“A vocation accepted and lived in fidelity to God’s will”
In honor of the 75th anniversary of Blessed Josemaria’s priestly ordination, on March 28, 2000, L’Osservatore Romano published the following article by Fr. Antonio Aranda, a professor at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross.
Saturday, March 28, 1925. In the church of San Carlos Seminary in Saragossa, Bishop Miguel de los Santos Díaz Gómara ordained to the priesthood ten deacons of the diocese. One of them was a 23-year-old from Aragon, Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer. This was the goal of the path he had set out on seven years earlier, when he had first felt God’s love calling him to his service. He had sensed that God wanted “something” from him, but he did not as yet have a clear idea of what it was. These premonitions led him to the priesthood. “Why did I become a priest?” he said later (in 1973). “Because I thought that it would be easier to fulfill God’s will, which I wasn’t sure of yet. For eight years I had sensed that he was asking something of me, but I didn’t know what it was, until 1928 when I learned what he wanted. That is why I became a priest.”
The origin of these premonitions is found in the city of Logroño at the beginning of 1918. One day in winter he saw the footprints in the snow of a bare-footed discalced Carmelite who had gone out to fulfill his pastoral duties in the early morning cold. This event has been fully described in his biographies so there is no need to go into details here. However I would like to stress the consequences of that episode in Josemaria’s life and its theological dimensions. I have written “theological dimensions” on purpose. It was precisely here, through an intervention of God—and this is why these events offer a key to a theological reading—that a foundational mission within the Catholic Church with its relevant pastoral and doctrinal consequences took root. A personal experience is the point of departure of the Christian apostolic influence channeled through the spirit and activities of Opus Dei. Josemaria Escriva’s mission has given birth to a reality with broad ecclesial and social repercussions, a new theological and pastoral phenomenon. From that moment on, God’s grace—in an unexpected but unequivocal way—deeply moved his soul and began to trace the path of his life. Where that path would lead, he couldn’t even imagine yet, but he clearly perceived its essential characteristics: a) a powerful force moving him towards an intimate relationship with God and a progressive deepening of his spiritual life; b) a chain of inspirations from God (the “premonitions” that God wanted something), which followed one another without interruption until October 2, 1928; c) the clear voice of a call to the priesthood, specifically to the diocesan priesthood, perceived as God’s will in preparation for something else that he sensed would come later. For ten years, the life of Josemaria unfolded within the context of these three realities, until the moment when he saw clearly the mission for which he had been chosen.
“Without knowing exactly why, I was convinced that God wanted something from me” (Personal Notes, no. 289, September 17, 1931). On March 19, 1975, he said: “I was 14 or 15 when I began to sense the call of Love . . . I saw clearly that God wanted something, but I didn’t know what it was” (Meditation, March 19, 1975). These two quotes, separated by more than 40 years, show his readiness to fulfill whatever mission God had in store from him. “I didn’t know what God wanted from me, but I had a clear sense that he had chosen me for something” (ibid.). He knew, as he said on January 9, 1974, that God was asking him for “something specific to further his glory.”
Little by little, he began to realize that what God wanted was linked to his own struggle for sanctity. In Opus Dei’s foundational message, the call to personal sanctity takes on an essential role in the service it is to render to the Church.
Many years later he recalled that our Lord had been preparing him with “apparently innocent things, which he made use of to put into my soul a divine restlessness” (Meditation, February 14, 1964). Josemaria, who was beginning to feel an “insatiable thirst for God,” was gently moved by grace to undertake a path of “daily communion, purification, confession... and penance” (ibid.). That sixteen-year-old lad, who saw himself as of little worth and who was not “inclined to believe in anything extraordinary” (Meditation, October 2, 1971), began to experience the power of persevering and tenacious prayer: “A prerequisite for prayer,” he said on July 25, 1961, “is perseverance, what in Spain we call stubbornness. Things go forward after having prayed for many years. For a long time before the foundation of the Work, when I had inklings that our Lord was asking something of me, and I did not know what it was, I prayed insistently two aspirations: “Domine, ut videam! Domina, ut sit! Lord, let me see. Let what you want but what I don’t yet know, come into existence.”
The power of persevering, trusting, and filial prayer is the hinge of the Christian spiritual tradition, inspired by Christ’s example and words. This is a central point in the life and teachings of Blessed Josemaria, beginning with his search for God’s will, which became clear to him only after years of prayer and penance. His trust in God based on prayer and penance can be seen, for example, in the juridical path of the Work. The Founder had guessed from the beginning that the juridical format would lie in the area of a personal ecclesiastical jurisdiction. He prayed incessantly and asked others to pray, did penance and asked others to do so, worked and had others work trustingly for almost fifty years, so that this intuition would become a reality. God did not grant to him to see it realized on earth. But his untiring prayer over many years now constitutes an indelible sign of how the mission received from God must be put into practice.
God’s will finally became clear to him three years after his priestly ordination, on the morning of October 2, 1928, in Madrid, while he was making a retreat. Rereading some notes he had taken of the interior motions received in those ten long years of prayer and study, he saw clearly and unequivocally the mission that our Lord wanted to entrust to him. That mission consisted in opening a path of sanctification for all the ordinary faithful, in their professional work and in the fulfillment of the ordinary duties of a Christian. At that moment Opus Dei was born.
“Our Lord gave rise to Opus Dei in 1928 to remind Christians that, as we read in the book of Genesis, God created man to work. We have come to call attention once again to the example of Jesus, who spent thirty years in Nazareth working as a carpenter. In his hands, a professional occupation, similar to that carried out by millions of people all over the world, was turned into a divine task. It became a part of our Redemption, a way to salvation.
“The spirit of Opus Dei reflects the marvelous reality (forgotten for centuries by many Christians) that any honest and worthwhile work may be converted into a divine occupation. In God’s service there are no second class jobs, all of them are important.
“To love and serve God, there is no need to do anything strange or unusual. Christ bids all men without exception to be perfect as His heavenly Father is perfect (cf. Mt 4:48). Sanctity, for the vast majority of people, implies sanctifying their work, sanctifying themselves in it, and sanctifying others through it. Thus they can encounter God in the course of their daily lives” (Conversations with Msgr. Escriva, no. 55).
Human work, desired by God as a field of cooperation with creative Wisdom and Love, becomes “in Jesus hands” (and with him in the hands of Christians) a path of personal sanctification and of redirecting all creation to the glory of God. “God did not create us to build a lasting city here on earth (Heb 13:14). . . . Nevertheless, we children of God ought not to remain aloof from earthly endeavors, for God placed us here to sanctify them, and to make them fruitful with our blessed faith, which alone is capable of bringing true peace and joy to all men wherever they may be. Since 1928 I have constantly preached that we urgently need to Christianize society. We must imbue all sectors of mankind with a supernatural outlook, and each of us must strive to raise his daily duties, his job or profession, to the order of supernatural grace. In this way all human occupations will be lit up by a new hope that transcends time and the inherent transience of earthly realities” (Friends of God, no. 210).
Work, a reality which is part of the Creator’s plan and which, after the fall of our first parents, has been restored by Christ to its original sanctifying meaning, is now seen to be an instrument of Christianization, a way of carrying out the Christian’s evangelizing witness. “For a Christian, apostolate is something instinctive. It is not something added onto his daily activities and his professional work from the outside. I have repeated it constantly, since the day that our Lord chose for the foundation of Opus Dei! We have to sanctify our ordinary work, we have to sanctify others through the exercise of the particular profession that is proper to each of us, in our own particular state in life” (Christ Is Passing By, no. 122). In these words of Blessed Josemaria, one can see the figure of the Son of God made man. We see the outline of his redemptive life, spent largely in daily work like that of any other ordinary person, carried out in the midst of his fellow men, but done for the glory of the Father, with a burning love for the world that he had come to sanctify.
“On that October day in 1928,” wrote Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, “the founder saw opening before him the horizons to which the Lord was calling him by entrusting him with the establishment of Opus Dei. This was to be a mobilization of Christians in every part of the world, Christians of every social class, who, by carrying out their professional work with freedom and personal responsibility, would seek their own sanctification while sanctifying from within all their temporal activities, in a daring movement of evangelization aimed at bringing all souls to God” (Immersed in God, Scepter, 1996, p. 54.) Blessed Josemaria realized from the beginning the apostolic importance of the mission God had entrusted to him, and he had a clear awareness of the profound repercussions that the light received on October 2, 1928 would have on the history of mankind.
“We are an intravenous injection in the bloodstream of society, so that you, as men and women of God. . . . may immunize all men and women from corruption and illuminate every human intellect with Christ’s light” (Instruction, March 19, 1934, no. 42).
Today, almost seventy-five years after the reception of the foundational grace, one can appreciate the truth of what he foresaw in the service of the Church. We can cite, by way of example, the following words from the Decree on the heroicity of his virtues: “This message of sanctification in and from earthly realities has shown itself providentially timely in the spiritual situation of our era, so solicitous of human values, but also so ready to cede before an immanentist vision that understands the world apart from God. Besides, in inviting the Christian to seek union with God through his or her work, the perennial task and dignity of man on earth, the timeliness of this message is destined to endure, as an inexhaustible font of spiritual light despite changes in times and historical situations.”
The pastoral efficacy of this message is seen not only in the panorama of apostolic initiatives promoted throughout the world by the faithful of the Prelature of Opus Dei, but also in the flourishing of priestly vocations at the service of this charism. As we know, the priests who make up the presbyterium of the Prelature come from the lay faithful who form part of it. During Blessed Josemaria’s life, many hundreds of professional men were ordained whom he had called and guided towards holy orders. Precisely today, on the 75th anniversary of his ordination, a group of faithful of the Prelature is being ordained to the priestly ministry in the Basilica of St. Eugene in Valle Giulia, thus witnessing, in a discrete but visible way, to the ecclesial repercussions of those early “premonitions,” received and put into practice with such great fidelity.
Romana, No. 30, January-June 2000, p. 0.