Thursday, February 28, 2013

So Long, Benedict!

The sun sets on a Papacy - Sede Vacante starts

In his final speech to the Cardinals, the Pope gave a beautiful, deep reflection of what the Church is. He quoted Italian writer Romano Guardini, who says: ‘The Church is not an institution devised and built at table, but a living reality. She lives along the course of time by transforming Herself, like any living being, yet Her nature remains the same. At Her heart is Christ.’ Then Pope Benedict continued:”We can see that the Church is a living body, animated by the Holy Spirit, and truly lives by the power of God, She is in the world but not of the world. She is of God, of Christ, of the Spirit. The Church is awakening in souls. The Church lives, grows and awakens in those souls which like the Virgin Mary accept and conceive the Word of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. They offer to God their flesh and in their own poverty and humility become capable of giving birth to Christ in the world today. Through the Church the mystery of the Incarnation remains present forever. Christ continues to walk through all times in all places. Let us remain united, dear brothers and sisters, to this mystery, in prayer, especially in daily Eucharist, and thus serve the Church and all humanity. This is our joy that no one can take from us.”

Pope Benedict bids goodbye to his flock
And during his final audience at St Peter’s square, the Pope said: “At this time, I have within myself a great trust [in God], because I know – all of us know – that the Gospel’s word of truth is the strength of the Church: it is her life. The Gospel purifies and renews: it bears fruit wherever the community of believers hears and welcomes the grace of God in truth and lives in charity. This is my faith, this is my joy. I would like to invite everyone to renew firm trust in the Lord. I would like that we all, entrust ourselves as children to the arms of God, and rest assured that those arms support us to walk every day, even in times of struggle. I would like everyone to feel loved by the God who gave His Son for us and showed us His boundless love. I want everyone to feel the joy of being Christian. In a beautiful prayer to be recited daily in the morning says, “I adore you, my God, I love you with all my heart. I thank You for having created me, for having made me a Christian.” Yes, we are happy for the gift of faith: it is the most precious good, that no one can take from us! Let us thank God for this every day, with prayer and with a coherent Christian life. God loves us, but He also expects that we love Him!”
Thank you Pope-Emeritus for these beautiful, rich and meaningful words. Happy retirement!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Hail to the Pope

Pope Benedict XVI in Malta, April 2010

Sharing with you today just one more photo I took of Pope Benedict while celebrating Mass in Malta on April 18, 2010. All eyes are now on Rome and specifically on the Vatican these days as the Supreme Pontiff becomes Pope Emeritus and retires in Castelgandolfo for a few months, staying in the background, dedicated to a life of prayer, while the other 115 Cardinals gather to choose his successor. More information will be coming through this blog about the conclave and other information pertaining to the Sede Vacante (Vacant See) and the Papacy.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Tu es Petrus

Tu es Petrus - You are Peter
Continuing our reflections and insights into the Papacy, I share with you today the magnificent bronze statue of Saint Peter inside the basilica dedicated to him. With his foot extended forward, millions of people have touched the foot of Peter, so much that it is worn out, smooth and shiny as if it had just been sandpapered. 
The worn out bronze foot of St Peter - actually both are worn out
The bronze statue was originally in the old St Peter’s basilica and was the work of Arnolfo di Cambio, who lived in the 13th century. Many Popes over the last 7 centuries have seen it representing their role as Shepherds of the people entrusted to their care. 
St Peter by bronze sculptor Arnolfo di Cambio
And two days before officially retiring, Pope Benedict XVI himself decided to be called “Pope Emeritus,” while still living in a monastery in the Vatican Gardens. He will be called "Your Holiness Benedict XVI" and either ‘Emeritus Pope’ or ‘Emeritus Roman Pontiff.’

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Popes at St. Paul's

The first 4 Popes at St Paul's Basilica

One of the four major basilicas in Rome is dedicated to St Paul, incidentally called ‘St Paul outside the walls,’ because of its distance from the center of Rome. The basilica is known among other things for a series of 265 medallions of the Popes that have reigned so far. They are spread through the interior of the Basilica, and some of them even on the outside. The medallions are made from mosaic and there are only two spaces left beyond Pope Benedict XVI. 
Pope Benedict's medallion in mosaic

Each one is shown with the respective name above and the years of their respective reign of Papacy. The basilica suffered much damage over the centuries but was officially re-opened in its present state in 1840. In the old basilica each pope had his portrait in a frieze extending above the columns separating the four aisles and naves. The medallions were re-installed when the new basilica was rebuilt.
More of the Pope medallions around the entire basilica

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Mattia Preti

St John's Cathedral, Valletta, Malta
Today is the 400th anniversary of the birth of a beloved artist who left a memorable imprint in Malta. Born in Taverna, Italy on the 24th of February 1613, Mattia Preti is one of the major exponents of baroque art of the seventeenth century who for forty years, lived and worked in Malta leaving a priceless legacy of works. After a long spell working in Rome and nearly a decade in Naples, Mattia Preti moved to Malta, attracted by the potential patronage of the Knights. Between 1661 and 1666, he painted the huge vault inside St John’s Co-Cathedral after which he was made Knight of Grace. 
A section of the ceiling vault, painted by Mattia Preti

The paintings depict various scenes from the life of Saint John the Baptist. His contribution to art in Malta is outstanding; his artworks grace local churches, then built by small rural communities which for the first time ever, could access baroque works of art by one of its major exponents. He spent the remaining 40 years of his life living and working in Malta until his death on the 3rd January 1699. Mattia Preti is buried inside St John’s Co-Cathedral.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

A meaningful sculpture

A bass-relief sculpture of St Peter with the Pope

This is a photo of an impressive sculpture I came across while visiting the Vatican basilica last May. I believe I saw this bass-relief sculpture as I was going towards the Sacristy, and it shows St Peter protecting and praying over the kneeling Pontiff, and looking up towards Jesus, as if asking for a blessing. It is a perfect portrayal of what is going on right now within the Vatican, as Pope Benedict prepares for his retirement and the Cardinals head to Rome to elect his successor. Undoubtedly St Peter is working overtime right now, as will the Holy Spirit in a few days to help the Cardinals choose the right leader for the next few decades. It is a sculpture worth meditating upon over the next few days, although I wonder how many thousands of visitors, tourists and even priests and prelates pass by it without noticing it or even pondering on its pertinent meaning.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Chair of Saint Peter

Bernini's 'Chair of Peter' bronze sculpture

Just one week before Pope Benedict resigns officially, today we celebrate the feast of St Peter, and precisely the authority of St Peter in a feast called “The Chair of Saint Peter.” Of course we do not venerate chairs as such, but the ‘chair’ or ‘cathedra’ of St Peter is very symbolic, to such an extent that his chair has been immortalized in a magnificent sculpture by Gian Lorenzo Bernini behind the main altar at St Peter’s basilica. It is actually a part of the colonnade above the main altar, the massive chocolate-colored baldacchino that dominates the interior of the basilica. Next to the chair are the 4 Fathers of the early church, St Ambrose, St John Chrysostom, St Augustine and St Athanasius. Above the chair is a stained-glass window of the Holy Spirit in yellow texture. The bronze sculpture was crafted between 1647 and 1653 by Bernini. 
Original chair of Saint Peter
The original chair of Peter is preserved, although in a very worn-out state. It was transferred from the church of Santa Prisca to the Vatican, and was exposed to the public once a year. However it was encased with the Bernini masterpiece, where it still is, protected mostly because of its fragile structure. For 200 years it was kept hidden and protected, but in 1867 it was exposed to the faithful to commemorate the anniversary of the martyrdom of Sts Peter and Paul.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

An important bell

The bell on the left side of the Basilica, just beneath the clock.
Once the Pope is elected, the bell of St Peter’s Basilica will announce the big news. Of course the white smoke will also signify that a Pope has been chosen, but sometimes, the smoke is grey, and many people are unsure if it’s black or white. Last time in 2005, it was the ringing of this bell that affirmed that a decision has been reached. And once the bell started swinging ever so slightly, the whole crowd erupted in cheers and jubilation. That may also be the case this year when in mid-March we expect a new Pontiff. Over the next few weeks, I will continue to share with you some great photos I took while in Rome and at the Vatican last year in May.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Head or forehead

Pope Benedict receiving ashes on his head

Ash Wednesday was a week ago, but I wanted to share with you a comment on the difference of the imposition of ashes in Europe and the USA. When I was growing up in Malta, the custom always was to place the ashes on top of the head. Moreover, the ashes were made of burnt olive branches, which made for brown-grey coloring of the ashes. The priest would place a tiny bit of ash on top of the head, as we see Pope Benedict receiving his ashes last week. The priest would pick up the ash with the thumb and forefinger, as if you were adding a pinch of salt on your soup cooking in a pot. 

On the other hand, here in the USA, we burn palm branches which make for a black type of ashes, which are marked right on the forehead, with the priest using his thumb. Either way, it is a symbol of repentance and penance.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Pope Benedict in Malta - part 3

Two more photos of Pope Benedict XVI while celebrating Mass in Malta in April 2010. We know that Pope Benedict made fewer tips abroad than his predecessor, precisely 25 trips. Pope John Paul II made 104 official trips outside Rome, not to mention the many shorter trips within Italy. Some of these trips were long and exhausting, practically around the entire globe. I can fully understand the effects of jet-lag, and then he is asked to speak in public as soon as he lands, not to mention the many speeches and appointments he has to keep over a few days, barely recovering from jet-lag. Personally speaking, whenever I visit my family in Malta, I need 4 to 5 days to get reoriented and recover from jet-lag.
The Pope preparing to distribute communion

Monday, February 18, 2013

Pope Benedict in Malta - part 2

Pope Benedict approaching the altar with the Floriana church in the background

The Papal Mass was held on Sunday April 18, 2010. It was raining that morning, but as soon as the Pope appeared, the sun starting its reign, which incidentally burned my head, and so my fear of a wet day turned out to be a sun-tan session at Floriana. Thousands of people attended the Mass, waving Maltese and Vatican flags. This was the third time a Pope celebrated Mass in the largest open-air space in Malta. Pope John Paul II had visited Malta in 1990 and again in 2001.
The Pope incensing the altar at the start of the Mass.

More photos of the Pope during the Mass will follow over the next two weeks, just to commemorate the last few days of Benedict's papacy, which ends on February 28.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Temptations in our lives

This first Sunday of Lent, we read in the Gospel about the three temptations that Jesus experienced in the desert, which can very well be described as temptation of magic (‘turn these stones into bread,’) temptations of power (‘bow down and adore me’,) and temptations of fantasy (‘throw yourself down from here.’) Temptations are real in our lives too. Just reflect on these:
It’s tempting to stay in bed or at home, but it’s much better getting up, get dressed and get to church.
It’s tempting to surf the Internet aimlessly, but it’s much better reading some useful sites, including this blog, updated daily.
It’s tempting to ignore family members at home while watching TV, but there’s something to gain by interacting with your loved ones, your spouse, children, especially sharing dinner together.
It’s tempting to speed up when you’re driving on the highway, but it’s better to be cautious, follow the speed limit, and get to your destination safely.
It’s tempting to criticize and condemn others, but it’s better to appreciate what so many people do to make your life better.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Pope Benedict in Malta - part 1

Papal stage being built, with the Floriana church in the distance
Back in April 2010, Pope Benedict XVI visited Malta for 2 days, and I was honored to concelebrate Mass with him, along with another 800 priests and large number of Bishops. Over the next 2 weeks, I thought it would be an excellent way of sharing some historic photos I took that day. I was told later that all the priests were informed not to take any cell-phones or cameras with them, but I was not told about this, and discreetly I took over 200 photos during the Mass, some of which I am happy to share with you as the Pope nears the end of his pontificate. 
Papal stage nearing completion
These first two were taken a few days earlier, as the large stage was being constructed at Floriana, where the Mass was held. The third one shows the floral arrangements done for that day, all yellow flowers, beautifully displayed.
Papal stage with yellow flowers

Friday, February 15, 2013

Knights of Malta - 900 anniversary

Knights of Malta processing towards the Basilica of St Peter's.
The Knights of Malta, one of the most peculiar organizations in the world, marked its 900th birthday last Saturday with a colorful procession through St. Peter's Square, a Mass in the basilica and an audience with Pope Benedict XVI, himself a member of the onetime chivalrous order drawn from Europe's nobility. It turned out to be one of the last official functions led by the Pope before he announced his surprised resignation on Monday February 11.
The Knights are at once a Roman Catholic religious order, an aid group that runs soup kitchens, hospitals and ambulance services around the globe, and a sovereign entity that prints its own passports and enjoys diplomatic relations with 104 countries — yet has no country to call its own. Some 4,000 people processed through St. Peter's Square and into the basilica for the Mass marking the 900th anniversary of the order's recognition by the Holy See. Pope Benedict thanked the order for its service and urged it to continue providing health care for the world's neediest while staying true to its Christian ideals. The order's work, he said, "is not mere philanthropy but an effective expression and a living testimony of evangelical love."

The order traces its history to an 11th century infirmary in Jerusalem set up by a monk to care for pilgrims visiting the Holy Land. During the Crusades, as the order's humanitarian efforts spread, it took on a military role to protect pilgrims and Christendom as a whole from Muslim attacks. In February 1113 Pope Paschal II recognized the order with a papal bull establishing its sovereign status by saying it was independent of both lay and other religious authorities. The order's international legal status is entirely unique, a sovereign entity that prints its own stamps, coins, license plates and passports, yet has no territory over which it rules. Its forces once occupied Cyprus, Rhodes and Malta, but Napoleon expelled the order from Malta in 1798. Nonetheless they will always be known as the Knights of Malta.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Cross

The Cross, passed on from Pope to Pope
As Pope John Paul II suffered through his last few years of his Papacy, ailing with Parkinson's disease and other ailments, he carried the Cross till the very end. Here we see him symbolically passing the cross to his eventual successor Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger during the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday at the Colosseo in Rome. He would then carry the cross for 8 years, and now he passes this cross to another Cardinal, whom the Holy Spirit will choose in the upcoming Conclave. As Pope Benedict XVI courageously carried his cross, facing criticism and unfair comments, he now prepares to retire and spend the rest of his life contemplating and reflecting on that Cross. I hope it will not get heavier for him, and and that it won't be cumbersome or unbearable for the next Pope.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ash Wednesday

The season of Lent starts with a double reminder, of our mortality, and of our need to do penance. Two of the phrases priests will say as they impose ashes on people’s foreheads today precisely suggest two ways to prepare for this holy season. “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” reminds us all of our mortality, a fact we all have to face some time or another. On the other hand the priest may say “Repent and believe in the Good News of Jesus Christ,” encouraging us to do penance and turn away from sin. This is also a time to do less and to do more. Less of the complaining, less of the vices and pleasures we all like, less of the anger, impatience and aloofness that we show to others. And more of the respect, more of the kindness we show, more of the concern and genuine interest we show towards others in the many simple ways that we come across in our daily lives.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


I will have more reflections on the Pope and the upcoming conclave in the next few weeks, but since today is Mardi Gras or Carnival, I share a few photos of Carnival floats from my home in Malta. Certainly the Carnival defile is not as elaborate as the one in Brazil, but it is a colorful annual event that takes place on the weekend before Ash Wednesday. The idea is to feast and celebrate before the fast and penance starts during Lent. The word Carnival actually means carne vale (meat is allowed, or meat is valid.) This way people can eat meat now but abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and the Friday of Lent. Hopefully more people will avail themselves of the opportunities during Lent to turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel, go to confession and do acts of charity towards others. This Lent in particular will be even more interesting with the conclave coming up, and general elections being held in Malta on March 9.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Pope Benedict XVI resigns

A photo I took of Pope Benedict in Malta, April 2010
Shortly before midday on Monday Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation which will officially take effect at the end of the month, at 8pm on February 28th. As people around the world struggle to come to terms with the surprise announcement, the question on everyone’s lips is ‘why did the Pope take this extremely unusual step of standing down as head of the Catholic Church?’
The statement of his resignation, read by the Pope in Latin, states clearly that his “advanced age” and his declining physical strength “are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.” Pope Benedict also alluded to the possibility of his resignation in the book ‘Light of the World’, a series of answers to questions posed to him by German journalist Peter Seewald in 2010. In his address to the college of cardinals on April 22nd just three days after his election, the Pope spoke clearly about being “aware of my personal limitations and limited abilities”. Nevertheless he described his attitude as one of inner dedication, describing the task ahead as “a service to be rendered with simplicity and willingness, imitating our Teacher and Lord who did not come to be served but to serve.”
As the head of the Vatican press office, Fr Federico Lombardi, stressed to journalists on Monday, Joseph Ratzinger’s decision is the fruit, not of any external pressures but simply the desire to remain obedient to the word of God, whom he intends to continue serving “through a life dedicated to prayer” and reflection. A conclave would elect a new Pope, possibly before Easter.

Another of my photos of Pope Benedict XVI
 These are the words of the Pope addressed to the cardinals this morning, translated into English: “
"Dear Brothers,
I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.
"I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today's world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.
"For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.
"Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff.
"With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer."

The last Pope to resign was almost six hundred years ago. It was Pope Gregory XII, who, in a very sacrificial gesture offered to resign so that the council of Constance could assume his power and appoint a new Pope, and in so doing bring an end Great Western Schism. So that was the last pope who actually resigned. So this is quite an unprecedented event.  At the end of the 13th century, a very holy hermit named Peter was elected as Pope Celestine V in order to break a deadlock in the conclave that had lasted nearly three years. He was elected because of his personal holiness, sort of a unity candidate. And once he got there, being a hermit, not used to the ways of the Roman Curia, he found himself somewhat unsuited to the task, that it wasn’t just holiness but also some shrewdness and prudence that was also required. So within six months he knew that he was really unequal to the task, and so he gathered the cardinals together in a consistory, and he announced to the cardinals his intention to resign. Because of the Pope’s position as the supreme authority in the Church, Celestine declared that the pope could freely resign, that it was permissible, and that, because, as supreme authority, it did not have to be accepted by anyone. It just had to be freely manifested, as it says today in canon 332 of the Code of Canon Law. As long as it is freely and properly manifested it is to be accepted by no one. The Pope is the supreme authority. Because of this, his successor Boniface VIII in his redaction of Canon Law called the Liber Sextus inserted this constitution of Celestine V and it became normative Catholic law. 

On Friday, Benedict raised some eyebrows by having a rare private audience with the Dean of the College of Cardinals, the 85 year-old Italian Angelo Sodano, the figure who would be responsible for the convoking of a papal election. The departing pontiff ostensibly communicated his plan to the Cardinal-Dean at that point. Under the operative norms governing Conclaves in the wake of a Pope's death, the voting college is to start the election between 15 and 20 days from the moment of vacancy. In this case, however, the traditional novemdiales – the nine days of official mourning before the election – would not apply.

Now comprised of 118 voting members younger than 80, the College as a whole – retirees included – governs the church during a papal interregnum.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

St Paul in Malta

February 10 is the celebration of the Shipwreck of St Paul on the shores of Malta. It is a holy day in Malta, even though this year it coincided with Sunday. The main church dedicated to the shipwreck of St Paul that happened in 60 AD, is situated in Valletta. The above is a section of the ceiling  of the same church, and below is a painting of St Paul healing St Publius, who was considered the first Bishop of Malta. The account of this event is recorded with minute detail by St Luke in chapters 27 and 28 of the Acts of the Apostles. The most popular verse in the entire Bible for all of the Maltese people is certainly this one: "Once we were on ground, we realized that the island was called Malta. The inhabitants showed us extraordinary kindness by lighting a fire and gathering us all around it."

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Deck of Cards

During World War II, a soldier passed a small church, looked in and saw that the townsfolk had gathered for worship. The soldier wandered in, walked down the aisle and slid into a pew. He took his seat next to some worshipers who were at that moment sitting with their heads bowed in prayer. The soldier having no prayer book took out a time-worn deck of playing cards. He fanned the cards before him and started to mumble to himself. His fellow worshipers, amazed at the soldier for displaying a deck of cards in the house of the Lord, nudged him and whispered, "Put those away, you can't do that here!" The soldier paid little attention to them and carried on with his cards and mumblings. Soon the fellow worshipers became alarmed and sent out for the constable and the soldier was arrested. He was placed in the jail for the night and the next morning was brought before the town magistrate, charged with disorderly conduct for displaying a deck of cards in a place of worship. The Magistrate asked what he had to say for himself, "Guilty or not guilty?"
The soldier standing before the bar of justice replied, "Not guilty, Your Honor, and with your kind permission, I would like to present this defense for my actions."
With that, he took out his old time-worn deck of cards, fanned them out before him, and then he began:
"Your Honor, to me this deck of cards is my prayer book and Bible.          

When I look into these cards and see an Ace, it reminds me that there is only one God.
When I see the Deuce, it reminds me that the Bible is divided into two parts, the Old and the New Testaments.
When I see the Three, it represents the three persons of the Blessed Trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.
When I see the Four, it reminds me of the four great Evangelists, who wrote the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
When I see the Five, Your Honor, I think of the five virgins who kept their lamps trimmed in waiting for the coming of the Lord.
When I see the Six, it reminds me that in six days God made this great Heaven and Earth.
When I see the Seven, it represents the Sabbath, a day of rest and worship.
When I see the Eight, it reminds me of the eight righteous persons who were saved from the Flood: Noah, his wife, their three sons and their wives
When I see the Nine, I'm reminded of the nine lepers who were cleansed of their sins, but did not give thanks, such was their ingratitude.
When I see the Ten, I think, not only of the tenth leper, who did give thanks, but of the Ten Commandments handed down by Moses on the stone tablets, each spot for one Commandment.
Now, Your Honor, the Jack reminds me of the Trickery of the Devil and to shun his temptation. When I see the Queen, I think of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is Queen of Heaven. The King is, of course, the King of Heaven and Earth and All Things, to whom we should all bow down and give thanks." 

He folded up the deck of card, shuffled them once, and fanned them out before him. Then he continued:
"Your Honor, when I look into this deck of cards, I see that there are 365 spots, as there are 365 days in the year.  The Joker stands for Leap Year, 366 days.  There are fifty-two cards in the deck, just as there are fifty-two weeks in a year. There are twelve face cards in the deck representing the twelve months of the year. Actually, there are thirteen lunar months in the year represented by the thirteen cards in each suit. Speaking of the suits, the deck is divided into four suits: Clubs, Diamonds, Hearts and Spades; and we know that the year is divided into four seasons: Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter. Lastly, Your Honor, this deck of cards has two colors, red and black; the red stands for the daylight, and the black for the night. So you see, Your Honor, not only is this deck of cards my prayer book and Bible, it is also my Almanac!"
With that, His Honor said, "Case dismissed!" 

(This story has been recorded as a song in the 1960s)

Friday, February 8, 2013

Vatican photo

When I visited Rome and the Vatican last May, among the over three thousands photos I took, there was one that impressed many people. I took this photo early in the morning with three beams of light emanating from the back windows and ending towards the main altar. When I placed it on my blog last year, it was noticed by many people, and among them a publishing house from Brazil. They asked me if they can use it as a front cover of a book they were planning to publish on the 50th anniversary of the Vatican Council II. Of course I said yes, and just 2 days ago, I received a copy of the book. 
Front cover of the book with my photo, in Portuguese

Unfortunately the book is in Portuguese, which I cannot understand, but it was quite an honor seeing my photo reproduced on the cover of this book. The photo was also reproduced inside at the beginning of each chapter, with a faint reproduction of the same photo printed in the background.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Communion and Unity

 The new Prefect of the Congregation of Faith, Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller recently spoke at St Mary’s Seminary in Houston:

For those recently entering the Catholic Church, it is important to have communion with the Holy Father and the See of Peter. But the development of a culture of communion... implies also that equal attention be given to communion with the bishops of the Church, communion with the local diocese and parishes, communion with the Catholic faithful, and bonds of charity and friendship with those still separated from the Church. I am well aware that many of you have experienced conflict and division in the years leading up to your decision to seek full communion with the Catholic Church. A culture of communion will not take hold if our default position is defensive or contentious. Unity is easily undermined by a culture of suspicion.

Bishop Mueller with Pope Benedict XVI
Communion must be fostered and expressed also in the manner in which we relate to one another. While the explosion of so-called “new media” has revolutionized human communication and offers many opportunities for advancing the New Evangelization, blogs especially have a way of promoting un-reflected speech. Judgment and criticism are certainly not bad things in themselves, but when opinions are advanced on an internet forum unbridled from charity or an adequate knowledge of the facts, they can undermine the very foundation of ecclesial communion which is love. Constructing a culture of communion will require wisdom, humility, and a firmness of intention to avoid divisiveness. In a world marked by division and discord, a culture of communion can be an especially eloquent witness to the truth of our faith and in fidelity to our Lord’s prayer “that they might be one.”

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Eucharist = Giving Thanks

Eucharist on Saranac Lake, NY
The word Eucharist means ‘giving thanks,’ and there is much to be thankful for in our lives. Every time I celebrate Mass I thank the Lord for so many blessings I have received over the years. Most people do the same when they gather for Mass and I am always edified by the devotion parishioners show, praying from their heart. I took the above photo on Saranac Lake in the Adirondack region in Upstate New York, back in 1983. I was on vacation with my pastor Fr John Heinlein, and we were preparing the celebrate Mass when I took this photo with the chalice with wine on the altar and the host on the paten soon to become the Body and Blood of Christ. We gave thanks that day as we broke bread and celebrated Eucharist. Whether you’re in a big cathedral or a small mission church, or even overlooking a peaceful lake, Jesus is always present, because ‘where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in their midst.” Let us always be thankful.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Saint Agatha

St Agatha's martyrdom by Alessandro Allori

St. Agatha was born in Catania, Sicily, and died there a martyr in approximately 251 AD. In the legend of her life, we are told that she belonged to a rich, important family. When she was young, she dedicated her life to God and resisted any men who wanted to marry her or have sex with her. One of these men, Quintian, was of a high enough rank that he felt he could force her to acquiesce. Knowing she was a Christian in a time of persecution, he had her arrested. He expected her to give in when faced with torture and possible death, but she simply affirmed her belief in God by praying: "Jesus Christ, Lord of all, you see my heart, you know my desires. Possess all that I am. I am your sheep: help me to overcome the devil."
Quintian imprisoned her in a brothel in order to get her to change her mind. He brought her back before him after she had suffered a month of assault and humiliation in the brothel, but Agatha had never wavered. Quintian sent her to prison, instead of back to the brothel - a move intended to make her more afraid, but which probably was a great relief to her. When she continued to profess her faith in Jesus, Quintian had her tortured by cutting off her breasts. He refused her any medical care but God gave her all the care she needed in the form of a vision of St. Peter.
Saint Agatha is often depicted in paintings carrying her excised breasts on a platter. The shape of her amputated breasts, especially as depicted in artistic renderings, gave rise to her attribution as the patron saint of bell-founders and of bakers, whose loaves were blessed at her feast day. More recently, she has been venerated as patron saint of breast cancer patients.
Because she was asked for help during the eruption of Mount Etna she is considered a protector against the outbreak of fire. She is the patron saint of Catania, Molise, Malta, San Marino and Segovia in Spain. She is also the patron saint of breast cancer patients, martyrs, wet nurses, fire and earthquakes.
The two following paintings are a modern impression of St Agatha, in relation to her role as patron of breast cancer patients.

A modern depiction of St Agatha's martyrdom
St Agatha, patron of breast cancer patients

Monday, February 4, 2013

Some unanswered questions

Why does the sun lighten our hair, but darken our skin?
Why can't women put on mascara with their mouth closed?
Why doesn't glue stick to the inside of the bottle?
Why don't you ever see the headline "Psychic Wins Lottery"?
Why is "abbreviated" such a long word?
Why is a boxing ring square?
Why is it called lipstick if you can still move your lips?
Why is it that doctors call what they do "practice"?
Why is it that rain drops but snow falls?
Why is it that when you're driving and looking for an address, you turn down the volume on the radio?
Why is lemon juice made with artificial flavor, and dishwashing liquid made with real lemons?
Why is the man who invests all your money called a broker?
Why is the third hand on the watch called second hand?
Why is the time of day with the slowest traffic called rush hour?
Why is it that your feet smell , while your nose runs?
Why isn't there a special name for the tops of your feet?
Why isn't there mouse-flavored cat food?
Why can't they make the whole plane out of the same substance that little indestructible black box is?

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Super Sunday

The Harbaughs - Jackie, Jim, John and Jack with a grand-daughter
Traditionally this day has been called Super Sunday. Let me tell you the real reason behind this fact.......
When the Baltimore Ravens defeated the San Francisco 49ers on Thanksgiving night in 2011 - and John Harbaugh beat younger brother, Jim, in the first NFL matchup of coaching brothers - Jack Harbaugh peeked into the Ravens' locker room after the game. Jack Harbaugh, John and Jim's father, was impressed by how ecstatic everyone was. There was nothing but celebration and smiling faces. "I thought to myself, we really aren't needed here." He walked across the hallway at the Baltimore football stadium. The mood in the San Francisco locker room was quiet and somber, he said. "I found Jim all by himself," said Jack Harbaugh, a former college football coach. "No one was around him. That's where we were needed." For Jack Harbaugh and his wife, Jackie, the Superbowl rematch between their coaching sons today at New Orleans is likely to be another excruciating study in contrasts. Someone will win and someone will lose.
When they played each other on Thanksgiving Day 2011, interviewers were asking the losing Harbaugh about his reaction to losing to his brother. He answered simply by saying - “this is just a game, the biggest victory was won by my parents who tomorrow celebrate 50 years of happy marriage!” We have a lot to learn from the Harbaughs, especially about family unity, perseverance, commitment, sacrifice and brotherly love.

And here are a few real reasons why this is called Super Sunday:
- because you are alive and well, healthy and in good spirits,
- because you have a family that loves you,
- because you can see God’s beauty, listen to music, experience emotions and joy,
- because you have a parish community which you can call your second home,
- and because through social media you can connect with friends everywhere,
- but most importantly because you can talk to them face to face, hug them and squeeze their hands in support, because you know that you are not alone.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Feast of the Presentation

Presentation stained-glass in Baker City Cathedral
40 days has passed since Christmas, and this celebration of the presentation of Jesus is very meaningful, especially when we consider some Jewish traditions which the Holy Family were obliged to observe. Whenever a mother gave birth to a son, she would be considered impure for a whole week, and would not be permitted to enter the temple for a duration of 40 days. She would then spend the rest of the 33 days confined to her home. On the 40th day, which would be February 2nd, she would go to the temple for the ceremony of purification, besides having her son circumcised. The parents were also expected to present a gift to the High Priest, a pair of sheep if they were wealthy or a pair of turtle-doves if they were poor. Simeon received the infant Jesus at the temple and so on this occasion a triple ceremony was done, circumcision, purification and presentation, all of which have been combined together by the Catholic church as the Feast of the Presentation, beautifully portrayed in the above stained-glass window in our Cathedral here in Baker City.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Victory and Defeat

Some meaningful quotes on victory and defeat, two emotions we all experience from time to time...

When you win, brag and celebrate gently; when you lose weep softly.

Our greatest glory consists not in never failing, but in rising every time you fail.

The victory of success is half won when one gains the habit of setting goals and achieving them. Even the most tedious chore will become endurable as you parade through each day convinced that every task, no matter how menial or boring, brings you closer to fulfilling your dreams.

Joy lies in the fight, in the attempt, in the suffering involved, not in the victory itself.