a Jewish man and woman whose entire families were killed in the concentration camps. They are having their first boy, and it becomes a sign of victory over death. Yet, they realize no one can fully understand what this means for them. The stories are good, often a bit strange, but also thought provoking. Hope you have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Monday, June 17, 2013

Ellicott City - Pittsburgh

June 17, 2013 Peace and Good, I hope you are all well. Most of this week I have been at Ellicott City, recovering from jet lag and also joining in three celebrations. The first was the feast that celebrated the feast of St. Anthony. He has been our patron saint since our foundation in 1906, and now that our province is joining to Immaculate Conception Province (these are the two East coast provinices), our name will change to Our Lady of the Angels. This was our last celebration of the Feast of St. Anthony at the patronal feast of our province. We had a wonderful Mass and meal. fr. Dennis Mason preached, and it was one of the best homilies I have ever heard. On Friday, I baptized a baby in the chapel at Ellicott City. I do not perform many baptisms with my schedule now, so it was a real joy. At this baptism and the one I celebrated on Sunday, there were a good number of non-Catholics participating. I especially like to keep everyone involved and feeling welcome. On Saturday, there was a festival at the shrine to celebrate the feast of St. Anthony. I was asked to give a talk, and the topic I presented was St. Anthony as a symbol of the new evangelization. This term, the new evangelization, means presenting the Gospel message in a new way so that the people of our days might hear and embrace it. St. Anthony taught us that the first step is our own conversion. He combined study and prayer. He spoke of the importance of the sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation. He not only proclaimed the message, he became the message. After the talk, I drove to Pittsburgh where I performed another baptism for a grand-niece. It was good to see my family again. With all my travel, I don't get to see them all that often. Today I fly out to Chicago for a couple of days to visit some of our friars from one of the mid-western provinces who are on retreat these days. I don't have any official role. I will simply be there to join tham, and then be available if anyone wants to talk with me. I finished a few books: Kreuger’s Men: The Secret Nazi Counterfeit Plot and the Prisoners of Block 19 by Lawrence Malkin This is the story of how the Nazi’s tried to counterfeit the British Pound Sterling and the American Dollar during World War II. They used the skills of a number of concentration camp prisoners, including man Jews who were saved from death by this choice. They produced millions of pounds which they used for their spying operations on the continent. The pounds were of very good quality, and the Bank of England did not even admit that this had happened til lover 50 years later. The attempt to counterfeit American Dollars which were harder to produce never really got off the ground. Most of those who worked in this scheme (both prisoners and guards) escaped death. This is a good account of a little known episode during the war. Rebels at the Gate: Lee and McClellan on the Front Line of a Nation Divided by W. Hunter Lesser This is the history of the secession movement of the western counties of the State of Virginia which created the state of West Virginia. This territory was essential for the north, for a major railroad between the western states and the east ran right through it. The secession involved both political machinations and military action. The northern troops moved first and succeeded in defeating the southern forces in a number of battles on mountain tops and in the wilderness. The northern troops had to constantly watch out for bushwhackers, locals who were loyal to the southern cause who would ambush unwary northern sentries. There were often divisions of loyalty within the same family. One example of this is Stonewall Jackson whose sister staunchly supported the north. The book is well done, especially considering that most people would consider the battles in West Virginia to be “off stage” in comparison with the great battles fought between the Rapidan and Rappahanock Rivers in Virginia. John Adams: A Life by John Ferling This is an honest overview of Adam’s life. He starts as a young man from a small town with tremendous ambition. His ambition leaves his somewhat ambivalent when it comes to getting involved in politics. But between his own conscience and the promptings of his cousin, Samuel Adams, he does get involved. Interestingly, he defends the troops accused in killing Bostonians during the Boston massacre (and receives an acquittal). During the war he served the Continental Congress is arranging provisions for the army, and then together with Benjamin Franklin (whom he disliked) and Thomas Jefferson as envoys to the French court. He then served as the first ambassador to Great Britain after the peace. Returning to the United States, he first became George Washington’s vice-president, and then president for one term. He was not a very good politician. He was often irascible. He would fly off the handle, something that made some doubt his sanity. While he had been very friendly with Jefferson before and while they were in France, they had a serious political falling out during Washington’s presidency. Adams despised Alexander Hamilton as well as Thomas Paine. He was not always a good family man, all but abandoning his family to serve the revolution and the new country. As time went on, his relationship with his wife grew more and more fervent. She was a remarkable woman in her own right, and together they formed a team in a marriage that lasted 54 years. He lived many years after his presidency and eventually made peace with a number of people whom he had distanced during his political career, including Jefferson. By a remarkable coincidence, both Adams and Jefferson died on the same day, July 4th, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. The biography is quite good. It gives ample detail without overwhelming one. I highly recommend it. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Monday, June 10, 2013

Assisi - Rome - Ellicott City

June 10, 2013 Peace and Good, This has been a week of meetings. The General Definitory travelled up to Assisi for a week of meetings with the Presidents of the various conferences of friars throughout the world. The order is divided into provinces, and each geographic area (e.g. North America, Latin America, Africa, Asia, Central Europe, Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean) are organized into conferences. Each of these has a president who works together with the Assistant General of that area to organize activities and projects. Once a year, they come to Rome for a week long meeting with the General Definitory to plan for the year. This year we decided to have the meeting in Assisi to remind us of what we are all about. The meetings went very well, and it was good to see the men again. We had just finished our General Chapter at the end of February, and this meeting helped us to plan how to put into effect all of the decisions we made during the Chapter. We got to visit a couple of the local friaries as well. One of them is called Rivotorto (which literally means the meandering or crooked stream). This was the site of Francis and his followers' first dwelling, a hut in which animals were often kept. That hut, or a reproduction of it, is now kept inside of a parish church which we run. We travelled back to Rome on Saturday morning, and I flew out yesterday. The scene at the airport of Rome was chaotic. I think that they must be having work slow downs, because the last time I came into Rome there was a long, long, long line at customs control, and this time there was an even longer line at security. Fortunately, I always arrive very, very early so I can relaz at the airport before the flight. I will be in the States for a couple of week, here, in Pittsburgh and Chicago. Then it is off to Canterbury for a week. I will not be back in Rome until August 2nd. I finished a few books: The Greater Journey by David McCullough The author of this book is a famous historian who has written masterpieces upon Truman, the Panama Canal, the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, etc. I have read a number of his books and have always been satisfied. This book covers an unusual topic: the travel of Americans to Paris during the 19th century. Almost from the beginning of our nation, Americans have been fascinated by Paris and many, many have gone there to live, to study, to produce art, etc. Some of the first Americans who went there were medical students for there was hardly any organized form of medical education in the States (one was mentored by someone who claimed to be a doctor) while Paris had a highly organized form of medicine. Then there were the authors (e.g. James Fennimore Cooper, Nathaniel Hawthorne, William James, etc.). There were also the artists who came to Paris to learn and perfect their trade, including John Singer Sargent, Augustus St. Gaudens, James Whistler, Mary Cassatt, etc. One of the most endearing portraits he presents is that of our ambassador to France during the Franco Prussian War: Elihu Washburne. He saved any number of lives of his own citizens as well as Frenchmen and Germans who had been working in Paris when the war began. The book is really a series of vignettes which give a wonderful sense of what Americans found and loved in this city of lights. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 by William Shirer This is a fascinating book written by William Shirer while he was a correspondent for a radio network in Berlin at the beginning of World War II. He is there until December of 1940, and he described what he knows of what is going on in the totalitarian state that Hitler created. He describes the lives of the Germans around him and how they believe the great lie dished out by the state. He is the author of the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. The book is well done, and reads as an adventure which happens to be a true story. The Camel Club by David Baldacci The Camel Club is an organization in Washington D.C. which is composed of what society would consider to be a group of losers, but who nevertheless are able to ferret out the truth about a conspiracy against the government by some members of the administration. This includes Muslim terrorists as well as North Korean operatives. The book is well written and an enjoyable read. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Rome - Assisi

June 2, 2013 Peace and Good, I have been in Rome all week for one of our General Definitory meetings. We are still trying to find friars for some of the responsibilities that need to be designated for the next six years. We also had a ton of reports because we had not met for the past ten weeks. We have established a new way of meeting. We had a morning of recollection to being our meeting, and then we had a spiritual discussion on exercising authority as a Franciscan. We have always invited the other friars to pray more, but sometimes we were so busy that we couldn't find to do it ourselves. The intuition to do this has come from our new Holy Father. His simple gestures of love and kindness have amazed and encouraged people all over the world. In a way, Pope Francis seems to be more Franciscan that we are. We want to follow his example of returning back to our true values. This week we will be in Assisi at a meeting of the presidents of the seven conferences of friars throughout the world. We will be following the same patterns of spending more time in prayer and reflection. These friars are so busy with their responsibilities as provincials that we figured that this was one of the greatest gifts we could give them: time to pray. Sometime very good seems to be happening. Please keep us in your prayers that we can continue to respond to God's call in our lives. I finished a few books: Catherine the Great by John T. Alexander This is a very thoroughly documented and investigated biography of the great Russian empress of the 18th century. She is a complicated character. Actually German by birth, she became more Russian than the Russians. She overthrew her husband and allowed his murder by a group of conspirators. She led to the expansion of Russia’s borders. She was fascinated with the new learning from the French academic world, but then was disgusted when the French overthrew and killed their monarchs. She engineered the dismemberment of Poland in the three partitions which ended its independent existence until after the First World War. It is difficult to say whether she did more good or bad, but it is clear that her title, Catherine the Great, is richly deserved. The Garden of Beasts by Jeffrey Deever This is a really fine book of espionage and mob murderers taking place during the Berlin Olympics just before World War II. Paul Schumann, a mob hit man, is recruited to murder the man responsible for the rearming of Germany as a war of putting off the coming war. There are double crosses all the way through the book. The title of the book comes from the large park in the middle of Berlin called the Tiergarten, literally, the Garden of Beasts. It is the Nazis who turn out to be the real beasts in the story. It is well written and suspenseful all the way through. The Shop on Blossom Street by Debbie Macomber This is a nice, feel good book. It begins with a woman opening up a knitting store. She has been the victim of two cancerous brain tumors, and she is trying to find meaning in her life. She opens a class for those who wish to learn to knit. The first three participants are an unlikely collection. One is the rich wife of a construction contractor. One is a goth who is a revel without a cause. One is a highly successful businesswoman who quits her job to try to get pregnant, but she cannot carry a child to term. They grow to like and trust one another, and their lives change through the course of the book. Nothing earth shattering, but a nice read all the same. Have a good week. I will be keeping you in my prayers before of tomb of St. Francis. Shalom fr. Jude