Friday, July 27, 2018

Rome - Nemi

July 27, 2018 Peace and Good, I returned from Nairobi just in time to get ready to head out to Nemi for our General Chapter. Nemi is not all that far from Castel Gondolfo, the residence where previous popes would spend their summer. It is in the hills outside of Rome (hills which are extinct vulcanoes). It is a bit cooler than Rome, usually around 8 degrees, which makes it very welcoming. In fact, many ancient figures had summer houses in this area. The chapter will last for five weeks. We are revising our constitutions which requires a lot of discussion and over 700 votes. I have been asked to preach each day in Italian and English. It is only a short homily each morning - an outline of the topics in the readings and an application to what we are doing in those days. At the end of the day, a taped version is placed on our Order's web site along with an outline of the homily in the four official languages of the Order (English, Italian, Spanish and Polish). It is just a spiritual shot in the arm before we face a day of discussion and debate. I have finished some reading: A Spy Among Friends by Ben Macintyre This is an account of Kim Philby, one of the famous Oxford five, students at Oxford who became spies for the KGB and rose in status in the British Secret Services (especially MI6). Macintyre has written a number of true spy stories, and he is a good author. This version of the story deals especially with the friends whom Philby cultivated and how they defended him over the years in the numerous times that he was accused of being a double agent. It shows how the English upper class took care of their own, even at the cost of betraying the nation. The Fall of Dynasties by Edmond Taylor This book deals with World War I and the fall of four dynasties: that of Germany, that of Austro-Hungary, that of Russia, and that of the Ottoman Empire. It speaks of the inner rot in most of these dynasties, and the almost inevitable forces that led to their downfall. It also follows the story a bit after their downfall to speak of what happened to the newly independent fragments of the empires. It is quite good. The Edge of the World by Michael Pye This book is an epic history of civilization and especially trade in the North Sea for the earliest historic times to the beginning of the modern era. I had purchased it because I was especially interested in the history of the Hansiatic League, a loose federation of trading cities in Belgium, Netherlands, Northern Germany and Northern Poland and even Sweden and the Baltic States. It covered this topic well, but also many others such as the effects of the Black Death, the role of women in this society (surprisingly advanced), Learning in the Universities, the movement of the Beguines (a lay women movement of spirituality and mutual support), the Vikings, etc. The Death of Caesar by Barry Straus This is an account of the assassination plot and death of Caesar with the immediate effects upon the Roman Republic. Barry Straus paints a good picture of what was happening. His style reminded me of the writings of Anthony Everitt who is a very good author on this era. I would recommend this book. The Great Dissent by Thomas Healy This book deals with the friendships and influences upon Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, a jurist at the beginning of the 20th century, whose opinion in a Freedom of Speech case was a minority opinion but which came to shape the way that the Supreme Court interprets the right of the freedom of speech. He invented or at least used the criterion that speech had to present a clear and present danger before it could be curtailed. He further argued that opposing speech, even that which one clearly disdains, can be helpful to develop a fuller sense of the truth. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Friday, July 20, 2018

Rome - Nairobi - Rome

July 20, 2018 Peace and Good, This past week was taken up with a quick trip to Kenya. The custody there was having an extraordinary chapter, and fr. Thaddeus, the Assistant General for Africa, and fr. Casimir, the custos, asked me to come down and help them with the spiritual dimension of their decision making. They were meeting to decide whether to ask to become a province or not. I had been the General Visitator for the past two chapters, so I knew the situation well. There were two other presenters. The first presented the question from the point of view of canon law, and the second from the point of view of the economy. I was surprised at how cool the weather was while we were there. It was in the 60's and low 70's every day. This is their cooler season, and even though Kenya is on the equator, Nairobi is on a plateau which is over a mile high which makes the weather much more temperate. I left Kenya early Thursday morning, and was not there for the final vote. I have heard in the meantime that they voted with a 2/3's vote to ask the General Chapter next year to become a province, which I think is a very good decision. They will be one of two new provinces in the Order, the other being Indonesia. I have finished some reading: Catherine the Great by Hourly History This is one of those short overviews of the life and career of an historic figure. These accounts are under 100 pages, and they only present the general outline of the story, but they give enough information to be able to shape an educated opinion on the topic. In this case, we see the contradictory opinions and actions of a woman who esteemed the enlightenment and yet ruled like an autocrat. Maya to Aztec: Ancient Mesoamerica Revealed by Edwin Barnhart This is a teaching company course that deals with the civilizations of Meso-America including the Aztec, Maya, Tolmec and Olmec. It speaks of their cultures, religions, recreations, food, etc. It deals with the mysterious disappearance of whole populations from certain cities which were abandoned (plague, famine, the end of an era on their calendars??). The professor who presents the course is good, but the length of the course sometimes means that he gives more information than that which would really interest me in a particular archaeological dig. A Death in Vienna by Daniel Silva Like most of Silva’s books, this is about Gabriel Allon, a Mossad agent. He is trying to find out who assassinated some women at a claims office for persecuted Jews. He finds that the prime suspect is a hidden former Nazi officer who was responsible for covering up what the Nazi’s had done to the Jews during the war. The most dangerous aspect of the story is that officer is the father of the main candidate for being prime minister of Austria. The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story by Douglas Preston I have read a number of novels by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. This is a true story of an expedition to a jungle covered city in Honduras which is called the while city or the lost city of the monkey god. Douglas Preston accompanied the expedition as a reporter for National Geographic. It was an incredibly dangerous trip, and in fact, most of those on the trip came down with a dangerous tropical parasite. They had discovered the city by running a new type of radar over the jungle and they found shapes which were obviously a manmade city. The book is quite good. Lincoln’s Spymaster by Samantha Seiple This is the story of Alan Pinkerton. He was one of America’s first detectives. He served the Union during the Civil War, especially in protecting the newly elected president from an assassination plot while he was on his way to Washington. The account is positive, and avoids speaking of some of the more sordid episodes when the Pinkerton’s were used against organized labor. It is a good, although not very profound book. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Wednesday, July 11, 2018


July 11, 2018 Peace and Good, I have been in Rome for the past ten days now. It is very hot, but the city is filled with tourists. We started our General Definitory meeting on Monday, and we will continue til the end of the week. Then I am off to Nairobi for a chapter with the friars. They are gathering to decide whether they will ask to become a province in these years. I really think they are ready, but they are a bit cautious at this moment (which, itself, is a good sign - it means that they are not irrational in their desire to become a province before they are ready). I finished some reading: The Borgias by G. J. Meyer This tells the story of Alexander VI and his children (or nephews and nieces). The greatest of the younger generation was Cesare Borgia, whom Machiavelli used as his model of what the perfect prince would be. Meyer is clearly writing an apologia, arguing that any charge against the Borgias was made up by their enemies. One has to wonder. Nevertheless, it is a good overview of the family’s influence on the Church and Italy. The Alienist by Caleb Carr In the early 1900’s, people who had mental illness were considered to be like aliens, so early psychiatrists were known as alienists. This is the story of a Hungarian immigrant alienist who works with a newspaper reporter and a few members of the police department in New York as well as the Superintendent of the Police Commission, Theodore Roosevelt. They battle to discover the murderer of a number of young male prostitutes. The book is well done and worth reading. I believe it was recently made into a movie The Berlin Wall by Frederick Taylor This is a thorough history of the construction, maintenance and eventual fall of the Berlin Wall. It goes into the politics of East Germany, as well as how this all effected the Soviet Union, the US, Great Britain and France. It is especially good at sorting out the mixed responses to the wall by various political figures. It is also good at dealing with the Byzantine politics of the communist state. It is well worth reading. Before 1776: Life in the American Colonies by Professor Robert Allison This is one of the Great Courses and it deals with the colonization of what became the thirteen colonies of the United States. The professor is very good, and he gave information which was both familiar and of which I had never heard before. As always, I highly recommend these courses. The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan by Rick Perlstein This is a thorough and entertaining review of the fall of Nixon and the gradual and almost inevitable rise of Ronald Reagan from his youth up to his failure to take the nomination against Gerald Ford. The author has done enormous research, and he weaves together the themes of his presentation. He does that without ever getting tedious. Some of the topics could be applied just as well to what is currently going on in the country. I recommend this book. No End Save Victory: How FDR led the Nation into War by Robert Crowley, ed. This is a series of essays that speak about the lead up to World War II, including topics on the US government and the isolationist opposition, the need to ramp up production of armaments, especially after the disaster of the depression, the politics of Germany and Japan, etc. It is a long treatment, but well worth reading. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Chicago - Rome

July 5, 2018 Peace and Good, The chapter for St. Bonaventure Province ended a bit early on Thursday, so I had most of Friday to catch up with some paperwork before I flew out to Rome on Saturday. On Friday evening I did attend a wake service for one of our friars, fr. Fran McGann, who had passed away the week before while he was on retreat in Steubenville, Ohio. He was a later vocation, and came into the Order as a permanent deacon. He was in his later 70's when he passed away suddenly. It is quite hot in Rome, but not disasterously like it becomes in August. This coming week we have a definitory, and then the week after I head off with a couple of friars to Nairobi for an extraordinary custodial chapter. The friars there are meeting to decide whether they would like to ask the Order to become a province. I think they are ready to ask, even if the change would not necessarily take effect for a couple of years. I have done visitation in the custody twice, so I know the situation quite well. I have finished some reading: Operation Shakespeare: The True Story of and Elite International Sting by John Shiffman This is the story of one attempt to block the shipment to Iran of certain materials which had been declared out of bounds by the US government. It was a sting operation on a purchaser who worked indirectly for the Iranian government. It deals both with the law enforcement issues, but also with the larger geo-political issues. Crimson Shore by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child This volume of the Agent Prendergast series opens with a theft of a precious wine collection in a New England village. Prendergast and his ward visit the village and he agrees to take on the case. It is much more complicated than one would have first thought, dealing with modern murders, with older mass murders, and with a coven of witches who have remained hidden for centuries. These Prendergast volumes always take a degree of the suspension of credulity, but they are also always entertaining. Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq By Stephen Kinzer This is an overview of the tendency of our country which is dedicated to liberty and democracy has been involved in plots which were anything but that. It covers the overthrow of the monarchy in Hawaii and the eventual annexation of the islands, the overthrow the government in Iran in the 50’s, the overthrow of the government in Guatemala, the assassination of the president of Vietnam, the assassination of President Allende in Chile, the invasion of Panama, Grenada and Iraq, etc. I think the most revealing thing to me is how our Secretary of State in the 50’s invaded countries and overthrew regimes based on the economic welfare of companies which had exploited the people of those countries. Cuba by Stephen Coonts This is a novel that takes place around the time of the death of Castro (fictional death, not the actual events). The head of the security department tries to take over the government which Castro wanted to go to someone else. He has missiles left over from the Cuban missile crisis, and he has filled them with biologic agents which he intends to use against the US. The book tells of the military intervention to sabotage this plot. At times the writing is a touch jingoistic, but overall it is a good story. The Unlikely Spy by Daniel Silva This was an unusual book by Silva. Most of his books are about Gabriel Allon a Mossad agent. This one is about the plot to deceive the Nazi’s during the war concerning where the D Day landings would occur. The story is filled with levels and levels of deception. It reminds me of a Ken Follett or a Jack Higgins book. It was quite good. Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz I had read this book many years ago, but I wanted to listen to it again. The narrator in this series has a soothing, kind voice. The plot of the book, that Odd (that is his name) has the ability to see and help ghosts, is well presented. The characters are lovable, and there is a fundamental goodness in what they are trying to do. It is one of those books that, in spite of a bit of severe violence, makes me feel good at the end. I hope you have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude