Monday, April 24, 2023

Torrance, Ca - Chicago

April 24, 2023 Peace and Good, I finished my visitation of the friars in Torrance, CA, and flew to Chicago. This past week we have had a meeting of the CFF. This is the English speaking federation for the friars, and all the provincials, custodes and delegates gather twice a year to establish a plan for the friars over the next several months (and to tell the truth, te next several years). The meeting went very, very well. I always like visiting Chicago. Our friary is on the north side of the city, two blocks from the Lake and three from Loyola University. The weather has been strange, but I got my walks in no matter what. Today I fly back to Rome where I will be until Sunday when I fly to London. I have a direct flight on American, so I do not have to change in London this time. The clock is slowly clicking down til I finish my assignment in Rome - 65 days to go. I am looking forward to see how this next stage of my life plays itself out. I finished some reading: Generals and Geniuses: A History of the Manhattan Project by Edward Lengel This is a course from the Teaching Company on the scientists and military men who organized the Manhattan Project which produced the first atom bomb. The presentation is well done, and it gives a good insight both into the difficulties that had to be overcome in this project and the personalities of those involved. It also gives insight into the continuing fear that Germany or Japan were working to produce their own nuclear weapons. Night Soldiers by Alan Furst Furst is one of my favorite authors. He write about espionage during the 30’s and 40’s, especially dealing with the Nazis but also with the NKVD of the Soviet Union. In this book, the hero is born in Bulgaria, trained to be a spy in the Soviet Union, ends up serving in Spain, France and Prague, and finally, after stopping in Romania, ends up on the docks of New York City. Although all of this sounds absurd, Furst makes it work. He has a way of enticing one into a hidden world. I recommend this book. Firestarter by Stephen King This is a tale of paranormal abilities which are exhibited in a young girl whose parents were part of a secret governmental drug trial. She is able to set fires, and a secret governmental agency wants to find her, control her, and if necessary destroy her. She and her father flee as long as they can from the agents seeking them, and then they have to use their powers to defeat the evil plans of that agency. Island on Fire by Alexandra Witze and Jeff Kanipe This is the story of the explosion of a volcano on Iceland in 1783 named Loki. It had disastrous consequences on the people living near the volcano, but also on people all around the world because of the environmental consequences of the release of ash and sulfuric fumes which travelled around the world. This probably is what led to a famine in France which led to the French Revolution. The authors are able to draw together events such as this, but also to ask what would happen today if a similar event were to occur. The Solar Revolution by Steve McKevitt and Tony Ryan The authors of this short work speak of the energy crises the world is now facing, and proposes various possible solutions (and the problems inherent in those solutions) to the problem. This includes a discussion of solar energy, geothermic energy, hydropower, wind power, nuclear energy, etc. The study is short but well done and compelling. Odds On by Michael Crichton This is the story of a set of thieves who plan to rob a Spanish casino and its customers. The name comes from the fact that the founder of the gang has based his plan upon a computer program to measure probabilities. The book is OK, but not great. The Debriefing by Jeffery Deaver This is a very good story about two DEA agents who are injured during a capture of some drug runners. The title deals with the debriefing that they undergo by the police after they are taken to a hospital. There are a number of twists and turns in the story that make it compelling. Lithium by Walter Brown This is the history of the use of Lithium to treat people who suffer from Manic-Depressive (Bipolar) Disorder. The use of lithium was almost an accident, and to this day no one really knows why it works to treat and even prevent depressive episodes. The use of the drug was only gradual due to the danger of overdose with the use of Lithium. Temples, Tombs and Hieroglyphs by Barbara Mertz This is an overview of Egyptian archaeology and the history of Egypt from its earliest days to the days of the Hellenist Ptolemy regime. The author has a very entertaining, irreverent style that makes a book that would possibly be incredibly boring into a pleasant treat. I would recommend this particular book, not so much for the knowledge gained as for the joy of reading the book itself. Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane by Andrew Graham-Dixon One of my favorite artists is Caravaggio. I love going to the Church of St. Louis the King in Rome where two beautiful paintings (including the calling of St. Matthew) are found. He is the master of the shadow and light technique that would be used by such talented later artists such as Rembrandt. Yet, his life is so sad, so filled with self-destructive violence. He so loved to empress the humanity and humility of discipleship, and yet he so profaned his own humanity through drunkenness, debauchery, and violence. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Rome - Torrance, CA

April 13, 2023 Peace and Good, I was in Rome until Tuesday of Easter week. The weather has been OK, cool and cloudy most days. The city was packed with tones of tourists and pilgrims. This past week gave me time to get well ahead with my daily reflections, which is a good feeling since I will be travelling quite a bit in these days. I am in Torrance, near Los Angeles, to visit a community of Korean friars who run a Korean Catholic Center (basically a parish). They are wonderfully hospitable. Their English is spotty, from quite good to none at all. This is part of a visitation of their province to get ready for their provincial chapter. I will be going to Korea at mid-May. Tomorrow I fly out to Chicago for a meeting with the CFF federation. fr. Michael Heine, who was elected president of the federation, will run the meeting. fr. Joseph Wood, who is taking my place as Assistant General as of July 1, will also be present. I finished some reading: Measuring the World by Daniel Kelhmann This novel is a somewhat strange story of the travels and careers of the two Humboldt brothers, one who travels to South America and one who stays in Germany where he becomes involved in mathematics. Both are obsessed with what they are doing, all but closing out the world around them (which interesting enough is exactly what they are studying). The Dark Wind by Tony Hillerman Hillerman has written a series of novels about Chee, a Navaho detective on the reservation. In this volume, Chee has to investigate a series of unconnected crimes. Someone is damaging a mechanical water well on territory that is passing from Navaho control to Hopi control. A plane crashes on the reservation that seems to have held a fortune in drugs. A body was found that might have been killed by a tribal witch. The books by Hillerman are well, well written and always a joy to read. Mozart by Kelly Mass This is a short biography of the famous musician Mozart. It deals with what we actually know about him, and not so much the fables that have arisen over the years about him. The story is well told. The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth This is an excellent account of an attempted assassination of Charles de Galle after he, as president of France, had agreed to grant Algeria its independence. The Jackal is a British assassin hired by rebellious ex-military forces. The account handles both his movements and the counter-movements of those who have been assigned the task of finding and eliminating him. Erwin Rommel by Hourly History This is a short biography on Rommel, the famous desert fox. At one point in the Second World War, he was even characterized as a worthy opponent by Winston Churchill. When the Nazis arrived in Germany, he did not oppose them. He was more worried about a Soviet takeover, and he appreciated how the Nazis ramped up spending for the army. It was only at the end of his career and life that he recognized how truly evil and demented the Nazi movement was. Islam 101 by Akbar Ahmed This is an introductory course on Islam. I feel with all that is going on in the world today, I should know more about the topic. The professor is a bit defensive at times, blaming the problems of Islam on the Western world, but most of the presentation is balanced and insightful. Scorpion by Mark Dawson This is a novella that deals with a former Soviet agent who has become an assassin for hire. He is engaged by the Russian mafia to kill an Arabian businessman, a journalist and a mysterious third figure. An agent of British security tries to protect the journalist and to eliminate Scorpion. Before the Frost by Henning Mankell This is a novel that takes place in Sweden, involving a grouchy police investigator and his daughter who is about to enter the force. There are a series of unexplained murders (and/or suicides). There is a background story of a religious fanatic and his movement which are planning an apocalyptic event to foster in the new era of religious conformity (to his own twisted views). Marie Antionette by Captivating History I have listened to a rather extensive biography of Marie Antionette this past year, so this short history was more a refresher course for me than anything else. History’s Greatest Military Blunders and the Lessons they Teach by Prof. Gregory Aldrete This is a teaching company course on the topic of battles that were disasters for one side of the battle, either because of poor leadership, or surprise techniques being used, or outmoded thinking concerning armaments, etc. Aldrete is a good lecturer, engaging without being exaggerated in his approach. The course is 24 lectures, each of which is about a half an hour. Early Dutch History by Kelly Mass This is an overview of the history of the people of the Netherlands in their earliest days. The book deals with the pre-Roman period, the Roman period and what followed in the midst of the retreat of the Romans from that area of the world. It deals with the question of who the Dutch actually are (in terms of which tribes came to permanently settle in what would become the Netherlands and Belgium). The book concludes with the late Middle Ages. Shalom fr. Jude

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Rome - Piglio - Rome

April 4, 2023 Peace and Good, After we finished our definitory meeting, the members of the definitory travelled to a town about one hour outside of Rome for our annual retreat. The friary is a large shrine on top of a hill in a very rural part of the country (mostly dedicated to growing grapes for wine). The friars were exceedingly hospitable. The presenter, fr. Felice Autieri, originally from Naples but now living and teaching in Assisi, was tremendous. He presented some figures and events from the start of the Franciscan movement. His portrayal of important figures was fair and well studies (not a one dimensional presentation that one sometimes hears when professors want to show that they are unique and know more than everyone else). We have returned to Rome for Holy Week. I will be here in Rome until Easter Tuesday when I travel to Los Angeles to make a visitation with some of our Korean friars who have a friary there and serve the local Korean immigrant community. Then, that Friday I head to Chicago for our semi-annual meeting of the CFF, the last one I will be attending. Then back to Rome. The weather here in Rome is quite nice, in the 60's. There are many, many tourist here for Holy Week. They are very relieved that the Holy Father was not in the hospital longer, for they truely want to see him and participate in the Vatican liturgies. I finished some reading: The Occupation and Liberation of France during World War II by Charles River Editors This is a short overview of the blitzkrieg that caused the fall of France, and then of the liberation of France, emphasizing in particular the liberation of Paris (mostly by its own inhabitants. Golda Meir by Charles River Editors This is a well written presentation on the life and career of Golda Meir, the first female prime minister of Israel. The history is very well outlined, and this short book also presents a good view of the politics of Israel from the time of its independence until the Yom Kippur War (shortly after which Golda Meir resigned as prime minister). Inuit Mythology by Bernard Hayes This is a short and interesting overview of the mythology of the Inuit people. So much of it revolves upon the water and the creatures found in it and upon which the Inuit depend. Being a very short presentation, the overview is cursory, but it presents enough knowledge to get a sense of things. Seven Men and the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas This is the account of seven remarkable men who changed the history of the world and who were guided by their faith in what they did. They include George Washington, William Wilberforce, Eric Liddell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jackie Robinson, Pope John Paul II and Charles Colson. The author is evangelical, and the account is heavily influenced by that background, but the stories are also uplifting. Central America by Joseph Stromberg This is a relatively short history of the central American republics, their cooperation, their antagonism, and their difficulties. The author cannot go into depth on any particular topic, but there is enough information to get a sense of what one is dealing with when one speaks about a particular central American republic. The Election of 1860: A Nation Divides on the Eve of War by Jessica Genderson This is a short account of the country at the time of the Civil War, of the election of 1860, the effects of the victory Lincoln won first of all to become the Republican Party nominee, and then to become the president of the nation. It speaks about the breakaway of the Confederate States, and the lack of action by President Buchanan and the fruitless efforts of Lincoln to avoid the conflict. The Acropolis of Athens by Charles River Editors This is a good account of the significance of the Acropolis in Athens. It is the home to religious and civic monuments that shaped the way that the Athenians thought about themselves. It was destroyed by the Persians during their great invasion, but rebuilt to even greater status afterward. It suffered the destruction of the ages until it is now only a hulk of what it once was, but even in ruins it inspires poets and scholars and everyday people. Roman Gaul by Charles River Editors This is the history of Gaul before the Roman invasion, during the invasion by Julius Caesar, and then afterward until it was conquered by the barbarians and became the focal point for the new nation of France. The author spends quite a bit of time on the conquest of Caesar, possibly because so much material is available from Caesar’s own account. Witchcraft in the Western Tradition by Jennifer McNabb This is a Teaching Company course on the idea of witches throughout the ages. A considerable amount of time deals with the persecution of witches, especially in the early modern era. The professor tries to draw out why this particular phenomenon occurred at that time (agricultural difficulties due to a minor ice age, religious difficulties due to the Protestant Reformation, etc.). The professor is not a sensationalist, but rather tries to apply a logical approach to the study. The Fall of Rome by Adrian Goldsworthy This is a magisterial study of the fall of the Roman Empire (or as some would say, the evolution of the empire into something else). Goldsworthy is a tremendous scholar of ancient times, and this book is no exception. It is quite long, but never boring. Each topic is treated with care and precision. I could easily recommend this book to anyone. Ernest Hemmingway by Hourly History This is a short biography of the famous 20th century author. Often married, excessively macho, married to a sparce style, he wrote of war and violence (e.g. in the cull ring) and other topics that he though showed his male nature. I have never really liked either his writing style nor his pathetic posturing. May the rest of Holy Week be a good, spiritual time for you and Happy Easter Shalom fr. Jude