Sunday, July 31, 2016

Los Angeles - Rome - Cracow

July 31, 2016 Peace and Good, About ten days ago I finished my trip to California where I witnessed the investiture (receiving the habits) and the simple profession (friars taking their first,temporary vows) of the incoming novitiate class and the outgoing class. There were seven in each group. I then flew out of Los Angeles for Rome. I was only there for about 16 hours before I flew out again to Cracow for World Youth Day. There are well over one million young people here for this celebration. The Pope arrived early in the week, and he has been staying on the other side of the piazza from where we were staying (at our friary here in Cracow). Yesterday we got to see him in a small group when he came to our Church for a short prayer service. I was asked to give a talk to one of the small groups for catechism instructions for the English speaking group on Friday. There were about one hundred who came to the talk on Maximilian Kolbe and it went quite well. I attended two days of the full group of catechesis for English speakers. It was in an arena that holds 20,000, and they estimated there were around 18,000 each day. It was sponsored by the Knights of Columbus, and they did a great job. Tomorrow the whole definitory will drive out of Cracow, staying in Vienna for the night at our friary. Then on Tuesday we continue on to the Alps in Italy where we will spend a week of vacation together. This will be great for we are all a bit worn out from travel, etc. I finished some books: The Mantle of Command: FDR at War, 1941-1942 by Nigel Hamilton This book deals with the idea that FDR exercised his role as Commander in Chief, especially during the first full year of World War II. While he listened to his military advisors, he was not afraid to make his own decisions, even in contrast to their recommendations. A good example of this is to go ahead with the invasion of North Africa, a move that his Secretary of Defense and most of his Joint Chiefs of Staff opposed, even somewhat violently. His laid back style sometimes led people to underestimate how much he was in charge, but that he was. Furthermore, his jovial style led some who were natural enemies of his policies to nevertheless like the man who paid so much personal attention to them. Out of Eden Walk by Paul Salopek This is the account of a multi-year on foot adventure to travel from the cradle of humanity in the Rift Valley in Africa to the tow of the South American continent in Tierra del Fuego. The idea is that the author was following the dissemination of the human race as they spread across the various continents. Deep Intellect by Sy Montgomery One would not expect to think of an octopus as an intelligent animal, but that is exactly what researchers have discovered. They seem to be able to recognize certain people whom they either like (shown by the fact that they let themselves be picked up without difficulty) or dislike (shown by the fact that they either hide from that person or even attack the person with water jets that they shoot out). It is difficult to measure the intelligence of the animal given that many of the tests that would be applied to vertebrate animals cannot be used for one that is invertebrate, but there are clear signs that the octopus is smarter than one would think. Behind Closed Doors at Hotels by Gary Shteyngart This is a short, humorous travel essay about getting stuck in a hotel room with a loud, amorous couple in the next room or the next rooms. He goes on about how this only happens when he is travelling alone, almost as if the couple next door are mocking his aloneness. The essay is nothing earth shaking, even if the experience next door seems to be. Ants and the Art of War by Mark Moffett This is a science article on how colonies of ants go to war and the comparison between their techniques and those of human armies. The most expendable ants are usually thrown into the front line, while the truly powerful champions are horded in back until their presence makes all the difference. Some ant colonies establish a modus operandi with other neighbor communities, but others just wander wherever they want. The author describes the horrifying intensity and savageness of the attacks. Hope you have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Monday, July 18, 2016

Rio de Janeiro

July 18, 2016 Peace and Good, All this week I have been at two meetings in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The first was a meeting of the major superiors of the various Latin American jurisdictions. I was here to listen to what they are doing and to get some ideas I could share with the major superiors of my own federation. I was able to follow almost everything spoken in Spanish, but Portuguese was a real challenge. By the end of the week, though, I was picking up a lot more of it. The weather has been quite pleasant. It was warm most of the week, with a couple days of really cool weather. Then the second meeting was a congress to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the presence of the Conventual Franciscans in Latin America. We did not arrive earlier because we had been forbidden by the chancellor of the Spanish Empire, Cardinal Ximenes, to be in any of the Hapsburg dominions. That included all of Latin America, Portugal and Spain, the Netherlands, Austria and the Philippines. He belonged to the other branch of Franciscans and there were a lot of hard feelings. There are around 600 friars now in Latin America, and they in almost all of the countries. The congress presented a history of the friars here, and also talked about the challenges in the years to come. Yesterday we went up to the statue of Christ that overlooks the city. The view was incredible. Today I fly out to Los Angeles for the opening of the new year for the novitiate in Arroyo Grande (half way between Los Angeles and San Francisco). Then later in the week I will fly out to Rome and on to Cracow for the World Youth Day I have finished the following: Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel by John Guy This is a masterful, complete biography of Thomas a Becket who became the Archbishop of Canterbury and was murdered by knights of King Henry II. From a middle class birth, Thomas rose to become chancellor of England and then the most important bishop of the English Catholic Church. His attempts to protect the rights of the church ran head long into the autocratic rule of Henry. Thomas had to flee and was exiled to France for some two years before they were reconciled. But the peace lasted only a short while, and eventually Henry uttered some angry words that were interpreted by four of his knights as an invitation to kill Becket. This account gives a good picture both of Becket and Henry. It is not sparing in pointing out the faults and the talents of both men. I highly recommend this biography for anyone interested in this topic and for the topic in general of standing up for the right, even at the cost of one’s very life. Woodrow Wilson by John Cooper This is a extensive biography of the president who led the United States during World War I. He was the president of Princeton University and governor of the State of New Jersey before he assumed office. He portrayed himself as a progressive in the line with Teddy Roosevelt. He carried out a series of important work reforms and helped many groups of people such as farmers. One blind side, however, was his total failure to address civil rights. His fourteen points during World War I in which he fought to respect the rights of peoples where an insightful contribution to history which won him the Nobel Prize for Peace. His failure after the war was his stubbornness in fighting for the peace treaty and the League of Nations which did not allow for compromise and thus doomed his efforts (a stubbornness which was probably partly due to the damage done when he suffered a serious stroke during his presidency). The Bad Place by Dean Koontz Koontz is a very good author, both of stories such as the Odd Thomas series which is only lightly filled with horror and other stories which are quite horrific, such as this one. The bad place is death, and this tells the story of an evil figure who brings death to all whom he touches. He is the product of genetic damage and inbreeding which gives him supernatural powers, as the ability to teleport. His nemesis is his brother who killed their mother. The brother, Frank, seeks the help of a couple who are detectives. They and the wive’s brother Thomas who has Down’s Syndrome, fight the evil figure. This is not a story where everything ends well, but it is a very good tale. Victorian Britain by Patrick Alitt This is one of the Great Courses Series. This one deals with Great Britain during he reign of Queen Victoria. A bit of it is simple history, what happened when. Some of it is a description of movements and tendencies during the era, e.g. how women were treated, the working class, leisure, etc. The instructor is entertaining and the courses fly along with a great amount of good material being shared. The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean This is a truly beautiful book about a woman who is elderly and has Alzheimer's. She grew up in Leningrad and worked in the Hermitage Museum during the siege of the city during World War II (with all the horror that this involves). As she slowly loses her grip on reality, her mind travels back and forth between a present time that she does not fully comprehend and her time in the museum when she would wander the rooms. The curators had taken down the paintings, but she memorized which painting went where to create a type of memory castle which is now more real to her than the world in which she now lives. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Chicago - Rio de Janiero

July 9, 2016 Peace and Good, Last Sunday I flew to Chicago to be present for the opening of the postulancy located there. I have been at that friary so often over the years that it feels a lot like home. This is the first year that all four US provinces are participating in this program. It took a lot of work to get here, but I am pleased that it is going well. I presided at the opening ceremony. There are 18 young men in the program, which is way up from previous years. Let's hope it is the beginning of a trend. On Thursday evening I flew down to Rio. It is quite cool here. This is winter below the equator. The temperature during the day is in the low 60's. I am hoping that keeps the mosquito's sleeping. I will be here for about 10 days to a set of meetings and the 70th anniversary celebration of the presence of our friars in Latin America. This is the first time I am in Brazil. Last night there were fireworks in part of the town. I asked one of the friars if it was a celebration. He explained that sometimes the drug lords bring their drugs to a neighborhood and set off fireworks to let the people know. This morning they had a huge celebration in the parking lot of the church for the children of the neighborhood. It was like carnival all morning with loud music and dancing. I like the spirit of the people down here. I have finished some books: Lawrence’s Arabia by Scott Anderson This is a short journey to a few places which were significant in the life of Lawrence of Arabia, including some of what we could call archaeological sites in Jordan and Saudi Arabia where he led the Arabs to blow up the railroads that were supplying the Turks in those countries during World War I. We hear some of the tragedy of Lawrence – how he tried to be faithful and honest with the Arabs even while his government was secretly negotiating with the French to double cross the Arabs. He died a lonely, disappointed man. Fallen Founder by Nancy Isenburg This is a biography of Aaron Burr which is written to show that he was not such a bad character. It is clearly revisionist history, re-reading the original sources. The difficulty of the book is the author’s a priori stance that Burr is really a hero and a virtuous person. Every person who declaims him is a lier and a political hack. Every thing that Burr does is for the good of those around him. Even his flaws are not as bad as others. At one point the author even implies that he was attacked because he was a budding feminist. The scholarship seems terribly flawed and I find it difficult to believe anything the author posits (or creates from whole cloth). The Sound of Silence by Lisa Abend This is a pleasant short story of a traveler who goes to an isolated Scottish village by hiking in the hope of running away from humanity for a while. What she finds when she arrives is that it was not humanity that caused her annui, as much as technology. Being out of range of any wifi signal helped her find her balance among the villagers and other hikers in the inn in which she was staying. Masterpieces of the Imaginative Mind: Literature’s Most Fantastic Works by Eric Rabkin This is a Great Courses treatment of literature which features the fantastic. This includes fairy tales and myths, utopian literature, early horror fiction (Frankenstein, the works of Edgar Allen Poe), early science fiction (Jules Verne, Edgar Bouroughs), more modern science fiction (Heinlein, Asimov, etc.) and even punk rock science fiction. The science fiction part is quite good, speaking not only of what is there but also why. Some of the earlier lectures get a bit too much into the literary study of Semiotics for me, a science that has always seemed a bit too contrived for me. Overall, the course presents a good amount of valuable information. Along the Bosphorus by Orhan Pamuk This is a short excerpt from Pamuk’s book Istanbul about the city of his birth. He deeply loves his home city, but he recognizes an annui in its citizens from the fact that they are living in an imperial city that has lost its empire. Unlike Vienna which is kept up and looks like an empty museum for imperial might, Istanbul has lost its glitter. Pamuk speaks of the draw the people of this city have to its waterway, the Bosphorus. They recreate there, find their meaning there. Even the ship accidents seem to draw them to gaze and wonder. The book is filled with antique photographs of the Bosphorus and its shores. Hope you have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Friday, July 1, 2016

Nairobi - Rome

July 1, 2016 Peace and Good, I am here in Rome for our definitory. We are meeting all week, and as usual talking about every corner of the earth. I presented my report on the Korean province and have now sent it off to Korea for their correction. By the end of this month it should be made public to the friars of the province. It will certainly give them something to discuss as they prepare for their chapter in October. Getting here to Rome was a bit of an adventure. I flew from Nairobi to London on British Air without any difficulty. The problems started in London. I boarded the flight to Rome, but they could not fuel the airplane, so we had to deplane. There was very little guidance on what to do at that point. They finally got another airplane, but when it was time to board, they could not find a crew. They rescheduled us for later in the afternoon. They were late in boarding us, and it took us about an hour to get air traffic control permission to leave. In all, I arrived in Rome nine hours late. I really like British Air, but their entire performance that day was horrendous. They still have not gotten back to me about my complaint. I have finished some books: Collision of Empires: The War on the Eastern Front in 1914 by Prit Buttar So mush has been written about the first six month of World War I on the Western Front, on how the Germans all but overran the defenses of the French and were stopped at the Battle on the Marne, resulting in four years of trench warfare. This book deals with the battles fought on the Eastern Front, in Prussia, Poland, Serbia and the edges of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The battles were enormous and bloody. The Germans were the best organized and suffered the least from these conflicts. The Russians were terribly led by generals who hated each other and at times purposely sabotaged the activities of their own forces led by another general. The Austro-Hungardians were terribly led, believed in the force of the offence, which might have worked well before the invention of the machine gun and modern artillery, but which only led to butchery afterwards. The book is well written and worth of a read for those interested in the First World War. How Paris became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City by Joan DeJean This is the story of how the city of Paris came to be the center of culture that we recognize it to be today. King Henri IV began the transformation of the city. Many of the things which we associate with a great city: boulevards, sidewalks, parks, street lighting, haut coutoure, etc. were invented in Paris. The Pont Neuf became a center of city life when most cities were still closed in upon themselves. City planning at a grand scale occurred again and again in the history of the city. We hear of investors and financiers who became the nouveau riche. This is a very good book that describes how simple changes in architecture and planning changed the city from a medieval warren of alleys into a grand city. The Secret History of Mongul Queens by Jack Weatherford This is a study of the role that women played in the governance of the Mongolian empire and people. The daughters of Genghis Khan were married off to the rulers of various neighboring tribes and nations. Those rulers were then expected to join Genghis Khan in his invasions, while the daughters remained in those kingdoms and ruled them. We hear of the role of the queen mother which was very important among the Mongolians. We also hear of various queens who stood out in importance over the centuries. A History of Eastern Europe by Vejas Liulevicius This is a Teaching Company course. Despite the interesting name of the professor, he was born in the States (of Lithuanian background). He is very informative, and this course traces the history of Eastern Europe from the Middle Ages to the present. It is well done and very informative. Who Put the Butter in Butterfly by David Feldman This is a clever book that traces the etymology of words and expressions that seem a bit odd. It is actually a collection of individual studies done by many people over the years. Some of the expressions are more interesting than others, but it is still entertaining to read where these things came from. Hope you have a good week. I am off to Chicago this coming Sunday. Shalom fr. Jude