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