Probably 2024 will be known as the year when King Carnival pushed St Paul aside while the pagan, commercialised Cupid under the guise of St Valentine blew Ash Wednesday to smithereens.
It was King Carnival, not the beautiful Gafà statue of St Paul, which graced the streets of Valletta on February 10. This year, the Magnus had to find another date for his annual celebration.
Besides, this coming Wednesday most Maltese will celebrate St Valentine’s, not Ash Wednesday. Roses instead of ashes there will be aplenty. Overindulgence will replace fasting, moderated by a dose of the secular ritual of dieting. Vegetarian lovers will abstain from meat but most others will not bother.
The story says that St Valentine was martyred because he defied the edict of Claudius II who had banned marriages. Valentine kept on marrying people since he wanted to keep sexuality within the sacrament of marriage. It is no wonder that Cupid, the son of Venus and Mars, is today more popular with lovers than St Valentine.
Is this good or bad? One can discuss, agree, or disagree. What is truly clear is that the process of change is in top gear. The Catholic community and the institutional Church will either react intelligently or share the fate of the dinosaurs.
Many members of the Catholic community see and hear only evil about the world around us. They react by adopting a vision of Christianity as if it were a plan of evacuation. This is characterised by the fuga mundi mentality which preaches a flight from, if not a contempt of, the world.
Though exceedingly popular in spiritual literature, this attitude should not characterise the way Christians live in the world. Christianity is the religion of the Incarnation, which is God’s immersion into humanity and created reality. The Incarnation is not a plan of evacuation but a plan of regeneration of the world.
Christians need a regeneration plan that enables them to live in, love and free the world
Christians, therefore, instead of an attitude of contempt for the world need a regeneration plan that enables them to live in, love and free the world, making it a dignified place for all humans. Instead of retreating into their private space, Christians are expected to be in the centre of the public square, fully immersed in all things human.
Pope Francis’s message for Lent 2024 is a wake-up call for Christians urging them to be in the thick of the battle for a better humanity. He describes Lent as a time for realising God’s dream for humanity based on freedom and new criteria for justice, as God does not want subjects but sons and daughters. During Lent, Christians are invited to rebel against a model of growth that divides humans and robs us of a future.
“I invite every Christian community to offer its members moments set aside to rethink their lifestyles, times to examine their presence in society and the contribution they make to its betterment.”
Faced by the pope’s invite to contribute to the betterment of society, can Maltese Christians, for example, fail to react to the latest report of the International Monetary Fund? After noting the impressive growth of our economy, the IMF report added that “income inequality and poverty risks appear to be on the rise, with the elderly population showing signs of being increasingly at risk”.
The ecclesiastical institution can help the Christian community execute a regeneration plan only if it puts its own house in order by solving the problems that confront it.
Following my op-ed about priests and celibacy, a priest sent me a list of the main problems faced by the Church in Malta. I reproduce it not because I agree with every detail but because this priest is highly respected and he knows more than I do from my place on the periphery of the periphery. He wrote:
“Priests are completely left to fend for themselves. No one ever asks how we are, whether we need anything. A priest who left said that, if those responsible had been as caring as they have been since he left, he might still be a priest. Nothing tangible is being done to address the lack of priests, which is becoming very acute. Priests are divided into groups. Conservatives. Progressives. Nonchalant. Rebels. These divides have always existed but they were never so evident as they are today.
“There is a lack of concrete vision. Though there has been an effort to have a pastoral plan put into place, its vision is not in sync with everyday experience. There is a lack of information when it comes to finance and property. Feasts are alienating good people. We are just perpetuating them for the sake of the obsessed enthusiasts who very often have no faith at all. There is no direction on how to run a parish. In the past it was clear. Now it depends on whether the parish priest has any initiative or creativity.”
Serious as these problems are, the ecclesiastical establishment and the Catholic community should not let these problems hinder them from being a prophetic voice in our society. The plan of regeneration which Christianity is all about involves the combating of the deficit of hope which the pope speaks of. This deficit is stifling the dreams of many in society and inside the Church. It should denounce the demons that enslave us: corruption, discrimination, unsustainable lifestyles, the globalisation of indifference and the attachments that imprison us.
If these demons are not resisted, the roost will be ruled not by King Carnival and Cupid, who are relatively harmless, but by the powers that have atrophied most state institutions while using others to alienate the population.
As the pope writes in his Lenten message: it is time to act. I add: to act with urgency.