Sunday, March 29, 2015

Chicago - Rome

March 20, 2015 Peace and Good, This past week I was at two of the houses of the Chicago Province. One of them is on Kenmore Avenue which is a few blocks away from Loyola University on the north side of the city, and the other is called Marytown and it is adjacent to Mundelein School of Theology. The latter is a retreat house and shrine. The friars are doing great work there, and I was talking with the administration there of how we can support their activities. I know most of the friars there quite well. The weather in Chicago was terrible. It snowed a couple of times in the past week, and it was very, very cold (especially along the lake). That didn't stop me from doing my daily walks, but I had to bundle up quite a bit to keep close to warm. (No, no socks with my sandals - one of the friars, when he saw this, said that my toes would fall off). I came back on Saturday. The flight was a bit more complicated than normal because there had been a change in plans. Instead of flying back directly from Chicago to Rome, I had to go from Chicago to Raleigh, Raleigh to London and London to Rome. Fortunately, the connections were great (we had a tail-wind across the Atlantic that got us into London an hour early). My luggage was not lost. All in all, not a bad trip. I will be here in Rome for Holy Week, and then head out to Australia on Easter Sunday. I finished some books and stories: Martin Cruz Smith Tatiana This is another of the Inspector Renko books. This one takes place in Moscow and the small and incredibly corrupt Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. Renko is trying to discover the murderer of a Moscow newspaper reporter. He travels to her sister’s house in Kaliningrad and tries to sort out which plutocrat (if not all of them) had her killed. This story takes place in the present era, after the fall of communism. Smith’s books are incredibly well written and provide a true insight to the mess that now rules Russia. A Covert Affair: Julia Child and Paul Child in the OSS by Jennet Conant Julia Child as an OSS agent. Can that be real. Yet, this is exactly what she did during World War II. She helped set up OSS offices (which was the predecessor of the CIA) in Sri Lanka and then in China. This is where she met her husband. The book is about her, but even more about one of her friends Jane who was accused of being a communist during the McCarthy era. It turns out that even though she denied it, she probably was at least a collaborator with the communists. This book chronicles the period from the beginning of the war until Julia became a sensation for her cooking books and her cooking shows. In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson This is the story of the American ambassador who Franklin D. Roosevelt sent to Nazi Germany during the beginning of the Hitler Regime, William Dodd. It is also the story of the idealistic and somewhat flighty daughter who first fell in love with the Nazi movement, and then switched her loyalties to the communists. Dodd tried to deal with the German government in a normal way, but that was largely unsuccessful. He was also undercut by many of the career diplomats who resented his populist ways. The title of the book comes from the address at which he lived which was across from the Tiergarten, which literally means the garden of beasts (which was used as a symbol for the beastly behavior of the Nazis. Double Cross by James Patterson This is an Alex Cross story about a widowed black police man/psychologist who pursues both a crafty murderer who escapes from prison (who had been a FBI profiler) and some of his fans who have gone on a murder spree. This search is very personal, for both of these pursued criminals intend to hurt the people whom Cross loves. As with all of Patterson’s stories, it is well written. There is a romance sub-plot between Alex and a female police officer with whom he works on the case. A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor This is a very odd story from the southern Catholic author Flannery O’Connor. A family travelling down to Florida run off the road. The men who stop to help them turn out to be murderers who then kill the family members one by one. The grandmother, who is the last killed, is given a chance to change her life in a moment of clarity. O’Connor speaks about grace as coming into our lives as a violent force that makes us make life decisions. The imagery is troubling and challenging. Have a good Holy Week. Shalom fr. Jude

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Rome - Frascati - Rome - Chicago - Algonquin - Libertyville

March 22, 2015 Peace and Good, This blog is for the past two weeks. In the first week, I spent time at Frascati, a town just outside of Rome (not too far from Castel Gondolfo where the Pope spends his summer). I was giving a retreat to a group of Capuchin Franciscans. There were 30 of them. Capuchins are a reform of the Franciscans dating to the 16th century. They are very similar to Conventual Franciscans in a lot of ways. Padre Pio was a Capuchin. The retreat went from Monday morning until Friday lunch. I had a really good time with the friars and was very pleased with how the retreat went. On Saturday of that week I flew out to Chicago. For the first week I was staying at our house on Kenmore Avenue, not far from the campus of Loyola University (on the north side of Chicago). I was there for a series of informal meetings with a series of friars. I had spent a lot of time in Chicago last year addressing some problems, and I was there to see how things were going. On Friday I visited a parish about an hour outside of Chicago that is run by a group of our Polish friars. It is a big parish, and the friars are doing a great job there. Yesterday I attended a workshop on one of the writings of St. Bonaventure. I don't get to go to many of these types of talks, and it was well done. I learned some key ideas about the thought of Bonaventure which will help me understand a lot of his philosophy. Then, after the talks, I moved up to our friary and shrine in Libertyville called Marytown. I will be here until Thursday to meet with any of the friars who want to talk with me. I finished some books: Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food by Paul Greenberg The author of this book speak about four fish that serve as food for many people in the world: salmon, cod, sea bass, and tuna. He speaks about the over fishing which has caused their wild populations to plummet. He also speaks about the attempts to raise these fish in fish farms and what affect this has on the wild population. He offers suggestions on how to make sure that there will be wild fish in the future. Poisoned Land by Elie Batuman This is a story of a young man and his father, who is a doctor, who visits the ex countries of Yugoslavia to investigate a strange series of kidney disease. He goes through various possibilities: is it caused by poisoning caused by plants there, or by the silt left in a flood, or by genetics, or by coal seams running under the land. It turns out people who live along the river which frequently floods suffer from a much worse disease rate than those who live on the hillsides. This is true both for those born in the area and those who entered the area in recent years. It is a good story both from the travel and from the medical investigation level. Humpty Dumpty by Willow Rose This is one of four stories by a Danish author who writes in the horror literature genre. It is about a young girl who is very obese, thus receiving the name Humpty Dumpty. She comes from a family that is not all that nice. Her father abused her and her older sister. The mother knows this and does nothing, and she hates that her daughter is so not perfect. A gang of young men from a prep school plan a Freddy Krueger spree of murder and mayhem. They plan to kill her whole family. The young girl uses her telekenetic powers to protect herself and her young brother. It is sort of a cross between a possession story, Carrie and Freddie Krueger. Everything is Broken by Emma Larkin This is a story based in Myanmar, Burma. This country has been ruled by a military junta for many years. It speaks of the crackdown exercised by the government when the Buddhist monks staged opposition marches, even when this was considered to be a blasphemous action. Then, months after this, the country was hit by a horrible cyclone named Nargis. No one knows how many people were killed, but it is well over 100,000. The government refused to accept foreign assistance to help the people suffering in the delta, possibly because they were afraid of losing power. The author traces the efforts to bend the will of the military and how the people suffered throughout these months. The Age of Pericles by Jeremy McInerney This is a Teaching Company presentation on life in Athens during the Fifth century BC. This was known as the golden age of that society. The presenter is very good in his description, and he tells of the glories but also of the shortcomings of that society. On the positive side, one has the building of the temples on the Acropolis, the sculptors and poets and playwrites, the military heroes and the fight for some basic rights. On the negative side, the rights did not involve slaves, women or foreigners. As always with teaching company presentations, this series gives one a to think about. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Rome - London - Oxford - Rome

March 7, 2015 Peace and Good, I hope you are all well. The first part of the week I spent in Rome catching up on my daily reflections for the internet and some writing for one of the magazines to which I contribute. I got quite a bit done. Then on Thursday I made a quick trip up to London for a series of quick meetings. Ironically, when I left Rome, it was raining cats and dogs. When I got to London, it was sunny. That is a reversal of what one would expect to find. The plane trip is only about two hours, but by the time you get to and from the airports, it pretty much takes up the whole day. Friday morning I went up to Oxford for some more meetings. It is only an hour by train from London. I saw some of the great colleges there for the first time. It is a beautiful city. I got back yesterday evening and this afternoon I head out to Frascatti, a town outside of Rome. I will be preaching a retreat to a community of Capuchin Franciscans until Friday. Then on Saturday I head out to Chicago for a couple of weeks. I finished some books: The Gold Ring: Jim Fish, Jay Gould and the Black Friday, 1869 by Kenneth Ackerman This is a story that takes place during the era of the Robber Barons. Him Fish and Jay Gould try to corner the gold market so that they might make a killing in their transactions. They indirectly involve President Grant in the process, although it seems as if he and his wife were entirely innocent (while his brother in law were not). The Best of Our Spies by Alex Gerlis This is an interesting, convoluted story. A young woman serves as a spy for the Nazi’s. The British secret service uncovers her plot, and they secretly use her for their own side by feeding her misinformation so that the Germans will think that the invasion was coming in the Pas de Calais and not Normandy. The Brits arrange for her to marry a British officer (without either knowing what is going on). They send her back to France to join a group of undercover agents. The rest of the book is how her husband eventually finds her, even through finding her during the war and just after it had been all but impossible. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works and Shapes our Lives by Steven Levy This is a rather long book on how the company Google was founded and how it developed in the decades since then. There is quite a bit of detail concerning is most successful market strategy, its growth from a few used computers to one of the largest corporations, it buy out of various successful subsidiary companies (e.g. youtube), etc. The book is super filled with detail, but is quite good. The Hidden Pope by Darch O’Brien This is a good book about a lifelong Jewish friend of Pope John Paul II. Jerzy Kluger grew up in the same village and knew the pope well in his youth. He suffered terribly during the war and most of his family was murdered. Only much later when John Paul was already a cardinal did he come back into contact with the major expert at the First Vatican Council. He was one of the first people to be introduced to the pope after John Paul’s election to the papacy. He also served as an expert of Jewish matters to the pope. Moscow to Stalingrad: Decision in the East by Earl F. Ziemke and Magna Bauer This is the story of the long and drawn out period from Germany’s near conquest of Moscow to its defeat by the Soviet forces in Stalingrad. The book gives too much detail for the casual reader, but for the history buff, it gives a good picture of the give and take of the horrible battles that occurred on the Eastern Front. I hope you have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Sunday, March 1, 2015


March 2, 2015 Peace and Good, This past week has been another week of General Definitory. This time we went two weeks, which I have to admit is a bit much. By the end of the second week, you are about ready to agree to another just to get the meeting over with. We did deal with some very good things, however. We took a trip over to our international theology faculty, the Seraphicum, which is located in the suburbs of Rome. We met with the faculty there and talked about the future of the institution. We are working to auto-finance the institution by using spaces that are going to waste in order to leave more funds for the education of our students in the Third World. We have a brother there, Corrado, who comes from Padua and is brilliant in getting things set up the way they are supposed to be (which is Rome is a miracle because there are so many regulations here and they seems to change every six hours). Throughout this past week there has been a musical festival at our Basilica here. It is dedicated to Frescobaldi, a Baroque musician in the Franciscan tradition. These sort of things help to get our basilica known in the area, something we have been working on for the past couple of years. Already one can see the results in our Mass attendance in the morning. We used to get four or five people, and now there are 30 to 40. It is a good start. This week I will be home until Thursday when I scoot over to Oxford for a couple of days for a meeting. Once I get back, I will be starting a whole series of trips. I spent a lot of last week getting plane and train tickets ready for the next few months. I have finished some books: Nibble, Nibble, Crunch by Willow Rose This is one of the horror stories contained in a collection of four by a Danish author. She tells of a young girl who finds a snow man in her back yard. The snow man then proceeds to eat a dog and several people, making them into auxiliary snow people. Her mother does not want to believe her story, but she is eventually helped by a man who lost his girl friend and by her father who kills the snow people with a blow torch. It is the sort of wicked nightmare that one might experience on a very bad winter day. God’s War by Christopher Tyerman This is a thorough portrait of the various crusades of Christians against the Muslims. There were the official attacks led by kings and royal families, and there were unofficial attacks by bands of fervent Christians which often led to disaster. The word crusade was also used for attacks which took place in the Baltics against the Slavic pagans and also in France against the Albigensian heresy. The author is realistic of his portrait of the organization, motivations and conduct of the fighting and, all too often, the slaughters of people who had little to do with the fighting (e.g. the Jewish people in the Rhineland). The Magicians of Caprona by Diana Wynne Jones This is an almost fairy tale story of how two families of magicians in an Italian town must learn to overcome their differences and their long held but little understood feuds in order to defend their beloved city against the forces of evil. The Dinosaur Feather by S.J. Gazan This is a very strange Danish novel about a murder of a Danish professor of paleontology by a gruesome method: he is fed tapeworm eggs which then hatch and eat his body from the inside. There is also the story of a long term fight between various professor over their theories, and also of a young woman who is working for her doctorate but who must uncover various secrets in her past so that she might find out why she is so angry. No one in the story comes out looking all that well. Wild Bill Donovan by Douglas Waller This is the story of the founder of the OSS, the predecessor of the CIA. He was drafted by President Roosevelt to set up an intelligence agency during World War II, a task which he had to undertake from scratch. His story interested me because he was born in Buffalo, New York, my home town. He was not necessarily the best organizer, but he was a charismatic figure who did a remarkably good job in establishing spies and counter-intelligence throughout the battle fields of the war. He, himself, was not that nice a person: overly ambitious, a womanizer, etc. It is possible in the next few months that I will be repeating a book or story that I already cited. I lost some memory on my computer and had to reconstruct some things from my own quite fallible memory. I hope you have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude