Monday, December 30, 2013

Rome - Montreal

December 30, 2013 Peace and Good, I flew back to Rome on the 23rd and celebrated Christmas Day and Boxing Day in Rome. One of the big ways to celebrate Christmas is to have a game of Tombola in the evening (Italian Bingo). I usually don't win anything, but this time I walked away with one of the big prizes. (It was a boom box, and I was able to give it away to one of the brothers who did not have one in his room - if I don't give away things like this, I will be packed down with way too many things). The 27th I flew out to Montreal. The trip was uneventful. It is quite cold up here, but Montreal escaped the terrible ice storm that hit Toronto. There is quite a bit of snow on the ground, so I am doing my daily walk (40 minutes each day) downstairs in the Church hall. What I like most about the walk is listening to books on tape as I am going around the room over and over. I have a meeting with the friars from the Polish custody of Canada this afternoon. There are around 15 of them, and they serve in four parishes up here. There are some changes coming in where they are serving, and my role is to support the Custos in his decisions (which are for the future of this jurisdiction). Most of us don't like change all that much, and the friars sometimes resist it when they have become comfortable where they are. Yet, if we don't move a bit up here, then there is not much of a future for the presence of the friars in Montreal. I managed to survive another case of food poisoning. It hits me every year or so, and is usually from sometime I eat along the way. I probably ate something bad at the airport or on the plane. Thankfully, I always carry a supply of Cipro, a powerful antibiotic, and two or three pills usually does the trick. It is just one of the prices of travelling as extensively as I do. I finished some books: Armadeggon: The Battle for Germany 1944-1945 by Max Hastings Hastings is a rather famous author about the history of war, especially the Second World War. This book deals with the closing months of the war. It covers the war on the Western as well as the Eastern front (many books all but ignore the Eastern Front). It deals with the larger movements and also with the stories of individuals (generals, soldiers, civilians, politicians, etc.). It does not sugar coat the violence, especially of the Soviet troops once they reached German territory. It freely admits that Stalin killed as many of his own and other citizens as Hitler did (if not more). It speaks of the inability of many Germans to realize that they had done anything wrong in the war, even though the evidence of the atrocities was overwhelming. But it also mentions the moral ambiguity of the air war in which tens of thousands of civilians in Germany and occupied territory were killed with no clear military advantage. It is a good, honest history of this period. The Vanished Man: A Lincoln Rhyme Novel by Jeffrey Deever The premise of the Lincoln Rhyme novels is that he is a brilliant investigator who has been paralyzed in an accident. Yet, he assembles a brilliant team around himself and solves what are considered to be unsolvable crimes. This is especially true in this volume where the murderer is an illusionist (magician) who can dress to look like almost anyone. He misleads the investigators over and over again. There are more twists and turns in the action than one would ever expect. Yet, the book is written in a way that it is almost always clear what is going on (at least to the reader). It is quite entertaining. Munich, 1938: Appeasement and World War II by David Faber This is a very disturbing book because it points out the duplicity and the gullibility of the politicians who sought peace during the crisis that led to the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia right before the beginning of World War II. Hitler lied and twisted the truth and played to ego flaws in his opponents. Chamberland, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, dealt with him as if he were a man of honor, which he certainly was not. The Czechs were left out of much of the discussion, being told that they had to give in or be destroyed by the Germans without any help from the outside. At times you just want to stop and shout, “Wake up and see what is going on.” If the allies had intervened at this point, there is every possibility that the army in Germany would have overthrown Hitler. After this diplomatic victory, he was untouchable. Longitude: The True Story of a Long Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dava Sobel It is relatively easy for mariners to determine how far north or south they are by observing the sun and the stars and determining how high they are in the sky. It is much more difficult to determine longitude, how far east or west they are. There were two main techniques used throughout history. The first was astronomical – doing a series of technical observations to determine where the moon was in relation to various stars. This technique was very complicated and could take hours to determine. The other was chronological – simply see at what time certain events occur. The difficulty of the second technique is that medieval and late medieval clocks were very delicate and could lose or gain time in the turbulent seas or when humidity changed or temperature changed. There was a clockmaker (who had no technical training) named Harrison who discovered the first clock that could be taken to sea and still work almost perfectly for months on end. The Parliament in England had established a prize of 20,000 pounds for the person who devised a way to measure longitude at sea. Unfortunately, one of the key members of the committee to determine the success of an effort was a proponent of the astronomic method, and he conspired to withhold the prize from Harrison. Yet, in the long run it was the clock (and watch) method that was used until the time of radio and later satellite navigation. Happy New Year. Shalom fr. Jude

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Rome - London - Chicago

December 22, 2013 Peace and Good, This has been a jet lag week. I finished off my meetings in Rome a week ago Friday. They went quite well, and I think we got a lot accomplished. Sunday, a week ago (the 15th), I took a flight out to London where I spent the next few days. The weather in London was pretty much what you would expect at this time of year. It is overcast with rain every once in a while. I met with the Custos, fr. Peter Damian, who is doing a great job. He has a lot of decisions to make in the next few months, but he has a calm, thoughtful spirit about him which will help him a lot in his responsibilities. Wednesday I flew from there to Chicago. Thursday I had a couple of meetings in Rockford, a two hour drive from Chicago. I asked one of the friars to drive me there. Normally, two hours is nothing for me, but working on jet lag, it just seemed too much of a risk. The meetings went very, very well, and we got a lot accomplished. Friday I preached a day of recollection for the students of this province. We looked at two scripture passages, one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament, and applied them to the season and their lives. I was pleased with how it turned out. In between conferences, there were some more meetings. Saturday I drove up to Milwaukee to complete the series of meetings. There was a lot of wear and tear in all these meetings, but we did get some good things done. Today, Sunday, I fly back to Rome. This morning is the first day when I feel the jet lag loosing its tendrils, and it is time to return to the European time zones. I will be in Rome until the 27th when I fly back to Montreal for another short series of meetings. I finished some books: 1434: The Year a Magnificent Chinese Fleet sailed to Italy and Ignited the Renaissance by Gavin Menzies This is the second book by Menzies that I have read. The premise of both is the same: that much of our scientific knowledge in the Western World actually came from the east when the emperor sent large fleets on exploratory journeys throughout the world. He has an enormous amount of documentation, but listening to this book, I was struck over and over again by his tendency to attribute every single scientific discovery to the east. If there was a genius in the West such as Copernicus or Leonardo da Vinci or Guttenberg, it was because they stole their discoveries from the east. He speaks about an enormous fleet that brought this knowledge to the Western world, but there just is not enough outside data to convince one of the fleet’s existence. That is not to say that what he says is wrong, just that it seems overdone. This is not a book that one would want to read for relaxation because it has a large number of technical terms, but it is informative. The Italians before Italy: Conflict and Competition in the Mediterranean by Kenneth Bartlett This is a Teaching Company course about the various city states in Italy which gave rise to varied cultures all throughout the peninsula. It especially deals with the machinations of the great lords of these states during the late Middle Ages and the period of the Renaissance. Bartlett speaks about the usual great cities such as Rome, Florence, Venice, Milan and Naples. He also speaks of Urbino, Pisa, Ferrara, Genoa etc, smaller cities that nevertheless played a significant role either in the politics of Italy or the art and literature of Italy or both. He also deals with the tension between supporters of the Holy Roman Emperor and those of the Pope, as well as the invasions of the Spanish and French royal families. The lectures are well done, and they do give insight why it is so difficult to speak of a unified Italy. To give just one example, the people of Genoa and Pisa still dislike each other so much that when someone dies, they say that at least it is better than having a Pisan at the door. The series of 24 lectures is well done. Undue Influence: a Paul Madrini Novel by Steve Martini This is the story of a lawyer who is called upon to defend his sister-in-law who is accused of killing her ex-husband’s new wife. There had been very bad faith between the ex-wife and the new wife due to questions concerning the custody of the two children from the first marriage. There is intrigue, political scandal, affairs, etc. Both the investigation part and the trial part of the book are well written. There is also a good sense of humor throughout. It was quite enjoyable. Vespers by Ed McBain This is another of the stories from Ed McBain which revolves around a fictional police station. Each of his novels usually involves two main crimes. That is true of this volume as well. The center of the book, though, is the murder of a priest. As the detectives dig more and more, there are elements including drugs which a young punk has hidden in the Church, a grumpy man who fights with the priest, a possible affair the priest is having, a church dedicated to Satan just down the street, etc. The second crime involves a woman who loves a detective, but she has had a bad past which included prostitution, murder and theft. Both stories are well developed. I always find McBain’s books easy to read and enjoyable. Hope you have a Merry Christmas. Shalom fr. Jude

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Rome - Staten Island - Rome

December 11, 2013 Peace and Good, This has been a strange week. Most of it was spent sitting in a Room during our definitory meeting. Then, on Saturday I flew out to London, on Sunday to Staten Island, and then back again on Monday night. First of all, during the week we have been meeting with all of the staff for the organization of the Order. There are offices for those who work with the Secular Franciscans, the Militia of Mary Immaculate, Formation, the Economy, our representative with the Vatican, etc. We do this once a year to make sure we are all on the same page. Then in the evening we celebrated the novena in preparation for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. The preacher this year was quite good. Last year I said that the preacher did not say anything wrong, but it didn't change my heart in any way. This year fr. Rafaele, the spiritual director of the Militia Immacolata, did a fine job. I wanted to listen to what he was saying. We invite a different cardinal each evening and the assistants end up concelebrating one of the evenings. The cardinal with whom I concelebrated was the head of the Office of Saints. I was impressed with the cardinals this year as well. Last year I wondered where some of them had learned to celebrate the Mass. This year they were all devout and yet not plastic. Cardinal Turkson, who studied with some of our friars in the States, was one of the celebrants. On Saturday I flew off the London. I just managed to get there. There was a huge problem with the air traffic control system in Great Britain and mine was the only flight from Rome to London to get off the ground. Then on Sunday I flew out to Staten Island and landed just before the snow arrived from the big storm on the East Coast. Monday there was a celebration in Staten Island for the province of the Immaculate Conception. This is the feast of their patron, and it was the last time they celebrated it because next May they are united with St. Anthony Province and taking the new name of Our Lady of the Angels. I found out this morning that one of the friars present at the celebration passed away later that evening. He did not look well at all, but I was still surprised by this news. Monday night I flew back to Rome and arrived home around 8 PM. I actually don't feel all that bad considering all the travel. I think that I didn't stay in the States long enough to get bad jet lag coming back home. I finished some books: Bake Sale Murder by Leslie Meier This is the story of a small town reporter in Maine who tries to solve the murder of one of her neighbors. In the process, she and her family are put in danger. The characterization is not all that deep, but the story goes along well enough and is entertaining. Agent 6 (The Child 44 Trilogy) by Tom Rob Smith This is the second of Tom Rob Smith’s books that I have read. He tells the story of a former KGB man who is desperate to solve and revenge the murder of his wife. The murder takes place in New York, a city that he could never hope to visit (for in the 1960’s, former KGB agents were never allowed permission to leave the country. The plot is quite complicated. He ends up in Afghanistan from which he finds a way to defect to the United States. I like Smith’s characterization of the inhumanity of much of the secret police culture of the old Soviet Union. He shows how good people or people who simply did not want to be evil struggled to keep a moral bearing in the midst of official insanity and cruelty. His writing is very, very good, but reading the book can be painful as one confront institutional evil at its worse. The Vikings by Robert Wernick This is a short treatment of the history of the Vikings. Wernick explains why there was a sudden eruption of Vikings raiding Western and Eastern Europe. He gives two reasons: a population explosion caused by a better diet due to a warming period in northern Europe, and a dissatisfaction with the rise of imperial power among the leaders of the various lands – especially the establishment of monarchies. He portrays the Vikings both a ferocious warriors and clever traders. He speaks of their gradual expansion to the Oarkneys and the Faroes and then to Iceland, Greenland and even North America. Then he speaks about the decline of Viking power, one could almost say the domestication of the Vikings. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Ellicott City - Dublin - London - Rome

December 1, 2013 Peace and Good, I have been in Dublin this past week for a meeting of the custody of Great Britain and Ireland. The first session was held a couple of months ago, and this one was to finish up making plans for the next four years and to confirm the assignments for the guardians of the communities and the others who will lead them during this mandate. We held the chapter in All Hallows Seminary. This used to be the seminary for priests in Ireland who were going on mission, which often meant to southern states in the United States. Most of the foreign born Irish priests in Florida and California studied here. It is now used for continuing education and for meetings like ours. The meeting went quite well. There was a good spirit among the friars. There will be a few difficult years coming, but there certainly is a light on the horizon. They have a good number of new vocations, but it will take some time for them to be trained and ready for the ministry. In the meantime, the older friars are trying to hold out and the foreign friars brought in from the US, Canada, India, Malta, Poland and Romania keep the custody going. There are about 30 friars in solemn vows in all. Friday I flew in to London and overnighted at our friary and yesterday flew out to Rome. The trip was uneventful and I will be in Rome for the next couple of weeks (with the exception of flying out next Sunday to Staten Island for a celebration and flying back the next evening to come back to Rome). We have one of our big definitories, the one in which we meet with all of the men who are entrusted with the various offices of the Order. This week is also the Novena for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Our Basilica of the Holy Apostles is the center point for the celebration of the novena and the feast. There is a cardinal each night to be the celebrant at the Mass. The music is quite well done, and we get a good crowd for each of the evening Masses (which is not the case for most of the year). I finished some books: The Thirty-Nine Stairs by John Buchan This is a short story about a British man who has just come back from working in Africa. He encounters a harried American who tells him a fantastic tale of spy craft. The spy ends up murdered in the Brit’s apartment, and he must now flee both the murderers and the authorities. He runs far and wide on a series of adventures, and eventually through his brilliance is able to save the day (keeping the Germans from acquiring the plans for the deployment of the British fleet just before the beginning of World War I). It is written in the style of the spy story from the 20’s, and thus is a bit dated, but nevertheless is well written and enjoyable. The Last Tsar: Emperor Michael II by Donald Crawford This is the story of Grand Duke Michael, the brother of Czar Nicholas II. When Nicholas abdicated, he also gave up the throne in the name of his son Alexis because of his illness (he was a hemophiliac). Michael thus because the Czar of Russia. Michael had been disgraced in previous years by marrying a commoner who was also twice divorced. Yet, during World War I, he turned out to be a great hero, winning two of the most prestigious medals given in Russia (and not just because he was a Romanov). He was arrested by the provisional government and put to death by the communists shortly before the execution of his brother Nicholas and his entire family. The book is well written, painting Michael to be a very decent person (something that was recognized even by his captors). Islamic Mysticism by Luke Timothy Johnson This is the third section in a long study of mysticism by the Teaching Company. This was the shortest of the three. It dealt especially with the various forms of Islam (Sunni vs Shiite), with the various school of interpretation of the law, and with the Sufi movement of mysticism which dates back to the beginning of Islam (if not before) and extends to the present day. The most famous Sufi’s are Rumi the poet and the school of dervishes which he founded, the whirling dervishes. Like the schools of mysticism in Christianity and Judaism, there are some mystics who were more intellectual and some who spoke more from the heart. There were some who were more ascetical and some more worldly. Some stayed in one place and others travelled extensively. I liked Johnson’s conclusion that the mystics serve as a challenge to us today when we think that what we see and measure and control are all of reality. They remind us that there is a whole other level of reality which might even be more important than the everyday. Shooting Victoria: Madness, Mayhem, and the Rebirth of the British Monarchy by Paul Thomas Murphy Queen Victoria, the 19th century monarch of Great Britain, was the second longest reigning king or queen in that country’s history (just beating out George III by a short amount of time). During her reign, there were numerous attempts on her life (almost all with a pistol). Most of those who attacked her were mentally ill or desperate in some other way. None of them were put to death (which angered Victoria who thought that the criminals were getting off too easily and therefore serving as possible examples to other potential assassins). Ironically, every time that someone attacked her, she ended up being more popular. This was especially important at the start of her reign when she was disliked for mixing in politics and for the bad reputation of most of her extended family. The book is very well researched, but also gives a compassionate read of what happened. Have a good week. Shalom Fr. Jude