Why we still need saints
This year, the Society of Christian Doctrine is commemorating the 50th anniversary since the death of San Ġorġ Preca, still more affectionately known by many as Dun Ġorġ. For those who remember the saint, there isn’t much one can add, but for generation Y, Dun Ġorġ’s relevance to their lives may not be that easy to see at all.
It was late in the evening of Thursday, July 26, 1962, when Dun Ġorġ died. One may ask, why does one chose to commemorate the life of a person who passed away half a century ago?
It was precisely with this in mind that the SDC held a symposium last Friday on the theme ‘The world still needs the witness of saints’, aimed at we who strive to give meaning to the present.
Some people enjoy that rare quality of simplicity that makes them look special. From time to time, the world enjoys the presence of individuals who do not go against the grain just for the sake of it, but are able to transcend the status quo only because they are rooted in the present.
Dun Ġorġ was such a person.
How else would you explain the fact that while the hierarchy and Maltese politicians spoke Italian, and the colonial government communicated in English, Dun Ġorġ wrote and spoke in Maltese?
And what would you say of a young man in his 20s, in 1907 when most of the people where illiterate, befriending a group of young men, mainly all Drydocks workers, and teaching them Theology and the Sacred Scriptures? And three years later doing the same with women?
Dun Ġorġ created these novelties in a manner that was as natural as breathing. It seemed for him that to be holy meant to be fully human, and to be human meant to be of service to the person closest to you. This was basically the heart of the message of last Friday’s symposium.
Was Dun Ġorġ extraordinary? Maybe the best answer would be that he did the ordinary in an extraordinary way.
Do you find it belittling to dedicate yourself to the service of the young? Dun Ġorġ didn’t. This was because he believed the best gift you can give someone is sound instruction. ‘Sound instruction is the basis of all good deeds’ was a maxim he lived by.
When one believes in the human person, when one is guided by the principle that every human being is created in God’s image and likeness, one is ready to go out of one’s way to teach others what is objectively true and good.
Dun Ġorġ was one who could transcend the here and now, because he lived by the principle that every person is potentially holy, in the same way that a caterpillar is potentially a butterfly.
One other aspect in Dun Ġorġ’s life and teachings, and its relevance today, that was dealt with during the symposium, was his fascination with the Mystery of the Incarnation.
God undertook the marvellous step of becoming human so that He could make His love and care tangible to us. Verbum Dei caro factum est (The Word of God was made flesh) were words he contemplated on very often.
For him, to reach out to God one needed no artificial prayer or contrived spiritual systems. Talking to Jesus was as talking to a friend, and this is all there is to enter into a deep relationship with God.
Another principle that is very relevant today, and because of which Dun Ġorġ was much sought after, was his acceptance of vulnerability. For him, vulnerability was another word for incarnation, an essential component of our humanness.
That is why he used to encourage people to lead their lives based on the maxims of diet, quiet and merriment.
He used to remind his friends that every thought that disturbs you is surely not coming from God. We definitely all need this recipe to live by today too.
Dun Ġorġ encouraged a spiritual life not for the elite, but for those whose spirit is humble and meek. The world still has a lot to gain from such people.