Tag Archives: Catholic

Malta – a Tiny Mediterranean Country with a Huge Holy Week Celebration

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 While living in Tunisia, and as part of the process of establishing residence, we needed to do an exit/re-entry trip. The closest, cheapest option was a quick trip to Malta. It was a surprising cultural experience, a very different one after our first months as foreigners living in North Africa.

Right when we entered the exit hall of the Malta airport, we saw an enormous sign with the word, “Jesus Saves”. Having grown up in the USA’s Bible Belt, we would see that sign all along the highways, but it was a breath-taking sight in an international airport.

During our few days in the tiny island nation of Malta, we stayed in a the lovely fishing village of Marsaxlokk (thanks to the recommendation of friends). The Maltese people were a blend of all the cultures who, over centuries, populated this strategic island in the Mediterranean Sea. The language is fascinating – a Semitic language (similar to Arabic and Hebrew), phonetically written in Latin script. We actually understood a lot of what was said as it was a mix of Arabic and Italian (we knew some of the Arabic, Italian not so much). English was the second language which made it really easy for us to find our way around.IMG_0004The kids loved it as much as we did. The bed-and-breakfast where we stayed had a hearty breakfast (ham and eggs, thick slices of homemade bread, and cornflakes as well). We spent all the days outside, exploring, visiting the street markets, and eating local food. The “food truck” hot dogs we devoured as we walked along the seawall were the best I remember. They may also remember that it was in Malta where we started their Playmobil collection – buying several little characters in one of the street markets. So much fun.IMG_0007

Malta is so small that we could visit any town easily via the public bus system. We spent a couple of days in the capital city of Valletta. I probably don’t remember this correctly, but it seemed all the streets flowed down to the sea. There were Catholic churches everywhere. We even found The Collegiate Parish Church of St Paul’s Shipwreck which was built sometime in the 1570s. It honors Jesus’ apostle Paul as Malta’s spiritual father. Paul first arrived there quite violently through a storm and shipwreck, as a prisoner of Rome. The story of this shipwreck is recounted in great detail in the Bible, including a description of the kindness of the Maltese people toward Paul and every single ship passenger miraculously saved.IMG_0008

The most intriguing events we encountered in our visit to Malta were the Good Friday processionals. There were parades, passion plays, and countless other displays memorializing the crucifixion of Christ. Church bells rang constantly across the island through that whole day. Every single church, it appeared, participated in some sort of ceremony marking the Via Dolorosa (Jesus’ “way of suffering”). We were watching a parade, and, quite remarkably by accident, found ourselves at the front of a huge cathedral where a processional had just begun. IMG_0013

Life-size statues depicting the fourteen stations of the Cross were being carried one by one, out of the cathedral, by several men dressed in white. These pall-bearers must have been members of the church and, by their faces and posture, took their role in this ceremony very seriously. Not being Catholic ourselves, we were still keenly aware of the spiritual import this had to those around us. We felt very privileged to have happened on such a large display of their reverence…especially to Jesus.Blog - Holy Week - Malta

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It was a Good Friday that I will never forget. We had long talks as a family over supper that day as the children had seen things they’d never seen before. What things we as Protestants and Catholics disagree on paled in comparison to what we agreed on, regarding that day. Holy God, the one God of the universe, made a way, on that day centuries before, for all of humanity, estranged in our sin, to be restored in relationship to Him. It was indeed a Good Friday.

Holy or Black Saturday (as it’s called depending on one’s tradition) was a quieter day for us. It’s the day between Good Friday and Easter (or Resurrection Sunday) – separating the sorrow of the death of Christ and the joy of the Christ risen from the dead. In Malta that weekend, my memory of the day was that it was more subdued. Our time away from Tunisia was winding down also.

On Easter Sunday, the church bells rang again. This time was different from the Good Friday bells, chiming darkly as a funeral dirge dark. This day, the bells rang out, all through the towns and villages, with a joyful noise, somehow full of expectancy. Right before we returned home to Tunis, we worshipped that Easter Sunday, in a very small Baptist church. After all the pageantry of the Catholic celebrations, our worship in this little Protestant church may have seemed meager in comparison. It was just right for our little family – on an Easter Sunday, far from our home church in the US and our new life in Tunisia. Worshipping together, in a language somewhat familiar, we celebrated God’s victory over death and the life He offers to us, through the risen Savior. Hallelujah!

Easter in Malta – A Quick Guide to Holy Week

Good Friday in Malta – Fourteen Stations of the Cross

The Fishing Village of Marsaxlokk, Malta

Live Cam from Marsaxlokk, Malta

The Maltese Islands – At a Glance

The Culture of Malta Explained

3 Important Influences in Maltese Culture

Language of Malta – Malti – a Semitic Language with Latin Script

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Worship Wednesday – Ash Wednesday – A Lenten Devotional by Jim Denison

Blog - Lent - Ash Wednesday - from article by Jim Denison“An evil spirit of this kind is only driven out by prayer and fasting.” – Matthew 17:21

It wasn’t until I was six years old that church became any sort of meaningful in my life. My mom worked all the time in those days, and finally, after a last-resort divorce, she settled us into a better life of meager means and lavish love. It was then that we responded to an invitation of neighbors, and a weary single mom and four eager children met the welcome care of a loving church. Our experience was small town Bible-Belt Baptist, and that set the foundation for my understanding of God. In fact, when I signed up for a World Religions course as a college freshman, I thought it would only be about Christianity.

My first experience with Lent was seeing my best friend on a Wednesday long ago, after she had disappeared from our usual routine. We met for lunch and she had this mysterious, ashen cross smudged on her forehead. I resisted the urge of just lovingly wiping it off for her, thinking she was unaware of it. Pointing it out instead, she taught me my first lessons on Lent – on repentance, fasting (sacrifice), the Cross and the Resurrection of Christ. All of that was gloriously real for me already, except for setting aside 40 days of resolve prior to the celebration of Easter.

For years, I still didn’t take Lent very seriously and still don’t know quite how to incorporate it into my life…except that my thinking is changing. In this world gone mad, I am more convinced than ever that we as the Church need to stand together for the sake of the nations and for the glory of God. If in Lent, I can find elements that help me see God and my own need for Him more clearly, then I want to integrate Lenten practice into my life.

That said, Jim Denison has written a beautiful 40-day devotional for this year’s Lenten season. It’s entitled Transformed – How Stories of the Cross Are Changing the World*. A dear friend gave me the paper copy, but I encourage you to take advantage to the free download and start reading, praying, and fasting (as God leads) today.2015 Blog on Easter Lenten Devotional & American Idol 004

Corporate month-long fasting has never been a draw for me, as I was always completely sure it would be a fail for me. While we lived in North Africa, and especially in Egypt, fasting was very much a part of my Muslim and Christian neighbors’ lives. Even those Christians who were evangelical (from Coptic backgrounds) saw the importance of fasting. Their awareness of the evil of sin in the world and the need for drastic measures lined up solidly with Jesus’ own life and teaching on this.

For the past several years, during Lent, I read Adrian Plass’ book The Unlocking – God’s Escape Plan for Frightened People. It was also a gift from a good friend. There’s a lot in this world that’s frightening these days. Yet God is still God and is at work in the midst of so much crazy. I believe Him at His word. Full stop. We have a role in dealing with what we see in the world. As Jesus told His disciples (Matthew 17:21), there is evil that we can only battle, from our side, with prayer and fasting. This is a strength in a true observance of Lent.Blog - Lent - Easter (3)

As we grieve so much death around us in these days, and as we look to Easter, I would like to close with a prayer from Adrian Plass’ book:

“Loving heavenly Father, I want to try to tackle this business of loving enemies. First of all I’m going to sit quietly here and go through a mental list of the folk who I would call my enemies. Help me to be really honest…I don’t want to leave anyone out….I’ve done it, Lord. There are rather a lot, and some of them I really hate. But You made it quite clear that You can’t forgive me if I don’t forgive them, so I’ll start the process, even if it takes a long time to mean it. Love them for me, Lord, and please accept my prayers for their welfare and safety. Soften my hard heart as the days go by, until I begin to see them through Your eyes. Thank You for forgiving me. Amen.”

For these forty-plus days before Easter, I will be reading Transformed; referring back to the book-marked portions of The Unlocking; reflecting on God and the goodness and wisdom He displays through Jesus’ life and teachingresisting (fasting from) those money- and time-stealers that distract me from larger issues; repenting of the sins of neglect and indifference; and remembering to pray and reach out to God and those around me as His vessel for His purposes among the nations.

Denison Forum

*pdf 2015 Lenten Devotional Transformed – How Stories of the Cross are Changing the World by Jim Denison

Why is Lent Relevant for Evangelicals? by Jim Denison

Evangelicals Embracing (and Rejecting) Lent by Trevin Wax

Lenten Observances – Eastern & Western Traditions

The Coptic Church and Worship

A Catholic Homily for this Ash Wednesday in memory of the Coptic Christians killed last week [Beautiful blog – I do not believe in praying to anyone except God; still I appreciate the call to all of us to remember others caught in the cross-fire of evil in this world. Praying for their families and for those who are unfortunately enemies of the church.]

Photo Credit – Ash Wednesday – Jennifer Balaska via en.wikipedia.org