Wednesday, 16 January 2019

The Greek doors

Even though Malta is predominantly Catholic, there are a few churches that belong to other religions. One of them is the Greek Orthodox church in Valletta. The inside is obviously covered with Icons and an impressive Iconostasis seen right in the middle. But just as impressive is the main door, a bronze masterpiece with a series of panels that depict scenes from the Bible, all done in an iconic style. Among them, one can see the Nativity, the Epiphany, the Presentation, the Transfiguration, the Crucifixion, and others. (click to enlarge images)

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Honesty

Honesty is as basic as the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat.
When honesty takes a holiday.....
Lethal gases, poisonous wastes, toxic additives....gradually make our air unbreathable. Our water undrinkable, and our food inedible.
Honesty affects where we are, what we do and the things we use every day.
When honesty takes a holiday......
Building codes, fire-safety regulations, quality controls....can’t be trusted to keep our houses sound, our public structures safe and our products reliable.
Honesty holds together our nation, our community, and our very families.
When honesty takes a holiday......
A President’s oath of office, a doctor’s Hippocratic oath, a couple's marriage vows.....mean little or nothing.

Yet, honesty takes a holiday every time one person “bends” the truth a little, looks the other way, “borrows” something from the office, factory or classroom, overcharges a stranger or undercharges a friend, puts convenience, face-saving or money ahead of principle. Enough of these “holidays” could make our world unliveable. That’s what happens....when honesty takes a holiday.

Monday, 14 January 2019

A prayer for those growing old

Father, help me to accept the lessening of my powers with realism and good humor. Keep me from self-pity, and remind me that age has not taken away my mission in life, but only altered it. Grant me a taste for the hidden beauties of creation, a continuing interest in Your world, and mine. Make me more patient with myself, more tolerant of the foibles of others, more outgoing with the timid and shy. Bestow on me a greater readiness for prayer, and a humble acceptance of suffering. Deepen my faith in Your unfailing truth, strengthen my hope that I will share in the joy of your Son’s resurrection, expand my love in Your Holy Spirit for all men and women – with whom I am destined to share the fellowship of the blessed for all eternity. Amen.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Our Baptism

Baptism of Jesus in St John's Cathedral, Valletta, Malta
Ending the Christmas season today we celebrate the feast of the Baptism of Christ, which actually took place when he was 30 years old, at the Jordan River by St John the Baptist. It is an ideal opportunity for us to ask ourselves a few salient questions about our own baptism.
- how proud are we with the decision our parents took for us when they baptized us?
- how faithful have we been to that decision, and did we ever regret it?
- do you know which church you were baptized in?
- do you know the name of the priest who baptized you?
- do you know the date when you were baptized?
- do you know the name of your godparents? 
- how close are you to our godparents, if they are still alive?
- do you participate in baptisms in your parish, especially by renewing your baptismal vows?
- do you try to live an unblemished, pure life symbolized by the white baptismal robe you wore on that special day?
- do you follow the light of Christ symbolized by the Paschal candle which was present on that special day?
- do you commemorate your baptism day in any way?

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Shahbaz Bhatti – a modern martyr

Shahbaz Bhatti, a modern martyr from Pakistan
Pope Francis recently highlighted the life of Servant of God Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic politician from Pakistan who was killed in 2011, who was a witness of how to act with love in the face of hatred. His cause for sainthood was opened by the Diocese of Islamabad-Rawalpindi in March 2016. Bhatti is loved and esteemed by many in Pakistan and his sacrifice is bearing rich fruits of hope. The Pope recalls Jesus’ words: ‘Unless the grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.’ Bhatti served as Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs from 2008 until his assassination while traveling by car to work on March 2, 2011, in Islamabad. He was 42 and was at the time the only Christian member of Pakistan’s cabinet. The Taliban claimed responsibility for Bhatti’s death, declaring him a “blasphemer of Muhammad,” because of his Christian faith.
When he took office as Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs, Bhatti said he had dedicated his life to the “struggle for human equality, social justice, religious freedom, and to uplift and empower the religious minorities’ communities,” and that he accepted the post for the sake of the “oppressed, down-trodden and marginalized.” “Jesus is the nucleus of my life and I want to be His true follower through my actions by sharing the love of God with the poor, oppressed, victimized, needy and suffering people of Pakistan,” he said. As a member of Pakistan’s ministerial cabinet, he supported religious minorities in several ways, including launching a national campaign promoting interfaith relations. In 2010 he led the organization of a National Interfaith Consultation in Pakistan which resulted in a joint declaration against terrorism. Prior to his career in parliament, in 1985 he founded Pakistan’s Christian Liberation Front and in 2002 the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance movement, which fought against blasphemy laws used to persecute religious minorities, particularly Christians. In a video he recorded before his death, Bhatti had said, “I believe in Jesus Christ who has given his own life for us, and I am ready to die for a cause. I’m living for my community … and I will die to defend their rights.”

Friday, 11 January 2019

Never give up!

A railroad bell that was made in 1859 is still clanging merrily. For its first 25 years, it served aboard a locomotive train on the New York-Florida line. For its next 50 years, it summoned pupils to class in a one-room schoolhouse in a rural community in the south of the USA. When the school was closed, the bell sounded no more. It fell silent. But 30 years later, it was found abandoned. But it was quickly dusted off and shined, and installed in an adult education building in Deltona, Florida. Like this locomotive bell, none of us is ever too old to serve – to make a generous contribution to life, in any capacity to which God is calling us to serve. Age, like youth, has its problems, but it has many more promises. Let’s not overlook the promise and potential we can find inside of us.

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Smallest country with biggest heart

Some of the 249 migrants being welcomed into Malta
To set the record straight, I would like to share with readers of my blog, the situation of immigration in the Mediterranean. This in view of the highly publicized criticism about Malta refusing immigrants coming from Northern Africa. One should note that Malta is only 112 square miles, by far the smallest country in the European Union, and has taken thousands of immigrants over the years. We are overcrowded with Maltese natives, close to 450,000 in population, making it one of the most densely populated countries in the world.
So while the media is reporting that Malta is a country refusing to allow migrant ships to enter our harbor, none of the other countries, millions of times bigger than Malta (and with plenty more resources,) are volunteering to take them in. Finally yesterday, Malta decided to welcome the 49 new arrivals, along with another 200 that arrived a few weeks ago. These will eventually be transferred to 8 different European countries who accepted to welcome them into their territory. It is unfair that the media report negative response from Malta, while in actual fact, our country is the only one that accepted the migrants and showed heart – certainly the smallest country with the biggest heart!
I feel the immigration problem can be solved only if the countries from where migrants are escaping from, can stop being violent and uncaring towards their people. If bigger and wealthier nations can help these countries, also by strengthening a democratic, civil society, the people there will start feeling safe and will have no need to escape, but can live in their homeland without any fear. 

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Origami Christmas

I know that for many people, the Christmas season is over after the feast of the Epiphany, which was celebrated last Sunday. However, the official end is this Sunday, with the feast of the Baptism of Jesus. And so I would like to share with you another feature of Christmas past, and this shows a large origami Christmas tree set up in the Japan Airlines office and showroom in New York City. These photos were taken in the 1980s, but I’m sure you can still enjoy them today, as I did when I snapped these photos, back then, before the digital-age cameras. That is why the quality of the photos are not the best. 
The tree was covered with origami ornaments, done by children, folded meticulously and intricately and entered in a competition. The best ornaments were chosen out of thousands sent in, and they were displayed on the tree. I personally learned origami in the 1980s, and once you follow the directions, it’s pretty easy to create from simple to complicated creations.

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

The Christ Child

From the birth of Christ to his Baptism at the Jordan River years passed, during which we know very little about what Jesus did. The only incident recorded in the Gospel is when He was lost and found in the temple when He was 12 years old. We can only imagine what He did as a young boy and as a teenager and young adult. Several paintings have evolved of Jesus during his younger years. One of my favorites is the one reproduced here, which I found in the Cistercian Abbey at Spencer, Massachusetts. Several historically significant images of Jesus Christ as a child have received canonical blessings from the Pope, namely the Infant of Prague, the Santo Niño de Cebu in the Philippines, and the Santo Bambino of Aracoeli in Rome. Saint Joseph, St. Anthony of Padua and St Christopher are often depicted holding the Christ Child in various paintings and statues. The Christ Child was a popular subject in European wood sculpture beginning in the 1300s. Scripture tells us that Jesus ‘went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.’ (Luke 2: 51-52)

Monday, 7 January 2019

Deep Freeze in Malta

Presently Malta is experiencing one of the coldest spells in recorded history. We never saw the temperatures dip below freezing point, but these past few days, it was getting pretty close to that landmark. Some villages and towns have experienced hail and sleet, but it never snowed in our archipelago. Since homes are not heated here, inside a house can feel pretty cold, and so one has to bundle up with layers of clothing and more blankets at night. had snowed occasionally in Sicily, and even in Tunisia and Morocco, but Malta has never seen snow, even though some people claimed they have seen some flurries. My memories of snow and ice are plentiful, and I certainly don’t miss shoveling it and driving on icy roads. But this photo reproduced here reminds of the days I used to enjoy icicles, here seen with some huge icicles close to Hunter Mountain, New York, back in 1982.

Sunday, 6 January 2019

Epiphany

Today the three Kings or Magi arrive in Bethlehem and present Jesus with their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. There are two traditions held on this day, both of which come to us from the Eastern European tradition. The first is when families write the names of the Three Kings on doorways of their homes as the head of the house goes around the house saying prayers and chanting various hymns. Chalk blessed by the priest on the feast of the Epiphany is given to the faithful to mark their entrance door with the current year and with the inscription C+M+B, the initials of Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, the traditional names of the Magi. The entire phrase would read 20 + C + M + B + 19. In addition to remembering the Magi, the inscription means the Latin phrase Christus Mansionem Benedicat, which means “Christ, bless this home.” The second tradition is repeated in Greece and Greek communities around the world every January 6 or the feast of the Epiphany when dozens of teenage boys or young men jump into the murky, chilly and sometimes frozen water and dive for a wooden cross tossed in by a priest. The one lucky enough to surface with it earns instant celebrity status, a ride through the streets on the shoulders of his peers and – the Greek-American boys believe – the favor of God in the coming year.

Saturday, 5 January 2019

7 years of blogging

Today is the 7th anniversary since I started my blog, first in the USA and over the last two and a half years, here in Malta. It has been a pleasure sharing these daily posts and I know how many look forward to checking every day my new post. I had 1512 posts on my first Blog from the USA, and so far I have 984 posts in the present Blog, which you are reading right here. For all those who seem to be bored at times, I would encourage you to browse through some of my past entries, and you will be surprised how much inspiration, food for thought, reflections and other trivia you will find. Occasionally I place some personal flash-backs from the past, but overall, you will daily find something to think about, something to learn and remember, and something you may have been searching for. And I’m glad you found it here. The link you find on the very top on the right-hand corner ‘Search this Blog’ will give you the opportunity to search anything you may be looking for, and it will take you to that subject. You can search for my first blog here: www.fatherjulian.blogspot.com

Friday, 4 January 2019

St Elizabeth Ann Seton

Elizabeth Bayley Seton was the first native-born American to be canonized. Born two years before the American Revolution, on August 28, 1774, Elizabeth grew up in the "cream" of New York society. She was a prolific reader and read everything from the Bible to contemporary novels. In spite of her high society background, Elizabeth's early life was quiet, simple, and often lonely. As she grew a little older, the Bible was to become her continual instruction, support, and comfort. 
In 1794, Elizabeth married the wealthy young William Seton, with whom she was deeply in love. The first years of their marriage were happy and prosperous. This time of Elizabeth's life was to be a brief moment of earthly happiness before the many deaths and partings she was to suffer. Within four years, Will's father died, leaving the young couple in charge of Will's seven half brothers and sisters, besides their own 5 children, as well as the family's importing business. Now events began to move fast - and with devastating effect. Both Will's business and his health failed. He was finally forced to file a petition of bankruptcy. In a final attempt to save Will's health, the Setons sailed for Italy, but he died of tuberculosis soon after they arrived.
Elizabeth's deep concern for the spiritual welfare of her family and friends eventually led her into the Catholic Church, thanks also to the influence of the Fellicchi family with whom they stayed while in Italy. Elizabeth was baptized in St Peter’s church, New York City in 1805. 
At the suggestion of the president of St. Mary's College in Baltimore, Maryland, Elizabeth started a school in that city. She and two other young women, who helped her in her work, began plans for a new order, which was to be named Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph. They established the first free Catholic school in America. When the young community adopted their rule, they made provisions for Elizabeth to continue raising her children. On March 25, 1809, the new Mother Seton pronounced her vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. 
Although Mother Seton was now afflicted with tuberculosis, she continued to guide her children. By 1818, in addition to their first school, the sisters had established two orphanages and another school. Today six groups of sisters trace their origins to Mother Seton's initial foundation. Mother Seton died on January 4, 1821, at the age of 46, only sixteen years after becoming a Catholic. She was canonized on September 14, 1975. On that day both Episcopalians and Catholics rejoiced. She is the patron of the Catholic schools in the USA.

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Prayers for the year

I pray through January for some cool weather and much-needed rain.
I pray through February as I recommit myself to the faith brought to Malta by St Paul.
I pray through March as I start my Lenten penance and offer little sacrifices.
I pray through April as I rejoice with the Risen Christ, the patron of my chapel.
I pray through May as I honor Mary and see her as my spiritual mother.
I pray through June as I celebrate 42 years as a priest.
I pray through July that it goes by fast, as I can’t stand hot weather.
I pray through August as I turn 37, after 30 years of experience.
I pray through September and look forward to days getting shorter and cooler.
I pray through October as I pray the rosary in 7 versions I use on my Ipad.
I pray through November as I remember my parents and loved ones.
I pray through December as I rejoice with the coming of Christ in my life as I bring Him into people’s lives.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

A solitary holy moment

Back in 1990, when Pope St John Paul II visited Malta for the first time, he, of course, had a full schedule of events, meetings, Masses, visits to historic places and so much more crammed into a week. But there was one special moment when he was visiting the town of Rabat. And this was recorded in a photo which I’ve been searching for a long time – I finally found it in the same church, hanging in a frame in the sacristy.
What happened was that the Pope was supposed to talk to a large crowd outside the church, and as thousands of people waited for him in the warm May sunshine, he had to visit the cave where St Paul supposedly had stayed in during his shipwrecked journey. 
You can see him here touching the statue of St Paul in the second photo. But the one moment that touched many people was when he decided to stop in the main aisle of the church, and stepped inside one of the pews. He stayed there for a pretty long time, oblivious of the thousands of people waiting for him. But this gesture taught all of us a big lesson. He stayed there focused on the Lord, looking at the beautiful altar and tabernacle, where Jesus resides daily. Nobody dared to tell him to move on to speak to the people, but when he felt it was time, he did. Maybe he was tired and wanted a little rest, but most importantly, he wanted to show us where our priorities should be. 

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Keeping the Happy Spirit

As we start a new year, in good health and in harmony with each other, let us make it a point to keep the Christmas spirit going all year-round. Granted that the decorations will be taken down after the feast of the Epiphany, and the Christmas CDs will be stored for another year, but the gift of sharing and the joy of giving could be extended to the other 11 months of the year. Back in 1982, I went for the first time to the town of Lake Placid, in upstate New York, where the Winter Olympic Games were held in 1932 and again in 1980. Strolling through the streets I came across a store called ‘All-year-round Christmas Store.’ (It has since been re-named Lake Placid Christmas Company.) Since I was there in July, the store seemed so out-of-place until I went inside and found it crowded with people shopping mostly for Christmas ornaments, to hang on their tree next Christmas. Christmas carols were being played, nativities were also featured and so many festive and seasonal artifacts were on display, and instantly, you feel like it’s December 24!  And everyone was in a happy festive mood. Which is what it should be like, all year round, not just in Lake Placid.

Wishing you a Happy, Healthy and Peaceful New Year, with the spirit of joy and cooperation all year round.

Monday, 31 December 2018

Spectacular Neapolitan Nativity

The Nativity detail (click to enlarge each photo)
This spectacular display was set up at the Cathedral of Mdina, the creation of Fr Edgar Vella and some friends who helped him set it up. This monumental Neapolitan crib has no less than 200 original and authentic presepio figurines which render the setting as the most colorful and dramatic interpretation of the Nativity of Our Lord. The most particular element in this tradition is that the Neapolitans uprooted the nativity scene from Palestine and implanted it in the core of their city bustling with activity, noise, and charm. 
The various characters present an ongoing day in the life of Naples, 200 years ago. The Holy Family is set in the ruins of a pagan temple symbolizing the new era of Christianity which takes over the ancient pagan religion. The nativity is surmounted by a glorious host of angels and cherubs cascading over the newborn Messiah.
The entire display for everyone to admire

Sunday, 30 December 2018

Holy Family

Le Nain 'Holy Family'
Today the church celebrates the feast of the Holy Family. Many of the pictures shown of the Holy Family of Nazareth depict them as the perfect couple with Jesus well behaved and obedient, usually playing with a bird, holding a pomegranate, or with John the Baptist. They still had their share of problems and issues to deal with, all through their lives. To start they had to escape into Egypt for 2 years because Herod was trying to kill baby Jesus. Once they settled in Nazareth, Mary and Joseph raised their son in a very simple environment. As a baby, Jesus had to be diaper-changed, he had to be nursed, toilet-trained eventually, learn how to walk, how to talk, and many other things that babies do as they grow and mature. 
This way we can very easily connect with the Holy Family of Nazareth, because they were very much like every family raising toddlers. They had their hands full, and we don’t even know what tricks Jesus played on his parents. Because whether you’re in Malta, Oregon, New York, London, or Nazareth in the Holy Land, boys will be boys!
Esteban Murillo 'Holy Family'
PRAYER FOR ALL FAMILIES: O God, in the beginning, You brought together man and woman in holy marriage that they might share Your work of creation and bring enriching life to one another. We commend to Your constant care the homes where Your people dwell. Knit together in growing affection those who have been made one flesh so that their love may never fail. Turn the hearts of parents to their children and children to their parents. Take away the roots of bitterness, vanity, and self-seeking that bring dissension where family peace should reign. Inspire them, rather, with loyalty, faith, and sacrifice, that in all the changes and circumstances of life they may stand strongly together in mutual service and love. Bless all these families with Your boundless Love. Help all parents, whether single or sharing responsibilities with a spouse, to use wisdom, understanding, and consideration for the entire family unit when making decisions that will affect all those in their households. Open their minds and hearts so that discipline is just, effective, and kind yet firm, teaching the children in their families that there are consequences to their actions. 

Saturday, 29 December 2018

Baby Jesus

It is customary in Malta that an image of baby Jesus is placed on the main altar, right in the middle, between the candlesticks, floral decorations and sometimes statuettes of the apostles. These are just a few I visited this morning at the town of Rabat. I also witnessed a spectacular Neapolitan Nativity at the Mdina cathedral, and that will be featured on Monday.
This baby Jesus was made from wax and was placed at a side-altar at Rabat church.

Friday, 28 December 2018

Holy Innocent Martyrs

William Holman Hunt - 'Escape into Egypt'
Today we honor and remember the unknown number of boys massacred by Herod at the time when Jesus was born. The Massacre of the Innocents is the biblical narrative of infanticide and gendercide by Herod. According to the Gospel of Matthew Herod ordered the execution of all young male children in the village of Bethlehem, so as to avoid the loss of his throne to a newborn King of the Jews whose birth had been announced to him by the Magi. In typical Matthean style it is understood as the fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy: "Then was fulfilled that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet, saying, A voice was heard in Ramah, Weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children." The number of infants killed is not stated, however, the Holy Innocents have been claimed as the first Christian martyrs. Today we remember also the millions of babies killed through abortion, who may be considered as the modern martyrs, the modern Holy Innocents. 
Also, I remember today the beautiful memorial I erected beside the Cathedral in Baker City, Oregon, in honor of our precious children, born and unborn. Who knows how many people pause as they walk by this Children’s Memorial and say a prayer. May each prayer said saves a baby and help a distraught mother give birth to her precious child.

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Neapolitan Nativity

Among the many nativities I saw recently, there was one at the parish church in Hamrun that went over and beyond artistic. It featured a few characters from Naples, and so, as it is customarily called, a Neapolitan Nativity, complete with Angels hovering above the Holy Family, cradled by old columns, besides a few pipers and people selling groceries and poultry.

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

From Christmas Eve

As is customary in Malta, the Christmas Eve Mass is traditionally highlighted by a sermon delivered by a young boy or girl, or both. I was not lucky to be chosen to deliver the sermon when I was an altar boy. But then I realized why - I would spend the rest of my life preaching. But when I was ordained a priest, for the first 4 years one of my responsibilities was to write and teach a young altar boy the sermon. Back in Malta after 35 years, I started again teaching young children the traditional sermon. Once again this year, a young girl Gretha Zammit delivered the sermon, which was an interactive dialogue between me and her.

Tuesday, 25 December 2018

It's a boy!

It’s a boy! And his name is Jesus.
Wishing you the blessings of a joyous Christmas. I share with you a recent watercolor I did portraying the nativity of Christ. I will be praying for my family, all my relatives, and my friends as I celebrate my 6 Masses between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Monday, 24 December 2018

Maltese Nativity paintings

Nativity detail by Manuel Farrugia in Paola church.
Last weekend, a few of my photos were displayed in a local newspaper, in which I write every two weeks. They are photos of various paintings that display the Nativity of Jesus in churches in Malta. I share them here with you to admire and reflect on during this Christmas Eve.
The Blessed Mother by Emvin Cremona at St Gregory's, Sliema
Adoration of the Magi by Stefano Erardi at Naxxar.
Nativity by Rafael Bonnici Cali at Annunciation church, Vittoriosa
Epiphany by Emvin Cremona at Għaxaq church.

Sunday, 23 December 2018

Festival of lights

Among the many towns and villages that lit up, one of the most colorful is Naxxar, where I spend most of my time, serving at Hilltop Gardens and another nursing home, besides the parish. A big Christmas festival was held on this last weekend before Christmas, where music, singing, exhibitions and so much more were displayed. Not to mention of course food – Maltese love their food, especially Christmas delicacies, from mince pies to honey rings, and most families cook a turkey on Christmas. Smaller families go for a chicken. These are just a few scenes from some well-lit and colorful towns in Malta, Valletta, and Naxxar.