Five years ago or so, I was asked by Fr Provincial to move to our Priory and community in Mdina. These years were a rollercoaster ride, full of ups and downs, of pleasurable and not so pleasurable experiences. To live in Mdina is quite an experience! In many ways it is a unique experience, for which I am grateful as I consider myself to have been blessed with this move, as with my twenty-four years of religious life, for many reasons.
Counting my blessings in this experience, I cannot fail to mention that of having at the Priory the living presence of Fr Avertanus Fenech, the friar who lived, died and passed away in odour of sanctity. It is quite something to be Prior of someone who passed away years ago but is still present not merely in the memorabilia cherished at the Priory but also in the memory of those who knew him personally and those who hold him in high esteem due to his reputation of holiness and moreover claim God bestowed on them spiritual and material graces for their wellbeing through his powerful intercession. I assure you there are quite a number of these as attested by the notebooks and letters preserved at the Priory’s archives in the section reserved for Fr Avertanus and one of the tasks at Priory is that of welcoming people who knock at our door to visit fr Avertanus’ cell or pause in prayer at his tomb and to reply the letters and requests of the faithful who report graces received, ask for prayers of intercession and request holy cards. The evergrowing reputation of holiness (fama sanctitatis) and the fame of graces and signs (fama signorum) compelled the Carmelite Order and the Church to start the Diocesan Inquiry for the opening of the Cause of Beatification and Canonization of Fr Avertanus, now entitled to be referred to as Servant of God.
Before moving to Mdina, though like all fellow Maltese Carmelites I knew of Fr Avertanus’ reputation, never did I imagine the dimensions of such a reputation! Neither did I ever imagine the Church would someday kick off his Cause of Beatification and Canonization. More than that, never it did cross my mind to think or dream of being involved in such a Cause as Vice-Postulator! And yet again, here am I, in a place I never dreamt I would ever be in (it’s not unusual for a man of the cloth!), threading in something which is greater than myself! It’s quite a strange space to be in as you find yourself faced with a reputation of holiness and claims of graces received, if not miracles happening and you have to do something about it.
Holiness is a divine gift which you cannot reproduce or produce! Surely all of us are called to the supernatural life, but to state that someone lived constantly in this habitual gift in a stable and supernatural disposition that perfects the soul itself to enable it to live with God, to act by his love and moreover to have a permanent disposition to live and act in keeping with God’s call, it’s quite a powerful statement!
That’s why the three pillars upon which stands the inquiry for the Cause of Beatification and Canonization of a particular candidate are 1) a holy life, 2) the reputation of holiness and 3) the claim of signs and graces, as it all has to start from God, to avoid as much as possible the danger of human fabrication. In actual fact the Process of a Cause of Beatification and Canonisation starts with claims of holiness and graces and ends with the seal of miracles to show that its beginning and end are from God. Cracks in one or more of these three pillars will result, at some point or another, in the halting of the Process. This also prevents those involved from putting too much of themselves in it or from falling into the trap of owning the Process. The Church’s intervention (who is the last one to believe a candidate is indeed holy as people claim) lies in the task of collecting information and scrutinise evidence, leaving no stone unturned to prove whether these claims are true.
That’s quite a feat in itself!
These last months, and especially the last weeks, being taken by the nitty-gritty, practicalities, the compilation of innumerable documents, the organisation of the opening session and more, I had to allow myself to enter in this logic and to get accustomed to stand again (also in this experience as in others) patiently and quietly in a no place of awaiting with that contemplative attitude which characterised the Servant of God. This attitude was captured by the Bishop while delivering the homily for the opening of the Diocesan Inquiry on February 2, feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple. Msgr Scicluna described the Servant of God Fr Avertanus as “a righteous and a devout man, who patiently awaited the consolation of the Holy Spirit” (Lk 2:25), like Simeon who in the Temple awaited in holy patience the coming of the Promised Messiah, the fulfilment of time.
The best moments in this adventure are those short and long periods of quiet and prayerful pause in Fr Avertanus’ cell or at his tomb at the end of the day when the church is closed and I find myself standing alone with him… it is there, in that pregnant silence, that I become aware that this is all about being of service to something greater than myself!