Sunday, September 30, 2012

The 8 L's of Parenting

LOVE your family and tell them. Spend time hugging, listening, and affirming. When you give your attention, it should be undivided.

LOOK for opportunities to find the good in your family and make comments about the good traits in the other parent and your children.

LISTEN to your children when they need to express their thoughts and feelings and model expressing your thoughts in an appropriate manner.

LAUGH with your children. A sense of humor goes a long way in dealing with the issues of life. Play together, each day is a gift you only get once.

LABOR diligently and with pride in what you do and expect the same of your children.

LEARN, learn, and learn. A good motto is, “Every day the thing to do is learn something new”. Have good books, periodicals, and information in your home. Read to your children, and for yourself, and instill a love of learning in them.

LEAVE TV and other media off. Have conversation and play be the noise in your homes, interact with one another.

LIVE life to its fullest. Take pleasure in the little things, ice-cream, the sunshine, the enthusiasm of your little ones, and the innocence of their sleep. Have candlelight family suppers – even if it is hamburger. Sing even if you do not carry a tune, remember to encourage dreams and be thankful.

Use these 8 L’s of parenting as a guide to remember what is important in life and how you can express Love with your children every day!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Archangels

St Michael, St Raphael and St Gabriel

Today is the feast of the Archangels, Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. Michael - the angel of judgment - is known as the champion in the fight against Satan and the other devils as well as the guardian of the faithful especially at the time of death. Frequently he is portrayed crushing the devil’s head with a lance. 
Gabriel - the angel of mercy - is the messenger from God in St Luke’s gospel who foretold the birth of John the Baptist, “Be not afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife, Elizabeth, will bear you a son, and you shall name him John.” Six months later it was Gabriel who appeared to Mary at the Annunciation saying, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.” Raphael  -  whose name means “God has healed” was sent by God to heal Tobias of his blindness and to deliver Sara from the devil in the book of Tobit.
We tend to underestimate the presence of Angels in our lives. However they are gaining popularity as we see many angel pins on people’s jackets, posters and paintings of various angels are showing up at card stores. And of course at Christmas, there are the angels on ornaments and hanging on nativity scenes. We sing about the angels in several of the Christmas hymns. Angels were also present at Jesus’ tomb when the women went to anoint his body and found the tomb empty. But we are reluctant to accept their actual existence. This is certainly a departure from our childhood when we prayed to our guardian angel at least daily. As children we believed that there was truly one angel whose job was to look after us, who would always hover around us ready to protect us from all evil and to communicate our desires and needs to God. The feast of the Guardian Angels in fact is in 3 days, October 2.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Religious affiliation of US Presidents

With the US election coming up in early November, the subject of religion always comes up, especially this year as our freedom of religious worship is being threatened seriously. Most of the US presidents were affiliated to an organized religion, and as we know, only one so far, was a Roman Catholic, John F. Kennedy.
Here is a list of all the Presidents and their religious affiliation at the time of their installation as President:
George Washington – Episcopalian
John Adams – Unitarian, originally Congregationalist
Thomas Jefferson – no specific
James Madison – Deism/Episcopalian
James Monroe – Episcopalian/Deism?
John Quincy Adams – Unitarian
Andrew Jackson – Presbyterian
Martin Van Buren – Dutch
William Henry Harrison – Episcopalian
John Tyler – Episcopalian
James K. Polk – Methodist   
Zachary Taylor – nominally Episcopalian
Millard Fillmore – Unitarian
Franklin Pierce – no specific affiliation

James Buchanan – Presbyterian
Abraham Lincoln – no affiliation
Andrew Johnson – no affiliation
Ulysses S. Grant – Presbyterian, Methodist
Rutherford B. Hayes – no affiliation
James Garfield – Disciples of Christ
Chester A. Arthur – Episcopalian
Grover Cleveland – Presbyterian
Benjamin Harrison – Presbyterian
Grover Cleveland – Presbyterian
William McKinley – Methodist
Theodore Roosevelt – Dutch Reformed
William Howard Taft – Unitarian
Woodrow Wilson – Presbyterian
Warren G. Harding – Baptist
Calvin Coolidge – Congregationalist

Herbert Hoover – Quaker
Franklin D. Roosevelt – Episcopalian
Harry S. Truman – Baptist
Dwight D. Eisenhower – Presbyterian
John F. Kennedy – Roman Catholic
Lyndon Johnson – Disciples of Christ
Richard Nixon – Quaker
Gerald R. Ford – Episcopalian
Jimmy Carter – Baptist
Ronald Reagan – Presbyterian
George H. W. Bush – Episcopalian
Bill Clinton – Baptist
George W. Bush – Methodist
Barack Obama – unaffiliated Christian

Thursday, September 27, 2012

St Vincent de Paul

Born to a peasant family on April 24th 1581 near Ranquine, Gascony near Dax, southwest France, Vincent was a highly intelligent youth. He spent four years with the Franciscan friars at Acq, France getting an education. He began divinity studies in 1596 at the University of Toulouse and was ordained a priest at age 20. He was taken captive by Turkish pirates to Tunis, and sold into slavery. Eventually he was freed in 1607 when he converted one of his owners to Christianity. 
Returning to France, he served as parish priest near Paris where he started organizations to help the poor, nursed the sick, found jobs for the unemployed, etc. He founded the Order known as the Vincentians. He also became chaplain at the court of Henry IV of France. With St Louise de Marillac, he co-founded the Congregation of the Daughters of Charity. St Vincent died on  September 27th, 1660 at Paris, France of natural causes. His body was found incorrupt when exhumed in 1712. He was canonized on June 16th, 1737 by Pope Clement XII. Many St Vincent de Paul Societies flourished around the world, helping the poor and the homeless.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Wedding Anniversary Prayer

This is a prayer which can be said by parents, especially on their wedding anniversary, to be read preferably by the parents together:
Dear Lord, we stand before you today as we celebrate another Anniversary of our Marriage.
We thank You for standing by us through good times and bad, in sickness and in health.
And after all these years full of life and love, successes and failures, joys and disappointments, bumps and bruises, tears and smiles, hugs and kisses, we look forward for more happiness and contentment with our children, family and friends.

We look back and reminisce the work we accomplished throughout these years.......
25,347 diapers changed, 23,589 bottles filled, 9,651 baths given, 14,432 meals prepared,
421 trips to the Doctor’s Office, 475 Baseball and Basketball Games, Practices and Scrimmages, 679 homeworks and school projects done at 10 p.m., 27 spankings, 38 teachers’ Conferences, 527 Religion classes, 728 trips to Sunday Mass, 100s of “I Love You”, “Sorry” and “Thank You”.......and we can honestly say that they were all worthed ! Continue to bless our Marriage, Lord with the respect, commitment and love we show towards each other. And may we always remember that the biggest gift we can give to our children is the Love and Faith we share together.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Welcome to Autumn

Tamarack trees in Eastern Oregon
The Autumn or Fall season is certainly in the air here in the Northwest USA, as temperatures dip down close to freezing point overnight and reach only the low 70s during the day. As hunting season also starts, deer are more visible as they move around the fields and countryside, as if they know that hunters are after them. The change of foliage is quite spectacular in the northern parts of the USA and Canada. 

Maple trees in Spencer, Massachusetts

While the Northeast areas around Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New York have a predominance of maple trees that turn red, orange and yellow, the Northwest region around Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana have a distinctly dominance of tamarack trees that turn to yellow, before they drop their needles, right on time throughout the month of October. Welcome to Autumn, and soon I’ll show the photos of the first snow in the mountains, which I predict will happen within 2 weeks.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Just in case you thought you knew everything

Tigers have striped skin, not striped fur
1.  Rubber bands last longer when refrigerated.
2.  Peanuts are one of the ingredients in dynamite.
3.  There are 293 ways to make change for a dollar.
4.  The average person's left hand does 56% of the typing.
5.  A shark is the only fish that can blink with both eyes.
6.  There are more chickens than people in the world.
7.  The longest one-syllable word in the English language is screeched."
8.  Almonds are a member of the peach family.

9. Winston Churchill was born in a ladies' room during a dance.
10. Maine is the only state whose name is just one syllable.
11. There are only four words in the English language which end in "dous": tremendous, horrendous, stupendous, and  hazardous.
12.  Los Angeles' full name is "El Pueblo de Nuestra  Senora la Reina de los Angeles de Porciuncula"
13.  A cat has 32 muscles in each ear.
14.  An ostrich's eye is bigger than its brain.
15.  Tigers have striped skin, not just striped fur.
16.  The characters Bert and Ernie on Sesame Street  were named after Bert  the cop and Ernie the taxi driver in Frank Capra's  "It's a Wonderful Life."
17.  A dragonfly has a life span of 24 hours.

18.  A goldfish has a memory span of three seconds.
19.  A dime has 118 ridges around the edge.
20.  It's impossible to sneeze with your eyes open. 
21.  In England, the Speaker of the House is not allowed to speak.
22.  The microwave was invented after a researcher walked by a radar tube  and a chocolate bar melted in his pocket.
23.  The average person falls asleep in seven minutes.
24.  There are 336 dimples on a regulation golf ball.
25.  "Stewardesses" is the longest word that is typed with only the left hand.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Prayer of Humility

As we see Jesus in the Sunday Gospel today encouraging his apostles to be humble, and never unpretentious, this is especially good for those of us over 60, but it applies to everyone as you age in good health and good spirits, whether you're 6, 16 or 60:
A Prayer of Humility
Lord, you know better than myself that I am growing older and will soon be old. Keep me from becoming too talkative, and especially from the unfortunate habit of thinking that I must say something on every subject and at every opportunity. Release me from the idea that I must straighten out other peoples' affairs. With my immense treasure of experience and wisdom, it seems a pity not to let everybody partake of it. Keep me from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point.
Grant me the patience to listen to the complaints of others; help me to endure them with charity. But seal my lips on my own aches and pains - they increase with the increasing years and my inclination to recount them is also increasing. I will not ask You for improved memory, only for a little more humility and less self-assurance when my own memory doesn't agree with that of others. Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be wrong.
Keep me reasonably gentle. I do not have the ambition to become a saint - it is so hard to live with some of them - but a harsh old person is one of the devil's masterpieces. Make me sympathetic without being sentimental, helpful but not bossy. Let me discover merits where I had not expected them, and talents in people whom I had not thought to possess any. And, Lord, give me the grace to tell them so. Amen.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

16 needs for today

Certainly the need of God in our lives
These are 16 practical needs the world needs today:
A need for permanence in a civilization of transience.
A need for the Absolute when all else is becoming relative.
A need for silence in the midst of noise.
A need for gratuitousness in the face of unbelievable greed.
A need for poverty amid the flaunting of wealth.
A need for contemplation a century of action, for without contemplation, action risks becoming mere agitation.
A need for communication in a universe content with entertainment and sensationalism.
A need for peace amid today’s universal outbursts of violence.
A need for quality to counterbalance the increasingly prevalent response to quantity.
A need for humility to counteract the arrogance of power and science.
A need for human warmth when everything is being rationalized or computerized.
A need to belong to a small group rather than to be a part of the crowd.
A need to slowness to compensate the present eagerness for speed.
A need for truth when the real meaning of words is distorted in political speeches and sometimes even in religious discourses.
A need for transparency when everything seems opaque.
A need for the interior life, when you can discover God inside of you.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Malta's Independence Day

Prime Minister George Borg Olivier showing the documents of Independence

Malta was ruled over the past 2 millennia by the Romans, the Arabs, the Normans, the Spanish, the Knights of St John, the French and the British. Following a Maltese constitutional referendum in 1964, approved by 54.5% of voters, on September 21st 1964, Malta became an independent state as a Constitutional Monarchy, with Queen Elizabeth II as its Head of State. 

Plaque that commemorates Malta's Independence, which translated, means: "The Maltese people rejoice with the victory of Independence of these islands, today September 21st, 1964."

So September 21st every year is celebrated as Independence Day or Jum l-Indipendenza in Maltese, this year being the 48th anniversary. One can say that both Labor Leader Dom Mintoff, who died a month a ago, as well as Nationalist Leader and Prime Minister George Borg Olivier contributed towards the attainment of Independence.

Set of stamps issued for Malta's Independence in 1964
On December 1st 1964, Malta was admitted to the United Nations. In 1965 Malta joined the Council of Europe, and in 1970, Malta signed an Association Treaty with the European Community. Malta was declared a republic on December 13th, 1974 and in 2004, Malta finally became the 25th nation to join the European Union.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Flashback to 50 years ago

My family in 1962
Tomorrow Malta celebrates its Independence Day, a historic day that took place in 1964, when it gained Independence from England. In anticipation of tomorrow's landmark, I go back 50 years to share a family photo from 1962 with my parents, my two sisters and my brother. Our younger brother Marcel was born in 1964. 

School bus pass photo

At this time I was still at the local Primary School in St Julian's, before I started the Secondary education first at Naxxar Technical school and later at the Minor Seminary in Floriana. The Primary School was a brand new building, which we moved in around 1962, and was a welcome addition to our education process. At that time each student going to Secondary schools had to have a bus pass for a reduction of the bus fare, which was minimal nonetheless. 
The St Julian''s Primary School Staff in the early 60s
It was also a turbulent time for Maltese politics as the Church and State relationship were not good, especially between 1958 and 1962, but Independence calmed things down in more ways than one.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Saint Januarius

St. Januarius (Gennaro) is a patron saint of and former bishop of Naples in the 4th century. Januarius and his friends were initially sentenced to be eaten by the lions, .tigers, and bears ( Oh my) at the Naples amphitheatre. Although the beasts had been starved for several days before the day of the planned transformation of the Christians into animal crackers, the beasts refused to attack Januarius and his colleagues. The spectators at the amphitheatre were frightened by the indifference of the starving animals to the Christians and rumors began to circulate that the Christians had magical powers and were possibly protected by their god. The governor of Campania ordered their immediate beheading and Januarius' body was later returned to the Cathedral in Naples.
The Cardinal of Naples shows the liquified blood of San Gennaro
Over a century later, it was purported that a vial of St. Januarius' blood surfaced and was preserved and permanently fixed in the metal reliquary in the Cathedral of Naples. Thousands of people assemble to witness this event in the cathedral of Naples, three times a year: on September 19 (Saint Januarius day, to commemorate his martyrdom), on December 16 (to celebrate his patronage of both Naples and of the archdiocese), and on the Saturday before the first Sunday of May (to commemorate the reunification of his relics).

The statue of San Gennaro in Naples Cathedral
Sometimes the "blood" liquefies immediately, other times it takes hours.  When the priest brings the vial to the altar that holds the saint's blood, the people, who gather by the thousands, pray that the blood becomes liquid once again. If the miracle takes place, the officiant proclaims, "Il miracolo é fatto!" and waves a white handkerchief. Then a Te Deum is sung and the reliquary is taken to the altar rail so the faithful can kiss the vial.  The priest conducting the service chants "The miracle has happened." The choir and the congregation respond with a Te Deum, and prayers are offered to St. Januarius. There have been a few instances when the substance in the vial had not liquefied and the faithful believes that it is a sign of impending peril. Five times when liquefaction has failed there have been major disasters, the latest being an earthquake in southern Italy that killed 3,000 people in 1980.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Working along with God

"The Divine Jesus" by El Greco
Today reflect on these little quotes, and better yet, put them to work

1. Be ye fishers of men.... You catch them - He'll clean them.
2. Coincidence is when God chooses to remain anonymous.
3. Don't put a question mark where God put a period.
4. Don't wait for 6 strong men to take you to church.
5. Forbidden fruits create many jams.
6. God doesn't call the qualified, He qualifies the called.
7. God grades on the cross, not the curve.
8. God loves everyone, but probably prefers "fruits of the spirit" over "religious nuts!"
9. God promises a safe landing, not a calm passage.

10. You try to do your best - He'll do the rest!
11. If God is your Copilot - swap seats!
12. Most people want to serve God, but only in an advisory capacity.
13. Prayer: Don't give God instructions  - just report for duty!
14. The task ahead of us is never as great as the Power behind us.
15. The Will of God will never take you to where the Grace of God will not protect you.
16. We don't change the message, the message changes us.
17. You can tell how big a person is by what it takes to discourage him.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Ranch signs

Last week I was driving in the southwest region of Oregon, around the town of O'Brien, and came across an outdoor shop that sells ranch signs made from metal. They all have a country and western motif, besides showing animals that one finds in the country, deer and elk, geese and quail, eagles and swans, etc. 

The owner came  to speak to me when he saw me taking pictures, and I assured him I will not use my photos for any business transaction, but simply to showcase his beautiful work. One finds these signs hanging above ranch gates and doors and are quite attractive and appealing. I took quite a few other photos of such signs over the past few years, but never came across a whole display like this.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Our parish family

2012 Baker City Cathedral group photo

I share with you today a photo of our parish family during a photo I took last weekend during our annual parish picnic. Even though not all the registered parishioners were present for this photo, at least those who attended the Sunday Mass were asked to line up on the steps of our Cathedral for this annual opportunity to be included in a group photo. Since we've been taking a photo every year, here are three other group photos from different years. Click once to enlarge each photo, and see if you can spot yourself.
2006 Baker City Cathedral group photo
2007 Baker City Cathedral group photo  
2008 Baker City Cathedral group photo
2010 Baker City Cathedral group photo

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Our Lady of Sorrows

Our Lady of Sorrows by Adriaen Isenbrant
The liturgical feast of Our Lady of Sorrows is celebrated a day after the feast of the Cross, and even though we are far from the Lenten season, the church asks us to reflect on the 7 sorrows that Mary experienced, as beautifully depicted in this image by Adriaen Isenbrant from the 16th century, a panel visible in Bruges, Belgium.
The 7 sorrows that Mary had to face were these, as described in each of the panels surrounding the image of the Sorrowful Mother:
1. Jesus’ circumcision.
2. The escape into Egypt.
3. Jesus lost and found in the temple.
4. Seeing Jesus carrying the cross and meeting him on the way to Calvary.
5. The crucifixion of Jesus.
6. The Pieta, as the dead body of Jesus is laid on her lap.
7. The burial of Jesus.

The beautiful hymn Stabat Mater Dolorosa is sung frequently during Lent, especially during the Stations of the Cross. The first three words mean Stood the mournful Mother weeping, and the poem was written by Jacopone de Todi in the 13th century, and was set to music by various composers including  Palestrina, Pergolesi, Scarlatti, Vivaldi, Haydn, Rossini, and Dvorák. Here are the first 2 verses:

At the Cross her station keeping,
stood the mournful Mother weeping,
close to her Son to the last.

Through her heart, His sorrow sharing,
all His bitter anguish bearing,
now at length the sword has passed.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Finding of the Cross

Today the church commemorates the day when St Helena found the cross on which Jesus was crucified. Being the mother of Emperor Constantine, who ended the persecutions in 313AD, Helena was determined to find the abandoned cross on which Jesus was crucified. The excavations actually found three crosses buried in Jerusalem close to Mount Calvary. To verify which was the actual cross of Christ, they asked a sick person to touch each cross.  When he touched the third one, the person was completely healed, and thereby they concluded which was Jesus's cross.
The above cross is the one in the St Francis De Sales day-chapel, where we celebrate Mass three times a week, and where the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is held every Friday. The image of the crucifixion, along with the nativity is the most painted subject in the history of art, and every painting is a true meditation on the passion of Christ.
Crucifixion by Mathias Grunewald

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Praying for the Middle East

Let us pray today for the countries and people in the Middle East region, in particular Libya and Egypt where more violence has been reported in retaliation for some offensive video circulating on the Internet. As much as social media are a blessing to all of us, they can also be an instrument of instigation and can lead to hatred, violence and death, as we have seen over the past few days. The best we can do at this moment is to pray, for peace in the region, for the avoidance of confrontation between rivals, and for common sense to reign. May all religions collaborate together under one God, instead of clash in His name. May harmony reign soon again in the Mediterranean region, with the hopes that Malta, as always will act as a peace-maker, as it has always done.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

2 Rome watercolors

After my visit to Rome in May, I came back with close to 2100 photos I took in the Eternal City. I am presently preparing two PowerPoint talks on Rome and the Vatican respectively. I must have covered an equivalent of a marathon walking all over Rome, and also spent one full day on my feet in the Vatican, the basilica and the Museum, besides climbing over 500 steps to the cupola of St Peter's.

Recently I decided to paint in watercolors two scenes that are typical of Rome, which is dominated by domes of the many churches spread around the city. Of course Michelangelo's dome of the Vatican is the most dominant and the biggest of them all. However the two paintings included here do not show that cupola but others, along with some bells towers and churches, my simple humble interpretation of a Roman skyline.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Twin Towers

I'd like to share with you two more photos I took in the lates 1980s of the Twin Towers. They will forever be historic landmarks for New York City, even though something else is being built in their place. They will always be indelible icons like the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty. May the 3000 people who lost their loves that day be remembered throughout history, as we bow our heads in prayer for them, especially on September 11 each year.

11 years ago

This is a day when we remember the three thousand victims of the most senseless tragedy in human history. At least those who are teenagers and older will surely remember where they were when the events of September 11, 2001 unfolded. I personally was preparing and celebrating Mass at my church in Pleasant Valley, NY, and believe it or not, I heard about the attack on America from my mother. When I got to my room after Mass, I found a message on my phone, and as soon as I was retrieving the message, the phone rings, and it was my mother frantically screaming "Julian, are you all right ?" "yes, of course I'm all right" I answered, wondering why was she panicking. Then she told me to open the TV and relayed to me quickly what was happening. At first I thought that the TV was showing a Schwarzenegger movie, but quickly I realized that this was no science-fiction movie.
We all know the rest of the story, and for the next month or so, I was in touch with the Klein family of Pleasant Valley who had lost their son Peter, in his twenties, and married only a year. Of course I had to do the funeral, with no body, but a large picture of Peter, lots of flowers and a nice quilt which his mother had coordinated with friends, showing the various talents Peter had, from being an altar-boy to a boy scout.

11 years have passed since that day, and the pain for so many families is still there. The blemish that terrorism had inflicted on the USA and the rest of the world is still around us. We just hope and pray that similar horrific tragedies will never occur again. I took these photos in 1988, while on a school trip to the Statue of Liberty with our school children.

Let us pray and remember.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Two more Maltese fruit

These are two more of my childhood fruits which I miss quite a lot, although the first one shows up in our food stores once a year. The pomegranate, also called the Punica granatum is an edible berry and is between a lemon and a grapefruit in size, with a rounded hexagonal shape, and has thick reddish skin. The exact number of seeds in a pomegranate can vary from 200 to about 1400 seeds, contrary to some beliefs that all pomegranates have exactly the same number of seeds. Each seed has a surrounding water-laden pulp ranging in color from white to deep red or purple. The seeds are embedded in a white, spongy, astringent pulp. They grow in abundance in the Middle East and warm European countries. The pomegranate has been mentioned in the book of Exodus and has many benefits, even though some people find them annoying as every berry has a seed, which is edible, and as we said about the prickly pear, let nature take care of the rest.

The loquat also known as Eriobotrya japonica, is a fruit tree in the family Rosaceae, indigenous to central China.  It was formerly thought to be closely related to the genus Mespilus, (thus the Maltese word, naspli) and is still sometimes known as the Japanese medlar. Loquat fruits, growing in clusters, are oval, rounded or pear-shaped, the size of a plum, with a smooth yellow or orange skin. The succulent, tangy flesh is white, yellow or orange and very sweet, and with a brown pit. The skin, though thin, can be peeled off manually if the fruit is ripe. The fruits are the sweetest when soft and orange. The flavor is a mix of peach, citrus and mild mango.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Making salt

Many people are not aware how salt is produced. Well I can tell you that in Malta it is a very common sight to see salt pans near the sea with salt forming in them. It is actually quite a normal and easy method to produce salt. All you need is sea water, a container and sunshine. At various places in Malta, salt pans are dug out of rock, as seen in the above photo. Then sea water is poured in them at the beginning of summer, and then let nature do the rest. 

Usually by mid-August or early September, the water, fermented by the sun had turned into salt. The workers then collect it in piles and you have sea salt. Some of it may be refined and sold to customers, but the coarse sea salt is also in great demand.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Mary's Birthday

Statue of Maria Bambina at Xaghra Parish in Gozo, Malta

Today we celebrate the feast of the birthday of the Blessed Mother. She was conceived in St Anne’s womb on December 8th, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, and to follow the duration of a human pregnancy, the church celebrates her birth date today. Many countries, including Italy and Spain as well as Malta celebrate this holy day with images and statues of the baby Mary, although the statues venerated in Malta are that of a young girl, all of which known as Maria Bambina (the little child Mary.)

An infant Mary wrapped in swaddling clothes
In Malta we also commemorate the occasion of two major victories at war. The first one was the victory of the Maltese and the Knights of Malta against the Turks, the Ottoman Empire in 1565, and the second one was the end of Fascism and Nazism at the height of World War II, a time of terrible suffering for the Maltese people.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Malta's summer fruits

Malta figs, the variety known as 'St John figs'
Among the things I miss from Malta are some of the fruits that grow in abundance on the Maltese islands, especially in the hot summer months. In particular I love figs, which I can never find here in Oregon, other than the dried variety. 

Maturing figs and young figs on the same branch
When I was a young boy, one of my duties was to collect as many figs as possible from my grandmother’s huge fig tree she had in her garden. I would fill three to four bucketfuls of large figs, with another bucketful going into my stomach, while perched on one of the branches or strong limbs, hiding among the leaves so that no one will see me eating away.
21 clearly visible prickly pears on just one cactus leaf
Another fruit that grows in abundance are prickly pears, growing on cactus leaves in fields with no irrigation or water at all. They just pop out every year and many people do not even bother to pick them up, and let them decay or rot. Some people do pick them and sell them, after peeling of the skin, which is covered with thorns. There are as many as 20 to 30 pears on each leaf at times, as you can see from these photos I took in the summer of 2006. They usually grow as yellow, green and red, and of course children always prefer the red ones. Some people dislike them because they have a lot of pits, but then again, it’s better to just close your eyes, eat them and let nature take care of the rest. Next week I will share with you two other fruits that grow in Malta and which are not popular in other countries, loquat and pomegranates.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Your loved ones....

Continuing the last part of my funeral homily from yesterday's funeral for Spc. Mabry Anders, here is again the ending with a poem that many people appreciated a lot. I heard a few sobs while I was reading it :
So as we are gathered here in this Cathedral filling every square inch possible, let us make a commitment to treasure each other’s presence even more, let us remember not to take each other for granted, and if tomorrow never comes, you’ll have no regrets about today! Remember and try to live the message of this prayer:

If I knew it would be the last time that I'd see you fall asleep, 
I would tuck you in more tightly and pray the Lord, your soul to keep.

If I knew it would be the last time that I see you walk out the door,
I would give you a hug and kiss you and call you back for one more.

If I knew it would be the last time I'd hear your voice lifted up in praise,
I would video tape each action and word, so I could play them back day after day.

If I knew it would be the last time that I see you, I could spare an extra minute or two
to stop and say "I love you," instead of assuming, you would KNOW I do.

For surely there's always tomorrow to make up for an oversight,
and we always get a second chance to make everything right.

There will always be another day to say our "I love you's",
And certainly there's another chance to say our "Anything I can do's?"

But just in case I might be wrong, and today is all I get,
I'd like to say how much I love you and I hope we never forget.

Tomorrow is not promised to anyone, young or old alike,
And today may be the last chance you get to hold your loved one tight.

So if you're waiting for tomorrow, why not do it today?
For if tomorrow never comes, you'll surely regret the day,

That you didn't take that extra time for a smile, a hug, or a kiss
and you were too busy to grant someone, what turned out to be their one last wish.

So hold your loved ones close today, whisper in their ear,
Tell them how much you love them and that you'll always hold them dear.

Take time to say "I'm sorry," "please forgive me," "thank you" or "it's okay".
And if tomorrow never comes, you'll have no regrets about today.

So squeeze that hand that is close to you right now – and it’s OK to say “I love you,” now that you still can. If there is any consolation by this celebration, it is that Mabry was able to bring this entire community together. When I saw that large crowd as I was coming from the airport Monday morning flanking the streets, I was so impressed and in a way surprised, and I said to myself “How did all these people found out about this moment?” I guess the answer is found in three phrases, social media, word of mouth, and the blessing of small town America.
So that Mabry’s death was not in vain, let us keep up this spirit of patriotism that keeps our nation, our state, our county and our town united, the spirit of prayer that his family is asking for today, and the spirit of love which we share today, the same kind of love that Mabry died for. Yes, there is certainly no greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. 2000 years ago, someone else died for us, being crucified on the cross. Today Mabry imitated his Master – making his ultimate sacrifice.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Remembering Mabry Anders

Cathedral sanctuary display during funeral Mass
Today I buried Spc. Marby Anders, a 21-year old soldier from our parish community here in Baker City who was killed in Afghanistan on August 27. It was a most moving ceremony in a packed church with family and friends. This photo shows the Cathedral sanctuary with a large picture of Mabry along with the boots, rifle and helmet that Mabry used in Afghanistan. Please remember him and his family in your prayers.

From my funeral homily:
We gather today to pray in faith, to reminisce love and the celebrate hope.
We gather as Christians in this church where Mabry’s family has worshipped for years, and where we all find comfort and consolation, especially in the midst of our sorrows. This is where we find the strength to keep going, especially when it is the toughest thing to do.
We gather here to reminisce love, the love that Mabry shared with his parents, his family, his friends. We remember the happy times, the jokes, the stories and the laughter and may he continue to be a part of our lives.
We gather here to celebrate hope, hope in a future that will always have question marks, hope in the unpredictable and the unforeseen, hope in our God who created us and keeps us alive, the God who at times asks for special people to be closer to Him, even though they are now farther from us.
We honor today a young man full of vitality, at the prime of his life who made his ultimate sacrifice. As we read in the Gospel today: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.” Mabry’s friends were not only his immediate family and friends, but his country, the whole of the United States of America. Mabry was the 155th member of the military from Oregon and Southwest Washington to die in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He was the second one from our parish community, after Jessica Ellis was killed in similar circumstances on Mother’s Day 2008.
Over the past 2 millennia, the church celebrated the lives of many martyrs who died for their faith and their ideals. In the first three centuries after Christ, many unknown martyrs shed their blood through crucifixion, beheading, flaying, burning, torture and even being sent to the lions. Many others were martyred for not wanting to give up their faith, saints like St Joan of Arc, St Thomas More and St John Fisher. Even more recently thousands died during World Wars, the martyrs of Pearl Harbor, those in concentration camps of Auschwitz, Sobibor, Dakau and Treblinka. 3,000 martyrs were killed innocently on September 11, 2001, and I witnessed personally that tragedy, having to bury a few of the victims myself in New York. 

And then we have those soldiers who have shed their blood for their country in Afghanistan and Iraq, so far over 5,500 in the 2 countries. As I said earlier Mabry is the second from our small parish community, besides Jessica. Our Lord Jesus, many saints and martyrs also made the ultimate sacrifice over the past 2 millennia. But to die so innocently and tragically is not something anyone is ever prepared for. We all heard it said that children should outlive their parents. A young man at the prime of his life snatched from our midst is somehow unfair.
We celebrate Mabry’s life today. His body is gone. On Ash Wednesday we say to the people as a sign of repentance “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” We honor him with a Christian burial. His soul reunites itself with God, but his spirit lives on, in the love he showed towards his family and friends, in the valor and courage he showed to serve his country, in the patriotism towards his native land and everything that is American. As we read in the first reading from the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, there is a time for everything in this life, a time to embrace and a time to be far from embraces, a time to laugh and a time cry, a time of war and a time of peace – and as reminder, we can also remember that just just as there is a time to argue, there is also a time to agree on issues that unite us, as there is time for partying, there is a time for praying; a time to challenge people but also a time to cooperate with them, a time to console and to comfort.