Saturday, January 23, 2016

Rome - Assisi

January 23, 2016 Peace and Good, These past two weeks can be summarized in the following words: meetings, meetings, meetings. We finished off our definitory a week ago (for the most part for we still had a short session when we arrived in Assisi). Then this past week we were in Assisi with about 50 of the major superiors of the Order (half of them - the other half will come in September). The purpose of the meeting was to let them get to know each other. We in Rome are at the center and all the information eventually filters in to us, but it does not necessarily make it from one end of the world to the other. There were mixed language small groups (which is a challenge, but well worthwhile). We had a pilgrimage to LaVerna, the place where St. Francis received the Stigmata, the wounds Jesus had impressed in the flesh of St. Francis. All throughout this week I was the preacher at the Masses for the group. I have become a type of court preacher for the Minister General. I have a talent of being able to preach short homilies that get the point across, and which tie in both with the readings of the day and also the topics we were discussing in the meetings. I enjoy preaching, and this gives me an opportunity to share with the friars. We came back to Rome by van this morning, and tomorrow morning I will be heading out to the States. I will be there for about a month, travelling here and there for meetings, workshops, etc. The plan is Atlanta, Jacksonville, Baltimore, San Antonio, South Bend and West Palm Beach. Then it will be back to Rome for a couple of weeks. I finished some books: The Knight’s Cross Signal Problem by Ernest Bramah A train crashes into another train, resulting in the death and injury of a number of passengers. The train singleman claims that the signal was red, while the train conductor claims that it was green. A blind investigator is able to determine that, in a sense, both of them were right and the fault of the accident lies with another party who caused the accident for his own personal reasons. Sun King by Bob Shacochis This is the story of a man who travels to Argentina to go fishing for dorado, a famous golden covered ferocious fighting fish. He is led by a legendary guide who gave up a career to take up this work which he loves. The fisherman is not terribly successful, but what little he does succeed in catching creates a dream in his mind that refuses to go away. Touch of the devil by Jack Higgins This book reminds me a bit of the movie where they called out all the retired secret agents for one last round of excitement. Three ex-IRA men are fighting a battle that goes far beyond the war in which they fought so many years ago. One of them has become a murderer for hire while the other two have had (and truthfully always had) a different route. One of the good guys has to be broken out of a maximum security prison on a desolate island to join in the adventure. The bad guy is working for the KGB and also for his own ends for he has no scruples. There is also a French woman who is a war correspondent who is in love with the hero (anti-hero) of the story. It is not one of Higgins’ best, but even his second best is better than most authors. The Coin of Dionysius by Ernest Bramah A detective is trying to find out whether an ancient coin is authentic or simply a copy. He goes to a coin dealer, but that man is not able to help him since this is a specialized skill. He recommends an expert who turns out to be an old acquaintance of the detective. Since they have known each other, the expert, a Mr. Carrados, has lost his sight, but he turns out to be a more effective detective than the one who can see. The Wisdom of the Talmud by Rabbi Ben Zion Bokser The first section of this collection of spiritual writings was simply a collection of segments taken from the Old Testament. This section is quite different. It is a collection of articles on the Talmud: its formation, its content, etc. It is a nice introduction to this collection of Jewish laws and commentaries. Coming from a Christian background, one can see how similar are many of the ideas contained therein, and also how they diverge. Lions of the West: Heroes and Villains of the Westward Expansion by Robert Morgan This is a long and wonderfully written account of many of the people who helped to settle the West of the United States. This includes such well known figures such as President Jefferson, Kit Carson, Davy Crocker and General Fremont, the Pathfinder. It also includes some figures that people, in general, are not familiar with such as Nicholas Trist who negotiated an end to the Mexican-American War. We get to see both their personalities and how they interacted on a larger screen. It is a must read for anyone interested in this period of history. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Mesilla Park, New Mexico - Rome

January 10, 2016 Peace and Good, I spent the last week in Mesilla Park where the friars of the Mid-western province have a retreat house. I preached a retreat to 48 Friars Minor from the six provinces that they have in the United States. They are discussing some type of amalgamation right now, and so while I preached on the story of the two disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus, I tried to tie in topics that my own province encountered while we were joining with the other eastern province a year and a half ago. The Friars Minor were a great group of men, very similar in temperament to ourselves. One of them is heading off to Vietnam this week to spend four months teaching English to their postulants and he knows many of the friars that I know from our community. I enjoyed sharing with them and getting to know them. The trip back was a little difficult. The first flight, from El Paso to Houston, was an hour and a half late taking off. Fortunately, I had a long layover in Houston, so there was no problem. The second flight, from Houston to London was over two hours late taking off due to thunder storms in the area. That made me miss my flight from London to Rome, but they were able to rebook me for later in the day, so it all worked out. It was a trip, though, that ended up taking about 24 hours. Fortunately, I have the day off today before we begin our definitory again tomorrow. We have a week of definitory meetings here in Rome, and then a week of meetings with provincials in Assisi in the week after. I finished some books: My New York: A Romance in Eight Parts by Peter Selgin This is a love story of a man with the city of New York. He visits it as a child and falls in love with it. He has various experiences as a young man. He eventually moves out and leaves the area completely. He loved the intrigue and variety of the city, but he at times also felt used and abused by the city (and by himself). The story is well written and interesting. It reminds of that old map of New York for New Yorkers which shows the city up to a certain avenue and then bundles together all the rest of the world. The Farm by Tom Rob Smith I had read a book by Tom Rob Smith a number of years ago, Child 44. It was about a detective in the Soviet Union who is investigating a mass murderer of children in a country that does not to acknowledge its flaws. In this book, an English husband and a Swedish wife retire to a Swedish farm. There the wife thinks she has uncovered a ring of people who abuse adopted children. She runs to England to tell her son who must sort out whether she is telling the truth or whether she is suffering from some form of paranoid dementia. It is a very unusual story, but very well developed. Battlefield Prussia by Prit Buttar This is a thorough treatment of the fall of Prussia to the Soviets during the Second World War. The author speaks of the various battles that were fought and the evacuations of both soldiers and civilians farther west so that they might first of all return to German territory, and then so that they might surrender to the British or Americans and not to the Soviets. He speaks of the atrocities that the Soviets inflicted on the civilians in response to all that they and their countrymen had suffered from the Nazis. The book is a good treatment of the topic. The Kimberly Fugitive by Clifford Ashdown A man has a small accident on his bike with another man on a bike. The other man acts strangely. When the first man returns to his hotel, he notices that there is a diamond smuggler on the loose. He suspects for various reasons that the man with whom he had the accident is actually the criminal. He follows him and manages to take his smuggled diamonds from him, all the while using his skill on a bicycle. Lusitania: Triumph, Tragedy and the End of the Edwardian Age by Greg King and Penny Wilson This is the story of the last voyage and the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915. This was a tragedy that marked the brutality of undersea warfare. The authors speak about the warnings that both the German government and the British admiralty gave before and during its trip. The captain blatentely ignored many of the safety procedures that he was supposed to take (e.g. life boat drills, zig-zagging his course, etc.). The crew was also negligent in helping the passengers once the boat was hit by one (or possibly two) torpedoes. The book speaks about the luxury of the trip for the first and second class passengers. They also deal with various conspiracy theories on its sinking (e.g. that Churchill, the Lord of the Admiralty, allowed for its sinking in the hope of bringing the US into the war). The book is a good treatment of the topic. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Rome - Ellicott City - Albuquerque

January 3, 2016 Peace and Good, I missed a week on the blog. I was in Ellicott City for the past week for some meetings and dentist appointments. The weather was incredibly warm when I first arrived, but cooled off by the time I left yesterday. I am down in Albuquerque to give a retreat to a group of Friars Minor at our retreat house in Mesilla Park, New Mexico, which is just across the border from El Paso, Texas. The weather in Europe has been quite cold these past weeks. Normally, at this time of year, there is a day or so of cold weather, and then it warms up a bit. That has not been the case this year. It must be one of the effects of El Nino. I will be down here in New Mexico until the end of the week, and then head back to Rome for some more meetings. I have been very relieved that there were no terrorist acts in Europe in these days. I expected the worst from all that I had been hearing. I finished some books: For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming and James Bond by Ben Macintyre I was first interested in this book because of its author. Ben Macintyre has written a number of good books about spies, especially during World War II. I liked his writing style. In this book he treats the author of so many spy novels about James Bond. It turns out that Bond is what Fleming was and what he would like to be. Macintyre credits the success of his books to the fact that Bond is what English men wish they could be but know that they never could. Fleming actually did work in a spy agency during World War II, and he took those experiences and extensive research into account as he wrote his books. This is a good overview of an author and a project and how they intersected and succeeded. A Warning in Red by Victor Whitechurch A man who consistenly pays his bills once a quarter with cash is found murdered by the side of a train track. The money has been taken. The detective is able to figure out that the man was not actually murdered at that site, but rather when he got off the train at his destined stop. The station manager and an accomplice then arrange to have his body carried down the track so that there might not be any connection between the man’s death and that particular site and the people working there. Meet you in Hell: Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick and the Bitter Partnership that Transformed America by Les Standiford Andrew Carnegie founded and owned Carnegie Steel, which became the foundation of US Steel. Carnegie is famous for his philanthropy by building libraries all over the world. Frick was the manager of the company for Carnegie, and is equally famous for his collection of art which became the Frick Museum. Both of these men, however, were robber barons who exploited the workers who actually built their fortunes. This is especially seen in what they did to crush a strike at the Homestead Works in Pittsburgh. They eventually turned on each other, and hated each other the rest of their lives. When Carnegie, dying, invited a reconciliation with Frick, his response was that they could meet in Hell. Empire of Mud: The Secret History of Washington, D.C. by J.D. Dickey Even though the nation’s capital was established early in its history, for the first 70 years or so it remained a backwater town with incredible hygene and crime and violence. The streets were unpaved. There were vast sections that were open field or, worse, covered in refuse. Animals were raised and butched throughout the city. Marshes bred malarial mosquitoes. It was only after the Civil War that something was done about the mess. Yet, at the same time this was happening, the inhabitants of the city lost the right to elect their own city officials. (It appears that this was at least partly due to the fact that Blacks made up a large portion of the population and Southern whites wanted to disenfrancise them.) The district was governed by the federal government for the next century. This is a good overview of the city from its founding to the time when it was finally well run (even though those running it also were thieves who enriched themselves on the projects they built). The Absence of Mr. Glass by Gilbert Chesterton This is a Fr. Brown mystery. He goes to a scientist to help him with a small problem, but while he is there, it appears that the subject of his concern has been attacked by a mysterious Mr. Glass. When they investigate, the scientist makes brilliant deductions, but Fr. Brown, in his simplicity, is able to solve the great mystery, which turns out not to be as great as everyone had first suspected. Darkfall by Dean Koontz This is a story that Koontz tells that reverts to his horror genre. A group of Mafia drug lords are suddenly and horribly murdered. The detectives investigating this crime discover a connection with a Jamaican voodoo cult. The practitioner of black voodoo has opened the doors of hell to release a series of demons who attack his enemies. The detectives and a practitioner of good voodoo must fight against him and his plans, especially since he intends to murder the children of one of the detectives. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude