Sunday, April 25, 2021

Ellicott City, Maryland

April 25, 2021 Peace and Good, I have been in Ellicott City for the past few weeks. I am here to get my covid vaccination, but also to visit a few doctors and dentists. I have been going to numerous appointments ever since I finished my quarantine. This Wednesday I will receive my second Pfizer shot. It would have been all but impossible for me to get it in Italy. I have been doing some zooming in these days (a scripture study group, and a series with the novices). I have also been doing quite a bit of filming for the Companions web site. I am filming a series on the psalms (a ten minute presentation on each psalm). I am also working on a short series on St. Joseph (for the holy year) and on the Eucharist (for the coming holy year in the archdiocese of Baltimore). Finally, I have to do some taping for the daily reflections in these days. I plan to go back to Rome on May 8th. I have finished some reading: The Risk Agent by Ridley Pearson This is the story of a kidnapping of an American and a Chinese agent of a construction company in China, and the attempt by an American and a Chinese (both former soldiers) to find and rescue them. There is abundant confusion, for there are actually many different parties involved in the drama. The story is well written, and there is plenty of action. I would recommend this book. I think that the author is respectful to cultural differences and to character development, which is not always true of swash buckling action authors. A Historian Goes to the Movies: Ancient Rome by Prof. Gregory Aldrete This is a series of lectures by the Teaching Company on movies made about ancient Rome. The professor speaks both of the accuracies and inaccuracies of the film, but also of the cultural context in which the films were made (for there is often a message in the various topics treated by the film maker). The professor is a bit overly dramatic in his presentation, but the information presented is very good. He even treats the sci fi genre and how some recent films (Rollerball, the Hunger Games, etc. are actually loosely based on the gladiator and bread and circus themes of the Roman Empire). The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert There have been five major extinctions since the beginning of life in the world. One of them was probably caused by an asteroid that hit the earth in the Gulf of Mexico. One was caused by the growth of proto-trees that ate up the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere causing a cooling that led to a great ice age (interesting that we are facing the exact phenomenon at this moment). The author explains the mechanisms of the various extinctions. What I found interesting is that most of them occurred in slow motion, over a long, long period of time according to human standards (but according to the standards of the age of the earth, not really so long). Kolbert speaks of the present situation of the earth. At the very least, humans are wiping out the diversity once found in the animal and plant world. At the very least, the Carbon Dioxide level in the atmosphere is exploding. What I like about the book is that the author does not try to be apocalyptic, but she presents the evidence as it is. Simon Schama by Audible Interviews This author wrote several volumes of Jewish history. He started out with the history of the Rothchilds in a period before Zionism. This led to a much more organized series, as well as a ton of other books on various topics (e.g. A History of Britain; The Bastille Falls; Rembrant’s Eyes, etc.) Catalonia by Charles River Editors This is a short history of the area between Spain and France now found in the northeastern section of Spain. The people there have their own language and culture, which is often a mix of the two countries which surround it. They have been part of Spain for centuries, but have tenaciously help on to their cultural identity, even at the cost of persecution. The author also treats the present situation in which the nation of Spain does not want them to leave the union, but it seems as if many of the inhabitants of the region want to do so. Weird Rome by Charles River Editors This is an odd little book in the Charles River Editors book series. It deals with the culture and religion and superstition of Rome, but it never seems to find a common focus. The author simply throws out details and expects them to coalesce on their own. I would not recommend this particular book. Keep safe. fr. Jude

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Ellicott City, Maryland

April 14, 2021 Peace and Good, I hope you are all well. My period of isolation has been completed, and I am able to interact with the local community here in Ellicott City. This time through I am staying in the old Novitiate building at the top of the hill and not in the Provincialate. I had my first vaccination. I was given Pfizer, and I have my second shot on the 28th. I only had a bit of a sore arm for a couple of days. No other reactions. I have been using my time here for some classes on zoom. I have met with a local group twice and I have one more session next Monday. I will be meeting with the novices in California through zoom next week. I am also taping a series of talks with the Companions for broadcast upon their website over the next few months. I finished editing a book. Over the course of the various quarantines that I have gone through in this year, I have written two books and edited another two. I have also had a series of meeting on zoom with friars from all over. I find that an hour and a half on zoom is about as much as I can take without a break. There is something in the zoom meetings that really takes a lot of energy. I finished some reading: Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch I have listened to this book a number of years ago, and had enjoyed it tremendously. Reading it this time was even more fun. The story is of a special unit (only two policemen) in the London police force that deals with magic and other unusual phenomena in the city of London. The older, Nightingale, is hinted to be incredibly old, even if he does not look it. The younger, Peter Grant, is learning the trade. There are murders by mysterious characters, shape shifters, time travel, etc. Yet, in spite of all the unusual happenings, there is a verisimilitude in the story. I highly recommend it as an enjoyable read. The Triumph of Christianity by Bart Ehrman I have always been fascinated on how a handful of apostles and disciples managed to spread the faith to the point that most of the Roman Empire was Christian by the end of the fifth century. How did it happen? What difficulties did Christians face? Did Christianity answer a particular need in the pagan population? Were there pagan groups similar to Christianity in those days? How many Christians were there in the various eras? How quickly did the Church grow? All of these topics are treated in an objective and respectful manner. The History of the Medieval World by Susan Wise Bauer This is a masterful account of the Medieval World from the days of Constantine the Emperor to the days of the crusades. The author is not terribly Eurocentric, for she speaks of Korea, China, India, the Muslim caliphate, etc. There is so, so much information, but it is presented in an interesting manner. I would highly recommend this book. Harun al-Rashid by Charles River Editors This is the story of an Islamic leader of the Abbasid Empire who was both the greatest of its leaders but also the one who set it on the course to ruin. He is often mentioned in the Tales of One Thousand and One Nights, and is a symbol in literature both of a powerful leader but one who tended toward decadence. A Personal Problem by H. Bedford-Jones A man who is a loyal district manager must host his boss, who framed him for a theft many years before and who stole the woman he was to marry. He gets his revenge by having him sleep in a bed which is surrounded by huge cockroaches and centipedes and hunting spiders, things that the boss hates for he has a pathological fear of insects. Robert Harris by Audible Interviews This is an interview with one of my favorite authors. He has written the Cicero trilogy, a book on Dreyfus, the Ghost Author roughly about Tony Blair, and Munich, an account of the four days that led to the compromise that destroyed Czechoslovakia. In the Ruins of Empire: the Japanese Surrender and the Battle for Postwar Asia by Ronald Spector This is a very well done book that speaks about the role of Britain, France, Netherlands and the US in countries formerly occupied by Japan. Many of the countries involved did not want to return to their former colonial status, such as Korea, Indonesia and Vietnam. Then there is the role the US and Russia played in China right after the war. We see many of the tensions in these countries and the stated and implicit intentions of the parties involved. Keep safe. fr. Jude

Monday, April 5, 2021

Rome - Ellicott City, MD

April 5, 2021 Peace and Good, I hope you have all enjoyed a good Easter Sunday. I arrived in Ellicott City from Rome on Thursday. I hated travelling on Holy Thursday, but I am here to receive my vaccine and have a few doctor's appointments, and one has to quarantine before that is possible. I do have an appointment for the first shot of the vaccine now on April 7th, and I will be able to arrange the rest of the appointments shortly. In the meantime, I am in quarantine in Clare House, which is a guest room in the basement of the main house in Ellicott City. I will be editing a book this week as well as having a few zoom sessions with groups on Sacred Scripture. Then, when I am out of quarantine and before my second shot, I will be doing some filming for the Shrine internet site. The weather when I arrived was cold, but yesterday was wonderful. I usually take a 40 minute walk each day, but these days I am trying to do two of these walks because most of the rest of the day is spent in one room. I finished some reading: The Wheel of Darkness by Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston I have already read a slew of books by these two authors. They center on an independent FBI agent from New Orleans who works from his new home in New York City. This one involves his trip with his ward, Constance Green, to Tibet for study and meditation. There they discover that a precious relic has been stolen from the monastery. This leads to a trip across the ocean on a new liner which is cursed by the demon behind the relic, and Pendergast’s, the agent, battle against its power. Watchers by Dean Koontz I like Koontz’s writing style, and this is an excellent example of his style. There is a government experiment to make smart dogs and wild, ferocious beasts, both of whom could be used by the army during war. Two of the animals escape. The smart dog finds its way to a lonely, cursed man and an incredible paranoid woman who are healed by their encounter. The action is well done, as is the character development. Soldiers of Science: An Interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci by Alan Alda This is an interview with the now well-known Dr. Anthony Fauci. He speaks of his early training in medical research and why he chose this particular field. He interned at the NIH, and there he worked with cancer patients undergoing chemo-therapy. Later, he was on the forefront of research concerning AIDS. How to Behave Badly in Elizabethan England by Ruth Goodman This is an interesting and entertaining overview of habits and manners in Elizabethan England. Some of the messages are similar to what we would present today, but other passages and practices are totally different. Goodman is not afraid to tell the whole story, even when it is a bit gross. Moscow Sting by Alex Dryden This is a complicated story of a KGB colonel who has information about a very high level spy who is leaking material to the west. We see the venality of some of the spy networks even those of the west). The action is very well done. The KGB colonel is trying to pave her own way through a very confusing situation, all the while protecting her son from danger. The Life and Times of Prince Albert by Patrick Allitt This is a teaching company course about the life and career of Prince Albert, the consort of Queen Victoria. Always considered to be a foreigner, and therefore not always liked or trusted, he nevertheless helped to teach Victoria how to act like a queen. He also had great influence on the modernization of the army and the political system. He died rather early, and Victoria mourned him (excessively) for the rest of her life. Malcolm and Me by Ishmael Reed This is a short memoir of the author Ishmael Reed and how he came to understand his particular calling through Malcolm X. He met him while he was working at a radio station in Buffalo, NY. I liked this short story because it was a point of view that was totally foreign to me, and I felt as if I saw a new perspective. Have a good Easter week. Shalom fr. Jude