Saturday, March 31, 2012

The suffering Christ

"Ecce Homo" sculpted by Alfred and Aaron Camilleri Cauchi

This was a surprise discovery which I wanted to share with you as we head into Holy Week. I spoke about Maltese artists and painters as well as amateur enthusiasts who showcase their work especially during Holy Week. But there are also a few professional sculptors who amaze everyone with their work. Among them are the father and son combination of Alfred and Aaron Camilleri Cauchi. Michael, another brother of Alfred is a prolific painter who is always busy painting ceilings, domes and apses of churches all over Malta. Over the past two years Alfred and Aaron collaborated in sculpting out of solid wood the image of the suffering Christ, as he is crowned with thorns, and hands tied, holding a reed, entitled "Ecce Homo" (Behold the Man.)

The upper part of the finished wooden statue
The above photo shows the sculpted wood, before the coloring was applied. The images are not the best, because I took the photos off a YouTube video. Other photos show various angles, as well as the finished statue, with the moving and heart-wrenching close-up of his suffering face, crowned with thorns.
The entire finished statue
The statue is carried out in procession on Good Friday in the parish at Ghaxaq, Malta. Another similar statue was carved out of wood by the same father-son combination, showing Jesus tied to a pillar before being flogged. Many paper-mache statues have been created by various artists over the years, but this is the first time in 150 years that a solid wood statue was commissioned.
The face of Christ in solid wood
The finished face of the suffering Christ

Friday, March 30, 2012

Our Lady of Sorrows

Even though the liturgical feast of Our Lady of Sorrows is celebrated on September 15, there is a special devotion which culminates today in many European countries, in particular my native Malta. It is by far the most devotional feast in the entire year, where people go to confession, and participate in Masses celebrated throughout the day, even in factories and places of work (something which I did in a Car Assembly plant between 1977 and 1981.) But the highlight of the day is usually the procession with the statue of Our Lady of Sorrows, held in practically every parish, through the streets of the respective town or village. Normal life stops for a few hours as people follow the statue of the Sorrowful Mother, pray rosaries, sing hymns and some even walk barefoot in a sense of deeper penance. Some women who had experienced a rough pregnancy make a vow to the Blessed Mother that they would walk with their baby in their arms if they had a safe delivery. They even go as far as kneel down when the procession pauses or stops for a brief time. Some men walk in hooded masks to protect their anonymity as they too make vows of their own, especially after a healing, a job promotion, or something good that they prayed for. 

This impressive photo I took in 2010 shows the veritable sea of people following devotedly the image of the Mater Dolorosa. It is the official start of Holy Week celebrations, which culminates on Holy Thursday and Good Friday. Please stay tuned as more memories from Malta will appear here over the next week.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Chrism Mass

Chrism Mass in 2011 at St Francis De Sales Cathedral, Baker City
In most Dioceses, the Chrism Mass is held on Holy Thursday morning, but in other Dioceses, like ours in Baker, it is held a week earlier for the simple reason that priests have to travel hundreds of miles to get here. So today, the present Apostolic Administrator William Skylstad will be celebrating the Mass with all the priests, as well as some deacons and lay people in attendance. During the Mass, he will consecrate three kinds of oil to be used in various sacraments around the Diocese. Three containers filled with oil will be brought up towards the altar, and the Bishop will bless the Oil of the Sick, to be used for anointing of the sick, as well as the Oil of Catechumens, to be used during the baptismal ceremony. Another container of Oil is mixed with chrism, to be used for confirmation, consecration of priests at ordination as well as during the baptism ceremony. These three oils are then poured into small containers for each of the priests present to take home with them to their respective parish. It is a complex operation, but is done with great mastery here at the Cathedral parish. This ceremony is done only in the Cathedral of each Diocese. During the Mass, the priests also renew their vows to their bishop. The photos were taken over the past two years at St Francis De Sales Cathedral, with Bishop William Skylstad seen above with the priests during the blessing of oils, and former Bishop Robert Vasa below.

Chrism Mass from 2008 with Bishop Vasa as celebrant

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Approaching Holy Week in Malta

Here are another few photos of various displays exhibited in my home country of Malta during the next few weeks. These were photos I took 2 years ago, and they are just a sample of over 1000 photos I took of these incredibly detailed and intricate plates ‘painted’ by dropping colored salt, rice, beans, pasta and semolina , to create these beautiful paintings that represent various scenes from the passion of Christ. 

Make sure to click on each photo to enlarge, so that you can see the fine detail of amateurs and enthusiasts at work. Care was given so that there won’t be any drafts during the exhibition, and even while I was taking the photos, a young boy was sent to watch me, in case I would sneeze and blow some of the salt up in the air. Of course I did not sneeze, but the boy did not leave my side for the hour I spent there!

The image of the Sorrowful Mother made from colorized rice
Tomorrow Thursday, the Chrism Mass will be celebrated in our Cathedral, with Archbishop William Skylstad and all the priests of the Baker Diocese attending.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

More of Holy Week in Malta

Miniature statues at an exhibition in Zebbug, Malta
Two years ago I was grateful to be in Malta during Holy Week. Even though my stay there was in anticipation of my mother’s death, I was able to visit many exhibitions held all over the island which focus on the last days of Christ. Most of these exhibitions were held either in private homes or in parish halls, offering a display of hand-made passion statues, presentations of the Last Supper tables with incredible detail, which you will see over the next two weeks. The above represent some of the statues of various scenes from the passion of Christ, all hand-made by artistic enthusiasts and sculptors.

Last Supper table display at Cospicua, Malta

Various plates and inscriptions literally 'painted' with colored salt
The reason why this entry is being posted late in the day, is because I had to present 2 talks in my neighboring parish of La Grande precisely on "Holy Week in Malta." More photos tomorrow.....

Monday, March 26, 2012

My favorite painting

Triptych of the Holy Rosary by Hans Suess Von Kulmbach

One of the paintings that struck me the very first moment I saw it is the Triptych of the Holy Rosary by Hans Suess Von Kulmbach (1510,) which is in the Thyssen Bornemisza Museum, Madrid. The two side panels show the Presentation of Mary, with St. Joachim and St. Anne at the bottom of the steps, while the other one show Mary’s parents in a loving embrace. The center and more prominent panel is very descriptive, and shows the Crucifixion encircled within the Rosary beads, each Hail Mary symbolized by a rose flower. The 5 Our Fathers are symbolized by 5 crosses, also symbolic of the 5 wounds of Christ. A scene from hell is shown in the bottom, with two angels above and two others below, one of whom I seen saving a baby and the other holding scales in his hands.

Detail of the center panel
The 4 layers of saints are described as follows, from top, left to right:
1. With God the Father and the Holy Spirit are seen Mary and a variety of angels.
2. Melchizedek, David, Moses, John the Baptist - Peter, Mark, Paul and Luke.
3. Lawrence, George, Erasmus, Stephen, Holy Innocent baby - Gregory, Jerome, Nicholas, Charlemagne.
4. Clare, Agnes, Barbara, Catherine of Alexandria - Anne, Mary, Mary Magdalene, Helen.

I present this post in memory of my father John, who would have turned 87 years today.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Virgin of Cuba

La Virgen de Caridad - The Virgin of Charity
As Pope Benedict XVI visits Mexico and Cuba this week, there is special attention given to The Virgin of Charity (La Virgen de la Caridad,) a miraculous statue of the Virgin Mary in the mining town of El Cobre, outside Santiago in southwest Cuba. Her shrine is the most important religious site on the entire island. A focus of intense popular devotion, the beloved Virgin of Charity was declared the patron saint of Cuba by the pope in 1916. The town of El Cobre was founded in 1550 as a Spanish copper mine, worked by slaves and Indians. One day in 1608, two Indians and a slave boy were gathering salt on the coast near El Cobre when they saw something floating in the water. It was a small statue of the Virgin Mary, carrying the Christ child and a gold cross. She floated on a board bearing the inscription, Yo soy la Virgen de la Caridad, "I am the Virgin of Charity."

The miraculous statue at El Cobre
At the time, the church in El Cobre was dedicated to Santiago, St. James, the powerful patron of the Spanish conquest. So the statue of the Virgin was placed in a thatched hut instead of in the church. But on three successive nights, the statue disappeared from the hut and was found on top of the hill above El Cobre.  The Virgin of Charity resided in several small shrines until 1630, when the copper mine was closed and the slaves were freed. She then took St. James' place above the high altar in the church, a symbol of the triumph of the people over the Spanish conquerers.
El Cobre Basilica in Cuba
Since then, the Virgin has continued to assist her people and has been credited with countless miracles. In 1916, the Pope declared her the patron saint of Cuba. El Cobre Basilica was built to house here in 1927. In 1998, Pope John Paul II crowned her statue during his historic visit to communist Cuba. In the 1950s, Ernest Hemingway gave the Virgin the Nobel Prize for Literature he won after writing ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ in Havana. Today, the Virgin of Charity in El Cobre continues to receive streams of visitors and stacks of votive gifts. Common objects left in more recent times include replicas of rafts, representing safe journeys to America, and photos of activists who have been imprisoned by Castro's government.  It is very rare to see anti-government statements in public in Cuba, but the Catholic Church has achieved some independence from the government, and the Virgin herself seems to transcend the dispute — members of Castro's military come here, too. On March 26, 2012, the Pope celebrates Mass on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the island's patron saint, at Santiago de Cuba in her national shrine.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

More Passion stamps

Spanish stamp from 1979 depicting the Last Supper

I showed you a few weeks ago some stamps that reflect Holy Week and the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus. Various countries have issued stamps over the years using well-known paintings depicting the holiest of weeks. Paintings of course provide thousands of opportunities to showcase artistic representations of the last few days of Christ. Leonardo da Vinci, El Greco, Roger van der Weyden, Rembrandt and so many others have put on canvas their impression of the sufferings of Christ. The stamps are a meditation in themselves and offer a great source of comfort for many people, especially when used during Lent and Holy Week, just like a Christmas stamp has a definitive effect when used in the Christmas season, especially when sending Christmas cards to family and friends.
Another Spanish stamp of Jesus carrying the cross by El Greco
Grunewald's Crucifixion in a 1977 stamp of Cameroon
The famous cross that spoke to St Francis of Assisi, painted by Cimabue

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Passion Flower

The Passion Flower, photo taken in Malta
Known also as the passion flowers or passion vines, Passiflora is a genus of about 500 species of flowering plants, the namesakes of the family Passifloraceae. They are mostly vines, with some being shrubs. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Spanish Christian missionaries adopted the unique physical structures of this plant, particularly the numbers of its various flower parts, as symbols of the last days of Jesus and especially his crucifixion:
The Blue Passion Flower (Passiflora Caerulea) shows most elements of the Christian symbolism
The pointed tips of the leaves were taken to represent the lance that pierced Jesus’ side.
The tendrils represent the whips used in the flagellation of Christ.
The ten petals and sepals represent the ten faithful apostles (excluding St. Peter and Judas Iscariot)
The flower's radial filaments, which can number more than a hundred and vary from flower to flower, represent the crown of thorns.
The chalice-shaped ovary with its receptacle represents the chalice or the Holy Grail.
The 3 stigmas represent the 3 nails and the 5 anthers below them the 5 wounds (four by the nails and one by the lance).
The blue and white colors of many species' flowers represent Heaven and Purity.
I took the above photo in Malta, where the Passion flowers grow profusely, especially in the spring.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Grunewald's Crucifixion - The Body of Jesus

During this last meditation on Grünewald’s depiction of the crucifixion of Christ, we focus today on the body of Jesus, wrapped in a loincloth. Most of the crucified were nailed naked to intensify the shame. Here we see the body lacerated by the previous flogging, leaving many marks which bled profusely. Some splinters are still stuck to his body. Even the cloth is ripped, showing that the flogging soldiers showed no mercy at all, and lashed him all over his body. To the casual observer, Grünewald’s Crucifixion evokes empathy in the face of another’s torment. Through the eyes of faith the Christian disciple is led a step further. For in pondering this image we can be moved through beauty to enter into the redemptive meaning of Christ’s suffering. For through this visual homily, Grünewald, the painter, encourages us along the Lenten journey to persevere in our own daily patterns of dying and rising to new life.
The entire painting of Grunewald's Crucifixion with the side panels
This painting was commissioned for the Antoinite monastery at Isenheim, painted between 1510 and 1515 and was intended to give support to patients in the monastic hospital. Christ appears hideous, his skin swollen and torn as a result of the flagellation and torture that He endured. Even the horizontal beam of the cross looks tired as it sags with the weight of Christ’s body adding to the mood of the moment. This was understandably a powerful image in a hospital that specialized in caring for those suffering from skin complaints. In this painting, we are hemmed in by the immensities of darkness, alone with pain, forced to face the truth. The Old Testament often talks of a “suffering servant”, and obviously Grünewald's Crucifixion comes to mind when we think of this metaphor. Gothic art had reached an electrifying greatness in this particular heart-wrenching painting.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Grunewald's Crucifixion - Hands and Feet

Continuing our meditation on the crucifixion by Mathias Grünewald, we focus today on the hands and feet of Jesus, pierced mercilessly by atrocious nails. One can see the contortions of the muscles in one of his hands. Those were the same hands that helped his father in the carpenter’s shop in Nazareth, the same hands that helped his other Mary in daily domestic chores. Those were the same hands that changed the water into wine, that healed many sick people, that raised Lazarus and others. Those were the hands that fed the five thousand men, that changed the bread and wine into His own Body and Blood. And now those same hands are being tortured. These same hands were shown to Thomas after the Resurrection, and later on blessed the apostles before Jesus ascended into heaven.

The feet of Jesus too are depicted in a most gruesome way. They too were nailed to the wood of the cross, pierced most probably through the navicular or cuneiform bones. These were the same feet that trod the hills of Galilee, that climbed the Mount of the Beatitudes, Mount Tabor and finally the Mount of Olives. These were the same feet that walked on water. The same feet that as a little child ran and jumped and played with his friends.  These were the feet that climbed the hill of Calvary, that fell three times on the way there. Grünewald paints the feet as if resting temporarily on a horizontal piece of wood, so that the crucified can rest his feet and still be able to breathe, prolonging the painful death. 
                                                                                                          (tomorrow - the body of Jesus)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Mathias Grunewald's Crucifixion

Crucifixion by Mathias Grunewald

Father Benedict Groeschel writes that the one crucifixion painting that moves him the most is the one painted by Mathias Grünewald. I went searching for it and as you can see, he was absolutely right. If we can only comprehend what the crucifixion looked like, this is it. For the next 3 days I will share a brief reflection on this moving painting, focusing on various sections of it. The painting actually forms part of the central panel of the Isenheim altarpiece, painted between 1510 and 1515.
Like a preacher at Good Friday, Grünewald left nothing undone to bring home to us the horrors of this scene of suffering: Christ's dying body is distorted by the torture of the cross; the thorns of the scourges stick in the festering wounds which cover the whole figure. The dark red blood forms a glaring contrast to the sickly green of the flesh. By His features and the impressive gesture of His hands, the Man of Sorrows speaks to us of the meaning of His Calvary. His suffering is reflected in the traditional group of Mary, in the garb of a widow, fainting in the arms of St John the Evangelist, to whose care the Lord has commended her, and in the smaller figure of St Mary Magdalene with her vessel of ointments, wringing her hands in sorrow. On the other side of the Cross, there stands the powerful figure of St John the Baptist with the ancient symbol of the lamb carrying the cross and pouring out its blood into the chalice of the Holy Communion. 
                                                                                                                    (to be continued)

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Letter to Saint Joseph

St Joseph with the child Jesus, by Guido Reni
Dear Saint Joseph,
Today being your feast day, I thought of writing you a few lines mainly to show my gratitude for all you did for Jesus and Mary, and for us all. Very few people are greater than you are! Because being so close to Jesus and Mary, you are also the most blessed and full of grace.
Well, if you weren’t so special and blessed, God would not have trusted you with his two most priceless possessions, marrying Mary, in spite of all the gossiping that was going on before your engagement, and then taking the role of a foster father of Jesus, protecting him, educating him and raising him from infancy to adulthood. You are fairly unknown around the world, but at least at Christmas time your image explodes all around the world with the millions of religious Christmas cards exchanged between families and friends.
We read in the Gospels that God always conveyed his messages to you in dreams and during sleep. This doesn’t mean that He wanted you to be passive, as if you didn’t know what was going on. We never see you in dialogue with Mary, or giving your opinion in stressful situations. But you let Mary handle all situations, as she dialogued with the Angel Gabriel, at the wedding at Cana, or when Jesus was lost in the temple - she spoke, and you were silent. You receive the message, and made sure it was worked out and implemented. That was your divine mission and vocation - to be a silent instrument in the hands of God. I bet you enjoyed teaching Jesus the carpenter’s trade and other duties and chores around the house at Nazareth. 

Please Saint Joseph, just as you protected Mary and Jesus, I ask you to protect our church, of which you are its special patron saint. Give us more vocations because we need priests and nuns to continue the work in parishes, schools, orphanages and hospitals. Give us good parents, responsible and loving, ready to sacrifice their lives for their children and families, just as you and Mary did. Please pray for all workers, that they may honestly give their share of labor and be dedicated in their mission, always admiring you as their patron saint, another feast of yours we celebrate on May 1st. Be patient with us, dear St Joseph, because we tend to be hard-headed and spoiled at times. Remind us always to be grateful for all the blessings that you and your Son and wife give us, day by day.

Signed - a friend and an admirer

Sunday, March 18, 2012

John 3:16

Tim Tebow, quarterback of the Denver Broncos
Occasionally at various sports events, you might notice a fan holding a sign that says “John 3:16" or any other biblical quote. You may see them behind goal posts in a soccer match, on the green during a golf tournament and at the end zone during a football game. Recently we noticed Tim Tebow, the Denver Broncos quarterback writing the quote under his eyes, on that black smudge they smear to protect them against the sun (see photo above.) Now you have to realize that these placards are not displayed just for fun, just as one would hold a sign saying “Go Bulldogs,” or “Will you marry me, Peggy Sue?” The story behind these signs goes back to a certain Christian millionaire who buys expensive seats in sports events and then asks a fan to sit there and simply raise the placard when he thinks the camera is rolling at a certain moment of that particular game. 

I’m pretty sure that many people go looking for their bible to check that particular quote, as I personally have done when other quotes appear. But John 3:16 is the most popular one because it crystallizes in a nutshell the gist of our faith, the scope of Christianity, a sentence that describes why our religion is so rich, rewarding and uplifting. This quote is the basis of the liturgical readings for this 4th Sunday of Lent, as Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus, and then the evangelist St John makes this remarkable statement...”God so loved the world that He gave us His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish, but might have eternal life.” Jesus is truly presented as our life-line to heaven, the means by which we can attain eternal happiness.

From the “Imitation of Christ” by Tomas a Kempis: Let not your heart be troubled, and let it not be afraid. Believe in me and trust in my mercy. When you think I am far from you, I am often the nearest to you. When you judge that almost all is lost, that’s when you are on the way to gain the greatest merit. Come to me Lord, poor and little as I am, and bring me joy. Stretch out your hand, and deliver me from all the pain and anguish. Come Lord, come, for without you my soul is barren and empty. Come Lord, for without you no day or hour is happy. Without you my table is without its guest, for you alone are my joy.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Saint Patrick

St. Patrick was of Romano-British origin, and born about the year 389AD. His father, Calpurnius, was a deacon, and Patrick's own full name was probably Patricius Magonus Sucatus. When he was 16, he was captured in Britain by Irish raiders and taken as a slave to Ireland. During six bleak years spent as a herdsman, he turned with fervor to his faith. Hearing at last in a dream that the ship in which he was to escape was ready, he fled his master and found passage to Britain. There he came near to starvation and suffered a second brief captivity before he was reunited with his family. Thereafter, he became a priest and eventually a bishop. He is credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland and probably responsible in part for the Christianization of the Anglo-Saxons. In a dream vision it seemed “all the children of Ireland from their mothers’ wombs were stretching out their hands” to him. He understood the vision to be a call to do mission work in pagan Ireland. Despite opposition from those who felt his education had been defective, he was sent to carry out the task. He went to the west and north, where the faith had never been preached, obtained the protection of local kings and made numerous converts.
Because of the island’s pagan background, Patrick was emphatic in encouraging widows to remain chaste and young women to consecrate their virginity to Christ. He ordained many priests, divided the country into dioceses, held Church councils, founded several monasteries and continually urged his people to greater holiness in Christ. He suffered much opposition from pagan druids and was criticized in both England and Ireland for the way he conducted his mission. Patrick died about 461, and was buried in the vicinity of the future Cathedral town of Down.

Legends about Patrick abound; but truth is best served by our seeing two solid qualities in him: He was humble and he was courageous. The determination to accept suffering and success with equal indifference guided the life of God’s instrument for winning most of Ireland for Christ.
One of his famous quotes is called the Breastplate of St. Patrick:
“Christ shield me this day:
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every person who thinks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me, Christ in the ear that hears me”

Friday, March 16, 2012

Irish blessings

All the priests had a meeting in Bend, and that is the reason why there was no post yesterday on my blog. But here we go again, after a long trip, encountering all kinds of weather, animals and especially two bald eagles perched on the same tree. 

The angle for my viewpoint was not very favorable, but this is the best photo I could get of  them together. The did not fly away this time, and certainly there was something edible and appetizing that kept them there. Undoubtedly the bald priest did not bother the two bald eagles this time, and they graciously tolerated him.

As the world turns green over the next 2 days, celebrating the feast of St. Patrick, here are some Irish blessings which should cheer you up.
May the embers from the open hearth warm your hands,
May the sun's rays from the Irish sky warm your face,
May the children's bright smiles warm your heart,
May the everlasting love I give you warm your soul.
May you always have work for your hands to do.
May your pockets hold always a coin or two.
May the sun shine bright on your windowpane.
May the rainbow be certain to follow each rain.
May the hand of a friend always be near you.
And may God fill your heart with gladness to cheer you.
May the friendships you make, be those which endure,
And all of your grey clouds be small ones for sure.
And trusting in Him to Whom we all pray,
May a song fill your heart, every step of the way.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A great man is gone

Censu Tabone, my mother, myself and Maria Tabone

2 weeks short of his 99th birthday, (March 30, 1913-March 14, 2012) my friend Censu Tabone leaves this earth to start a new life in eternity. I called him friend because he was not just my friend but everyone’s friend in Malta. A father of 8, grandfather of 19, and great-grandfather of 24, he also happens to be Malta’s most beloved politician, past President of the nation and above all a deeply devout and spiritual man. The above photo shows him with his wife of 70 years, Maria and my mother on my 25th anniversary, June 19, 2002. A well-known ophthalmologist, he served in the military during World War II and entered politics at the age of 50.
He was humble - never seeking attention.
He was a servant of the people - never patronizing.
He was efficient both as a doctor or politician - always accepting any given role at any level.
He was a simple, decent politician - he treated everyone equally and with equal respect.
He was unassuming - never seeking roles at the expense of others - always ready to shoulder responsibilities thrust upon him.
President or not, he was dignified in any role, respected by all and Censu was his name.

In 1990, with the Bishop of Long Island NY, and my brother Marcel
Always gracious and highly respected by everyone, I got to know a side of him which most people did not. Every time I visited at his house, he was extremely gracious and hospitable, and in spite of his illustrious career, he never looked down on anybody, but was humble enough to bend down and play even with his grandchildren. He never missed daily Mass, especially at the small Lapsi church in St Julian’s, where frequently I celebrated Mass while visiting my family. Rest in Peace Censu. Your work is finished here on earth, but your presence will surely embellish the halls of heaven.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Deer in our backyard

4 of 10 deer camping behind the Cathedral

I’ve seen and photographed hundreds of deer over the past 9 years since I came to Oregon. But never did I see them so friendly and up close and personal. 10 of them somehow ended up in the Cathedral’s backyard yesterday and they literally camped out for the entire day. They were certainly not intimidated by my presence who approached them just to take a few pictures. I have no idea what brought them here in a crowded neighborhood, and how did they arrive here. They were evidently late for the blessing of the animals, which we do on the feast of St Francis of Assisi on October 4 each year. They were in a friendly environment and other than my cockatiel in his cage screaming at them, a few crows inquisitively perched on trees above them and a few occasional squirrels chasing each other, the only time they reacted was when a dog noticed them and barked unthreateningly at them. In that case, they just stood up, stretched their legs and went back to sitting on the dry grass.

All in all, they spent a whole day in the shadows of our Cathedral, never bothered anyone, and whenever they felt like it, they hopped over the fence and went their merry way. And in a Lenten spirit, they ate no meat and practically fasted all day, because there was not one blade of grass to munch on.
"Like a deer that thirsts for a running stream, so is my soul thirsting for you, o Lord."

Monday, March 12, 2012

Lenten mood

It is customary that many churches do the minimum of decorations during the Lenten season, not only to accentuate the mood for this time of the year, but also because of traditions that some countries have. Some churches do not use any flowers at all. And even though it is no longer common practice, but many churches used to cover crucifixes, statues and other images during Lent. In my home country of Malta, some of the beautiful baroque churches hang black tapestries on the walls, all around the church. These walls are usually empty during the year, or covered in red tapestry during special celebrations, like the titular feast of that particular parish. These pictures show one particular church dressed up in black, signifying also the mourning that permeates the entire season, and especially Holy Week until Easter. There are two other interesting facts in the two photos displayed here. The one above shows also on the right the Altar of Repose, where the Blessed Sacrament will be reserved on Holy Thursday. The one below shows one of the statues, (in this case the Crucifixion,) which are displayed around the church during Lent. They will be carried in procession on Good Friday throughout the streets of the particular town, in the case the village on Naxxar.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Jesus and Romero

Poster for the movie 'ROMERO'
I mentioned a parallelism in my homily this weekend about Jesus getting angry at the money-changers who turned his Father’s house into a market-place. The analogy I referred to is about Archbishop Oscar Romero, as depicted in the movie “Romero,” a role played by Raul Julia. At one moment in the movie, you can see the militia taking over a church in El Salvador and when Bishop Romero goes to reclaim it, the soldiers start shooting at the tabernacle, the crucifix and the altar, spilling the consecrated hosts on the floor, showing utter disrespect to the Eucharist. Bishop Romero starts picking up the hosts, but then he leaves to return a little while later. This time he is accompanied by a large crowd of parishioners, who together move into the church with machine guns aimed at them. Nevertheless, the Bishop keeps moving in with the crowd of people, supporting one another, forming together the Body of Christ. The military people were overwhelmed by this unified body, and kept quiet while the parishioners filled every space inside the church, mingling with the soldiers, as they took over the church again. Archbishop Romero would be killed on March 24, 1980 while saying Mass, but he will be always remembered for defending his people against the oppressive Government.

The scene where Romero confronts the militia
In the same way, Jesus defended his Father’s house, showing his fiery side, his human side, expelling the money-changers with a whip, restoring respect and dignity to the temple. Eventually he too would die for his people. Jesus and Romero were both martyrs for their faith. They both saw their church under attack and did something about it. May we learn to stand together because we are the church, we are the Body of Christ. And may we always show respect to our churches, appreciating the sacrifices our forefathers did to build these beautiful places of worship.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

How heavy is your cross?

This is a story in pictures I wanted to share with you this Lent. It may appear to be a very long entry, but it is necessary to include all 14 images to get the whole story and pertinent message. It actually reminds me of another similar story about a man who complained to God about how heavy his cross was. So God asked him to place his cross inside a room. He agreed and then God told him to open another door and choose a cross that he felt was fitting for him, light and bearable. So he opened the door and found all sorts of crosses, large, heavy, cumbersome and outright uncomfortable. And so he chose a small cross he found resting against a wall. “This is the one I like,” he told God, as he went his merry way. But before he left, God had his last word....”I’m glad you’re happy with that cross, but I must tell you that that cross was the same one you brought in.”
It’s comforting to know that when we tend to complain about how heavy our crosses are, we should actually count our blessings! So now follow this story in pictures. Just scroll down, and please, stop complaining if you feel your cross is too heavy!