Thursday, April 25, 2024

Ellicott City, MD

April 25, 2024 The Feast of St. Mark Peace and Good, I had my second immunotherapy this week. The effects are not as serious as the chemotherapy and radiation, but there are still some side effects (e.g. a bad cough). All things considered, not bad at all. I was able to celebrate Mass at the Shrine this past Sunday. I really enjoyed it. Fr. Jacob concelebrated with me, and I was glad of it, for by Communion time I began to feel wiped out. I just needed to sit for a few minutes while he and the others distributed communion. I wrote a short guide to our chapel at the Shrine. There are many interesting elements to the chapel, and they provide a great catechesis on the saints and our devotion to them. Next week, on May 1, I will be going to Chicago to give a series of conferences on the writings of St. Paul to the postulants. I do this every year, as well as giving an annual workshop at the Novitiate on the psalms and the Gomspels. I finished some reading and listening: Reflections on the Psalms by C.S. Lewis C.S. Lewis is not an exegete, but this short reflections speaks of some major dimensions of the psalms. He deals with questions such as violence and revenge, praise, gratitude, etc. It is worth reading if only to force one to rethink certain elements of the Jewish faith and how they fit in with the Christian message. TV’s New Golden Age by Eric Williams This is a Great Courses overview of an important change in TV during the period right before the rise of cable TV and its many, many new offerings. It deals with the techniques used to produce thoughtful and entertaining programs, both as episodes that had continuity and those which had episodes that stood alone. The Song of Songs 101: Understanding the Bible’s Most Unusual Book by Nicholas Ayo This is a learn25 course on the Song of Songs. I have listened to another course offered by Nicholas Ayo, and he is quite good. The treatment is not in depth, but it does give a good overview of the topics. What I especially appreciated is that most of the book is written from the point of the woman in the relationship. Ayo also speaks of the literal meaning and then of its spiritual reinterpretation. Mexico by Joseph Stomberg This is a part of a series of books which describe the characteristics and history of various countries throughout the world. The books are nowhere near an exhaustive approach, but they do provide a good overview and some good information. Modern Scholar: The Grandeur that was Rome by Jennifer Tobin This is a short history of Rome along with a study of its most important architectural remains. The professor does a good job of her overview. Such an extensive topic could never be covered in detail by a relatively short course, but Tobin manages to give enough information and insight to make the listen worthwhile. Is ESP Real? By Robert L. Kuhn This is part of a series of courses produced by Robert Kuhn which involve interviewing experts on a topic (pro and con) and evaluating their opinions about a topic, in this case ESP. There are no conclusive answers, but there are many good questions and insights. I have been very, very impressed with how much valuable information that Kuhn can include in his rather short presentations. Once a Spy by Keith Thomson This is a novel about a spy who knows critical secrets but who is suffering from dementia. He and his son (a good for nothing horse gambler) must escape the CIA forces that want to liquidate him to silence him lest he unknowingly reveal those secrets. The book is filled with action and adventure. The Modern Scholar: the Biology of Birds by John Kricher This course offers insights to various dimensions of the life and activities of birds including their diets, their territoriality, their breeding, their songs, etc. It speaks about the dangers birds face, and how they can be protected by conservationists. The professor clearly loves birds, and he shares his sense of childlike wonder with his listeners. The Siege of Masada by Charles River Editors Unlike Charles River’s other volumes, this book is told as a first hand account of a woman who lived in Masada with her family and who escaped the consequences of the mass suicide of the defenders when it was clear that they could not defeat the Romans who were besieging the fortress. It is good and informative, in an entertaining sort of way. Braddock’s Defeat by David Preston In the French and Indian War, General Braddock, a British commander, brought a British and colonial army to Pittsburg to attack the French fort there. He allowed his forces to be attacked and devastated by the French, and especially their Indian allies. George Washington, an aide to Braddock, is seen as playing a heroic role in saving many of the survivors to the original attack. The author of this book especially tries to defend Braddock, blaming the disaster on a series of coincidences for which he bore little blame. The defense is laid on a bit thick at times. The Mutiny on the Bounty by Charles River Editors This short volume tells the true story of the mutiny against Captain Bligh as he brought his ship to Tahiti to take on a cargo of plants (especially breadfruit) to bring them to the British Caribbean islands. It does not denigrate Captain Bligh nor his lieutenant Fletcher Christian. Call for the Dead by John le Carre This is a tremendous volume, the introduction of Smiley, a type of anti-hero, who is seen in many of John le Carre’s books. Smiley is a plump, short workaholic who is a genius at his work in the counter-espionage department of British secret services. In this volume he tracks down a group of east-German spies operating in London not to long after the war. Pierre-August Renoir by Charles River Editors This is a short biography into one of the most significant impressionist artists in France at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. We see Renoir as a journeyman who produced more and more artwork for sale, and who somewhat betrayed some of his earlier principals in his later days of work. The History of France under German Occupation During World War II by Charles River Editors This is a short account of Vichy France and the French Resistance, especially under Charles de Galle from the conquest of France to its liberation. I especially appreciated some of the viewpoints of the various factions fighting the Nazi’s, and also the insight into why some French felt that being obedient to the Vichy authorities was so important. Great Teachers of the Axial Age by Matthew Dillon The axial age is around 400 B.C., and around this time great scholars arose in China, India, Persia, Greece and Israel. It is remarkable what a flowering of intellectual and spiritual insight arose at almost the same time in these widely disparate cultures. The presenter gives a good representation of various beliefs and how some of these might have influenced other cultures as well. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

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