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