Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Rome - Assisi - Rome

September 27, 2016 Peace and Good, This past week was quite busy. It began with a meeting with provincials and custodes from all over the world. We had a first meeting with half of them in January, and this was the second meeting. Then on Tuesday we went up to Assisi to be with the Pope as he greeted an ecumenical meeting. On Wednesday we went up to Mt. LaVerna where St. Francis received the stigmata, the wounds that Jesus had. Then on Wednesday night we returned to Assisi and were there until Saturday. On Saturday morning we drove down to Rome. On Sunday morning, I went out to our school in the suburbs, the Seraphicum, where I studied as a student. There I gave a conference to the provincials and custodes who are in charge of our jurisdictions in Africa. All throughout the week I preached in Italian and English to all the friars at the meeting. The homily was only about five minutes in each language, but it took all day to prepare for the next day's homily. I will be heading out to Geneva tomorrow morning and will get back to Rome on Friday afternoon. I have a meeting up in Geneva with the staff of Franciscans International which works as an NGO at the UN office there. We got to see the Pope quite close this past week. From the friars who saw him when he first arrived in Assisi in the morning, they said he was in good shape. Later in the day, however, he looked and acted very, very tired. He is around 80 years old, and he only has only lung because of a disease from which he suffered many years ago, so no wonder he was tired. I have finished some books: White Seed: The Untold Story of the Lost Colony of Roanoke by Paul Clayton I thought that this was going to be an archaeological study of the settlement in Roanoke which had been settled by colonists sent by Sir Walter Raleigh, but which then disappeared before a relief ship arrived with supplies. Instead this is a reconstruction on a fictional and a little meladramatic level of what the colonists encountered between the time they were dropped ashore and when the relief arrived (but too late). Like many historical fiction accounts, it is not bad, but not really great. Divine Droplets by WLG Enterprises The title of this story is from a particular type of Sake that the main character likes to drink before he goes out to kill a young woman. He has just escaped justice because of a police error, and he now feels invincible. The policeman who planted a bit of evidence confronts the lawyer who got this evil but rich man off, and she “accidentally” drops a sketch book in front of him which will certainly convict the man of some murders for which he had not originally been charged. Daughters of the Springs by Lauren Groff This is a cute story about the female divers at Wekki Wachi in Florda. It is a hokey old fashioned show of mermaids, but somehow it works. The writer, who is a bit of a feminist, was nevertheless impressed by the beauty of the divers and their movements while underwater. She had arrived expecting to see something that would annoy her, and yet the reaction was the opposite. The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 by Christopher Clark This is easily one of the best history books I have ever written. So many historians speak of the causes leading up to World War I as being the fault of one country or another. Clark shows the complexity of the relationships and motivations of various countries in this period. He delves into why a relatively minor event in the Balkans would lead to a world war. He exploded various pet theories of historians with concrete evidence. His work is remarkably well researched, but one never gets the feeling that he is simply throwing out quotations simple to use them. I cannot recommend this book enough. The Drought by James Born This is a very well written short story about a police detective on the homicide squad in Florida. The title refers to the idea that there was a period in which there were few murders. The detectives have little to do. Then one of the detectives is called to investigate a police shooting of a civilian. He does his investigation in a methodical, professional manner. He is pressured by the assistant state’s district attorney who wants to blame the policeman for this shooting for political reasons, but he resists this temptation, even if it means he would be transferred out of homicide to a less “attractive” police division. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

San Antonio - Rome

September 14, 2016 The Feast of the Exultation of the Cross Peace and Good, This past week I left San Antonio for Rome on Tuesday and arrived at noon on Wednesday. This was a frequent flyer ticket, so you sort of have to take what is available. I ended up flying from San Antonio to Nashville to Philadelphia to Frankfort to Rome. Fortunately, all the connections went perfectly and my luggage did not get lost anywhere along the way. The weather in Rome is a bit warmer than when I left, and unusually we have had a few thunder storms. That is really not that common here in Rome. Please keep the mom of my former assistant, Linda Johnson, in your prayers. She passed away this past week. Linda's mom's name is Margaret Carver. She died in her home town of Dundee, Scotland. We began our definitory on Monday morning and will go until lunch on Friday. Fortunately, there is not that much on the agenda this week. Next week we have a meeting here in Rome and in Assisi with half of the provincials from throughout the Order. We met the other half in January, and this is sort of a check up on how things are going half way through our six year term. I will be preaching at the Masses throughout the week (in Italian and English). I found out that this week we will be going to Assisi a bit earlier than we had thought to attend a session offered by Pope Francis so we will get to be close to him. I had not seen him in the first few years that he was Pope, and now I get to see him twice within a few weeks. I have finished some reading: Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire by Peter Stark In the early 1800’s, John Jacob Astor launches a plan to establish a settlement on the Columbia River in Oregon so that he might trade various goods for furs that he would then ship to China where they were most valuable. He would then buy goods there and ship them back to the States. He sent two expeditions, one overland and one by ship. Those going overland had a very rough time of it, and many of them died along the way. Those going by ship arrived, but when they got there, it was a very difficult proposal. The expedition ended when it had to be sold to the British during the War of 1812. It was an audacious proposal, but even though it failed, it laid claim to the northwest and led to the settlement by which Oregon and Washington became part of the Union. Six Women of Salem by Marilynne Roach This is the account of the Salem witch trails. It seems as if much of the material is drawn from the trial records, but then the author invents the thoughts of the main characters even if they are not elsewhere recorded. There is no psychological assessment of the hysteria which led to this tragedy. Rather, it is simply a record of what happened, repeating certain reactions among the young girls supposedly tormented by the witches over and over again. It makes for difficult reading because of the highly repetitive nature of the account. Ashes to Ashes by David Farley An American visits the place in India which is considered to be the navel of creation and which in modern times is used for the cremation of many Hindu people. He describes the process of cremation and his interviews with the untouchables who do this work. He himself, because of difficulties, had considered killing himself. This trip was to investigate a place highly associated with the dead so that he might reflect on his own possible death. It is interesting that the trip seems to bring him to a certain peace in which he was able to accept what life visited upon him. The Map that Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology by Simon Winchester This is the story of a heroic and tragic figure who was the first to chart the various geological layers of strata under England. He was from a commoners family, and was thus poorly received by the founders of a geologic association which was made up of titled participants. He squandered his resources on various houses and enterprises and ended up in debtors prison. After that episode, though, he simplified his life and eventually his work was recognized by those who be and he was given a modest pension by the government. His finding proved to be controversial for they challenged the idea of creationism held by most believers in his time (for he was able to date various fossils and layers of rock to their various ages). Sack o’Woe by John Harvey This is the story of a policeman who watches over sex offenders in England. His wife and children leave him because he spends so much time with those difficult people. It is as their hurt has been contagious and been brought home. One of the men who he watches moves in with a young woman who has small children. It does not turn out all that well. The title comes from a blues song that the policeman first heard when he received a record from his father. Ebola: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly Virus by David Quammen This is a short account of the search for the cause of the Ebola disease, including the attempt to find the host that hides the virus between outbreaks. It has an epilogue which speaks of the recent outbreak in Western Africa. It is more of a popular overview, but it does give enough information to have a good sense of what doctors are dealing with. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Monday, September 5, 2016

Ellicott City - Austin - San Antonio

September 5, 2016 Peace and Good, This past week has been in the States. Tomorrow I head back to Rome for some meetings. I finished my doctors' visits. All went well. I then flew down to Austin for a meeting with the provincial of our Mid-Western province and Mexico. These two provincials have a lot on which they could work together, and this meeting was an initial encounter to speak about the possibilities. I am very pleased with the results, and both of the provinces will spend the next year discussing the possibilities and presenting their determinations to their provinces. I then went down to San Antonio. There is a formation house here, and one of the friars, fr. Don Barassa, whom I know since his earliest days in the Order, made his solemn profession of vows on Saturday. These days have allowed me to share with these friars what is going on in the larger Order, especially in terms of the fight for justice and peace. I was very pleased with their questions and the discussions we had. I was able to finish a project this morning of editing a prayer book for our friars in Padua. The prayer book is in English, and it is especially intended for pilgrims to Padua. I have finished some reading: The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng This is a most unusual story that is set in Malaya at the beginning of the Second World War. A young man, half English and half Chinese, the son of a shipping magnate, finds a Japanese friend who teaches him the martial arts. The Japanese man was using the boy to find out information needed for the coming Japanese invasion. When it comes, the boy is caught between serving the Japanese in the hope of saving his family and fighting against the Japanese. It is an incredibly ambiguous story told from the point of view of someone whom most would classify as a collaborator. It is well done. Skinhead Central by T. Jefferson Parker This is a well written short story about a policeman and his wife who move to Idaho upon retiring. Not too far away is a group of skinheads, one of whom steals something from the couple. We also hear about the son of the couple who was shot while on duty as a policeman. In a very short space, the author manages to paint a touching and not trite picture of loss and redemption (although not exactly a whole new start for the thief). The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome’s Deadliest Enemy by Adreinne Mayor This is the story of a king from Asia Minor who challenged the growing power of the Roman republic. He was famous for his use of poison and his remedies to prevent poisoning (which makes sense given that his father was killed after having been poisoned by Mithradetes’ own mother). He was remarkably successful in his battles, but then faced a series of defeats because of bad luck, poor training, etc. This book is very good, but it tries to demonized the Romans a bit too much. Eichmann in Jerusalem by Hannah Arendt Hannah Arendt was a correspondent from the New Yorker who was a Jewish woman born in Germany. She fled and practiced her journalistic career in the States after the war. She went to the trial of Adolph Eichmann in the 1960’s. Her observations are very good. She sees Eichmann as a not too intelligent bureaucrat who probably never thought through the consequences of his choices. She speaks of the banality of evil. The Jewish government of Israel were hoping that they might portray Eichmann as a historic evil figure, and he turned out to be quite different. This is a good reflection on the issue. The Thirteen Colonies by Louis Wright This is an overview of the history of the English colonies in North America from the time of its discovery until the time of the American Revolution. Although I have studies these topics a number of times, it was good to get an overview of the history. The book is not terribly insightful, but it does give a good portrait of the issue. The Last Days of the Incas by Kim MacQuarril This is a thorough study of the Inca Empire at its inception and then during its conquest by the troops of Francisco Pizarro, the Spanish Conquistador. How is it that so few troops were able to conquer a mighty empire of millions of people. The Spanish soldiers do not come out looking all that good. For all their protestations that they were doing this for the spread of Christianity, they proved to be incredibly greedy and cruel. They certainly didn’t act like Christians. The book also treats of the discovery of Inca ruins, including the famous remains of Machu Pichu. I hope you have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude