Thursday, 14 December 2017

The Christmas pageant

I share with you a serious, yet funny but very real story that happens in many churches and schools at this time of the year. A mother of a few children told this story.....
My husband and I had been happily married (most of the time) for five years but hadn't been blessed with a baby. I decided to do some serious praying and promised God that if he would give us a child, I would be a perfect mother, love it with all my heart and raise it with His Word as my guide. God answered my prayers and blessed us with a son. The next year God blessed us with another son. The following year, He blessed us with yet another son. The year after that we were blessed with a daughter.
We now had four children, and the oldest was only 4 years old. I learned never to ask God for anything unless I meant it. As a minister once told me, “if you pray for rain, make sure you carry an umbrella." I began reading a few verses of the Bible to the children each day as they lay in their cribs... I was off to a good start. God had entrusted me with four children and I didn't want to disappoint Him. I tried to be patient the day the children smashed two dozen eggs on the kitchen floor searching for baby chicks.
I tried to be understanding when they started a hotel for homeless frogs in the spare bedroom, although it took me nearly two hours to catch all twenty-three frogs. When my daughter poured ketchup all over herself and rolled up in a blanket to see how it felt to be a hot dog, I tried to see the humor rather than the mess. In spite of changing over twenty-five thousand diapers, never eating a hot meal and never sleeping for more than thirty minutes at a time, I still thank God daily for my children. While I couldn't keep my promise to be a perfect mother (I didn't even come close), I did keep my promise to raise them in the Word of God. My proudest moment came during the children's Christmas pageant. My daughter was playing Mary, two of my sons were shepherds and my youngest son was a wise man. This was their moment to shine. My five-year-old shepherd had practiced his line, "We found the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes." But he was nervous and said, "The baby was wrapped in wrinkled clothes." My four-year-old "Mary" said, "That's not 'wrinkled clothes,' silly. that's dirty, rotten clothes."
A wrestling match broke out between Mary and the shepherd and was stopped by an angel, who bent her halo and lost her left wing. I slouched a little lower in my seat when Mary dropped the doll representing Baby Jesus, and it bounced down the aisle crying, "Mama -mama." Mary grabbed the doll, wrapped it back up and held it tightly as the wise men arrived. My other son stepped forward wearing a bathrobe and a paper crown, knelt at the manger and announced, "We are the three wise men, and we are bringing gifts of gold, common sense and fur." The congregation dissolved into laughter, and the pageant got a standing ovation. "I've never enjoyed a Christmas program as much as this one," laughed the pastor, wiping tears from his eyes. "For the rest of my life, I'll never hear the Christmas story without thinking of Gold, Common sense and fur." "My children are my pride and my joy and my greatest blessing," I said as I dug through my purse for an aspirin.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Saint Lucy

Saint Lucy lived in Sicily in the 4th century and was known for her kindness and generosity, although as with many saints, she had a tragic history. According to legend, she sailed from Italy to Sweden during a famine on a ship laden with gifts of food and drink and promised the return of the light, spring, and abundance. In turn, the grateful Swedes took up the practice of celebrating her feast day, creating their own traditions along the way.
On the morning of December 13, the eldest daughter of the household rises early and dons the dress of the "Lusibrud (Lucy bride)," white robes with lace trimmings and a red sash and a special crown of ligonberry twigs and holly adorned with white candles. (In the past the candles were lit, but due to safety concerns, the candles are now battery‑powered.) She walks around to each member of the family with a pot of coffee and a tray of gingerbread cookies and Lussekattor ("Lucy cats," saffron buns) while singing. The younger daughters carry lit candles and the sons accompany them, dressed as "star boys," male helpers of the saint in white pyjamas and hats with a gold star. In some villages, the Lucy bride went from house to house and bonfires were lit as "Lucy fires" into which incense was tossed for good fortune.
St Lucy herself was from Siracusa, Sicily and was forced into prostitution after she refused to marry a pagan, mostly forced on her by her mother. The Emperor punished her by sending her to prostitution, but when they came to carry her, they found her as heavy as a mountain. Then they started to torture her, eventually even plucking her eyes, which were beautiful. She had also predicted the end of the persecutions, which actually came to an end 9 years after her death in 313 AD.  Saint Lucy is the patron Saint of those suffering from eye ailments, like cataracts or glaucoma.
Just today I was asked to celebrate Mass at a small chapel dedicated to Saint Lucy at Naxxar, and as is customary, it was dressed up in its finest outfit with decorations and 6 statuettes of 6 female martyrs, St Philomena, St Cecilia, St Lucy, St Agatha, St Agnes and St Catherine.
Chapel of St Lucy, Naxxar, Malta

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

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, went to the palace of the Bishop-elect Fray Juan de Zumarraga and requested to meet immediately with the bishop. After being delayed on a few occasions, 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. 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." 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 red roses.
The original tilma with the image of Mary in the Cathedral in Mexico City
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. The place is now called Guadalupe, and the Blessed Mother as Our Lady of Guadalupe is revered and honoured by all Mexicans and North and South Americans, and she is also known as the patron of Pro-Life.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Pre-Christmas Prayer

Baby Jesus at the Vatican Basilica
I wrote this prayer for my homily yesterday and many people seemed to like it as they asked for copies, and so here it is. It's a prayer that fits well before Christmas, as it speaks about the dangers of too much materialism and very little attention to the real 'Reason for this Season' - the birthday of Baby Jesus.
My Lord and my God, please deliver me from a false Christmas – that type of Christmas that always tries to rob me from a Christian spirit and fills me up with an abundance of material things. Deliver me from the frenetic haste which leaves me with absolutely no time whatsoever for You. Deliver me from excessive buying of things that I don’t need, that I can’t wear anymore, I can’t use them, and I simply cannot even look at them. Deliver me from the various moods that do not allow me to experience the spirit of a true holy Christmas. For once I beg you Lord to remove from our midst the sound of clanging coins, the whistling and beeping of cell-phones and mobiles, the annoying horns of cars whizzing by uncontrollably, and instead, for once let us hear the sweet sound of Angels.
For once let me feed my soul with the beautiful and touching story of the birth of Christ, and instead of overindulging with cakes, sweets and excessive drinks, let me nourish myself with the spirit of simplicity which the shepherds showed towards Baby Jesus, with the spirit of generosity that the Three Kings shared with Baby Jesus, and with the joy and contentment which the angels spread when they announced ‘Glory to God and Peace on earth!’
My Lord, do not let me be another victim of the material traps which I see all around me during this festive season, to such an extent that I lose sight of the real reason why this season should be so special. Deliver me Lord from the yearning to eat and over-eat, from going to one party after another, from the excessive use of those plastic credit cards, and from the temptation to over spend in on-line shopping. And above all, deliver me from the unnecessary need to exchange gifts, but remind me to give one gift to Him for whom the entire world stops and reflects towards the end of December, to admire Him and sing to Him, as they do annually for each and every one us “Happy Birthday to You, dear Baby Jesus.”

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Sacred Heart re-union

On December 6th, I had a reunion with a group of girls I used to teach at the Sacred Heart Convent back in 1981. It was great to see 18 of them get together for Mass at my chapel at Hilltop Gardens, followed by a reception afterwards. Here are few words I shared with them in my homily.
36 years have come and gone and we are here together again. You have grown into wonderful beautiful women, most of you mothers, successful in various careers. The years you spent at Sacred Heart have made you who you are today. Most probably your daughters have gone the same way and took your place in the 90s. I always like to say ‘Cherish your yesterdays, Dream your tomorrows and live your Todays.’ Because what you built in the past is seen in the present, and what you are creating now for your families, will determine what kind of future we will have.
As we connect the past with the future, let us remember what our parents and grandparents had and compare that with what we have today. We have IPods and ITunes, I Phones and IPads, but with all these electronic gizmos that we can’t survive without, our parents had values that have lasted many generations. They had expressions that we don’t see very often today, the I Love You, I care for you, I forgive you, I believe in you, I am sorry, I thank you – and they survived, they thrived and passed their baton to the next generations.
We really don’t know how long the Ipods and Iphones and Ipads will last, (at least they lasted 10 years) but let’s hope that the values our parents shared with us, we can also share them with the next generation. There is a quote which I often repeat especially to parents, and which makes a lot of sense – ‘Children have never been known to obey their parents, but they never failed to imitate them.’ So yes, children will give you a hard time in doing their homework, cleaning their room, come home on time, turn the TV or Internet off, eat around a table as a family.....but they will always imitate your example. The example you set for them and their friends will remain indelible in their lives. If you want to see what your children will look like 20 years from now, look at their parents now.
Sacred Heart Convent is still going strong after all these years – I’m sure there’s a long waiting list for students to try to get in. I know you look back with nostalgic feelings about the years you spent there. When they had asked me to start saying Mass for the younger girls, I never thought I would end up teaching you for a full year about our faith. But I really treasure that year we spent together, and I always prayed for you, all these years, wondering what you are doing, how many got married, how many children were born out of that bunch of girls, Class of 1984. Let’s hope we can continue this annual re-union and see the group increase, year by year. (In memory of Joanna Pace.)

Saturday, 9 December 2017

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. 

Friday, 8 December 2017

Immaculate Conception

Immaculate Conception by Esteban Murillo
Just imagine the millions of Christmas cards being exchanged right now, going across the globe, many of which are images of the Blessed Virgin Mary, frequently with baby Jesus and St Joseph. Just imagine the thousands upon thousands of nativities being set up and displayed around the world with the Holy Family taking center stage for the Advent and Christmas season.
The 29 million links and articles to the word ‘Blessed Mother’ produced by Google, is proof of how dominant she still is in the Catholic church and in Christian culture around the world. And when I think that more than half of the parishes in my home country of Malta are dedicated to the Blessed Mother, it shows the devotion people still have towards her.
Many were also the classical works written in sacred music, starting with various Gregorian chants melodies and continuing with the Magnificat, Salve Regina, Regina Coeli, Vespers of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Gregorian Chant and so much more by many great composers. They all get their inspiration from the image of Mary, conceived without sin, a privilege that was only granted to her and no one else. Just as Jesus was considered the new Adam, so Mary is considered the new Eve.
In 1760, Pope Clement XIII authorized the celebration of the Immaculate Conception in the Catholic church. But it was only in 1854 that Pope Pius IX, after consulting with all the bishops of the world, pronounced and proclaimed the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception. This was a rare event and it took another 96 years to have another Dogma proclaimed, this time the Assumption of Mary in 1950. Then another event happened that affirmed the Immaculate Conception of Mary, only 4 years later, when in 1858, the apparition at Lourdes took place, Mary revealing herself to Bernadette Soubirous as the Immaculate Conception.
Immaculate Conception chapel at Naxxar, Malta
The Encyclical Ineffabilis Deus that proclaimed the Dogma proclaims that the Blessed Virgin Mary, “in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.”
I am happy to share with you also a photo of a chapel where I celebrated Mass this morning, dedicated to the Immaculate Conception in Naxxar. It is a small chapel where I’ve been saying Mass there periodically, but this morning it was dressed up in its finest outfit. 

Thursday, 7 December 2017

10 Christmas Commandments

1.     You shall not leave ‘Christ’ out of Christmas, making it ‘Xmas.’ To some, ‘X’ is unknown, symbol of anonymous.
2.     You shall prepare your soul for Christmas. Spend not so much on gifts that your soul is forgotten.
3.     You shall not let Santa Claus replace Christ, thus robbing the day of its spiritual reality.
4.     You shall not burden the salesgirls, the mailmen, and the merchants with complaints and demands.
5.     You shall give yourself with your gift. This will increase its value a hundred fold, and the one who receives it shall treasure it forever.
6.     You shall not value gifts received by their cost. Even the least expensive may signify love, and that is more priceless than silver and gold.
7.     You shall not neglect the needy. Share your blessings with many who will go hungry and cold.
8.     You shall not neglect your church. Its services highlight the true meaning of the season.
9.     You shall be as a little child. Not until you become in spirit as a little one are you ready to enter into the kingdom of Heaven.
10.  You shall give your heart to Christ. Let Him be at the top of your Christmas list.
Anyone keeping these commandments is sure to have a most Blessed Christmas.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Saint Nicholas

St. Nicholas was born during the third century in the village of Patara. At the time the area was Greek and is now on the southern coast of Turkey. His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. He used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man, and became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors.
Perhaps the best-known story about Nicholas concerns his charity toward a poor man who was unable to provide dowries for his three daughters of marriageable age. Rather than see them forced into prostitution, Nicholas secretly tossed a bag of gold through the poor man’s window on three separate occasions, thus enabling the daughters to be married. Over the centuries, this particular legend evolved into the custom of gift-giving on the saint’s feast. And so in the English-speaking countries, St. Nicholas became, by a twist of the tongue, Santa Claus.
Under the ruthless Emperor Diocletian, Bishop Nicholas suffered for his faith, was exiled and imprisoned. The prisons were so full of bishops, priests, and deacons, there was no room for murderers, thieves and robbers. After his release, Nicholas attended the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, the same Council that devised the Nicene Creed we recite during Sunday Mass. He died December 6, 343 in Myra and was buried in his Cathedral church. 
In the spring of 1087, sailors from Bari, afraid of the Muslim invasion, succeeded in spiriting away the relics from that Cathedral, bringing them to Bari, a seaport on the southeast coast of Italy. An impressive church was built over St. Nicholas' crypt and many faithful journeyed to honor the saint who had rescued children, prisoners, sailors, famine victims, and many others through his compassion, generosity, and the countless miracles. To this day pilgrims and tourists visit Bari's great Basilica di San Nicola. Both the Eastern and Western Churches honor him, and it is claimed that, after the Blessed Virgin, he is the saint most pictured by Christian artists.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Angels and Children

The image of Angels has always impressed me and since they appeared on the cave of Bethlehem when Jesus was born announcing Glory to God in the highest, they signaled to the shepherds where to find the newborn baby, who came to adore Him and pay Him homage, as did the Three Kings later on. Naturally Angels remind me of carefree children in their unpredictability, innocence and spontaneity. Gratefully in my ministry I always cherish the time I spent with them, celebrating Mass, visiting them in their classes, and presenting talks and showing presentations which they could always relate to. Christmas pageants also feature many children dressed as angels. It is a joy seeing little children running around with a care-free attitude, tirelessly chasing each other and playing freely with no concern about any of the worlds problems. Maybe we should learn a big lesson from them, and enjoy every moment and share joy, happiness, smiles and sheer exuberance. Too bad that childhood is so short-lived, and soon theyre facing college courses, dating, driving in heavy traffic and eventually raising a family themselves. Too bad we cannot remain like angels, ageless and ever young.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Christmas Art

Nativity of our Lord by Raffaele Bonnici Cali.
At the moment I am preparing a two-page spread for a local newspaper about the Nativity in Maltese art and paintings, mainly in our beautiful churches. So over the next few weeks I will be sharing a reflection on some of these paintings. Among the most prolific Maltese painters are Giuseppe Cali, Francesco Zahra, Emvin Cremona, Paul Camilleri Cauchi, Giuseppe Briffa and others. Today I share a painting by Raffaelle Bonnici Cali, who is the nephew of Giuseppe Cali, which is in the church of the Annunciation, run by the Dominican Fathers in Vittoriosa. One can see the signature of the artist and the year 1962 towards the bottom part of the painting. It shows a simple pleasant and peaceful scene with the main characters of the Nativity, all focused on baby Jesus in the manger. While angels hover over the scene,  shepherds reach out, presenting a sheep, as Jesus opens his arms to acknowledge everyone around him. Of course Mary and Joseph dominate the painting as they protectively show their treasured new gift. 

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Advent

The presence of the Advent Candles emphasizes the positive over the negative. St Paul encourages us outrightly to cast off deeds of darkness, and put on the armor of light. This light is accentuated by candles, which in our liturgy are very prominent. From the Paschal candle, to the candles on the altar, those carried by altar‑servers, those votive ones lit by parishioners as a form of prayer, candles emphasize light over darkness. And remember that it’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness. And also you don’t have to blow someone’s candle out to make yours look brighter. 
The custom of the Advent candles goes back to the Scandinavian countries who have very long winters, with very little sunshine. So farmers bring in their farm carts, and some of them started to decorate them with bows and greens, and eventually candles. The church took the idea and developed the Advent Wreath with 4 candles with a particular theme for each Sunday: Watch, Stay Awake, on the first Sunday, Prepare the way of the Lord next week, Rejoice on the third Sunday, using the rose‑colored vestments, and Behold for the Sunday before Christmas. Some churches even add a white one for Christmas and the theme Celebrate.
This year, let’s make it a point to really try hard to MAKE ROOM FOR JESUS in our hearts. To make room for Him, we have to get rid of all the stuff that’s been taking his place. This requires a little bit of an inventory of our hearts and lives.
So may we look at enemies and see the possibility of friendship . . .
May we look at fevered buying and see hope for simple generosity . . . . .
May we look at family tensions and see opportunities for reconciliation . . . . .
May we look at pessimism towards the future and see positive optimism . . . .
May we look at stumbling blocks and see instead stepping stones . . . . .
May we look at alleys and valleys of darkness and see instead Highways and byways of bright possibilities . . .
May we look at tragedy and misfortune and see the hope of change, growth and a new beginning .. ..
May we look at discouragement and see a determined and courageous approach to a hopeful future . .
Happy New Year!

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Behold, it’s very good !

The Symphony and Mystery of the Human Body
To whom shall I go Lord, if I were to leave You?
You are the reason for my life,
The reason why I keep trying and always try to get better.
You are the reason why I should not give up.
You give me the dignity of who I am – a child of God.
And if I ever were to leave You, how shall I feel – who would I become?
Where would I find the purpose to go on with my life?
No Lord, I will not leave You.
In You, millions of cells swimming inside my body make my body so marvelous.
I have eyes to see fascinating things.
I have ears to hear not just noise, but that sweet song of heaven.
I have hands to write, touch, lift and stroke.
My mouth utters words and song, besides tasting hundreds of sweet and enriching edibles.
I have feet that walk the hills, on lush grass and sandy beaches to spread Your Word of Love.
Above all, I have a mind to think, understand, ask and sort things out.
I am a masterpiece, unique, irreplaceable and that cannot be copied.
You look with Love on this work of Your hands, and say ‘Behold, it’s very good!
It is so good that You are appreciated so much.
For some, I may appear clumsy and lazy, with no motivation.
But for You, I am the apple of Your eye.
So beloved that I am determined to stay ever close to You, no matter what!

Friday, 1 December 2017

A good joke

Fr Jerome was feeling very ill one Sunday morning and with a high fever, he called the sacristan, and told him to inform the congregation that there will not be a Mass that day. He had to inform them that they are not committing a sin by not attending Mass, but a minister will at least distribute communion to everyone after the readings of the day are read. Fr Jerome then told Mike the sacristan that he wanted him to make the announcements for that weekend. He told him there were 5 important notices, which were:
1. Next Tuesday is the feast of St Peter and Paul.
2. Next Wednesday the wedding between Adam Spark and Edith Flowers will take place in the church. Anyone who knows of any impediments is to inform the pastor before Tuesday.
3. Next Thursday we’ll have confessions in anticipation for the First Friday devotions.
4. The collection next week will be for the intentions of the Pope.
5. Lastly, a bag with money in it was left in the church last Sunday. Whoever lost it may collect it after Mass next week.

Fr Jerome bid Mike goodbye and he went to inform the people. After communion, he went to the pulpit and made the announcements:
“My dear friends, our pastor Fr Jerome is sick, and this is not a sin. Next Thursday coming is the First Friday of the month. Next Sunday, the Pope will be with us to take up the collection. Next Tuesday is the feast of Adam Sparks and Edith Flowers. And finally next Wednesday we have the wedding of St Peter and St Paul, and anyone who knows of any impediments can find them in a bag that is in the sacristy. Have a nice day! And please pray for Fr Jerome!”

If you are interested there is an article on Malta in the New York Times today...check it out here:

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Saint Andrew

The older brother to St. Peter, according to the New Testament, Andrew was born in the village of Bethsaida on the Sea of Galilee during the early first century. Much like his younger brother, Andrew was also a fisherman. Andrew's very name means strong and he was known for having good social skills. Jesus called them and he asked the two to become disciples and "fishers of men." Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist. Little else is said about Andrew in the Gospels, but it is believed Andrew was one of the closer disciples to Jesus. It was he who told Jesus about the boy with the loaves and fishes, according to John 6:8. When Philip wanted to speak to Jesus about Greeks seeking him, he spoke to Andrew first. According to Christian tradition, Andrew went on to preach the Good News around the shores of the Black Sea and throughout what is now Greece and Turkey. Andrew was martyred by crucifixion in Patras. He was bound, rather than nailed, to a cross, as is described in the Acts of Andrew. He was crucified on a cross form known as "crux decussata," which is an X-shaped cross. Today this is commonly referred to as "St. Andrew's Cross." It is believed Andrew requested to be crucified this way, because he deemed himself "unworthy to be crucified on the same type of cross as Jesus." Andrew's remains were originally preserved at Patras. However, many of Andrew's relics were transferred to Constantinople by order of Roman emperor Constantius II around 357. They eventually ended up in Fife, Scotland. But in September 1964, Pope Paul VI had all of St. Andrew's relics that ended up in Vatican City sent back to Patras. Now, many of Andrew's relics and the cross on which he was martyred are kept in the Church of St. Andrew in Patras. St. Andrew is the patron saint of fishermen. He is also the patron saint to several countries and cities including: Scotland, Romania, Russia, Ukraine and Patras. A beautiful church dedicated to him is in Rome, known as San Andrea della Valle, and it is actually the scene of the first Act for Puccini's opera 'Tosca.'

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Pope Francis and the poor

Pope Francis eating with the poor he invited at the Vatican.
Pope Francis announced the World Day of the Poor during the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, and it was celebrated for the first time 10 days ago, on the 33rd Sunday. He celebrated Mass for over 4000 needy people, after which Pope Francis offered Sunday lunch in the Paul VI Hall. Speaking to guests at the luncheon, the Holy Father said, “We pray that the Lord bless us, bless this meal, bless those who have prepared it, bless us all, bless our hearts, our families, our desires, our lives and give us health and strength.” The Holy Father went on to ask God's blessing on all those eating and serving in soup kitchens throughout the city. “Rome,” he said, “is full of this charity and good will today.” The World Day of the Poor is to be marked annually, on the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. In his homily during Mass, the Pope said “In the poor, Jesus knocks on the doors of our heart, thirsting for our love. When we overcome our indifference and, in the name of Jesus, we give of ourselves for the least of his brethren, we are his good and faithful friends, with whom he loves to dwell.”
More guests sitting at table with Pope Francis.
Pope Francis is presently visiting Myanmar and Bangladesh. Ever since he was elected Pope, his trips have been to predominantly non-Catholic countries, to show his outreach to everyone, especially the poor and the suffering. Just look at the nations he visited so far: Israel, South Korea, Albania, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Bosnia Herzegovina, Kenya, Uganda, Greece, Armenia, Egypt, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Sweden. He hasn’t even visited his native Argentina or many of the Catholic countries yet.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Johnny's kindness repaid

Kate McClure and Johnny Bobbit Jr, after they appeared together on national TV.
Yesterday's Gospel reading during Mass was about the widow who gave a penny at the temple, (all that she had) only to be pointed out by Jesus and remained as one of the most generous gestures ever recorded in the Bible and in history. And once in a while you hear of a feel-good story that goes around the world within a few days. This a modern-day replica of the widow story in the Gospel. A New Jersey woman who was helped by a homeless man after she ran out of gas/petrol on an interstate in Philadelphia has raised more than $360,000 for the good Samaritan. Kate McClure, 27, started the campaign after she said she ran out of petrol on Interstate 95 and a homeless man, Johnny Bobbitt Jr., walked a few blocks and bought her some with his last $20.
McClure said she didn't have any money to repay him at the time but returned to the road several times to give him cash, clothes and food. Kate said: "I wish that I could do more for this selfless man, who went out of his way just to help me that day." Donations have poured in, and the fundraiser has shattered its goal of raising $10,000 for Bobbitt, who was a veteran and a paramedic. About 3,000 people, mostly veterans, had contributed and more money kept coming in. Johnny said he wants to give back some of these donations to people who may need them more than he does. He is planning to get an apartment, get a truck and hopefully get re-certified as a paramedic. Yes, there are many good people in this world, and they may be poor, homeless and alone, but generous, altruistic and kind. May there be more people like Johnny and Kate.

Monday, 27 November 2017

Worry

We all worry, about our future, our children, our homes, our safety, our health and many other concerns. Some people worry about many trivial things that also cause friction and division among families. We know that God can help us in many of these situations, only if we let Him help us. Unfortunately many people shut Him out of their lives, and then expect Him to show up like Superman to save them from some catastrophe. So, let go and let God....handle your pressures, your worries, your problems, your troubles. After listening to so many people over the years through counselling and spiritual direction, I came to the conclusion that the most useful and pleasant people are those who leave some of their problems for God to worry about. We have to realize that we don’t have all the answers for all the questions of this world. We worry too much, about petty and insignificant things. It’s amazing how much time we spend worrying about the things we shouldn’t worry about, and how little time we dedicate to other more important things in our lives. Surrender to what is. Let go of what was. And have faith in what will be. And in conclusion, try to remember this quote which is a tongue twister, but makes a lot of sense when you reflect on it: DON’T TROUBLE TROUBLE TILL TROUBLE TROUBLES YOU. YOU’LL ONLY DOUBLE TROUBLE AND TROUBLE OTHERS TOO.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Christ the King

If you were to google Christ the King, searching for images, you will come up with a large number of images of Jesus on a glittering throne, usually sitting with a soft embroidered cushion, surrounded with angels, wearing a sparkling jewel-embedded crown, with a shiny scepter in his hand. In reality, Jesus never aspired to present this image. His throne was the rugged cross, the scepter was the nails driven through his hands, his crown was made of sharp thorns, and his robe was a simple robe, for which the soldiers threw lots after he was crucified.
Christ never spread a message of hatred and then taught us how to love. He never waged war and then preached peace and justice. He wasn’t rich and told us to be poor. He never escaped from anything or from anyone - except for once, when they wanted to give Him a promotion and make Him King. The feast of Christ the King was introduced by the Catholic Church in 1925, mainly to bring Jesus at the center of the universe, after he had been replaced by the start of Communism, which started in 1917 with the Bolshevik revolution. Christus Vincit, Christus Regnat, Christus Imperat. Christ Victorious, Christ Reigning, Christ Ruling. 

Saturday, 25 November 2017

A red rose

A man went into a florist shop to buy some roses for his mother. He meant to order them and have them delivered on her birthday. As he was leaving the store, he noticed a young girl looking at the flowers inside the window, crying and looking a little disheveled. He felt pity for her, and asked her what was the matter. She told him she wanted to buy a rose for her mother, but she had no money. The man felt pity for her and bought her a red rose. He asked her further if she wanted a ride home, and accepted. He followed her directions and she led him to the cemetery and stopped at the main gate. Quietly she stepped out of the car and walked inside among the tombstones. The man stopped the car and followed her inside, and waited at a distance while she knelt next to a grave and placed the flower on top of the gravestone, still sobbing and sad. The man was moved to tears himself and waited for the girl to give her a ride home. Then he went back to the florist, cancelled his order and instead bought a large bouquet of roses and took them himself personally to his mother, hugging her and kissing her.
Love does not wait for tomorrow. If you love someone and want to send a clear message of compassion, love, forgiveness or empathy, do it now, because tomorrow......it may be too late.

Friday, 24 November 2017

How are you behaving ?

Golden rules on how we should behave as Christians......
At home............with patience.
In business...........with honesty.
At work................with fidelity.
In society..................with courtesy.
In church.........................with reverence.
Towards your superiors...........with trust.
Towards your subjects............with kindness.
Towards all the people...............with a good example.
To the winners..........................with congratulations.
To the losers.................with respect.
To those in need.................with generosity.
To the heart-broken...............with sympathy.
Towards the weak...............with mercy.
Towards the hard-workers...........with gratitude.
Towards those who are lazy..........with encouragement.
Towards the fragile....................with understanding.
Towards the sinners..............with forgiveness.
In every circumstance...............with humility.
Towards God.................................with praise and admiration.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Being Thankful

I am thankful for my life, my family, my health, my priesthood, my country and my friends. 
I am thankful that every day I can bring Jesus alive on the altar and share Him with my people.
I am thankful that I can practice what I preach with all honesty.
I am thankful for the talents God gave me, which I use to share my gifts with everyone.
I am thankful for the opportunity to help many families over the years.
I am thankful for the 35 years I spent ministering in the USA.
I am thankful for the honor to share my thoughts and reflections in my daily homilies.
I am thankful for being able to share this Blog for close to 6 years so far.
I am thankful when God answers my prayers, sometimes in a surprising way.
I am thankful for bringing a smile on people’s face, and inspire peace in their hearts.
I am thankful for photography, calligraphy, watercolors, my flute, classical music, IPads and IPods, strawberries and sandals.
I am thankful for Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Vivaldi, Mike Oldfield, Philip Glass, ABBA, oldies and Maltese marching bands.
I am thankful for all those close to my heart and in my life.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Saint Cecilia

Back in 1974, while I was still in the Seminary, we had an archaeological trip to Rome, where we visited the catacombs. In one of them I remember seeing a marble statue of St Cecilia, with folded eyes and one of her hands outstretched with three fingers, symbolizing the Holy Trinity. That was her burial place. Cecilia is one of the few martyrs whose name we know, along with St. Agnes, St. Agatha, St. Sebastian, St. George, and St. Lucy, among others. She was martyred by the Emperor Marcus Aurelius between the years 176 and 180 AD. Cecilia was arrested and condemned to be suffocated in the baths. She was shut in for one night and one day, as fires were heaped up and stoked to a terrifying heat - but Cecilia did not even sweat. When the Emperor heard this, he sent an executioner to cut off her head in the baths. The executioner struck her three times but was unable to decapitate her so he left her bleeding and she lived for three days. Crowds came to her and collected her blood while she preached to them or prayed. On the third day she died and was buried by Pope Urban and his deacons. St. Cecilia is regarded as the patroness of music, because she heard heavenly music in her heart when she was married, and is represented in art with an organ or organ-pipes in her hand. Officials exhumed her body in 1599 and found her to be incorrupt, the first of all incorrupt saints. She was draped in a silk veil and wore a gold embroidered dress. Officials only looked through the veil in an act of holy reverence and made no further examinations. They also reported a "mysterious and delightful flower-like odor which proceeded from the coffin." That year, Cardinal Paolo Sfondrati built a church to honor her, and that’s when the marble statue in the catacombs was crafted. A few musical compositions were written in her honor. Among them are the ‘Ode to St. Cecilia’ by Henry Purcell, a cantata by Georg Frederic Handel and ‘Hymn to St. Cecilia’ by Benjamin Britten. Paul Simon also wrote a song in her honor, entitled ‘Cecilia.’

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

The Presentation of Mary

While the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary was not generally celebrated in the West until the 11th century, it appears in most of the earliest calendars of the Eastern Churches. The feast seems first to have appeared in Syria, but later rose to prominence in Jerusalem. A basilica was built near the ruins of the Temple in Jerusalem, and the Gospel of James and other apocryphal works (not included in the Bible) told the story of Mary's presentation at the Temple at the age of three. In gratitude for being granted a child after years of infertility, Mary's parents, Saints Joachim and St Anne had vowed to dedicate Mary to the service of God at the Temple. When they presented her at the Temple at the age of three, she stayed willingly, showing her dedication to God even at that young age, attending the temple regularly, similar to what children do attending their Religious Education classes. 
The Gospel or Protoevangelium of James is the source of many details of Mary's life that became universally accepted by the Church, including the names of her parents, the story of her birth, her age at her betrothal to Saint Joseph, and Saint Joseph's advanced age and his status as a widower with children by his first wife. It also played a large role among Christians, both Eastern and Western, in recognizing Mary as the new Temple, the true Holy of Holies. When Mary left the Temple at the age of 12 after her betrothal to Joseph, she remained pure and chaste, and at the Annunciation, God came to dwell in her.
The Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary first made its way to the West through monasteries in Southern Italy in the ninth century; by the 11th century, it had spread to other locales, but was by no means universally celebrated. Under the influence of a French nobleman, Philippe de Mazières, Pope Gregory XI began celebrating the feast during the time the Pope was living in Avignon, France. Pope Sixtus IV first placed the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the universal calendar in 1472, but in the Tridentine reform of the calendar in 1568, Pope Pius V removed the feast. It was restored 17 years later by Pope Sixtus V, and remains in the Roman calendar today as a memorial.
Today's Feast emphasizes our response to God's gifts. We remember the response of Mary's mother and father in their decision to present her in the temple for dedication to the Lord. All parents are called to imitate their response by presenting their children for Baptism. We reflect on the mystery of Mary's own continuing response from her very earliest days to the Lord's invitations of grace. Mary was called to continually give her "Yes" to God's invitations of love. In that continual "Yes" or “Fiat” she shows us the way we are all called to respond to the invitations of grace in our own lives as we grow in holiness.

Monday, 20 November 2017

The Kxy Pxrson

We all know that the Church is not just the Pope, Bishops and priests, but all of us working together. This interesting story shows how intrinsic our role is, and even if I’m one in a billion Catholics, my contribution is just as important and just as necessary.

XvXn though our typxwritxr is an old modxl, it works quitx wxll xxcxpt for onx of thx kxys. Wx havx wishxd many timxs that it workxd pxrfxctly. It is trux that thxrx arx forty-two kxys that function wxll xnough, but just onx kxy not working makxs thx diffxrxncxs somxtimxs. It sxxms to us that our Church is somxwhat likx our typxwritxr. Not all thx pxoplx arx working propxrly. You may say to yoursxlf, “Wxll, I am only onx pxrson; I won’t makx or brxak thx Church.” But it doxs makx a diffxrxncx. Bxcausx thx church, to bx xffxctivx, nxxds somx of you, thx mxmbxrs, to sxt thx xxamplx, to lxnd a hand, to prxach thx Gospxl by your dxdicatxd livxs. Thx church nxxds thx sxrvicx only you can givx. So thx nxxt timx you think you arx not nxxdxd, rxmxmbxr our typxwritxr and say to yoursxlf, “I am a kxy pxrson in thx Church – thx Chuch just might nxxd mx.”

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Wisdom in 4 words

It's amazing how much wisdom can be crammed into just 4 simple words.
In God we trust.
This too, shall pass.
Live and let die.
Stand tall and proud.
Still waters run deep.
Bad news travels fast.
Love laughs at locksmiths.
Nothing succeeds like success.
Charity begins at home.
Man proposes, God disposes.
Let sleeping dogs lie.
The more the merrier.
Make love, not war.
Better late than never.
Pain doesn't last forever.
Focus on the positive
Don't drink and drive.
Find beauty in everything.
Be kind to animals.
Persist Until Something Happens. (PUSH)
Love more, worry less.
You are not alone.
Listen to your mother.
Evaluate, Adapt and Overcome.
Be still and know.
Today is the day.
Every thing is possible.
We’re gonna make it.
Talk less, listen more.
Be humble and kind.
Pray always and wait.