Monday, September 30, 2013

Copertino - Rome - Los Angeles

September 30, 2013 The Feast of St. Jerome Peace and Good, The feast of St. Jerome is a special day for those of us who study Sacred Scripture. He is the man in the 4th and 5th centuries AD who translated the Bible from its original languages into Latin (for that was the language used by many of the Christians at that time). He so loved Sacred Scripture that he found a rabbi in the Holy Land who would teach him Hebrew. Now there is one other attribute of Jerome. He was a grumpy old man. If one reads his various letter, one can be shocked at how nasty he is in his attacks of others, including St. Augustine. It always reminds me that saints are not necessarily perfect. They had talents and used them, and ultimately they did the best they could with what they had. We finished off our definitory in Copertino on Thursday evening and drove back to Rome on Friday. Then on Saturday we had a one day meeting there to close off some issues that needed closure. Sunday I flew out to Los Angeles to give a retreat to the friars of St. Joseph Cupertino Province out here. I will start the retreat this evening. Hopefully, I will not fall asleep on them. There is a nine hour time difference between here and Rome. I just heard this morning that the canonization of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II will occur on the same day this coming year: Divine Mercy Sunday, which is the Sunday after Easter. Rome will be packed, packed, packed. I finished some books: Old Town by Lin Zhe and George Fowler This is the story of a family in China over the period of the early 20th century to the present day. We hear about their struggles for survival, especially during the Second World War and the days of the Cultural Revolution in Communist China. The grandfather and grandmother are Christians, and we hear how they first welcome the communists to get rid of the corrupt government governing China and because they would help the poor. Only slowly do they realize how difficult it would be for Christians to practice their faith under the communists. We hear of the relationships in the family that color the entire life of this couple. The narrator is one of their granddaughters, and we hear from her the emptiness of life without faith. The book is well written. It is quite long, but well worth the effort to get a glimpse into life in China. Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 by David M Kennedy This is an enormous project to give a detailed history of the years of the depression and the entire World War II. Kennedy gives a good, thorough account. There were some fascinating details, especially about the depression, that I had never heard. I had always understood that Herbert Hoover did hardly anything, but when one understands what was going on and what the theories were that tried to explain the depression, one can see that he did his best. Unfortunately, the situation was so disastrous that this was just not enough. We see FDR foundering to find a response to the situation. He came up with some quick fixes, but these did not really end the depression. In fact, the only thing that ended the depression was the industrial upturn when World War II began. What FDR did give was some guarantees for the normal person, including Federal Insurance for bank accounts, unemployment insurance, laws against child labor, farm subsidies, etc. In some ways, the depression was needed for the country to experiment with new techniques of manipulating the economy. The book is very good, but also very long. Decision at Sea: Five Naval Battles that Shaped American History by Edward Rutherfurd This is an account of five pivotal naval battles fought by the United States throughout its history. They are the battle on Lake Erie during the War of 1812, the battle between the Monitor and the Merrimac during the Civil war, the battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish American War, the Battle of Midway during the Second World War and the battle during the Iran-Iraq War in the Persian Gulf to keep shipping open. Each of the wars represented a technological advance over the other, but each was also marked by tremendous courage and even luck. This is a good overview of the theme. The House of Pride, and Other Tales of Hawaii by Jack London These are stories about the period of Hawaii’s history right after it was annexed by the United States. A good number of the stories involve the plague of leprosy and the fate of the lepers, being sent to Molokai for the rest of their lives. We hear about the right Americans, descendants of both the Protestant missionaries (who then became fabulously wealthy) and of the traders. We hear of the Hawaii’s who were made second and third class citizens in their own homeland. London gives a good sense of the racial tensions of the islands in those years, and some of the racial blending. The stories are well written, and often convey the hypocrisy of the Americans and the tragedy of some of the injustices done to the natives. The book is well worth reading. I hope you have a good week. A number of people have asked for my prayers in these weeks (I can't publish the needs). Could you please join me in praying for them and their needs. Shalom fr. Jude

Monday, September 23, 2013

Rome - Copertino - Bari

September 23, 2013 Peace and Good, This week has been a bit unusual. I arrived back from the States on Sunday evening. Monday I was able to recover a bit from tremendous jet lag. Then on Tuesday we had the funeral of one of our friars in Rome. Matteo Luo was around 85 years old. (Although his Passport gave that age, he was probably at least a few years older. One of our Chinese friars said that he was older than his aunt who was 85.) He had come to Rome to study to be a Franciscan priest, and was forbidden from returning to China by the communists. In fact, he only returned after some twenty years, and after that he was banned again from returning. He belonged to my province in the States, even though he only visited once. He was given the choice of joining any province he wanted, and he chose us. All these years, he has been begging for assistance for the return of the friars in China. When he died, he had collected a very good sum and that will be used for our new mission there. He also attracted a number of vocations for this cause. Right after the funeral, we drove down to Copertino. This was the birth place of St. Joseph of Cupertino. (The spelling difference is the difference between the Italian and the Latin/English spelling.) St. Joseph was a Conventual friar who is famous for two things: he was not all that bright (which is why he is the patron saint of students taking exams) and he was a mystic who became so enraptured with God's love that he floated into the air. He is thus the patron saint of those who fly, including astronauts. We had out retreat down here preached by a seminary professor on St. Joseph Cupertino and his mysticism. We also attended the official opening of the 350th anniversary of his death. The procession alone lasted about an hour an a half. During it, I noticed some of the vendors at the side of the street. One of them was selling T shirts that spoke of Duff Beer and had the image of Homer Simpson. I couldn't believe it. There were thousands of people along the route. This town is far south in Italy, in what they call the heel of the boot which is Italy. On Sunday, we visited our friars in Bari, about an hour and a half away. One runs a beautiful center for children from difficult families (both residential and day care). The courts assign these children to the center for care. It is run by a friar and his lay workers. They are all helped by a group of married couples. It was great. We then went to the Basilica of St. Nicholas of Bari. This is the St. Nicholas who has gone down in history as Santa Claus. He died in Asia Minor, but his body was brought to Italy during the crusades. We will be down here all week until Friday. Then it is back to Rome for a meeting on Saturday, and then a flight out to Los Angeles on Sunday. These are the books I finished this week: Iron Kingdom by Christopher Clark This is the story of the rise and fall of Prussia, a section of Germany which gave it its best (efficiency, an honest civil service, etc.) as well as its worse (militarism, dictatorship, etc.). It goes for the origin of this region in Germany all the way until it was officially dismantled after World War II. We see great characters such as Frederick the Great and Bismark, and tyrants such as the Nazi’s and others. It is really only the kind of book that someone who really, really likes history would enjoy. Fortunately, I do really, really like history.` Farewell: The Greatest Spy Story of the Twentieth Century by Eric Reaynaud This is the story of a Soviet KGB agent who became a traitor to his country and gave many, many secret documents to the French. This was right before the period when Ronald Reagan was president, and his revelations might have actually had an effect in how the Cold War ended. His documents showed the amount of information that was being stolen from the West by Eastern spies and double agents. The French, Americans and others were able to stop the loss of those documents, and they were then able to force the Soviets to try to keep up with their technological developments on their own, which bankrupted the system. The Soviet KGB agent did this as an act of revenge against the system of favoritism toward the children of the high bosses and petty corruption that he found in the KGB. He is not exactly that nice of a figure. He and his wife both had lovers. He tried to kill his lover and did kill an on-looker. It was only after that crime that he was caught and eventually executed. The book is good, but a little repetitive at times. It also makes conclusions that the stated evidence does not really warrant. Yet, it was a good read. The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898 by Evan Thomas At the end of the 19th century, the United States went through a period of expansion which involved the conquest of Cuba, the Philippines and other Spanish colonies. This movement was pushed by three men in particular: Theodore Roosevelt who as assistant secretary of the navy and then as the Colonel in charge of the Rough Riders in Cuba pushed a manly approach to war, Henry Cabot Lodge, a senator for Massachusetts who would eventually scuttle the US participation in the League of Nations and William Randolph Hearst, the owner of a much-racking newspaper in New York which pushed for US involvement in Cuba by publicizing true and not so true accounts of Spanish repression there. Many in the States questioned this move for it seemed to betray our protection of democracy throughout the world and also make us too much the imperialistic powers of Europe. This became especially true in the Philippines where our army savagely attacked a local independence movement (which in its turn used savage tactics against our soldiers). The book is good, and provides a good insight into the personalities of those involved in these machinations. The Messiah of Morris Avenue by Tony Hendra This is the story of how Jesus comes back to an America that was taken over by fundamentalist Christians. He comes back as Jose, a Hispanic American who tries to correct some of the misunderstandings about the Christian message. The story is really quite good. At times, it goes a little over the top in trying to attacking institutional religion. Part of it was certainly borrowed from Dostoevsky’s scene of the Grand Inquisitor in the Brothers Karamazov. Jose is put to death for preaching peace and refusing to kill. I do have to admit that the story was good to read. It led to some good meditations on who Jesus is and what he wants of us. I hope you have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Monday, September 16, 2013

London - Crew - London - Ellicott City - Chicopee - Ellicott City - Rome

September 16, 2013 Peace and Good, This has been a most interesting week. The first part of it was attending the first chapter of the new custody of Great Britain and Ireland. This meeting went very well. The friar who was suggested as a possible custos (the equivalent of a provincial) was elected on the first ballot. On Thursday, fr. James McCurry and I had to fly back to the States so that we might attend the funeral of fr. Marion Tolczyk, one of our former provincials. He was the provincial who sent me over to Rome for my studies. He had also been the head of the Rosary Hour in Athol Springs, NY. While he was in the responsibility, he helped out our friars in Poland during the difficult years of Solidarity and the government crackdown. We flew to Baltimore on Thursday and then flew up on Southwest to Hartford the next morning. The funeral was in Chicopee, MA. Then, we both flew back to Baltimore that same evening. On Saturday evening, I flew back to Rome. Needless to say, my body has no idea of what time it is. My mind has very little idea of where I am at this point. Tomorrow we have another funeral, of fr. Matteo Leu, a Chinese friar who studied in Rome and then could not go back to China because of the Communists. He served the mission office here in Rome all his life. Yet, through a quirk in our legislation, he was a member of my province. Right after the funeral, the whole General Definitory will head down to Cupertino in southern Italy for our retreat and then for a definitory meeting next week. I finished some books: Marius’ Mules II: The Belgae by S.J.A. Turney This is the second book in this series that I have read. It is the story of Julius’ Caesar’s army fighting in Gaul (France) and now among the Belgae (Belgiums). The hero of the story is a gruff Roman legate named Fronto. We hear about the battles, even the massacres. Caesar comes across as a politician who will do almost anything to accrue power and prestige. The author gives a good sense of how battles were fought. He also gives a good sense of how one culture can destroy another, all in the so-called purpose of bringing civilization to the barbarians. The writing is good, but because it deals with battles, a bit gory. The Good Pope: The Making of a Saint and the Remaking of the Church – The Story of John XXIII by Greg Tobin Given that Pope John XXIII will be canonized shortly (I heard the rumor in Rome that it will be December 8th), I thought it was a good idea to read a biography about his life. Tobin’s book is highly favorable. It portrays a man who is highly intelligent but yet shows the simplicity of a farmer. He serves as a bishop’s secretary, and a seminary professor, and especially as a Papal Nuncio in Bulgaria, then Turkey and Greece and finally in France before he is appointed to be the Patriarch of Venice and then unexpectedly elected as pope. He was elected to serve a short term, name a number of cardinals (because the College of Cardinals number was quite low at that point), and then to die. He surprised everyone when he called the Second Vatican Council. He died just after the beginning of the council, but his decisions in its early months shaped the course of later decisions made under Paul VI. His nickname in Italy was “Il Papa Buono,” which means the Good Pope. By the way, the Italians have given Pope Francis that same nickname, which for Italians is just about the highest honor one could ever pay to a Holy Father. The Aleppo Codex: A True Story of Obsession, Faith, and the Pursuit of an Ancient Bible by Matti Friedman This is the story of a codex of the Bible that dated to the early Middle Ages and was one of the most accurate manuscripts that existed. During the War of Independence of Israel, there was a riot in Aleppo where the manuscript was kept. It disappeared for a number of years. When it was found again and brought to Israel (which was controversial because the Israeli government claimed it as its own instead of refugees from Aleppo), parts of it were missing. This book is an attempt to investigate the manuscript’s journey and to posit who might have taken the pages that disappeared. It is quite good, although the author does try to establish more suspense than the story deserves. The Copper Sign by Katia Fox This is the story of a young woman in the 12th century in England and France. She grows up helping her father who is a blacksmith, and she learns from him and other smiths how to make swords (although this is unthinkable for a woman to do in these times). In the meantime, she is persecuted by her mother, by her half-brother who is a knight, and by any number of people and situations along the way. She gathers around herself a group of people who were lost and down on their luck, and she builds a small community for them. She eventually fulfills her dream of making a sword for the king (almost by accident), and she becomes famous throughout the land. She is not a perfect person. She is driven in her goals, often forgetting and taking for granted the people around her. She is not all that nice to some people, although those relationships are slowly healed throughout the course of the book. Overall, it was a fairly good read. I hope you have a good week. Shalom Fr. Jude

Monday, September 9, 2013

South Bend - Chicago - London

September 9, 2013 Peace and Good, Well, I am on the other side of the Atlantic. I flew from South Bend (our novitiate is just outside of that city) to Chicago and then on to London on Saturday. It was a good flight, although as always it was long and tedious. I am here for a chapter of the new custody of Great Britain and Ireland which will take place about a three hour ride from here in a town called Crew, just outside of Manchester. We will be meeting to plan the future for the 25 friars who are part of this jurisdiction. The jurisdiction here was doing poorly for many years and it was demoted from being a province to being a delegation, but now they are moving up a notch to become a custody. This means that they have much more autonomy, making most of their decisions locally. I found out Saturday that one of the former provincials of St. Anthony Province passed away, so instead of lying back to Rome from here, on Thursday I have to fly back to the States for the funeral, and then back to Rome on Saturday night. To say the least, this is not ideal, given that jet lag really does a job on me. The good thing is that I will be flying back to go on retreat, so I will be able to rest up a bit. This past week my kindle book reader died. I bought a new one, a kindle fire which is the next level up. It is great, much easier to read than the old one. Furthermore, I was able to retrieve most of the books I had bought on the old kindle for a record of them was in the cloud. I am not really sure what that is, but it seems to be some type of super computer that stores all of these details. (Talk about Big Brother from Orwell.) I finished some books: Wild Blue: the men and boys who flew the B 24’s over Germany by Stephen Ambrose This is the story of the training and missions of the young men who joined the Army Air Corp (there was no Air Force until later) to fly the bombers over Germany. Specifically, Ambrose, who writes tons of books about the armed forces, speaks of George McGovern and his crew. This is the same McGovern who later ran for the presidency in opposition to the Vietnam War. Ambrose presents McGovern as a genuinely good young man who leads his crew into danger but watches out for them and proves to be a natural leader. His particular air wing flew out of Italy, and hit targets in Southern Germany, Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. McGovern’s favorite missions were just after the war when he flew some of the surplus food that the army had to starving civilians. War can often brutalize people, but McGovern proved to be too decent to allow that to happen to himself and his crew. Late Antiquity: Crisis and Transformation by Professor Thomas F.X. Noble This is a Teaching Company course (36 lectures) on the period of history in Europe and Western Asia that ran from the time of Diocletian (the end of the 3rd century AD) up to the period after the reign of Charlemagne (c. 800 AD). While many history books judge this period to be the beginning of the Dark Ages, Noble shows it as a time of transition. It is a period that leads to the beginning of the formation of countries in Western Europe and the rise of three empires (that of Charlemagne, that of the Byzantine Empire, and that of the Islamic Caliphate). Many scholars discount anything written during this period as being a poor copy of classical literature, Noble again speaks of the greatness of some of the authors, especially figures such as St. Ambrose and St. Augustine. He covers economic, social, demographic, political, etc. considerations. It was really worth listening to this course. The Road by Cormac McCarthy This is easily one of the saddest books that I have ever read. It is about a father and a son who are wandering along on a road after a nuclear disaster which has left the land under perpetual nuclear winter (the dust from the explosions and fires have blocked out the sun). Many of the people they meet along the way are ready to murder one for some food or clothes. The man’s wife and boy’s mother had committed suicide because she just couldn’t go on to see their deaths. The boy has an innocence and goodness that has been worn out of the heart of the man. Although this book is very good, I would not recommend it to anyone unless that person is ready for a very depressing read. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Monday, September 2, 2013

Castro Valley, CA - Chicago - Mishawaka, IN

September 2, 2013 Labor Day I finished my time in California on Tuesday and flew out to Chicago. I was staying at our house on Kenmore Avenue, not all that far from Loyola University. On Thursday evening I attended a fund raiser that fr. Peter Damian Masingill arranged for our mission in India. The hosts served exquisite Indian food. The lady who catered the meal also lent her back yard for the use of this event. There were probably about 35 people there, and it was really a very nice evening. The next morning I flew out to South Bend which is just down the street from Mishawaka. This is where our novitiate is located. There are three novices from Great Britain, three from the US and one from Canada. This week I will be presenting a workshop of the Gospels and the Psalm, a workshop I have given here a number of times and also in the Philippines. I began this morning and will continue until Friday afternoon. I had a nice surprise on the way out. The agent at the airport gate announced that they were willing to offer a $400 credit for anyone who was willing to arrive a couple of hours later and would fly from Chicago to Detroit and from there to South Bend. I called the friar picking me up and he had no problem with it. Given that I bought the original ticket with frequent flyer miles, I made out like a bandit. I can use the ticket later this year from some of my trips during the visitations I have to do in November and then again in January. My Kindle died on this trip and I finally decided to buy a Kindle Fire. When they first came out, there were mixed reviews, but they have since corrected all of the original flaws. I found out that I did not lose most of the books I was reading for they were stored in the cloud (I don't understand exactly what it is), and I could receive them free of charge. I finished a few books: Thirteen Shadows: Ghost Stories by Aaron Polson This is a series of short ghost stories. They are quite readable, but never really frighten one or make one think beyond a certain level. One of the interesting ones is about a boy who works for an old man taking his dog out for a walk. He finds the man dead when he enters the house with one of his friends. The friend steals some objects from the house and they leave the man to be found by someone else. The man haunts the boy until he gets his revenge on the friend who stole the old man’s property. Then there is one in which a man’s great aunt dies and leaves him a task of opening up a jar under the nose of people who are dying. The jar contains fragrances that trigger a pleasant memory for the dying person and allows that person to leave this life in peace. Overall, not a bad read. Dillinger by Jack Higgins Jack Higgins is the name used by Harry Patterson, an author from Northern Ireland. He wrote a number of very good books on spies and plots during World War II (e.g. the Eye of the Needle). This is a fictional account of an adventure that John Dillinger is supposed to have had in Mexico shortly before his death. He went down there to escape pursuit, but is captured by a rich mine owner who forces him to work as his enforcer in the mines against the Apache whom he treats like slaves. They rebel against the mine owner, killing his wife and kidnapping his daughter. Dillinger and others, including Rose, the mine owner’s niece, find the girl and free her. As with Higgins other books, this is well written and presents Dillinger as a type of anti-hero (something that Higgins does with IRA members in his other books). The Hades Factor by Robert Ludlum This is the first of the covert first series of books by Ludlum. I have read other volumes in the series which referred to what happened in the first volume, but this is the first time I had the change to go back to the start and see how it all came together. The hero is a doctor who is also a spy and spy catcher. He is assisted by the sister of his murdered fiancée who is in the CIA. At the end of this particular episode (which involves a evil scientist/industrialist who starts a plague so that he make a fortune selling the antidote), the president invites the hero to be part of a secret team which is answerable only to him (given that the other investigative agencies failed in their investigation of the plot outlined in this work). The action is quite good. There are side characters of a computer genius who suffers from Asperger’s syndrome and a British Secret Service spy. All in all, is was a good read. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude