Today, June 26th, marks the feast day and death anniversary of Saint Josemaría Escrivá. He is one of the greatest personalities that I have known in my lifetime and today, I remember him with reverence.
Born in Barbastro, Spain on January 9, 1902, Saint Josemaría Escrivá and his siblings were brought by their parents into a devout Catholic life.
When his family left for Logroño after his father’s textile business went down, it was there where Saint Josemaría Escrivá sensed his vocation for the first time. It was there, after seeing the footprints of a friar who walked in the snow, where he felt God is calling him to become a priest. He started his vocation in Logroño and later in Saragossa. He was ordained on March 28, 1925, starting his priestly works in a rural parish before moving back to Saragossa.
In 1927, he went to Madrid to study for his doctorate in law. And in October 2, 1982, sensing that God showed him clearly the mission he had been hinting to him for several years, he founded the Opus Dei. From that day on he worked with all his energies to develop the foundation that God asked of him, while he continued to fulfill the various priestly responsibilities he had at that time. These brought him into daily contact with sickness and poverty in the hospitals and the poor districts of Madrid.
Civil War broke out in 1936, soon after World War II, making the economic and social situation in Spain so much worse. Against this backdrop, Saint Josemaría Escrivá managed to build study centers, youth clubs, retreat homes and educational academies. After escaping across the Pyrenees to southern France, he took up residence in Burgos. He returned to Madrid after the war and continue his works, especially giving many retreats to lay people, priests, and members of religious orders.
He died in Rome on June 26, 1975. With the backing of thousands of people, including bishops around the world, Pope John Paul II beatified Saint Josemaría Escrivá on May 17, 1992. 10 years later, he canonized him into a saint, declaring that: “Following in his footsteps, spread in society the awareness that we are called to holiness, without distinction of race, class, culture or age.”
His life and experience teach us that even in the worst economic period, amidst persecution and a hostile environment, one can still live in peace, goodness, charity, kindness and can forgive others with an optimistic, cheerful spirit.
What comes to my memory and reflection on the very important role that Saint Josemaría Escrivá played in my life and that of my parents and family.
St. Saint Josemaría Escrivá met my parents, being one of the first Opus Dei members in the Philippines, sometime 1967 or 1968 in their head offices in Rome. He encouraged my parents to be generous in their being instruments of God in upbringing of children. “These children are called to be sons of God as Christians, with a mission to spread the Good News,” was one of the ideas that Saint Josemaría Escrivá shared with my parents. He assured them that God will take care of the family with his Divine Providence.
A saint living in the presence of God but with a foot strongly rooted on solid ground, Saint Josemaría Escrivá wrote that it is in one’s profession where one can find God by sanctifying the work done. I wish to introduce this and suggest to fellow real estate practitioners and other professionals to read the works of Saint Josemaría Escrivá, especially his book, “FRIENDS OF GOD.”
You and I belong to Christ’s family, for ‘he himself has chosen us before the foundation of the world, to be saints, to be blameless in his sight, for love of him, having predestined us to be his adopted children through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his Will’. We have been chosen gratuitously by Our Lord. His choice of us sets us a clear goal. Our goal is personal sanctity, as St Paul insistently reminds us, haec est voluntas Dei: sanctificatio vestra, ‘this is the Will of God: your sanctification’. Let us not forget, then, that we are in our Master’s sheepfold in order to achieve that goal.
Sanctity in our ordinary tasks, sanctity in the little things we do, sanctity in our professional work, in our daily cares, sanctity, so that we may sanctify other.
Many people begin, but few finish. And we, who are trying to behave as God’s children, have to be among those few. Remember that only work that is well done and lovingly completed deserves the praise of the Lord which is to be found in Holy Scripture: ‘better is the end of a task than its beginning’.
Many Christians are no longer convinced that the fullness of Life that God rightly expects from his children means that they have to have a careful concern for the quality of their everyday work, because it is this work, even in its most minor aspects, which they have to sanctify.
It is no good offering to God something that is less perfect than our poor human limitations permit. The work that we offer must be without blemish and it must be done as carefully as possible, even in its smallest details, for God will not accept shoddy workmanship. ‘Thou shalt not offer anything that is faulty,’ Holy Scripture warns us, ‘because it would not be worthy of him.’ For that reason, the work of each one of us, the activities that take up our time and energy, must be an offering worthy of our Creator. It must be operatio Dei, a work of God that is done for God: in short, a task that is complete and faultless.
From the beginning of creation man has had to work. This is not something that I have invented. It is enough to turn to the opening pages of the Bible. There you can read that, before sin entered the world, and in its wake death, punishment and misery, God made Adam from the clay of the earth, and created for him and his descendants this beautiful world we live in, ut operaretur et custodiret illum, so that we might cultivate it and look after it.
We must be convinced therefore that work is a magnificent reality, and that it has been imposed on us as an inexorable law which, one way or another, binds everyone, even though some may try to seek exemption from it. Make no mistake about it. Man’s duty to work is not a consequence of original sin, nor is it just a discovery of modern times. It is an indispensable means which God has entrusted to us here on this earth. It is meant to fill out our days and make us sharers in God’s creative power. It enables us to earn our living and, at the same time, to reap ‘the fruits of eternal life’, for ‘man is born to work as the birds are born to fly’.
To this you might reply that many centuries have gone by and very few people think along these lines; that most people, when they work, do so for very different reasons: some for money, some to support their families, others to get on in society, to develop their capabilities, or perhaps to give free play to their disordered desires, or to contribute to social progress. In other words, most people regard their work as something that has to be done and cannot be avoided.
This is a stunted, selfish and earthbound outlook, which neither you nor I can accept. For we have to remember and remind people around us that we are children of God, who have received the same invitation from our Father as the two brothers in the parable: ‘Son, go and work in my vineyard.’ I give you my word that if we make a daily effort to see our personal duties in this light, that is, as a divine summons, we will learn to carry them through to completion with the greatest human and supernatural perfection of which we are capable. Occasionally we may rebel, like the elder of the two sons, who replied to his father, ‘I will not,’ but we will learn how to turn back repentant and will redouble our efforts to do our duty.
Professional work, whatever it is, becomes a lamp to enlighten your colleagues and friends. That is why I usually tell those who become members of Opus Dei, and the same applies to all of you now listening to me: ‘What use is it telling me that so and so is a good son of mine — a good Christian — but a bad shoemaker?’ If he doesn’t try to learn his trade well, or doesn’t give his full attention to it, he won’t be able to sanctify it or offer it to Our Lord. The sanctification of ordinary work is, as it were, the hinge of true spirituality for people who, like us, have decided to come close to God while being at the same time fully involved in temporal affairs.
You must fight against the tendency to be too lenient with yourselves. Everyone has this difficulty. Be demanding with yourselves! Sometimes we worry too much about our health, or about getting enough rest. Certainly it is necessary to rest, because we have to tackle our work each day with renewed vigour. But, as I wrote many years ago, ‘to rest is not to do nothing. It is to turn our attention to other activities that require less effort.’
Let us ask Our Lord Jesus for light, and beg him to help us discover, at every moment, the divine meaning which transforms our professional work into the hinge on which our calling to sanctity rests and turns. In the Gospel you will find that Jesus was known as faber, filius Mariae, the workman, the son of Mary. Well, we too, with a holy pride, have to prove with deeds that we are workers, men and women who really work!
To this I now add that your work too must become a personal prayer, that it must become a real conversation with Our Father in heaven. If you seek sanctity in and through your work, you will necessarily have to strive to turn it into personal prayer. You cannot allow your cares and concerns to become impersonal and routine, because if you were to do so, the divine incentive that inspires your daily tasks will straightaway wither and die.
I recommend that we adopt Saint Josemaría Escrivá as our patron to help us in the success of our endeavors, the value and worth of professional work.