Sunday, January 29, 2023

Rome - Baltimore

January 29, 2023 Peace and Good, I flew back to the States this past Saturday and early this week I had a number of doctors' appointments. Overall, nothing new and I have to arrange for some more follow ups when I am back in town, but that seems to be where things are right now. On Monday I spent some time with a prayer group. I love doing adult formation, and this was a long question and answer period. I am staying at a condo that the friars have in Ocean City, MD. The weather is cool, but so far there has been very little rain. I have been listening to tapes, and reading books, and resting, and walking. These days have been very good, and I will be here until the 9th when I head back to Rome. I have finished some reading: Franklin Delano Roosevelt by Roy Jenkins This is a short biography and account of the career of Roosevelt from his birth to his death. It speaks of his tendency to waffle on decisions, his highly political personality, his struggles during the Depression and World War II, etc. The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen This is the first book that I have read by a Vietnamese author. The story begins with the evacuation of members of the Republic of Vietnam’s army. One of those evacuated is a communist spy who is to report to the Vietnamese government on the activities of the refugee community in the States. He does this, but is eventually sent by them to invade Vietnam where he is captured. Instead of being welcomed, he is sent to a re-education camp because they feel he has been corrupted by western society. This is one of those few books that caused me to think profoundly, to go beyond my cultural assumptions. Caesar Chavez by Charles River Editors This is a short biography of the civil rights worker and how he fought for the protection and dignity of farm workers, especially in the southwest of the US. The author speaks of how he worked so hard to identify the needs of that community. He speaks of his allies and enemies. Six Impossible Things by John Gribbin This was one of those books which was impossible to understand because it deals with quantum physics. Yet, the author intended one to be confused, for the topic is confusing even to those who are studying the issue. What I found useful was to see an area of study which goes beyond my ability to conceive. I often say that the true scholar is the one who knows what he does not know. The History of the Vikings by Christopher Fee This is a Learn25 course on the history of the Vikings. It includes information about whom they were, where they went, why they pillaged other countries, what their religion was, their mythology, why they are still a matter of interest to the present day. The course is very well organized, and I would like to read as many of Christopher Fee’s presentations as possible. Hemingway’s France by Winston Conrad This is an account of Hemingway’s formative years as a writer when he and many other American exiles spent time in Paris. Conrad speaks of the influences from art, sport and other writers. The presentation is sympathetic to his eccentricities, and tends to overlook some of his cruelties (e.g. his relationships with his wives). A Mind of Her Own by Paula McLain This short book amounts to a short play on the early years of Madame Curie’s studies and experimentation in Paris, especially how she met her husband. She was a woman married to science and was afraid to open her heart to Curie when she first met him, but slowly through a respectful and slow courtship and through their mutual interests, they formed a strong bond of love and partnership. Alexandra Feodorovna by Hourly History This is a short biography of the last empress of Russia, the wife of Nicholas II. Even more than Nicholas, she fought to retain the rights of the autocracy against anyone who even suggested democratic reform. She is seen as a loving, and even doting mother. Her political influence, especially under the guidance of Rasputin, is seen as disastrously destructive. Whirlwind: War in the Pacific by Richard Freeman This is an account of the early naval battles between the Japanese Empire and the US during World War II: Pearl Harbor, the Coral Sea and Midway. The author tries to give the overview but then also enters into great detail at technical issues that can sometimes be confusing and boring. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Thursday, January 19, 2023


January 19, 2023 Peace and Good, I am still in Rome. We are reaching the end of two weeks of meetings. The first week was for the new provincials, custodes and secretaries in the Order (sort of a how to course). The second week was a meeting with half of all the provincials and custodes throughout the world. Our terms are six years long, and we are halfway through the current mandate. This meeting was a kind of halfway meeting to take stock of what has been accomplished, and what still needs to be addressed. Both of these meetings are taking place at the Seraphicum, our seminary in the southwestern corner of the city. The friars have been very hospitable. Tomorrow I head home to Santi Apostoli to pack for my next trip. I am heading to Ellicott City to visit some doctors and to have a few weeks of vacation. Winter has finally arrived in Rome. It is cooler with a lot of rain, which is badly needed here in Rome (for there has been a bad drought throughout this past summer). I finished some reading: Persian Fire by Tom Holland Tom Holland has written a series of books on ancient history, and this is one of his best. It is the history of Persia, especially in respect to its wars with the Greek city states. Holland is able to describe the history, culture, religion, military tactics, etc. of the two entities without ever becoming boring. I would highly recommend this particular book. Uprising by Clarence B. Jones and Stuart Connelly This is the story of the Attica prison riot told from the point of view of one of the men who was brought into the prison to serve as a mediator. It also examines the question of the imprisonment of blacks in our society and how that creates a permanent underclass, comparing what is happening to a new form of slavery. I am not sure I buy into his theories on imprisonment, but he certainly gives one something to think about. The Men Who Lost America by Andrew O’Shaughnessy This is an overview of the British king, military leaders and political leaders who led Great Britain before, during and after the American War of Independence. The author does not resort to stereotypic portraits of the characters involved, but rather he goes into depth in his presentation. The end result is a very, very good book in which one feels that one has come to know some of these people much better, and in which one comes to understand why they made the decisions that they made. Human Errors by Nathan Lents This author speaks of the marvel of how the human body works, but he also speaks of the natural flaws in the design of the human body. Why, for example, are we not able to provide certain amino acids on our own, but must ingest them in our diets? Why are there genetic flaws that plague people? Why are our synesis arranged in a way in which they often have infections? The author is never mocking of the miracle that our body is, but he puts it into perspective in terms of its positive and negative dimensions. The Early Cast of Hercule Poirot by Agatha Christie This is a collection of Hercule Poirot stories written by Agatha Christie. I have read one or another of the stories over the years, but this anthology gives one a good sense of the personality of the dandy Belgium who is never embarrassed to tell everyone of his genius. The Saratoga Campaign by Charles River Editors This is an overview of one of the most important battles of the Revolutionary War. The American forces had been defeated in Philadelphia, and there was every chance that the revolution would fail. By bad planning and jealous failure to support each other, the British were able to turn victory into defeat. The battle was not only great in itself, but it allowed France and eventually Spain to enter into the war on America’s side. Korean Mythology by Bernard Hayes This is a short but also confusing account of various Shamanistic and Buddhist legends in Korea. It gives a very short account of these elements, but it is poorly organized, more like a Wikipedia article than a book. Conspirata by Robert Harris Harris is one of my favorite authors. This is the first volume of a three volume set on the life and career of Cicero. It is told by Tiro, Cicero’s faithful secretary (first a slave, then freed by Cicero). The great Roman sage who was not one of the ancestral “best” families, but he was elected as council. He was able to save Rome from a plot to overthrow the government led by Catalina. At the end of this volume, we hear of the low point of his career when he set himself against the triumvirate of Caesar, Cassius and Pompey. The Council of Trent by John O’Malley This is a thoughtful account of the Council of Trent by a professor of Church history at Catholic University. Unlike what one would think, the council was a long term, frequently halted affair. It involved politics of the various countries (France, Germany, etc.) as well as the papacy and the Holy Roman Empire, all in the shadow of the Protestant Reformation. The Myths of Nutrition and Fitness by Anthony Goodman This is one of the Great Courses. It is by a nutritionist and expert on the effects of serious exercise. Goodman speaks of the danger of overdoing it (whether nutrition or exercise). He speaks of nutritional mistakes and fad cure-alls. The presentation is quite good. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Sunday, January 8, 2023


January 8, 2023 Peace and Good, I thas been great to be in one place for almost a month. This week has been very quiet in the friary, but Rome is like an ant hill with all of the tourists swarming in for the holidays. There were already a lot of people, but Pope Benedict's funeral has made it even busier. I am sure that the restaurant owners and souvenir shops are thrilled, given their poor showing in these past couple of years with covid. The weather is cool but nice. The rains are supposed to start later today and we should have a few days of steady rain, which is normal for winter in Rome. Tomorrow we start a week of meetings with the new provincials, custodes and secretaries. We call it "baby provincial" school. It gives them a vision into the Order beyond their jurisdictions, and especially with the secretaries, it helps them with the documents they will have to produce in these years. Next week we will have another meeting with half of the major superiors of the Order (meeting the other half in June). The purpose of the meeting is to take stock of where things stand at the half way point in this six year term. Right after the meeting I will be heading to the States for some vacation. I am really looking forward to it. I have not had an extended (four week) vacation, nor even more than one week, in many years. I finished some books: The Bourne Objective by Robert Ludlum This episode in the spy novels about Jason Bourne, a man trained to be an assassin in a super-secret program run by the CIA called the Treadstone Program. In this volume, he is working against the remnants of Treadstone, a secret organization that is seeking ancient secrets concerning the treasure of King Solomon, and a group of Russian mafia as well as drug Lords. I have to admit that the plot was a bit too twisted and convoluted, difficult to keep the pieces in place. Heaven’s Gate by Charles River Editors This is a short history of a suicidal cult founded by a man and woman who claimed to have contact with extraterrestrials. They led their people to prepare to leave their current vessels (bodies) to be able to travel to some paradise after they had been properly cleansed of the shortfalls of this world. The Boston Massacre by Charles River Editors This short presentation is part of a series of short books on the American Revolution. They are all well prepared, and they give the background on what happened, the reasons that it happened, and the aftermath after it was over. This book covers the Boston Massacre (the title given to the death of five men killed by British soldiers after a mob had tormented the soldiers with snowballs and stones. The Battle of Tsushima by Charles River Editors At the beginning of the 20th century, Russia and Japan went to war over control of some ports in China and eventually over control of Korea. The Japanese unexpectedly attacked the Russia fleet in Port Arthur, their base in China, without having declared war on China. The Czar sent his Baltic Fleet from their home base all the way to China, and this book speaks of the catastrophic defeat of said fleet, causing Russia to definitively lose the war (and setting off protests and a near revolution in Russia). The Body of David Hayes by Ridley Pearson This is a suspense novel about the attempt to force a woman who is an executive at a bank to transfer funds that had been placed and hidden somehow in the bank by criminal elements. The husband of the woman is a cop who must protect her not only from physical danger, but also from the blackmail of the criminals having a sex tape of the woman which they are threatening to release if she does not cooperate. The Water is Wide by Pat Conroy This is the story of how one man volunteered to teach on an offshore island in South Carolina. He was one of two teachers in a small school house to African-American children who had no knowledge of the outside world, who were often illiterate, and some of whom spoke the local dialect (Gullah) better than English. The author presents himself as a great hero and savior, and there is no doubt that he did good things in the year he taught there. Vigilante Wars by Cecelia Holland This short presentation speaks of the development of a civilian vigilante movement in San Francisco in the 19th century, and how what started as a defense force to help the all but powerless police force grew into a danger to itself and the citizens of a city in the midst of the gold rush. Ninth and Nowhere by Jeffery Deaver This is the story of one street corner where the lives of a number of different people came together in a disastrous manner, and how the survivors to these incidents fared in the aftermath. Alcibiades: the Anti-Hero of Ancient Greece by In60Learning This is a short biography of the original bad boy of ancient Athens. He was handsome and vain, and he was a crowd pleaser. Yet, he had great enemies, and he made himself the enemy of various nations as he travelled from one power to another, always betraying the previous patron. The Bill of Rights by David Hudson This is a Learn25 course on the first 10 amendments of the US constitution and how they have been interpreted throughout our history. The presenter is clear and thorough, going through quite a bit of case history in describing how these rights developed and how they changed. I could easily recommend this particular course. Roman History 101 by Christopher Bellitto This is a course offered by the Learn25 (previously knows as Now You Know). Belitto is a very good presenter, and I intend to listen to as many of his courses as I can find. A presentation of 5 hours can’t go into great depth on any of the topics, but it does give a good outline of the history of Rome as the Republic thrived, and then slowly fell apart. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude