Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Blessings in 2013

Saying goodbye to the Baker City Cathedral
This is a time for reflection as well as celebration. As you look back on the past year and all that has taken place in your life, remember each experience for the good that has come of it and for the knowledge you have gained. Remember the efforts you have made and the goals you have reached. Remember the love you have shared and the happiness you have brought. Remember the laughter, the joy, the hard work, and the tears. And as you reflect on the past year, also be thinking of the new one to come. Because most importantly, this is a time of new beginnings and the celebration of life.
A new Pope brings new hope to the entire world
It is a time for me personally to thank God and my bishop for trusting me with the leadership of the parish of St Francis of Assisi in Bend. It is time for me and my family to thank God for the graduation as a doctor of my nephew Julian and his mother Maria as a BA in Art History. It is time to honor two living Popes, Benedict XVI and Francis, as we welcome a new Shepherd, the first from Latin America. It is time to look back through so many photos I took over this past year, and continue to appreciate nature and wildlife in all its spectacular beauty. It is time to remember the many friends I left at Baker City, and the many new families and friends I met here in Bend. There are many others whom I’ll meet in the future, presently unknown to me - they are not strangers, but only friends I’ve not yet met. Finally I thank God for the blessings of my priesthood, through which I can share my love of the church, my love of the faith and my love for the people entrusted to my care. Happy New Year!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Love and beyond

Brenda Schmitz in a 2010 photo
Here's a warm-hearted story to end this year. This touching story of love was revealed recently from France. A young mother of 4 children, Brenda Schmitz, died of cancer in September 2011. One month before her death, she wrote a letter and sent it to a local radio station in Des Moines, France. The letter was to be kept a secret until a friend of the radio station learned that the woman’s husband, David fell in love with another woman.
David recently got engaged and the station Star 102.5 invited him to visit them so that they can reveal the secret letter. Brenda had written: “In these last few days of my life, I wish that my husband remains courageous. He was a good man and husband, and I know that my loss is going to be tough on him. He will have to take some very important decisions for his children and his future life. I also hope that he will eventually find a woman who loves him dearly and who will help him raise the children well.”
In the letter Brenda also thanked the woman who will marry David, and assured her that she loves her unconditionally. She also insisted that after her death a great party should be organized for her doctors, nurses and care givers. And she also insisted that her family goes on an outrageous vacation. An emotional David said simply that this letter did not surprise him one bit, because over the last 2 years since she died, she was always present in his life, in spite of her physical absence. A truly touching story of love and unselfishness, of loyalty and dedication.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

A human Holy Family

"Holy Family" by Le Nain brothers
Today the church celebrates the feast of the Holy Family. Many of the pictures shown of the Holy Family of Nazareth depict them as the perfect couple with Jesus well behaved and obedient, usually playing with a bird, holding a pomegranate, or with John the Baptist. They still had their share of problems and issues to deal with, all through their lives. To start they had to escape into Egypt for 2 years because Herod was trying to kill baby Jesus. Once they settled in Nazareth, Mary and Joseph raised their son in a very simple environment. As a baby, Jesus had to be diaper-changed, he had to be nursed, toilet-trained eventually, learn how to walk, how to talk, and many other things that babies do as they grow and mature. 
"The Holy Family" by Esteban Murillo
This way we can very easily connect with the Holy Family of Nazareth, because they were very much like every American family raising toddlers. They had their hands full, and we don’t even know what tricks Jesus played on his parents. Because whether you’re in Bend, Oregon, Beverly Hills California, Buckingham Palace in London, or Nazareth in the Holy Land, boys will be boys!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Holy Innocents

William Holman Hunt  - "The Triumph of the Innocents"
As we commemorate one of the most heinous crimes in history today, we remember the countless innocent children killed by Herod, in his attempt to destroy Jesus. The Holy Innocents were given a martyr’s crown in the early days after the Savior’s birth. Knowing how precious they are to God and to everyone, we call on them to join in our prayer for an end to abortion and all forms of violence against children:
 - That the President of the United States, all other elected officials and judges may come to acknowledge the humanity of every child in the womb and to enact laws and policies to defend them.
 - That everyone throughout the world may be given the light to see beyond all doubt the full humanity and unique value of every child who has ever been conceived.
 - That all innocent children who suffer the scourges of war, the wrath of abuse, and the pain of neglect may come to know the power of God’s prevailing love and healing mercy.

The above painting by William Holman Hunt shows the Holy Family saving as many children as they could, taking them with them to Egypt, along with baby Jesus.
Also I remember today the beautiful memorial we erected besides the Cathedral in Baker City, in honor of our precious children, born and unborn. Who knows how many people pause as they walk by this Children’s Memorial and say a prayer. May each prayer said save a baby and help a distraught mother give birth to a her precious child.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The 4 Evangelists

Today being the feats of Saint John, the Evangelist and Apostle, I thought it would be a good idea to share with you the meaning of the symbols connected to each of the 4 Evangelists.
In iconography, the evangelists often are represented by 4 symbols, which originate from the four "living creatures" that appears in the vision in the Book of Ezekiel (Chapter 1) reflected in the Book of Revelation (4.6-9ff), though neither source links the creatures to the Evangelists. They are normally, but not invariably, all shown with wings like angels. One might note that these animals may have originally have been seen as representing the highest forms of the various types of animals, i.e., man, the king of creation as the image of the Creator; the lion as the king of beasts of prey (meat eating); the ox as the king of domesticated animals (grass eating) and the eagle as the king of the birds.

Matthew the Evangelist, the author of the first gospel account is symbolized by a winged man, or angel. Matthew's gospel starts with Jesus' genealogy from Abraham; it represents Jesus' Incarnation, and so Christ's human nature. This signifies that Christians should use their reason for salvation.
Mark the Evangelist, the author of the second gospel account is symbolized by a winged lion – a figure of courage and monarchy. Mark has John the Baptist preaching "like a lion roaring" at the beginning of his Gospel. It also represents Jesus' Resurrection (because lions were believed to sleep with open eyes, a comparison with Christ in the tomb), and Christ as king. This signifies that Christians should be courageous on the path of salvation.

Luke the Evangelist, the author of the third gospel account (and the Acts of the Apostles) is symbolized by a winged ox or bull – a figure of sacrifice, service and strength. Luke's account begins with the duties of Zacharias in the temple; it represents Jesus' sacrifice in His Passion and Crucifixion, as well as Christ being High priest (this also represents Mary's obedience). The ox signifies that Christians should be prepared to sacrifice themselves in following Christ.
John the Evangelist, the author of the fourth gospel account is symbolized by an eagle – a figure of the sky, and believed to be able to look straight into the sun. John starts with an eternal overview of Jesus the Logos (Word) and goes on to describe many things with a "higher" level than the other three (synoptic) gospels; it represents Jesus' Ascension, and Christ's divine nature. This represents that Christians should look on eternity without flinching as they journey towards their goal of union with God.

When surrounding Christ, the figure of the man is usually at top left – above Christ's right hand, with the lion above Christ's left arm. Underneath the man is the ox and underneath the lion is the eagle. This both reflects the medieval idea of the order of "nobility" of nature of the beasts (man, lion, ox, eagle) and the text of Ezekiel 1.10.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Historic church in Bend

After showing you what the new church of St Francis in Bend looks like, I share with you just two photos of the historic church, built in 1920, dressed up for Christmas. The red poinsettias dominate the reredos behind the main altar, while the nativity is placed in front of the altar, shadowed with white poinsettias. 
 We celebrate an afternoon Mass here every Sunday, which is always very crowded, while we celebrate weekday Masses here at 7 AM and 12:15 PM. Moreover the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is held here Monday through Friday from 7:30 AM till 6 PM, with Benediction given at 12 noon. Soon I will show you the new Monstrance which we just bought, through the generosity of the parishioners. We will start using it sometime in early January.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

From my home to your home

The sanctuary at St Francis of Assisi church, Bend
From my new parish, St Francis of Assisi in Bend, Oregon, I wish you all a most Blessed Christmas. I offer all my Masses for your intentions as I remember you all in my prayers and thoughts. And for all my friends, far and wide, I share greetings in different languages

Arabic: Idah Saidan Wa Sanah Jadidah
Argentine: Feliz Navidad
Armenian: Shenoraavor Nor Dari yev Pari Gaghand
Basque: Zorionak eta Urte Berri On
Croatian: Sretan Bozic
Danish: Glædelig Jul
Dutch: Zalig Kerstfeast
English: Merry Christmas

Esperanto: Gajan Kristnaskon
Finnish: Hyvaa joulua
French: Joyeux Noel
Gaelic: Nollaig chridheil agus Bliadhna mhath ùr
German: Froehliche Weihnachten
Hawaiian: Mele Kalikimaka
Hindi: Christmas Mubarak Ho
Hungarian: Kellemes Karacsonyi unnepeket
Icelandic: Gledileg Jol
Indonesian: Selamat Hari Natal

Iraqi: Idah Saidan Wa Sanah Jadidah
Irish: Nollaig Shona Dhuit
Italian: Buon Natale
Japanese: Shinnen omedeto. Kurisumasu Omedeto
Latin: Descendit de coelis Salvator mundi. Gaudeamus
Lithuanian: Linksmu Kaledu
Maltese: Il-Milied it-Tajjeb u s-Sena l-Gdida mimlija risq u hena
Norwegian: Gledelig Jul

Peru: Feliz Navidad y un Venturoso Año Nuevo
Philipines: Maligayan Pasko at Manibagong Bagong Taon

Polish: Wesotych Swiat Bozego Narodzenia
Portuguese: Feliz Natal
Rumanian: Sarbatori vesele
Russian: Pozdrevlyayu s prazdnikom Rozhdestva is Novim Godom
Slovakian: Vesele vanoce
Spanish: Feliz Navidad
Swahili: Heri kwa noeli na baraka nyingi kwa mwaka mpya
Thai: Sawadee Pee Mai
Turkish: Noeliniz Ve Yeni Yiliniz Kutlu Olsun
Vietnamese: Chung Mung Giang Sinh
Welsh: Nadolig Llawen

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas in Bend

St Francis of Assisi new church in Bend

Wishing all visitors to this blog a very Blessed Christmas and a Healthy and Peace-filled New Year, I share with you today a few images from my new home in Bend, two of them from my church, the other from the neighborhood.

Nativity set up at the entrance of St Francis Parish Center
Christmas Nativity in the neighborhood of the historic church
It will be a busy 2 days for me, but happy to share the message of Christmas with my new parishioners and many friends I've not yet met. This is the 700th post on this blog, with close to 80,000 visitors and celebrating my second year on January 5, 2014. All the best.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas past

Neapolitan images of Mary and Joseph at Rocky Point, NY
I share with you today some photos of Christmas past, specifically photos I used on my Christmas cards over the years. The first one is a classic one I took at St Anthony of Padua Church in Rocky Point, when I placed the figures of Mary and Joseph in the foreground with the crucified Christ out-of-focus in the background in the middle. It speaks about the present and the future, the Newborn Christ and the Crucified Christ, a foreshadowing of what is to come out of his life, after spending 30 years at home and 3 years in a demanding public ministry.
Baby Jesus with angels at home in St Julian's, Malta
The second one is from my home in Malta, the baby Jesus my father and mother prepared every year, as well as two angels next to the infant, all nestled under a blue canopy my mother had crafted years ago. 
My parents with their Christmas masterpiece
This was a tradition my parents always looked forward to, and it was the last thing my father did when he had just finished packing the figures of Jesus and the Angels, and he passed away that same evening.
Christmas from St Joseph's Abbey, Spencer, Massachusetts
The third one comes from my time at Spencer in Massachusetts at St Joseph's Abbey, after placing a beautiful ornate plate of the Madonna with the red and orange maple trees in the background, and even though it's not snow, but it reminds me of the spectacular foliage they have in the northeast, and a peaceful setting which connects the fall with winter, and Thanksgiving with Christmas in a way.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Why December 25 ?

Christmas had also been celebrated by the early Church on January 6th, when they also celebrated the Epiphany (which means the revelation that Jesus was God's son) and the Baptism of Jesus. Now the Epiphany mainly celebrates the visit of the Wise Men to the baby Jesus, but back then it celebrated both things! Jesus' Baptism was originally seen as more important than his birth, as this was when he started his ministry. But soon people wanted a separate day to celebrate his birth.
Most of the world uses the 'Gregorian Calendar' implemented by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. Before that the 'Roman' or Julian Calendar was used (named after Julius Caesar). The Gregorian calendar is more accurate that the Roman calendar which had too many days in a year! When the switch was made 10 days were lost, so that the day that followed the 4th October 1582 was 15th October 1582. In the UK the change of calendars was made in 1752. The day after 2nd September 1752 was 14th September 1752.
Many Orthodox and Coptic Churches still use the Julian Calendar and so celebrate Christmas on the 7th January (which is when December 25th would have been on the Julian calendar). And the Armenian Apostolic Church celebrates it on the 6th January! In some part of the UK, January 6th is still called 'Old Christmas' as this would have been the day that Christmas would have celebrated on, if the calendar hadn't been changed. Some people didn't want to use the new calendar as they thought it 'cheated' them out of 11 days!
Christians believe that Jesus is the light of the world, so the early Christians thought that this was the right time to celebrate the birth of Jesus. They also took over some of the customs from the Winter Solstice and gave them Christian meanings, like Holly, Mistletoe and even Christmas Carols!
St Augustine was the person who really started Christmas in the UK by introducing Christianity in the 6th century. He came from countries that used the Roman Calendar, so western countries celebrate Christmas on the 25th December. Then people from Britain and Western Europe took Christmas on the 25th December all over the world!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Mary's Virtues

Mary as played by one of the St Francis School children

The focus of the Nativity these last few days turns to Mary, as she prepares to give birth to Jesus. We learn from her many virtues, but three in particular come to my mind.
Trust - we learn from her to trust more, as she trusted the Word of God coming through the Angel Gabriel, inviting her to be the Mother of our Savior. We learn to trust those around us, who are there to help us, inspire us, shelter us and protect us from trouble.
Tranquility - we learn to take life peacefully and experience a tranquil approach to whatever life has in store for us. It was on a tranquil night that Mary gave birth in a poor stable in Bethlehem, and may we feel the same tranquility when we bring Jesus again into our hearts and homes this Christmas. We learn not to panic when things get a little overwhelming at times - Mary had a lot to handle with so much unpredictability, but believed in God and was tranquil and peace-filled all along.
Mary played by another of our school children.
Tolerance - we learn also from Mary the gift of tolerance, as she tolerated the Angel who surprised her with his appearance in her humble home of Nazareth. She even tolerated St Joseph in accepting him in her home as her husband, even though she had no relations with him, and he was not the natural father of Jesus. Mary also tolerated God's mysterious intervention in her life. May we also tolerate those whom we cannot stand for some reason or another, and be patient with difficult people.
May Mary continue to be an inspiration for all of us throughout the New Year.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmas Trees

A Christmas Tree farm in Oregon
There are approximately 35 million Real Christmas Trees sold in North America every year. Approximately 330,000 Real Christmas Trees are sold via e-commerce or catalog and shipped mail-order. North-American Real Christmas Trees are grown in all 50 states and Canada. Most artificial trees are manufactured in Korea, Taiwan, or Hong Kong. Real Trees are a renewable, recyclable resource. Artificial trees contain non-biodegradable plastics and metals. For every Real Christmas Tree harvested, 2 to 3 seedlings are planted in its place the following spring. In the Spring of 2000, over 70 million Real Christmas Tree seedlings were planted. There are about 1 million acres in production for growing Christmas Trees. Each acre provides the daily oxygen requirements of 18 people. There are about 15,000 Christmas Tree growers in North America, and over 100,000 people employed full or part-time in the industry. There are approximately 5,000 choose & harvest farms in the U.S. It can take as many as 15 years to grow a tree of average retail sale height (6 feet), but the average growing time is 7 years. The top Christmas Tree producing states are Oregon, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Washington and Wisconsin. The top selling Christmas Trees are: Balsam fir, Douglas-fir, Fraser fir, noble fir, Scotch pine, Virginia pine, and white pine.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Candy Cane

The predecessor of our modern candy cane appeared at about in the seventeenth century. These were straight, white sticks of sugar candy. Part of the Christmas celebration at the Cologne Cathedral were pageants of living nativities. In about 1670 the choirmaster there had sticks of candy bent into the shape of a shepherd’s crook and passed them out to children who attended the ceremonies. This became a popular tradition, and eventually the practice of passing out the sugar canes at living nativities ceremonies spread throughout Europe.
The use of candy canes on Christmas trees made its way to America by the 1800’s, however during this time they were still pure white. They are represented this way on Christmas cards made before 1900, and it is not until the early 20th century that they appear with their familiar red stripes. A Candymaker in Indiana developed a variation of the candy cane and wanted to make a candy that would be a Christian witness, so he made the Christmas Candy Cane. He incorporated several symbols for the birth, ministry, and death of Jesus Christ.
He began with a stick of pure white, hard candy. White to symbolize the Virgin Birth and the sinless nature of Jesus, and hard to symbolize the Solid Rock, the foundation of the Church, and firmness of the promises of God. 

The Candymaker made the candy in the form of a "J" to represent the precious name of Jesus, who came to earth as our Savior. It could also represent the staff of the "Good Shepherd" with which He reaches down into the ditches of the world to lift out the fallen lambs who, like all sheep, have gone astray.
Thinking that the candy was somewhat plain, the Candymaker stained it with red stripes. He used three small stripes to show the stripes of the scourging Jesus received by which we are healed. The large red stripe was for the blood shed by Christ on the cross so that we could have the promise of eternal life. The peppermint flavor of modern candy canes is said to be similar to hyssop. In Old Testament times, hyssop was associated with purification and sacrifice.
Unfortunately, the candy became known as a Candy Cane - a simple decoration seen at Christmas time. But the meaning is still there for those who "have eyes to see and ears to hear." I pray that this symbol will again be used to witness to the Wonder of Jesus and His Great love that came down at Christmas and remains the ultimate and dominate force in the universe today.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Exchanging presents

Here is the story that can be used for the present exchange during your Christmas gatherings. You sit everyone in a circle and pass the presents whenever a direction is given. It’s basically moving the present to the right or to the  left, although occasionally you are asked to pass them across.....have fun!

Once upon a time there was a little boy named Tommy WRIGHT. He lived with his mother, Mrs. WRIGHT and his father Dr. WRIGHT and his sister Sara WRIGHT. He had four shiny quarters LEFT from some birthday money that Grandma WRIGHT had sent him besides the $8.12 LEFT in his piggy bank. Now it was time to buy the RIGHT present for each
member of the WRIGHT family. So one morning he hopped RIGHT out of bed, RIGHT into his slippers that were RIGHT next to his bed and quietly LEFT home. He went carefully ACROSS the street to the big store on the LEFT side of Main Street. The store was decorated with lights and Christmas ornaments.
Tommy WRIGHT thought and thought about Christmas presents and he looked at all the things for sale. "Let's see," said Tommy, "I know, I'll get Mother WRIGHT some warm gloves. Here is the RIGHT one but where is the LEFT one? Oh! Here it is, RIGHT under the RIGHT one. I sure hope they are the RIGHT color. They cost $3.06 so I have $6.06 LEFT to spend.
Now for Daddy WRIGHT. Would he like a truck or maybe a ball or a LEFT handed catcher's mitt? I know, I'll get him a football so we can play catch RIGHT in your own back yard when he comes home from work. Let's see, I had $6.06 LEFT and the football is $5.06 so now I have $1.00 LEFT for Sara's present. Here is what she wants. A pretty new purse and I think I have just enough money LEFT to buy it. Tommy WRIGHT clutched his presents happily and went running ACROSS the aisle up to the lady at the counter and gave her all the money from his RIGHT pocket. "Is that RIGHT?", he asked as he gave her his money. "It will be $1.05 with tax," she said," she said. "Oh no," said Tommy WRIGHT. "I forgot about tax." Tommy WRIGHT started crying. Tears streaked RIGHT and LEFT down his little face. RIGHT then the door bursts open and in came Santa Claus who had LEFT the North Pole and had come RIGHT to Tommy WRIGHT's town to take orders from children for Christmas. "Ho, Ho, Ho," said Santa. "We can't have Santa's helpers sad like this. Let's see now, I bet I have five pennies RIGHT here in my LEFT pocket.” Santa Claus checked his LEFT pocket and found nothing. "Oh, no," said Santa. "I must have put them into my RIGHT pocket instead of my LEFT. Here they are RIGHT here in my RIGHT pocket, Tommy.
Ho! Ho! Ho! and a Merry Christmas to all the WRIGHT's from Santa Claus and his helpers."
Tommy WRIGHT LEFT the story, ran back ACROSS the street and all the way home to tell his sister Sara WRIGHT that he had seen and talked to Santa. He was so happy that he wrapped his presents RIGHT away and LEFT them under the Christmas tree. Mr and Mrs WRIGHT and Sara WRIGHT were thrilled with their presents. Tommy WRIGHT felt really happy even though he had no money LEFT. Christmas morning for the WRIGHT family was joyful and after opening the presents, they all LEFT for church, which right ACROSS from their house.
"I hope your Christmas will be wonderful and full of the Love we all feel for one another.  Merry Christmas”, Santa said as he LEFT RIGHT away, with more gifts to deliver.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


I share with you two items entitled simply WHITE - you'll know why after you read them.....
Hanging a white stocking for Jesus
It wasn't that anyone had really been forgotten, no children had been slighted or made unhappy and no adult had been left unremembered. The presents had all been distributed and all the stockings were beautifully filled, all that is except one; it was the stocking intended for the child of Bethlehem. Of all the people belonging at that Christmas gathering, only he had been forgotten. Only he had been left out of the festivities. This didn't seem quite right, inasmuch as it was His birthday that was being celebrated.
Make sure that this year, the little white stocking will be hung in a special place in your home. On Christmas Eve, make sure to gather the family together and each member will write on a piece of paper, a gift for Jesus to be placed in the stocking.
It will remain in the stocking until next year's Christmas Eve, when everyone will reach into the stocking, and then pass out the papers from the year before.
We hope that you will enjoy beginning this holiday tradition in your home. Your gift could include: personal goals you wish to achieve, family goals, ways you will be of service to others in the coming year, faults you want to eliminate from your life, or relationships you wish to improve.

Pope Francis, born December 17, 1936
                  Happy Birthday Pope Francis, He turns 77 today. 

Born in Argentina as Jorge Bergoglio. Ordained a priest on December 13, 1969. Consecrated Bishop June 27, 1992. Created as Cardinal February 21, 2001. Elected Pope on March 13, 2013. Ad Multos Annos. Just recently was chosen as the Time Magazine "Man of the Year."

Monday, December 16, 2013

A Living Nativity

The Holy Family at the Lija LIVE Nativity
A few neighborhoods in various towns and villages in my homeland of Malta re-create the town of Bethlehem for a few weekends before Christmas. I witnessed this 3 years ago when I saw one particular street in the town of Lija where all the neighbors participated in creating a true rustic environment with sheep and lambs strolling down the street, children working in a bakery, households and families hanging around in their homes, and of course the Holy Family surrounded with a cow, a donkey and a few more sheep. Many visitors and tourists stroll around as if they were walking through the town of Bethlehem 2000 years ago.
Children herding sheep in Lija/Bethlehem
Children running a bakery in the LIVE Nativity

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Pope Francis on Joy

Pope Francis recently issued a long letter, called an Apostolic Exhortation, called Evangelium Gaudium (The Gospel of Joy) which is filled with warnings, encouragement, and challenges, all rooted in a pastor's love for the flock. He speaks in general how our religion, our Gospel is one of joy. These are some extracts from it:
“I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting Him encounter them.“
“People should seek to abandon the complacent attitude that says: ‘We have always done it this way’. I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization in their respective communities.”

On difficulties we have to face, Pope Francis writes: “Let us not say, then, that things are harder today; they are simply different. But let us learn also from the saints who have gone before us, who confronted the difficulties of their own day.“

Pope Francis meeting the Holy Spirit with great Joy
On Mercy he says - “Let me say this once more: God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy.”

He speaks about Joy - “Sometimes we are tempted to find excuses and complain, acting as if we could only be happy if a thousand conditions were met. To some extent this is because our ‘technological society has succeeded in multiplying occasions of pleasure, yet has found it very difficult to create, enhance and engender joy’.”
He speaks also of people going to confession..... “Penitents may not be joyful when they enter a confessional but possess boundless joy when they leave. Such is the working of grace.“
There’s a lot more to digest but these are just a few sentences that struck me as worth chewing on.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Remembering Sandy Hook

Let us remember them and pray for them......
Yesterday our school children and their parents gathered for a movie night, watching 'The Polar Express" while munching on pizza as long lines waited for popcorn. It was such a peaceful atmosphere as little children dressed in their pajamas huddled together on blankets and enjoyed a peaceful evening of fun and relaxation. And as I watched and admired these children, from toddlers to 8th Graders, my mind flashed back to what happened a year ago in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, with 20 children and 6 teachers killed violently, shattering families and destroying peace in a quiet community.

Let us pray for and remember these victims and their families today as they re-live those tragic moments when phones rang out with desperate calls and messages, and an entire school was suddenly turned upside down. When I looked at our children last night I thought of how easily this tragedy could have happened right here in Bend, and how could I ever console parents if something like this ever happened in our midst. So let us hug our children a little tighter tonight, and kiss them ever so gently while keeping them closer to us.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Saint Lucy

We celebrate today the feast of Saint Lucy, one of the early young martyrs of the Catholic church.Lucy's name means "light", with the same root as "lucid" which means "clear and radiant." Unfortunately for us, Lucy's history does not match her name. Shrouded in the darkness of time, all we really know for certain is that this brave woman who lived in Syracuse lost her life in the persecution of Christians in the early fourth century. Her veneration spread to Rome so that by the sixth century the whole Church recognized her courage in defense of the faith.

Because people wanted to shed light on Lucy's bravery, legends grew up. The one that is passed down to us tells the story of a young Christian woman who had vowed her life to the service of Christ. Her mother tried to arrange a marriage for her with a pagan. Lucy apparently knew that her mother would not be convinced by a young girl's vow so she devised a plan to convince her mother that Christ was a much more powerful partner for life. Eventually her mother listened to Lucy's desire and she committed her life to God.

Unfortunately, her bridegroom did not see the same light and he betrayed Lucy to the governor as a Christian. This governor tried to send her into prostitution but the guards who came to take her away found her stiff and heavy as a mountain. Finally she was killed. 
As much as the facts of Lucy's specific case are unknown, we know that many Christians suffered incredible torture and a painful death for their faith during Diocletian's reign.

Lucy's name is probably also connected to statues of Lucy holding a dish with two eyes on it. This refers to another legend in which Lucy's eyes were put out by Diocletian as part of his torture, just because she had the most beautiful eyes. The legend concludes with God restoring Lucy's eyes. Lucy's name also played a large part in naming Lucy as a patron saint of the blind and those with eye-trouble.  Her courage to stand up and be counted a Christian in spite of torture  is the light that should lead us on our own journeys through life, even though we do not have to suffer as she did.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Marian vestment

Our Lady of Guadalupe chasuble at St Francis in Bend
Today being the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I used a beautiful Marian chasuble or priest vestment with the image of Our Lady in the front and back. Apparently it was not used as I found it hidden in a closet in the historic church in St Francis in Bend, and most people were surprised to see me wearing it. The Blessed Mother appeared to St. Juan Diego in 1531 and imprinted on his tilma, or overcoat her image which has survived close to 500 years. The image in displayed in the Cathedral of Guadalupe in Mexico and millions of Mexicans and tourists visit this shrine very year, especially today, starting with prayers called Mananitas, as early as 5 AM, and frequently a Mass in the evening and a fiesta with plenty of food.

The long waiting lines

"The Confession" by Pietro Longhi, 1750
At least twice a year, the long lines for confession appear in many churches. This is the case especially during Advent and Lent, when penitents make an inventory of their lives and confess their sins to a priest. Such was the case yesterday in my parish in Bend when 10 priests spent almost two hours hearing confessions in English and Spanish. I personally spent another two hours in the morning hearing our school children's confessions. The long waiting lines were very impressive and moving, as well as consoling and comforting for priests. Next week we will do the same as we help neighboring parishes in Redmond, LaPine and Madras, and I'm sure even there, the lines will be long, but worth waiting for. Penance or Confession is a very healing sacrament and the sadness on people's faces turns into joy when they leave the priest or the confessional, a few minutes later, healed, forgiven, refreshed and revitalized, especially when people hear the words...."Your sins are forgiven...go in peace."

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A Playmobil Nativity

A Playmobil Nativity, complete with three kings, a camel and Santa
A few years ago, while visiting my family in Malta, I found in my nephews' collection of toys a Christmas Nativity set produced by Playmobil. I also found out that these little figures are assembled in Malta, in a big factory which was built over two decades ago. Playmobil is a line of toys produced by the Brandstatter Group, headquartered in Zirndorf, Germany. This ever growing company was started in 1975 and even though the plastic pieces are made in Germany, they are all assembled in Malta, which gives every box the distinctive honor of seeing "Made in Malta" on every box produced.
The signature Playmobil toy is a 7.5 cm (approximately 3 inch) tall (1:24 scale) human figure, in its early days known as a "klicky". A wide range of accessories, buildings and vehicles, as well as many sorts of animals, are also part of the Playmobil line. Playmobil toys are produced in themed series of sets as well as individual special figures and playsets. New products and product lines developed by a 50-strong development team are introduced frequently, and older sets are discontinued. Promotional and one-off products are sometimes produced in very limited quantities. These practices have helped give rise to a sizeable community of collectors. Collector activities extend beyond collecting and free-form play and include customization, and the creation of photo stories and stop-motion films.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Tree for Friends

                                                                      I would
                                                                    like to put
                                                                up a tree in my

                                                             heart, and instead
                                                           of hanging presents,
                                                         I would like to put the
                                                        names of all my friends.
                                                    Close friends and not so close
                                                 friends. The old friends, the new

                                              friends. Those that I see every day
                                         and the ones that I rarely see. The ones
                                       that I always remember and the ones that
                                    I sometimes forget. The ones that are always
                                there and the ones that seldom are. The friends of
                               difficult times and the ones of happy times. Friends

                         who, without meaning to, I have hurt, or without meaning
                     to, have hurt me. Those that I know well and those I only know
                   by name. Those that owe me little and those that I owe so much. 

               My humble friends and my important friends. The names of all those
              that have passed through my life no matter how fleetingly. A tree with

                                                  very deep roots and very long
                                                    and strong branches so that
                                                     their names may never be
                                                     plucked from my heart. So
                                                       that new names from all

                               over may join the existing ones. A tree with a very
                                pleasant shade so that our friendship may take a
                                moment of rest from the battles of life. "May the
                                  happy moments of Christmas brighten every 
                                    day of 2014". These are my sincere wishes.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Jesus' manger

The basket of straw on the right , to fill Jesus' manger
As I did in my former parish in Baker City, here in my new parish in Bend, I am inviting all the children to build the manger for Jesus over the next few weeks. The idea is to encourage children to do something good at home, at school, in the neighborhood and every time they do a good deed, they are allowed to place a piece of straw in the manger, awaiting baby Jesus on Christmas Eve.
The main altar at St Francis new church in Bend
Over the first week, the manger remained pretty empty, but after today’s Masses, it filled up quite well and Jesus has enough straw to sleep comfortably, with plenty more straw expected over the next 16 days. The Nativity scene is placed in front of the altar and is visible from everywhere, and it connects with the life of Christ as envisioned in the Eucharist on the altar and in the tabernacle, as well as portrayed on the crucifix, hanging above the sanctuary space. So far we have the donkey and cow, a shepherd and a sheep, but more characters will be added over the next two Sundays until Jesus’ arrival on Christmas Eve.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Stay with us dear Jesus

As we head John the Baptist's advice today to prepare for the coming of Jesus in our homes, heart, lives and parish communities, I shared with my people today this reflection in my homily:
Stay with us Jesus, because when it gets dark, You’re the only source of Light in our lives.
When we get lonely, You’re the perfect companion.
When we are afraid, You can surely encourage us.
When we fear the unknown future, You affirm our past and present.
When we experience weakness, You are there to strengthen us.
When we lose our way to You, Your spiritual compass is our one and only hope.
When we lose heart, You always comfort us an show us compassion.
When we don’t know what to say or how to pray, You always have the right suggestion.

When we cannot see clearly, You always help us focus our perspective of life.
When we want to hurt others and say that nasty word, You always correct our speech and manner of behavior.
When we act stubborn, You tolerate us.
When we act selfish, You show us a kind caring way to do things.
And when we falter as humans, You grant us Your mercy and Forgiveness. Not only that, but You forgive and forget.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Christmas Tree at the Vatican

The Vatican Nativity and Christmas Tree a few years ago
One of the most imposing Christmas trees erected at this time of the year is undoubtedly the one in the St Peter’s square in the Vatican. It is usually set up next to the obelisk in the center of the piazza, next to a large life-size nativity. This year’s tree was supposed to have arrived on the feast of St. Nicholas, December 6. Instead, the 82-foot-tall evergreen tree arrived a day earlier on December 5. The team of lumberjacks had left the town of Waldmunchen, Germany at 7 a.m. on December 2 and got to Rome exactly 72 hours later. They had left earlier than planned to beat bad weather expected in the North. This despite an earlier bit of trouble, when a mechanical defect grounded the helicopter with which they had intended to lift the cut tree from its forest home. They ended up using a crane to transfer the conifer onto the open semi-truck that took it all the way to Rome. The tree will be decorated with lights and the Nativity set up over the next few days, and will be in place for at least the feast of the Epiphany.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Christmas Lights in New York

As I promised you earlier this week, here are some photos I took of house decorations in various towns and villages in New York, mostly on Long Island. Families go out of their way to decorate as much as possible their front lawns, windows, roofs and wherever they can find any empty space to show off lights.