Saturday, April 13, 2024

Ellicott City

April 13, 2024 Peace and Good, Things continue to get a bit better each day with my health. I feel a bit stronger (although not yet back to normal) and I am more able to think clearly. I was suffering from a bit of chemo brain, a fuzziness in thought. This week I was able to tape and edit three weeks of daily reflections, which is a good sign. Furthermore, I am beginning to fill in a bit at the Shrine up the hill. I listened to confessions for an hour this past week, and it was great. After so many months being all but quaranteened, it was great to be with people again, especially in a pastoral manner. I have begun work on a short spiritual guide to our chapel in the shrine. There are so many beautiful things there, and I would like to share some ideas with the visiters coming to the Shrine. One of our old guides said of St. Francis Basilica in Assisi that even if they arrive as tourists, they should leave as pilgrims. That is the goal of what I am working on. I have my second dose of immunotherapy in about 10 days. There have not been too many side effects. I have a cough (not bad), but I don't know if it is from the treatment or hay fever (I think probably the latter). I finished some reading and listening: Orthodox Christian Spirituality: Glimpse of the Unknown by Stefanos Alexopoulos This course confirms something that has been in the back of my mind for a long time: that the Orthodox faith is especially centered upon and nourished by the liturgy. The presenter ties so many of the dimensions of everyday life and spirituality to this one font of grace and God-life. What I especially appreciated in this book is that it comes from a person deeply imbued with the spiritual life of our sister Church (and not from an outside expert). Thomas Merton: A spiritual guide for the 21st century by Anthony Ciorra This is a retreat from the Learn25 programs. The presenter gives a good account of various aspects of Merton’s spirituality which can be used in our life. This includes his commitment to social justice (with what Ciorra describes as a gentle anger), his ecumenism, his need for contemplation, his view that all people are children of God (discovered when he was on the corner of Fourth and Walnut in Louisville one day), etc. The material is well presented and significant. Independence by John Ferling This is an account of how the founding fathers arrived at the decision to declare independence from Great Britain. While the account deals quickly with the French and Indian War and the period of time between that event and the Boston Tea Party, it deals in detail with the time between the Tea Party and the vote to declare independence. It presents the personalities of the various founding fathers, the missteps of the British leaders (king and parliamentary leaders), the political and literary events that led up to the fateful decision, etc. Ferling is an expert on this period of our history, and this work is one of his masterpieces. The Holy or the Broken by Alan Light This is the history of a song, Hallelujah written by Leonard Cohen. When it first came out, it was all but unknown, but it slowly built up fame and meaning for so many people. It is not a religious song as such (even though there are some Biblical allusions), but rather a song about the pain and elation that one feels when one is in love. I have often listened to Bon Jovi’s version of it on YouTube when I need a lift. The song reminds me of the cost and reward of giving oneself totally. The Savage Day by Jack Higgins This is the story of a British agent who is trying to recover a shipment of stolen gold that was going to be used to buy arms to continue the war between the IRA and the British troops in Northern Ireland. It is willed with action and twists and turns which keep the plot rolling along. Marcus Agrippa by Lindsay Powell Agrippa was a close friend (and toward the end of his life, the son in law) of Augustus Caesar. He performed all of his responsibilities well, but never called attention to himself. He was the most trusted general of Caesar’s troops, a civil engineer who improved life in Rome, a diplomat, etc. His name famously is inscribed on the Pantheon in Rome (although it was later totally rebuilt by the Emperor Hadrian). A New History of the American South by Edward Ayers This is a teaching company course on the US south from the time of colonial settlement to the present. The professor obviously loves the south, but he is not blind to its difficulties. He deals well with slavery, the Civil War, the myth of the south (told after the war), civil rights, the plight of the poor (white and black) farmers, etc. The course is well organized and the professor is well spoken. The Mercy Brown Incident by Charles River Editors Theoretically this is the story of Mercy Brown, who died of tuberculosis, and whose family members soon suffered from the same disease. They thought she was causing it from the grave, as a type of vampire. The author uses her story as a pretext to speak about all forms of vampirism throughout the world and how people responded to it. The Balkans: A Short History by Mark Mazower This books speaks about the history and cultures of the Balkans, especially their linguistic and religious cultures. The book started slowly, but by the end I was glad that I had read it. It deals with questions about the ferocity of the inhabitants (are they more so than other peoples?), about their tendency to be fervent believers even when they know relatively little about their own faith, about the tendency to take bits and pieces from other faiths and made them their own. The section dealing with the fight for independence and World War I, and the after Communist era are very well done. The Book of Genesis by Gary Rendsburg This is a brilliant study of the first book of the Bible by a Jewish professor. He speaks of the 3 (or 4) part theory of the book’s production, and he proposes that this theory is overdone and that the book was actually a literary unity. He draws from his extensive knowledge of ancient Middle Eastern cultures and texts as well as rabbinic productions to show why a text means one thing or another. While I did not necessarily agree with everything he said, it all made me think it over (which for me means that it was a great presentation). The Spanish American War by Charles River Editors This was a war fought initially as a way to liberate the Cubans from their Spanish colonial overlords. The author speaks of the politics involved, of how newspaper owners all but invented the war to increase their readership, and how the war caused a debate on how much the US should be involved in creating a colonial empire (e.g. Puerto Rico, Philippines, Guam). The Judaisms of Jesus’ Followers by Juan Marcos Bejarano Gutierrez This is a study of the ties between the early Christians and the Jewish faith, and how various groups who considered themselves to be Jewish nevertheless also identified themselves as being followers of Christ. Some of the insights are great, but others are based on an approach to texts in which the author goes from “it might mean” to “it does mean” to “therefore this proves”. The book is probably worth reading, but it is also spotty. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Ellicott City

April 3, 2024 Peace and Good, I am writing this as I watch the rain come down outside my window. This is part of the series of storms that has been hitting the country over the past week. I am beginning to feel better. Each day I feel a bit more strength come back, and also a bit more mental acuity. For the past coupld of weeks, I did not have the desire to do anything that required figuring things out. Suddenly yesterday morning, something snapped (for the better) and I was able to do a few projects which I had been putting off. If all goes well, I will begin helping out at the shrine next week. Last week I was feeling so poorly that I had to sit for most of the Mass. Yesterday I began to stand for the standing parts of the Mass. I had a good meeting with the doctor's assistant this past Monday, and she feels that I am on track with my various symptoms, etc. I have to admit that I have gotten through this all thus far very lightly. I know people who have had much more severe symptoms. I am truly grateful. I have to believe that all the people praying for me had a part of all of this. Thank you all who prayed for me during this time. I finished some reading and listening: Japanese Mythology by Bernard Hayes This is a short account of the very complicated system of gods worshipped in Japan. It is an interesting presentation, but if I really wanted to understand it all (and the consequences of much of its symbolism), I would have to study this all in much greater depth. 3,000 Years of Judaism in 20 Days by Howard Lupovitch This is a series of lectures on the origins, history, customs, etc. of Judaism. The author covers the entire period from the time of Abraham to the present day. The lectures are well prepared and in no way polemic. I enjoyed listening to them and learned a lot. 62 Answers to Common Questions on the Mind by Scientific American This is a series of Scientific American articles on the functioning of the human mind. It deals with all sorts of phenomena such as dreaming and illusions of the mind, etc. Each of the articles presents the results of valid experiments. The authors show a humility in their approach, freely admitting that which they know and don’t know, and even that which we might never know. Gangsters and Organized Crime in Buffalo by Michael Rizzo Since I was born in Buffalo, this book interested me. It deals with crime in the 20th century, and especially in the Mafia in Buffalo and Niagara Falls. The book does not come across as an easy read, being more a compilation of one story after another with little to hold them together. Andrew Jackson’s America: 1824-1850 by Christopher and James Lincoln Collier This is one of a series of short books that deal with the history of the US. This one deals with the rise and the long-term effect of the rise of Andrew Jackson. He defined the presidency for a long time, strengthening the executive branch. Some of what he did was brilliant, some tragic (e.g. the expulsion of Native Americans from the East known as the Trail of Tears). How the Crusades Changed History by Philip Daileader This is a Great Courses presentation on the development, the history, and the aftermath of the numerous crusades (most in the Holy Land, but some fought in southern France, Spain, Germany and Lithuania). It speaks of personalities and their impact on what happened. It speaks of how, although the crusaders in the first crusade conquered the Holy Land, they never had enough European settlers to hold on to it, especially when the Muslims got past their internal battles. The Gentle Ax by Roger Morris This is a book that presents itself as if it were a detective novel written toward the end of the 19th century in Czarist Russia. One hears of the customs of the day, of a host of interesting figures, and of some brutal murders that the lead detective must solve. The Bookseller of Florence by Ross King Ross King is an author of art and history. I have read a number of his books, and they are always a joy. This one speaks of the Renaissance in Florence as well as the shift from hand copied manuscripts to printed books. One gets a sense of the excitement of discovering ancient texts, as well as the joy of handling a beautiful manuscript. Claude Monet by Charles River Editors This French impressionistic artist was part of a movement to depict one’s impression of a scene at a particular moment. He repeatedly painted the same subject over and over again, only distinguishing each portrait by the sunlight the object received at a particular time of the day. He is known as a difficult man, being friends only with his fellow artist Renoir. He was also a very successful businessman, receiving the very best prices for his many works. Justinian the Great by Charles River Editors This is an emperor of the Byzantine Empire. His goal was to reconquer what had originally been the Roman Empire. He met with success in the West, reconquering North Africa and for a time Italy, but he was less successful in the east where the Persians made inroads into Byzantine territory. He is also famous for his codification of Roman law which is still the basis of many European legal systems today. The Order of the Holy Sepulchre by Charles River Editors This is a short account of one of the military monastic orders that was founded around the time of the Crusades to protect the sites of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Once the Holy Land was conquered by the Turks, the order changed its purpose, eventually becoming an organization to raise funds for the preservation of the holy sites in Israel. The Kingdom of Shadows by Alan Furst This book is set in Paris right before World War II. The hero is a Hungarian who.besides earing a living, also performs some undercover actions for his uncle. They are working against Nazi Germany and the influence of the Fascists on the Hungarian government. Furst has an uncanny ability to portray this dangerous era and to develop characters that are believable and yet mysterious. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Ellicott City

March 27, 2024 Living here in Baltimroe, yesterday was a huge shock with the destruction of the Francis Scott Key Bridge. This was one of the landmarks of the city. It was incredible how quickly it fell into the river. I have watched a series of presentations from the Teaching Company on Engineering disasters over the years and I therefore understand some of the dynamics of what happened. Still, it leave you gasping. Thank God it happened in the middle of the night and not at rush hour. I am slowly gaining strength, but it is a slow process. Monday I began my immunotherapy. This involves one IV per month for a year, and it is intended to help the immune system to fight any traces of cancer that might remain in the body. I feel a reaction to the first dose in these days, but it is not terrible. Little by little. I am starting to feel well enough to begin booking a few things in about a month's time by which time I should be feeling quite a bit better. The first thing will be a workshop on the letters of St. Paul to our postulants in Chicago. This is something that I have been offering for a number of years, and I really enjoy the time to share scriptural insights with the young friars. Spring is here and yet it seems tenuous. Again, this is something over which I have to be patient. I am hoping to have enought strength to go up the hill tomorrow for the Holy Thursday celebration at the Shrine. I will have to play it by ear. I finished some books: The Assassination of Reinhardt Heydrich by Charles River Editors Heydrich was one of the worst Nazi war criminals. He was made the head of the government over the conquered Czech republic during the war. The SOS in Great Britain and the head of the government in exile, Benes, decided to try to assassinate him. That was highly controversial because his death led to horrendous persecution of the Czech people. The author of the account is highly suspicious of the motives of Benes, holding that maybe he pushed the assassination of Heydrich to cause this backlash and thus force the Czech people to take a stand against the Nazi’s. The Mexican-American War by Charles River Editors This is a short account of the Mexican American War, a war that was considered to be highly controversial even in its own times. While the causus belli of the war was a problem with the definition of the border between Texas and Mexico, the real purpose of the war was to conquer extensive amounts of Mexican territory. Furthermore, politics entered into the conduct of the war (the president opposed his own main general because he belonged to a different political party). Picasso by Arianna Stassinopoulos This is a long, detailed account of the life and career of the famous Spanish artist Pablo Picasso. The book does not go into his art extensively, but it does go into his personality. I have to admit that after reading this account, I have an incredibly negative view of the person. He was misogynist, sadistic, manipulative, hateful, etc. If I were someone who worked for the MeToo movement, I would be demonstrating in front of Museums that displayed his artwork. Dreamers and Deceivers by Glenn Beck This is an anthology of the stories of dreamers (great people who made a significant contribution to society, e.g. Alan Turning, one of the inventors of the computer) and of deceivers (e.g. Ponzi and his Ponzi scheme). The author gets a bit political at times, e.g. in his presentation of the Alger Hiss story, but overall the presentations are fair and entertaining. Total War: World War II and Its Lasting Legacy by Mark Polelle This is a Modern Scholar course dealing with the causes, the conduct, and the consequences of World War II. It is largely a Europocentric presentation. There is nothing especially new, but it does give a good background to the topic. Rashi by Elie Wiesel Elie Wiesel is the famous concentration camp survivor who wrote “Night” and won the Nobel Peace Prize. This is a biographical sketch of a famous rabbi from the Middle Ages. He is portrayed as brilliant, conscientious, and gentle. The one area of thought that was treated harshly was any reference to Christians, given that many of his compatriots were killed in the previous years by rampaging crusaders on their way to the Holy Land. The portrait is sympathetic, but not strictly academic. The Dead Sea Scrolls by Gary Rendsburg This is an excellent Teaching Company course on the discovery, background, content and importance (even now) to the discovery of these scrolls near the Dead Sea, at a place known as Qumran. The professor draws upon Jewish and ancient Middle Eastern teachings. He speaks of the archeology of the site and deals with the question of whether or not they were written and stored by the Essenes. This is a course that I would strongly recommend. The Temple of Solomon by Charles River Editors This is a quick study of the temple built by King Solomon. His father David had been forbidden to build it by God, but he did collect enormous amounts of material that Solomon then used. He, in a sense, subcontracted with the king of Lebanon, Hiram, to do the actual construction. The author shows how the temple was like and unlike pagan temples. Unfortunately, the author occasionally gets caught in a stream of consciousness argument that had little to do with the actual topic. 10 Great Events of the Old Testament that Shaped Jewish and Christian Identity by Daniel Smith-Christopher This is a Learn25 course, a series of lectures about 25 minutes long, concerning those turning points in the Old Testament. The treatment of those episodes is not especially deep, but the presentation is very well done. It gives an overview to major movements in the Jewish faith and how moments of crisis often sparked new understandings and new fidelity to the call that the Chosen people had received. The Second Oldest Profession: A World History of Espionage Part One by Jeffrey Burds This is a Modern Scholar course on the history of espionage. The author goes through various historic epics and speaks of the attempts to spy and counter-spy. The presentation is well done and never filled with polemic. The Safety Net by Andrea Camillieri This is a novel set in a town in Sicily. In this volume, there is a break in to a local school with what seem to be terrorists threatening students. There is also the mystery of why a man who is now deceased filmed the same wall outside his house for years on end on the same date. The books in this series are very well written and enjoyable. They make you feel as if you are visiting Sicily. King Solomon by Charles River Editors This is a short biography of this King of the Jewish people right after David. On the positive side, one sees his wisdom which was known about in foreign lands (e.g. the Queen of Sheba). On the negative side, there is his syncretism (building temples for his foreign wives to worship their ancestral gods). Great World Religions: Islam by John Esposito This is a Great Courses series on Islam. It presents the life and teachings of Mohammad, the early years of the Islamic caliphate, and the various governments that held sway over the Islamic world. It speaks of Islamic legal interpretation, local customs practiced in certain but not all countries, etc. It deals with the negative image often projected upon Islam in recent years and whether terrorism is an authentic interpretation of the Quran. Have a Wonderful Easter. Shalom fr. Jude

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Ellicott City, MD

March 19, 2024 The Solemnity of St. Joseph Peace and Good, I have now finished my chemo and radiation, and am waiting until next week to begin the next form of therapy: immunotherapy. That involves one IV a month for the next year. Because radiation takes some time to work, I will not know the success of what I have now finished until I have a CT scan on June 10. I suffered very few of the symptoms that one might expect with these therapies. The one thing that I am working on is extreme fatigue and weakness. The doctors said that the worst of that is within 10 days of finishing radiation, and I am only a week in on that. Spring officially arrives today, but you can see it everywhere around where I am living. The deer are in the back yard, the flowering trees are in bloom, the birds have become very noisy, etc. It is really beautiful. I have not had the energy in these days to work on anything, but hopefully by the end of the week I can begin taping and editing my podcasts for the daily reflections. I have them done until the beginning of May, so there is really no rush. I finished reading and listening to some books: Famous Romans by Rufus Fears This is a Great Courses presentation that is based on the writings of Polybius’ Parallel Lives. Earlier I finished the lectures on 12 Famous Greeks. Now this is the Roman version. The historian is good, but a little overly dramatic in his presentation. Blitzkrieg: The Invasion of Poland to the Fall of France by Stephen and Russell Hart This book covers the lead up to World War II and the rearmament of Germany, then the invasion of Poland. Finally, it deals extensively with the invasion of France and how the Nazi forces were successful beyond their expectations (but also how certain decisions made by Hitler and others prevented them from gaining an even greater success – e.g. not stopping the Dunkirk evacuation). Life in a Medieval City by Frances and Joseph Gies This is a very pleasant account of the various social structures of medieval cities (government, religion, law, commerce, etc.) of a medieval city in France: Troyes around the year 1250. The authors give a very account of what life would have been like for the inhabitants of that city. I would recommend it as a realistic introduction to life in the Middle Ages. The Book of Job by Prof Kathleen O’Connor This is a presentation of the Learn25 courses. The presenter gives a very good account of the action in the book of Job and the background that led to certain images and propositions. She does not do a very good job of going beyond the text (although she does that here and there). I am still looking for a much more in depth cultural background book to the Book of Job. The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming by Henri Nouwen This is a meditation on the painting by Rembrandt of the welcoming back of the Prodigal Son. Nouwen, a famous spiritual director, speaks of Rembrandt and the painting itself, and then he delves into the various roles presented in the picture: that of the returning son, that of his older, angry brother, and that of the incredibly compassionate father. He speaks of how he has often played out the role of one of the brothers, but that he is ultimately called to play the role of the father. Enter the Cloud of Unknowing by Kathleen Deignan This is a presentation on the Medieval mystical book which speaks of entering in intimate union with the unknown and unknowable God. Unfortunately, the presentation lacks a lot of serious content. The presenter takes one idea or another and says it many different ways, but never goes into great depth (or when she does, it sounds more like new age theory than mystical enlightenment). The High Middle Ages by Philip Daileader This is a Great Courses presentation of various topics about history, government, culture, and religion from the high middle ages. The presenter is very good, and the topics are enlightening. The Navaho by Charles River Editors This is a short presentation of the Navaho people: where they came from, their history, their culture, and their modern situation and problems. Like all of the Charles River book, it is rather short (most of them are around 50 pages) but it gives a tremendous amount of information in a short time. The War of the Roses by Dan Jones This is a very good outline of what led up to the War of the Roses during the late Middle Ages in England and how the war was fought. The author manages to go into great detail without being boring. This book has convinced me that I would like to read more of Dan Jones’ presentations. Death by Disputation by Anna Castle This is a novel that takes place in Oxford during the Elizabethan era. One of the students is actually a spy for the government which is trying to keep track on a Puritan movement that plans some form of rebellion. The book is entertaining, although I found that toward the end the author threw in a couple of extra twists and turns that did not quite fit into the presentation. Horus by Charles River Editors This is a short and confusing portrait of the Egyptian god Horus. It is confusing not because the author is not good, but the topic itself is very confusing (e.g. there is more than one Horus in the legends and myths, there are multiple treatments of both of the Horuses, etc. Heart: A History by Sandeep Jauhar This is a very good book written by a cardiologist on the heart. It includes many personal remembrances from the stories of the doctor’s patients and even from his own family. This keeps the account from being over-technical or clinical. It does, however, give much information on the science of the heart and modern attempts to aid those suffering from the various forms of heart disease. This is a book I can highly recommend. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Ellicott City, MD

March 12, 2024 Peace and Good, Well, I survived. Last Tuesday I had my last chemo treatment, and yesterday I had my last radiation treatment. I have really come through all of this rather well. There have been some minor reactions to the treatments, but the major one is the feeling of being totally wiped out. Yesterday they gave me a treatment of one liter of fluid to re-hydrate me, and that has helped quite a bit. I still have a year of immunotherapy beginning in a couple of weeks. That involves one IV treatment a month. I also have to wait about three months for a CT scan that will tell me how these therapies have worked. I have to wait that long because the radiation I have received continues to work on the body for about that long after the treatments have ended. The doctors told me I should begin to slowly feel normal after a couple of weeks, but that it will be a slow process. I have been very pleased with the chemotherapist and radiation doctor at Hopkins. They have always been available and encouraging all throughout this time. In the next few days I hope to begin taping daily reflections again. I have them all set til the beginning of May (because I wanted to get way ahead lest I not have the energy in these times to do them). I am awaiting the censor's approval of the meditation book that I did on the Wisdom books of the Old Testament. I have also done some editing of another book on St. Anthony for my publisher. I am also way ahead on articles for the magazines for which I write in Padua, Italy and Kenya. Spring is here in Baltimore. One of the friars in the past planted bunches of daffodils at the edge of the forest in back of our house, and they are all blooming. It is a very welcome sight. I finished some reading and listening: Writing the Bible: Origins of the Old Testament by Martien Halvorson-Taylor This is a Great Courses presentation in 10 lectures. The professor presents the process by which most of the Old Testament was written (and translated). She gives well thought out reasoning and presents a totally believable picture of how the scribes and prophets and sages of the Old Testament produced their works. The Life and Legacy of Muhammad by Maria Dakake This is an account both of the life and teachings of Muhammad but also of the early years and controversies of his movement, especially after he died. The presentation is respectful and clear. The professor tries to separate fact from legend, never afraid to deal with some controversial issues. This is a good introductory course on the topic. Indians, Cowboys and Farmers: 1865-1910 by Christopher and James Lincoln Collier This is one of the series of books that the Colliers have produced on American history. Their goal is to tell the story without overloading the presentation with facts and dates that would only distract one from the greater picture. They succeed in doing this in their story of the years between the Civil War and the First World War. They deal with Native Americans, Cowboys and settlers, farmers vs. city people, financial concerns of the farmers, etc. Hollywood’s most influential directors: Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles and Stanley Kubrick by Charles River Editors This is a well-done presentation of three of the most famous movie directors of the 20th century. The authors present the story of their lives and their careers. The presentation is both artistic and insightful, especially into the question of why certain of their works were only highly appreciated in later years (and not when they were first issued). The Giants of Russian Literature by Liza Knapp This is a presentation of the Modern Scholar series. It is a study of four of the major authors of Russia in the 19th century: Turgenev, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Chekhov. The author presents the outlines of the major works, but then dives into an interpretation of their message and their symbolism. Seeing the four authors together helps one see their influences and their differences. As with most modern scholar presentations, this work is well worth considering. Mystics, Muslims, and Thomas Merton by Sidney Griffith This is the story of the fascination of Thomas Merton with Islam, and especially with the teachings of its Sufi mystics. Like his outreach to Buddhist sages in his later years, Merton also corresponded with a number of Muslim scholars. He considered himself to be a type of Sufi, for he found that the more one delved into the mysticism of other faiths, the more one recognized the common elements of that which one found when goes beyond that which can be found. Oddkins: A Fable for all Ages by Dean Koontz This is a fable of magical toys that have been created by a toymaker to help troubled children find joy. The toymaker passes away, and the toys must find another toymaker that will continue his project. Their quest is threatened by the toys created by an evil toymaker who wants to bring sadness and confusion to those same children. Cities of the Ancient World by Steven Tuck This is a Great Courses presentation on some of the cities of the ancient world, from the origin of cities in a Catalhoyuk in modern day Turkey up to the cities of the Greek world. The professor speaks of their organization, their societies, their religious world, their origin (and at times their decline). There is an incredible amount of information provided in a very pleasant manner. English History made Brief, Irreverent, and Pleasurable by Lacey Baldwin Smith This is a very good short presentation of the history of Great Britain. The irreverent part of the title is especially found at the end of the book when the author outlines the history of the various monarchs of England. In spite of the fact that the presentation is not very long, it gives a very good outline of the material covered. Russia and the Soviet Union by Ralph Raico This is a short history of the Russian Empire and of the subsequent Soviet Union. These presentations are part of a series of the history of nations and areas of the world. They are not deep, but they do provide good introductory material. Meister Eckhart’s Book of Secrets by Mark Burrows and Jon Sweeney This is a compilation of the sayings of the great Medieval mystic Meister Eckhart. They are very short passages, but very meaningful. Most of all they speak about how we seek God by not seeking Him, but by recognizing God all around us and letting God communicate Himself to us. The Divine Milieu: Teilhard de Chardin by Kathleen Deignan This is a short retreat (six sessions of twenty-five minutes each) on the book of Teilhard: The Divine Milieu. I found the work quite superficial. A lot of time is spent on how Teilhard was not understood by his Jesuit religious order and by the Church. The most valuable part is how she speaks of the need to be active in building the fulfillment of what God intends with creation, but also in being passive in accepting God’s will. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Ellicott City, MD

February 6, 2024 Peace and Good, I am doing OK, if not exactly great. I have begun to feel the side effect of fatigue and weakness from the chemo and radiation. I finished the last chemo session yesterday, and finish my last radiation on Monday. Then there is a pause of three months before the evaluate the success of this round of treatments. In the meantime, I will begin immunotherapy. This involves an infusion once a month for the next year. Considering everything, I am really not doing that poorly. It could be much, much worse. I have finished another project for my publisher. I don't have a lot of energy to do too much now besides listen to audio and video courses on various topics. The doctor said that my energy level would probably get worse until 10 days after the last radiation, and then it would slowly bounce back to normal. Spring has arrived in Baltimore. The migratory birds have begun to arrive. The daffodils are blooming. I finished some reading and listening: Heroes of the Desert by Philip Bochanski This is a Learn25 presentation on the Desert Fathers and Mothers. The presenter is very respectful. He presents a series of biographies as well as lessons that one can learn from their lives. This course is very, very well done. I would recommend it for anyone who wants to know about this spiritual movement in the early Church. Journeys of the Great Explorers by Glyndwr Williams This is a Modern Scholar presentation on the various important journeys of discovery from the 16th to the 18th centuries. The presenter tries to be careful in the presentation, not necessarily accepting what those who wrote the first accounts. He presents the personalities of the explorers with their talents and their short comings. The journeys include the discovery of the path around Africa from Portugal, the discovery of the New World and its exploration, the search for the Northwest Passage, and the exploration of the South Seas. The Parables: Understanding What Jesus Taught by Andrea Molinari This was a quite strange treatment of the parables. A lot of the material is useful in showing their relationship to writings in the Hebrew Bible and in Greek literature. But once the professor treats the individual parables, he draws some very strange conclusions. The Art Detective by Philip Mould This is an account of the discovery, acquisition, study, restoration and sale of very valuable works of art that have often been overlooked or mislabeled. The presentation is very good and folksy. It speaks of particular episodes in the career of the author. It is an enjoyable and informative book. What’s New with Atheism by Robert Kuhn This is part of a study series produced by Robert Kuhn. They are all a collection of a series of short interviews with people who hold very different positions on a topic. This one deals with what is called the new atheism which tends to be much more militant than the previous models (not only positing that there is no deity, but mocking those who believe in God). The presentation is very, very well done. The Muse by Jeffery Deaver This is an extremely quirky short novel on a series of horrendous attacks on people using very unusual methods. The police detectives are trying to figure out who is causing the mayhem. The ending proves to be surprising and troubling. Grant’s Final Victory by Charles Flood This is the story of the end of President Grant’s life, from the time that his investment firm went bankrupt due to an embezzlement of one of the partners til the time of his death. In between, he was encouraged by Mark Twain to write his memoirs which he finished shortly before his death. The book proved to be a tremendous success, protecting Grant’s family from the insolvency that he so feared. The Apostles by Andrea Molinari This presentation is not really on the apostles as such. It is much more on the apocryphal books which present themselves as the acts of the apostles. In that regard, it is very good. I had not even known of some of these works (e.g. the Acts of Andrew). Molinari shows how the emphasis of these works is much more on asceticism and chastity than the works included in the New Testament. Also, he shows how a number of them are tinged by Gnostic tendencies. Field Marshall Albert Kesselring by Charles River Editors This is a short presentation on the life and career of Kesselring. He was the head of part of the Air Force, and then given responsibilities over England, Russia and finally in Italy. The author is a bit soft on the war crimes committed by Kesselring’s troops. While he might not have known about some of them, he did give some orders that led to crimes that should never have happened. The Ghosts of England by Charles River Editors This is a fun short book which presents a series of ghost stories in England today (and in the recent past). They involve the usual sightings, noises, objects flying, etc. Interestingly, some were in Churches and Church yards, which should not be entirely surprising for graveyards often surrounded the Churches and many people died in Churches during the various religious wars. The Psalms: the Life of Faith by Walter Brueggemann This is the collection of a series of articles by Brueggemann on the psalms. Some of the early ones were quite esoteric and theoretical, but some of the articles are absolutely brilliant. It is one of those books which I can say was one from which I learned quite a bit. I will absolutely read more of his scholarship. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Ellicott City

February 25, 2024 Peace and Good, I hope you are all well. Winter seems to be coming to an end here in Baltimore, and Spring is peeking in the doorway. This week the temperature is supposed to go up to the 60's, so I would expect some flowers to start growing by the end of the week. My days are filled with hospital visits, sometimes for a very short time and sometimes for several hours at a time. I am now 2/3 finished with chemo and radiation. These past few days have been a little difficult in terms of feeling the fatigue and weakness about which they told me at the beginning of the treatment. I don't have too many other side effects, so I should really be grateful. I have a meeting with the chemotherapist and the radiation specialist tomorrow, so I will be asking them what comes after the treatment has concluded. I know that there will be immunotherapy for a year after, but I don't yet understand what that means. I have been doing a lot of thinking about what is happening in my life right now. I feel that my role in all of this is to surrender to God's will (not in a passive way, but accepting that more is going on than I can understand). I have been struck with the fact that my illness has created a netword of people who are praying for me all over the world, so from something that is bad, good has come. I have to keep praying on this idea and see where it leads me. I have finished some reading and listening: Osman I by Charles River Editors This is a short account of the founder of what would become the Ottoman Empire. The author is definitely prejudiced toward the Turks, dealing with their predations and cruelty as if it were the best they could do. Scars of Independence: America’s Violent Birth by Holger Hoock This is a very interesting account of the atrocities that were visited upon soldiers and civilians during the Revolutionary War. The premise of the author is that the Patriots were not entirely innocent in this regard, especially in terms of how they treated the Tories who sided with the British troops. Yet, Washington struggled to keep his troops in line and virtuous in they way they treated prisoners. The author speaks of the horrendous treatment of prisoners (especially by the British), treatment that we would call war crimes. The book is fair and well written. The Russian Revolution: From Tsarism to Bolshevism by Jonathan Smele This course from the Modern Scholars gives an outline of Russian history from the middle of the 19th century and the freedom of the serfs up to the time of the last Romonovs (and how terrible they were in facing the difficulties of a quickly industrializing country and a world war. The professor is quite good, although his style is a bit boring. Destination Mars by Andrew May This is a short study of what it would take to transport humans to Mars and how they might survive there. It deals with the moon landing program and how it could serve (or not) in the Mars project. One of the great difficulties will be the type of engine that will be needed. The author asks the question of whether this will be a governmental or a business project (e.g. Elon Musk). Spain in our Hearts by Adam Hochschild This is an account of American volunteers in the Lincoln brigade in the Spanish Civil War. The author is clearly in favor of the leftist forces (even minimizing their massacres, etc.), but his account is very interesting. Hochschild gives good insight into the personalities of those Americans who fought and the tremendous difficulties from which they suffered. Sicily by John Julius Norwich This is a masterful, very long history of the island of Sicily. In spite of the fact that it is incredibly rich in terms of soil and minerals, its peasant population has remained poor and oppressed over most of its history. Norwich speaks of the poor government, the foreign invasions, and the criminal element as the causes of this tragic fate. It is obvious, though, that he loved the island and its people. Rome by Greg Woolf This is a history of Rome from its earliest days till its collapse. The account is well ordered, and the author presents a tremendous amount of good information. While this might not be the first book I would read about Roman history, it would certainly be among those that I did read. The Transformation of Israelite Religion to Rabbinic Judaism by Juan Bejarano-Gutierrez I have read a number of books by this author, and unfortunately I have always been disappointed. The content of his studies never measures up to the title he proposes. I find one or two good points in each book (such as this one speaking of canonicity being tied to the fact that certain books were copied and passed down), but I find myself getting frustrated that so little is presented when the topic could be much, much richer. Vatican I: The Council and the Making of the Ultramontane Church by John O’Malley After the French Revolution and the revolutions of 1848, there were two movements in the Roman Catholic Church. One fostered local autonomy (a movement that had always been part of the Church) and the other favored centralization with a definition for the infallibility of the papacy. This book outlines the arguments and the political machinations of each of the sides and the calling of the First Vatican Council at which that dogma was affirmed (as well as the honest and not so honest maneuvers by the various players in this drama. The History of the Holocaust by Howard Lipovitch This is a Learn25 course on the years preceding the holocaust (and the various political movements that led to it) and to the actual course of this disaster. The author asks some vital questions: who were the righteous gentiles, who were the gentiles who collaborated in this project, what governments aided the Jews, which aided their persecution, etc. The course is not melodramatic, but it is thorough. One Man Great Enough by John Waugh This is a biography of Lincoln up to the time of inauguration. He is shown in all of his simplicity and cunning. He was constantly underestimated by those who saw him or heard of him, an impression quickly altered when they heard him speak. The story presented is very good, and I would recommend this account. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Ellicott City, MD

February 17, 2024 Peace and Good, As I write this blog, I am looking out at one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever seen. It snowed lightly last night, and tere is a layer of the snow on each branch of every tree. It is already starting to melt, but it was one of those moments that you just can't help but thank the Lord for creation. I have been doing my radiation and chemotherapy at Hopkins. As of yesterday, I am halfway through my present treatment. I have had very few and relatively minor reactions to the treatment, for which I am grateful. Over these weeks, I have been told that people are praying for me from all over the world. I have been reflecting on how this difficulty has created a community of prayer that stretches all over. I had a good zoom meeting with my publisher to outline the next project. It is to edit an older book on St. Anthony of Padua (life and devotions). I like these type of projects because I can work on it when I have the energy. One of the effects of the radiation has been a certain fatigue. I have been staying at home most of the time due to the danger of infection, etc. The chemotherapist, though, told me that the blood tests are very positive and I have not suffered from any crash of the immune system. I finished reading and listening to some works: Kennedy and Roosevelt by Michael Beschloss Beschloss is a brilliant author of presidential stories. This book contrasts a consummate politician who seeks greatness for his nation (Roosevelt) and a very talented businessman whose primary goal is the furtherance of his family. Roosevelt is presented as cany and not always honest, while Kennedy is seen as someone who would sell out his values for a promotion in Roosevelt’s government. Famous Greeks by Rufus Fears This Teaching Company course is a take off on the stories of Famous Greek (and Romans) by Plutarch. Fears presents good information, but his presentation is a bit overly-dramatic with sound effects and verbal reactions that a bit foolish. Witness X by Mark Dawson This is a short story about a British secret service operative who must investigate and avenge an acid attack upon his former lover by a North Korean spy. The Brit is not presented as a Sean Connery as much as an individualist who is simple in his approach to life and his occupation. The Secret Life of Groceries by Benjamin Lorr This is the story of the origin and success of various grocery stores and products (as well as some of the difficulties caused by an industrial production of certain foods, such as shrimp). The author especially tells the story of Trader Joes. There are some interesting points, but the books seems to be various ideas stapled together. The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga This is a very odd but quite entertaining book. It is about a poor young man from rural India who makes a fortune (not quite legally). He is writing a short biography and sending it to a Chinese official who is visiting India. The author emphasizes the gap between the poor and the rich, the dirty politics, the bribery needed to succeed. This is one of those books that gives one an interesting insight into another world (even if many of the facts are strongly exaggerated). Doctored Evidence by Donna Leon This is a volume in a series of novels by the Spanish author Leon who writes about a police commissary in Venice. In this book, he deals with the murder of an elderly, very difficult woman. As an aside, he deals with questions about foreigners within Italy, about gays and attitudes toward them, about the bureaucracy, etc. I always enjoy Leon’s book enormously. Desert War by Stephen Sears This is an American Heritage book, which means that it is of medium length and gives an overall picture of the topic of the book. This one is well done, with a good number of quotes from participants in the events and a fair evaluation of the various characters involved in the action. Finn McCool: Irish Heroes by History Nerds This is a relatively short account of one of the ancestral heroes of the Irish people (and other Celts as well). It tells of his supposed background, recounts a couple of the legends, and speaks of his heritage in the folk culture of the Irish. Archaeology and the Iliad: the Modern Scholar by Eric Cline This is a fine Modern Scholars course on Troy and the question of whether the Trojan War is historic. The professor is an archaeologist, and he gives insights both from the various people who have worked at the site in the past, and from his own observations. He is clear in what his own opinion is without being pushy. What most impressed me is his willingness to admit that what we think about things now might very well change as more excavations are made and evaluated. Thomas Aquinas by Ferdinand Jives This is only a short presentation on the life and works of the famous theologian Thomas Aquinas. It gives a rough background without getting into too many details. There is a chapter of famous and usable quotes from Aquinas’ writings. Gnosticism by Charles River Editors I found this short account of Gnosticism one of the better things that I have read on the topic. Often the author will try to serve as an apologist for the Gnostic movement. The author of this study admits that there are many Gnostic beliefs that cannot be called Christian, but yet studies what they did believe and presents that information in a fair, balanced manner. The Lost Warriors of God: the True History of the Knights Templar by Thomas Madden This Modern Scholars course gives an account of the origin of the Knights Templar (in the context of the crusades), of their development and changing character, and of their sudden and tragic destruction. The professor is balances and speaks of both their strengths and weaknesses. He also speaks of much of the mythology about the Knights Templar that has been passed down through the ages. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Ellicott City

February 7, 2024 Peace and Good, Today I finish the second week of radiation. The side effects from the radiation and chemo have been very light. Thank God! I finished the editing for the book I wrote over these months. It is a minute meditation book on the Wisdom books of the Old Testament. It must now be approved by the Church censors and then it will be published in a couple of months. I also finished a series of short meditations for the Scripture readings in September for one of our magazines in Assisi, Italy. It is good to have some projects like this which can be done when I have the energy, and then put aside when I don't. I will have a zoom meeting with my publisher in a few days to talk about the next project. The weather here in Baltimore has been great these days. I finished viewing a couple of courses from the Great Courses series. One was on the Vietnam War and the other on the Spanish Civil War. Both were very, very good. The professors in each gave a very balanced, very nuanced outlook on those events. I can't believe that Lent is just one week away. I have decided that I should not do any fasting this Lent. I will just offer up all the other stuff that I am experiencing. Besides, the doctors want me to eat as much as I can so that I don't lose too much weight. I find it an irony that I have been trying to lose some weight for years now, and the doctors are telling me to do the opposite. I finished some reading and listening: Wars that made the western world: the Persian Wars, the Peloponnesian War by Timothy Shutt This is a short course by the Modern Scholar on the Persian Wars against Greece (mostly Athens and Sparta) and then the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta. He gives a good account, but the material is too expansive to be able to describe it well in such a short course. Nevertheless, it is worth a listen. Adolf Hitler by Hourly History This is a short story outlining the life and career of Hitler. It is comparable to an extended Wikipedia article, so it gives a good outline but not really an in depth presentation. The Company of Strangers by Robert Wilson Wilson is an author similar to John le Carre. This books covers a period from World War II in Portugal, to the Brezhnev period in East Germany, to the post-Soviet era in England. It follows the life and career of one woman and her acquaintances. There are double crosses and triple crosses. The author works a bit too much to make a complicated plot, but it is very interesting. Dark Star Express by Paul Theroux This is a travel story of a trip from Cairo to South Africa. Most of the voyage was made by bus or train. Theroux had previously served as a teacher in Malawi, so he was able to compare what he had experienced in his early days with the present situation of these countries. I found him incredibly judgmental of most missionaries and workers of social assistance projects. The book was good, but very long. Great Masters: Beethoven, his Life and Music by Robert Greenberg This is a Great Courses presentation on the life and music of Beethoven. Greenberg is a good critic and a humorous presenter. Beethoven comes across as a misanthropic genius who often had his most productive periods during times of crisis. Europe’s Dark Journey: Hitler and Nazi Germany by Beth Griech-Polelle This is a Modern Scholar course on Germany in the years leading up to the Third Reich. It emphasizes much more the years before Hitler’s reign than that reign itself. It begin the story with the unification of the empire under Bismarck, then the effects of World War I, then the chaotic years of the Weimar Republic and its failure. The course does not offer all that much new information, but it is a good overview of what led to the rise of Hitler. Liars and Thieves by Stephen Coonts This is an action story about a thief who works for the CIA and accidentally comes across a plot to kill a KGB defector who has brought an enormous store of information with himself (some of which might endanger someone important in the government). The hero has to twin up with a retired admiral to come to the core of the plot. Teachings of the Buddha by Jack Kornfield This is a series of Buddhist sayings which present a philosophy of seeking peace by surrendering all one’s worries and concerns and even the control of one’s thoughts. Pax Romana by Adrian Goldsworthy Goldsworthy is an expert on Roman history, and this is an overview of the “Roman Peace” which Rome brought to the world. It deals with what that really meant. There were rebellions, wars of capture, etc., but Rome also was able to wipe on the continuous wars between minor states. Goldsworthy is clear that this peace was a side effect of the Roman conquest and not the intention of the Romans themselves. Their only concern was their welfare (safety and profit). This is a very good book which I highly recommend. Reliquary by Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston These two authors are among my favorites. This is a follow up story in which a plant which transforms people to evil creatures is let loose in New York. The heroes must find out what is going on with people (especially people living in the underground tunnels around New York) begin to disappear, and their bodies are at times found decapitated. There is plenty of action. The authors’ works are always just this side of science fiction, but they provide a great thriller. Herodotus: the Father of History by Elizabeth Vandiver Herodotus is known as the father of history. Vandiver speaks of his writings, the factors that influenced what he wrote, and how his writings influenced others. She is quite fair to him, not accusing him of being the father of lies as some others do, but recognizing that since he was the first to write a real history, then some of the criteria we would apply to other writers were not followed. The course from the Great Courses is very well done. Kiev, 1941: Hitler’s Battle for Supremacy in the East by David Stahel This is the story of Hitler’s greatest victory during the Second World War when hundreds of thousands of Soviet troops were killed and captured. The author has written this book to make a point, that even if the Soviets lost, the Nazis did not really win (for they expended so much material an men that they could never win the war. Unfortunately, most of the book is expended on Stahel’s pet theory. You're all in my prayers, especially as we enter Lent. Shalom fr. Jude PS Given that my ministry is somewhat limited in these days, if you have any prayer intentions for which you would like me to pray, just send them to frajude@gmail.com.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Ellicott City

January 23, 2024 Memorial of St. Marianne Cope Peace and Good, The Marianne Cope I mention was a Sister of Syracuse who travelled to Molakai in Hawaii to work with St. Fr. Damian with the lepers. A number of years ago, I was travelling to a friary in Vietnam where our friars work with lepers. I was able to obtain a first class relic of St. Marianne for the friars there. I am getting ready to begin my radiation treatments this Thursday (for seven weeks) and my chemo on Monday (the same length of time). My chemo doctor is turning out to be a gem, Dr. Christine Hamm. She answers my emails on my chart, and she has offered to sit down with me to explain the chemo process. Not all the doctors whom I have run across in these months has been so accomidating. We faced a week of winter weather (although nothing like Buffalo has been facing). I have been asked to write a series of short articles for one of our magazines in Assisi. I will write them in English, and they will have them translated into Italian. I am glad to have projects like that upon which I can work when I feel up to it. One of our former minister generals, fr. Joachim Giermek, passed away in these days. fr. Carlos Trovarelli, our present minister general, came here for the funeral which was very good of him, considering his incredible schedule. I finished some reading and listening: The Apocalypse: Controversies and Meaning in Western History by Craig Koester This is a Teaching Company course on the Book of Revelations: its background, its meaning, and its use throughout history. The professor is tremendous. I don’t agree with every single interpretation, but he is overall great in his presentation. Beginnings for Judaism by Isaiah Gafni This book speaks about Judaism from its earliest days during the Babylonian exile until later developments. This is a Teaching Company course. The presenter is very good, very thorough. Dressed for Death by Donna Leon Donna Leon is a Spanish author who lived for years in Venice. She presents the story of a police detective who investigates various crimes. This one deals with a murdered man found dressed in woman’s clothes. Leon is able to describe the bureaucracy of Italy perfectly. He presents the detective as a loving husband and father (in a very realistic manner). Every one of her books is tremendous. Exploring the Roots of Religion by John Hale This is a Teaching Company course presented by an archeologist whose specialty is the origin of religious beliefs in the early centuries of humanity. He is a tremendous presenter, and he is able to deal with topics such as religious sites, religious time, burials as a sign of belief in the afterlife, etc. I would strongly recommend this course. Henry VIII by Abigail Archer This is a short biography of Henry VIII. It is non-polemical and informative. It would be a good introduction to the topic. Darkfall by Dean Koontz This is a very scary story told about a battle between a Mafia lord and an evil Voodoo priest. The Mafia priest summons demons from Hell to attack the Mafia lord and his family and cohorts. A detective begins to put the pieces together, and he and his family are attacked by the demons. The detective is only protected by the fact that he is a basically righteous man. Nutrition 101: Understanding the Science and Practice of Eating Well by Jamie Pope This is a Learn25 course dealing with the questions of nutrition including diets, what is healthy and what is not, what forms of nutrients are necessary and at what level, etc. The professor is clear in her presentations and challenging in her assigned tasks. War on the Waters by James McPherson This is the story of the use of the northern navy during the Civil War. It includes stories of how the navy collaborated with the army (e.g. the conquest of Forts Henry and Donaldson), the war against blockade runners, the attempt to conquer certain cities and forts (New Orleans, Vicksburg, etc.), the rise of iron clads, etc. The Story of the Bible by Luke Timothy Johnson Johnson is a tremendous exegete, always taking the middle road on questions of interpretation. He is a former Benedictine monk who now teaches at Emory in Atlanta. This was a Teaching Company course which speaks about the origin of the Bible, its being copied in its early days, why certain books were or were not accepted into its canon, and how various groups have used and translated the Bible over the years. I, Michael Bennet by James Patterson This is the story of a detective and his family who are endangered when he arrests a drug lord. His children are threatened, other police are assassinated, he is put in the cross hairs of the drug lords lieutenants. The story is presented in a stereotypical manner, but it is entertaining. Jane the Quene by Janet Wertman This is a novel dealing with the queen of England who succeeded Anne Boleyn and who died giving birth to Henry VIII’s only legitimate son, Edward VI. She comes across as a plain person (which was a great change for Henry who felt himself brow-beaten by Anne Boleyn. Her family is seen as scheming (as was most of the court at the times). Introduction to Judaism by Shai Cherry This is a Teaching Company course that goes through the various aspects of what it means to be a Jew today, including the role of the synagogue, dietary concerns, the tension between integration into the larger society and rejection of that world, etc. It explains the history of the various groups that call themselves Jews (e.g. conservative, reformed, Hasidic, etc.). The course is well done and the topics are handled simply and without polemic. A Brotherhood of Spies by Monte Reel This is the story of the U2, and especially the flight and shoot down of that plane over the Soviet Union during the times of Eisenhower and Khruschev. It deals with the technical questions, but also with the personalities of those who designed the plane and those who flew it. Powers comes out of the story as a sad figure, especially considering his disastrous marriage. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Friday, January 12, 2024

Ellicott City

January 12, 2024 Peace and Good, I finally got word yesterday on what my treatment will be for the next several months. I will begin six to seven weeks of radiation therapy and chemo in about a week's time, followed by a year of immunotherapy. I am just relieved that my quest for answers is finally coming to a conclusion. The weather here in Baltimore is cool and rainy. No snow yet, and they are not yet predicting any. Our Minister General (the big boss) came into town yesterday for the funeral of a former Minister General, fr. Joachim Giermek). He will be here til Sunday. It is good to see him for I worked with him for a few years in Rome. I finished some reading and listening: Age of Henry VIII by Dale Hoak This is a Teaching Company course on Henry VIII and his times. Overall, the course is good, but there was an incredible prejudice on the part of the presenter against Catholicism and in favor of the Reformation movement, something that I would not expect to see from someone who should have been more impartial in his research and presentation. Private Empire by Steve Coll This is a long presentation of Exxon and its leadership and its policies, especially in terms of the environment and the company’s relationship to governments (the US, Indonesia, Nigeria, etc.). The author is skeptical of many of the policies and procedures of the company and of its very powerful lobbying efforts. The Jeffersonian Republicans by Christopher Collier and James Lincoln Collier This is one of the short histories of various periods of American History. This one deals with the rise of the Jeffersonian Republicans at the beginning of the republic. This was the beginning of political parties. It also speaks of how America was drawn into the War of 1812. Each of the presentations is well written and informative. Ebola: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly Virus by David Quammen This book was written during the great outbreak of Ebola in Western Africa. It speaks of what Ebola is and what it does. The greatest part of the book deals with the question of where it is hidden in between outbreaks – what is the host animal (which must be an animal that doesn’t contract the illness but which can host the virus in itself). Exoplanets: World Without End by Scientific American This is a series of articles that were originally published in the Scientific American on the existence and discovery of exoplanets. It deals with the complicated process by which astronomers are able to deduce the existence of planets around distant stars by very small movements of the star or by small variations in the light it is producing. It also deals with the possibility of life on one or more of those planets. The language is somewhat technical at times, but the presentations are very good. Catholic Prayer by James Kulbicki This is a Learn25 course on different forms of Catholic Prayer. The presenter is very, very good. He is involved in the Apostolate of Prayer, and his commitment to spirituality is very clear. He is practical but also clear on the need to be sincere and consistent in our spiritual life in its many forms. I would strongly recommend this course for anyone. England, the 1960’s and the Triumph of the Beatles by Michael Shelden This is a Teaching Company course that speaks about the four members of the Beatles band and their career. I was not sure that I would like it, but the presenter is very good and he presents tons of background information about why this particular band took off and how they responded to a need in British and American culture. The King’s Hounds by Martin Jensen I was not at all sure if I would like this book. It was great. It is a story that takes place at the beginning of the reign of King Canute (King of Denmark and Great Britain), just before the era of William the Conqueror. A murder of a Saxon lord takes place, and he is worried that it will sabotage a meeting he has arranged of Saxons and Danes to unite the empire. He hires two travelers to investigate what is going on. It is ultimately a detective story and it is very well written. Life and Teaching of Geoffrey Chaucer by Seth Lerer This is a Great Courses presentation on the life and writings of Geoffrey Chaucer. The presenter develops a number of themes concerning various tales from the Canterbury Tales that seemed a bit strange to me. Furthermore, the presenter seems to like to read things in middle English. A bit of that would be OK, but he uses the technique way too much. The Modern Scholar: Medieval Mysteries by Thomas Madden This is a series of lectures from a company called the Modern Scholar (similar to the Great Courses). This volume deals with various urban legends from the middle ages and it speaks of how the legends probably originated (e.g. the Knights Templar, the Holy Grail, King Arthur, etc.). The lecturer is very good and I am going to be on the look out for more of his productions. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Sunday, January 7, 2024

Ellicott City

January 6 The Epiphany Peace and Good, Well, winter has arrived in Baltimore, but so far it has meant cold weather and rain. We did not get any snow in the storm that just passed over the East Coast. I have been visiting one doctor after another in these days. I had a video chat with my oncologist this past Friday, and I am going to start radiation therapy as soon as it can be arranged. I fully expected this, for the surgeon was not able to remove the tumor in my lung. They are still not quite sure of what it is. There are some more test results on the way, so hopefully this will help them to identify it and treat it in the best way possible. I am so grateful for all the people who have reached out with cards and letters and prayers in these weeks. It has been very consoling. I have a post-op visit with my surgeon this Thursday. I am still feeling a lot of discomfort from the last surgery. The surgeon had warned me that this might be the case. I have finished some reading and listening: Human Prehistory and the First Civilizations by Brian Fagan This is a series of 24 lectures that run from the very beginning of humanity in Africa up to the dawn of the various ancient civilizations in Asia, America, Africa and Europe. Fagan is well informed and interesting. Verona by Jeffery Deaver This is a short novel based on Romeo and Juliet in which the son of one mob boss and the daughter of a Chinese gang fall in love and have to deal with their fathers who suspect that the other mob is using the kids to steal confidential information about their own moves. It has a bit of a surprise ending. The End of Empire by Christopher Kelly This is an account of the relationship between the Roman Empires (Western and Eastern) and the Huns, especially Attila. The author speaks of the internal weaknesses of the empires, and of the ferocious fighting spirit of the Huns. Ironically, the Romans had to depend upon the assistance of other barbarians in France in order to defeat the Huns. Men of Fire by Jack Hurst This is the account of Grant’s offensive to take Fort Henry and Fort Donaldson at the beginning of the Civil War. He was hampered by enemies who tried to get him removed from his responsibilities, accusing him of drunkenness (probably unjustly) and other military failures. He was one of the first to coordinate the movements of the army and navy in his assaults. The book is well written. The Severin Dynasty by Charles River Editors This is an account of the not all that long lasting dynasty begun by Septimius Severus at the end of the 2nd century A.D. and the beginning of the 3rd century. One of the most fascinating facts about this dynasty is how a series of women (originally from Syria) who were the wives and mothers of the emperors were really the power behind the throne. Agent Garbo by Stephan Talty This is a great account of a Spanish double agent who the Germans thought was their most important asset in Great Britain during World War II but who was all the time working for the allies. He even established a whole network of imaginary agents who helped misdirect the German defense efforts (e.g. the site of the D-Day landing). The Start of World War I by Charles River Editors This is a short account of the beginning of the First World War. The first part if very good, but the author then goes on to give an overview of the fighting on the Western Front (all but ignoring all the fighting that occurred in other areas of combat (e.g. the Eastern Front, Africa, the Pacific, etc.). I got the impression that the author completed his topic in too few pages and therefore padded his account by adding the Western Front material. Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, 1945-1975 by Max Hastings Hastings is a great war author. I have read a number of his books and have never been disappointed. This is true of this masterful (but very long) treatment of the Vietnam War. Hastings works at being fair to all of the parties involved. He has a large number of important remembrances from people who fought or were affected by the fighting. I would recommend this book to anyone who is ready to invest a considerable amount of time in reading it. Early Christianity: The Experience of the Divine by Luke Timothy Johnson This is a course on the beginning of Christianity from the Great Courses Company. Johnson is a great professor. He is very middle of the road in his interpretations. He now teaches at Emory University in Atlanta, but he was originally a Benedictine Monk. In this course, he speaks of the various forms of Christianity as well as the cultural influences from the Greek and Roman world. The Beatitudes: How to Understand and Live Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount by Michael Crosby This is a course from the Learn25 series of lectures. I have to admit that I did not like it at all. Much more than a course on the beatitudes. It was a series of reflections on Crosby’s own life that was lightly associated with the beatitudes. I would gladly recommend most of Learn25’s courses, but not this one. The Two Popes by Anthony McCarten This is a book which is the main text for the film about Pope Benedict and Pope Francis. The author is very honest in his praise and criticism of the two men, not running away from their difficult past (e.g. Benedict’s seeming amnesia of the Hitler era, Francis’ seeming collaboration with the Argentinian authorities during the murderous dirty war). He explains their various moves, especially dealing with the Roman Curia and the practice of the faith. The Trials of Five Queens by R. Storry Deans This is a rather old British book about the trials of various queens, such as Anne Boleyn and Queen Mary of Scotland and Marie Antoinette. The book is factual, giving actual testimony, but this only makes it a bit boring. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude