Monday, January 27, 2014

Pismo Beach - Arroyo Grande - Coalinga - San Francisco - Castro Valley (all in California)

1/27/2014 Peace and Good, I have been in California all this week visiting the friars throughout the Central Coast up to San Francisco. Each of the apostolates is very different from the others. Pismo Beach is more a retirement area near the coast, Arroyo Grande is more a farming region just a bit inland, Coalinga is very much a farming zone, San Francisco is a rough neighborhood, while Castro Valley is in the suburbs outside of San Francisco. The weather all this week has been incredible, especially considering the freeze on the east coast. The one thing that they could use, desperately, is rain. This is the rainy season, and they have not received any rain or snow. They are hoping for a good rain this coming weekend, which would be an incredible blessing. This affects the whole country because so much of our produce is grown in the central valley of this state. Two of the places I visited are poorer areas. San Francisco is basically an African-American community that is slowly becoming Hispanic, and Coalinga is a very poor farming area with a large number of migrants (the second poorest counties in the country). The friars are doing fine work. It has also been good to be in the same time zone for a while. I will be flying to Reno for a few days later in the week where the friars take care of the cathedral. Then back to Castro Valley until I head back to Chicago on the 7th. Here is some of my reading: Great Impersonation by E. Phillips Oppenheim This is the story of two men, one English and one German who studied with each other and encounter each other in East Africa shortly before World War I. They closely resemble each other, so the German hatches a plot to kill the Englishman and take his place. He fits perfectly into the personality of the Englishman and is commended by the Kaiser who is actively preparing for war. The book is written in the style of spy novels at the beginning of the 20th century (with many stereotypes of the honorable Englishman and the dishonorable German). The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory This is the story of a Princess, Joquetta, from Luxembourg who marries into the English royal family during the 15th century A.D. and her interaction with the king, Henry VI, and his wife, Marguerite. Unfortunately, Henry suffers from some form of mental illness which leaves him unresponsive for long periods of time. Marguerite and the king favor certain nobles to the detriment of others, which eventually leads to civil war. In the midst of all of this is the princess who becomes Lady Rivers. The title contains the word rivers because of a legend concerning the founding of the royal family of Luxembourg where the founding queen was a type of water goddess. This is where I have a problem with the book. It gets a bit into magic and the idea that men mess things up all the time and women are always put down simply because they are women. In spite of this, the book, like all of her books, is well written and worth reading. Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux This was the second book by Paul Theroux that I have read. The first was the Mosquito Coast. I have to admit that I really did not like that one all that much. This one, on the other hand, which is a bit of a travelogue, was very enjoyable. It is the account of his trip from London to Vietnam and Japan and then back to London through Russia, all of which he did by train whenever possible. He has great insights into the character of various people. He speaks of the governments of certain where the people are currently suffering persecution from a tyrant. He reflects on certain authors and their works. I could easily recommend this book. Death in Breslau: An Inspector Eberhard Mock Investigation by Marek Krajewski This is a strange detective story that takes place in the city of Breslau in Germany (I think Breslau is now in Poland) just after the take over of Hitler. A young woman from a family of nobility is murdered in what is obviously a ritual murder. The story shows the decadence of Germany during the late 20’s and early 30’s (not unlike the film and play Cabaret). It also shows the gradual growth in power and violence of the Nazi’s as they grab control of the police force. Finally, it shows the decadence and the indifference of the nobility in Germany, a pampered and totally vile group of people. The story throws together Nazi’s, medieval Satanists and the KGB and CIA. There are many, many twists and turns, but the book is not for those who are looking for a comforting story. It is anything but that. Nevertheless, it is good, and gives one a peek at a certain period and certain country just before the boom fell. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Monday, January 20, 2014

Pismo Beach - Hermosa Beach - Pismo Beach - Arroyo Grande

January 20, 2014 Peace and Good, I have begun my visitation of the California province this week. I had a meeting with the provincial definitory to get an overall perspective of the province at this moment. The next day I drove down to the Los Angeles area, to Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Hermosa Beach (not far from Manhattan Beach and Redondo Beach). I drove back to Pismo Beach and visited the friars there in St. Paul Parish and its affiliate houses. Today I visited our friary in Arroyo Grande which is not all that far from Pismo Beach. There are around 45 friars in the province in the States (plus another 13 in Vietnam). The province is relatively young in comparison with our other provinces in the States. For a number of years they were not getting vocations, but they have had better fortune in these past couple of years. The weather has been incredible these days. After 0 degree weather in Chicago, it was around 80 degrees here. The house where they put me up here in Pismo Beach has a beautiful view of the beach. Tomorrow I travel to Coalingua for the funeral of one of their elderly friars and for a visitation with the two friars stationed there. They on to San Francisco where we have three friaries. Here are the latest books I finished: The Telephone Poles by G.K. Chesterton This is an interesting short story about two men who are walking and compare the beauty of a line of telephone poles to that of a stand of pine trees. The pines are wild and disorganized, while the telephone poles are organized and uniform. It is the question of natural beauty vs. the beauty of civilization. Unbound: A Practical Guide to Deliverance from Evil Spirits by Neal Lozano This is a book on how to seek and assist in the spiritual deliverance of people who are troubled by demons. It is not a spooky book that sees demons residing everywhere. In fact, the author goes out of his way to de-emphasize speaking of demons. He nevertheless speaks of how we can be oppressed by things which hold us in bondage and how the Lord wants us to be free. He gives a number of case examples to help understand the points he is trying to make. He respects psychology and other social sciences. He finds a good blend of body and soul throughout his presentation. I found the book fascinating and consoling. There is certainly a loving message contained therein. I would recommend it for people who have tried everything to be free of temptations and weaknesses and who feel trapped. The Nightmare by C.K Chesterton This is only a short reflection on how we might let our imagination run wild a bit, but we have to try to keep things in their place. Beasts and ugly things are not to be worshipped or placed in the place of God and the angels. Even heavenly things might appear to be beastlike. Think only of the seven eyed and horned lamb of the Book of Revelation, but they are to be understood and kept in their symbolic place as opposed to seeing them running around our world. It was almost as if he said that nightmares and frightening stories are fine as long as they are understood to be that and not made into something more (as many of our recent zombie and vampire films have done). My Aunt, Jane Austen: A Personal Biography of Jane Austen This is one of a series of short biographies on famous authors that I am reading. I was quite interested in Jane Austen because her books have made a tremendous hit lately, and as of yet I have not read any of her works. I thought this biography might be a good intro to her work and her person. The problem is that this particular biography is short on detail. It is a loving recount of the life of a person who led a rather unspectacular life, and who became much more famous after she had died than while she was still alive. It is interesting to note, however, the whole reaction of the literary set to the idea of a woman author, and especially a woman fiction writer. Most serious authors did not believe that women could produce anything other than sweet poetry. Jane Austen proved them very wrong. From what I gleaned from this short biography, she proved them wrong by giving good portraits of rather normal people interacting. I do want to put one or two of her books on my must read list. I hope you have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Rome - Chicago - Pismo Beach

January 14, 2014 Peace and Good, Well, this has been another travel week. I started last week in Rome. On January 7th, we had a meeting of the new provincials from all over the world. They asked me to do a spiritual introduction on the Franciscan concept of authority. I used St. Peter as an example, especially in terms of his willingness to serve even with his brokenness. I am so impressed by the fact that he was the major source for information in the Gospel of Mark (for Mark was one of his disciples), and yet the portrait of Peter in the Gospel is not all that impressive. Peter was not afraid to admit that he had made mistakes so that the early Christians would know that you don't have to be perfect to be a disciple. That was on Tuesday. On Wednesday, I flew to Chicago for a couple more meetings. They are getting ready for their chapter, and there is quite a bit of work to do with various things in their province. I will be going back in February. Then on this past Sunday I flew out to Pismo Beach which is in California. It is mid way between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The friars have a house that was donated to them by two sisters, and they put me up there. The sun room has an incredible view of the beach. I had been in Pismo Beach for a couple of months a number of years back on a Sabbatical. It is good to be back. This morning I have a meeting with the California provincial and his definitory, and then I head down to Los Angeles to start my visitation. The weather changes these weeks have been incredible. Montreal and Chicago were around 0, while Rome was around 50, and Pismo Beach gets up into the 60's. I finished some books: Boss Tweed: The Corrupt Poll who conceived the Soul of Modern New York by Kenneth D. Ackerman I had often heard about Tammany Hall and how it controlled the politics of New York City. Its most famous leader was Boss Tweed who reigned from the 1860’s to the 1880’s. He controlled all the contracts made in the city and took a cut of everything. He controlled elections in the city. He lived a spectacular life, but he also shared his riches with others, including with the poor. He was brought down by the efforts of a cartoonist who worked for Harper’s Weekly and by the investigation of the New York Times. Eventually, Governor Tilden joined in the campaign. (Tilden lost a very disputed election in 1876 to Rutherford B. Hayes.) Tweed eventually died in prison, all but pennyless. The book is well written and gives a decent portrayal of this scoundrel. The Surrender of a Cockney by G.K. Chesterton This is a short story about a Londoner, a Cockney, who chooses to live in the country not because he actually likes it. Rather, he goes there so he can long all the more for his beloved city. He sees the city as the climax of all that is good. He cannot understand those city folk who think that the country life is ideal. This Kind of War: The Classic Korean War History by T.R. Fehrenbach This is a thorough history of the Korean War. It gives information both about the political issues but also the human dimension of the soldiers fighting on the allied side. It freely admits the mistakes that the US made in letting its army degenerate after World War II, and also in letting a spirit of easy service enter the mentality of the soldiers which left them unable to affront many of the hardships they faced in fighting the North Koreans and the Chinese. It dealt at some length with the controversy surrounding the dismissal of General Douglas MacArthur by President Truman. A thousand Days in Tuscany by Marlena de Blasi This is the story of a elderly couple, a American woman who write on cooking and an Italian, Venitian banker who decide to sell everything and move to a small farm house in Tuscany. They meet the people from the village and begin to fit in. They have a warm relationship with an old, crotchety local and his woman friend. There are details of the relationship of the couple, of what they do, and especially of what they eat. It is an enjoyable book, filled with insight into life. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Monday, January 6, 2014

Montreal - Rome

January 6, 2014 The Solemnity of the Epiphany Hope you are all well. Here in Rome we celebrate the Epiphany on January 6th and not on the Sunday which falls around that date. There are more national holidays in this country than anywhere else I have ever been. Christmas and New Year's fell on Wednesdays, so there was some massive bridge building. If a holiday falls on a Tuesday or a Thursday, Italians normally don't go to work on the intervening day, or what they call "they build a bridge." Well, with the two holidays this year on Wednesday, they tended to build bridges in both directions. The Vatican offices have been more or less closes for the past two weeks. Montreal was very nice, but very cold. The temperature hovered around 0 most of the week that I was there. It was like living in little Poland for those days because our friars there serve the Polish immigrants. Lots of ham and sausage, etc. I have been in Rome since the 3rd. I have a meeting tomorrow at which I will make a scriptural presentation for the new provincials of the Order. I am going to be speaking about the role of St. Peter in the New Testament and what that has to teach us about our role of authority in the community. Most of the men already get it, but some need to be reminded now and then that it is a role of service and not of power. That is a temptation that it is easy to fall into. Wednesday I head back to Chicago for a couple of meetings. Then on the 12th, off to California to begin a province visitation. That will keep me in that area for most of a month. We heard recently that one of our friars is being ordained a bishop in Costa Rica on March 1st. I will be going to that along with the General and another Assistant. fr. Enrique has worked in many different positions of responsibility for the Order for a long, long time. I finished some books: Lone Star Rising, Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1908-1960 by Robert Dallek This is a biography of Johnson from his birth until the time that he assumed the office of Vice-President under John Kennedy. He was a powerful man and a brilliant, if not always honest, politician. He used the system to make himself rich and to acquire huge donations from Texas oilmen and construction firms, especially Brown and Root. Yet, he proved to be one of the most successful majority leaders in the Senate during the presidency of Eisenhower. Instead of opposing everything as some politicians do today, he tried to find constructive ways of building upon the president’s agenda, often supporting more than members of the president’s own Republican Party. He fought for the poor while he helped the rich with tax subsidies, etc. He is a very complex man. The book is well written and not judgmental. Alarms and Discursions by G.K. Chesterton This is an essay that disguises itself as a tale. It is basically Chesterton’s critique of the modern world and its values. He speaks of how previous eras were based upon something, whereas the modern world has many different ideas and symbols, none of which amount to very much. It gives a good sense of where he stands: firmly in the line of tradition. “A” is for Alibi (The Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Mysteries) by Sue Grafton This is the first of a whole series of detective books about a character named Kinsey Millhone. She is a rough, tough investigator. The story is well written and believable. It is about a woman who hires Kinsey to investigate the murder of her husband, a murder for which she has already served a jail term. It is interesting to see how the author lets the story unfold slowly and sometimes even chaotically. She gives enough clues to be able to follow the narrative, without giving away the end of the story too early. I bought a whole series of these novels on sale from Kindle, and now I am glad I did so. Ghandhi and Churchill: The Epic Rivalry that Destroyed an Empire and Forged Our Age by Arthur Herman This is a biography of two of the most influential men of the 20th century, and certainly men of heroic proportion for their respective countries. Winston Churchill was the Prime Minister who saved Great Britain during World War II. He suffered from the prejudices of his era and his class. He never, ever wanted to consider the possibility that India would not be part of the British Empire. Ghandi, a contemporary, was the spiritual leader of his nation who led his people to independence. Both men were flawed. I read about things that Ghandi said and did which showed how short he fell of his own idealism. Yet, both were critical for their nations and their time. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude