Thursday, February 23, 2017

Rome - Castro Valley, CA

February 23, 2017 Peace and Good, I hope you are all well. I finished off the definitory meeting in Rome. It was a bit of a marathon meeting, lasting eight days. By the end, we were all exhausted and all of us had caught a cold. The first day, the Minister General had come in with a cold, and by the end of the meetings it has spread to all of us (which is common when you are closed up in the same room with others for over a week). Sunday I flew out from Rome to San Francisco. I am staying in a town just outside the city, Castro Valley, where I have begun the visitation of the California Province. I will be doing that off and on for about a month. It involves visiting all the houses and meeting with all of the friars in the province (here and wherever they reside). Next week I will be combining the visitation with a workshop that I will give at our novitiate to the present class of novices. The weather here has finally cleared up. It is odd that I was in Manchester and Aberdeen (which are famous for their miserable winter weather) and it was clear, and I get to California and it was raining cats and dogs. The Californians, while inconvenienced by the travel problems due to mudslides and flooding, are nevertheless thrilled that the drought is over. I have finished some reading: Whirlwind by Barrett Tillman This is the story of the aerial bombardment of Japan during World War II. It goes from the Doolittle raid in 1942 up to the final attack on Japan by planes from the air force (which was still part of the army) and the navy. This includes the fire storm attacks on the Japanese cities led by Curtis LeMay and the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The author is definitely writing from a point of view that intends to defend the actions of the United States and denigrates any criticism of our actions, even when they were quite questionable. The Price of Love by Peter Robinson A young boy who has lost his policeman father is on vacation with his mother and his new “uncle.” He feels left out of everything, a fifth wheel. He wants to follow the example of his father, so he investigates some suspicious activity of the uncle, eventually uncovering that this man and his mother conspired in the plot that led to the death of his father. The Touchy-Feely Methods of Wallace J. Nichols by Michael Roberts In this essay, a scientist explores whether people might be more willing to invest in saving the environment, especially the seas, if they were to meditate more on how they feel about water and its creatures. It comes across as a new age, touchy feely method of approaching people, but it seems to be bearing some results. People often react to situation on an emotional level, and this approach tries to get in touch with that level and harness it for good. The greatest Battle: Stalin, Hitler, and the Desperate Struggle for Moscow that Changed the course of World War II by Andrew Nagorski This is an epic study of the German invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II and their drive on Moscow. The author speaks extensively of the motivations of Hitler and Stalin (neither of whom comes off looking all that good). He reports the eye witness accounts of many of the events. He gives an enormous amount of information without getting bogged down in minutia. This is a book well worth reading if one is interested in this topic. Sleeping with the Enemy by Elizabeth Kolbert This is a scientific essay on the study of the DNA of Neanderthals and their relationship to humans. The author finds that there is more similarity to European and Asian human DNA and that of Neanderthals than we once thought, while that of African human DNA is much less. This would indicate that humans and Neanderthals had interactions and probably at least occasionally interbred. The essay asked the question of why Neanderthals disappeared, and it was probably due to the pressure of human presence in their territory (whether this means hunting for similar resources, or more violent means, it is not clear). Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Wednesday, February 15, 2017


February 15, 2017 Peace and Good, I have been in Rome since the beginning of last week. The weather has been very nice in these days, much warmer than I remember in past winters. We are meeting in definitory - a longer one than normal because we have a number of reports from various Italian provinces which are preparing for their provincial chapters this spring. They have been hit by the vocation crunch, and things are not going all that well in some of them. I have now finished with my visitation in Great Britain and Ireland. I met the last friar this past Sunday at the Vatican where he is a confessor. I will be flying out to California this coming Sunday to begin a visitation there. I will be in the States for well over a month this time, mostly on the west coast. Another of the Assistant Generals will be visiting my home province on the east coast to do the visitation. The rule is that an assistant cannot do the visitation to his own province. I have finished some reading: City of Saints: Pilgrimage to John Paul II’s Krakow by George Weigel I was going to World Youth Day in Cracow, so when I saw this title, I decided to read it while I was travelling. It was a good choice. It gave a good introduction to the sites and the culture of the people living there. It described Pope John Paul II’s fight against communism and other forms of belief that sap the vitality of the souls of people. It helps me understand better what I was seeing and experiencing while there. The Soul of the South by Paul Theroux Paul Theroux is a professional travel writer. This essay concerns some trips he made in the southern US. He visits various towns in the deep South that have been all but abandoned by industry and business and their inhabitants. There is a deep sense of sadness as he travels through areas where all that is left is the foundation of their once beautiful buildings. Lincoln’s Battle with God by Stephen Mansfield This is a well thought out, well documented book on Lincoln’s faith life. The danger in this topic is that it is so easy to quote one-liners from Lincoln’s life which could prove almost anything. The author shows that Lincoln was heavily affected by the fundamentalist Presbyterian upbringing that he received, especially for the negative. He seems to have resented the religious hypocrisy of his cruel father. He rejected all organized religion when he was a young scholar and lawyer, but through the various crisis of his life and by the example of reasonable religious figures, he seems to have come back to a belief in God and his goodness. This is especially evident by some events during the Civil War and his second inaugural address. Ship of Wonks by Iris Smyles This is a travel short story. A young woman who is a bit of a science geek takes a trip that is a physics workshop. She expects to meet the love of her life, but instead encounters people much like herself. In the course of the story, she comes to be comfortable with herself and her probable future. Baked Alaska by Christopher Solomon This is the travel story of an adventure to a national park in Alaska which is almost never visited. The author and his friends visit the Amniakchuck Volcano crater. In previous eras it had been described as a paradise on earth, but since its most recent explosion it had become more of a site for Dante’s description of Hell. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Monday, February 6, 2017

London - Rome

February 6, 2017 Peace and Good, I finished my visit to London by having meetings with a few different friars whom I had not visited during the other visits to friaries throughout Great Britain and Ireland. Then on Thursday I flew back to Rome. On Saturday I changed my room with another friar on the definitory. This past summer they had placed a new air conditioning/heating system in the building and they placed the blower right above his room. He is a light sleeper and it was difficult for him in his room. I, on the other hand, am rarely here, and for me the noise from the blower was like white noise, so it was not problem. This gave me a great opportunity to get rid of a lot of clothing that I have not worn for a number of years and a lot of books that my predecessor had accumulated. The minute I set up my things in my new room, I felt at home. That is probably credit to the fact that I am used to sleeping in a different place every couple of days anyways. This week we begin our definitory on Friday, and up to then I have some time to catch up on my writing projects. The weather when I got back to Rome was cold and clear. Yesterday, it turned rainy but a bit warmer. This is typical winter weather here in Rome. I finished some books: Bonfire of the Humanities by Patrick Symmes This is a travel story of a man who goes to Timbuktu, but even more it is the story of a group of people who rescued a mass of ancient manuscripts from the Muslim fundamentalists who wanted to destroy them. Timbuktu was, at one time, a crossroads for Islamic scholarship (as well as other forms of study). Some heroic people managed to hide some manuscripts, secret others out of storage rooms, carry others to safety in nearby cities, etc. The New Middle East: The World After the Arab Spring by Paul Danahar Paul Danahar is a journalist who has traveled extensively in the Middle East. This is his considered evaluation of the situation in a good number of countries after the Arab Spring (Tunisia, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Israel). It is not in any way polemic, but it is very clear on areas that the author considers to be policy disasters that will plant the seeds for generations of battle. The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Potzsch This is the first of a series of books by Potzsch that I have read. It is about a hangman, his daughter, and a doctor in southern Germany during a series of murders that could easily lead to a witch-hunt and the deaths of any number of people. The book is based on some remembrances of the ancestors of Potzsch with a lot of fictional content. The action and story are very good. Burying Mr. Henry by Polly Nelson This is a story of a murder in the old West in which Mr. Henry has set up a house for abuse run away women. He treats them with respect and helps them get back on their feet. It turns out that Mr. Henry has a secret past of his own (for he is really a runaway woman him/herself) and he is killed by her abusive abandoned husband. Oaths, Ohana and Everything by Diana Hansen-Young This is a clever mystery story which takes place on the eve of the annexation of Hawaii by the United States. The hero is a Hawaiian policeman who wants nothing to do with this event or with his Anglo father who abandoned his Hawaiian mother who then committed suicide. It doesn’t work out for him in the way he thought for he must take care of his sister (who has become addicted to opium) and younger brother (who kills the opium den’s owner) and he must attend to lowering of the Hawaiian flag for the last time so that he can secure it for the Queen who is worried that it might be desecrated. I hope you have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude