Tuesday, 14 August 2018

St Maximilian Kolbe

St Maximilian Kolbe (1894-1941)
Maximilian was born in January 1894 in Poland and was one of 5 sons to his devout parents. He contracted tuberculosis and, though he recovered, he remained frail all his life. In 1907 Kolbe and his elder brother Francis decided to join the Conventual Franciscans. During his time as a student, he witnessed vehement demonstrations against Popes St. Pius X and Benedict XV in Rome and was inspired to organize the Militia Immaculata, or Army of Mary, to work for the conversion of sinners and the enemies of the Catholic Church through the intercession of the Virgin Mary. The Immaculata friars utilized the most modern printing and administrative techniques in publishing catechetical and devotional leaflets, a daily newspaper with a circulation of 230,000 and a monthly magazine with a circulation of over one million. After receiving a doctorate in theology, he spread the Movement through a magazine entitled "The Knight of the Immaculata" and helped form a community of 800 men, the largest in the world. Maximilian went to Japan where he built a monastery and then on to India where he furthered the Movement. In 1936 he returned home because of ill health. After the Nazi invasion in 1939, he was imprisoned and released for a time. He provided shelter to refugees from Greater Poland, including 2,000 Jews whom he hid from Nazi persecution in his friary in Niepokalanów. He was also active as a radio amateur, with Polish call letters SP3RN, vilifying Nazi activities through his reports.
Franciszek Gajowniczek with Pope John Paul after the canonization
On February 17, 1941, he was arrested again by the German Gestapo and imprisoned in the Pawiak prison, and on May 25 was transferred to Auschwitz as prisoner #16670. In July 1941 a man from Kolbe's barracks vanished, prompting the deputy camp commander to pick 10 men from the same barracks to be starved to death in Block 13 (notorious for torture), in order to deter further escape attempts. One of the selected men, Franciszek Gajowniczek, cried out, lamenting his family, and Kolbe volunteered to take his place. The guards accepted this move, and Francizek was spared and eventually lived until the late 1990s. During the time in the cell, St Maximilian led the men in songs and prayer. After three weeks of dehydration and starvation, only Kolbe and three others were still alive. Finally, he was murdered with an injection of carbolic acid. Father Kolbe was beatified as a confessor by Pope Paul VI in 1971 and was canonized by Pope John Paul II on October 10, 1982 in the presence of Franciszek Gajowniczek and his family.

Monday, 13 August 2018

Sacred Love

A beautiful painting done by John Grima hangs at the Resurrection chapel in Hilltop Gardens, Naxxar, the chapel where I say Mass daily and where I serve as chaplain. There are 5 other paintings in the chapel, two relating to the creation of the planets and the animals, and the other three relate to the Nativity, the Eucharist, and the Resurrection. But this particular painting portrays Adam and Eve as they are intertwined in an allegory of love. Then there are the hands of God who just created them, and his hands are cradling the first couple in a protective, loving embrace. This painting speaks to me about intimacy and a spiritual communion that is the prerogative of married couples. With so many issues surrounding marriage nowadays, may this painting puts the emphasis where it should, and that marriage created by God between a man and a woman is intended for the eventual procreation and education of the offspring. ‘That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and they are now one flesh.’

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Our Beautiful World

Eternal Father, creator of every planet and star, of  the wind and the seas and the rain,
give us today, we pray, the mind and heart to rejoice in your creation.
Forbid that we should walk through your beautiful world with unseeing eyes.
Forbid that the lure and comforts of technology should ever entirely steal our hearts away from the love of open acres and the green trees.
Forbid that under the low roof of house and workshop, office or study, we should ever forget your great marvelous sky.
Forbid that when all your creatures are greeting the morning with songs and shouts of joy, we alone should wear a dull and sullen face.
Let the energy and vigor which you have infused into every living thing stir within our being. May your life and joy pulse through us.
And above all, give us grace to use these beauties of the earth without us, this eager stirring of life within us, as a means by which we respond to you, our Creator and our God.

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Saint Clare

St Clare washing the feet of her sisters, following Jesus' order.
Clare was a beautiful Italian noblewoman who became the foundress of an order of nuns now called "Poor Clares." When she heard St. Francis of Assisi preach, her heart burned with a great desire to imitate Francis and to live a poor humble life for Jesus. So one evening, she ran away from home, and in a little chapel outside Assisi, gave herself to God. St. Francis cut off her hair and gave her a rough brown habit to wear, tied with a plain cord around her waist. Her parents tried in every way to make her return home, but Clare would not. Soon her sister Agnes joined her, as well as other young women who wanted to be brides of Jesus and live without any money. St. Clare and her sisters wore no shoes, ate no meat, lived in a poor house, and kept silent most of the time. Yet they were very happy because Our Lord was close to them all the time. Once, He saved them from a great danger in answer to St. Clare's prayer. An army of rough soldiers came to attack Assisi and they planned to raid the convent first. Although very sick, St. Clare had herself carried to the wall and right there, where the enemies could see it, she had the Blessed Sacrament placed. Then on her knees, she begged God to save the Sisters. "O Lord, protect these Sisters whom I cannot protect now," she prayed. A voice seemed to answer: "I will keep them always in My care."
At the same time, a sudden fright struck the attackers and they fled as fast as they could. St. Clare was sick and suffered great pains for many years, but she said that no pain could trouble her. So great was her joy in serving the Lord that she once exclaimed: "They say that we are too poor, but can a heart which possesses the infinite God be truly called poor?"
Many stories and allegorical tales have been created with St Francis and St Clare, including the popular movie and phrase “Brother Sun, Sister Moon.” But the fact is that both St Clare and St Francis laid a foundation for what to become one of the most influential orders of priests, friars, and sisters, the Franciscans. Many other Orders splintered from the original Franciscans, but the foundation of each group remained always a life of poverty and good Christian example, a life detached from the materialism of this world.

Friday, 10 August 2018

St Lawrence

'St. Lawrence helping the poor' by Fra Angelico at the Vatican Museums.
Saint Lawrence was one of seven deacons in Rome who were in charge of giving help to the poor and the needy. Priests were responsible for praying and preaching and the role of helping orphans, widows, the poor and the sick was entrusted to the deacons back then. When a persecution broke out, Pope St. Sixtus was condemned to death. As he was led to execution, Lawrence followed him weeping, "Father, where are you going without your deacon?" he said. "I am not leaving you, my son," answered the Pope. "in three days you will follow me." Full of joy, Lawrence gave to the poor the rest of the money he had on hand and even sold expensive vessels, chalices and candlesticks to have more to give away. The Prefect of Rome, a greedy pagan, thought the Church had a great fortune hidden away. So he ordered Lawrence to bring the Church's treasure to him. The Saint said he would, in three days. Then he went through the city and gathered together all the poor and sick people supported by the Church and lined them all up. When he showed them to the Prefect, he said: "This is the Church's treasure!"
In great anger, the Prefect condemned Lawrence to a slow, cruel death. The Saint was tied on top of an iron grill over a slow fire that roasted his flesh little by little, but Lawrence was burning with so much love of God that he almost did not feel the flames. In fact, he even joked, "Turn me over," he said to the judge. "I'm done on this side!" And just before he died, he said, "It's cooked enough now." Then he prayed that the city of Rome might be converted to Jesus and that the Catholic faith might spread all over the world. After that, he went to receive the martyr's reward.
St Lawrence is one of the thousands of martyrs who were mercilessly killed by the ruthless Emperors in the first 300 years of Christianity. Others were crucified, sent to the lions, beheaded, burned, tied to a tree and arrows shot at them, others were skinned or had parts of their body taken out or cut off. With St Stephen, he is the patron saint of deacons.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (1891-1942)
St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross was a German-Jewish philosopher, nun, a martyr and a highly unusual saint of the Catholic Church. Born into an observant Jewish family in Breslau, a German province of Prussia on October 12, 1891, she was named Edith and her family name was Stein. Edith was a very gifted child who enjoyed learning. She greatly admired her mother's strong faith; however, by her teenage years Stein had become an atheist. In 1916, she received a doctorate of philosophy from the University of Göttingen, and soon afterwards became a member of the faculty in Freiburg.
While Stein had earlier contacts with Catholicism, it was her reading of the autobiography of the mystic St. Teresa of Ávila on a holiday in Göttingen in 1921 that caused her conversion. She was eventually baptized on January 1, 1922, gave up her job at Freiburg and started to teach at a Dominican girls' school in Speyer from 1922 to 1932.
In a letter to Pope Pius XI, she denounced the Nazi regime and asked the Pope to openly denounce the regime "to put a stop to this abuse of Christ's name.” Although she never received an answer, in 1937, Pope Pius XI issued an encyclical written in German, "Mit Brennender Sorge," in which he criticized Nazism, and condemned anti-semitism. I’m sure her letter had some influence on this.
As Edith Stein, before she entered the Carmelite Monastery
She entered the Discalced Carmelite monastery Our Lady of Peace at Cologne in 1933 and took the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. Although she moved from Germany to the Netherlands to avoid Nazi persecution, in 1942 she was not safe there. The Dutch Bishops had a public statement read in all the churches of the country in July 1942, condemning Nazi racism. In a retaliatory response a few weeks later, the Reichskomissar ordered the arrest of all Jewish converts, who had previously been spared. Sr. Teresa Benedicta and her sister Rosa, also a convert, were captured and shipped to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where they were gassed on August 9, 1942 when Edith was only 50. Edith Stein was canonized as Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross by Pope John Paul II in 1998; however, she is also often referred to as "Saint Edith Stein".

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Saint Dominic

St Dominic with Jesus and Mary by Giuseppe Cali, St Dominic church, Valletta.
Along with the Franciscans and the Jesuits, the Dominicans are probably the most popular religious order, both for men and women, priests, brothers, and nuns. The son of Felix Guzman and Bl. Joan of Aza, Dominic was born at Calaruega, Spain. The story is told that before his birth his mother dreamed that a dog leapt from her womb carrying a torch in its mouth, and "seemed to set the earth on fire". That is why in many of the statues of St Dominic, a dog carrying a torch is placed near his feet. His eloquence is known to have set the world on fire. He studied at the University at Palencia , was probably ordained there while pursuing his studies and was appointed canon at Osma in 1199. There he became prior superior of the chapter, which was noted for its strict adherence to the rule of St. Benedict. In 1203 he accompanied Bishop Diego de Avezedo to Languedoc where Dominic preached against the Albigensian heresy and helped reform the Cistercians. Dominic preached to the heretics but with no great success. In 1214 he was given a castle at Casseneuil and Dominic with six followers founded an order devoted to the conversion of the Albigensians; the order was canonically approved by the bishop of Toulouse the following year. He failed to gain approval for his order of preachers at the fourth General Council of the Lateran in 1215 but received Pope Honorius III's approval in the following year, and the Order of Preachers (the Dominicans) was founded.
Dominic spent the last years of this life organizing the order, traveling all over Italy, Spain and France preaching and attracting new members and establishing new houses and monasteries. The new order was phenomenally successful in conversion work as it applied Dominic's concept of harmonizing the intellectual life with popular needs. He convoked the first general council of the order at Bologna in 1220 and died there the following year on August 6, after being forced by illness to return from a preaching tour in Hungary. He was canonized in 1234. Dominicans today number 6,500, not counting many nuns who work as teachers, in social work, and in hospitals.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Religion and Sport

Mark Bavaro blessing himself after scoring a touchdown in 1987 Superbowl.
You may notice from time to time various athletes and football and baseball players blessing themselves before a race or after scoring a goal or a touchdown or a home-run. It is a natural reaction thanking God for yet another accomplishment. I’ve seen it many times before a track race in the Olympics, before a baseball player comes to bat, everytime a cyclist crosses the finishing line as a winner, and when a football player scores a touchdown. Jennifer Bryson who is the director of the Religious Freedom Institute’s Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team said that “Sport is so relevant to religious freedom because it offers a shared civic space where people from diverse traditions come together and compete towards a common goal." 
Between social media and worldwide television broadcasts, faith has been widely on display in this year’s World Cup in Russia. The Tunisian soccer team recited the Quran together in the team room, and Mexico’s soccer team celebrated Mass before their unexpected victory against Germany. A Nigerian athlete celebrated a win by waving his Rosary. Egypt’s Mohamed Salah prostrated himself in prayer after scoring against Russia. A Catholic and an evangelical from opposing teams knelt down next to each other to pray after the Belgium-Panama match. And who can forget the Panama players kneeling down in prayer after scoring a lonely goal towards the end of their match against England, even though they lost 6-1. Even the 2018 World Cup logo was inspired by the Russian tradition of icon painting, according to the FIFA website. My most memorable memory of a player blessing himself was in 1987 when Mark Bavaro, a devout player with the New York Giants caught a touch-down and knelt down and blessed himself in the end-zone, a scene that was shown many times in replay. Mark has since become a spokesperson for the Pro-Life cause.

Monday, 6 August 2018

'Listen to Him.'

Statue of the Transfiguration in Lija parish, by Carlo Darmanin.
Jesus took Peter, James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them. Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were conversing with Jesus. Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; from the cloud came a voice: "This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him." Are we listening to Him? He still talks to us through Scripture, through miracles that still happen daily, through the Eucharist, through recommendations we receive from the Pope, our Bishops, and priests. Are we listening to them? Because if we don't listen to them, we're not listening to Him! And to listen attentively to them and Him, we have to learn to be silent. And notice also that the same letters that are in LISTEN are found in the word SILENT.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

New Bishop for Malta

Bishop Joe Galea Curmi, with the Bishops of Malta and Gozo behind him.
Malta has a new auxiliary bishop. He was consecrated yesterday in a solemn ceremony at the Mdina Cathedral. Msgr Joseph Galea Curmi was born of the late Paul and Josette née Mifsud Bonnici, in Birkirkara, on 1 January 1964, and is the third of six children. Mgr Galea-Curmi was educated at Stella Maris School, Balzan, at the Secondary School of St Paul's Missionary College, Rabat, and at St Aloysius College (Sixth Form), Birkirkara. He entered the Archbishop's Major Seminary in 1982.
The concelebrating Bishops, with Msgr Galea Curmi, third from right.
After completing his studies and a Licentiate in Sacred Theology at the Faculty of Theology, he was ordained to the priesthood by the Archbishop of Malta, Monsignor Joseph Mercieca, on 5 July 1991. Monsignor Galea-Curmi was sent to further his studies at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome and obtained a doctorate in Pastoral Theology in 1998. His doctoral thesis was entitled "The Diocesan Synod as a Pastoral Event. A Study of the Post-Conciliar Understanding of the Diocesan Synod". The celebration was led by Archbishop Charles Scicluna and other concelebrants, bishops, and priests.

Saturday, 4 August 2018

St John Marie Vianney

St John Marie Vianney, 'Cure of Ars' (1786-1859)
My all-time favorite Saint is not just the patron saint of priests, but also the patron saint of all those who find learning and going to school tough and hard. The Cure of Ars’ life is itself a miracle. Jean-Marie Vianney was born on May 8, 1786, in the French town of Dardilly and was baptized the same day. His parents had six children of which Jean-Marie was the third. He grew up on his family's farm in a very devotional environment. His parents frequently helped the poor and gave hospitality to many pilgrims. By 1790, the French Revolution forced many loyal priests to hide from the government in order to carry out the sacraments in their parish. The Vianneys continued attending Mass, even though it was illegal. In order to attend Mass, they traveled to distant farms where they would pray in secret. Since the priests would risk their lives day by day, Jean-Marie began to look upon priests as heroes. During the Mass, the windows were covered so that the light of the candles could not be seen from the outside.
By 1802, peace was re-established, and Jean-Marie wanted to start studying, but he still had to serve in the army. He was 19 when he started school, while his classmates were all 11 or 12, but he persevered, even though he found the study of Latin very hard. He gave up many times, but he was eventually ordained a priest on August 13, 1815. He was sent as Assistant to his sponsor, Father Balley in the parish at Ecully. Three years later he was made parish priest of Ars, a remote French hamlet, where his reputation as a confessor and director of souls made him known throughout the Christian world.
His life was one of extreme mortification. Accustomed to the most severe austerities, beleaguered by swarms of penitents, and besieged by the devil, this great mystic manifested tremendous patience. He was a wonder worker loved by the crowds, but he retained a childlike simplicity, and he remains to this day the living image of the priest after the heart of Christ. He heard confessions of people from all over the world for 16 hours each day. His life was filled with works of charity and love. It is recorded that even the staunchest of sinners were converted at his mere word. He died August 4, 1859, and was canonized May 31, 1925. Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed him as the patron of all parish priests.

Friday, 3 August 2018

Two teenagers

Alexia Gonzalez-Barros and Carlo Acutis
Recently, Pope Francis signed a decree recognizing the heroic virtues of Alexia González-Barros and Carlo Acutis, two teenagers who are on their way to be canonized.
Alexia González-Barros was born in Madrid in 1971. Her parents were members of Opus Dei and passed on their faith to their five children. She made her first Communion in Rome and the following day attended the weekly general audience on May 9, 1979. She ran up to St John Paul II as he greeted pilgrims and received a blessing and a kiss from the pope. Several years later, her life dramatically changed when doctors discovered a tumor that gradually paralyzed her. Throughout her illness, she offered her sufferings for the Church and the pope, and would often pray, “Jesus, I want to feel better, I want to be healed; but if you do not want that, I want what you want.” She died on December 5, 1985, aged 14.
Pope Francis also recognized the heroic virtues of Carlo Acutis, a teenager who used his computer skills to catalog Eucharistic miracles around the world before his death at the age of 15 due to leukemia. According to the website of his canonization process, Acutis placed the Eucharist “at the center of his life and called it ‘my highway to heaven.'” Before his death in 2006, Acutis offered his sufferings for Pope Benedict XVI and for the Church.

Thursday, 2 August 2018

St Peter Julian Eymard

Today we honor St Peter Julian Eymard, canonized in 1962 at the height of the Vatican Council II. He started the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, devoted to the Eucharist and offering perpetual adoration. There is a church in New York City, St Jean Baptiste on Lexington Avenue and 76 th Street, where perpetual adoration is offered, and where the monstrance is placed high above the main altar, surrounded with candles and flowers. It has been staffed by the Fathers of the Blessed Sacrament since 1900. Peter Julian Eymard was born in 1811 and became a priest in 1834. He first joined the Marists, but then founded his own order, the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament in 1856. He  encouraged people to receive frequent communion, and also organized the first holy communion for children, two customs that were eventually introduced by Pope St Pius X. 
The sarcophagus with the body of St Peter Julian Eymard
Eymard was  friends with Saints John Baptist Vianney and Peter Chanel. He was also the spiritual director of Auguste Rodin, a famous French sculptor. He actually encouraged him to keep working as a sculptor after he had abondoned his trade because of the loss of his sister. As a tribute, Rodin sculpted a bust of Eymard in bronze. St Peter Julian died on August 1, 1868 and was beatified in 1925, and canonized on December 8, 1962. I am honored to have my two nephews named Julian and Peter, both of them now medical doctors.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Mons Guido Calleja

Monsignor Guido Calleja (1928-2018)
We salute today my former Pastor at St Julian's parish church Monsignor Guido Calleja, who passed away today at age of 89. He was my childhood parish priest who served at our parish church between 1956 and 1965. He spearheaded the building of the new church, which opened in 1968. Born in 1928 in Sliema, he was ordained a priest in 1953, and spent the first two years as secretary of Archbishop Gonzi, who eventually sent him to Rome to study sacred music. Back in Malta he was appointed parish priest of St Julian's parish in 1956 and was instrumental in starting the building of the new church, which was completed by his successor Fr John Galea. He also started the St. Julian's Choir in the late 1950s, also to be continued by his successor.  In 1965 he was sent to Stella Marish parish where he spent 7 years as the pastor there and then spent a few years leading the Administration section of the Chancery, as a Financial Secretary. In the 1980s, we both left Malta for the United States practically at the same time, myself to New York and Oregon and Fr Guido to the parish of St. John the Baptist in Magnolia Springs, Alabama, where he spent 22 years. 
Msgr Guido Calleja with St Teresa of Calcutta in the 1980s
He returned to Malta in 2013, and was a resident at Dar tal-Kleru for the past 5 years. I will always remember him as one of my childhood role-models in the priesthood who undoubtedly had a great impact on my vocation. He left a great legacy on the parishioners of St Julian's who remember him in the 1950s and 1960s, most of whom are now gone. I interviewed him a year ago for a local newspaper, and he was resting comfortably with other fellow priests, and I made sure to tell him how much I admired his handwriting, an impeccable penmanship that is now so hard to find. May he rest in peace. 

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

St Ignatius of Loyola

A very close image of St Ignatius of Loyola by Francisco Zurbaran
The Jesuits had quite an important role in my education and spiritual formation. My spiritual director in the Seminary was a Jesuit as were many of my priest friends. My two nephews were educated in a school run by the Jesuits, and which has actually produced quite a few well-known people in Malta. Jesuits have provided many good priests, many of whom have dedicated their lives to work in the missions. We thank St Ignatius of Loyola, their founder, whose feast we celebrate today.
St. Ignatius was born in the family castle in Guipúzcoa, Spain, the youngest of 13 children, and was called Iñigo. When he was old enough, he became a page, and then a soldier of Spain to fight against the French. A cannon ball shattered his leg and subsequently, a series of bad operations ended his military career in 1521. While St. Ignatius recovered, he started reading the Bible and the lives of the saints and decided to dedicate himself to becoming a soldier of the Catholic Faith. 
Soon after he experienced visions, but a year later suffered a trial of fears and scruples, driving him almost to despair. Out of this experience, he wrote his famous "Spiritual Exercises". After traveling and studying in different schools, he finished in Paris, where he received his degree at the age of 43. Many first hated St. Ignatius because of his humble lifestyle. Despite this, he attracted several followers at the university, including St. Francis Xavier, and soon started his order called The Society of Jesus, or Jesuits. He was a gifted spiritual director, and has been described by Pope Benedict XVI  as “being above all a man of God and a man of profound prayer who gave the first place of his life to God.” He was very active in fighting the Protestant Reformation and promoting the subsequent Counter-Reformation. St Ignatius died at the age of 65. He was canonized on March 12, 1622.  There are 38 members of the Society of Jesus who have been declared Saints. So many other Jesuits have become Cardinals, Bishops, and great writers. And in 2013, the first Jesuit Pope was elected, Jorge Bergoglio, who became Pope Francis.

Monday, 30 July 2018

Finding God

Look back and thank God.
Look forward and trust God.
Look around and serve God.
Look within and find God.

I asked God, ‘How do I get the best out of life,
and handle my present with confidence?
God said,’Face your past without regrets.
And prepare for the future without fear.’

Sunday, 29 July 2018

That little boy

Sunday’s readings speak about God’s generosity. We read the story of the multiplication of the 5 loaves and 2 fishes after Jesus felt sorry for the people who came to listen to him preach. A beautiful modern painting of this miracle is the one found at Resurrection chapel at Hilltop Gardens in Naxxar, a work of art done by John Grima. It is one of six panels that embellish this chapel where I say Mass daily. However, I feel sad that the artist did not include the little boy, who actually provided the 5 loaves and 2  fishes for the miracle to take place. Granted that Jesus was the one who performed the miracle, but a little credit should have been given to the boy.  I always wonder what went through that boy’s mind when they took his lunch from his protective hands. I wonder what he might have told his mother that evening.....’Hey mom, guess what....I fed 5000 people today with the loaves and fishes that you gave me this morning!’ To which his mother would have answered: ‘Stop lying, and go to your room and say sorry to Jesus.’ Poor lad – children should be listened to, appreciated and admired, because they may have something special to share with us. So often we give them little attention, but remember what Jesus said about them when the apostles were trying to get rid of them....’Let the children come to me.’ Let us be grateful for God’s generosity, and let us be generous ourselves to others.

Saturday, 28 July 2018

Blood Moon

The lunar eclipse last night was as spectacular as it was creepy. Astronomers said that this was the longest lasing lunar eclipse of this century. It lasted over one hour and 40 minutes, and yes it did turn red, maybe not as red as blood, but it had an orange hue, especially when it started, as you can see from these 4 photos I took and share with you.

Friday, 27 July 2018

Sharpen your axe

A young man was looking for work and went to a lumber yard wondering if anyone would hire him. The manager spoke to him and told him he could go to the woods and start chopping down trees, agreeing to pay him a decent salary, including health insurance. The man cut down 18 trees on his first day, and the manager complimented him and told him to continue on a daily basis. On the second day he was able to cut down 15 trees, and on the third day 12. And every day he continued to cut less and less, wondering if he was getting too tired. So he went to the manager and apologized to him, and told him that even though he was doing his best, he is cutting fewer trees, and didn't really know why this was happening as he had started so enthusiastically. The manager asked him when is the last time he sharpened this axe. The man was surprised ‘sharpen my axe? I have no time to sharpen my axe because I rush to work rightaway to cut as many trees as possible.’
Such is our life. We’re always rushing from one project to another, and are always busy with things to do, read the newspaper, watch TV, listening to the radio, entertain friends, take part in sports, and trying to fit into our schedule anything that interests us. We’re so busy that we don’t have time to sharpen our spiritual axe. We have time for everything but not to attend church, to pray, to do something philanthropic to help others. God seems to be in the last place on our priority list, because there are many other  projects and plans that we consider as more important. We really need God to help us sharpen our axe, so that we can chop down more spiritual trees.

Thursday, 26 July 2018

St Joachim and St Anne

St Joachim and St Anne with Mary in the Abu Dhabi Cathedral
Saint Joachim and Saint Anne are the parents of Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ and were privileged to be the grandparents of Jesus Christ. What we know about Mary's parents come from the Gospel of James. It is not part of the Bible, but the document, which was written around 170 AD gives insight into the life of Mary and her parents. Joachim was a prominent and respected man and is described as a rich and pious man of the house of David who regularly gave to the poor. However, as his wife was barren, the high priest rejected Joachim and his sacrifice, as his wife's childlessness was interpreted as a sign of divine displeasure. Joachim consequently withdrew to the desert where he fasted and did penance for forty days. Angels then appeared to both Joachim and Anne to promise them a child. Joachim later returned to Jerusalem and embraced Anne at the city gate, a traditional meeting that is frequently painted and reproduced in art. In an answer to his prayers, he and Anne, his wife, were given the daughter Mary, who was conceived without sin, a virtue we remember also on December 8, her Immaculate Conception. Their prayers were answered greater than they could have ever imagined!
There is a great Shrine known as Ste. Anne de Beaupre in Canada which is a site of constant miracles. Cripples have entered the Shrine on crutches and left by walking through the door as they were completely healed. Another Shrine is in Britanny, France. There is also a church of St. Anne in Jerusalem, and it’s believed to have been built on the location where Saints Joachim and Anne lived. The feast of St Joachim and Anne was introduced to the liturgical celebration in 1584, for celebration on March 20, the day after the feast day of Saint Joseph. Early in the 20th century, Pope Pius X transferred it to August 16, the day after the Assumption, so that Joachim may be remembered in the celebration of Mary's triumph. It was later moved again to July 26. St Anne is the patron saint of barren women, grandparents; homemakers; housewives; pregnant women; women in labor; Brittany, France and Quebec, Canada; archdiocese of Detroit, Michigan; diocese of Norwich, Connecticut; New Mexico. St Joachim is also the patron of grandfathers and fathers.

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Santiago de Compostela

Today is the liturgical feast of St James, the brother of St John. His legacy is treasured especially in Spain, particularly in Compostela, where every year hundreds of people make a traditional walk through the northern part of Spain, hiking with friends, sleeping in motels and special resting places, dividing their pilgrimage over a few weeks or months. The Cathedral itself was started in 1075 and finished in 1211 and was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985. The Cathedral is the reputed burial-place of St James the apostle, (known in Spanish as Santiago) and it is the destination of the Way of St James, the historical pilgrimage route since the Early Middle Ages. The building is a Romanesque structure with later Gothic and Baroque additions. According to legend, the apostle Saint James the Greater brought Christianity to the Celts in the Iberian Peninsula. In 44 AD he was beheaded in Jerusalem. His remains were later brought back to Galicia, Spain.

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

70 years ago

Newly married John and Mary Cassar, July 24, 1948
It was July 24, 1948, exactly 70 years ago today that my parents were married at St Julian’s parish church. I remember my mother reminiscing about that day, telling us that her uncle Fr Paul Galea celebrated Mass at the main altar, while 4 other priests celebrated a private Mass on the 4 side altars. Mass was said in Latin, and of course, concelebration was not allowed back then, and so 4 other priests whom my parents knew, celebrated a private Mass while the main Mass was going on, and the wedding vows were exchanged. The reception was held in the garden of the house where my parents lived, which was just a few houses away from the church. My grandfather, my mother’s father was an excellent baker and he prepared a 4–tier wedding cake, which must have been quite a masterpiece. Observe also in the cake photo, two smaller cakes which were made for the best men/witnesses.
The Wedding Cake
They did not speak much of their honeymoon, although most probably they spent it at home, preparing to start a family. In fact, my sister Josephine was born on April 23, 1949, and my second sister Rosemarie on April 12, 1950. I showed up 2 years later, while younger brothers Paul and Marcel came in 1955 and 1964 respectively. My mother was 19 when she was married, and my father 23. My father John died on January 4, 2002, and my mother Mary died on April 25, 2010.
The official wedding day photo
They were great providers and sacrificed their lives for us. My father had installed a telephone in our house, the first in our neighborhood, and so many neighbors used to come and call in for doctors late at night. He also bought for us a Telefunken black-and-white television in 1958, even though we could only watch Rin-Tin-Tin, Leave it to Beaven and Mr. Ed talk in Italian. My mother dressed us immaculately, my two sisters always alike and me and my brother Paul with similar outfits, which made many people think she had two sets of twins. 
After the 50th anniversary Mass - July 24, 1998
They were living their second parenthood when Julian and Peter, their only 2 grandchildren were born.  They would be so proud to know that their two grandsons are now both medical doctors. Most importantly they gave us a solid foundation for our faith, and a great sense of loyalty and integrity, especially by their dedicated example, which we all tend to appreciate more now, that they are gone. Thank you, Lord, for giving us such great loving, faith-filled and caring parents.

Monday, 23 July 2018

St Bridget of Sweden

Born on June 14, 1303 of a very devout family, Bridget’s mother died when she was only 10. She was raised with her siblings by her father and other aunts. As was customary during the Middle Ages, Birgitta was married when she was 13 years old to a young man, Ulf Gudmarsson with whom she had eight children, four daughters, and four sons, all of them survived infancy, and that was very rare at that time.
The King of Sweden, Magnus Eriksson married a foreigner, and asked Birgitta to come and be Lady-in Waiting and to teach his new bride and young queen the language and customs of her new country. After her years of service at Court, Birgitta and Ulf made the long pilgrimage to Santiago di Compostela in Spain. On the return journey Ulf became ill but survived until early in the year 1344, when he was very ill again, and so Birgitta took him to the monks at Alvastra where he died and was buried. Birgitta remained in a little house near the abbey and she spent long hours in prayer by Ulf’s grave. She arranged her affairs among her children and various charities and prayed for guidance. 
When she was 41 years old, in the abbey at Alvastra she felt God calling her to start a religious order, mainly for women. He said that the other orders had fallen into decay and this new order would be a vineyard whose wine would revivify the Church. She needed a monastery, chaplains and priests, besides 60 nuns to start the order. King Magnus donated a little palace and much land to the new monastery in Vadstena, but as soon she had begun altering the palace and organizing the work, Christ appeared to her and asked her to go to Rome. Birgitta left Sweden at the end of 1349 never to return, spending the Holy Year 1350 there. Although she had longed to become a nun, she never even saw the monastery in Vadstena. It was not until 1370 that Pope Urban V confirmed the rule of her order, but meanwhile Birgitta had made herself universally beloved in Rome by her kindness and good works. Save for occasional pilgrimages, including one to Jerusalem, she remained in Rome until her death on July 23, 1373. She was originally buried at San Lorenzo in Panisperna before being moved to Sweden. She was canonized by 1391. Birgitta was the first women ever to found a religious order, known as the Brigittines. The order spread swiftly throughout Europe with monasteries from Scandinavia throughout Europe, in particular Spain, Italy, Mexico and the USA. None of these foundations have brothers (except the U.S.A. which has one male convent.)

Sunday, 22 July 2018

St Mary Magdalen

St Mary Magdalen, meeting the Risen Christ
St. Mary Magdalene, whose liturgical feast is celebrated on July 22, is mentioned as one of the women who ministered to Jesus. The same passage also refers briefly to an act of exorcism performed on her, on an occasion when seven demons were cast out. These women, who earlier "had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities", later accompanied Jesus on his last journey to, and were witnesses to the Crucifixion. She was also the privileged first person to see Jesus risen from the tomb, an honor that was not given to any of the 12 apostles, but only to Mary Magdalene, probably in a way of thanking her for staying with Jesus till the end at the foot of the cross. This is the last mention in the Gospels of Mary of Magdala, who now returned to Jerusalem. She is probably included in the group of women who joined the Apostles in the Upper Room in Jerusalem after Jesus' Ascension and may have also been with the Blessed Mother at Pentecost.

Tradition as early as the third century identifies Mary Magdalene with Mary of Bethany and with the woman sinner who anointed Jesus' feet, even though she remains unnamed. The identification of Mary Magdalene with Mary of Bethany and "the woman who was a sinner" is reflected in an influential sermon Pope Gregory I gave in 591, which said: "She whom Luke calls the sinful woman, whom John calls Mary of Bethany, we believe to be the Mary from whom seven devils were ejected according to Mark.”
Mary had been looked upon as a great sinner, but Christ knew the circumstances that had shaped her life. It was He who had lifted her from despair and ruin. Seven times she had heard His rebuke of the demons that controlled her heart and mind. It was Mary who sat at His feet and learned of Him. It was Mary who poured upon His head the precious anointing oil and bathed His feet with her tears. Mary stood beside the cross and was first at the tomb after His resurrection. It was Mary who first proclaimed a risen Savior. According to Eastern traditions, she retired to Ephesus and there she died. Her relics were transferred to Constantinople in 886 and are there preserved.  Most importantly we honor today a woman who remained faithful to Jesus until the very end of her life.

Saturday, 21 July 2018

Youth to parents

A group of young people spoke to their parents in a group gathering. The parents were teachers, church leaders, social workers, doctors, lawyers, other professionals.
The young people told them: We need you to LISTEN to us. We need you to understand our plans, our dreams, our problems, our fears, so that you can guide us properly. We need you to TEACH us. We need to look at you and learn from your attitude, your beliefs, your values, your successes as well as your own failures. We need you to CONTROL us. If we are hurting ourselves, damaging our reputation and not helping our cause, we need you to provide us with professional and pastoral help. We need you to CHALLENGE us. Please remind us that we were created with a mission, and that with our work, our prayer life and our willpower, we can accomplish everything we dream of. Love us, Respect us and never give up on us.

Friday, 20 July 2018

Maria Tabone RIP

A great lady has passed into eternal life. Maria Tabone, the wife of Dr. Censu Tabone, past President of Malta,  died yesterday at the age of 98. Her husband died on March 14, 2012, also aged 98 – they were parents of 8 children, grandparents of 19 and great-grandparents of 38. Censu was also Malta’s most beloved politician, past President of the nation and above all a deeply devout and spiritual man. Behind every great man, there is always a strong woman who stays in the background, but whose influence can never be understated. The above photo shows him with his wife of 70 years, Maria and my mother on my 25th anniversary, June 19, 2002. A well-known ophthalmologist, he served in the military during World War II and entered politics at the age of 50. And Maria was the woman who stood by his side through thick and thin, in times of hardship and also on joyous occasions. They showed their greatness by their humility, never seeking attention.
Censu and Maria complimented each other all through their life. Censu the politician, Maria the simple housewife. Censu the Nation’s President, Maria the perfect domestic engineer.   Censu the ophthalmologist, Maria with the sharp foresight to manage her huge household. Censu the courteous gentleman, Maria the ever gracious and hospitable lady. Censu, always unassuming, Maria resilient and the symbol of perseverance. Censu the respected father, Maria the loving and doting mother. Censu the hobbyist clock-repairer, Maria the chef, the cake decorator. Censu the dispenser of  spiritual values, Maria, the devout and reverent role-model. Censu the humble statesman who mingled with the likes of Bush and Gorbachev and St John Paul II, Maria the kind neighbor who mingled with Cetta and Mari, with Dolor and Sunta, with Karmni and Felicia. Rest in Peace with your beloved Censu, dear Maria. Your work is finished here on earth, but your presence will surely embellish the halls of heaven.

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Keep your mouth shut

All the fish in the bottom of the sea were arguing. They were upset because many of them were being caught. So they called a meeting to discuss this important issue. They all agreed that they were being tricked by the fishermen’s hooks. Some of them said they were surprised because the hook was hidden in the bait. Others said they were just curious and were tricked. Yet others claimed that they actually never bothered to think of the consequences if they ate the food attached to the hook. Finally, an old experienced fish spoke up and brought the argument to a conclusion by saying: ‘Brothers and sisters, all that you are saying makes a lot of sense, but I believe that none of the fish would have been caught if they just kept their mouth shut!’
Who knows how many times we were disappointed by opening our mouth and said the wrong phrase. We would have been better off if we said nothing. Maybe we can really learn something worthwhile from an old experienced fish.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Effective make-up

To remove wrinkles from your face: try the famous cream SWEETNESS AND KINDNESS. It releases tension, revitalizes your face, and wrinkles disappear, making you look beautiful.
For your lips: Use that marvelous lip-stick SILENCE. It has tremendous power, especially on those lips that utter disgusting words and hurtful comments.
For delicate hands: Use the new cream called GENEROSITY. Make sure you have a large portion of it to use it sparingly and frequently. The more you give, the more you will have left to give.
For facial complexion: Try the ever-present 6 to 8 FRESH AIR which you will encounter as you head to church every morning between 6 and 8 AM – it will empower your soul and your face will lighten up.
For gorgeous eyes: A product that helps eyes become clearer is called EYESIGHT PURITY. Recommended to be used all the time and with everyone. It is essential to see the beauty in others’ eyes while retaining your own beauty in your own eyes.
An extraordinary cleaning agent: CONFESSION. Eliminates all stain and keeps you young looking always.
The best diet: Take a daily portion of that food that strengthens you without bloating you, makes you grow without aging you,  fills you without ever stuffing you. The product is called COMMUNION.
Important note: This make-up is good for everybody, young and old, girls and boys, skinny and chubby people, poor and wealthy.
Cost of this treatment: This is not a cheap treatment. Actually, it doesn’t cost any money, but if you follow it, you will have to make many sacrifices.
Guarantee: Using this make-up, you are guaranteed true beauty. It never expires but grows and grows and grows, making you the envy of all of your friends.