Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Rome - Leceto - Rome - Padua - Rome

September 30, 2014 Peace and Good, I have been in Italy these past couple of weeks. Last week the definitory was at a retreat house in a town called Leceto, near Siena. Even though it is relatively close to a settled area, the grounds of the retreat property are quite wild. They have wild boars roaming around as well as some type of antelope. I was out of touch all this past week because there was no wifi on the property. The retreat is run by the Augustinian sisters. It is a cloistered order. There are 17 of them at this place. We decided not to have a formal preacher for the retreat. The definitory asked me to give a short reflection each morning, and I spoke about some lessons from the letters of St. Paul. I was pleased with the way that it turned out. We returned to Rome, and the next day I had to take a train up to Padua in northern Italy for a meeting. The friars there print a magazine at the Basilica of St. Anthony, one of the biggest magazines in Italy. They also have various other language versions. I have been writing for the English version for over 30 years. There are some organizational questions with the magazine in America and they asked for my advice. Today I spent getting ready for the next big trip. It starts in Saigon, and then will hit the US, Canada, England and South Africa. I will not be back in Rome for two months. I am sorry I will be out of town for the beatification of Pope Paul VI. He was a great man. I was present for his last public event before he passed away. It was a Mass at St. Peter's Basilica on the feast of Ss. Peter Paul. Later in this long trip I will be travelling to South Africa. Please don't be worried about me. I know you have heard a lot about Ebola, but that is on the other end of the continent. I have finished some books: The Adventures of Ellery Queen: The African Traveler by Ellery Queen I have always heard about Ellery Queen. This is a collection of his short stories. They are certainly dated. They would be considered to be sexist and even a bit racist today. In their days, they were a good detective story. This one is about Ellery starting a class for investigators. He takes three students to the scene of the crime and lets them try to figure out who killed the man found dead in a hotel room. As would be expected, all three have theories which they defend, only to be proven wrong by Ellery who has his own correct theory. Earthquake: The Destruction of San Francisco by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan Witts This is the story of the great earthquake that hit San Francisco at the beginning of the 20th century and the fire and tsunami that completed much of its destruction. All of the water lines broke during the earthquake, and this made fighting the great fires that erupted impossible. The army and the fire fighters had to resort to using dynamite and canons to try to blow up buildings so that they might establish a fire line. The General in charge of the Presidium, the fort at the edge of San Francisco, took over without any permission from above, and his troops both fought the fire and got involved in looting and killings. The mayor of the city was a scandalous figure who was not all that effectual during the crisis. He ended up arrested for his crimes shortly after the earthquake. This book is also written as a warning for the possible great quake that could hit California any time in the future. Expositor’s Bible: The Song of Solomon and the Lamentations of Jeremiah by Walter Adeney This is a long but interesting description of the Song of Solomon (also called the Song of Songs and the Canticle of Canticles) and the Book of Lamentations. It was written a while ago, and some of the scholarship is definitely dated. Yet, it offers some original interpretations that made me think. I am fascinated by the Song of Songs. It was probably a series of poems written to celebrate a wedding which were intended to be chanted back and forth between the bride’s and the groom’s friends, but it eventually came to be interpreted as a song expressing the love that God has for Israel (the Church). Being Hebrew poety and having been written a few thousand years ago, its symbolism needs to be carefully interpreted, but it has some very beautiful images and reflections upon love. The Lamentations are a series of poems to mourn the destruction of Jerusalem. Reading about it made me think of how important it is to ritualize our mourning. So often we try to hold in our grief instead of expressing it in a healthy way. Even Jesus cried when his friend Lazarus died. Mighty Fitz: the Sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald by Michael Schumacher When I was a kid, I remember the ballad by Gordon Lightfoot, the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald. This book tells the story of a huge lake ore carrier which went down with all hands aboard in Lake Superior during a November storm that grew much stronger than the weathermen expected. The book explores the various theories about what caused the disaster, and it deals with life aboard a lake ship. It is well written. Vegas and the Mob: Forty Years of Frenzy by Al Moe This is the story of the Mob’s involvement with the gambling casino in Las Vegas. The tone of the story is as if it is being told by a Mob snitch. The author really has it in for the FBI which he claims should have known all about the Mob involvement due to the constant phone taps, but they did nothing significant about it. It also tells a bit of the story of Marilyn Monroe and her involvement with the Kennedy brothers. The book reads like a grocery story tabloid, but it is informative. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Tegucigalpa - Rome

September 21, 2014 Peace and Good, I hope you are all well. We finished up our meeting in Honduras and a week ago Friday, I flew back. I had gotten this ticket through Priceline.com and it was a very good price. However, the connections made the journey unending. I had a five hour lay over in Miami and another six hour layover in London, so it took me about 26 hours to get back to Rome. This week we have been locked up in a meeting room for our definitory. Once again, we are discussing documents, changes in structures, and interventions for places all over the world. We pass from continent to continent talking about these things. The discussion are really productive because we work at not talking set positions, but rather work to discern together what the Lord wants us to do. When we are not comfortable with a response, we go back and discuss it some more. I have been breaking in my new computer. My old one gave up the ghost in Saigon, and fr. James, my provincial, was able to bring me a new one that I ordered over the internet down to Tegucigalpa. One of the men who works at the provincialate set up most of what was needed, but there are always a few glitches. Most of them are now in order. Computers are great when they work, but when they don't..... This week the whole definitory (ten of us) are headed to a retreat house outside of Siena for our annual retreat. This means that I will be in Italy for two and a half weeks in a row, which must be some sort of record. Once October 1st comes, I will be on the road again for quite some time. Last night I visited with my sister-in-law's in laws. I know them from various family events, and they are wonderful people. I am in Rome so infrequently that it is good to be around when people are passing through. I have finished some reading: See Them Die by Ed McBain I have already read a number of books by Ed McBain. He writes policeman novels. This one takes place in a part of the city inhabited by Puerto Ricans and it involves especially the hunt for and apprehension of a Puerto Rican criminal who has become the hero of some young gang members. There are, as is true of all of his books, some side stories. There is the beautiful young woman who meets a sailor. There is Luis, the owner of a coffee shop and his relationship with a bigoted cop. The books are well written and filled with action and reflection. Afraid by Jack Killborn This is the first part of a trilogy. It deals with a Red Op Operation. The soldiers sent into a small village are US mercenaries who have been specially trained to be vicious. They have a chip implanted in their brain to insure that they will complete whatever mission they are assigned. They are searching for a man who has a video of one of the Red Op’s earlier mission in which they massacred an entire village in Vietnam. This is a very violent book, but the premise is interesting. Not everyone would enjoy it because of the graphic violence. Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie I enjoy every book I read which has been written by Agatha Christie. She has a great way of writing a story that makes one want to enter into the narrative. This is a story about Hercule Poirot who must solve a murder mystery without any physical evidence. He has to use his psychological gifts in order to discern which of four murderers committed the murder which Poirot has been invited to resolve. There are twists and turns. A window washer shows up towards the end, out of the blue. While I was at first disappointed with Christie for throwing in a character who had not yet been mentioned, it turns out that this is not quite true. This is a good mystery read. The Butcher’s Boy by Thomas Perry This is the story of a professional assassin and the Justice Department agent who comes across his trail. The assassin works for the Mafia, but he keeps his distance from them. For some reason, they decide that he must die, and the rest of the book involves his flight and revenge. The book is well written and quite enjoyable reading, even given the gory nature of the book. The Thirty Years War by Samuel Gardner I had often read of the destruction of the Thirty Years War. This was a war fought mostly in the territory of the German Empire which left a large part of the population either dead or destitute. It was over religion, but the boundaries kept shifting, especially with the intervention of Spain, France, Sweden, etc. None of the major leaders come off looking all that wise or heroic. Many plainly sold out their country for hope of gain. They all ravaged and murdered at will. It is a sad, sad story. This book tells it well. The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker This has to be one of the best books that I have read all year. It is an unusual story. The Golem is a mythical creature that was built from clay which became a slave of its master. The golem in this story is a woman who was built in Poland by an evil rabbi. Her husband died on the trans-Atlantic journey, so she is without a master. She is adopted by a kindly rabbi who cares for her until she can care for herself. The Jinni is a desert creature made of fire. This one had been captured by an evil wizard who imprisoned him in human form and in a container. He was freed by a Syrian metal worker in New York who befriended him. The Golem was pure service and servitude, the jinni was pure will and caprice. They learn from each other through their adventures and both become more of a complete person. The book is very, very well written. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Rome - Tegucigalpa

September 11, 2014 Peace and Good, I hope you are all well. This posting is a bit late because of two reasons. First of all, I have been travelling. I am in Tegucigalpa, Honduras for a meeting this week. The second reason is that my laptop died. It was over 5 years old, and with all the travel I do, it took a lot of wear and tear. I was able to buy a new laptop over the internet and have it shipped to our provincialate in Baltimore and fr. James McCurry, who also attended this meeting, was able to bring it to me down here. I was in Rome for a week after my trip from Saigon. It was a good time to slow down and relax a bit, as well as get caught up with some taping and writing projects. On Sunday I flew into Chicago where I overnighted. Early Monday morning it was off to the airport for a 6 AM flight to Miami and a flight from there down to Tegucigalpa. Honduras is a very violent country with all the gangs. This is the reason, in fact, why so many young people are fleeing to the States right now. The gangs force the young people to join them, or they will kill someone in their family. The meeting I am attending is in a complex which is safe. I will be here til tomorrow when I fly back to Rome. The friars have been most hospitable. They live simple lives and are very good men. This jurisdiction and one in Costa Rica are getting ready to join together in 2017, and every six months there is a joint meeting of the counsels of each jurisdiction to plan things out a bit. The Latin American Assistant General, fr. Jorge Fernandez, is in charge of the negotiations, but they hit a bit of a snag and the General asked me to join Jorge to help with the process a bit. It went very well this week and I believe that things are back on track. I finished some books these days: Wild Bill Donovan: The Spymaster Who Created the OSS and Modern American Espionage by Douglas Waller This is the story of the founder of the OSS, the secret intelligence service for the US during the Second World War. The US wasn't ready for the war. They had disbanded their intelligence organization after World War I because of a tendency toward isolationism. Donovan, a hero from World War I, was called upon by FDR, to create a new one. He sought aid from the British, and eventually made a creditable organization which was the predecessor of the CIA. Donovan, while being a hero, was also a bit of a cad and egomaniac. He came from Buffalo. In fact, there was a major government building there named after him. He won the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism. With the establishment of the OSS, he not only had to fight against the nation's enemies. He also had to combat enemies within our own government who were jealous of their responsibilities (like J. Edgar Hoover in the FBI). The book is well done, neither a book of praise nor a hatchet job. Matterhorn: A novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes This is a novel of a hill in Vietnam and the marines who fight to conquer it. One hears of the difficulties of the military authorizes and they often pettiness which caused deaths among those for whom they were responsible. One hears of the drinking, drugs, racism, etc that plagued the forces during the war. One is overcome by the sense of futility to all that was going on. The marines were ordered to build bunkers on the hill, then abandon the hill to fight elsewhere, then retake the hill with the very well fortified bunkers that they themselves built. It is a good account of those years. Deathride: Hitler vs. Stalin - the Eastern Front, 1941-1945 by John Mosier This book is intended as an account of the war on the Eastern Front during World War II. The author is clear that he dislikes Hitler and what he did, but he even more dislikes Stalin. The book is intended to destroy some of the myths concerning the so-called heroic defense of the mother land against the German invaders. Stalin is portrayed as a monster. It is difficult to decide who is worse, Stalin or Hitler. The author contends that Stalin was also a terrible military leader who carelessly sacrificed the lives of millions of his citizens to win the war. The book gives a lot of good facts, but the prejudice of the author is just too evident at times. The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine Jazz Age New York in by Deborah Blum This book tells of the attempts of the medical forensic investigator's office to find means for assessing when poisons were used to murder people. This is especially centered on the toxicology lab in New York which became the standard against which other such labs in the country were measured. Some of the poisons include wood alcohol, methyl alcohol, cyanide, lead, etc. The book has a bit of a crusader's tone to it, but it is well written and documented. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Ho Chi Mihn (Saigon) - Rome

September 2, 2014 I spent the last week in Ho Chi Mihn City (Saigon) in Vietnam. I was preaching a retreat on community life within our fraternity. There are 21 students there, and they have just moved into their new house of studies. The head of the mission, fr. Luke, did an incredible job on the construction. The please is really beautiful, and it cost very little compared to construction costs elsewhere. Fr. Joseph T, an Australian friar born in Vietnam, arrived in these days to become the new director of formation at this house. I know him from when he was the custos of Australia. He is a really fine man. Fr. TammyLee also arrived for a visit. He is an American born in Vietnam and he will be joining the team there. There seems to be a great future there. These first ten years of the mission had a number of serious challenges, but it seems as if we are not entering a new stage in their development. The friars showed great hospitality. The food was great. It reminds me of Italian food: simple ingredients prepared simply. I ate a number of things for the first time: Chinese eggplant, Chinese apples, Dragon Fruit, loquat, guava, and hairy fruit. They were all tasty, some more than others. I have had enough rice, though, for quite some time. Between the Philippines and Vietnam, I ate rice at least twice a day, sometimes three times a day. I will be going back to Saigon in October for the official blessing of the house of studies. I flew back to Rome on Saturday, arriving early Sunday morning. As always, the first couple of days are spent getting over the jet lag. I will be here until Sunday and then I have a week’s trip to Honduras. This one came up a bit unexpected. I finished some reading: Easter Island by Charles River Editions There is an island in the South Pacific which became famous for the stone heads that dot the island (probably as either objects dedicated to worship or to commemorate burial sites of important officials. There are only a couple of thousand people on the island (which is now part of Chile). They are Polynesian in origin, and are located in the middle of the ocean, far from other population centers. Its own name is Rapa Nui, and it was portrayed in a film a number of years ago loosely based upon its history and culture. The book, like all of those by Charles River Editors, is very informative. El Greco: 100 Masterpieces by Maria Tsaneva El Greco has always been one of my favorite artists. Born in Crete, he did his best artwork in Spain. His elongated figures seem almost surrealistic, although that art form was not in vogue for centuries. The book gives a good introduction to his life and his work. “B” is for Burglar by Sue Grafton This is the second in the series of Kinsey Millhone detective novels by Sue Grafton that I have read. She is really quite a likeable character. She is a private detective who lives in California. In this volume she is looking for a missing person. Along the way, she runs into a slew of eccentric characters (but believable). The book never lags, and was quite an enjoyable read. Fire in the City: Savonarola and the Sturggle for the Soul of Renaissance Florence by Lauro Martines This book is the story of a Dominican friar who played a controversial role in the history of the city state of Florence during the 1490’s. He preached a return to Christian simplicity in a city caught up in the Renaissance. His followers called upon people to burn up anything which led to dissipation, hence the famous expression, the bonfire of the vanities. He fought for democracy in a city that had been ruled by the Medici family for a long time, and when Italy was being invaded by France. He loudly (and justly) criticized the decadence of the pope, Alexander, the Borgia Pope who was infamous for his scandalous conduct in an age of scandalous conduct. He ended up being arrested and tried for heresy and hung. His trials speak of him admitting that much of what he did was for fame, but one has to wonder about confessions wrought out of someone through the use of torture. He does seem to have been right in what he said, but arrogant in the way he said it. The book gives a good portrayal of the man and his conduct without being overly sympathetic or overly critical. Do Unto Others by J.F. Gonzalez This is a truly odd but interesting story. A couple that is facing bankruptcy, with a child ill with cancer, receive an offer for three million dollars if they deliver up one person to a group of Satanists for a human sacrifice. The Satanists are incredibly rich and powerful. The plot is well written, and doesn’t give more away than is necessary. One is left wondering in this story, which means that the author did a good job. Have a good week. Shalom Fr. Jude