Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 26, 2023 / 15:20 pm (CNA).
According to St. Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer, a Catholic’s everyday, ordinary struggles and work are in fact “God’s work.”
As the Church celebrates Escrivá’s feast day on June 26, Catholics contending with new attacks on the faith and mounting division inside and outside the Church can view his message to sanctify their daily work as a modern spiritual call to arms.
Who was Josemaria Escrivá?
Born in 1902, Escrivá was a Spanish-born Catholic priest whose ministry began during a time when the Church in Spain was facing growing hatred.
Though traditionally a deeply Catholic country, many Spaniards had come to see the Church as corrupt, irrelevant, and out of touch with modern society. Amid this mounting hatred against Catholicism, Escrivá heard a clear call from God that renewal must come not just from the rectories and monasteries of bishops or popes but from the homes and workplaces of families and lay individuals.
Canonized in 2002 by Pope John Paul II, Escrivá today is known as “the saint of the ordinary.”
With unflappable love and an ever-joyful smile, Escrivá taught that God could be found and served in one’s everyday life.
“We have to be contemplative souls in the middle of the world who strive to turn our work into prayer,” Escrivá was known to say often. “Your work must become a personal prayer, must become a real conversation with Our Father in heaven.”
What did he do?
Escrivá believed that holiness was not just meant for priests and religious but also for “people of all walks of life” — both men and women, including “doctors, lawyers, engineers, and artists, as well as bricklayers, miners, and farm laborers.”
Through spiritual direction, regular group meetings, and communal prayer, Escrivá began his new ministry in 1928. The work began with only a small group of lay faithful. From the beginning, Escrivá instilled in them his belief that holiness was achievable in “every state in life” and “every profession,” saying that “every honest task can be divine.”
Always humble, Escrivá took to simply calling his ministry “God’s Work” or “The Work,” in Latin: “Opus Dei.”
In 1933, Escrivá opened the “Derecho y Arquitectura Academy” (DYA) in Madrid. DYA was a center for prayer and study and a student residence that became the first of many Opus Dei study centers and residences that exist throughout the world today.
While much of Spanish society had grown disaffected with the Church and ambivalent toward the faith and even to God, Escrivá taught that God is still seeking souls and that holiness is achievable even amid the world with all the distractions of daily life.
“He calls each and every one to holiness; he asks each and every one to love him: young and old, single and married, healthy and sick, learned and unlearned, no matter where they work or where they are,” Escrivá said in a homily.
For Escrivá, holiness was not the luxury of the few but rather the calling of the masses.
Not even war can stop God’s work
In 1936, the Spanish Civil War broke out and open persecution of clergy and religious erupted across the country. In many regions, including Madrid, Catholics could not openly practice their faith for fear of execution.
As priests and lay Catholics were being shot in the streets and nuns massacred in their convents, Escrivá continued his work, risking his own life to bring the sacraments to the suffering faithful.
Despite all odds and numerous close encounters, Escrivá survived the war and his ministry flourished. Though he suffered from poor health, Escrivá traveled extensively throughout Europe and the Americas, everywhere spreading the call to sanctify the ordinary duties of each day.
The Vatican granted official approval of Opus Dei in 1947 and The Work spread to countries across the globe. It came to the United States in 1949, with the first American center opening near the University of Chicago.
In 1975, Escrivá died in his office in front of an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to whom he had a great devotion. At the time of his death, Opus Dei had spread to every continent and numbered more than 60,000 members.
Though The Work had humble beginnings, with next to no resources and only a few members, Escrivá was confident in God’s guidance from the outset.
Later reflecting on one of his first meetings with members of his ministry, Escrivá said: “When class was over, I went to the chapel with those boys, and I took Our Lord sacramentally present in the monstrance, raised him, and blessed those three … and I saw three hundred, three hundred thousand, thirty million, three billion … white, black, yellow, of all the colors, all the combinations, that human love can produce.”
Today, The Work continues and millions across the world have been inspired by Escrivá’s call to holiness, finding God in their daily lives and sanctifying their work through prayer and love of Christ.
A spiritual call to arms
Today, the Church faces new challenges and attacks, not just in one country but in nations across the world.
Just as in his time, Escrivá’s message rings true as Catholics today face new challenges and obstacles to living out their faith.
Rather than giving in to despair and abandoning the world to be lost in its sins, Escrivá’s message can be seen today as a call to spiritual arms.
“By presenting to mankind the testimony of an ordinary life which is made holy,” Escrivá said, ordinary Catholics would “show the world that [the faith] is not just ceremonies and words but a divine reality.”
At the core of Escrivá’s message lies the truth that no matter how obscure or unrelated to God one’s job or daily duties may seem, there is no place where God’s love cannot reach. Whether one finds themselves in the classroom, the grocery store, the office, or even an army base, there is God, waiting for them to unite their work to him.
In a 1967 homily titled “Passionately Loving the World,” Escrivá told the faithful that “when a Christian carries out with love the most insignificant everyday action, that action overflows with the transcendence of God.”
Catholics distraught by present challenges can take heart in Escrivá’s call to imbue their everyday lives with God’s love. As he pointed out, it is in the world and in one’s ordinary, daily struggles that God can be known, loved, and served.
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