Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Manila - Tagaytay - Ho Chi Mihn City (Saigon)

August 21, 2014 Peace and Good, This past week I have been giving conferences to the friars in the Philippines. On the 14th I gave a talk on St. Maximilian Kolbe. It was his feast day, the anniversary of the day 73 years ago when he died is Auschwitz. There were well over 100 friars, Secular Franciscans and members of the Militia of Mary Immaculate. Then, on Saturday, the 16th, the day after the Solemnity of the Assumption, I gave a talk to the friars and members of the Militia about the scriptural background of the dogma of the Assumption of Mary into heaven body and soul. There is not really a lot of direct proof for this dogma other than tradition, but I went over ideas of the afterlife, Mary's particular choice by God, and other topics that surround this mystery. On Sunday I went up to the novitiate building in Tagaytay. I have been there a few times before, and it is always pleasant. It is on a mountainside - actually the side of an active volcano. I gave a two day workshop to the ten guardians and members of the custodial definitory on Franciscan leadership. It was a good experience. At the end, I asked each friar to tell me a good story about the custody. We are so close to our realities that sometimes we only see the flaws. The sharing, which went almost two hours, was great. On Wednesday, yesterday morning, I flew out to Saigon. The city is growing incredibly fast. There is a vibrancy here, like things are taking off. The friars built a new house of studies, and they did an incredible job. Right now they are putting the finishing touches on it. The only thing that limited the number of vocations was space, and now there is room for over 40 friars in this one building. The young vocations have a wonderful, joyful spirit. They all know a bit of English, and they are so curious as to what is going on with friars in the other parts of the world. I finished some books: The Spy by Nathanael Hawthorne This is the second Hawthorne book I have read in the past couple of years. I fully understand his importance in the history of English literature, but I find his plot plodding and his dialog unnatural. This is the story of a spy used by Washington during the Revolutionary War. One is never quite sure of who the spy is and for whom he is spying until rather late in the narrative. There is a love story thrown in to round out the story. It is just tedious to read all the speeches each character seems to have to make. Persona non Grata by Ruth Downie This is the story of a Roman doctor in the army occupying England who is also called upon to solve a crime involving his family back in Gaul and their debts. He has a British woman whose life he saved who is his companion and soon to be wife. His family is a mess of selfishness and neediness, and they are in debt up to their eyeballs. The dialog is quite good and the text enjoyable. The Song Before it is Sung by Justin Cartwright This is a haunting account of a researcher from Oxford who has inherited the life paper’s of one of his mentors. He tries to make sense of the man’s story, especially in regards to one of his close friends, a German who was killed by Hitler for his involvement in the attempt to assassinate Hitler. In the meantime, the researcher’s marriage is falling apart. The title of the book comes from a question asked by Alexander Herzen, “Where is the song before it is sung.” The books answer is that it does not exist. It exists only inasmuch as it is sung. This becomes a symbol for life: is exists in its living. That is not the utopian ideal, but the messy reality of living life as best as one can given one’s own limitations and the constraints of the outer world. Benedict Arnold (Patriot and Traitor) by Willard Sterne Randall The man’s very name is a synonym for traitor, and yet he began the Revolutionary War as a great hero. How did it happen. As usual, a lot of it involves personal issues. He felt that he was poorly treated by the politicians of his day, especially those who were more radical in tone. (Some of them sound almost like the leaders of the French Revolution which led to such great slaughter.) He also suffered financially in the war as the Revolutionary script suffered from tremendous inflation. Much of his property was lost and never recompensed. He had his grievances. Add to it the fact that he married a woman whose family were loyalists (faithful to the king), and you had an explosive situation. He offered to sell out the most important military base, King’s Point, which would have divided the states in two and probably would have suffocated the revolution. He even made plans to betray Washington and his staff into the hands of the British. He ended his days in England after failing to make a go of it in Canada. He and his wife did not have the happiest existence for the rest of their days. I hope you have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Friday, August 15, 2014

Buffalo - Los Angeles - Manila

August 16, 2014 Peace and Good, Hope you are all well and not working too hard in the mid-August heat. I finished off the series of chapters for the US provinces at the end of last week. They all went very well. Each of the provinces now has to apply itself to its resolutions. They have begun, though, with a lot a good faith. On Saturday, a week ago, I flew to Los Angeles. It was really just to take a break in my flight, for I was going to be flying to Tokyo and on to Manila the next day. I stayed with the friars at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish is Hermosa Beach which is not all that far from the airport. As always, the friars were most hospitable, and it was good to see the old batch of friars who were preparing to move on to their new assignments and the new set of friars who are just now moving in. Sunday I flew out and it was a long, long journey. It was about 11 hours to Tokyo, then a three hour lay over, and another four hours to Manila. There was a little mix up at the airport. The friars were waiting for me at the wrong terminal, but the information desk was able to help out and get everything all set. The jet lag is murder, especially in the heat and humidity of Manila. This is not my responsibility as Assistant General, but it is one of the jurisdictions that we want to help out in a special way since they are young and inexperienced. I am giving a series of talks on St. Maxilimian Kolbe, the Assumption of Mary, and a workshop for guardians in the custody. A lot of what I do here is simply be present and show that we care. The Philippines is so far off the beaten path that at times they feel as if they are orphaned. I will be here until Wednesday morning when I will fly out to Saigon to give a retreat to the students there. I have finished the following books: The Joy of the Gospel: Evangelii Gaudium by Pope Francis This is the apostolic exhortation (one step below an encyclical) of Pope Francis. This is the first real exposition of his beliefs. He emphasizes being filled with joy at the mercy that the Lord has shown us. He strongly argues against a formalism and legalism that some feel has crept into the Church in these past few years. He is always respectful and tries to show that what he is saying was already said by his predecessors, but it is clear that he is also subtly criticizing some of the tendencies of the hierarchy in these years. The topics wander here and there, but there is more than enough to meditate upon for a long, long while. I personally feel very much at home with the emphasis that the Pope is placing upon serving the poor and going back to the Gospels to share the message that Christ did with the world of his time. Six Days of the Condor by James Grady This is the book that provided the script for the film with Robert Redford. It is more of a novella than a novel, but it is very well written. The premise is that an office of the CIA in Washington which is responsible for reading books to get ideas about spycraft is suddently attacked with all but one agent killed. The man who escapes must then try to find out why and reestablish his contact with the agency without getting killed by the rogue agents who set up the murders. Because it is short, it is packed with action. Midnight Rising by Ben Aaronovitch This is the story of a young police officer in London who accidentally finds a ghost who is a witness to a gruesome murder. This leads him to a special unit of the police that deals with magic and its regulation. The narrative is very, very well done. It has quite a bit of London slang, so I am not sure that someone who has not been there will understand everything that the main character is saying. Yet, it is funny and interesting and even intriguing at times. Theology of the Body in Simple Language by Pope John Paul II This book is exactly what the title says, an exposition of the theology of the body from the public audiences of Pope John Paul II. The best part of this presentation is that it is made in very simple language. Pope John Paul speaks of the dignity to which God has called us in creation and even more in our redemption. God has created us in a way in which our bodies carry a sacred call to give of ourselves to the other. This is done in marriage and also in the celibate state (in which the giver gives to all people, such as will be true in heaven). He has a beautiful theology of marriage and the body, and speaks of the difficulties of living that theology in a world which is too often obsessed with using others for one’s own pleasure. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Friday, August 8, 2014

Mesilla PArk, New Mexico - Buffalo, New York

August 8, 2014 Peace and Good, Last week I was down in New Mexico for the provincial chapter of Our Lady of Consolation Province. They range from Minnesota to Ohio to New Mexico. The chapter went very well. It took place at their retreat center, and it was the first time that a number of friars were able to visit the new friary at the center. The friars are also building a new chapel which is already well advanced. Both of these structures were brilliantly designed to match the architectural style of the Southwest. This province is very committed to expanding their outreach to various jurisdictions of the Order to foster an intercultural dialog. It was hot and rainy down there. The night before I flew out there was a rain of two and a half inches in a little over an hour. They have been having a drought down there, but unfortunately the ground is so dried out that there is a crust on the surface and it is difficult for the rain to soak in. Friday I flew up to Buffalo and visited family for a couple of days. Then, on Monday, we began the provincial chapter of the new province of Our Lady of the Angels. This is my home province, and there were 146 friars present for the chapter. We had a number of organizational tasks to care for to help organize the new province. This included pastoral decision of where the friars will be serving over the next four years. We finished up this morning, and I will fly out tomorrow to head to Los Angeles for the night, and then on to Manila where I will be giving some talks to the friars. I finished the following books: The Ghost by Robert Harris This is the story of a ghost author who has been contracted to write the biography of an ex-Prime Minister of Great Britain. The Prime Minister left his office during a crisis which involved Great Britain’s attitude toward the U.S. He was accused of being a tool of the American administration. The ghost author is brought in to take the place of another ghost author who died or was killed. The ghost finds out some things he was not supposed to know, and his life as well is put into great danger. The book is very well written and draws one into the plot very quickly. Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell George Orwell, the author of Animal Farm and 1984, went to Spain during the Spanish Civil War. He fought for the anarchists in the area around Barcelona. We hear of the pitiful battle that they fought against the Fascists led by Franco. We also hear of the cruel intrigue among the various leftist groups in Barcelona. The communists took over and persecuted the very people who should have been their allies. This experience led to Orwell’s disillusionment with the communist cause and led to his writing those two books which were a powerful condemnation of the big lie which was the basis of the totalitarian state. Orwell’s sympathies lie with those who truly fought for a classless society, which he considered to be a noble cause. The Last Day: Wrath, Ruin and Reason in the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 by Nicholas Shrady This is the story of one of the greatest natural disasters in the 18th century: the destruction of Lisbon, Portugal, by a tremendous earthquake. The disaster was actually a combination of a huge earthquake, a tsunami that killed many of the people who had fled to the shore, and a fire which killed many of the people trapped in the ruins. At least one tenth of the population was killed, maybe as much as a quarter. The tremendous optimism of the enlightenment authors was crushed, while many of the people who were faithful to Catholicism were confused for Lisbon was one of the most Catholic, faithful cities in Europe. We hear of how pathetic the reaction of the monarchy was, while a natural leader, the Count of Pambal, came forward. When the king asked him what to do, he answered that he should bury the dead and feed the living. He proceeded to do that, as well as reconstruct Lisbon as a model city. We also hear of the earlier days of Lisbon as well as its subsequent days. The book is well done and very much worth reading. Hitler’s Pre-Emptive War: The Battle for Norway, 1940 by Henrik Lunde This is an extensive account of the invasion of Norway by the Nazi’s during World War II. It was not clear that Hitler wanted to invade. He was busy with his preparations for the battle with France. Yet, he felt that Great Britain might blockade his needed iron ore which was shipped from Sweden through Norway. So Hitler sent his troops north. The allies replied with a half hearted effort that often seemed wrong footed. They managed to pluck defeat from the mouth of victory, the exact opposite of what they would do later in the war. The book itself is horribly detailed and leaves one wishing that he didn’t know exactly which brigade was where at any particular moment. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude