Monday, August 27, 2018

Nemi - Assisi - Rome

August 27, 2018 Peace and Good, I am writing this from Santi Apostoli, my home in Rome. We finished our General Chapter this past Saturday. We were up in Nemi, which is just outside the city near Castel Gondolfo, for the chapter. The retreat center where we stayed was on a hill overlooking Lake Nemi, a volcanic lake. This has always been a place for Romans who wanted to escape the heat of the city during August. It was actually quite comfortable each evening. Strangely, there has been over a week of thunder storms almost every day. This is the first time that I remember this happening at this time of year in Italy. The chapter has now passed the constitution and in a couple of weeks we will be handing it over to the Vatican (the Congregation for Religious) for their approval. That process should take about a year. We have our ordinary chapter in late May of this coming year. I will be heading out to Vietnam and South Korea tomorrow. Vietnam is an ordination of two of our friars from Vietnam who have been studying here in Rome along with one living in Vietnam, and Korea will be a meeting with the provincial and his definitory. I was the visitator there twice in these years, and now I am visiting them half way before the next visitation to see how they are doing. I have finished some reading: All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot This is about the first years of the career of the veterinarian James Herriot. It thought from the title that the book was going to be about the animals, but instead it is about his relationship with the veterinarian who hires him and gives him experience, the vets brother who is incredibly irresponsible but at the same time fun, the woman who would become his wife, and many of the characters into whom he came into contact. In spite of my misconception concerning the content of the book, I found in enjoyable. Empire of Cotton by Sven Beckert This is an extensive treatment of the growth, use and business of cotton. There is a tremendous amount of information contained in the book, but I often found that I wished he had used a better editor for it was often repetitive. He speaks of the early years of the use of cotton when it was tied in with the colonialist movement which was based on terror and conquest. The later period of its use was tied to the industrial revolution (cotton in fact being one of the catalysts of that event) and the capitalist exploitation of poorer parts of the world (often destroying their homegrown industries to force them into cultivation of cotton, which was a far less rewarding enterprise). It was well worth reading, but, as I said, the book could have used a bit of work before it was published. April 1865 by Jay Winik The title pretty much tells one what this book is all about. It is about the last month of the Civil War in the United States, which includes the conquest of Richmond, the surrender of Lee and the other generals, the death of Abraham Lincoln, the confusion sewn by the assassination, and the end of the Confederacy. The author is more sympathetic to the plight of people living in the south after the war, which is probably good to get a different perspective than that which one often receives. The book is well written. Ghana Must Go: A Novel by Taiye Selasi The is the story of how a family from Ghana living in the US heals after the death of their patriarch. The mother (an Ibo from Nigeria) had been divorced by her Ghanaian husband, and she attempted to bring up her four children. Each of them was somewhat damaged by what had happened, the their journey to Ghana for the funeral of the surgeon ex who had died of a heart attack proves to be the crisis that forces the family to face some ugly issues and get over them. It is very, very interesting to hear a story from a different cultural starting point which ultimately is not fully either Ghanaian nor American, for like many immigrant families they are neither and both. Secret Weapons of World War II by Gerald Pawle This is an overview of the special squad established to experiment with odd concepts during the Second World War. This was a favorite endeavor of Winston Churchill who often had outrageous ideas that sometimes turned out to be quite brilliant. The greatest difficulty of the inventors was to be listened to by the establishment organization which tried to kill any creativity before it could get off the ground. I really could not recommend this book because it turns out to be wordy and gives more detail than most readers would like, but it was interesting all the same. 12 Major World Religions by Jason Boyett This is a quick overview of the twelve major world religions, with a bit of their history, their major figures, their major sources of literature, their geographic extension, etc. It is really very cursory, but it nevertheless gives some good information on some religions that are not usually treated in a similar study such as the Jains, the Baha’i, etc. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Monday, August 13, 2018

Nemi, Italy

August 13, 2018 Peace and Good, We have finished the third week of our Extraordinary General Chapter. Things are going quite well. We are actually ahead of schedule, although not enough that we could finish early. It just means that we will not have to work from morning to night as we have in the earlier part of the chapter. There are a couple of committees, though, which put in a lot of hours once we have finished our work, and I admire their commitment. One of the friars from my province, fr. Tim Kulbicki, was instrumental in the revising of the constitutions, and he is basically running the chapter. He is doing a fine job. We will finish two weeks from yesterday. The Friday before we end will be a one day pilgrimage to Assisi to celebrate what we have done. Saturday after lunch I travelled into the city to sleep in my own bed at least one night. It felt great to get off the property where we have been for the past three weeks. The city was very hot, probably about 10 degrees farenheit warmer than here. Furthermore, there were 60,000 young people in pilgrimage there to meet the pope, so the city was very crowded. I am still preaching every morning. I am down to about 10 more days of preaching. I have finished some reading: The Titanic and the Lusitania This is one of the Charles River Editor books which is actually a combination of two shorter books on the Titanic (its building, its luxury, its passengers, its sinking and the aftermath) and the Lusitania (a passenger ship that was torpedoed and sank off the shore of Ireland during World War I with a large loss of life, including many Americans. This proved to be a remote cause of the US entry into the war. The difficulty with the Lusitania is that it was later discovered that the ship was carrying more munitions than was allowed by a passenger ship, something that the Germans had claimed all along. The twelfth Imam by Joel Rosenberg I have to say this is one of the most disappointing books I have read in a long time. The author has talent when he writes about spy craft in Iran, but then he resorts to the lowest ethnic slurs and attacks on Islam all in the name of proposing Christianity. The twelfth Iman proves to be a diabolic figure who is opposed by Jesus who appears (and mouths pious Gospel verses and is a cardboard figure in this book) and the CIA. This is one of those examples of Christian literature which commits the heresy of implying that the US is always on God’s side and anyone who opposes the US is with the devil. An Army at Dawn by Rick Atkinson This is the story of the first major ally offensive against the Germans and their allies in World War II – in North Africa. The author is fair to all of the participants, speaking of the American unreadiness for combat (which quickly diminished as the troops learned their role) and the British arrogance (especially certain British generals who looked down on the Americans when they themselves had little about which they could brag at this period of the war). This is part of a trilogy on American involvement in the war, and it is very well written. Ghosh, Amitav In an Antique Land This is a very interesting book about a student anthropologist who visits Egypt (the ancient land in the title) and comes across an account of traders and a particular slave/partner of the traders from India, the author’s homeland. These passages were found in the Cairo Geniza, a storage room in an ancient synagogue that contained discarded sacred texts along with almost anything else written by the community. He deals with human relationships in the villages where he lives, and the peasants’ incomprehension of anything that lay many kilometers outside of their village. It is a book that invites one to imagine other worlds and times, and is very, very well written. Cod by Mark Kurlansky This author has taken to writing books on a particular topic such as cod, or salt, or paper. He studies the history of the use of the item. In this book, he includes a number of historic recipes for the use of cod. He also speaks of how it was tied to the slave trade (for dried cod was a cheap source of protein for the slave plantations on the sugar islands. Finally, he deals with the overfishing and the collapse of the cod population in many parts of the world. He is an excellent author, and this is worth reading Black Fire, the True Story of the Original Tom Sawyer by Robert Graysmith This is the story of the original Tom Sawyer whom Mark Twain met in San Francisco and used as a model (at least in terms of his name) for his famous work. The book deals with the problem of lawlessness in the early days of San Francisco, especially with the case of arson set by outlaws to cause panic and give them an opportunity to loot the gold being held in various safes throughout the city. The author also recounts the origin of the vigilante movement in the city. The style of writing is folksy, and while I enjoyed it, might not be appreciated by everyone. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Nemi, Italy

August 4, 2018 Peace and Good, We have been in Nemi, not all that far from Castel Gondolfo, just outside of Italy, holding our General Chapter. We had to work out some growing pains during the first few days, but it is now going smoothly. Each morning I give a reflection at Mass in Italian and English. It is just a short thought to get the friars thinking, and so far it has gone very well. We meet six days a week, from morning to evening. It is a lot of work, but we just finished our 100th vote, with another 560 to come. I have finished some reading: Americanos by Charles River Editors This short book deals with many of the famous figures who fought for independence in Latin America from Spain and Portugal. The author shows how like our own revolution, it was not an easy struggle. Much, in fact, depended on the invasion of Napoleon into Spain and Portugal which was the spark that ignited the call for freedom. Like our own founding fathers, most of the figures in this story are a bit flawed. One sees this especially in the tendency to massacre the immigrants from Spain by those who were born in the new world and especially by those who had mixed ancestries. Away Off Shore by Nathaniel Philbrick This is a history of the rise and fall of Nantucket. It started out as a refuge from some people fleeing the authority of the Congregationalists in Boston. Eventually it made its riches first in fishing and then in hunting for and processing whales. For some time, many of the inhabitants embraced Quakerism (but of a very capitalist bent). This book also deals with the relationship between the inhabitants and the native Americans on the island, which started out quite good but ended in tragedy. New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton This is a book on the concept and process of contemplation. Much of the work deals with what it is not rather than with what it is, which is necessary given that there are so many mistaken ideas on what it means to be a contemplative. He speaks of passing outside of one’s own little world into the fathomless reality of God which cannot be described or measured. This really is a fine book, something I could easily recommend to someone in spiritual direction of a certain maturity. I say this because I am glad I did not read it when I was younger for I am not sure that I would really have understood most of what he was saying. America Scoundrel by Thomas Keneally This is the story of John Sickles, a famous Civil War General. He started out as a pawn of the Tammany Hall group in New York. He was a congressman in the line of President Buchanan, ready to extend to southerners whatever they desired in terms of slavery in order to preserve the union. When the south broke away, however, he became a fervent unionist. His greatest battle was Gettysburg where he moved his troops in a very controversial manner, leaving them open to attack by General Longstreet of the rebels. He lost a leg in the war, and afterward served as an envoy of the government. Along with his eventful political and military life, there is a very controversial personal life. He was a constant philanderer, but had the nerve to kill his own wife’s lover. He reconciled with his wife, but then ignored her for years on end. He truly was a scoundrel. Maimonides by David Yellin and Israel Abrahams This is a famous philosopher and scholar from the Middle Ages who codified much of the Jewish legislation at the time. He also produced the vastly important philosophic work, A Guide for the Perplexed Mind. He helped guide his community through many difficulties, all the times serving as the physician for the Muslim leader of Egypt. Stonehenge by Jesse Harasta and Charles River Editors This is an overview of the site of Stonehenge in England and the various theories of its meaning and construction. It also deals with its use/misuse in the modern era, both in terms of archaeological discoveries and in terms of New Age religions, especially the revival of the Druid cult. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude