Friday, January 30, 2015

Rome - Atlanta

January 30, 2015 Peace and Good, I spent the last week in Rome. We had our meetings with the new provincials and the new secretaries from around the world. When that was over, I spent the next few days catching up with a couple of writing projects. One of the friars had asked me to write a series of reflections for the Sunday readings for July and August for the magazine that he edits in Poland. I wrote them in English, and he will have them translated. I finished that project on Monday. Then, on Tuesday, I finished typing and editing a series of articles for one of our magazines in Great Britain. I am now free to address a couple of projects that have been on the back burner for a little too long. Yesterday, I flew out from Rome and traveled to Atlanta. I am here just to visit the friars, especially those at a parish we recently took charge of. This will also give me a chance to see the Super Bowl here before I head out to El Salvador for a meeting on Monday. I finished the following: The Point of Death: An Elizabethan Murder Mystery by Peter Tonkin This is a murder mystery set in the days of William Shakespeare. Tom, who is a master decipherer of codes, stops a brutal rape by a number of young lords during a war in Holland. Later, these lords hatch a plot of poison the rightful owners of a fortune of an inheritance. Tom is caught up in the middle of it when one of the spies trying to discern the plot is killed by his side during a performance of Romeo and Juliet. The action is clever. The dialog is good, but it can be a bit difficult to keep the characters names and titles in place. It was a good read. G.K. Chesterton by Julius West I have been reading books by Chesterton for a few years now, and I thought that I should like him because he wrote an important biography on St. Francis, but I have come to progressively dislike his writing style. He is aggressive in his attacks on others, mocking of their positions. I thought it was just me, but reading this short biography confirms what I was feeling. This author describes Chesterton as being comfortable in a mythic period that resembles the Middle Ages in his mind but which probably never existed. He enjoys debunking the liberal attitude of his era. Interestingly, he leans toward socialism, but nevertheless attacks the doctrinaire followers of that theory. The word curmudgeon seems to fit well. The Gunpowder Gardens, or a Time for Tea: Travels Through India and China in Search of Tea by Jason Goodwin The premise of this book is that it is written by a man whose two grandmothers both lived in lands where tea was produced. The author travels to those lands, specifically China and India, to learn all about tea. We hear of the history of its trade, the preparation of the tea leaves, the different qualities of tea, the societies that built up around its exploitation. The book is good. The Last Crusade: the Palestine Campaign in the First World War by Anthony Bruce This is the story of the conquest of the Holy Land by General Allenby and the Arabs guided by Lawrence of Arabia. Many military and political leaders saw this theater as a side show when compared to the main act occurring in the trenches of France. But this invasion which succeeded in 1918 drove the Turks out of the war, which had a domino effect upon the other Axis forces. It speaks of the logistical difficulties of fighting a war where there were few roads, few railroads and little water and food available. The book is well done. Red Orchestra by Anne Nelson This is the story of a group of spies in Germany during the Second World War. They wanted to end the tragedy of the Nazi regime. They used every means to show the opposition to what was going on, including printing posters and leaflets, sabotaging train schedules, and spying. They tried to send the information they collected to the allies, but they especially worked for the Soviets. The Soviets tended to mishandle their work and put their lives in danger. They were eventually discovered and most of them were put to death. The story is well told, even though it goes a bit easy on the terrors of the Soviet system as opposed to the terrors of the Nazis. Both were a disaster beyond telling. Hope you have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Monday, January 19, 2015

Rome - Santa Severa - Rome

January 19, 2015 Peace and Good, I hope that you are all well. I arrived back in Rome, and then the General Definitory headed out to a retreat house near the sea at a place called Santa Savera for our annual retreat. The preacher was Fr. Marco Rubnic, a Jesuit and an artist. He runs a school for sacred art and also an institute that studies the Fathers of the Church from the first 1,000 years of Christianity. He was very, very good. There were some things he said with which I did not agree, but at least he provoked a reaction. I found that he gave me words and concepts to name some of the things I have felt and believed for a long time. It was a silent retreat, and that was actually easier for me to do than I would have thought. It meant that I could dedicate myself to the Lord totally for a week. Yesterday we had a meeting at the Capuchin Curia here in Rome. It was their definitory, ours, and that of the Friars Minor. The historic differences between us are slowly melting away, which is a real good thing. I am back in Rome for a little more than a week. The new provincials and provincial secretaries of the Order are in town for a workshop on what they are called to do over these next years. There are five men in from the States and I am hosting them, so it will be busy for the next few days. Next week I head out to Atlanta and then to El Salvador. I have finished some reading: C.S. Lewis, a Life Inspired by Christopher by Christopher Gordon This is a short and well written biography of C.S. Lewis, the apologist for Christianity from Great Britain during the middle of the 20th century. His writings include the Screwtape Letters, the Four Loves, Mere Christianity and the Great Divorce. He also authored the Narnia cycle which has become so popular again in recent days. His style, unlike that of Chesterton, is pleasant and reasonable. He is a good author who tried to be a good man and mostly succeeded. The Salmon of Doubt by Douglas Adams This is a series of essays and stories that were compiled from the writings of Adams after his sudden death. He is the author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe. He is very clever, and I found myself amused by much of what he wrote. He is a confirmed and militant atheist. His argument is that the logic used to prove the existence of God is faulty, and therefore God does not exist and anyone who believes that God exist is not only mistaken but a fool. Admittedly, some who argue the issue from the other side use equally aggressive arguments, but I find the conclusion that since he is not convinced, then everyone must be convinced of his point of view to be a bit arrogant. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the presentation of the rest of the material. The Diabolical Conspiracy by Byran Smith A man is invited to a party by his girlfriend, and it turns out to be a Satanic coven to which he is being invited. The problem is that there are only two choices: join or die. Furthermore, to join, he must murder a man who is brought into their midst. The rest of the story tells of the choices that he must make, none of them good or redeeming. The Mad Tea-Party: The Adventures of Ellery Queen This is the last of the stories about Ellery Queen, the detective, in the collection that I have been reading, and possibly the best. Queen shows up at a friend’s mansion where they are practicing a scene from Louis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking Glass. There is a disappearance that might be a murder. There is a mass drugging of all who are at the mansion. There are a series of packages left at the front door that leave everyone confused and frightened. The story is well developed. Onward: How Starbucks fought for its Life without Losing its Soul by Howard Schultz with Joanne Gordon This is the account of how the founder of Starbucks came out of retirement and took over the company again during the worldwide economic downturn in 2008. Even in the middle of the downturn, he was able to turn the fate of Starbucks around and make a profit without sacrificing its values (e.g. taking care of the associates, of the farmers, etc.). He spoke of how the company had been obsessed with growth and sacrificed quality. He spoke of being a cheerleader to improve the way coffee was brewed and how the customer was treated. He is a little too self-congratulatory, but he tells a good story. I hope you have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Buffalo - Ellicott City

January 8, 2015 Peace and Good, I have been taking off for a couple of weeks. I was not able to find time for a vacation this past summer because of all of the provincial chapters and other assignments that I had, so this has been a good time to slow down a bit. The first week I spent in Buffalo with family. In spite of the time of year, the weather was not all that bad (especially for Buffalo). It is good to just have nothing to do for a while. This week, from the 2nd, I have been at our provincialate in Ellicott City, just taking it easy and visiting some friends. One of the things that I do during my off times is read while I am copying some of the books on CD to my computer. I listen to books as I take my daily walks. It gives me a good time out every day. I also listen to them when I am flying. I start out reading, but then, when my eyes get too tired, I will listen. I usually do not sleep on planes, so the night rides can seem long if I don't occupy myself with something useful. Also, I have found that I just cannot work (e.g. writing) when I am on a plane, so I just go with the flow. I received some sample copies of the latest children's book that I have written. This one is on Pope Francis. I will be flying back to Rome this evening. Next week we have our retreat, and then a week of meetings with the new provincials from throughout the Order. I finished some books: The Execution of Noa P. Singleton by Elizabeth Silver This is the story of the execution of a young woman who has killed another young woman. The author slowly reveals the background for the killing. None of the characters in the story are totally innocent, and a few are much more culpable than Noa who is to be executed. This is not a call for the end of the death penalty or for its justification. Yet, it is very well written and makes one ask some of the more important questions about life. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho This is the tale of a young shepherd who leaves everything with which he is familiar to follow the dream of his life. In the process, he discovers the Spirit of the World as well as the very holiness of God. This is not a long book, but it is a very pleasant tale of the need to discern the signs of follow the path that leads to the fulfillment which God intended for each individual person. He seeks a treasure which he finds in a most unexpected place. Freedom’s Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II by Arthur Herman This is a fascinating book about how the country geared up its industrial complex just before and at the beginning of World War II. The country had hardly anything at hand, especially because much of its industrial capacity had been mothballed during the Great Depression. Yet, as Roosevelt saw the war coming, he called upon industrial leaders to head the process of rearming America and its allies as well. America went from producing hardly any warplanes to almost 50,000 per year. It made Liberty boats so fast that it halved and halved again the time needed to produce the boats (including a publicity stunt in which one boat was manufactured in less than five days). Our productivity overwhelmed that of the axis powers combined. Robert Louis Stevenson by G.K. Chesterton This is one of those short biographies in a collection of biographies of famous authors. The problem with this one is that it is done by Chesterton. He seems so fascinated with his own witty rhetoric that one does not come to know Stevenson all that well. What I did gather from this study is that Stevenson suffered from ill health all his life, and his adventure stories were a way of escaping from his painful adult reality into a youthful, playful alternate world. Chesterton speaks of how his characterizations are lacking at times, as if Stevenson has used a few brushes of the paintbrush instead of filling out the character. Yet, he speaks of how his over popularity at one time and his then current lack of respect were both exaggerations. He respects Stevenson without canonizing him. The Seven Black Cats: The Adventures of Ellery Queen Typical of all of the Ellery Queen stories, this one is filled with mysteries. Two elderly women disappear, one of whom was paralyzed in bed. Furthermore, over the course of seven weeks, she has purchased seven black cats even though she despised cats. There seems to be a question of money hidden in their apartment. Ellery is able to solve the mystery, but the twists and turns are quite well done. I hope you have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude