Call to Holiness
On 9th May 2001 His holiness John Paul II beatified Fr George Preca. While we rejoice that our Founder is now counted among the Blessed, it is worth studying his own path to holiness, so that we, as his spiritual children, may imitate him.
Blessed George Preca always preached the universal call to holiness. "In the year of the Lord," he clearly states "God is always ready to help you become holy, but some people do not become so because they do not really want to." In this regard, he was a forerunner of the Second Vatican Council, which stressed that holiness is not only for religious and priests but is open to all people of God.
Fr Preca understood this clearly nearly a hundred years ago. He preached and set sanctity as the ideal for every Member. His talks abound with examples taken from the life of the saints. He wanted everybody to become a saint. This was not a mere wish but something real. For this reason, he used to emphasize the evilness even of venial sins. This teaching sprang not from scrupulosity, but from an awareness that venial sins hinder a person from attaining full sanctity. This may sound strange but if we read the life of the St John of the Cross and St Theresa of Avila, we encounter the same emphasis on the evilness of venial sins.
In studying the path taken by our Founder Blessed George Preca, we find that his apostolate sprang from a deep interior life, based on meditation and spiritual reading, such as the "Imitation of Christ", the Bible, works of the Fathers, Doctors of the Church and other well-renowned spiritual writers. In his talks the Founder repeated "Nemo dat quod non habet", which means "Nobody gives from what one does not have". So during his life, he continued to contemplate Christ, to read the life of the Saints and to study theology.
He drew his inspiration from various schools of spirituality, for instance: from Jesuit, Dominican and Carmelite authors. But through meditation and study, guided by divine grace, he developed the "Museumine Spirituality". Besides the above masters, he used to read the Gospel in its simplicity as well as in its radicality. For example, he was truly evangelic when he preached the value of meekness. In the beginning of his apostolate, he was continually criticized in the newspapers. But he kept silent and like Christ he forgave all his enemies. In fact in The Great Book he wrote that one is not meek if he forgives all his enemies but continues to bear a grudge against only one.
His meditation and contemplation were fruitful, because they led him into active apostolate. He used to say that people do not love God because they are not taught to do us. Therefore he used all his talents and energy so that God can be loved by many people. He used to travel around the Maltese Islands teaching the people to follow Christ. Naturally, this was not an easy thing since at that time, unlike today there were no ferries and buses. It is true that the founder evangelized only Maltese towns and villages, but the meaning given to Museum is a truly missionary wish: "Divine Teacher, may the whole world follow the Gospel."
He employed all his energy to teach everybody to love God. For this intent, he also used to write pamphlets and books. He wrote in simple Maltese, with a clear message, so the members could have access to spiritual books. It should be noted that most of the first members knew only their native language, but since Fr Preca wrote in simple Maltese, no member could have the excuse that he was unable to read spiritual works.
While employing all his energy to teach about God, he also gave witness to his message by his deeds. In fact, although he was born of a rich family, he lived a very poor life, he forgave all his enemies, and always remained obedient to Church authorities. During the Second World War, a member offered him an extra portion of bread, but Blessed George Preca replied frankly: "War is a punishment from God for our God for sins, and like others I have to bear its consequences." That is the reason why so many people enjoyed themselves hearing him teaching Christian Doctrine. Besides, he imparted the Christian message in such a vivid way, with freshness and simplicity, that wherever he went he was followed by crowds of people. But he detested popularity and to counteract this, he used to kiss other people's feet.
Fr George Preca lived the gospel in heroic manner. But besides this he was a teacher and guide to others, so they could live a holy life. The fact that the Maltese Church is studying the life of Eugenio Borg, a close collaborator of Fr George and first Superior General of the Society, so that he too be declared blessed proves this. There is a saying that saints should be more admired than imitated. Naturally, this applies to Fr Preca's life. But he devised a path for others to become saints too.
The beatification of Fr Preca ought to stimulate us to be aware of how he guided others to live a truly and sound spiritual life. He clearly states in his forward to the "Watch" that although knowledge of Christian doctrine is necessary for sanctity, yet it is not attained without prayer. So he devised the The Watch so that every Member can live continually in God's presence.
The path to sanctity devised by the Founder is very simple but profound in its nature. Directive 480 of the "Spiritual Directory" says: "Saints never grumble. So, when you grumble about some adversity, examine your resignation to the will of God. No one has a right to grumble, for it is God who rules and governs everything according to his most holy will."
Fr Preca was also quite aware that the path to spiritual perfection is full of deceptions. For this purpose, he devised the "Spiritual Direction" given by mature members of the Society. This kind of spiritual direction was also mentioned by the Pope in his discourse given at Blata l-Bajda. The Founder believed that no one can persevere as a Member without this spiritual direction. In fact, when the rule was officially recognized by the Church authorities, he exclaimed with joy: "This rule was also accepted". He also used to say that no one can be his spiritual child without this spiritual direction.
Besides spiritual direction, he also emphasized the need for right intention. For this purpose, he wrote two books, and he used all his means to train the first Members, including Eugenio Borg, in this virtue. The right intention as taught by Fr Preca can lead us to a mature spiritual life, based solely on the love of Christ, with a deep wish to teach others what we already know.
May the Beatification of Fr George Preca inspire us to live a holy life in the way devised by our Founder, especially by his writings and the Rule.
Angelo Xuereb sdc
Qala - Gozo
Preca Calling - Issue 50 (July 2001)