How wonderful is God among his saints: come, let us adore him.
Year: C(I). Psalm week: 3. Liturgical Colour: White.
Saint George Preca (1880 - 1962)
George was born in Valetta, Malta, growing up not far from the Carmelite Shrine church there. At the age of four, he nearly drowned in the Grand Harbour, but was rescued by a passing boatman. When his family later told the story they would joke that he had been rescued from the waters, like Moses. George, recalling that the rescue had happened on the 16th July, feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, attributed his rescue to the protection of the same Lady. As a young man, George was enrolled in the Carmelite scapular and later joined the Third Order. Attracted to the service of the priesthood, George joined the seminary and was ordained a priest in 1906, inspired by a personal mission to convert the world.
Early on, Father George (‘Dun Gorg’ in Maltese) noticed the lack of genuine faith education amongst the young people of Malta. Their religion was built around festivals and formalities, with little connection to their interior lives and a truer following of Jesus. His vision for something more and his lived integrity attracted a circle of young men around him who gathered for prayer, discussion and ultimately to work as lay missionaries in parishes and villages around Malta. His society was known as MUSEUM, which stood for Magister, Utinam Sequatur Evangelium Universus Mundos, or “Master, would that the whole world would follow the Gospel.” A society of laymen who would teach the catechism to the people while receiving instruction themselves was unheard of at the time, and it took twenty-five years and much tension with the Church authorities (including at one point the closure of the Society’s houses) before the Society’s existence was officially approved. It continued its work throughout World War II even in the places where members fled from the violence as refugees.
Dun Gorg continued preaching and writing, drawing on the rich spiritual writings of Carmelites Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, as well as his models as a Third Order Carmelite, Elijah and Mary. He had a flair for making Carmelite thoughts, teachings and traditions clear and simple for working people. In 1951 Malta celebrated the Seventh Centenary of the Brown Scapular, with Father George at the forefront. In the same year the Carmelite Prior General, Killian Lynch, formally affiliated him to the Carmelite family.
He composed the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary in 1957. He died in 1962, and was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on 3 June 2007, being described as “Malta’s second father in faith” after St Paul. Today the Society has over a thousand members and is responsible for the teaching of some 20,000 young people in the Maltese islands, the UK, Australia, Peru, Albania, Kenya and the Sudan.
Today's Gospel: "With all your mind"
Sometimes there is a message for us in some words of the Gospel that even the evangelists don’t notice. There is an example here, hidden in words so uninteresting that we can’t even be sure who said them. Matthew and Mark say Jesus, while Luke says the scribe.
Jesus (or the scribe) appears to be quoting from the Old Testament, but one phrase does not exist in any text of the Commandments: that we should love the Lord our God with all our mind.
It is easy not to notice this phrase, and indeed Matthew, Mark and Luke don’t notice it. We know this because normally when Jesus departs from the Old Testament it is noticed, and remarked upon, and made the subject of a whole “But I say to you…” discourse.
There are two aspects to this. One is what it says about the past, the other is what it says to us. The past is straightforward. The Jews have never been “people of the Book” in the sense of believing in the Bible and nothing but the Bible. They have, it is true, had a peculiar reverence for every sacred word, but they have lived not in unthinking obedience to those words alone but in a dialogue, you might even say in a relationship, with the sacred text. So the fact that “all your mind” appears here, without attracting notice or comment, must mean that it had become a part of the generally accepted interpretation of the words of Scripture. When, centuries after the Pentateuch, the Jews came across the new, Greek ways of thinking – as the Wisdom literature shows that they did – they immediately realised that this new thing called “mind” was included, no doubt about it, in the commandment to love.
What this says to us is more important than just a footnote in the history of ideas. It is the foundation and justification of all science. God does not command the impossible. If he is to be loved with the mind, that can only be because he is lovable with the mind, or, to detheologize the language, because Ultimate Being can be related to rationally. The Gospel phrase tells us that things make sense and that we have the equipment to make sense of them.
What does omnipotence mean? Does it mean that the Omnipotent can do anything at all? If that were true, all science would be at an end. If God willed that when I dropped a glass on the floor it would shatter, then even if God had willed the same whenever anyone in the past had ever dropped a glass, that would still not bind God. God would still be free to decide, if I dropped a glass on the floor now, that this particular glass, alone among all the glasses in history, should bounce and not break.
Which is to say: on this interpretation of divine omnipotence, science is impossible. We cannot predict the result of an experiment, because next time God may decide differently. We cannot even lay down laws of nature based on previous experience, because to call a law a “law” is to claim to be able to bind God, which is blasphemy.
This is not merely an academic quibble. When the 11th-century Muslim philosopher al-Ghazāli propounded this very idea, it captured the mainstream of Islamic thinking and led to the virtual suicide of science in Islam and the abandonment of rational thinking about the physical world, as being unnecessary, or sacrilegious, or both.
We are saved from this by this one little phrase in the Gospel, about loving God with all our mind. It is more than mere permission, it is a command to understand, to go out and do science, and it was followed whenever Christians had leisure to think. It led to the dazzling 13th-century renaissance and the birth of modern science, and we are still living through its consequences.
As for divine omnipotence, this is not the place to go into it in detail, but the answer to al-Ghazāli must surely be that God can indeed make the glass bounce, but God cannot make the glass bounce and still be God, since to break the laws and regularities of nature whimsically and without reason would be to abandon lovability-with-the-mind. This is exactly the argument that theologians use against pointless or frivolous miracles, but it applies to science as well, and to the possibility of doing science at all.
About the author of the Second Reading in today's Office of Readings:
Second Reading: St John Chrysostom (349 - 407)
John was born in Antioch. After a thorough education, he took up the ascetic life. He was ordained to the priesthood, and became a fruitful and effective preacher.
He was elected Patriarch of Constantinople in 397, and was energetic in reforming the ways of the clergy and the laity alike. He incurred the displeasure of the Emperor and was twice forced into exile. When the second exile, to Armenia, had lasted three years, it was decided that he should be sent still further away, but he died on the journey, worn out by his hardships.
His sermons and writings did much to explain the Catholic faith and to encourage the living of the Christian life: his eloquence earned him the surname “Chrystostom” (the Greek for “golden mouth”).
Liturgical colour: white
White is the colour of heaven. Liturgically, it is used to celebrate feasts of the Lord; Christmas and Easter, the great seasons of the Lord; and the saints. Not that you will always see white in church, because if something more splendid, such as gold, is available, that can and should be used instead. We are, after all, celebrating.
In the earliest centuries all vestments were white – the white of baptismal purity and of the robes worn by the armies of the redeemed in the Apocalypse, washed white in the blood of the Lamb. As the Church grew secure enough to be able to plan her liturgy, she began to use colour so that our sense of sight could deepen our experience of the mysteries of salvation, just as incense recruits our sense of smell and music that of hearing. Over the centuries various schemes of colour for feasts and seasons were worked out, and it is only as late as the 19th century that they were harmonized into their present form.
|Mid-morning reading (Terce)||Galatians 6:7-8 ©|
What a man sows, he reaps. If he sows in the field of self-indulgence he will get a harvest of corruption out of it; if he sows in the field of the Spirit he will get from it a harvest of eternal life.
|Noon reading (Sext)||1 Corinthians 9:26-27 ©|
That is how I run, intent on winning; that is how I fight, not beating the air. I treat my body hard and make it obey me.
|Afternoon reading (None)||Philippians 4:8,9 ©|
My brothers, fill your minds with everything that is true, everything that is noble, everything that is good and pure, everything that we love and honour, and everything that can be thought virtuous or worthy of praise. Then the God of peace will be with you.