Thursday, December 31, 2015

Best photos of 2015

As we end this year, I share with you some of my best photos from 2015. They mostly refer to nature, but others are from living in Bend and being at the right place at the right time, especially when rainbows appear.
Wishing all visitors of this blog a very Happy, Healthy and Peace-filled New Year.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Christmas Lights in Bend

Many residents here in Central Oregon are keen on decorating their houses during the Christmas season. Here are a few photos of various houses lit up in Bend. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

Prayer for Families

This is a prayer I shared in my homily yesterday, and many parishioners asked me for a copy - here it is for everyone to reflect on and digest. May all families live by the standards this prayer evokes:
O God, in the beginning You brought together man and woman in holy marriage that they might share Your work of creation and bring enriching life to one another. We commend to Your constant care the homes where Your people dwell. Knit together in growing affection those who have been made one flesh so that their love may never fail. Turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the hearts of children to their parents. Take away the roots of bitterness, vanity and self-seeking that brings dissension where family peace should reign. Inspire them rather, with loyalty, faith and sacrifice, that in all the changes and circumstances of life they may stand strongly together in mutual service and love. Help all parents, whether single or married, to use wisdom, understanding, and consideration for the entire family unit when making decisions that will affect all those in their households.  Open their minds and hearts so that discipline in just, effective, and kind, yet firm, teaching the children in their families that there are consequences to their actions.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Holy Family

"The Holy Family" by the 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.  I chose these three paintings today because of their human aspect, because the Holy Family was like every family, and they enjoyed relaxing together, as these photos show.
A typical domestic scene at the home of Nazareth.
This way we can very easily connect with the Holy Family of Nazareth, because they were very much like every 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!
Another domestic scene by Esteban Murillo

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Christmas Parish Photos

Here are some photos from around my present parish in Bend, Central Oregon, decorations that highlight the Christian meaning of Christmas. Obviously my pride and joy this year is the Fontanini Nativity in front of our altar in the new church. Some of the photos show those who decorated the respective altars at the new and historic church, respectively the Wesseler family and Judy Kennedy and her friends. This is the 1400th post on this blog, which I started on January 5, 2012. My deepest gratitude to all those who work behind the scenes to make Christmas the special festivity that it really is.
The outdoor Nativity erected by the Walshes
Judy Kennedy, main decorator of the historic church
The Wesselers, decorators of the new church

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Blessings

It's a boy, and his name is Jesus. I extend my sincere greetings and wishes for a most Blessed Christmas from my present parish here in Bend, Central Oregon. The new Fontanini Nativity is the center of attraction in our new Church, and people have been admiring it and realizing that Jesus is the center of this feast. It is his birthday that we celebrate. He is the reason for this season, and yes, Christmas begins with Christ! A most Blessed Christmas to family, friends, parishioners and all visitors of this blog.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Meeting Santa Claus

I know that many visitors to this blog will be surprised to see Santa here instead of Jesus. Of course Jesus will feature tomorrow and over the next two weeks, as he has since the beginning of Advent. But since I met a very real Santa Claus yesterday, I thought of sharing him with you today, on his busiest day of the year. In Malta and England, we call him Father Christmas, but either way, he is the representation of Saint Nicholas, whose liturgical feast is celebrated on December 6th. But as he makes the rounds around the globe today, making children happy, may they realize also the love and affection they receive from those who love them the most, their parents and loved ones.
Hobby Lobby in Malta garden
Moreover I share with you today some of the decorations from my sister-in-law’s American Christmas Tree. She set the motif for her tree as truly American, since she bought a lot of decorations from Hobby Lobby here in Bend, earlier this year. And to them too, a very Blessed Christmas. Il-Milied it-Tajjeb!
My sister Josephine decorating the American Christmas Tree
A Maltese baby Jesus among American berries
Mince pies with an American motif

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The story of Megan and Scott

Yesterday evening as I was getting back to the Rectory during yet another snowstorm, I noticed two people huddled together under an awning behind the kitchen. I asked them if they were OK, and nodded yes. They said they were sheltering from the snow. After a while I went outside and asked them if they wanted some tea, and of course they were delighted. With the tea I gave them some cookies and some pretzels. While talking to them I discovered that they were homeless, but have families in town. Scott was from Utah and Megan was a local girl, from Bend. They of course reminded me of Mary and Joseph who were homeless before they arrived in Bethlehem. They asked me about the church and where I am from and why I was so kind to them. Scott asked me for a Rosary beads, which I gave to him, beaming with joy. Since I had an extra one, I gave one to Megan too and she too was ecstatic, as if I had given them a lump of gold. 
Megan and Scott with tea mugs in their hands and Rosaries around their neck
Then I told them that they may end up in my Christmas homily, and also on my blog, at which they asked me if I want to take their picture, which of course I did, as they cracked a smile in the midst of their sadness. I invited them to the Christmas Mass, but they admitted they may not make it since they will be with their families, but they will make every effort to come back on Sunday.
I saw Mary and Joseph yesterday, and at the end of a painful day, I witnessed a miracle of hope. Mary and Joseph received Jesus as their gift, which they shared with the world, while Megan and Scott received some tea, some cookies, a Rosary beads each, and a photo for my blog, and in the midst of their sadness, gave me hope and joy.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A Playmobil Nativity

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.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Jubilee Year of Mercy

On December 8, the Jubilee Year of Mercy started, and will continue until the feast of Christ the King next year. The Jubilee tradition was adapted for Catholics in 1300 by Pope Boniface VIII as a universal “year of forgiveness of all sins.” Since that time, the ordinary Jubilee years have usually been at 25- or 500-year intervals (the last one being in 2000). Other extraordinary Jubilee years like this year’s have been declared for various special reasons. Jubilee years are characterized especially by prayer, good works, pilgrimages to sacred sites (especially Rome), and special indulgences for those who participate.
Pope Francis desires that this Jubilee will be steeped in mercy, an extraordinary time of grace, so that we can go out to every man and woman, bringing the goodness and tenderness of God. May the balm of mercy reach everyone, both believers and those far away, as a sign that the kingdom of God is already present in our midst.

The official logo designed for the Jubilee Year of Mercy represents Jesus taking upon his shoulders the lost human person (i.e., each of us) with a love that can change one’s life. While the Good Shepherd, in his great mercy, takes humanity upon himself, his eyes are merged with those of the human person, who sees the world and others with Christ’s eyes, and Christ sees with the person’s eyes. Thus every person discovers in Christ, the new Adam, one’s own humanity and looks to a future, contemplating in his gaze, the love of the Father.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The spirit of a visit

Many people will be visiting family and friends over the next few days. There is something we can learn from the visit that Mary made to Elizabeth, as it is recorded in the Sunday Gospel today, the 4th Sunday of Advent. The above picture shows not just the joy, but the exuberance and enthusiastic welcome that Elizabeth extended to Mary. They talked, they prayed, but they also laughed as they realized what was happening to them, one a teenage girl, the other a older woman, way beyond child-bearing age. And since this was the first encounter between John the Baptist and Jesus, both still in their mother's wombs, there was an undercurrent story here, as the babies rejoiced at each others' presence.
May our visits be accompanied with sincere joy, courtesy, and a genuine spirit of welcome, hospitality and friendship.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Exhibition of Baby Jesus

I share with you a stunning display of images of Baby Jesus, set up as a permanent exhibition in a private house in Birkirkara, Malta. I first was introduced to this exhibition in 2002, and visited it with my father, incidentally just 3 days before he died. 5 years ago, the exhibition was set up as a permanent display with over 1500 different images of Baby Jesus in various postures as you can see from these few photos. 
Some of them are made from clay, plastic, ceramic, chalk or gesso, and some even from wax. Most of them represent the infant Jesus as he lies in his manger, but others represent the Infant of Prague and others showing Jesus as a toddler.

Monday, December 14, 2015

New Church winter wonderland

Sharing some photos from yesterday's snow-fall and how it transformed the front of our new church into a winter wonderland. Rain came down on Saturday, while snow followed on Sunday early morning.
The next post will be on Friday. In the meantime, check also recent photos of the fiesta of Our Lady of Guadalupe held last Saturday, December 12, on St Francis blog

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The 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.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Our Lady of Guadalupe

The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is one of the most treasured among Mexicans and Catholics alike. It all started in 1531 when an Aztec Indian named Juan Diego was walking through the Tepayac hill country in central Mexico. Near Tepayac Hill he encountered a beautiful woman surrounded by a ball of light as bright as the sun. Speaking in his native tongue, the beautiful lady identified herself: "My dear little son, I love you. I desire you to know who I am. I am the ever-virgin Mary, Mother of the true God who gives life and maintains its existence. I desire a church in this place where your people may experience my compassion. Here I will see their tears; I will console them and they will be at peace. So run now to Tenochtitlan and tell the Bishop all that you have seen and heard."
Juan, age 57, and who had never been to Tenochtitlan, nonetheless immediately responded to Mary's request. He went to the palace of the Bishop-elect Fray Juan de Zumarraga and requested to meet immediately with the bishop. The bishop's servants, who were suspicious of the rural peasant, kept him waiting for hours. The bishop-elect told Juan that he would consider the request of the Lady and told him he could visit him again if he so desired. Juan was disappointed by the bishop's response and felt himself unworthy to persuade someone as important as a bishop. He returned to the hill where he had first met Mary and found her there waiting for him. Imploring her to send someone else, she responded: "My little son, there are many I could send. But you are the one I have chosen." She then told him to return the next day to the bishop and repeat the request. On Sunday, after again waiting for hours, Juan met with the bishop who, on re-hearing his story, asked him to ask the Lady to provide a sign as a proof of who she was. Juan dutifully returned to the hill and told Mary, who was again waiting for him there, of the bishop's request. Mary responded: "My little son, am I not your Mother? Do not fear. The Bishop shall have his sign. Come back to this place tomorrow. Only peace, my little son." Unfortunately, Juan was not able to return to the hill the next day. His uncle had become mortally ill and Juan stayed with him to care for him. After two days, with his uncle near death, Juan left his side to find a priest. Juan had to pass Tepayac Hill to get to the priest. As he was passing, he found Mary waiting for him. She spoke: "Do not be distressed, my littlest son. Your uncle will not die at this time. There is no reason for you to engage a priest, for his health is restored at this moment. He is quite well. Go to the top of the hill and cut the flowers that are growing there. Bring them then to me." 

The original tilma preserved in the Cathedral of Guadalupe, Mexico
While it was freezing on the hillside, Juan obeyed Mary's instructions and went to the top of the hill where he found a full bloom of Castilian roses. Removing his tilma, a poncho-like cape made of cactus fiber, he cut the roses and carried them back to Mary. She rearranged the roses and told him: "My little son, this is the sign I am sending to the Bishop. Tell him that with this sign I request his greatest efforts to complete the church I desire in this place. Show these flowers to no one else but the Bishop. You are my trusted ambassador. This time the Bishop will believe all you tell him." At the palace, Juan once again came before the bishop and several of his advisors. He told the bishop his story and opened the tilma letting the flowers fall out. But it wasn't the beautiful roses that caused the bishop and his advisors to fall to their knees; for there, on the tilma, was a picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary precisely as Juan had described her. The next day, after showing the Tilma at the Cathedral, Juan took the bishop to the spot where he first met Mary. He then returned to his village where he met his uncle who was completely cured. His uncle told him he had met a young woman, surrounded by a soft light, who told him that she had just sent his nephew to Tenochtitlan with a picture of herself. She told his uncle: "Call me and call my image Santa Maria de Guadalupe".

It's believed that the word Guadalupe was actually a Spanish mis-translation of the local Aztec dialect. The word that Mary probably used was Coatlallope which means "one who treads on snakes"! Within six years of this apparition, six million Aztecs had converted to Catholicism. The tilma shows Mary as the God-bearer - she is pregnant with her Divine Son. Since the time the tilma was first impressed with a picture of the Mother of God, it has been subject to a variety of environmental hazards including smoke from fires and candles, water from floods and torrential downpours and, in 1921, a bomb which was planted by anti-clerical forces on an altar under it. There was also a cast-iron cross next to the tilma and when the bomb exploded, the cross was twisted out of shape, the marble altar rail was heavily damaged and the tilma was...untouched! Indeed, no one was injured in the Church despite the damage that occurred to a large part of the altar structure.
In 1977, the tilma was examined using infrared photography and digital enhancement techniques. Unlike any painting, the tilma shows no sketching or any sign of outline drawn to permit an artist to produce a painting. Further, the very method used to create the image is still unknown. The image is inexplicable in its longevity and method of production. It can be seen today in a large cathedral built to house up to ten thousand worshipers. It is, by far, the most popular religious pilgrimage site in the Western Hemisphere.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Prayers for every day

Grant to me, my Lord, that with peace of mind I may face all that this new day is to bring. Grant me grace to surrender myself completely to your holy will. For every hour of this day instruct and prepare me in all  things. Govern my thoughts and feelings in all I do and say. When things unforeseen occur, let me not forget that all comes down from you. Teach me to behave sincerely and reasonably toward every member of my family, that I may bring confusion and sorrow to none. Bestow on me, my Lord, strength to endure the fatigue of the day and to bear my part in all its passing events. Guide my will and teach me to pray, to believe, to hope, to suffer, to forgive, and to love.

Grant me Lord, to know what is worth knowing, to love what is worth loving, to praise what delights you most, to value what is precious in your sight, to hate what is offensive to you. Do not let me judge by what I see, nor pass sentence according to what I hear, but to judge rightly between things that differ and above all to search out and to do what pleases you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Thomas a Kempis)