Saturday, October 26, 2013

Sydney (Springvale and Dingley) - Melbourne (Kellyville)

October 27, 2013 Peace and Good, I am drawing my canonical visitation of the Australian Delegation to a close. I have met with all of the friars who are now stationed in Australia. I will meet with a few along the road (Chicago, Rome and we will have to see about Brussels). It has been a good visit. This is one of the better parts of my job - to spend time talking with friars to see how things are going, to offer a piece of advice, to encourage them in the good work that they are doing. One of the things that we especially need to do for the Australian friars is to bring a few friars over here from other jurisdictions. This will help with man power issues but also give a little more of a mix to group of friars serving here. It is always good to have variety and different points of view. That is difficult to obtain here because the numbers of low and they are so far from the other jurisdictions. A number of friars from Australia have also been visiting (for shorter and longer periods of time) other jurisdictions. I see real signs of hope. I am especially impressed by the work being done at the Shrine of the Holy Innocents here in Kellyville. It is only open a few months, and already there are a good group of people coming to daily Mass and devotions. The center is starting to be used for spiritual events such as day retreats. I think that this will become a real gem over time. Tomorrow I head out to Chicago. This is my feast day, and because I will be crossing the International Date Line, I will get to celebrate it twice. Of course, celebrating it in an airplane is not exactly my idea of a big party, but you've got to take what you can get. I finished some reading: Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family’s Feuds by Lyndall Gordon This is both the story of Emily Dickinson, the hermit of Amherst and the famous poet of the 19th century, and also of the fight for the rights to her works after her death. She published hardly anything while she lived, but she left hundreds of poems and letters when she died. Her life seems to have been colored by the epilepsy that she probably suffered. She formed a tight bond with her brother Austen’s wife Susan. She then stood up for Susan’s rights when he entered into a torrid love affair with a Mabel Todd, a married woman (whose husband also participated in numerous affairs). After Dickinson’s death, Mabel Todd became the copyist and editor of editions of Dickinson’s poetry which slowly became more and more popular. Austen’s other sister Lavinia fought Mabel in court for the rights to some land which had been signed over to her (possibly as payment for the work done on Dickinson’s poetry). Even though most of the story takes place in the Victorian era, it reads like a messy soap opera. The Naked Gardener by LB Gschwandthner This was one of those books that I picked up on sale from Amazon. How could you not be interested in it given its unusual title? It is a book about a woman who lives with a man in a committed relationship. She is an artist, he a professor. They winter in Virginia and summer on an old farm in New Hampshire. The book explores questions of commitment, of expectations, of fears, of relationship (especially with other women), of responsibility to the past while not allowing oneself to be imprisoned in it. The title comes from the fact that the woman actually gardens naked (in a garden which is far from peeping eyes). It is a symbol of her quest for freedom, but by the end of the book she realizes that total freedom exacts a price. Overall, it is well written. Reflections on the Psalms by C.S. Lewis This is exactly what this book is. It is not an ordered, comprehensive presentation on the psalms. Rather, it is a series of thoughts on various difficult aspects of the psalms, such as the cursing psalms or the self-righteous attitude found in other psalms. I especially appreciated his chapter on praise in the psalms, a topic about which I have been reflecting for some time. As with other Lewis writings, he is often quite original and at the very least he makes one think. The Franciscan Tradition (Spirituality in History) by Regis Armstrong This is an anthology of writings produced by members of the First, Second and Third Orders of St. Francis from the time of the founding of the orders up until the recent times. Each of the sections gives a short biography of the person involved and some background information about the times in which that person wrote. There are also the rules for each of the three orders (including that for the religious communities which follow the Third Order, for while most third orders are only lay people, the Franciscan Third Order actually has two branches: lay people and female and male religious communites). The selections and overview is well presented. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Hermosa Beach (Los Angeles) - Dingley (Melbourne, Australia)

October 20, 2013 Peace and Good, Well, I finally made it to the next part of my journey. I had to cancel the India part of the journey because of visa problems. I had a panic moment at the airport on Thursday evening when I tried to check in. They had difficulties finding permission for me to fly to Australia. It took them over 40 minutes to process my ticket. It might have to do with the fact that I had originally arranged for the e visa for the next day (because that is when I would have been flying in from India) or it might have been that I was flying into Australia on United but flying out on Quantas and they did not see a round trip ticket. Whatever it was, the agent at United was great and kept at it until she firmed up the travel arrangements. The trip was uneventful but very long. It was about 14 hours to Sydney, a 2 hour layover, and then another hour flight to Melbourne. I was fortunate because the entertainment system on the overseas flight did not work, so I was compensated with extra frequent flyer miles. I usually don't use the entertainment system anyway because I am either reading off my Kindle or listening to books on tape on my MP3 player. I will be here in Australia for about a week doing a canonical visitation. Every several years, one of us has to visit each jurisdiction to see how things are going. We visit each site and speak with each friars. This is not too difficult here because there are only four friaries and about 15 friars. The weather is nice. It is Spring here now. The only difficulty is terrible fires on the outskirts of the cities. Over 200 houses were burned to the ground yesterday. I finished an enormous number of articles for the two magazines for which I write this past week. I am pretty well set until July with one and until the end of next year with the other. That gives me quite a bit of breathing room. I have finished some books: Hitler’s Spy Chief: the Wilhelm Canaris Mystery by Richard Bassett Canaris was the head of military intelligence in Nazi Germany. In certain ways, he was a brilliant spy master. But in other ways, he would be considered a traitor in most countries, for he actively revealed secrets to the British to a lesser degree to the Americans so that the Nazi’s would not win the war. This was eventually discovered and he was arrested after the plot against Hitler and executed toward the end of the war. He was a gentleman who tried to live according to his conscience. He collected information about the atrocities that were being committed in the east (Poland and Russia) in the hope that the Nazi leaders would be called to account at the end of the war. The biography is good and informative, well written. Mystics and Saints of Islam by Claud Field This is an account of Muslim mystics throughout the ages. It gives a short biography and some of the teachings of those mystics who proposed a direct way of coming to know God. We hear of how some of them were accused of heresy and even executed for this. We hear of the Sufi tradition of mysticism which strongly emphasized emotion and asceticism as opposed to observance of the law and study of the Koran. At the end there are a series of appendices concerning Christian teachings to be found in the Koran and the teachings of the mystics. Overall, it is a good book, even if the scholarship is quite dated for it was written in 1910. Book of the Dead by Patricia Cornwell I have read a number of the Kay Scarpetta series written by Cornwell. She has drifted more and more from a presentation of forensic science to the very dysfunctional relationships of the investigators. Her portrayal is, honestly, getting annoying. Kay Scarpetta is opposed by some female figure who wickedly attacks her. Her adopted daughter gets more and more obsessive. Kay’s relationship with the man she supposedly loves, Benton who works for the FBI, is strange. Her side kick investigator, Marino, becomes more and more bruttish. I have got to admit that I am going to try to avoid her books for a while. A Frozen Hell: The Russo-Finnish Winter War of 1939-1940 by William Trotter Shortly after he cooperated with Hitler to invade Poland, Stalin demanded territorial concessions from Finland (so that he might have more defensible borders around the city of Leningrad. The Finns refused. So the Soviets invaded. Even though Finland is a small country with a population of only four million, it all but fought the Soviets to a standstill. The poor performance of the Soviets was one of the factors that led to Hitler’s decision to invade the Soviet Union the next year. It is the story of incredible bravery in the face of insurmountable odds. The book is well written and not overly technical. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Monday, October 14, 2013

Oceanside - San Francisco - Hermosa Beach

October 14, 2013 Peace and Good, Well, it has been a relatively stable couple of weeks since I last wrote the blog. The first week I was giving a retreat to the friars of the California province at a Benedictine Monastery in Oceanside, California. That is just above San Diego. The topic of the retreat was themes from the Sacred Scriptures that deal with Franciscan Spirituality. It was a very good week, and we had some good discussions. This is all in preparation for the Provincial Chapter that the friars will be celebrating this coming May. On Friday of the first week, I flew up to San Francisco to try to get a visa for my trip to India. I was to give a retreat to the friars of the province there. It is relatively complicated to get a visa for India. I could not get it in Rome because I do not have a residence visa there. In the States, they have divided up the country to zones and you can only apply for a visa from the zone where you are living, which would be in Washington DC for me. The problem was that it takes 5 to 6 days plus shipped days, and I did not have that time. There was an urgent request desk in San Francisco, and I arranged an appointment to request a visa there. When I got there, they told me that I could not get a visa there because it was not my zone. This meant I could not fly out to India on Monday of this past week as I had planned. They do not issue visas at the airport when you arrive, and they would just have shipped me back to the States. So I got in contact with my travel agent and with the friars in India to cancel that part of the trip. I will fly out this Thursday to go to Australia to pick up the trip where I would have gone after my India part. I have been staying in our friary in Hermosa Beach (Los Angeles) and have been resting and working on some writing projects. I didn’t realize how much I needed this time off. You run and run, and you don’t realize how run down you are getting. This has been a very good time to recharge the batteries. Furthermore, the writing juices have been flowing, so I have been able to finish a whole bunch of articles for the Messenger Magazine and I am way ahead. I finished some books these weeks: Short Stories by Joshua Scribner This is a series of short stories. Fright Reaction is about a man camping in the woods who is saved from an invasion of space aliens. All that Remains is about a young woman who remembers what a professor told his class about the brain and how the back of the brain is the most primitive part. This saves her life when she must kill her zombie boyfriend. Coryanna is the story of a nurse in a unit which cares for new born children. She sees a ghost which inhabits her. She finds out the ghost is of a child who died many years before and this ghost becomes the child to which she then gives birth. The last of the stories is called the Conductor. It is about two men who are put to the test (by whom is never revealed). They must figure out how to escape from an electrified stockade which is surrounded by carnivorous cows within a certain amount of time. Scribner has a way of providing a very clear setting within a very short format. His writings are always entertaining (if you appreciate the science fiction genre). The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien This is a very odd, very Irish story about a young man who lost a leg during the World War and returns to Ireland. He and an accomplice kill a man for his money. From there, the story becomes very complicated. It involves a police sergeant who has a theory that bicycles can become part person and the person part bicycle because they rub off on each other. The man in question is led to a room underground where one does not grow any older. One of the policemen invents various machines to change sound waves into light and heat waves. The man is accused of murder, and an army of one legged men come to rescue him. None of it makes any sense, but yet there was something enjoyable about listening to the account. Augustus: Son of Rome by Richard Foreman This is a fictional account of the end of the reign of Julius Caesar and the very beginning of that of Augustus Caesar. We hear of those who influenced and protected the young man who would come to rule over the Roman Empire (and in fact, invented the Roman Empire). We hear of the plot against Julius, and how some of the same plotters tried to kill Augustus before he arrived in Rome. The account is rather well written, giving one a sense of the personalities of those involved. A spy at the heart of the third Reich: the extraordinary story of Fritz Kolbe, America’s most import spy in world war II by Lucas Delattre This is the story of a man who worked in the Foreign Ministry in Nazi Germany during the war. He hated the Nazi’s, never joining the party even when it would have helped his career. He smuggled numerous secret documents to Bern, Switzerland where he handed them over to Avery Dulles, the head of the OSS (the predecessor of the CIA) office there. At first they thought he was a plant, for he seemed to be too good to be true. Dulles slowly came to trust him implicitly, and his information proved to be most valuable in the war effort. He suffered after the war for the work he did for the Americans, but he seems to have been a good spirited man even when things did not go that well. His failure was to the son whom he left in South Africa with a German family and whom he very rarely contacted as he was growing up. Mystical Tradition: Judaism by Luke Timothy Johnson This is the first of three sets of lectures from the Teaching Company about the mystical tradition in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. This one deals with mystical texts in the Old Testament and the development of a mystical tradition among Jews throughout the centuries. We see a devotion to the study of the Torah and the Talmud (the Jewish legal tradition). We see the development of the more esoteric teachings of the Kabbalah tradition (which has recently become very popular again). We also see the development of the Hasidic tradition in Eastern Europe. Dr. Johnson gives a good overview of the different movements in Judaism, including various figures who claimed to be Messiahs and who caused great pain among Jews of their days. Like all of the lecture series of the Teaching Company, this series is informative and quite well planned. Have a good week. Shalom Fr. Jude