The Spirit of Prayer
Those who knew Father Preca well can vouch for his life of prayer. Various people prayed with him; several saw him pray. All were impressed, not only by the way he formulated and pronounced his prayers, but mostly by the manner his face was transformed during prayer, revealing the deep relationship he surely must have been in while conversing with God.
He often recommended the habitual awareness of the presence of God. He used to say, "In Him we live, in Him we move, and in Him we are -we live in Him as a fish in water."; He practised this himself for everything, indeed, even such petty things as a mere fruit, lifted up his thought to God.
A young priest once asked Fr. Preca to suggest a book for his morning meditation. "Why for morning meditation only?" retorted Fr. Preca, "Is prayer to be confined to a fIXed hour of day? Shouldn't we rather think of God all the time?" Not that Fr. Preca was against having fixed times for prayer, but he wanted to drive home the importance of habitual prayer.
In a little pamphlet written by Fr. Preca: The One and Only Object for our Thought, after stating that God is continually caring for us, he asks: "Wouldn't it be expedient that even we think of him all the time?" He himself replies that man, being so prone to distraction because of his commitments, is unable to be continuously thinking of God, but he who earnestly seeks union with God, ought to avail himself of means that remind him of God.
To this end Fr. Preca used to encourage "The Memory Exercise". By this mental exercise one is invited to recall some Gospel event or teaching, bearing some resemblance to the situation one happens to be in. Thus, when one is suf- fering a headache, one thinks of Christ's crowning with thorns; or, on waking up, one remembers Christ's coming out of the tomb to a new life, and so forth.
In order that this exercise be more fruitful and less difficult to practise, Fr . Preca recommended the diligent study of Christ's life and teaching. "Befriend yourself with the Gospels"; he frequently advised us. The Gospels were indeed Fr. Preca's manual. He quoted various parts from memory. He continued reading from the Gospel even on his death bed. When the nun who was looking after him asked him if the reading was tiring him, he exclaimed: "I am enjoy- ing the Gospel of Christ!"
Most of Fr. Preca's books lead to prayer. The Watch, intended for the members of his Society, prescribes a prayer for each quarter hour of the day: so much did Fr. Preca wish them to be men or women of prayer. Indeed, he was more than convinced that prayer was indispensable for their spiritual growth and the success of their apostolate. An intensive study of his writings cannot but lead to the conclusion that their writer was thoroughly immersed in God.
Each time he preached in a MUSEUM Mission (a series of conferences spread over a fortnight, which figuratively he called in Maltese Sajda, i.e. "a Fishing Expedition"), he exhorted his listeners to be people of prayer. He recommended particularly the frequent repetition of the prayer: "Lord God, I am yours: whatever you will, I will; whatever you do not will, I do not will either." Another short prayer he desired that everybody should recite daily, especially before retiring for the night, is: "Thank You, Lord God; forgive me, Lord God."
In his book on Prayer, Fr. Preca wrote: "Prayer is the truly comforting food and drink for every wayfarer in this vale of tears:
"0 man, unable as you are to see all things, how do you dare tread on without the support of Him who sees everything?"
"0 man, ignorant as you are of all that is knowledgeable, how do you venture on without the helping hand of Him who knows everythirig?"
"0 man, helpless as you are against the might of lions, how do you expect to advance on without Him who is strength itself?"
"0 man, if you do not possess all things, how can you keep on moving without Him to whom everything belongs?"
"We are from God: therefore we should be thankful!"
"We are God's: therefore we should exercise acceptance!"
"We are for God: therefore we should practise prayer."
Like all other Servants of God, Fr. Preca's holiness is inseparable from his life of prayer. No wonder he used to repeat the words of St. Alphonse de Liguori: "He who prays is saved; he who does not, perishes."
Gaetano Brimmer sdc