Saturday, August 27, 2016

Rome - Ellicott City

August 27, 2016 Peace and Good, After I returned to Rome from the definitory's trip to the Dolomites, I minded the store while the other Assistants and the General were off on the road. Then last Sunday I flew into Baltimore for a series of medical and dental examinations. All went well, but I have a couple of small follow ups to schedule at the beginning of next year. It has been a quiet week at Ellicott City. I have been running to and from doctor's offices, but I managed to get them all in within a week. On Tuesday I have a short trip to take to Hartford (just for the day) and then on Thursday I head off to Austin, Texas for a meeting with the provincial of that part of the country and the provincial of our Mexican province. We are trying to develop some sort of partnership in that part of the country to help us in the Hispanic ministry. I have finished some books: The Happiness Metric by Madeline Drexler This is the story of a trip to Bhutan, a country in the Himalayan Mountains. They have established a national index to measure happiness. While that sounds silly at the surface, it does measure the impact on policies upon the citizens of the country and not just the amount of money to be earned by a few. In some ways, it is very successful, but in others it has proven most difficult to get an accurate read of what would make the people happier. For example, in a profoundly Buddhist country, what is the consequence of the growth of consumerism. This is a good reflection on some of these issues. Today is Better Than Tomorrow by Benjamin Busch This is a travel story of a retired army officer who travels back to the Iraqi province where he once served as a military governor after the US invasion of that country. This part of the country has continued to deteriorate and is now all but hopeless. That is the reason for the title of the story, for the inhabitants are sure that things will only get worse. The Demon in the Freezer by Richard Preston This is the same author who wrote the Hot Zone. His specialty is stories about the danger of infectious diseases. This one deals with the Anthrax scare immediately after 911 and how the same event could have involved the spread of a genetically engineered smallpox virus. We know that this was investigated in the Soviet Union and now in Russia. We don’t know, however, the exact details of how dangerous this all is. East of Desolation by Jack Higgins This is the story of a bush pilate who files in Greenland. He is asked by the authorities to aid in the investigation of a plane crash. It turns out that there is much more involved in the story than a simple plane crash. There is a question of smuggling and murder. One of the main characters is an over the hill action actor. It is a good story, although not the best that Higgins has written. America in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era by Edward O’Donnell This is a Teaching Company course dealing with the United States from between around 1880 to 1920. It was a time when Robber Barons manages to gain control of much of the industrial production of the country, but also of a movement to bring more social justice to workers and the poor. This course speaks of industrial, political and social movements during the era. It is quite well done and worth listening to. Encountering the Manuscripts by Philip Comfort This is a study of the evaluation of manuscripts of the New Testament text. There are approximately 5,000 important manuscripts, mostly in Greek although some of them are early translations in other languages. There are also quotation contained in the writings of the Fathers of the Church All of these have to be taken into account when one is trying to establish a critical edition of the original New Testament text (or at least as close as we can hope to arrive at it). The book is not for the casual reader for it is highly technical in detail. I had studied some of this when I was a student at the Biblicum many years ago, so this was a good refresher course for me. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Friday, August 19, 2016


August 19, 2016 Peace and Good, I have been in Rome since we came down from the Dolomites (the Italian southern Alps). Rome is usually unbearably hot at this time of year, but this is one of the most pleasant Augusts that anyone here can recall. There are a lot of tourists in town, but many of the Italians have abandoned the city for the months, going either to the sea or to the mountains. Yesterday I traveled up to Padua for the day for the funeral of one of our friars, fr. Enzo Poiana. He was the rector of the Basilica of the Santo (St. Anthony). He was only 57 years old and died of a heart attack while on vacation. The basilica was packed, and there were many bishops, priests, dignitaries. He was very well liked by the people, very down to earth. Before he joined the friars, he was a member of the Alpinisti, the Alpine Italian troops, and there was a very large contingent of them there as well. The day before yesterday word came out that the Pope had named a new rector to the Office for Family Life. We have been expecting major shake ups in the offices, and this seems to be the first out of the bag. We'll have to wait to see what other jobs and shuffled. Sunday I will be heading out to the States for my annual 50,000 mile check up with the doctors. There are multiple visits throughout the week. I finished some books: Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton This is a manuscript of a completed work that was found in his files upon his death. It is about a freebooter in Jamaica during the 17th century who hears about the presence of a Spanish treasure ship in a harbor of a Spanish island not too far away. He decides to capture this ship and its treasure, but he must gather a most unlikely crew of briggands, and then he and his crew must undergo incedible adventures in capturing and holding the ship. It is a fun read, not too serious but not intended to be. Bridge of Spies by Giles Whittell This is the story of the shooting down of the U2 flight flown by Gary Powers as well as the attempt to bring him back from the Soviet Union. He was traded for a KGB spy who had been arrested after making some dumb mistakes. The man, in fact, was a rather horrible spy. Furthermore, there was a graduate student who had been arrested for doing research into the economy of East Germany which was considered to be a form of spying. The author tries to give an objective account of what happened, even showing how deeply flawed many of those involved in the story were. Suez: The Forgotten Invasion by Robert Jackson In 1956, Nasser, the president of Egypt, nationalized the Suez Canal. The Brits and the French were furious, and they plotted with Israel to invade. Israel first captured the Sinai, and then the British and French invaded under the guise of serving as a peacekeeper force to separate the Israelis from the Egyptians. The United Nations (led by President Eisenhower who was furious at this move) ordered a proper cease fire and the evacuation of the invaded territories with the establishment of a neutral peace keeping force. This book is very much written from the British point of view, and although it fully recognizes the military mistakes made by the Brits, it is slow to recognize the diplomatic mistakes (all but blaming the Americans for not joining them in the game). Death Trade by Jack Higgins I always like Jack Higgins’ book. This is not his best, but it is still enjoyable. It is about a secret service in Great Britain under the direct authority of the Prime Minister. They are trying to help an Iranian scientist escape from Iran where he has been coopted to invent a new type of atomic bomb. This involves both Iran and Al Quaida. The dialog is a bit corny, but as a light read, it is quite enjoyable. The Shroud by Ian Wilson This is a historical and somewhat scientific account of the Shroud of Turin. The author has done a remarkable amount of research on the topic. He reaches certain conclusions that are not common to all scholars of the shroud, but his findings are most creditable. He, for example, identifies the shroud with the mandelion of Edessa ( a city in Asia Minor where a cloth containing the image of the face of Jesus was preserved for the first few centuries of the Church. Other scholars sometimes hold that this was a separate cloth mentioned in the Gospel of John while the shroud was kept somewhere else.) I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in this topic. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Cracow - the Dolomites - Rome

August 10, 2016 Peace and Good, After World Youth Day in Cracow, a group of us from the General Definitory drove down to the Dolomites in northern Italy. This is the lower extension of the Alps in Italy, and there is a series of valley cultures throughout the region. It was a fascinating trip, and very relaxing. We don't often get time to spend together for we are always on the road from one place to another. There are miles and miles of paths through the forest and along the mountains. We returned to Rome yesterday where it is much warmer. August is always a hot, hot time in Rome, and it appears as if this month will be no exception. I will be here until the 21st and then head out to the States for my 50,000 check up with various doctors. I have finished some reading: Run to the Mountain by Thomas Merton This is the first volume of Merton’s personal journal which has now been published. This was written in the period in which he was teaching at St. Bonaventure University in Olean, New York. He had considered joining the Franciscans, but given his past (an illegitimate child), he was discouraged from applying to that order. Instead, he decided to choose between a social ministry in New York’s Harlem and the Trappist Monastery in Gethsemane, Kentucky. This volume ends with his choice more of less made for the Trappists but Merton not being sure that they would accept him and also not sure that he would not be drafted (the the volume ends at the middle of December, 1941). I found Merton insightful, but very judgmental and categorical in what he knows about the faith. I will slowly make my way through the other volumes of his journal in these next couple of years. The Cortes Enigma by John Paul Davis This is a mystery story of a professor and his nephew who are searching for lost treasure, a ship that had gone down which carried some of the Aztec gold that Cortes had sent back to Spain. The ship went down near the southwestern islands off of England. There is a strange group of people there, all of whom would like to know where the treasure is. I have to admit that I found the story a bit jumbled and did not really enjoy it all that much. 21st Century Limited by Kevin Baker This is a travel story of traveling on the rail system in the United States. Much of the book is a lament that the government and especially the Republican Party have allowed the passenger part of our rail system to deteriorate so much, especially as compared to the high speed rail system that one finds in Japan, China and Europe. Land of the Lost by Stephen Connely Benz I very much enjoyed this travel story for I can identify with it so much. It is about a Fullbright Scholar who is teaching in the former Soviet Republic of Moldova (just across the border with Romania). Much of what he describes is exactly what I found when I first traveled to Romania, although things in Romania have gotten quite a bit better while those in Moldova have actually deteriorated. There was a grayness to everything, and nothing really worked. Yet the people were most hospitable, and they were also desperate to leave, much as those of Moldova today. An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris I have read a couple of books written by Harris on Cicero as well as one named Ghost which is about a ghost writer for a retired Prime Minister of Great Britain. I have always liked his writing style of historical fiction. This book deals with the Dreyfus Affair in France at the end of the 19th century. A captain in the French Army is convicted of espionage and treason for passing secrets to the Germans. Much of the evidence is trumped up because the high command wants to convict the man since he is a Jew. He is sent to solitary confinement on Devil’s Island off the coast of South America. This book is written from the point of view of the Coronel who discovers the plot and eventually publicizes it, at the cost of his own career. The book is very well written. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude