In one of the most important gestures of his pontificate, Pope John Paul II on October 6 canonized St. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, the founder of Opus Dei. With that gesture, he placed the full weight of his papal authority behind Escriva s "Work"
"To be holy does not mean being superior to others; the saint can be very weak, with many mistakes in his life. Holiness is this profound contact with God, becoming a friend of God: it is letting the Other work, the Only One who can really make the world both good and happy."
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, remarks on the canonization of St. Josemaria Escriva, from the L'Osservatore Romano, Special Issue, October 6, 2002
"Heroism, sanctity, daring, require a constant spiritual preparation. You can only give to others what you already have. And in order to give God to them, you yourself need to get to know him, to live his life, to serve him." St. Josemaria Escriva, The Forge, no. 78
The 20th century ended, for the Catholic Church, on October 6, 2002. It ended precisely 40 years after the opening of the Second Vatican Council in 1962.
It ended on a warm, blue autumn day in Rome with John Paul II's canonization of Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, the founder of Opus Dei, as a saint.
In so doing, the Pope presented sanctity as the vocation of every baptized person, and so reiterated the central message of the Second Vatican Council. (This year marks the centenary of the birth of Josemaria Escriva, on January 9, 1902, in Barbastro, northern Spain. He died in Rome on June 26, 1975.)
The 20th century was the century that brought the medieval world to a definitive end.
That old world was "Christendom" (admittedly in considerable disarray from the French Revolution onward), dominated politically by at least nominally Christian kings and kaisers and aristocratic elites, dominated militarily and economically by Western Europeans, who colonized the world.
The First World War saw those elites slaughtered in the trenches of France, ushering in the Communist, Fascist and Nazi periods.
The Second World War saw the final destruction of the old European order, as Western European cities were bombed, the continent's Christian tradition was rejected and ridiculed, and its Jewish population murdered or expelled. Out of that war came the United Nations, the creation of the state of Israel, the general de-colonialization of the world, and, after a decade or so, the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).
The essential historical purpose and effect of that Council as it now seems from a vantage point of 40 years was to prepare the Church for a new world order : the order which is now nearly upon us.
No longer would the world be Europe-centered; the age of "globalization" could already be sensed in the era of intercontinental ballistic missiles (the Cuban missile crisis occurred in the month the Council opened, in October 1962) and international communications.
No longer would the Church be primarily organized in small, separated communities (parishes, dioceses) of people who lived most of their lives in one place, in one cultural context; the Church would increasingly be organized as one world-wide community, a less canonically and jurisdictionally structured social body than a world-wide order, or organism like the new Church movements . . . or like a personal prelature (the group founded by Escriva, Opus Dei, is for the moment the only personal prelature in the Catholic Church).
The 20th century was marked by vast and pitiless persecutions of the Church. The Communists and the Nazis made clear to the Church that state power in the emerging "modern" world could seek out, crush and physically eliminate unwanted religious groups. (There were more Christian martyrs in the 20th century than in all previous centuries.)
But, if the post-World War II "new world order" were also to be un-Christian, perhaps in a veiled way but with even more sinister and effective means of control and persecution, because more advanced and comprehensive, what chance would the Church have to survive and prosper?
Having experienced the 20th century, the solution seemed evident: the Church needed to "go to ground" to de-clericalize, de-hierarchicalize, and to have its members intermingle in all aspects of ordinary human life, indistinguishable in any outward way from other members of society, except in the excellence of their work, engaged in as a vocation . . . a vocation to sanctity in the midst of the world. And so, at the Second Vatican Council, the Church made the extraordinary leap, the epochal transformation, from a Church organized along lines that had worked well enough in the medieval age, hierarchical and clerical, to a Church organized to survive and flourish and live out the faith in a "new age," an age of a looming "new world order."
And this was the deep meaning of Pope John Paul II's words when he said, after canonizing Escriva, that the message of the Opus Dei founder is to stand up to "a materialist culture that threatens to dissolve the most genuine identity of the disciples of Christ."
The Holy Father pronounced the formula of canonization for the Spanish priest at 10:23 a.m. in St. Peter's Square. And so, in a certain sense, we may say that we know the exact minute that the old century and the old world ended: at 10:23 a.m. in Rome on a sunny October morning in the year 2002.
Some 300,000 pilgrims, many of them members of Opus Dei, who filled St. Peter's Square, applauded at that moment.
"Timely and Urgent"
The Pope described Escriva's teaching as "timely and urgent." What was that teaching? That a Christian "by virtue of his baptism, which incorporates him to Christ" is called "to embrace an uninterrupted and vital relation with the Lord." The believer is therefore "called to be holy and to collaborate in the salvation of humanity" (which is the "work of God" par excellence ), the Pope emphasized.
Escriva proclaimed his message in the years before the Second Vatican Council, when "holiness" was considered by many to be strictly the concern of priests and men and women religious.
Addressing Opus Dei members, John Paul II asked them to "raise the world to God and transform it from within," following "the ideal that the holy founder indicates to you."
"Following in his footsteps, spread in society, without distinction of race, class, culture or age, the awareness that we are all called to holiness," he said. But the Holy Father recalled the advice of Escriva: "First, prayer; then, expiation; in the third place, very much in third place, action."
"It is not a paradox but a perennial truth: The fruitfulness of the apostolate is above all in prayer and in an intense and constant sacramental life," the Pope said. "This is, in essence, the secret of holiness and of the authentic success of the saints."
From All Walks of Life, They Came for the Canonization
The 300,000 people at the canonization of Opus Dei founder Josemaria Escriva made the ceremony one of the largest events in Vatican history.
According to the organizing committee, the groups came from 84 countries. A third were Italians, a third came from the rest of Europe, and the other third came from elsewhere.
The participants were able to follow the ceremony via nine large TV screens located in the Piazza di Pio XII and along Via della Conciliazione.
Forty percent of the participants were young people, who stayed in camping sites, gymnasiums, parishes and other venues in and near Rome.
One of the oldest participants was Father Quirino Glorioso, a priest from the diocese of Laguna in the Philippines. Father Glorioso explained that his parishioners, knowing about his devotion to the new saint, organized a collection to pay for his trip.
"Josemaria is 100 years old and he is already a saint;" he said. "I'm 99 years old and I'm still the way I am."
Other participants included Cardinal Adam Kozlowiecki, who was born in Poland in 1911 and who now lives in Zambia.
Teresa Funes, 82, traveled 1,800 kilometers (1,100 miles) by bus to get to Rome from Baza, Spain.
"I really wanted to go to the canonization, but I didn't say anything about it;" she said. Her children surprised her and organized a bus trip for her. "On the bus, I followed the instructions that my doctors gave me for this trip: exercised my fingers and toes, took a break every hour and a half or two, so as to go for a walk and so that my heart and legs would continue to function well."
In 1950, in answer to a petition by Josemaria Escriva, the Holy See approved the admittance of non?Catholics to Opus Dei as co-operators. Many, in fact, have collaborated with the prelature's activities.
Many co-operators also came: Among them were Hinrich Bues, a Protestant pastor; Alik Zorin, a Russian poet with a group of Orthodox; Tapio Aho-Kallio, a Lutheran religion teacher from a school in Helsinki, Finland; Gary Chu, a Chinese painter; and Ghenro and Funso Adegbola, an Anglican couple from Nigeria.
Twelve hundred people from 37 choirs sang during the liturgical ceremonies at the canonization. In the first rows, 450 places were reserved for those in wheelchairs. Many of the elderly, on advice given by the Organizing Committee, brought foldable chairs for the ceremonies.
The canonization Mass was translated into sign language for the deaf. It was also simultaneously translated into French, English, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish and German over Vatican Radio. The ceremony was transmitted live on television through 29 channels to five continents.
A Miraculously Cured Doctor Attends Canonization
Among the pilgrims at the canonization of Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer was the doctor whose inexplicable cure opened the doors for the Opus Dei founder to be declared a saint.
Dr. Manuel Nevado Rey recalled how an incurable disease in his hands disappeared the moment he placed himself under Blessed Escriva's intercession in 1992. At today's canonization, the doctor said: "I am unimaginably happy. Four children and three grandchildren have come with me and my wife. I am overwhelmed when I think that at 70 years I am here, alive and kicking."
Nevado was stricken with chronic radiodermatitis after having worked for long hours with primitive X-rays during the 1950s and 1960s. He knew his work exposed him to the risk of cancer.
Someone advised Nevado to pray to God to be cured through the intercession of Blessed Escriva. "After about two weeks, all the damage caused by the disease disappeared and my hands were perfectly healed," he explained in 1993.
Opus Dei: Its Mission, Structure and Members
Opus Dei saw the canonization of its founder as a moment for humility, not hubris.
"For Opus Dei people, the canonization is an invitation to conversion; it is not a day of exaltations, but of humility, an ideal moment to renew the desire to seek God in one's work and in ordinary life," explained Marta Manzi, a spokeswoman for the Organizing Committee for the canonization.
According to the organization's Information Office on the Internet ( www.opusdei.org ), Opus Dei "serves the Church and society by fostering individual holiness and apostolic commitment among the Christian faithful, helping them to discover and take on the demands of their baptismal vocation in the specific place they occupy in the world."
Opus Dei is a prelature, a worldwide diocese, that has its own autonomy and ordinary jurisdiction to carry out its mission for the Church. It is directly under the Pope, through the Vatican Congregation for Bishops.
The prelature, like military ordinariates, is an ecclesiastical structure of a personal nature established to carry out a specific pastoral task.
The authority of the prelate extends to matters dealing with the specific mission of the prelature, and is in harmony with the authority of the diocesan bishop as regards anything pertaining to the ordinary pastoral care of the faithful.
Opus Dei is governed by the provisions of the general law of the Church, by the apostolic constitution Ut Sit , and by its own statutes. The Code of Canon Law of 1983 sets out the basic provisions covering personal prelatures in canons 294-297.
Priests of the prelature are under the authority of the prelate. He assigns to them their pastoral responsibilities, which they fulfill with due regard to the pastoral guidelines for the diocese in which they live. The prelature is responsible for the financial support of its priests.
The lay faithful also come under the authority of the prelate in all that refers to the specific mission of the prelature. They are subject to the civil authorities in the same way as any other citizen, and to other ecclesiastical authorities in the same way as any other lay Catholic.
The prelate, and the vicars who represent him, have jurisdiction in Opus Dei. The prelate is the proper ordinary of the prelature. One of the characteristics of Opus Dei is its collegial style of government. The prelate and his vicars are assisted in their work by councils, made up largely of laity. The prelate is helped in his work of government by one council for women (called the Central Advisory) and another for men (the General Council). Both are based in Rome.
"The idea that inspired Blessed Escriva was that of collegiality: to have all apostolic activity carried out on the basis of collegial work and not on the personal ideas of one or another individual," explained Francesco Calogero, the spokesman of the Press Office for the canonization ceremony.
"Moreover, there was the idea of decentralization and that the Work be incarnated in the mentality and way of living of every nation, and respond to the needs of that country," he emphasized.
Who is a Member?
Members ask to join Opus Dei. Formal incorporation into the prelature is carried out by means of a bilateral agreement which stipulates the mutual commitments taken on by the person and the prelature itself.
The majority of the faithful of Opus Dei are "supernumerary" members. Generally they are married men or women, for whom the sanctification of their family duties is the most important part of their Christian life. Supernumeraries now account for about 70% of the total membership.
The rest of the faithful of the prelature are men and women who commit themselves to celibacy for apostolic reasons. Some live with their families, or wherever is convenient for professional reasons. These are the associates of the prelature.
For other members, circumstances allow them to be more available to attend to the apostolic undertakings and the formation of the other Opus Dei members. These are the "numeraries," and they are usually able to live in centers of Opus Dei. The principal task of the women assistant numeraries is that of the domestic responsibilities in the centers of the prelature, which constitute for them their ordinary professional activity.
The Priestly Society of the Holy Cross is an association of clergy intrinsically united to Opus Dei. It is made up of the clergy of the prelature, who are automatically members, and other diocesan priests and deacons. The prelate of Opus Dei is the president of the society.
The diocesan clergy who belong to the Priestly Society seek exclusively spiritual help and strive for holiness in the exercise of their ministry, according to the spirit of Opus Dei.
Their membership in the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross does not involve incorporation into the presbyterate of the prelature. Each one continues to be incardinated in his own diocese and comes under the authority of his own bishop. In regard to his pastoral work he gives an account only to his bishop. The prelature comprises about 84,000 people, including 1,800 priests. Europe has 48,700 members; America, 29,000; Asia and Oceania, 4,700; and Africa, 1,600.
42 Cardinals and 470 Bishops Attended Escriva's Canonization
But the canonization of St. Escriva attracted more than just Opus Dei members representatives from episcopates, religious congregations and new ecclesial realities also attended.
Forty-two cardinals and 470 bishops from around the world participated in the Eucharistic celebration in St. Peter's Square. Also on hand were the general superiors of many orders and religious congregations, a sign of the importance of the canonization for the universal Church.
Among many of the representatives of the new ecclesial charisms attending the canonization were Kiko Arguello and Carmen Hernandez, founders of the Neocatechumenal Way; Father Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ and the Regnum Christi movement; and Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Community of Sant' Egidio.
Pope Calls Opus Dei Founder the "Saint of the Ordinary"
The day after the canonization, thousands of pilgrims returned to St. Peter's Square to attend a Mass of thanksgiving. The meeting gave the Pope the chance to highlight the legacy left by the newly canonized saint.
The celebration culminated when the Pope officially welcomed Romanian Orthodox Patriarch Teoctist, visiting Rome in gratitude to the Holy Father for his visit to Romania in May 1999.
Following the celebration of Mass, which was presided over by Bishop Javier Echevarria, prelate of Opus Dei, the Pope arrived in the Square in a convertible, amid the ovations of the faithful. As he spoke about the new saint's legacy, John Paul II looked out at the sea of people before him and called the multitude "a sign of the apostolic zeal that burned in the soul of St. Josemaria."
"Outstanding in the founder of Opus Dei was his love for the will of God," the Holy Father said. "There is a sure criterion of holiness: faithfulness in fulfilling the divine will to its ultimate consequences. The Lord has a plan for each one of us; he entrusts each one with a mission on earth. The saint cannot even think of himself outside of God's plan: he lives only to fulfill it.
"St. Josemaria was chosen by the Lord to proclaim the universal call to holiness and to indicate that everyday life, ordinary activities, are the way of sanctification," the Pope continued. "It might be said that he was the saint of the ordinary."
John Paul II continued: "In fact, he was convinced that for anyone who lives from the perspective of faith everything offers an opportunity for encounter with God, everything becomes a stimulus for prayer. From this point of view, daily life reveals an unsuspected grandeur. Holiness appears truly within the reach of all."
"St. Josemaria was profoundly convinced that the Christian life entails a mission and an apostolate: We are in the world to save it with Christ," the Holy Father continued in English.
"He loved the world passionately, with a redemptive love. Precisely for this reason his teachings have helped so many ordinary members of the faithful to discover the redemptive power of faith, its capacity to transform the earth," he said.
"This is a message that has abundant and fruitful implications for the evangelizing mission of the Church. It fosters the Christianization of the world 'from within,' showing that there can be no conflict between the divine law and the demands of genuine human progress," the Pope added.
"This saintly priest taught that Christ must be the apex of all human activity," he continued. "His message impels the Christian to act in places where the future of society is being shaped.
"From the laity's active presence in all the professions and at the most advanced frontiers of development there can only come a positive contribution to the strengthening of that harmony between faith and culture, which is one of the greatest needs of our time."
Escriva's Crusade for Holiness
Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer was born in 1902 in Barbastro, Spain, near the Pyrenees. The second of six siblings, as the biography issued by the Vatican explains, he grew up in a cheerful family, acquiring the Christian faith from his parents and from school.
He soon came to know suffering through the death of his three younger sisters and the bankruptcy of his father. In 1915, his family moved to Logrono where his father had found a new job.
In 1918, Escriva realized that God wanted something special of him, as a priest. He started his ecclesiastical studies in Logrono and entered the diocesan seminary of Saragossa in 1922.
He also pursued studies in civil law with the permission of his superiors. In 1925, he was ordained and started his pastoral ministry.
In 1927 he moved to Madrid in order to obtain a doctorate in civil law. After his father's death in 1924, Escriva had become the head of the family, and as a result his mother and siblings moved with him. In the Spanish capital, he took on an intense pastoral work, serving especially the poor, the sick and children.
At the same time, he supported himself and his family with other jobs, like teaching law courses. His priestly apostolate also extended to university students, artists, laborers and intellectuals.
On October 2, 1928, during a spiritual retreat in Madrid, he felt inspired by God to found Opus Dei, or "Work of God." Its goal is to remind the baptized that the Christian vocation is a call to holiness and apostolate, and to promote a personal commitment to follow Christ.
In 1930, he saw that the mission confided to him by God must also include women.
In 1934, the first edition of The Way was published. It is Escriva's most widely read book, with some four million copies sold. He is also well-known in spiritual literature for other titles such as The Holy Rosary, Christ Is Passing By, Friends of God, The Way of the Cross, The Forge and In Love with the Church.
In 1940, after the end of the Spanish Civil War, he began to preach spiritual exercises to hundreds of priests in response to petitions from bishops throughout the country. Meanwhile, Opus Dei began to extend throughout the peninsula. World War II temporarily hampered its growth elsewhere in Europe.
In 1943, Father Escriva saw that Opus Dei should have its own clergy, with priests incardinated in the prelature. Thus the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross was founded.
Father Escriva moved to Rome in 1946. From 1945 to 1975, the apostolic work of Opus Dei started in some 30 countries, under his direct encouragement.
Beginning in 1948, married women and men could also belong fully to Opus Dei and in 1950, the Holy See approved the admission of people belonging to other religions as co-operators. Thus, Christians from other confessions as well as members of other religions started to collaborate formally with the apostolic undertakings of Opus Dei.
In the 1950s, Josemaria Escriva promoted many initiatives, including professional training schools for men and women, technical schools for farmers, universities and schools, hospitals and clinics.
As a result of the deliberations of the Second Vatican Council, the Magisterium was to confirm fundamental aspects of the spirit of Opus Dei, such as the universal call to holiness, professional work as a means to holiness and apostolate, the value and lawful limits of Christian freedom in temporal affairs, and the Mass as the center and root of the interior life.
Between 1970 and 1975, the founder undertook long catechetical trips throughout Europe and America. Monsignor Escriva died in Rome on June 26, 1975. His beatification on May 17, 1992, attracted 300,000 people.
Critics and Detractors
Both Escriva and Opus Dei continue to attract criticism from journalists, disenchanted former members, and the often embittered parents of children "lost" to an organization they see as a Catholic version of a sect as cultic in its way as Scientology, Jehovah's Witnesses, Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church, or the Falun Gong.
Their stories fill the pages of such works as former member Maria Carmen del Tapia's Crossing the Threshold , J.J.M. Garvey's Parents' Guide to Opus Dei , the Newsletter of the Opus Dei Awareness Network (which has its own web site), and Michael Walsh's Opus Dei: An Investigation Into the Secret Society Struggling for Power Within the Roman Catholic Church .
Often the critics fault Opus Dei for its alleged "secrecy." In reports in Rome during the week of the canonization, many papers referred to the group as the Church's "holy mafia." Some said the organization's headquarters in Rome maintains extensive files on all members and their various activities, thus giving the group a considerable worldwide intelligence capability.
A second criticism is the group's alleged right-wing political leanings, shown by support for the Franco government in Spain and the Pinochet government in Chile. But defenders of the group note that some members of Opus Dei were opposed to both governments, and stress that the group does not direct the political views of its members, only their spiritual outlook and life.
A third criticism is that the group's spirituality is so oriented toward success and its membership drives toward attracting intelligent young people who will form the "elite" in the society of tomorrow that it drifts away from the Gospel's emphasis on charity, works of mercy, and the salutary asceticism of poverty. Many newspaper accounts note snidely that Opus Dei priests attending the canonization wore expensive cufflinks and that Opus Dei women were "elegantly" dressed.
One thread does run through tales told by former members of life in Opus Dei an emphasis on intense recruiting. According to author Jean-Jacques Thierry, the principal goal of all Opus Dei schools, clubs, cultural centers, residences, universities, publishing houses, and special events is one thing more members. (One of the reasons Opus Dei is so successful recruiting, evidently, is the commitment of members to have their clothes freshly pressed, a smile in place, and good cheer in abundance.)
The inspiration for this single-minded attitude is traceable to the exhortation of Escriva. His writings include such comments as, "This holy coercion is necessary; compelle intrare (compel them to come in) the Lord tells us" . . . "We do not have any aim other than the corporate one: proselytism, winning vocations" . . . and "When a person does not have zeal to win others, he is dead . . . I bury cadavers."
Some have faulted Opus Dei for accepting members when they are too young, or for separating new members from their families and former friends.
John Martin, in his critical article "Leopards in the Temple," published in the traditionalist American Catholic journal The Remnant on June 30 this year, says that saying "yes" to Opus Dei requires climbing three rungs to full Opus Dei membership. First comes "whistling" writing a letter asking to join (at which there is said to be much rejoicing in Opus Dei houses). Second, there is the "admission" a short ceremony with an Opus Dei priest and an Opus Dei lay director in which the new member agrees to "live in the spirit of Opus Dei." Then there is the "oblation," which comes a year and a half after whistling, and during which the new member commits his or her life to Opus Dei so seriously that to leave would be a "grave matter." Finally, there is the "fidelity," five years after the oblation, when the initiate becomes a full member of Opus Dei and is encouraged to make out a will with Opus Dei as the beneficiary, Martin says.
Martin notes that John Roche, as a graduate student at Oxford in 1972 (he had then been an Opus Dei member for 13 years), concluded that "the ethos of Opus Dei" is "sectarian and totalitarian" and that the group is "misleading the Church about important aspects of its character."
Following his resignation in 1973, Roche became one of Opus Dei's sharpest critics and in 1979 he persuaded the London Times to take a reportorial interest. The Times subsequently printed a profile of the organization and called for an investigation into its practices. The result: England's Cardinal Hume, in 1981, published guidelines that obliged Opus Dei in England to discontinue its practice of the secret recruitment "of children under 18, to allow its members to receive outside spiritual direction, and to allow them to leave if they wanted to."
Africa has a lot to Offer, Says Opus Dei Prelate
In the days before the canonization, Opus Dei highlighted its initiatives in Africa, where the prelature has been active for 45 years.
The "presence of the south of the world in the canonization will be numerous and significant," Bishop Javier Echevarria, prelate of Opus Dei, told the Misna missionary agency.
"The African faithful of Opus Dei there are already several thousand try in the first place like the Asians, Americans, Europeans and those of Oceania to live their faith consistently," he said. "And that personal commitment impels them to promote, elbow to elbow with their colleagues and friends, projects directed to resolving the material and spiritual needs of their peoples. They suffer from AIDS, poverty, tribal rivalries, and try to do everything possible to eradicate these. As Christians, they feel called to become holy in the midst of the world, of that concrete world of Africa, with its lights and shadows.
Among Opus Dei's projects, "the Monkole Medical Center in Kinshasa should be noted, a hospital that carries out great work in health among people who lack the most elemental facilities and which already has several extensions in the Congo," Bishop Echevarria continued.
For its part, Lagos Business School in Nigeria is dedicated "to the formation of African businessmen, to whom it tries to give good preparation in business management, while fomenting concern for the needs of the community." The program is important, he said, "because good moral formation, and also formation in the social doctrine of the Church, and solid business formation is needed to encourage development and to combat poverty and corruption."
The Harambee 2002 Project, a fund for the support of educational programs in Africa, is being established in part with the donations of faithful who attended Josemaria Escriva's canonization. Funds collected will be allocated in a competition open to all who promote educational activities in sub-Saharan Africa. Preference will be given to a project benefiting needy women and children residing in rural areas or on the periphery of cities.
Harambee 2002 is a reminder that "what is important are people; and in this case, Africans, who are to be the architects of progress in Africa," Monsignor Echevarria emphasized. "Because of this, education is an imperative element for development, as it opens the doors to work and progress, both material and spiritual. Education is a way (. . .) of sowing hope. The Harambee 2002 Project hopes to contribute a grain of sand to this collective commitment."
"Africa can contribute much to Europe with its openness to transcendence, with the joy that Africans express in daily life, including in difficulties, with their ability to communicate and their appreciation of the good values of family and friendship, with the stateliness they demonstrate as a reflection of human dignity, with the way they spend time," the prelate concluded.
Escriva's Canonization Has an Ecumenical Dimension
As mentioned earlier, Lutherans, Anglicans and Orthodox were among those who participated in the canonization of Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, giving an ecumenical touch to the event. And among the 2,000 young volunteers who welcomed the pilgrims were Jews and Palestinians from Jerusalem, as well as youths from other Christian denominations who cooperate with Opus Dei.
The Spanish saint is no longer the patrimony of Opus Dei but of the whole Church, the postulator of the cause of canonization, Monsignor Flavio Capucci, said. "This is not an Opus Dei celebration," he observed on more than one occasion. "In proclaiming the holiness of his life, he becomes a model for all Catholics." The canonization ceremony was also attended by prelates from areas where Opus Dei is not established, such as Angola, Togo, Sao Tome and Moscow.
Papal Homily During Canonization of Josemaria Escriva
"We Are Called to Holiness"
Vatican City, October 6, 2002, St. Peter's Square, Rome
1. "All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God" ( Romans 8:14). These words of the Apostle Paul, which we just heard in our assembly, help us to understand better the significant message of today's canonization of Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer. He allowed himself to be led docilely by the Spirit, convinced that only in this way can the will of God be fulfilled.
This fundamental Christian truth was a constant topic of his preaching. Indeed, he did not cease to invite his spiritual children to invoke the Holy Spirit so that the inner life, namely the life of relation with God, and family, professional and social life, totally made up of little earthly realities, would not be separated, but would constitute only one existence "holy and full of God." He wrote, "We find the invisible God in the most visible and material things" ( "Conversations with Monsignor Escriva," No. 114).
This teaching of his is timely and urgent even today. The believer, in virtue of the baptism that incorporates him to Christ, is called to embrace an uninterrupted and vital relationship with the Lord. He is called to be holy and to collaborate in the salvation of humanity.
2. "The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it" ( Genesis 2:15). The Book of Genesis, as we heard in the first reading, reminds us that the Creator has entrusted the earth to man, to "till" it and "keep" it. Believers acting in the various realities of this world contribute to realize this divine universal plan. Work and any other activity, carried out with the help of grace, become a means of daily sanctification.
"The usual life of a Christian who has faith" Josemaria Escriva used to say "when he works or rests, when he prays or sleeps, at all times, is a life in which God is always present" ( Meditations, March 3, 1954). This supernatural view of existence opens an extraordinarily rich horizon of salvific perspectives because, even in the only apparently monotonous context of normal earthly events, God comes close to us and we can cooperate in his plan of salvation. Therefore, one can understand with greater ease what the Second Vatican Council affirmed, namely, that "the Christian message does not remove men from the construction of the world [. . .], but obliges them even more to engage in this as a duty" ( Gaudium et Spes, 34).
3. To raise the world to God and transform it from within: Herein is the ideal that the holy founder indicates to you, dear brothers and sisters, who rejoice today because of his elevation to the glory of the altars. He continues to remind us of the need not to allow ourselves to be frightened in the face of a materialist culture, which threatens to dissolve the most genuine identity of the disciples of Christ. He liked to reiterate with vigor that the Christian faith is opposed to conformism and interior inertia.
Following in his footsteps, spread in society, without distinction of race, class, culture or age, the awareness that we are called to holiness. In the first place, force yourselves to be saints, cultivating an evangelical style of humility and service, of abandonment to Providence and to constant listening to the voice of the Spirit. In this way, you will be "salt of the earth" (see Matthew 5:13) and "your light will shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" ( Ibid., 5:16).
4. Of course there is no lack of misunderstandings and difficulties for the one who tries to serve the cause of the Gospel with fidelity. The Lord purifies and molds all those he calls to follow him with the mysterious force of the cross; but in the cross the new saint repeated we find light, peace and joy: "Lux in Cruce, Requies in Cruce, Gaudium in Cruce!"
Ever since Aug. 7, 1931, when, during the celebration of Holy Mass, the words of Jesus echoed in his soul: "I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself" ( John 12:32), Josemaria Escriva understood more clearly that the mission of the baptized consists in raising the cross of Christ over all human reality, and felt arise in his interior the exciting call to evangelize all environments. Then, without hesitation, he accepted the invitation made by Jesus to the Apostle Peter, which resounded in this square a short time ago: "Duc in altum!" He transmitted it to all his spiritual family, so that they would offer the Church a valid contribution of communion and apostolic service. This invitation is extended to all of us today. "Put out into the deep, and let down your nets for a catch," the divine Master says to us ( Luke 5:4).
5. However, to fulfill such a demanding mission, there must be constant interior growth nourished by prayer. St. Josemaria was a master in the exercise of prayer, which he considered an extraordinary "weapon" to redeem the world. He always recommended: "In the first place, prayer; then, expiation; in the third place, but very much in third place, action" ( The Way, No. 82). It is not a paradox, but a perennial truth: The fruitfulness of the apostolate is above all in prayer and in an intense and constant sacramental life. This is, in essence, the secret of the holiness and of the true success of the saints.
May the Lord help you, dear brothers and sisters, to accept this exacting ascetic and missionary legacy. May Mary sustain you, whom the holy founder invoked as "Spes Nostra, Sedes Sapientiae, Ancilla Domini!"
May Our Lady make every one an authentic witness of the Gospel, ready to make a generous contribution in every place to the building of the Kingdom of Christ. May the example and teaching of St. Josemaria be a stimulus to us so that, at the end of the earthly pilgrimage, we may also be able to participate in the blessed inheritance of heaven. There, together with the angels and all the saints, we will contemplate the face of God, and sing his glory for all eternity!
Pope John Paul II
Cardinal Ratzinger on St. Escriva
"Letting God work": Remarks by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, published in the special supplement of L'Osservatore Romano on the occasion of the canonization of Josemaria Escriva (October 6, 2002)
By Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
I have always been struck by the interpretation which Josemaria Escriva gave of the name Opus Dei an interpretation which we could call biographical and which allows us to understand the founder in his spiritual dimension. Escriva knew that he should found something, but he was always aware that whatever it was was not his work, that he had not invented anything, that the Lord had simply made use of him. Thus it was not his work, but Opus Dei. He was only an instrument with which God had acted.
While I was pondering this fact, there came to mind the words of the Lord reported in the Gospel of John (5:17): "My Father is always working." These are words spoken by Jesus in the course of a discussion with some religious specialists who did not want to recognize that God could act even on the Sabbath. This is a debate that is still going on, in a certain way, among people and even Christians of our own time. Some people think that after creation God "retired" and no longer has any interest in our everyday affairs. According to this manner of thinking, God could no longer enter into the fabric of our daily life. But the words of Jesus affirm the opposite. A man open to the presence of God discovers that God is always working and still works today: We should, then, let him enter and let him work. And so things are born which open to the future and renew mankind.
All this helps us to understand why Josemaria Escriva did not consider himself "founder" of anything, but only a person who wants to fulfill the will of God, to second his action, the work, precisely, of God. In this sense, the theocentrism of Escriva de Balaguer, in accordance with the words of Jesus, means this confidence in the fact that God has not retired from the world, that God is working now and we ought only to put ourselves at his disposal, to be ready, capable of reacting to his calling. This, for me, is a message of greatest importance. It is a message which leads to overcoming what could be considered the great temptation of our times: the pretense, that is, that after the "big bang" God retired from history. God's action did not "stop" at the moment of the "big bang," but continues throughout time in the world of nature and the world of man.
The founder of Opus Dei said: I am not the one who invented anything; there is Another who acts, and I am only ready to serve as an instrument. So the name, and all the reality which we call Opus Dei, is deeply bound up with the interior life of the founder. He, while remaining very discreet on this point, makes us understand that he was in permanent dialogue, in real contact, with Him who created us and works through us and with us. The Book of Exodus (33:11) says of Moses that God spoke with him "face to face, as a friend speaks with a friend." I think that, even if the veil of discretion hides many details from us, still from some small references we can very well apply to Josemaria Escriva this "speaking as a friend speaks with a friend," which opens the doors of the world so that God can become present, to work and transform everything.
In this light one can understand even better what holiness means, as well as the universal calling to holiness. Knowing a little about the history of saints, and understanding that in the causes of canonization there is inquiry into "heroic" virtue, we almost inevitably have a mistaken concept of holiness: "It is not for me," we are led to think, "because I do not feel capable of attaining heroic virtue. It is too high a goal." Holiness then becomes a thing reserved for some "greats" whose images we see on the altars, and who are completely different from us ordinary sinners. But this is a mistaken notion of holiness, a wrong perception which has been corrected and this seems to me the central point precisely by Josemaria Escriva.
Heroic virtue does not mean that the saint performs a type of "gymnastics" of holiness, something that normal people do not dare to do. It means rather that in the life of a person God's presence is revealed something man could not do by himself and through himself. Perhaps in the final analysis we are rather dealing with a question of terminology, because the adjective "heroic" has been badly interpreted. Heroic virtue properly speaking does not mean that one has done great things by oneself, but rather that in one's life there appear realities which the person has not done himself, because he has been transparent and ready for the work of God. Or, in other words, to be a saint is nothing other than to speak with God as a friend speaks with a friend. This is holiness.
To be holy does not mean being superior to others; the saint can be very weak, with many mistakes in his life. Holiness is this profound contact with God, becoming a friend of God: it is letting the Other work, the Only One who can really make the world both good and happy. And if, then, Josemaria Escriva speaks of the calling of all to be saints, I think that he is actually referring to this personal experience of his of not having done incredible things by himself, but of having let God work. And thus was born a renewal, a force for good in the world, even if all the weaknesses of mankind will remain ever present. Truly we are all capable, we are all called to open ourselves up to this friendship with God, to not leave the hands of God, to not neglect to turn and return to the Lord, speaking with him as if speaking with a friend, knowing well that the Lord really is a true friend of everyone, including those who cannot do great things by themselves.
From all this I have better understood the inner character of Opus Dei, this surprising union of absolute fidelity to the Church's great tradition, to its faith, and unconditional openness to all the challenges of this world, whether in the academic world, in the field of work, or in matters of the economy, etc. The person who is bound to God, who has this uninterrupted conversation, can dare to respond to these challenges, and no longer has fear. For the person who stands in God's hands always falls into God's hands. And so fear vanishes, and in its place is born the courage to respond to today's world.
Cardinal Schoenborn on St. Escriva
The chief editor of the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes Escriva as a "modern master in the spirituality of work" This commentary by Cardinal Christopher Schoenborn, archbishop of Vienna, first appeared in a Viennese newspaper ( Die Presse, Vienna, February 14, 2002)
Work has existed since man was created. Even before the fall "the Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to till it and keep it" (Gen. 2:15).
Although work is of the essence of human life, it is accompanied by unpleasantness. Not just in the brutal form of exploitation of physical and psychological resources, but also in the supposedly humane professional world of rich societies. Professional work is threatened by cost savings, lay-offs, reorganizations; it takes so much of man's energies that no free space remains for family and personal development; work for many means stress and exhaustion.
The answer to the question: "What is all this for?" has been lost. In practice, a pragmatism prevails, an intrusion into daily life of management theories: Work is legitimized by success; and absent an objective standard defining success, success becomes whatever others call it (money, career, prestige).
Professional work is for many a constant strain: either they succeed in gaining power or they find themselves manipulated. Thus not seldom does fear rule the workplace or it comes to workaholism, to an "idolatry of occupation" with fatal consequences for personal and family life. A "human ecology of work" is necessary, for which Christianity has produced great teachers.
One of them is Blessed Josemaria Escriva, who was born 100 years ago on January 9, 1902, and who founded Opus Dei in 1928. Going beyond off-target, Church-politics cliches, he can be called one of the most influential modern masters in the spirituality of work. He perceived in a new way that each person in his place and in his supposedly unimpressive profession can participate in creation and redemption, as many had long thought only clerics could do. And not only that: he also made clear that work is not a punishment from God.
Escriva's writings give us a helping hand to regain "unity of life." In his main work, The Way, he wrote: "An hour of study, for a modern apostle, is an hour of prayer" (335). But work must not "devour" man. The need today is to humanize work. This will succeed only if God and the ultimate horizons of our lives are connected in a union that gives meaning to life. If the goal of work were only "success" or naked self-realization, it would indeed be senseless. For this reason, Escriva gave particular emphasis to the serving professions (nursing, homemaking, social work). Or as the German publicist Hans Thomas once put it: "The Christian works first to serve, then also to earn. The latter creates the economic worth, the former the human dignity of work."
The humanizing of work is a consequence, not a condition of sanctifying it. Can one become holy today? Although every serious Christian should affirm it, Escriva perhaps more than others, with a bold concreteness, challenges that in the middle of the street, in the humdrum of daily life particularly in the work world every person can aim for this goal.
Much remains to be discovered and put into practice. Or in Escriva's words: "Get rid of that 'small-town' outlook. Enlarge your heart till it becomes universal, 'catholic'. Don't flutter about like a hen, when you can soar to the heights of an eagle!" ( The Way, 7) Cardinal Christopher Schoenborn of Vienna, Austria
© Robert Moynihan
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