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


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