Friday, June 27, 2014

Rome - Ellicott City

June 27, 2014 Peace and Good, Well, all of the meetings over in Rome and Assisi have been brought to a conclusion. This past week I tried to catch up with various projects that had to be put on hold while I was travelling and meeting so much. This included writing a children's book on Pope Francis for my publisher, Catholic Book. I will be getting the proofs already later today, and we should have it ready to print in a couple of months. (The hold up will be the artist who will have to do 16 drawings for the book.) I wish I could write more, but I just don't have the time and energy with my schedule. On Saturday, I attended the ordination to become a bishop of one of our friars. He will be the bishop of some small towns just outside of Assisi. I knew him when he was the custos (boss) of our friary in Assisi. I flew back to Baltimore on Sunday. Nothing unusual. This has been one of the kinder jet lags that I have had recently. This week is a series of doctors and dentist appointments. Nothing wrong, just getting the periodic check up. With all the travel that I do, it is better to take care of it all at once, so this week I have had six different appointments. Next week I will only have two, and then on next Saturday I head off to Chicago. I finished some books: Mary Wollstonecraft by Elizabeth Pennell This is the life story of one of the first English feminists. She was the mother of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, the author of Frankenstein. Although most of the writing of Mary Wollstonecraft herself is very dates, it was significant for its era. She was spiritual, but anti-religious (at least the way that religion was practiced in her era). She lived with one man without marriage, and with another in marriage (but living apart so as not to be too much of a burden on each other). Unconventional only begins to tell the tale, but she really tried to be a charitable and kind person in spite of her difficulties (which included a very ungrateful family for all that she did for them. Theodore Roosevelt and the Assassin by Gerard Helfreich This is the account of the attempted assassination of Theodore Roosevelt when he ran for another term in the presidency in 1912 as a third party candidate. The book tells the story of his break away from the Republican Party and his attempt to form the Bull Moose Party. He was shot by a German American who was demented and who believed that he had had a vision of the murdered President McKinley who had told him that Teddy Roosevelt was to blame for his death. He also wanted to make sure that no one ever had a third term as president. He was sentenced to a mental health facility where he remained until he died many years later. Roosevelt, although he was shot in the chest, was not seriously injured (for the bullet was deflected by his eyeglass case and his folded up speech), and he continued to speak to the crowd (in Milwaukee). They never removed the bullet, which he carried without bad effect until the day of his death. 1913: The Eve of the War by Paul Ham This is a short treatment of the circumstances in Europe in the year before World War I broke out. One sees what Germans, English, French, Austrians and Russians all thought of each other. One sees how the generals and the general staffs of the various armies made plans for war with little regard to civilian authority. One sees how the leaders of the nations gave in to the inevitability of war, and thus unconsciously created the situation in which war was inevitable. This is a good treatment of a topic that is being studied quite a bit on this 100th anniversary of World War I. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson I have heard the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde many times, but this is the first time I have read it. I was pleasantly surprised. It is more intricate a story than I would have expected. It gives the account from various different viewpoints, including that of Mr. Hyde, the beast into which Dr. Jekyll turns. It deals with questions of addictive behavior in which one knows what is right, but lacks the will power to do it. It deals with what we today call the shadow side of each of our personalities. What surprised me most was the favorable treatment of Mr. Hyde and how what others judged to be horrible behavior could be seen differently from someone who was new and clumsy in social circumstances.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Rome - Assisi

June 10, 2014 Peace and Good, I finished off the week in Rome at our definitory. We went all the way up to Saturday afternoon. Then that evening, we had a big celebration in the Basilica for the Vigil of the Pentecost. The local bishop led the Mass. (Rome is divided up into sectors. Even though the Pope is the Bishop of Rome, there are local auxiliary bishops as well.) The service went two hours, which was quite long. Yet, the church was packed which was nice to see. There are not a lot of people living in the immediate area around the Basilica. Most of the buildings are used as schools or offices. Thus, on Sunday, there are often not more than a handful of people at Mass in our Basilica. Last Saturday night it was full. This week the definitory is in Assisi for a series of meetings with the presidents of the various conferences and federations throughout the world. We have a representative from India, Zambia, Poland, Slovenia, Italy, the US and Argentina. This is a way to feed some of what is happening in Rome down to the grass roots level. We will be here until noon on Saturday, and then it is back to Rome for a week. It is interesting how many times in our meetings that the name of Pope Francis is mentioned. He is certainly giving all of us a challenge to be more of what we say we are. The weather here in Italy has gotten very hot. It is a bit early this year. By August, it is all but unbearable. I finished some books: The Ten Biggest Civil War Battles by Charles River Editors The Charles River Editors are a group of MIT and Boston University graduates who produce a series of informational e books on various topics. This treatment of the ten most serious battles of the Civil War is well done. It gives information on those who participated, why the battle happened, what happened during the battle, and what the aftermath of the battle was. It includes many accounts of the battle from the point of view of the participants. This whole series is well worth consideration. Coral Sea 1942 by Richard Freeman This is a short book on the battle that took place in early 1942 that, even though it was a bit of a draw between the forces of Japan and the forces of the States, at least marked the first moment at which the Japanese plans were foiled and when their momentum began to disappear. The book gives enough information to get a good picture of the battle without overwhelming one with detail. It also gives a good evaluation of how this particular battle influenced what happened in the Battle of Midway only a short time later which truly marked the turning point of the war. Samson and Denial by Robert Ford This is a novella that is part a crime story, part a horror story. The “hero” of the story discovers that his brother has been murdered by the Russian mafia. The two brothers had been involved in selling illegal drugs. He returns home to find that wife has been kidnapped by the same Mafia. He tracks down the men who did this, and along the way he comes upon an ancient Mayan skull with magical powers. It destroys his enemies, but not until he has to confront an army of angry Amazon warriors who want to kill him to protect their cultic object. The story takes a lot of twists and turns, but it is well written. Maximilian Kolbe: Saint of Auschwitz by Elain Murray Stone This is a short book that chronicles the life and career of St. Maximilian Kolbe. It gives the basic fact of his call to the Franciscan Order, his founding of the Militia of the Immaculate, the founding of the huge Franciscan friary in Niepokolanow near Warsaw, his founding of the mission in Japan, and then his arrest and death in Auschwitz. This is not a long treatment, but the author manages to tell the basic story in a very appealing manner. I hope you have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

New York - Rome

June 4, 2014 Peace and Good, I finished off my meeting in New York at Franciscans International. We actually finished early, which is a first for the organization. There has been a lot of reconfiguring these past couple of years, and I think it is really paying off. There is a smaller organization, but it is running smoother than it has ever run before. Tuesday evening I flew out of JFK in New York and flew into Rome, arriving the next morning. I don't exactly know why, but the worst jet lag I have ever had hit me these past week. I think it was just that I had been running all around the country the previous month, and it caught up with me. Good thing that the only tasks I had to complete were to catch up on my daily reflections and prepare for the meeting of our definitory this week. Monday was a national holiday here in Italy, the anniversary of the founding of the republic right after World War II. We didn't meet, but we had more homework to look over to get ready for the meeting which began on Tuesday morning. We will continue here until noon on Saturday, and then Sunday afternoon move up to Assisi for another week of meetings, this time with the heads of the various conferences in the Order. Worldwide, we are divided into seven groups of friars, sometimes geographic and at other times linguistic divisions. I am the assistant for the English speaking group of the First World (there is a separate African and Asian group). We meet with the presidents of the seven groups each year in June to coordinate what is happening in Rome with what is happening at the grass roots. Even more than the big meetings, a lot is done in the one on one meetings with the General and each of the presidents. The weather has changed in the past couple of days. Summer has arrived, and it will be quite hot by the end of the week. This week is the 70th anniversary of D Day. Our provincial, fr. James McCurry, will be in France to deliver a short speech at one of the commemorations. One of our friars, fr. Ignatius, died during the invasion. He was an army chaplain and was killed on D Day itself. I finished some reading: Conspirator: Lenin in Exile by Helen Rappaport Most of Lenin’s adult life, he spent in exile outside of Russia. He was in London (where he did a tremendous amount of research at the British Library), France, Switzerland, Austria, etc. He lived poorly, and spent almost all of his time on research and writing articles and books. He was faithfully served by his wife and her mother, even though he maltreated them by ignoring them and by cheating on his wife with a female colleague. The only important thing for him was revolution, and he was willing to betray anyone or anything to get his way. He was an incredibly arrogant party member, frequently creating divisions among the socialists in order to win an argument. He was eventually called back to Russia by the Germans who were then at war with the Russians. They sent him back in the hope that he would create division and pull Russia out of the war, something he actually did. Portrait of a Spy by Daniel Silva This is the second book by Daniel Silva I have read. It is about a Israeli secret agent, Gabriel Allon, and how he combats the forces of Islamist terrorism. This is almost a sequel to the first book I read which involved the assassination of a rich trader who was financing terrorism. In this book, Allon works with the assassinated man’s daughter who wants to further the cause of women in the Arab world and destroy the terrorist hold on Islam. The hero is also a world famous art restorer, which adds a whole different dimension to the whole story. His plot is well written and exciting. The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Ecco Umberto Ecco is the author of the Name of the Rose. This particular book is the story of a man from northern Italy who becomes a scribe, a copier of letters. His specialty, however, is forging letters and wills and documents to incriminate others. He participates in the battles that lead to the unification of Italy, and then he travels to Paris where he spends the rest of his life. He hates the Jesuits and the Jews and the Masons, and writes pamphlets and creates documents to incriminate each of those groups. In the course of his career, he becomes two people, the forger and a fake priest, and it seems as if he begins to lose a sense of which of these characters he really is. This is the premise for the book, it is an attempt to find out the truth about his own life so that he knows which of the two, the forger Simonini or the priest della Piccola, he is. The title of the book is from one of his forgeries in which he writes of a meeting of famous rabbis from all over the world who plot the destruction of the Gentile world by accumulating the control of the press, industry, transport, etc. Almayer’s Folly: A Story of an Eastern River by Joseph Conrad Once again, Conrad is the master story teller. This book tells of a British subject who is the only white man in a town on the coast of an island in Indonesia. He has married a native woman who has a daughter, but who despises the anti-hero, Almayer. Almayer has made one bad business deal after another, and he is trapped in a half existence. His daughter falls in love with a native chief’s son and must flee with him when he runs afoul of the Dutch authorities. This breaks Almayer’s heart, and he dies a slow, pathetic death, abandoned by everyone around him except for a opium smoker. The descriptions both of the world in which the characters live and the emotional relationships of the characters is masterful. Conrad is able to break out of his European world and enter into the exotic world and thinking of Africa, Asia and other distant parts of the globe. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude