The Right Intention

Reading a time-hallowed classic such as The Imitation of Christ of Kempis, from the fourteenth century, or meditation manuals such as My Daily Bread, you will definitively come across the subject of right intention. If you were to study the moral aspect of human behaviour, or come to understand the relevant sections of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992), or encyclicals like the Veritatis Splendor (1993), you will again have to reflect about the importance of the right intention. In today's language, people may refer to right intention with other terms like single-mindedness or the motivation of human acts.

The Danish Christian and existentialist philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813-55) names one of his famous "edifying discourses" as the Purity of Heart is to will one thing. This "up-building" talk, written in 1846 and published in March 1847, questions the hearer, or the reader, if one is really living an integrated life. But Kierkegaard generally fails to untie the complex maze of motivation: the real energy behind the willing of the one thing. Simply put, we can will and do the right thing for the wrong reason: hence the right intention.

Having a right intention means briefly that one seeks God's glory in whatever one does, says or thinks. Seeking the will and glory of God is indeed a recurrent and rich theme throughout the Bible. Hence it is no wonder that Blessed George Preca sought to cultivate this attitude in him and in others. He eventually wrote: "If people had a real notion of who God is and understand his glory, they would surely not think twice to disregard their own interests for God's sake. On the contrary, they would feel fortunate to sacrifice their glory, their happiness, and even their life, for the sake of his glory" (The Right Intention, Session 29).

During his homily at the Beatification Mass at Floriana, Malta, on 9 May 2001, His Holiness John Paul II synthesised thus the life work of Fr Preca (1880 - 1962): "Was it not Dun George's ability to communicate the freshness of the Christian message that made him the great apostle that he was?"

Blessed George Preca became a "great apostle" through his exemplary life, his preaching, and also through his numerous writings. He believed intensely in the effectiveness of the written word. In spite of his untiring and unceasing apostolate, he spent hours writing. So far some 140 books and booklets are known to have been penned by him. He himself read widely from borrowed books. Apart from the Bible, and especially the New Testament which he knew almost by heart, Fr Preca was conversant with the main writings of the eminent Masters of theology and the spiritual life.

The subjects covered in his writings are wide and varied. But three virtues stand out both in his lively sermons and in his books: humility, meekness and right intention. The insistence by Blessed Preca on the importance of the right intention in human actions was so frequent that he came to be known as "the Preacher of the Right Intention". He wrote two books on the subject. In 1931 he issued a booklet of daily meditations on the right intention for each day of the month of June. The second book is a more developed treatise and was published in 1945. It was re-issued by the Society of Christian Doctrine in 1999. At the beginning of 2003 this 1945 treatise was translated and issued in English.

The book consists of an Introduction and thirty-five (35) Sessions. In the English version, Session 34 was deliberately left out. It is a lengthy casuistry containing 70 short cases exemplifying right intention in practice. These life experiences are somewhat too culturally nuanced, and a few similar ones are given in the main text.

Not all Sessions are of equal length. Some may have philosophical and psychological content and are a bit difficult and need concentration to follow.

Some of the longest, however, are masterly treatises in their own right. For example Session 15 on "The right intention and deception", perhaps the longest, is a coherent presentation on the traditional temperaments: phlegmatic, melancholic, sanguine, and choleric, and how they influence human actions and how they incline one to different deceits. Session 17 on "Vainglory" is also a long one, as well as Session 21 on "Signs of true right intention". "Numerous signs show whether or not one has right intention. First one has to consider indifference to success...". Then there is impartiality or "the avoidance of being particular"; keeping "oneself unperturbed and calm when persecuted for doing good"; "modesty and silence"; and "rejoicing that good is being done". Since Fr Preca believes that only a few act from a truly right intention (see Session 27), he gives these and other signs as help in our self-examen. "How embarrassing it may be for us not to see any of these signs in ourselves!" Regarding the self-examen, Fr Preca in the Introduction exclaims: "Oh, the self-examination! How essential it is that one examines oneself to come to know one's standing before God - whether God is really pleased with one's behaviour!"

Session 32 on "Jesus Christ and right intention" is a digest of Christ's spirit for "Christ came to teach us how to glorify God". "Simplicity is the mark and the sign of the Gospel: in other words right intention is the first characteristic of the very spirit of Jesus Christ." The Right Intention is a seminal book among the most essential writings of Fr Preca. The end result is a salutary text for all those who want to take their spiritual life seriously, avoid deceptions and render maximum glory to God.

Joseph Abdilla sdc
Blata l-Bajda - Malta