Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Los Angeles

June 29, 2022 Peace and Good, I am still in Los Angeles (Hermosa Beach to be exact). The chapter for the California province went very well. The only problem was that I came down with Covid toward the end of the week, and I am still positive today. I had to cancel a series of trips (which actually was a relief because it meants I would stay in one place longer than a week). I am attending the chapter of the Chicago province by zoom in these days, and if I get a negative result, will be travelling to Baltimore this coming Sunday. I will have a week there before the next provincial chapter begins. The weather here could not be better. We are about a kilometer from the ocean, and we get the ocean breeze, the temperature being in the 70's most of the day. Now that I feel a bit better, I have been working on a series of articles on the prophets for one of our magazines in Kenya. I have finished 11 so far, and I foresee at least another 9. The friars here have been great, as much as I have seen them. I finished some reading and listening: Delphi Complete Words of Pieter Bruegel the Elder by Peter Russell This book shows and comments upon many of the most important works of the artist, deals with the story of his life, and shows how many of the images that he used were a commentary upon his times. Brutal Imagination by Cornelius Eady This is a dramatic presentation of the Susan Day murder of her children, especially in terms of her blaming an unidentified black man for taking her car and her children when she, herself, had killed the children by drowning them in a lake. God’s Spies by Juan Gomez Jurado This is a book in the league of the writings of Dan Brown. It deals with the murder of three cardinals after the death of Pope John Paul II. An Italian inspector who is an expert on crime analysic and profiling works with her department, but especially with an American priest who has worked for the CIA as well as other undefined groups. There are some good moments, but then it trails off into fantasy. Edgar Allen Poe by Hourly History This is a short biography of the life and genius of this sad author. He lived at a time when writing, and especially the genre in which he excelled, short stories, were recompensed very poorly. He lived a rebel life style, often offending other authors with the savage critiques of their works. He was probably and alcoholic, but the author insists that there is no evidence of his being a drug addict as well. For his unconventional life style, he nevertheless is considered the father of the detective novel with his Murder at the Rue Morgue and he wrote one of the most famous poems of American Literature, the raven. Homer by Barbara Graziosi This is a treatment of the identify of Homer (which is not resolved) and his writings, especially how he develops his characters and how he used the saga style (similar to that used in many primitive societies). The study is not comprehensive, but it does give a good overview of the topic. The Battle of the Persian Gates by Charles River Editors In theory this is an overview of the Battle of the Persian Gates, one of the last major battles fought to conquer Persia, but in reality the author has expanded the topic to include all of the battles from the time that Alexander entered into Asia Minor until he reached the Ganges in India. The writing style is quite good. The Spy of Venice by Benet Brandreth This is a masterful novel in the style of Shakespeare in love. It posits that William Shakespeare, before he became famous, was part of a diplomatic trip to the city of Venice so that England and Venice might conspire against the power of the papacy. The style is very playful, and the reading is quite enjoyable. I could easily recommend this book. Secret Weapons of World War II by William Breuer This is the story of the various secret weapons that were developed both by the Allies and the Axis during World War II and how the affected the battles in which they were used. The author is quite comprehensive, so it includes airplanes, submarines, radar, code interpretation, etc. It is presented as a series of short histories of the development and use of each of these instruments of war. A Warning to the Curious by M.R. James A man discovers a crown, one of three that had buried in England to prevent the invasion of foreigners. He has dug it up, but he is being followed by a mysterious person/force which seems to be the ghost form of the last guardian of the secret of where the crown was buried. The story is well told and enjoyable. The Parthenon by Mary Beard Mary Beard is a classicist at Cambridge, England. She has written on Rome as well as other ancient topics. This book on the purpose and history of the Parthenon, the temple dedicated to Athena, the god patron of the city of Athens. She describes its use during the pagan, then Christian, then Islamic eras. She gets into the controversy of the fact that the Elgin marbles from the temple are still being kept in London. The book is well done and informative. Have a good week and a good Fourth of July. Shalom fr. Jude

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Rome - Assisi - Los Angeles

June 21, 2022 Peace and Good, I spent two weeks in Rome for a series of meetings. The first week we had our usual General Definitory. We work very well together, and the discussions are almost always very helpful. The second week was a meeting with the presidents of the various local federations of friars throughout the world. There are seven of them, and the presidents came to share their viewpoint of where the Order should be going in these years. A lot of time is spent informing them of the whole situation (in the definitory, we sometimes forget that we hear these things every month, but they do not). But it was also very good to get a fresh perspective on what the friars are thinking and doing. On Saturday we made a short pilgrimage to Assisi, and then returned that evening. On Sunday morning, I flew out to Los Angeles to be present at the second part of the provincial chapter for the St. Joseph of Cupertino Province. We are meeting in these days at a retreat house just outside of Los Angeles. Flying out of Rome was chaotic. I have never seen the airport so crowded, and the back up for security so long. Fortunately, since I am a frequent flyer, I was able to go through the fast track line. London was just as crowded. They say that a lot of flights have been cancelled in these days. I finished some reading: Ghost Train to the Eastern Star by Paul Theroux Theroux is famous for his travel books. This one has him travelling from London throughout Asia and back again. His word pictures are entertaining, and they give insight into various cultures and historic events (e.g. the Central Asian republics and their oppressive governments, Cambodia and the massacre under Pol Pot, Japan and its ultra modern society. This particular trip is 30 years after his original voyage into Asia which gave rise to his first travel book. Viruses, Plagues, and History by Michael Oldstone This is an extensive study of the mechanism of viruses causing infection and of ways to combat them. It speaks of the main infections over the ages, e.g. Smallpox, Polio, Measles, Ebola, Sars, HIV. It also speaks of the strange mechanism that causes Mad Cow Disease, prions. The book is good, but it could have used a good editor for a number of phrases and arguments are repeated ad verbum throughout the book. The Mysterious Case of Agatha Christie by Maureen Corrigan This is a Teaching Company course on the life and writings of Agatha Christie. Corrigan is one of her great fanes, but she is also honest into some of Christie’s idiosyncrasies. This is a light listen, but it does give insight into why Christie wrote the way she did and into some of her main characters, i.e. Miss Marple, Hercoul Poirot, Tuppence, etc. The Greek Way by Edith Hamilton A while ago I had read the Roman Way by the same author. This book is just as good, describing the Greek culture and society and way of thinking. She distinguishes it from Roman culture as well as Medieval and Modern culture. She speaks of the simplicity of expression, the care put into their buildings and their surroundings, the tension between the idea of society as a while and the individual (the latter, she claims, is more an invention of a Christian way of thinking). Her writing is masterful, and the book very, very informative. The Taiping Rebellion by Hourly History This was a rebellion in China during the 19th century. It was led by a man who said that he was the brother of Jesus, and it had some Christian elements to its philosophy (but in a very garbled manner). This was a time when the Qing Dynasty was reeling from its wars with the Western Powers, especially the two Opium Wars with Great Britain. The Taiping were remarkably effective for a while before the Qings were able to find the right general to lead their forces. Queen Zenobia of Palmyra by Charles River Editors This was a queen of the trade city of Palmyra who shortly established an empire between Rome and the Parthians. She ruled in the name of her son, but she was the one really in power. She capitalized on the weakness of the Roman Empire at that moment due to succession difficulties among its emperors. Once the situation stabilized, Rome was able to reconquer what she had taken. The Battle of Kursk by Charles River Editors This was a tank battle fought in the Soviet Union. It represented the last time in World War II that the Germans could take the offensive against the Soviets. The losses on both sides were incredible, but the Soviets fought so tenaciously that they bled the Germans white. This short book gives a good amount of information without being too academic. Dante by R.W.B. Lewis I listened to this book about the life and writings of Dante Alighieri. The portion that presents his life is more complete than that of his works, but this book serves as a good introduction to both. The Werewolf of Bamberg by Oliver Potsch This is a rather long book which deals with the family of an executioner in Germany in the period just after the 30 years war. This volume deals with the possible appearance of a werewolf, and the danger that this will lead to a witch hunt such as occurred in the town of Bamberg some years before. The family must try to save those who are endangered by this occurrence with a mix of detective work, medical research, and pure bravery. It is very well written, but quite long so reading it is a bit of a commitment. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Sunday, June 12, 2022

San Juan Bautista, CA - Rome

June 13, 2022 The Feast of St. Anthony of Padua Peace and Good, Our provincial chapter in California went very well. I flew back to Rome the Saturday after the chapter, flying from San Francisco to London and then on to Rome. The was the easiest transit that I have had in the past couple of years. There are no more forms to fill out, no more covid tests to take. Even passport control was remarkably easy. I hope it continues like this. This past week we held our definitory. There was quite a bit to do since we had not met since before Easter. As always, we dealt with topics from all over the world. One of the new items on the agenda is the fact that the Holy Father has given us a decree that allows us to elect Religious Brothers as major superiors (provincials, custodes and vicars). California did this, so we approved the election and sent it on to the Decastery of Religious for their final approval. It is very hot these days, and Rome is packed with tourists. After the past few years with very disappointing tourist seasons, this has to be a tremendous relief to those who own stores and restaurants here in Rome. This week we have a meeting with the Presidents of the various federations of the Order (there are seven). Then on Sunday I will be flying to Los Angeles for the second part of their provincial chapter. I finished some reading: Genesis by James McKeown This is one of the best commentaries on Genesis that I have ever read. The author is from an Evangelical background, but while not being fundamentalistic, he respects and addresses the concerns raised by them. He has a good way of linking what is being written in Genesis with what was occurring in Israel at the time that the book was written, probably around the time of the exile. He links the various allusions within the book and outside of it. He deals with the larger spirituality of the book. I thoroughly enjoyed it and learned a lot. The First Frontier: the Forgotten History of Struggle, Savagery, and Endurance in Early America by Scott Wiedensaul This is an account of the meeting of native Americans and colonial settlers in the era that ran from the first entrance of those colonists up to the time of the American Revolution. It is thorough, and speaks of the many wars and treaties made between the two groups. One of the things that is significant is that each of the groups really did not consider the other to be fully human, and they treated them that way. It gives a lot of information, but the writing style of the author is not all that good. The information is not engaging. Medieval Art: From Beginning to the end by T. Silva This is a very short overview of the art of the post-Roman era, the Carolingian era and the early Renaissance. It is very incomplete and sketchy at best, but it does give a little good information Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch Aaronovitch is one of my favorite authors. This series of books called the Rivers of London is based on the career of a young half black detective who has been singled out to be part of a squad that deals with violations of magic. In this volume, there is a plot to kill one of the ancient spirits of London to gain the power from that entity (but possibly also to create a totalitarian state ruled by the miscreant who is formulating the plot. The books in this series are fun, a bit cheeky. A Thief of Time by Tony Hillerman This is a novel about murders and possible kidnappings of those who are seeking ancient pottery in the Navaho reservation. There are two tribal policemen who are trying to solve a number of strange occurrences. The author seeks to bring the reader into the Navaho mindset, which I believe he does very well. I would recommend any of Hillerman’s books. The Red Prince: The Life of John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster by Helen Carr This is the story of the founder of the house of Lancaster which was represented by a red rose and which would be one of two houses involved in the War of the Roses. Carr is a good historian, giving tons of information in a very pleasant presentation. I could easily recommend this book for someone interested in the pre-Tudor period of history in England. Easter Island by Charles River Editors This is a short outline of the island known as Easter Island but also by its original name, Rapa Nui. It is a lone island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The most famous thing on the island is the statues that have been set up by the various groups of natives called Maoi. The island is also famous for the ecological disaster that occurred when the population grew without resources to supply for their needs, something that is noted in Jared Diamond’s books. Caravaggio by Delphi Art Classics This particular volume of the Delphi Art series gives an overview of Caravaggio’s most important works with some critical notes. It also gives a short biography. However, it is a bit scarce on information. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Baltimore - Castro Valley (CA) - San Juan Bautista, CA

June 4, 2022 Peace and Good, We finished the chapter for Our Lady of Angels Province which was held at the Maratime Center in Baltimore. Right after it ended, fr. Carlos, the Minister General, and I headed out to San Francisco, actually a town named Castro Valley just outside of Oakland. We held the chapter of St. Joseph of Cupertino Province in the Franciscan Retreat House in San Juan Bautista. This is about an hour and a half south of San Francisco. The weather was perfect - nicely warm with almost no humidity. Having returned to Castro Valley, there is a marine layer (clouds and fog which has rolled in from the sea) and they expect some rain tonight and tomorrow, which would be very, very welcome in a state so racked by drought. All four of the chapters have gone very, very well. There was a spirit of cooperation, and no factionalism. The second sessions of the chapters begin in about two weeks, starting in Los Angeles. In the meantime, I am flying back to Rome for a meeting of our General Definitory. Checking in this morning was the first time in these past two years that I could check in on line for an international flight. When I get back to Rome, I have to work on more daily reflections and a series of articles for a magazine in Kenya. I finished some reading: The Lost Books of the Old Testament by Charles River Editors This is a short treatment of those books which were written in ancient times but never made it into the Old Testament. There are the books which Protestants consider to be Apocrypha and Catholics call Pseudo-Epigrapha, e.g. 1 and 2 Maccabees, Tobit, Baruch, etc. There are the books which Protestants consider to be Pseudepigrapha and Catholics call Apocryphal, such as the Book of Jubilees and the Testimony of the Twelve Patriarchs. There are also books from Qumran and from Gnostic communities. Haile Selassie by Charles River Editors This is a short biography of the last emperor of Ethiopia. He gained power through palace machinations, fought Mussolini during World War II, became a cult figure to Rastafarians (their name based on one of his titles, the Rastafa), and was overthrown by a Marxist coup. The book gives the basic information, but never really delves into him as a person (which would probably have been difficult given his times and the lack of information in his own homeland). King John by Marc Morris This is a masterful account of the life and career of King John, the brother of King Richard the Lionhearted and the signer of the Magna Carta. He comes across very poorly, constantly abusing the people he ruled and almost constantly having to fight rebellions (many of which he caused due to his poor reign). Morris is a good story teller and his account finds the proper balance between fact and development of the figures involved. Gustavus Adolphus by Charles River Editors This is a short account of the life of the famous Swedish king who caused his kingdom to pass from being a third rate state to being a powerhouse of military and diplomatic power. He was involved in multiple wars, not always winning them but always learning from them. He was a religious man (Lutheran) who took the side of Christian non-Catholics against the Catholic Church. 1913: the Eve of War by Paul Ham This is an account of the status of the European powers in the year before the beginning of World War I. Rather than blame one side or another for the war, the author puts the blame on all of the parties for their effort to prepare for war but not to preserve peace. Only a couple of diplomats come out looking good, while the usual figures (the leaders of Germany, Austro-Hungary, Russia, etc.) all come out looking very bad, negligent in their duties to their people. Pablo Picasso by Hourly History This short biography gives an overview of the life and painting career of Picasso. He was a prodigy at an earliest age. He did much of his work in France once he left his native Spain. He was much more devoted to his painting than he was to his wife or children. One could almost say that he was a true genius, but not a very nice person. Ancient Jericho by Charles River Editors This is supposed to be an account of the city of Jericho, but the author spreads a much wider net to include some of the influences on the city by the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Greeks and the Romans. Some of the material is well presented, but not all of it. Operation Gunnerside by Charles River Editors This is the story of the SAS attempt to destroy the heavy water plant in Norway during World War II (due to its use in Atomic research). The atomic program in Germany did not really get off the ground (due to budgetary restraints and the emigration of so many talented, Jewish scientists). The plan to destroy the heavy water facilities depended much upon Norwegian saboteurs who were both brave and brilliant in their work. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude