Last Wednesday, we celebrated the feast of St George Preca. While some people still cherish a personal memory of this priest, most of us never met him since he died in 1962. Maybe we have heard stories about him, came across excerpts of his writings, and remember his beatification and canonisation ceremonies. Yet it will come as no surprise for us if we were to learn that many Maltese, particularly the majority of Generation Z, know very little about Fr Preca and/or why he is called a saint. Besides the fact that we live in a culture with no memory, our age is characterised by various understandings of what constitutes goodness and holiness.
Indeed, what is holiness? What makes someone a saint? Recently, Pope Francis attempted to answer these questions and shared his views in an easy-to-read document entitled Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and Be Glad). The core of his message is twofold: everyone is called to, and can become a saint, and the path of holiness extends beyond the parameters of the temple.
Holiness is not about success, but about fidelity to small things. It is real and unfolds through concrete actions
The temple is fundamental for believers because it is there that we find the Word and the food for the journey; however, holiness also consists of following the roadmap of the Beatitudes and of what Francis calls “the Great Criterion” (cf. Mt 25) in daily life.
A person becomes holy when one genuinely tries to live his or her everyday life in love, meekness and joy, when one perseveres through tough moments with patience and humility, when one makes sincere gestures of kindness or bold sacrifices, like deciding not to pass on gossip or judge others, and when one sees his or her own life as a mission for others, particularly those in need who cannot pay one back in any way.
Speaking of the saints ‘next door’, Francis writes: “I like to contemplate the holiness present in the patience of God’s people: in those parents who raise their children with immense love, in those men and women who work hard to support their families, in the sick, in elderly religious who never lose their smile. In their daily perseverance I see the holiness of the Church militant. Very often it is a holiness found in our next-door neighbours, those who, living in our midst, reflect God’s presence. We might call them ‘the middle class of holiness’.”
These words echo the message of Chapter 9 of Amoris Laetitia, the forgotten chapter on the spirituality of marriage and the family: “The Lord’s presence dwells in real and concrete families, with all their daily troubles and struggles, joys and hopes.”
They also remind us of a woman whose sanctity is acclaimed beyond the borders of the Church. Mother Teresa of Calcutta spoke of holiness not as the luxury of a few but as a simple duty for every person. For her, holiness consists in the acceptance of God with a smile, at all times, anywhere and everywhere. It is not about success, but about fidelity to small things. It is real and unfolds through concrete actions. In her own words,“holiness grows fast where there is kindness”, because “works of love are works of holiness”.
Fr Kevin Schembri is a lecturer at the Faculty of Theology and a member of staff at the Ecclesiastical Tribunal.
To help people deepen their understanding of faith, spirituality or pastoral ministry, the Faculty of Theology at the University of Malta is offering an array of courses starting in October. For the first time, a bachelor honours degree in theology will be offered as an evening course at the University’s Gozo campus. I encourage all those interested to visit the faculty’s website below and consider enrolling in one of these programmes.
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