• A contemporary saint


    The feast of San Josemaria Escriva (founder of Opus Dei) was celebrated by thousands in dozens of parishes all over the country on June 26.

    Ironically, San Josemaria abhorred praise. The worst thing that can happen to a person he said – is to receive nothing but praise. On the other hand, he was very happy for corrections that he received. He warded off with great naturalness, manifestations of the gratitude, admiration and enthusiasm of those who heard him, when his prestige grew greater by the day. At one point he asked the permission of his spiritual adviser to make a vow never to accept the duty and dignity of being a bishop. He was very fond of calling himself a “sinner” but he would quickly add “But a sinner who would love Jesus Christ very much.”

    Before his death he had ordered that the words he wanted inscribed on his tomb—though he did say afterwards that this was only a suggestion, were the following: “Josemaria Escriva De Balaguer Y Albas/Sinner/Pray for Him.”

    His life was indeed a great lesson in humility for Opus Dei members.

    Despite his profound humility, or perhaps because of it, the Church did not stop to heap paeans of praise on San Josemaria Escriva.

    Pope Pius XII, John XXIII, Pope Paul VI and John Paul 2 appreciated him a lot. Pope Paul once told Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, who succeeded San Josemaria Escriva, that the founder was “one of the individuals in the history of the church who received the most charisms and who responded to the gifts given by God with the most generosity.” Cardinal Ildefonso Shuster, Archbishop of Milan, one of the towering figures in the College of Cardinals, told the members of Opus Dei in Milan that the founder was “one of those saints that providence raises up every so often as the centuries pass, to renew the Church.” He compared him to the greater founders: St. Bernard and St. Francis.

    Msgr. Hubert Jedin expressed it this way, “As a church historian I can state that an effect so profound and universal in the Church of God can be produced only by a person who has placed himself or herself fully at God’s disposal, thus converting their whole being into an instrument for the sanctification of others and for the realization of the Kingdom of God on earth. The results produced by the founder of Opus Dei would not have been possible had he not been a saint.”

    The spiritual writings of the founder contributed to his being highly regarded as a saint.

    He loved obedience because he considered it intimately connected with the most important Christian virtues—faith and charity, humility and simplicity. He set a heroic example in obeying the general laws of the church. He placed a high value on sincerity, which he considered a sine-qua-non to loyalty to The Word. He always spoke and stood by the truth, especially when it came to proclaiming firmly the teaching of Christ.

    He preached to Catholic journalists that as Christians, they ought to love the truth and proclaim it courageously, and be ever ready to face the consequences.

    Much has been written about Opus Dei and much remains to be discovered about this “way of sanctification in daily work and in the fulfilment of the ordinary duties,” as we read in the St. Josemaria prayer card for private devotion.

    The discovery I made, which I wish everyone would make, about the spirit of Opus Dei, is that sanctity is an accessible reality for us ordinary mortals, immersed in day-to-day concerns. One does not need to go out of his way or do extraordinary things in order to live a holy life. Ordinary people love and serve God by taking care of the ordinary things, the little things.

    This is the spirit of Opus Dei – finding God in the little things of each day. Anyone can live this, regardless of profession, age, race or social status. Opus Dei, Latin for “work of God” is for everyone.

    “Do you really want to be a saint? Carry out the little duty of each moment: do what you ought and put yourself into what you are doing, writes San Josemaria in no. 815 of his best-selling book, The Way. This point appears under the chapter aptly titled “Little Things.” Again, in No. 817 he writes that “great” holiness consists in carrying out the “little” duties of each moment.

    I have been attending retreats and recollections with Opus Dei since the sixties. Through these years, the summary I would make of the lessons from those activities is that human love is expressed in little things: in daily prayer, hours of work well done, acts of service to others, quality time for one’s family, etc.

    During my years as Ambassador to the Quirinale in Italy I was fortunate to visit a number of times the central offices of Opus Dei in Viale Bruno Buozzi in Rome. I was always impressed by the details of tasteful decoration of the place. I was able to hear Mass a number of times in the Prelatic Church of Holy Mary of Peace, where the mortal remains of the Founder lie. Indeed his message that sanctity lies in doing ordinary things extraordinarily well comes out very well in the impeccable neatness and order found in the centers of Opus Dei, especially in their oratories which are designed to lead one to pray.


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