Sunday, October 26, 2014

London - Oxford - London - Pretoria

October 26, 2014 Peace and Good, Last week I spent some time visiting our new house of studies in Oxford, England. The friars are renting a large mother house of a group of Anglican Sisters. It is an old, castle like building. The friars there are living a simple life, filled with a rich prayer life. They study with the Dominican friars not too far away. Many of their courses are in the British style of education where they are more tutorials than classes as we have them. There is a good number of vocations, and they exude a very positive spirit. Diocesan priests and sisters have been suggesting vocations to visit us because they have experienced the good spirit of the community. From Oxford, I took a train down to London (it is only an hour away). I got to visit my favorite book store in the world: Foyles. You can think of the most obscure topic in the world, and there will be at least five books on that topic. It is not that I buy the books, though, but rather I get titles for books that I later will buy on the Kindle. I also stopped at my favorite Chinese restaurant in London. It is not much more than a hole in the wall, but the majority of people who eat there are of East Asian origin, and that is always a good sign for a Chinese restaurant. I got my tripe with noodles. It is difficult to find tripe on a menu anywhere, so I enjoy this as an out of the ordinary treat. On Monday evening I flew down to South Africa with another friar from the States, Michael Lasky. We were going to a conference of peace activists organized by the Capuchin Franciscan Friars. They have developed what they call the Damietta Peace Initiative. This movement organizes discussion groups of people throughout Africa of different backgrounds, e.g. Christian and Muslim, of different tribes, etc. The first step is for them to develop a spirit of trust among themselves. They discern what their common values are, and then they talk about their differences. These groups are organized in areas where there is a real danger of an outbreak of violence. This continent, even beyond the Ebola disaster, faces constant violence due to ethnic, religious and economic factors. This has been a very good week of listening and learning. I hope to be able to share some ideas first with the General Definitory in Rome and then with friars throughout the world in my various visits. Tomorrow I will head back to London and then on to the States. My latest reading includes: The One-Penny Black: The Adventures of Ellery Queen This is a short story about the theft of a very valuable penny stamp from the days of Queen Victoria. The two owners, stamp traders, have been robbed, and the thief ran into a book store where he seems to have hidden his catch in a particular book. The next day, those who bought that book are being attacked and robbed, but only of their copy of that particular book. Ellery Queen is able to sort out the mystery with a surprise ending. Pope Francis, Pastor of Mercy by Michael Ruszala This is a short biography of Pope Francis. I read it because my publisher, Catholic Book, has asked me to write a children’s book on this beloved pope. This book was free, and yet it has an enormous amount of good information in a very short format. I was glad that I stumbled upon it as I looked for more information about the pope. The Pope’s Last Crusade: How an American Jesuit Helped Pope Pius XI’s Campaign to Stop Hitler This is a really interesting book about how Pope Pius XI called upon an American Jesuit to help him to write an encyclical against anti-Semitism in the late 1930’s. The Jesuit was Fr. John LaFarge. He had worked with many blacks in southern Maryland and had witnessed the prejudice and violence often visited upon them. He had written a book to fight those tendencies, especially in the Catholic Church. When the Holy Father read this book, he asked Fr. John to write an encyclical in secret against the racist policies of the Nazi government in Germany and the Fascist government in Italy. There were many Church officials who did not want to see this type of challenge, afraid that it would only make things worse. One of them, the Jesuit General, conspired to hide the completed document from the pope who died a short time later. Pope Pius XII, Pius XI’s successor, agreed with the more cautious churchmen and refused to openly condemn Hitler and Mussolini, although he secretly assisted in hiding and saving thousands of Jewish people. Yet, one has to wonder what would have happened if the encyclical against racism had ever been published. 18 ½ Minutes: Nixon’s Darkest Secrets Revealed by Ronald Meyer The title of the book comes from the 18 ½ minute gap in the Nixon tapes. The proposal is that a group of Neocons (neo-conservatives) who have secretly been running the world’s economy wanted that portion erased because it contained information that would be deadly to their plot if released. It has to do with the genius inventor Nicolas Tesla who supposedly found a way to harness the electrical energy of the world’s atmosphere to produce free electricity. The book starts out well, but gets a bit into psychological themes and drags on after a while. Hope you have a good week. Happy Haloween! Shalom fr. Jude

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Castro Valley (San Fraancisco) - Hermosa Beach (Los Angeles) - London

October 16, 2014 Peace and Good, We had a good meeting of the leadership of the English speaking conference in Castro Valley this past week. I had to organize the meeting a bit, but we quickly elected the president who now takes over with that task. The most important decision made was to consolidate the houses of formation in the conference. This is a painful decision, but necessary. We have a few students here and a few there. It makes more sense to have them living and studying all together with more friars assigned to take care of their formation. It took about two years of pushing and nudging to get to this point. Now that the basic decision has been made, the commissions have to work on the specifics. Friday a group of us headed down to Los Angeles for a celebration of the 10th anniversary of the mission in Vietnam and a fund raiser for the mission. As always, the Vietnamese are experts at this sort of thing. They are also very, very generous. Monday I preached a day of recollection for the definitory of the California province. They have been doing an incredibly good job at addressing the observations I made after my visitation. Things had drifted a bit in the province for a number of reasons, and now it is back on track. My contribution was to help them remember to keep the spiritual as the primary value in all that they do, lest they become more and more efficient but less of a fraternity. Tuesday evening I flew out to London and arrived last night. It is a long, long flight. I was in one of those Airbus 380's, the very big new plane. You really don't feel how big it is because there are two completely separate levels and the two groups really don't meet during the flight. I thought it would be a mess getting on and off, but it really is not since there are two exits at the two different levels. This morning I will take the train out to Oxford (only about an hour away) to visit our house of studies there. The Hanging Acrobat: The Adventures of Ellery Queen This is a detective story of the murder of the wife of an acrobat. They worked in a Vaudeville show, and everyone involved in the show is a suspect. Ellery is able to solve the case through forensic evidence that he obtains from the medical examiner. These stories, part of a collection of Ellery Queen adventures, are not all that heavy or complicated. The dialog is a bit old fashioned and comes across like the dialog in many of the radio adventure programs during the 30’s. Yet, they are worth reading. Spiritual Direction for Priestly Celibacy by David Songy This book comes across as being a doctoral thesis that was lightly reworked so that it might be marketed as a book. It has that academic and at times overly pedantic tone that a lot of theses have, but it also is filled with very good information and insights. Part of my job is to give my thoughts on formation programs and the general concept of how we form young men so that they might embrace the spiritual values of our Franciscan calling. So reading this book was a sort of homework for me, but it was worthwhile. Imperial Woman: The Story of the Last Empress of China by Pearl S. Buck This is the story of the dowager empress of China who ruled the great empire for decades during the 19th century. Her country was facing ever greater threats first from a Chinese rebellion (for the emperors were Manchu, not Chinese) and later from foreign powers who fought to gain entry into her markets. She ruled as regent when her husband died, and then again when her son died, and finally again when she overthrew a nephew. She was a powerfully conservative force, not wanting her empire to be corrupted by foreign values. In the process, she all but condemned China to helplessness in its battles with the technologically more advanced western powers. Pearl Buck gives a sympathetic (but not overly so) portrait of this ruler and her reign. It is well written. In Perpetuity by Tim Lebbon This is a haunting novella about a man and his son who enter a curiosity shop. The owner, known as the keeper, is an evil figure who captures the son and will not release him until the father returns with something particular. The keeper has a type of museum of very odd objects. He tells to the father to return with a proof for love, but something physical. We hear of the father’s desperate search, thwarted by a mysterious figure known as the green man. The question asked is whether someone would do anything for love, even possibly going over a boundary never intended to be crossed. It is a good story, but the type that leaves one wondering. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) - Castro Valley (San Francisco)

10/7/2014 Peace and Good, I attended the celebration of the opening of the new house of studies in Saigon for our growing mission there. We arrived on the 2nd, and on the 3rd and the morning of the 4th there were a series of meetings with various parties. These events gather friars from all over, and they are great opportunities to meet face to face to take care of some of the business that is better handled in that way. The celebration itself was well organized. The evening of the 3rd we also went over to the seminary of the OFM's where many of our students study to celebrate the Transitus of St. Francis. The word Transitus refers to his passing (his transit) from life to death. He actually died on October 3rd but after evening prayer, so his feast is celebrated on the 4th. On the 5th, fr. John Heinz (the provincial of the California Province) and I flew out of Saigon at 5:30 AM (which meant leaving the house at 2:30). We first flew to Hong Kong ( 2 and 1/2 hours) for a two hour layover, and theen to San Francisco (a 12 hour flight). This morning we begin a gathering of all of the major superiors of the English speaking conference here in Castro Valley. We will have 3 days of meetings to plan some things for the next year and the next few years. I am fighting massive jet lag, but fortunately most of the other participants are also fighting one form or another (either coming from the east coast or from Australia). I just hope that we don't all fall asleep at the table at once. I have finished some books: Robert Browning by G.K. Chesterton This is a short biography on the poet Robert Browning (the husband of Elizabeth Barrett Browning). He comes across as a good man who wrote all but unintelligible poetry. His marriage to his wife is most interesting. She was all but an invalid, watched over incessantly by an over protective father. Browning courted her and eventually they eloped and went off to Italy to live. He helped her enjoy life and be fully alive. Chesterton portrays Browning as an incessant optimist who sees the good in all, even in people whom most of us would avoid. This is part of the series of short biographies on authors that I have been reading. The Great Triumvirate by Merrill Peterson This is a masterful biography of three of the greatest politicians of the 19th century: Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun and Henry Clay. These men were major figures for about thirty years, approximately from 1820 until 1850, give or take. They were first in the House of Representatives, then the Senate. Two served as Secretary of State. All three desired the presidency, but never achieved it. They were responsible for the various compromises that held the Union together until the Civil War. But Calhoun was more than the others responsible for the disunion that led to the Civil War and the destruction of his beloved South. Each had his flaws, and some of those flaws were almost crippling, but their greatness was also impressive. The Hitman’s Guide to Housecleaning by Hallgrimur Helggason This is a strange story about a Croatian hitman living in New York who has done something wrong (he never finds out what) and ends up being hunted for by the FBI and his old Croatian gang. He kills a Televangelist at the airport and steals his identity, flying to Iceland with his ticket. There he ends up impersonating the televangelist until he is discovered. His preacher friends in Iceland cover up for him as long as he converts, which he more or less does. The book is gory, but funny in a crude sort of way. Journeys on the Silk Road by Joyce Morgan and Conrad Walters This is the story of a British explorer (of Hungarian Jewish origins) who travelled to India where he became a famous explorer of Central Asia. His name was Aurel Stein, and he was eventually knighted for his exploits. He was especially interested in how Buddhist teachings reached China from India where the Buddha lived. He found a site where thousands of scrolls were kept, many dating back more than a millennium. He managed to barter for a large load of them which he took back to England where they were studied by scholars. One of the scrolls was a printed copy of the Diamond Sutra, the oldest printed book in existence. He eventually died in Afganistan at the beginning of the Second World War, still exploring in his early 80’s. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude