The Malta Independent 21 May 2022, Saturday

Life in tandem – Keeping pace with grace

Tuesday, 18 January 2022, 09:58 Last update: about 5 months ago

Author: Edward Farrugia sj. Publisher: Preca Publications 2021.

Review by Paul Chetcuti sj

Reading Fr Edward's book was for me like being enchanted by a traditional Maltese festa fireworks display. Myriad explosions of deep insights, revealing anecdotes, learned theological and patristic connections harmoniously compete to outshine and outperform one another in glorious bursts of light and colour. Each explosion is a unique yet integral part of one great show - the work of a hidden master craftsman displaying a glorious, heavenly experience.

In this collection of various published articles and writings Fr Edward succeeds to bring out the splendour of God's hand at work in the poor and simple nature of Dun Ġorġ. Like in every masterpiece coming from the hands of the Divine Master, the author shows how Dun Ġorġ was more than the sum-total of his life-story. His life-witness, more than his words, announced the Good News, the greatest of all Paradoxes, to the poor and simple hearted: the Word of God became human flesh ­- Verbum Dei Caro Factum Est. This was the trademark motto Dun Ġorġ adopted for his revolutionary act of trust in the mission of lay people in the Church to announce the Good News to the poor.

Fr Edward builds up a deep, penetrating and insightful portrait of Dun Ġorġ and his love story with this fundamental paradox of the incarnation of God in Jesus - true God and true man - and hence the true and only Saviour of humankind. He is the source of life - God who walks hand in hand, in tandem with humanity, keeping pace with his Grace.

Like the traditional Maltese festa fireworks, in their fleeting yet enchanting, chaotic succession of explosions, the colourful vibrance of the Maltese faith and traditional solidity are embodied in the personal anecdotes, insights, spiritual, pastoral and doctrinal paradoxes of the frail and humble giant that was Dun Ġorġ. His creative, simple and deep charism proved to be a challenging but life-giving source of dynamism - the fruit of an original pastoral genius and spirituality.

His whole way of being, praying and teaching seemed to be a harmonious and creative reconciliation of apparent opposites. He appeared "dry and reticent", strict and scrupulous, harsh and demanding. Yet he founded a Society that was capable of imparting solid doctrine to children while playing football, swimming, fun outdoor activities and what I would call "sacred playfulness". His teaching centres became "Centres of spiritual energy", as Fr Edward calls them.

Throughout the book the author brings out with great force and subtlety so many other paradoxes that make Dun Ġorġ indeed a man of God and a man of the world of his times. His very original and shocking trust in simple, uneducated or barely educated lay people was remarkable just before Vatican II endorsed and promoted the apostolic call of the laity in a highly clericalised pre-Vatican II Church. His seeming fearmongering and obsession with the "Last Things" - death, judgement, hell and heaven - made very dramatic and traumatic listening to his vast audiences. Yet, simple people, would stand listening for hours in his Sajdiet or public preaching tours, enchanted by the inner serenity and presence of God's loving mercy that came through the words of a man anchored in God. Our saint was indeed a "fool" for Christ's sake. Yet he possessed the wisdom that only fools for Christ can attain.

These are just teaser references to what I call the "simple complexity" and the "complex simplicity" of whoever accepts to follow Christ faithfully, seriously and with an undivided heart, as Dun Ġorġ did.

The author highlights the more than symbolic relevance and meaning of the foundational vision Dun Ġorġ had at the Marsa crossroads, when the Child Jesus asked him for help to push forward a cart full of dung. Yet another paradoxical symbol - the dung, representing what the world treats as waste to be discarded becomes the precious source of a new and abundant life in God.

This humble giant of a saint was called to be crucified at the crossroads of all those who are called to follow Jesus to be his witnesses to the world. Life is indeed in "tandem" if it is to be lived to the full. It cannot be received if it is not given. It cannot be found if it is not lost for Christ's sake. It cannot be life if it does not die.

As the reader progresses throughout this challenging and enlightening series of deep and learned, yet simple reflections of Fr Edward, the beauty and challenging balance between old and new, traditional and progressive, lay and clerical calls within the Church, child and adult ways of following Jesus will indeed reveal who is this God who embraced our flesh to make us His own brothers and sisters in His Spirit.

It is the most exciting and exacting adventure to follow in the steps of this simple Maltese priest. In typical and traditional Maltese style and fashion, he just walked the walk in a matter of fact, unassuming way. His only aim was to make Jesus simply available to those who, like little children, are pure in heart and spirit.

Dun Ġorġ remains, even more today, a beacon of inspiration and strength, together with so many of his followers Tal-Mużew, to courageously face today's challenging paradoxes our dear country is facing and fearlessly make the right choices.

Today we too can walk in the footsteps of Dun Ġorġ Keeping Pace with Grace, as the book's subtitle suggests. Even today, if we put on our sturdy shoes like him, without indulging in polishing them just to keep up vain appearances, each step will take us, with him, closer to the Child Jesus, who is eager to be born again today from deep within us.

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