Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Detroit - Peoria - Chicago - Sydney - Melbourne

Peace and Good, February 26, 2014 This has been another travelling week. I am having a series of meeting with the friars of St. Bonaventure Province both in the United States (the Midwest) and Australia. Today is the 5th and last in the series. We are preparing for their provincial chapter this summer (actually, the first session is at the end of April), and there were some unusual circumstances that had to be taken care of before that happens. The meetings have gone very well. I always try to approach the meetings with the spirit that I have some ideas that I must share, but I do not have a monopoly on the truth. I try to listen and explain why things were done, but I don't want to become defensive and try to defend things that could easily have been done differently and probably in a better way. That takes a lot of work on my part of keep my own ego under control. The friars are looking forward to this chapter as a time to take a good look at the way the live their lives and make some fundamental choices for the future. Not every chapter works that way. Sometimes they only confirm things the way they are going. But we have a good opportunity this year to make a big difference in things, and I am very hopeful. I flew down here to Australia on Friday (arriving on Sunday because you lose a day at the International Dateline when you are flying in this direction). It is late summer down here - a pleasant change from the cold weather in the Midwest. I fly back to Ellicott City on Friday and arrive there Friday night (because you pick up a day at the International Dateline flying in that direction). I finished some books: The Appetite of Tyranny by G. K. Chesterton This is a short work that defends the British choice to war against Germany during World War I. I uses much of the propaganda that Britain used against Germany for the atrocities against the Belgians and the French (some of which stories were true while others were simply lies). It is typical of Chesterton’s type of logic. He is never afraid to use cynical arguments to prove his point. Midnight Rising by Tony Horwitz This is the story of John Brown and his raid on Harper’s Ferry just before the beginning of the Civil War. His stated goal was to begin a slave insurrection to free slaves all throughout the south. It is not clear if he really believed this, or whether he set up a scenario in which he would be put to death and thus serve as a martyr for the cause. He was a fanatic who was willing to sacrifice those he most loved for the cause. While most in the north thought he was foolish right after the raid, by the end of his trial and his execution, he was seen as a hero. His action helped stoke the fire that led to the Civil War. The book gives a very good insight to this complex and strange figure. The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy This is an action spy story published at the beginning of the 20th century about a rich, indolent English noble who is actually a daring spy whose work is to liberate French aristocrats who are condemned to death during the French Revolution. The story is told from the point of his wife who only slowly realizes who her husband really is. The story is enjoyable even if the style of writing is dated. The Crimean War: A history by Orlando Figes This is a good book about a strange war during the 19th century which occurred just before our own civil war. Russia was threatening to take territory in Eastern Europe from the Ottoman Empire. The British and the French did not want Russia to become more powerful, each for its own reasons. They sent a fleet and army to attack Russia at a port named Sevastopol in the Black Sea. The war was horrible in terms of suffering of all of those involved. The leadership of almost all the forces was incredibly dumb. Those who were injured were treated more like animals than people, especially until Florence Nightingale arrived to help them. Russia lost the war, but won most of what it was fighting for in its next go around. The book is well written and comprehensive.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Chicago - Dearborn Heights (Detroit) - Chicago - Peoria

February 17, 2014 Peace and Good, This past week has been a series of meetings with commissions and then with the friars throughout the Mid-Western province. This will continue all throughout this week until Friday when I head down to Australia for some more meetings. This is all in preparation for their provincial chapter that will take place this coming summer. My job is to evaluate what is going on and to provide an outside view to the friars of the various jurisdictions on what needs some more attention. A lot of the views I offer are simply suggestions and they can be accepted or rejected according to the judgment of the local friars. There are a lot of ways to live out life style, and it is not that some are right or wrong just because they are different. However, once in a while, I have to point out that some things are just not compatible with what we have promised to live. Those are not always easy moments for me. None of us likes confrontation, and my natural style is to live and let live. Yet, I have to be careful not to let my own feelings and preferences get in the way lest I perform my responsibilities in a way that does not help the friars to live their commitment. Fortunately, I work with a group of men who are very supportive. Furthermore, I find that if I spend the time to explain why things are happening (even if it takes a long time), then it is time well spent. The weather out here in the Mid-west continues to be challenging. I was supposed to fly into Chicago yesterday and stay there until this morning when I would drive down to Peoria. There was a prediction of snow and sleet in this area today, so I drove right from the airport. That is turning out to be the right decision. Tomorrow morning we have a meeting, and then off to Chicago for another two meetings. I have finished some books: One Seed Sown: Book Two of Thwarted Queen by Cynthia Sally Haggard This is the second short volume of a four book series on the Duchess of York, Cicily. She lived during the 15th century and her two sons eventually became kings of England after a long and bloody civil war. In this volume we hear about her infidelity with an unknown knight who fathered her oldest boy. This was eventually an accusation made against her and the reason for the murder of her two grandsons, the sons of that child. Whether it was a true accusation or not is impossible to determine. The book is not badly written. Twenty-six and One and Other Stories by Maxim Gorky I like Gorky’s writing. It is very descriptive and he tells the reader about people and topics that one would not find in other books. There are three stories in this volume. The first involves a group of twenty-six bakers who work in near slave like conditions. They idolize a young woman who visits each day for some of their biscuits. The second story is about two men who row a boat out to a ship to steal a bolt of silk. The third story is about a married man who is having an affair with a woman, and how his son also falls in love with her. There is a sadness and hopelessness in many of his stories which would be what many of the poor and down on their luck people about whom he writes would have felt. The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman I read this book a number of years, but it is so good I decided to read it once again. It speaks about the beginning of World War I, including the invasion of Belgium and France by Germany and the invasion of Germany by Russia. When this book was first published in 1962, it received critical acclaim. President John Kennedy was said to have been reading it during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He was so impressed how the First World War began without much thought, just a series of foolish blunders after another that he made a special effort to insure that our country would not fall into that trap. This book was well worth another reading, and I enjoyed it just as much this time as the first. Fleeing Hitler: France 1940 by Hanna Diamond This is the story of how many refugees from Belgium and France fled the approaching Nazi forces during World War II. They were totally unprepared for what they met on the roads. It was not infrequent for their cars and wagons to be machine gunned from airplanes passing overhead. They helped throw the defending troops into confusion. They arrived at towns ill prepared to welcome them. They only slowly were allowed to return home by French Vichy forces and the Nazi’s now in charge. The book well expresses the confusion, feelings of betrayal, and especially the despair of those who fled. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Castro Valley, CA - Chicago, IL

February 9, 2014 Peace and Good, I finished my visitation of the California Province and have begun to write their report. It is not all that long, usually about 7 to 9 pages, but things must be said carefully. I have already gone over the major topics with the Definitory so there will be no surprises. It will basically be a good report with some suggestions on how to do things better. On Wednesday, the province elected a new provincial, fr. John Heinz. He is a former student of mine, and I was also his formation director when he was studying for the priesthood. I am really getting to feel old. Friday I flew out from San Francisco to Chicago. What a change in climate. In San Francisco it was in the 50's, with some days reaching the 70's. Here it is in the single digits, with snow all over the place. The temperature has been near zero for weeks now. Driving and even more parking has become more and more challenging. Yet the Chicagoans are a hearty folk. This week I will be here with the Exactor General. We divide our finances into the economy general (who spends the money) and the exactor general (who receives the money). The Exactor General is from Gdansk, Poland and is named fr. Wojciech Kulig. He speaks English very well, having worked in Clifton, NJ before he became a friar. He and I will be conducting an audit of the finances of the Midwestern Province. We do this every once in a while to make sure that procedures are being followed as they should be. It is not that we suspect any problems, but it is good to keep tract of things. I will be here in Chicago until Friday, when I will fly out to Detroit for a quick trip. I have finished these books: Paris to the Pyrenees: A Skeptic Pilgrim Walks the Way of Saint James by David Downie This is the journal of a couple of pilgrims (husband and wife) who walk the French part of the pilgrim path to San Diego di Compostela in Spain, an ancient pilgrimage route. The husband is a skeptic while the wife is a fallen away Catholic. Their reasons for making the pilgrimage and not entirely clear, not even to themselves. Yet, there is a spiritual quest underlying what they are doing. The observations are good and often funny, if sometimes irreverent. I enjoyed the book. Opening the Scriptures: Bringing the Gospel of Luke to Life: Insight and Inspiration by George Martin This is a good commentary on the Gospel of Luke. This is the Gospel that we have been using in our liturgy this year, and I thought that it would be a good idea to read through a new commentary each year as we go through that particular Gospel. It is not that I received incredible new insights from this volume, but there were small points that cleared up questions that I have had for years. It would be a good book for someone who wanted to study the Gospel seriously for a first time. The Founder: Cecil Rhodes and the Pursuit of Power by Robert Rotberg This is the story of Cicil Rhodes. Born in England, he moved to South Africa where he became fabulously wealthy on diamond and gold mining. He entered into power politics, and helped to extend the borders of the British Empire northward into what became northern and southern Rhodesia (named after him – today called Zambia and Zimbawe). He was not always ethical in his machinations, especially in the way that he cheated the indigenous out of their land. He also set the foundation stone of the system that came to be known as apartheid. Toward the end of his life, though, he did begin to shine through with better motivations. He also willed the fund that finances Rhodes scholars at Oxford. The book is very thorough, so long that I could not wait to finish it. The Bride Price: Book One of the Thwarted Queen by Cynthia Sally Haggard This is the introduction to a series of four books on Cicily, the Duchess of York during the reign of Henry VI, one of the most unfortunate kings of England (the middle of the 15th century). This volume deals with her marriage contract signed when she was only nine years old. Yet, unusually for this period, she was allowed to remain at home, unmarried, until her early twenties. She was her own person, strong willed at a time when women were expected to be bare foot and pregnant (at least the way this author portrays her). The book is quite good. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Castro Valley - San Pablo - Reno - Castro Valley

February 4, 2014 Peace and Good, This has been the last week of my visitation of the California Province. On Monday of last week I travelled to San Pablo where the friars have been in the parish of St. Paul for many years. This is not all that big of a parish, but it is incredibly complicated for its ethnic diversity. They have Masses in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Hmong (a dialect of Laos), Tagolog (the original language of the Philippines) with occasional Masses in other languages. The various groups get along rather well, which is a complement to the work of the friars. When I finished there, I flew to Reno where the friars are the ministers in the Cathedral. It was a nice visit with the friars there. We are located half way between the last casino and the bus station, so there are people at the door constantly asking for assistance to get home. (There is a ministry to help people with this run by the city). Reno is hurting a lot. Its main industry is gambling, but California now has many Native American gambling halls, so the number of people travelling there is way down. Furthermore, the drought has hurt agriculture and tourism at the ski resorts in the mountains. On Saturday I flew back to Castro Valley where I will be staying until I return to the Mid-West on Friday. Yesterday I had a meeting with the definitory of this province to give them a preliminary report on the visitation. Nothing major wrong - just a lot a small reminders about things that can fall by the wayside if we are not careful. I have finished reading the following: Morning Spy, Evening Spy by Colin MacKinnon This is the story of a spy from the CIA in the period running up to 9/11. It is not a James Bond thriller, but rather a very realistic view of the man’s work (often more office work than field work), his relationships (getting a divorce, breaking up with a girlfriend many years his junior), colleagues (who tend to drink too much), the politics he has to deal with (congressional investigations which are aggressively contrary to the agency and the work it is doing, sometimes with good reason) and the agency (which has its plusses and its flaws). It is very well written, and leaves one with a sense of understanding why things happened the way they did, and of the difficulty in doing anything that would have made a difference (along with the missed opportunities all along the way). The Life of Madame Mao by Ross Terrill This is a biography of the fourth wife of Mao, who was married to him from the 1940’s until his death. She came from a very poor family and worked for some time as an actress. She married Mao while he was in hiding in northern China, but the leaders of the communists decreed that she was to stick to being his wife and not try to get involved in politics. She kept that pact for a long time, but eventually she tried to influence the arts. Her whim was read as absolute law, and she made many people who did not agree with her suffer. But that was nothing as compared to what happened once the Cultural Revolution began in China. She used that period to get even with anyone who had done anything that she judged to have been an attack on her. She sent many to prison and their death. At the end of Mao’s life, it seemed as if she and the other ultra-leftists wanted to take power, but she was quickly arrested and imprisoned as one of the Gang of Four. She was in prison for the next ten years until she committed suicide. The book is a good overview of her life and especially of her motivations for the many evil things that she did. The Dreyfus Affair by Piers Paul Read This is the story of an officer in the French Army who was accused of engaging in espionage with the Germans in the latter part of the 19th century. The evidence against him was not all that conclusive, but he was convicted. It is possible that his conviction carried a bit of anti-Jewish feeling, which certainly became stronger and stronger as the affair went on. It is also possible that his conviction was caused by Dreyfus’ difficult personality and his messy love life. He was sent to Devil’s Island off the coast of South America as his punishment. Over the next several years, those who were responsible for his conviction began to invent false evidence to prove that their conviction was just. Yet, the true spy was discovered and not tried because the army was afraid of embarrassing itself by admitting that it was wrong. Only after a long and difficult process was the truth discovered and Dreyfus was declared innocent. This whole trial also marked a battle going on in France between those who were Catholics and those who were not (socialists, Free Masons, Jews, Protestants, etc.). By 1905, they had won and they outlawed religious orders and schools in France. The book is well written and balanced. The Two Koreas: Revised by Don Oberdorfer This is a history of North and South Korea and their relationship from the end of the war in the early 50’s until the present. It covers the gradual democratization of the south with the increasingly personality cult of the dictator in the north. It deals with questions concerning the development of nuclear capability in the north, and also the incredibly difficult time negotiators had dealing with the north which marches to its own drummer. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude