Thursday, May 10, 2007

Blessed George Preca: the Maltese beacon

Yesterday, May 9, the Maltese Church celebrated the feast day of Fr. George (Ġorġ, in Maltese) Preca, the humble man from Malta who founded the Society of Christian Doctrine, a Catholic lay community that anticipated Vatican II and changed the face of the island's faithful forever. Now Malta is perhaps the most Catholic country on the planet, and they owe it all to a native who refused to be honored or photographed, and wasn't supposed to live past his ordination.

George was born in Valletta, Malta's capital, on February 12, 1880, the seventh of nine children. As a toddler, he almost drowned in the Grand Harbor, but a sailor named Michael rescued him—years later he would kid Fr. Preca, "Like Moses, I saved you from the waters." As an altar boy, George loved to teach catechism to the younger kids and was already boning up on the Bible and the lives of the saints. At sixteen, St. Alphonsus Ligouri's Preparation for Death would have a tremendous effect on him. That reading, combined with the fact that George almost died from a lung ailment when he was twenty-five, combined to impress Preca to always keep an eye on eternity. "How could I become attached to the world when from day to day I was expecting death?" Preca explained, and continued to recommend Liguori's book for the remainder of his life.

Although the respected Dr. Enrico Meli told George's dad his son's condition was so bad, "there is no point buying him priestly vestments," George lived to the ripe old age of eighty-two. He was miraculously cured by the intercession of St. Joseph just days before his scheduled ordination. Just as in his altar boy days, once ordained, Fr. George was drawn to teach the country's youth. He realized from experience that the young men and women of Malta were badly catechized, and at a time where the anti-clerical Modernist movement was making its way to Malta from nearby Italy, Preca knew he must move fast to remedy this. Soon, God gave George the vision of a lay society consisting of single young men and women whom he would teach, and they, as apostles remaining in their regular worldly occupations rather than becoming religious, would educate the masses. With his confessor's approval, Preca founded his first group, made up mostly of dock workers. The devout young men joked with Father that they wanted to be known as the "Museum," "since we preserve the most precious things on earth!" Pleased with his new recruits' enthusiasm, Preca then came up with some inspired Latin words for the abbreviation M.U.S.E.U.M. on his own; "Magister Utinam Sequatur Evangelium Universus Mundus," translated, "Master, may the whole world follow the Gospel," and the mission began.

At its beginnings, Preca's Society suffered greatly at the hands of both religious authorities and the Maltese people. George's bishop, Bishop Caruana, just couldn't comprehend a religious society composed solely of lay people, and he ordered Preca to disband the group several times. Meanwhile, folks in the public square would make hand motions at M.U.S.E.U.M. members indicating they were crazy when they walked by. And to be honest, Preca WAS crazy, at least by our earthly standards. He had several holy (if peculiar) habits, such as bending down to kiss the feet of strangers as they walked by to show he was their humble servant. The bishop banned him from this activity as well and, as with the bishop's M.U.S.E.U.M. order, George immediately and obediently complied. "In your good works, when you seek to glorify God, it doesn't really matter if you succeed or fail," Fr. George told his followers, urging them for now to continue the study of the Gospel without him.

Well to make a long story short, George's bishop never did allow Preca to start kissing people's feet again in public. But after seeing the M.U.S.E.U.M.'s fruit, the bishop allowed Father to resume as its head (although George would always deny this title, saying St. Paul, Malta's first missionary, was its true founder) and the group eventually gained ecclesiastical approval (in 1932) and spread to Australia, Kenya, Peru, Albania, the Sudan and England. Yet Malta remains the place where Preca's presence is most strongly felt. In an era where even recently strong Catholic countries like Ireland and Poland are falling into the grips of godless government, Malta remains almost completely firm in the faith, and is one of the few places left on earth where abortion is still banned. So today I declare with the Maltese that Blessed Preca's sainthood with its universal feast day (George will be canonized on June 3, 2007) cannot come soon enough. Now more than ever we need the Maltese Beacon's light to shine on the whole world as it does in his favored native land. Blessed George Preca, pray for us!

In this month of May, we should also note Blessed Preca's many Marian Devotions including bowing down three times before a picture of Our Lady of Good Counsel (in honor of her Immaculate Conception, Divine Motherhood, and Heavenly Assumption) and saying the Rosary. Also, he considered the wearing of the Brown Scapular and the Miraculous Medal to be indispensable; Preca would no more consider going outside without those than without clothes. "Because the Blessed Virgin is always ready to intercede for us," Father would constantly remind his members, "we should never lose hope of Salvation."

1 comment :

Pristinus Sapienter said...

From my readings, I have developed a love and respect for the Maltese second to none. These folks have what it takes in war and peace, in faith and hope. What a wonderful example to the world. It can be no wonder that these sainted folk fostered this new Saint George, and that he returned the grace-filled favor.

Thanks for the information and your thoughts for our own meditations and prayers. And, now all I have to do is drop to my knees to get off to the M.U.S.E.U.M., eh?