Monday, December 31, 2012

End of Year photos

2 bucks, (male deer) encountered in Keating, OREGON

My weekly trip to my mission church in Halfway always provides me with frequent unusual surprises . Yesterday was a case in point as I encountered a family of deer, which I was able to photograph as they posed for me, as if giving me and the visitors of this blog a Happy New Year’s gift. 

The second photo especially is particularly interesting as it shows the male deer obediently crossing the road, precisely where the ‘Deer Crossing’ sign is posted, as the yellow diamond shaped sign shows. 
And as we end 2012, I recollect 5 milestones in my life this year, which are in no particular order:
1. Starting this blog, with over 27 thousands visitors so far.
2. Visiting Rome in May.
3. Visiting my family in April-May.
4. Seeing a new Bishop appointed to our Diocese.
5. Welcoming Bishop Liam Cary to the Cathedral, especially for the Christmas Masses.

Happy New Year! A Healthy and Peace-filled 2013 to all!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Holy Family

As we admire the Holy Family of Nazareth, we realize how much they had to endure and suffer. And I notice that that same suffering is still going on right now, this month, this year.

They were rejected in Bethlehem – refused hospitality at the Inn to experience a human need, to give birth in simple surroundings. Just this week, the Russian Government decided not to allow Americans to adopt more children, after over 60,000 babies have already been adopted and are being raised in a free society that speaks openly against injustice. Unwelcomed 2000 years ago - unwelcomed today.

They were exiled to Egypt because a terrorist named Herod (who was a leader and supposedly a role-model) was trying to kill their newborn baby, and he eventually killed countless boys as we celebrated the martyrdom of the Holy Innocents on December 28. Barely a month ago, 20 innocent children (and 6 adults) were also massacred in Newtown, Connecticut, leaving their parents devastated, as well as a whole town, state and in a way, an entire country. And countless others daily are murdered through abortion, and victims of child abuse, sexual, physical or mental. A senseless massacre 2000 years ago - another massacre this month.

A domestic scene of the Holy Family
The Holy Family were again rejected when Jesus visited his friends at his hometown of Nazareth, stones thrown at him, blasphemed and cursed at, and almost thrown over a cliff. Thousands of families and individuals were displaced from their homes after Hurricane Sandy in the Northeast USA destroyed homes, lives, potential careers, budding futures and dreams, many of whom have not recovered at all. Granted that this was an act of nature, but people suffered because of consequential mistakes and errors. Displaced and rejected 2000 years ago - and again this year.

May the Holy Family of Nazareth be an example for us of fortitude, forgiveness, compassion and hope for a better future.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Christmas scenes from Malta

Nativity display outside the Hamrun parish church

As I shared with you already throughout the month of December, Christmas has a very special pl;ace in the hearts and lives of the Maltese people, and here are a few scenes of decorations, nativity displays and other seasonal decorations that are prevalent all over the island of Malta.
My childhood church in St Julian's, dressed up for Christmas
Baby Jesus in a bird's nest
A typical marching band club at Paola, highly illuminated

Friday, December 28, 2012

Holy Innocents

"The massacre of the Holy Innocents" a fresco by Giotto

Today we honor and remember the unknown number of boys massacred by Herod at the time when Jesus was born. The Massacre of the Innocents is the biblical narrative of infanticide and gendercide by Herod. According to the Gospel of Matthew Herod ordered the execution of all young male children in the village of Bethlehem, so as to avoid the loss of his throne to a newborn King of the Jews whose birth had been announced to him by the Magi. In typical Matthean style it is understood as the fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy: "Then was fulfilled that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet, saying, A voice was heard in Ramah, Weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children." The number of infants killed is not stated, however the Holy Innocents have been claimed as the first Christian martyrs.
Today we remember also the millions of babies killed through abortion, who may be considered as the modern martyrs, the modern Holy Innocents. And this month in particular, we remember the 20 children killed in Newtown, Connecticut in Sandy Hook Elementary school, who were also martyred at the average age of 6 years, along with 6 teachers.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Two Maltese

A furry Maltese in white and hairy Maltese in black

On an island that is 122 square miles, and 18 miles by 8, there are 400,00 people living in my home country of Malta. It is to say the least pretty crowded, with the third highest density of all the countries in the world, after Monaco and Singapore. For the record, the countries with the lowest density are Mongolia, Namibia, Suriname and Iceland. There are of course many more Maltese and people of Maltese origin in other countries, especially in Australia, Canada and the USA, comprising of people who have emigrated over the years. The Maltese are a mixture of Northern Africans, Europeans and suggesting common ancestry with Sicilians and a genetic input from both North Africa and the Middle East. Studies have indicated that the Maltese population has Southern Italian origins, with little genetic input from the Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa.
Yet there is a breed of dogs called Maltese, and I was finally able to take a picture with Max, an 8-month old puppy belonging to the Watt family from Bend. They were visiting their parents in my parish, my deacon Jim and my parish Secretary Carole. This ancient breed has been known by a variety of names throughout the centuries. Originally called the "Canis Melitaeus" in Latin, it has also been known in English as the "ancient dog of Malta ," the "Roman Ladies' Dog," the "Maltese Lion Dog." The Kennel Club settled on the name "Maltese" for the breed in the 19th century.
The Maltese is thought to have been descended from a Spitz-type dog found among the Swiss Lake Dwellers and was selectively bred to attain its small size. There is also some evidence that the breed originated in Asia and is related to the Tibetan Terrier. The dogs probably made their way to Europe through the Middle East with the migration of nomadic tribes. The oldest record of this breed was found on a Greek amphora found in the Etruscan town of Vulci, in which a Maltese-like dog is portrayed along with the word Melitaie. Aristotle was the first to mention its name Melitaei Catelli, when he compares the dog to a mustelid, around 370 BC. The first written document describing the small Canis Melitaeus was given by the Greek writer Callimachus, around 350 BC. However, Strabo, in the early first century AD, identifies the breed as originating from the Mediterranean island of Malta, and writes that they were favored by noble women.

The Watt family who own Max.
Maltese are bred to be cuddly companion dogs, and thrive on love and attention. They are extremely lively and playful, and even as a Maltese ages, his energy level and playful demeanor remain fairly constant. Some Maltese may occasionally be snappish with smaller children and should be supervised when playing, although socializing them at a young age will reduce this habit. They also adore humans, and prefer to stay near them. The Maltese is very active within a house, and, preferring enclosed spaces, does very well with small yards. For this reason, the breed also fares well in apartments and townhouses, and is a prized pet of urban dwellers. Some Maltese may suffer from separation anxiety.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas Decorations

Many are the homes that are beautifully decorated for the Christmas season. Here are some I come across, both from New York and here in Oregon.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Blessed Christmas to all

Along with Bishop Liam Cary, I wish all visitors of this blog a most Blessed Christmas. From St Francis De Sales Cathedral in Baker City, I extend my sincere wishes that the Christ Child will bring peace on earth, especially in those areas and among those families who have recently experienced loss or tragedy.
Midnight Mass at the Cathedral

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas at the Cathedral

Christmas Blessings from St Francis De Sales Cathedral, Baker City, OREGON. This is how our sanctuary looks on Christmas Day, thanks to our decorators Catalina and Art Corona.

Oh come let us adore Him
And this, as I promised you is my humble presepio I created with paper-mache, as I do every year, with simple figurines, including a fisherman, shepherds, sheep, angels and the Holy Family in the cave of Bethlehem.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas in New York

I share with you today some scenes from New York City, specifically the area around Rockefeller Center, which is illuminated with angels, plenty of lights and a huge Christmas Tree with thousands of lights, lit up right after Thanksgiving until January 6th. I have some great memories of New York as I spent 22 years there. 

One of my highlights was a trip to the city during Christmas week, to walk through 5th Avenue, visit St Patrick's Cathedral, of course Rockefeller Center, and the one of the 7 unknown wonders of New York, the reredos of St Thomas Episcopalian church on 5th Avenue. (click to enlarge and see the incredible detail)

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas Cards

A selection of my Christmas cards sent over the years

Billions of Christmas cards are exchanged every December. I am grateful that I receive close to 60 cards, most of them with a religious theme. When I send cards myself, I have  the custom of making my own cards with a different photo every year. Above you will see a collection of various cards I used over the years. In this digital age, people are sending less Christmas cards, but opt for the electronic cards, which are cleverly done, and meaningful nonetheless. 
First Christmas card ever designed by John Callcott Horsley in 1843

The first Christmas card was sent in 1843 from England, and I share it here with readers and visitors of this blog. Over 2050 copies were printed that first year, for the cost of a shilling each, maybe valued at 25 cents. Original cards were designed and sent as postcards, but by 1920, most cards were sent in an envelope. A United Kingdom auction in 2001 fetched a record breaking £22,250 for this first original card!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Nativities from Malta

People in Malta are very fond of creating their own Nativity displays. They make them out of paper-mache, rocks, brown paper dipped in glue, and any other kind of material, rustic and usually hand-made, ordinary stuff. Posted here are a few of these nativities as displayed in an exhibition I saw in December 2010. A few of them create the entire town of Bethlehem, with houses, hills, trees, bridges, and fields, with everything leading to the cave where Jesus was born. Over the next few days I will show you the one that I created this year. Click on each photo to enlarge and see more detailed description of the nativities, also called in Malta, presepios.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

My parents' masterpiece

Over the years my parents have always decorated our home with Christmas symbols, including a large presepio, a Nativity display that my father created for us, the whole town of Bethlehem. They also set up a canopy with baby Jesus and two angels in the entrance of our house, something which I refer to as a masterpiece, because they put so much love and attention to it. The above photos shows my parents next to it, back in the 1990s, and after my mother died in 2012, in their memory I painted the scene of both of them decorating it, a ritual they enjoyed doing every Christmas. Surrounding baby Jesus are pots of grown vetch, a seed that grows very white, as long as it is grown in the dark. It is usually planted in early December and water every few days, until a few days before Christmas. It may look similar to alfalfa, but it’s used frequently by many families and churches for the Christmas season.
Watercolor impression of my parents decorating Baby Jesus

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Jesse Tree

Jesse was the father of the great King David of the Old Testament. He is often looked upon as the first person in the genealogy of Jesus. In Church art a design developed showing the relationship of Jesus with Jesse and other biblical personages. This design showed a branched tree growing from a reclining figure of Jesse. The various branches had pictures of other Old and New Testament figures who were ancestors of Jesus. This design was used mostly in stained glass windows in some of the great medieval cathedrals of Europe. The Cathedral of Chartres (which was dedicated in 1260) has a particularly beautiful Jesse Tree window. Another development in religious art during the Middle Ages was that of Mystery Plays - drama that depicted various Bible stories or lives of Saints and Martyrs. These plays were performed in churches as part of the liturgical celebrations. One such play was based on the Bible account of the fall of Adam and Eve. The "Tree of Life" used during the play was decorated with apples. (Quite possibly this is also the forerunner of our own Christmas tree.)

Chartres Cathedral Jesse Tree

Combining the two ideas of the stained glass Jesse Tree window and the Tree of Life from the Mystery Play, the idea developed to create a Jesse Tree  project. This custom has been used for years to help Christians, especially children to prepare for Christmas. A tree is set up, even on a board made of felt, or painted. Then every day throughout the month of December, an object is added that relates to the people that preceded Jesus. Here are some suggestions that can be added to the tree, with the respective biblical reference:
Creation: Gen. 1:1-31; 2:1-4 Symbols: sun, moon, stars, animals, earth
Adam and Eve: Gen. 2:7-9, 18-24 Symbols: tree, man, woman
Fall of Man: Gen. 3:1-7 and 23-24 Symbols: tree, serpent, apple with bite
Noah: Gen. 6:5-8, 13-22; 7:17, 23, 24; 8:1, 6-22 Symbols: ark, animals, dove, rainbow
Abraham: Gen. 12:1-3 Symbols: torch, sword, mountain
Isaac: Gen. 22:1-14 Symbols: bundle of wood, altar, ram in bush
Jacob: Gen. 25:1-34; 28:10-15 Symbols: kettle, ladder
Joseph: Gen. 37:23-28; 45:3-15 Symbols: bucket, well, silver coins, tunic
Moses: Ex. 2:1-10 Symbols: baby in basket, river and rushes
Samuel: 1 Sam. 3:1-18 Symbols: lamp, temple
Jesse: 1 Sam. 16:1-13 Symbols: crimson robe, shepherd's staff
David: 1 Sam. 17:12-51 Symbols: slingshot, 6-pointed star
Solomon: 1 Kings 3:5-14, 16-28 Symbols: scales of justice, temple, two babies and sword
Joseph: Matt. 1:18-25 Symbols: hammer, saw, chisel, angle
Mary: Matt. 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-38 Symbols: lily, crown of stars, pierced heart
John the Baptist: Mark 1:1-8 Symbols: shell with water, river

From my former parish in Pleasant Valley, NY
The symbols for the Jesse Tree from December 17 to 23 are based on the "O" Antiphons that are used during Mass.
Jesus is Wisdom: Sirach 24:2; Wisdom 8:1 Symbols: oil lamp, open book
Jesus is Lord: Ex. 3:2; 20:1 Symbols: burning bush, stone tablets
Jesus is Flower of Jesse: Isaiah 11:1-3 Symbols: flower, plant with flower
Jesus is Key of David: Isaiah 22:22 Symbols: key, broken chains
Jesus is the Radiant Dawn: Psalm 19:6-7 Symbols: sun rising or high in sky
Jesus is King of the Gentiles: Psalm 2:7-8; Ephesians 2:14-20 Symbols: crown, scepter
Jesus is Emmanuel: Isaiah 7:14; 33:22 Symbols: tablets of stone, chalice and host
Jesus is Light of the World: John 1:1-14 Symbols: candle, flame, sun

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Exhibition of Baby Jesus

I share with you a stunning display of images of Baby Jesus, set up as a permanent exhibition in a private house in Birkirkara, Malta. I first was introduced to this exhibition in 2002, and visited it with my father, incidentally just 3 days before he died. Two years ago, the exhibition was set up as a permanent display with over 1500 different images of Baby Jesus in various postures as you can see from these few photos. 

Some of them are made from clay, plastic, ceramic, chalk or gesso, and some even from wax. Most of them represent the infant Jesus as he lies in his manger, but others represent the Infant of Prague and others showing Jesus as a toddler.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Angels in heaven

As many little children dress up as angels for their school and church Christmas pageants during this Christmas week, 27 of these children and teachers are enjoying their first few hours in heaven. Most probably many of these innocent victims would have been in church pageants these few days before Christmas. 

We remember them today, as the funerals of these angels will be held all throughout this week. We pray for their parents, siblings, friends, relatives and the entire community of Newtown, Connecticut. We pray for the priests, ministers and other religious leaders who will have to comfort and console heart-broken families. May they rest in peace, and may they watch over us from their new home in heaven.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Malta Christmas Lights

Scenes from Malta - Christmas decorations from 2010. Much of the decorations in my home country of Malta are religious of nature, with the Nativity the main attraction, as you will see over the next few days. But today I share some photos I took 2 years ago of different street lights.
Street lights in the town of Hamrun
Street lights on the Balluta/St Julian's promenade

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Remembering the victims

Emile Parker, aged 6
The victims of the Newtown School tragedy:
Charlotte Bacon, 6                                      Daniel Barden, 7
Olivia Engel, 6                                             Josephine Gay, 7
Ana M. Marquez-Greene, 6                      Dylan Hockley, 6
Madeleine F. Hsu, 6                                   Catherine V. Hubbard, 6
Chase Kowalski, 7                                       Jesse Lewis, 6
James Mattioli, 6                                        Grace McDonnell, 7
Emilie Parker, 6                                          Jack Pinto, 6
Noah Pozner, 6                                           Caroline Previdi, 6
Jessica Rekos, 6                                         Avielle Richman, 6
Benjamin Wheeler, 6                                 Allison N. Wyatt, 6

Rachel Davino, 29    Teacher
Dawn Hochsprung, 47    School principal
Nancy Lanza, 52    Mother of gunman
Anne Marie Murphy, 52    Teacher
Lauren Rousseau, 30    Teacher
Mary Sherlach, 56    School psychologist
Victoria Soto, 27    Teacher

We remember also the two victims killed at the Clackamas Shopping Center in Portland Oregon a few days earlier:
Steve Forsyth, 45,
Cindy Ann Yuille, 54.

May they all rest in peace and may the parents find consolation and comfort during this trying time of unspeakable loss.

Praying for Newtown, CT

Young children being led out of their school by Police Officers at Newtown, CT

Yet another tragedy hit a small community in the heart of Connecticut. And this time, the victims were 20 young children, besides 6 adults, all killed in Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. These were 20 innocent children who were waiting for Santa Claus to arrive in their house in 11 days, and today, the devil arrived instead, and caused this horrific massacre. 
Let us pray for these children, their teachers, their parents, their friends, those injured and those helping in the recovery and healing process. May the parents of these children find comfort and consolation, knowing that as long as they live, they have these angels watching over them, angels that were so savagely snuffed away from them. And let us continue to fight evil in all its forms. As much as this is Rejoicing (Gaudete) Sunday in the Liturgy of the Third Sunday of Advent, unfortunately there will not be much joy in Newtown this weekend. But remember that Joy is not the absence of suffering, but the Presence of the Lord. And the Lord is always by your side, healing your pain, and comforting your sadness.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Christmas in my watercolors

Christmas Eve procession with baby Jesus

My childhood memories of Christmas in Malta is still vivid in my mind. Recently I painted two such memories, which actually happen within minutes of each other on Christmas Eve. The first one is a procession with Baby Jesus, as children carry the statue of Jesus in a manger through the streets of towns and villages, singing Christmas carols and carrying lanterns, lights and other religious symbols, usually with quotes from the bible story of the Nativity. The procession ends in the parish church of the particular town, where the next painting takes place.
Altar boy sermon at Midnight Mass
This scenes represents what happens at the midnight Mass, where a young child, frequently an altar-boy delivers the Christmas sermon, obviously after memorizing it from the beginning to end. This scene shows my childhood parish church of St. Julian’s during the sermon delivered by an altar-boy. Unfortunately I was never chosen to preach the sermon as a young boy, but then when I became a priest, I realized why - because I would have to spend the rest of my life preaching. Moreover in my first 4 years as an Assistant pastor in my hometown, I was asked to write the sermon and teach it to a young boy. My first one in 1977 was delivered by a young boy, Raymond Calleja, who has since become quite a comedian, a stand-up comic artist that is very popular in Malta, appearing regularly on TV, even presenting a program of his own. Incidentally, 2 years ago, he interviewed me on live TV, reconnecting some great memories and stories from the mid 1970s.
TV interview with Ray Calleja