Monday, August 26, 2013

Castro Valley - Mammoth Lakes - Castro Valley

August 26, 2013 Peace and Good, I have been in Castro Valley, just outside of San Francisco for most of the week. We had a meeting of the five provincials of the United States, the Custos of Canada, and the Delegates of Great Britain/Ireland and of Australia. These are the jurisdictions that make up the conference of friars called the CFC. We work together on joint projects (such as the common novitiate that is located just outside of South Bend, Indiana. The conference also serves as a middle stage to bring ideas from the general level down to the grass roots level and ideas from the friars at the grass roots level up to the general level. The men in this group are very easy to work with, and the meeting went quite well. After the meeting, we travelled out to Mammoth Valley so that we might visit Yosemite National Park. There was a little glitch in this for there are tremendous wild fires just outside of the park. On the way up we saw mountains of smoke rising from the fires and there was smoke in the air, but once we travelled to the eastern side of the park, the air was clear. We went into the park on Friday, and there was one point where we could see the flames rising up over the mountains, but that was from a distance of about thirty miles. The park is immense. I heard that it was the size of Connecticut. The ride to the park is not for those who easily get car sick. There was tons of curves and the road was relatively narrow (although it is very well paved). We drove up to the 9600 feet level crossing the Sonoma Pass. The scenery is at times breathtaking. We took this trip as sort of a last fling. A number of the provincials will be changing next year during the elections in the various provinces and so, after working together for the past four years, they wanted to spend a few days together not having to talk about business. It was a good time. On the way back, we encountered a lot more smoke than on the way up. We had taken a detour around the north side of the park, and the winds were blowing in that direction. There were voluntary evacuations along some of the road that we were taking, but no actual danger at that point. Tomorrow I head out to Chicago for a few days and then off to Misshawaka (the novitiate). I finished some books: The Day Wall Street Exploded: A Story of America in its First Age of Terrorism by Beverly Gage This is the story of an explosion which killed a number of people outside of the Morgan Bank in Manhattan shortly after the end of World War I. There were many theories as to what caused the explosion. There were some who thought that it was a dynamite wagon that was illegally being driven through Manhattan to get to a construction project. Others thought that it was tied in with Italian anarchists. Still others thought it was caused by Russian communists. We hear about the attempts of the Federals, the local authorities and private detectives to get to the bottom of it. All of their attempts failed, and we are still not completely sure of who caused the explosion. It was used as an excuse to crack down on anarchists and communists in the country. No one comes out of this looking all that innocent, and we are just not sure who is the most guilty. There are obvious warnings in our time of terrorism, especially that we not allow our fears blind us to our basic values. The Prodigal Daughter by Jeffrey Archer This is the epic story of a woman who is the daughter of immigrants from Poland who aspires to the highest office in the country: the presidency. Her father makes a fortune with his chain of hotels. She marries a man who owns a major bank, and together they multiply their wealth. Yet, they are socially conscious. The woman runs for various elective offices. The story is a feel good story, but the characters are a bit too one dimensional. This woman’s character is always honest, always good and generous. His opponents are sneaky and underhanded. Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable (but quite long) read. Russka: The Novel of Russia by Edward Rutherfurd This reminds me of a James Michener novel in which there are a series of stories around a single location to tell the history of the place. Rutherford, in fact, is the author of the series on Sarum which has been quite popular. In this particular case, it is a village in the south of what is today Russia. We start out with a story in the first centuries of AD period, and then we go to a series of stories in the Middle Ages, especially involving the Mongols who conquered most of Russia and the boyars who collaborated with them. There is a story of what is happening in the village every few centuries (with a number of stories during critical periods such as the reign of Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, Alexander II, and the time of the Russian Revolution. It is a good book and gives one a good idea of what was happening throughout the centuries. Ancestor: A Novel by Scott Sigler This is a science fiction book about genetic engineering. It speak of the danger of trying to create new forms of life. There is an experiment to create animals that can grow human organs for transplantation. Unfortunately, the genius who is working on the genetic code is mentally ill. The doctor in charge purposely shortchanges her medicine so that he might tap into her manic energy while she is working on this project. This backfires terribly when she unconsciously engineers creatures that turn out to be more monsters than animals. (It seems that she wanted to commit suicide and this was her way of doing this.) The rest of the book is the battle between a few good people and the others who are so interested in fame or money that they are willing to let the project go on even though there are clear signs of danger. The book is really kind of a good read. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Thursday, August 15, 2013


August 15, 2013 The Solemnity of the Assumption Peace and Good, I am sorry that I am late getting this blog posted this week. I totally forgot about it. I have been in Rome all of this week. I am working on a couple of projects, such as translating a document for our Order. Most of what I am doing, however, is simply watching the shop. The Secretary General is on vacation, and we have to have someone around to check the mail to see if anything important should come in and to sit by the phone just in case we receive a phone call concerning something that needs immediate attention. Given the fact that this is mid-August, both of these things are highly improbable. Everything just about shuts down in Rome during these weeks. If you are ever thinking of coming to Rome, these are the weeks to avoid. It is very, very hot. Many of the Romans just close up shop and head either to the mountains or the seashore. They even close some of the restaurants. I am finishing up my weeks in Rome on Saturday. I will be flying out to San Francisco to attend a meeting of all of the provincials of the US, Canada, Great Britain/Ireland and Australia. We hold these meetings twice a year to make joint plans and speak about any topic that is proposed either from above (from the General level) or from below (from the grassroots, the individual friars or friaries). I will be out of Rome for almost a month. Then I will be back for two weeks, but almost immediately the definitory will be heading down to Puglia (southern Italy) for our annual retreat and a meeting. Then I will be off on the road for another couple of months. I finished a number of books: Speaking in Tongues by Jeffrey Deaver This is a mystery novel concerning Meagan, a young troubled girl who is going for counseling to a counselor. The replacement psychologist whom she visits kidnaps her with the intention of murdering her in front of her father. The father is a lawyer who sent the psychologist’s son to prison where he was murdered. The psychologist is also a mass murderer. He had been committed to a mental health facility where he was able to talk people into committing suicide. The title of the comes from the idea that both the lawyer and the psychologist are incredibly gifted in their ability to speak and convince others to do whatever they wanted them to do. There are abundant twists and turns in the story. Deaver knows how to write an interesting story. Patriotic Fire: Andrew Jackson and Jean Laffite at the Battle of New Orleans by Winston Groom This is one of those history books with which the author knows how to give all of the details that are important without overwhelming the reader with interesting but ultimately confusing sidelights. This is the story of a battle that was utterly unnecessary for it took place after the agents of the US and British governments had concluded a peace treaty in Ghent. Yet, the battle was the most important event for the United States throughout the entire war. It showed definitively that a citizen army such as the gathering of the militias that constituted Andrew Jackson’s force at New Orleans could defeat a highly professional force like that of the British. There is also the interesting story of Jean Laffite, a pirate who donated his services and supplies for the cause of the US (even as he was offered a very, very large bribe by the British to join their side. The war began because the British were interfering in our free trade. They would stop our ships and impress our sailors (force them to serve on their side) because after years of war, they were so short of sailors for their own fleet. They claimed that these were British sailors (even if we considered them to be naturalized citizens), and they often took off men who had actually been born in America. The war did not settle any of the big problems such as this. However, the fact that we survived against the strongest power in the world was already a victory. The war of 1812 is often called the second war of independence. The book of well written and I could recommend it to anyone who is interested in history and this period of time. D.C. Dead (Stone Barrington #22) by Stuart Woods This is part of the Stone Barrington series. The heroes of these stories are Stone Barrington who is a New York lawyer and Dino Bucetti who is a New York Detective. They are called down to Washington to investigate a murder-suicide that took place a year ago involved two White House staff members. The president and the first lady, who is also director of the CIA, do not believe that it was really a murder suicide. The dialog of the novel is not all that good. The morals of the main characters makes rabbits in heat look chaste. The story does have some good twists and turns, but it is just not all that believable. Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefonso Falconses This is one of those medieval epic stories like those written by Ken Follett. It takes place in Barcelona during the 14th century. The central theme is the building of a church by the Bastasche, those men who carried cargoes from the ships in the harbor to the warehouses. One of their members becames rich, has various adventures, and suffers the jealousy of others. The nobility make out very bad in this story, as do the Dominicans in charge of the inquisition. We hear of the persecution of the Jews and of those considered to be sinners or heretics. These stories tend to have heroes and villains who are clearly one or the other without a lot of texturing of their personalities. The story is not bad, but a little bit drawn out. I hope you have a good week. Hard to believe that Labor Day is right around the corner. Shalom Fr. Jude

Monday, August 5, 2013

San Jose, Costa Rica - Rome

August 5, 2012 Peace and Good, As you can see from the title above, I am back in Rome for a couple of weeks. All last week I was in San Jose, Costa Rica. It is a beautiful country, with more than a third of it being a National Park. It is a major site for eco-tourism. Unfortunately, I only saw one friary all week. We were taking part in an assembly of friars from Costa Rica and from Honduras with the hope to unite the jurisdictions. There has been some bad blood in the past between these two jurisdictions, so this has to be done gradually. It will not take place until 2017. But this past week’s meeting went very well with a very honest sharing of ideas and feelings. I preached at one of the Masses in English which was then translated into Spanish. I don’t know what I said, but the friars were most complementary. It is hard to preach to people in another culture because you never know if what you are saying matches their own perception of things. This one seems to have come off well. The trip home was long but uneventful. Because this particular trip was planned after other parts of the trip had already been booked and ticketed, I ended up flying from San Jose to Miami, Miami to Baltimore, Baltimore to London and London to Rome. In what must be an absolute miracle, my bags did not get lost along the way. I’ll be in Rome these next couple of weeks taking care of business for the order, which in August is negligible. The secretary of the order is taking a couple of weeks of well-earned vacation, and someone has to be around just in case the Vatican would call the order about something. I’ll let you know at the end of next week whether the Pope called or not. I finished a few books: Bonhoeffer by Eric Mataxas This is an excellent biography of the Lutheran pastor Deitrich Bonhoeffer. He rejected Hitler’s call to subject the Lutheran Church to Nazi authority. He publicized some of the atrocities that he and his friends had witnessed. He was eventually arrested for opposing the government and implicated in the Valkierie plot to assassinate Hitler. I have been fascinated by his teaching and his life. He truly wanted to live his call from Christ without compromise. He understood the consequences, but he felt he could not be authentic to his faith without being willing to pay the price. One could describe him as being saintly in his forbearance, and yet he was also a product of his times (an upper class German intellectual who could be a bit of a snob). After reading this book, I want to include him as part of my prayer life, especially as a type of patron saint when I need the courage to give witness to my convictions. Heat by Ed McBain This is another of the Ed McBain detective novels. He usually deals with two cases, and in this book there is an apparent suicide that might or not be a homicide, and the investigation by one of the detectives of his own wife whom he believes is cheating on him. The dialog is quite good, and the novels are action packed. It is not exactly brain surgery, but it is a good read. Chili Con Corpses (The Supper Club Mysteries) by J.B. Stanley The premise of this book are that there are a group of friends in small town Virginia who decide to participate in a supper club (they prepare the meals on a theme while they are eating similar snacks). One of their group is murdered, and they gang up to find the killer. The presentation of the characters is not all that sharp, but the story is basically good and enjoyable. Furthermore, there are a number of good looking recipes interspersed within the action sections. Hope you have a good week. It is sweltering here in Rome, and they predict it will get hotter. Shalom Fr. Jude