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


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