Thursday, July 31, 2014

St Ignatius of Loyola

St Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556)
St. Ignatius was born in the family castle in Guipúzcoa, Spain, the youngest of 13 children, and was called Iñigo. When he was old enough, he became a page, and then a soldier of Spain to fight against the French. A cannon ball shattered his leg and subsequently, a series of bad operations ended his military career in 1521. While St. Ignatius recovered, he started reading the Bible and the lives of the saints, and decided to dedicate himself to becoming a soldier of the Catholic Faith.
Soon after he experienced visions, but a year later suffered a trial of fears and scruples, driving him almost to despair. Out of this experience he wrote his famous "Spiritual Exercises". After traveling and studying in different schools, he finished in Paris, where he received his degree at the age of 43. Many first hated St. Ignatius because of his humble lifestyle. Despite this, he attracted several followers at the university, including St. Francis Xavier, and soon started his order called The Society of Jesus, or Jesuits.
He was a gifted spiritual director, and was very active in fighting the Protestant Reformation and promoting the subsequent Counter-Reformation. St Ignatius died at the age of 65. He was canonized on March 12, 1622.  There are 38 members of the Society of Jesus who have been declared Saints. So many other Jesuits have become Cardinals, Bishops and great writers. And since March 2013, we even have the first Jesuit Pope, Jorge Bergoglio, our beloved Pope Francis.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Sunrise, Sunset

Bend sunrise on July 29
With a few fires in and around Oregon state, the recent sunrises and sunsets have been quite spectacular, adding a little color, a touch of brighter orange, a few disgruntled clouds, and rays emanating from underneath the clouds, creating quite a heavenly touch. Enjoy these few recent sunsets, including the first one from yesterday morning's sunrise.
Bend sunset of July 16

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Saint Martha

"Saint Martha" by Vincenzo di Campo
I always had a soft spot for St Martha. She was criticized by Jesus for not sitting down at his feet and listen to Him as her sister Mary did. Poor Martha was respecting the rules of hospitality, and having such an honored guest, she was probably preparing some snacks to serve when Jesus arrived, possibly unexpected. This painting gives Martha a lot of reason to complain, as she had a quite a meal to prepare. Of course it may be exaggerated, but is funny in a way. But whenever I look at it, and see Jesus talking to Mary in the background, I always feel sorry for poor Martha. She would have said “Hey Lord, first things first - let’s just prepare a few snacks for us all, and then we can sit and chit-chat, while nibbling on the snacks, or the big meal that Martha probably prepared.” St Martha is the patron saint of housekeepers, housewives and waitresses.

Monday, July 28, 2014

More of Malta's churches

The main altar at St Philip's church, Zebbug, Malta
Since so many people seemed to like yesterday’s photos of the St Philip church in Zebbug, I thought of sharing a few more from the same church. If some of the local parishioners find out about these photos and the exposure their church is getting, they will absolutely go crazy and feel honored, as they love their churches, as you can obviously see, and would be so proud that foreigners, visitors and compatriots are showing appreciation of their beloved churches. 
The silver statue of Saint Philip inside the church
Most of these baroque churches are 300 to 500 years old, and during the respective village festivities, the statue of the local titular saint is brought out from its niche and displayed inside the church, then taken out in procession through the streets of the village, on Sunday evening. The walls of the churches are decorated with tapestry, and chandeliers are lit up to the maximum power, while Masses and services are held every evening, leading to the climactic moment at the Sunday evening celebration.
During Solemn Vespers, on Saturday evening
The grand organ located in the back of the church, in the choir loft

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Malta churches at their best

St Philip's Catholic church in Zebbug, Malta
Many visitors to this blog have told me how much they enjoy my photos from Malta. Every Sunday in 3 to 5 different parishes a special festa is held with a procession with the statue of the titular saint of that particular parish. While I was in Malta recently, I visited one such parish in Zebbug, where they were celebrating the feast of Saint Philip. 
A side altar in the same church dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary
These are just 4 photos I took of this beautiful church, adorned at its best, dressed at its finest, and with all their gold and silver on display. Of course there are many more to show you, but I don’t want to dominate this blog only with Malta photos, although it seems most people like them, especially those in the USA, where nothing like this can be seen in any of our churches. Churches are not always decorated like this, but only during the week leading to the festa. However, churches are always a gem to admire even on any ordinary day, especially when they are filled with devout Catholics.
Mostly silver church paraphernalia displayed on a side table
The belfries of the St Philip's Church, Zebbug, Malta

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Saint Joachim and Saint Ann

Today being the feast of the Blessed Mother's parents, Saint Joachim and Saint Ann, I share with you a prayer for grandparents, written by Pope Benedict XVI.
Lord Jesus, you were born of the Virgin Mary,
the daughter of Saints Joachim and Anne.
Look with love on grandparents the world over.
Protect them! They are a source of enrichment
for families, for the Church and for all of society.
Support them! As they grow older,
may they continue to be for their families strong pillars of Gospel faith,
guardian of noble domestic ideals, living treasuries of sound religious traditions.
Make them teachers of wisdom and courage,
that they may pass on to future generations the fruits
of their mature human and spiritual experience.
Lord Jesus, help families and society
to value the presence and roles of grandparents.
May they never be ignored or excluded, but always encounter respect and love.
Help them to live serenely and to feel welcomed
in all the years of life which you give them.
Mary, Mother of all the living, keep grandparents constantly in your care,
accompany them on their earthly pilgrimage, and by your prayers,
grant that all families may one day be reunited in our heavenly homeland,
where you await all humanity for the great embrace of life without end. Amen!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Saint James

The apostle Saint James
We can easily say that St. James was at least Jesus’ third favorite apostle. Why? When Jesus raised Jairus' daughter when all thought her dead, he only allowed James, John, and Peter to come with him. Even more important when he went up to the mountain to pray, he wanted James, John, and Peter to go with him. And it was there on the mountain they were privileged to witness what no one else had seen -- Jesus transfigured in his glory, speaking to Moses and Elijah. And with Simon Peter, James and John were the only ones of the apostles that Jesus gave a special name: Sons of Thunder.
It's no wonder then that James, along with John, felt that he had the right to go to Jesus and ask him to give them whatever they asked. When their mother asked Jesus to give them preferential treatment, they didn't see the cross in his future, but an earthly throne. But despite all these misunderstandings, it was still James, Peter, and John that Jesus chose to join him in prayer at the Garden of Gethsemane for his final prayer before his arrest. It must have hurt Jesus that the three of them fell asleep on this agonizing evening.

Inside the Cathedral of Santiago de Campostela
James did drink of the cup Jesus drank of, all too shortly after the Resurrection. The Acts of the Apostles tells us that James was one of the first martyrs of the Church. King Herod Agrippa killed him with a sword in an early persecution of the Church. There is a story that the man who arrested James became a convert after hearing James speak at his trial and was executed with him. James is called James the Greater because another younger apostle was named James. St James evangelized in Spain before he died and the cult of St James in Santiago de Campostela is well known as people make a long pilgrimage to visit his Cathedral in northwest Spain.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Encounters with the wild

A  live bald eagle in the High Desert Museum, Bend, OR
Wildlife in Central Oregon is quite impressive, as I discovered over the past 11 years. Animals abound in such variety that it baffles me. This week I went on a little trip looking for animals, birds and anything that moves. I even went to a local Museum, called the High Desert Museum with some endangered species that were visible, although not always easy to photograph. 
A very friendly chipmunk
However, after seeing these photos, you will agree that I was very lucky or patient in waiting for the right shot, one of which took me 3 hours, because the animal in question was sleeping, waiting for him to wake up. Enjoy these photos of a wildlife encounter.
A lynx, resting at the High Desert Museum
A Blue Jay in the wild
A bobcat, waking from an afternoon nap

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

St Bridget of Sweden

St Bridget of Sweden (1302-1373)
Born of a wealthy family in 1302, Saint Bridget, also known as Birgitta, she was related to many members of the royalty. In 1316, at the age of 14 she married Ulf Gudmarsson to whom she bore eight children, four daughters and four sons. Six survived infancy, which was rare at that time. One daughter is now honored as St. Catherine of Sweden. Bridget became known for her works of charity, particularly toward Östergötland's unwed mothers and their children. When she was in her early thirties, she was summoned to be lady-in-waiting to the new Queen of Sweden. In 1341 she and her husband went on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, in Spain.
In 1344, shortly after their return, Ulf died at the Cistercian Alvastra Abbey in Östergötland. After this loss, Birgitta became a member of the Third Order of St. Francis and devoted herself wholly to a life of prayer and caring for the poor and the sick.
It was about this time that she developed the idea of establishing the religious community which was to become the Order of the Brigittines, whose principal house at Vadstena was later richly endowed by King Magnus IV of Sweden and his queen. One distinctive feature of the pre-Reformation houses of the Order was that they were double monasteries, with both men and women forming a joint community, though with separate cloisters.
In 1350, a year of jubilee, Bridget braved a plague-stricken Europe to make a pilgrimage to Rome accompanied by her daughter, Catherine, and a small party of priests and disciples. This was done partly to obtain from the Pope the authorization of the new Order. But since the Pope was living in Avignon, France at that time, she had to wait until he returned to Rome.
It was not until 1370 that Pope Urban V, during his brief attempt to re-establish the papacy in Rome, confirmed the Rule of the Order, but meanwhile Birgitta had made herself universally beloved in Rome by her kindness and good works. Save for occasional pilgrimages, including one to Jerusalem in 1373, she remained in Rome until her death on 23 July 1373. She was canonized in the year 1391 by Pope Boniface IX.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Saint Mary Magdalene

St Mary Magdalene, after seeing the Risen Christ
Mary Magdalene, whose liturgical feast we celebrate today, is mentioned as one of the women who ministered to Jesus. The same passage also refers briefly to an act of exorcism performed on her, on an occasion when seven demons were cast out. These women, who earlier "had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities", later accompanied Jesus on his last journey to, and were witnesses to the Crucifixion. She was also the privileged first person to see Jesus risen from the tomb, an honor that was not given to any of the 12 apostles, but only to Mary Magdalene, probably in a way of thanking her for staying with Jesus till the end at the foot of the cross. This is the last mention in the Gospels of Mary of Magdala, who now returned to Jerusalem. She is probably included in the group of women who joined the Apostles in the Upper Room in Jerusalem after Jesus' Ascension and may have also been with the Blessed Mother at Pentecost.
Tradition as early as the third century identifies Mary Magdalene with Mary of Bethany and with the woman sinner who anointed Jesus' feet, even though she remains unnamed. The identification of Mary Magdalene with Mary of Bethany and "the woman who was a sinner" is reflected in an influential sermon Pope Gregory I gave in 591, which said: "She whom Luke calls the sinful woman, whom John calls Mary of Bethany, we believe to be the Mary from whom seven devils were ejected according to Mark. 
Mary had been looked upon as a great sinner, but Christ knew the circumstances that had shaped her life. It was He who had lifted her from despair and ruin. Seven times she had heard His rebuke of the demons that controlled her heart and mind. It was Mary who sat at His feet and learned of Him. It was Mary who poured upon His head the precious anointing oil, and bathed His feet with her tears. Mary stood beside the cross, and was first at the tomb after His resurrection. It was Mary who first proclaimed a risen Savior.
According to Eastern traditions, she retired to Ephesus and there she died. Her relics were transferred to Constantinople in 886 and are there preserved.  Most importantly we honor today a woman who remained faithful to Jesus until the very end of her life.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Slow Dance

Jan Steen "The Dancing Couple"
Have you ever watched kids on a merry-go-round?
Or listened to the rain slapping on the ground?
Ever followed a butterfly's erratic flight?
Or gazed at the sun into the fading night?
You better slow down. Don't dance so fast.
Time is short. The music won't last.

Do you run through each day on the fly?
When you ask, “How are you?” do you hear the reply?
When the day is done, do you lie in your bed,
with the next hundred chores running through your head?
You'd better slow down. Don't dance so fast.
Time is short. The music won't last.

Ever told your child, "We'll do it tomorrow?"
And in your haste, Not see his sorrow?
Ever lost touch, let a good friendship die,
Cause you never had time to call and say,'Hi'
You'd better slow down. Don't dance so fast.
Time is short. The music won't last.

When you run so fast to get somewhere,
You miss half the fun of getting there.
When you worry and hurry through your day,
It is like an unopened gift.... Thrown away.
Life is not a race. Do take it slower.
Hear the music. Before the song is over.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Cycling in Bend

It's not exactly the Tour de France, but cycling is pretty popular here in Bend, Oregon. This weekend special races are being held in downtown Bend, including a criterium, which puts together around 200 cyclists as they circle around an enclosed area for 45 minutes, until a winner is declared. I watched the semi-professionals yesterday evening and was utterly impressed with the speed of these cyclists. 

Earlier, races for youth and women were held along the same track. The main streets of downtown Bend, which are usually abuzz with visitors, tourists and beer samplers, were closed off for the race. These photos are just a sample of a few others I took of the last race held last evening. Since I follow the Tour de France regularly, I had no idea the speed of such professional races, and the dedication of these cyclists.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Balloons over Bend

A quiet, calm morning turned colorful, spectacular and picturesque as a number of balloons took off from the Old Mill District in Bend, Oregon, to the delight of sightseers, tourists, local residents and photographers. They are hot-air balloons operated by heat from propane-fueled flames. It was around 6:30 AM when the first balloon took off skimming over the pines trees and the 3 smoke-stacks in the Mill District, as well as local homes, whose residents were probably still sleeping on a lazy Saturday morning, only to see these colorful balloons hover over their heads and homes. Enjoy these few photos I took to share with you. To see more photos look at

Friday, July 18, 2014

Stores, Shops and Markets - part 2

A vegetable stand in  market in Zejtun, Malta
A few more photos of various stores, open-air markets and shops from Malta, colorful as always, intriguing to say the least and always surprising of what you might come across.
A typical green-grocer with just about everything you need
The market in Zejtun offered an interesting photo, besides clothing
"Saddles" - a well-known bar in St Julian's
An old-time landmark in St Julian's - Dick's Bar

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Stores, Shops and Markets - part 1

A typical Maltese Bar named Bellusa (The Satin One)
Today and tomorrow I will share with you some of the shops, stores and markets that are popular in Malta, of course from some of the photos I took recently. We do have a few supermarkets, but nothing like a Walmart or Costco that Americans are used to. But most stores and shops are small ones nestled between houses and sometimes in busy commercial streets like the ones in the capital city Valletta and busy towns like Sliema and my hometown of St Julian’s. 
A street vegetable vendor in the town of Mellieha
Greengrocers are quaint and peculiar in a way as their grocer owners go around in a van or truck and display their vegetables and fruits around the van while shoppers stroll around, pick and choose and then pay for their products. But most of these vegetable are guaranteed to be fresh, possibly picked from fields and gardens earlier in the day or the previous day, nothing beyond that.
Souvenir shop in Valletta
And something typically Maltese
More photos of front stores, shops and markets to appear tomorrow

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Balluta church, Malta
According to a pious tradition, the Blessed Virgin appeared to St Simon Stock at Cambridge, England on Sunday June 16, 1251. In answer to his appeal for help for his oppressed order, she appeared to him with a scapular in her hand and said to him:”Take, beloved son, this scapular of your order as a special sign of grace for all Carmelites; whoever dies with this scapular, will not suffer everlasting fire. It is a sign of salvation, a safeguard in danger, a pledge of peace.”
The Carmelites are a religious order founded on Mount Carmel in the 13th century, named thus in reference to the mountain range found in the Holy Land. The founder was a certain Berthold, who was either a pilgrim or a crusader. The order was founded at the site that it claimed had once been the location of Elijah’s cave, 1700 feet above sea level.
Carmelites Church, Valletta, Malta
By 2001, there were 2,100 religious monks in 25 provinces in the Carmelite order, besides 700 enclosed nuns in 70 monasteries. In addition, the Third Order of lay Carmelites count 28,000 members throughout the world. Besides St Simon Stock, there are other Carmelite saints such as St Therese of the Child Jesus, St John of the Cross, St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, St Theresa of Avila and even Sister Lucia of Fatima. The statues appearing with this entry are from Malta, where devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel is widespread, especially in parishes dedicated to her, Valletta, Balluta, Gzira, Fleur-de-Lys and Zurrieq.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

St. Bonaventure

St Bonaventure as Bishop of Albano, with St Francis
He was born at Bagnoregio in Latium, not far from Viterbo in 1221 and named John as a child. He received the name of Bonaventure in consequence of an exclamation of St. Francis of Assisi, when, in response to the pleading of the child's mother, the saint prayed for John's recovery from a dangerous illness, and, foreseeing the future greatness of the little John, cried out "O Buona ventura"- O good fortune!  He entered the Franciscan Order in 1243 and studied at the University of Paris. In 1253 he held the Franciscan chair at Paris where he became the intimate friend of the great St. Thomas Aquinas. Unfortunately for Bonaventure, a dispute between seculars and mendicants delayed his reception as Master until 1257, where his degree was taken in company with Thomas Aquinas. He received the degree of Doctor, together with St. Thomas Aquinas. Three years earlier his fame had earned him the position of lecturer on the The Four Books of Sentences—a book of theology written by Peter Lombard in the twelfth century—and in 1255 he received the degree of master, the medieval equivalent of doctor.
After having successfully defended his order against the reproaches of the anti-mendicant party, he was elected Minister General of the Franciscan Order. On 24 November 1265, he was selected for the post of Archbishop of York; however, he was never consecrated and resigned the appointment in October 1266. During his tenure, the General Chapter of Narbonne, held in 1260, promulgated a decree prohibiting the publication of any work out of the order without permission from the higher superiors.
Bonaventure was instrumental in procuring the election of Pope Gregory X, who rewarded him with the title of Cardinal Bishop of Albano, and insisted on his presence at the great Second Council of Lyon in 1274. There, after his significant contributions led to a union of the Greek and Latin churches, Bonaventure died suddenly and in suspicious circumstances. The Catholic Encyclopedia has citations which suggest he was poisoned. The only extant relic of the saint is the arm and hand with which he wrote his famous Commentaries on the Book of Sentences.
He steered the Franciscans on a moderate and intellectual course that made them the most prominent order in the Catholic Church until the coming of the Jesuits. His theology was marked by an attempt completely to integrate faith and reason. He died while he was assisting at the Second Council of Lyons, on July 15, 1274.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Isaiah 55:10-11

Occasionally some parishioner asks me to include in my blog a quote or a reflection that I used in one of my homilies or article that I wrote. Someone from time to time remembers a quote I used in the past and they ask me to try to remember what they had heard but forgotten, which is usually impossible to remember. But this weekend a parishioner asked to do a visual meditation on a reading from Isaiah we used in our liturgy yesterday. It speaks about the blessings we receive from God, especially in the form of rain or snow, which then makes the earth fertile and productive. In the same way, the Word of God reaches our ears and leaves an impact, changing our lives forever. This quote parallels the parable of the seed and the sower we also reflected on in yesterday’s beautiful Gospel. But here is the quote from Isaiah, chapter 55, verses 10 and 11:
Thus says the LORD:
Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, 

making it fertile and fruitful,
giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth;
my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will,
achieving the end for which I sent it.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

My soccer career

As a mascot of the local soccer team
Today being such a big day for soccer enthusiasts, (World Cup Final) I cannot let this moment go by without sharing three very special photos I have that highlight my soccer career, which was very minimal and pretty uneventful. The first two show me as a ball-boy or mascot of the St Julian’s team from 1958. 
St Julian's Soccer team from 1958
That team included two uncles and two cousins - so you can say it was all-in-the-family. The other one comes from 1972 when I was in the Seminary and I was mostly responsible for the sporting activities. One of the treasured activities was organizing a seven-a-side soccer league between all the seminarians, and my target was to encourage every one to take part, including some who were clumsy, awkward and very uninterested in playing. But it was a huge success. 
This photo shows my team, all of us priests now, some of them ordained 37, others 40 and other 42 years ago. I’m sure you can recognize me as the skinny goalkeeper on the left, back row.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Popes' World Cup

It is hard to believe that out of the 32 nations that took part in the World Cup held in Brazil, (not to mention the 120 nations that took part in the preliminary rounds) the two finalists are the same countries from where the two living Popes are from. We all know Pope Benedict XVI as Joseph Ratzinger, originally from Germany, who spent a lot of time praying over the past 18 months. Now many people know what he was praying for, among other things of course. Was he praying that his nation will demolish Brazil by beating 7 to 1? Or was he praying simply to get to the final and then carry the trophy home. Most probably he was praying for peace in the world, harmony within the Catholic church, and for his successor. 
And how about Pope Francis, who as Jorge Bergoglio came from Argentina and changed the face of the church over the past 18 months. Yet he also finds time to pray and even though his team was not as spectacular or destructive as the Germans, they made it to the finals anyway. And his prayers gave the fruit needed to see Lionel Messi and his friends trying to win the trophy for the third time. 
We’ll see whose prayers are the most effective on Sunday when they play each other in the holiest and most spiritual of World Cup Finals ever played. There’s more at stake than a simple trophy here. May the best team win!