Saint Josemaría Escriva (1902-1975), whose feast day we celebrate today, 26th June, was born in Barbastro, Spain, one of six children of devout Catholic parents. As a teenager he discovered his vocation to the priesthood when he saw the bare footprints of a monk in the snow. This caused him to question what God might be calling him to do. He spent most of his life studying and teaching in universities, earning a doctorate in civil law and theology. Saint Josemaria Escriva’s lasting impact lies in the foundation of Opus Dei (“The Work of God”) – an organisation of laypeople and priests dedicated to the universal call of holiness and that ordinary, daily life is a path to sanctity. Today Opus Dei has over 80,000 members worldwide.
St. Josemaría’s message for us is that God wants all of us to become saints, and for most Catholics this will not involve leaving one’s state in life; it will not involve leaving the world. Married or single, layman or religious, working in a professional occupation or as a homemaker, no state in life is an obstacle to attaining sanctification of life, but instead they become the very means of achieving this goal. Precisely by learning to find God through our spouses, in family life, and in our daily work we can become saints. Moreover, these ordinary aspects of daily life become the occasions of apostolate, of helping those we encounter day in and day out to draw closer to God. We won’t be able to do this, however, without frequent recourse to the Sacraments, Holy Mass and Confession, and setting aside some time for daily prayer. These practices, that St. Josemaría recommends so strongly, facilitate an ongoing dialogue with God in the midst of the most mundane human activities. St. Josemaría saw the call of ordinary Christians as a call to become contemplatives in the middle of the world, in the street, or just wherever we find ourselves.
Excerpts from a homily by St Josemaría Escriva, “Passionately Loving the World”
“The sacramental Sacrifice of the Body and Blood of our Lord, that Mystery of Faith which links all the mysteries of Christianity [is], therefore, the most sacred and transcendent act which man, with the grace of God, can carry out in this life. To communicate with the Body and Blood of our Lord is, in a certain sense, like loosening the bonds of Earth and time, in order to be already with God in Heaven, where Christ Himself will wipe the tears from our eyes and where there will be no more death, nor mourning, nor cries of distress, because the old world will have passed away (cf Apoc 21:4).
This profound and consoling truth, which theologians call the eschatological significance of the Eucharist could, however, be misunderstood. And indeed it has been, whenever men have tried to present the Christian way of life as something exclusively ‘spiritual’, proper to pure, extraordinary people, who remain aloof from the contemptible things of this world or at most, tolerate them as something necessarily attached to the spirit, while we live on this earth.
When things are seen in this way, churches become the setting par excellence of the Christian life. And being a Christian means going to church, taking part in sacred ceremonies, being taken up with ecclesiastical matters, in a kind of segregated world, which is considered to be the ante-chamber of Heaven, while the ordinary world follows its own separate path. The doctrine of Christianity and the life of grace would, in this case, brush past the turbulent march of human history, without ever really meeting it. […]
[E]veryday life is the true setting for your lives as Christians. Your ordinary contact with God takes place where your fellow men, your yearnings, your work and your affections are. There you have your daily encounter with Christ. It is in the midst of the most material things of the Earth that we must sanctify ourselves, serving God and all mankind.
I have taught this constantly using words from holy Scripture. The world is not evil, because it has come from God’s hands, because it is His creation, because ‘Yahweh looked upon it and saw that it was good’ (cf Gen 1:7 ff). We ourselves, mankind, make it evil and ugly with our sins and infidelities. Have no doubt: any kind of evasion of the honest realities of daily life is for you, men and women of the world, something opposed to the will of God.
On the contrary, you must understand now, more clearly, that God is calling you to serve Him in and from the ordinary, material and secular activities of human life. He waits for us every day, in the laboratory, in the operating theatre, in the army barracks, in the university chair, in the factory, in the workshop, in the fields, in the home and in all the immense panorama of work. Understand this well: there is something holy, something divine, hidden in the most ordinary situations, and it is up to each one of you to discover it.
I often said to the university students and workers who were with me in the thirties that they had to know how to ‘materialise’ their spiritual life. I wanted to keep them from the temptation, so common then and now, of living a kind of double life. On one side, an interior life, a life of relation with God; and on the other, a separate and distinct professional, social and family life, full of small earthly realities.
No! We cannot lead a double life. We cannot be like schizophrenics, if we want to be Christians. There is just one life, made of flesh and spirit. And it is this life which has to become, in both soul and body, holy and filled with God. We discover the invisible God in the most visible and material things.
There is no other way. Either we learn to find our Lord in ordinary, everyday life, or else we shall never find Him. That is why I can tell you that our age needs to give back to matter and to the most trivial occurrences and situations their noble and original meaning. It needs to restore them to the service of the Kingdom of God, to spiritualise them, turning them into a means and an occasion for a continuous meeting with Jesus Christ.
Authentic Christianity, which professes the resurrection of all flesh, has always quite logically opposed ‘dis-incarnation’, without fear of being judged materialistic. We can, therefore, rightfully speak of a ‘Christian materialism’, which is boldly opposed to that materialism [of the world] which is blind to the spirit.
What are the Sacraments, which early Christians described as the foot-prints of the Incarnate Word, if not the clearest manifestation of this way which God has chosen in order to sanctify us and to lead us to heaven? Don’t you see that each Sacrament is the Love of God, with all its creative and redemptive power, giving itself to us by way of material means? […]
It is understandable that the Apostle should write: ‘All things are yours, you are Christ’s and Christ is God’s’ (1 Cor 3:22-23). We have here an ascending movement which the Holy Spirit, infused in our hearts, wants to call forth from this world, upwards from the Earth to the glory of the Lord. And to make it clear that in that movement everything is included, even what seems most commonplace, St. Paul also wrote: ‘in eating, in drinking, do everything as for God’s glory’ (cf 1 Cor 10:32).
This doctrine of holy Scripture, as you know, is to be found in the very nucleus of the spirit of Opus Dei. It leads you to do your work perfectly, to love God and mankind by putting love in the little things of everyday life, and discovering that divine something which is hidden in small details. The lines of a Castilian poet are especially appropriate here: ‘Write slowly and with a careful hand, for doing things well is more important than doing them.’
I assure you, my sons and daughters, that when a Christian carries out with love the most insignificant everyday action, that action overflows with the transcendence of God. That is why I have told you repeatedly, and hammered away once and again on the idea that the Christian vocation consists of making heroic verse out of the prose of each day. Heaven and Earth seem to merge, my sons and daughters, on the horizon. But where they really meet is in your hearts, when you sanctify your everyday lives.
The complete homily can be read here.