“Why don’t you give yourself to God once and for all…really…now?!”
–St. Josemaria Escriva, The Way No. 902
Pope St. John Paul II called Josemaría Escrivá “the saint of ordinary life.” That’s because this Spanish priest’s message was a simple one: all of one’s life—one’s work, family life, and the ordinary events of each day—are opportunities for drawing closer to Our Lord. This was the core of the Opus Dei movement, inspiring millions to offer to God their daily duties.
Through the course of his priestly ministry, St. Josemaria left many letters of advice and spiritual direction, many excerpts of which are contained in the three books, The Way, Furrow, and The Forge. Here are 5 pieces of lessons from St. Josemaria’s writings for those who seek to sanctify their work and be leaders in the Church and in the world.
1.) God is Found in the Mundane
“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.”
-Conversations (Passionately Loving the World) No. 114
Oftentimes we live as though there are compartments for each part of our life: there is work, school, family life, recreational life, prayer life, life in the church, and so on. Each is distinct from the others.
Yet, St. Josemaría understood that God wants to be included in every aspect of our lives—not just the “religious” ones that we think He belongs in. He wants us to see Him in every aspect and He desires for us to turn to Him for everything.
When we live with God in mind only on Sunday, or when we are performing a charitable work, then we miss so many other ordinary moments in which we could allow God to enter in and be with us in the daily events of our lives.
2.) Sainthood Isn’t Sugarcoated
“To be holy isn’t easy, but it isn’t difficult either. To be holy is to be a good Christian, to resemble Christ. The more closely a person resembles Christ, the more Christian he is, the more he belongs to Christ, the holier he is.”
– The Forge No. 10
This is reminiscent of Our Lord’s words in St. Matthew’s Gospel: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (11:29-30). It’s one of the many paradoxes in the Christian life. On one hand, Jesus says His yoke is easy; on the other hand, He said that if we would follow Him, we need to take up our cross (Matthew 16:24).
When we allow the words of this great saint to penetrate our hearts, we can hear him speaking directly to each of us:
- “Fight against that weakness which makes you lazy and careless in your spiritual life. Remember that it might well be the beginning of lukewarmness… and, in the words of the Scripture, God will vomit the lukewarm out of his mouth.” – The Way No. 325
- “You’re bored? That’s because you keep your senses awake and your soul asleep.” – The Way No. 368
- “I don’t understand how you can call yourself a Christian and lead such an idle, useless life. Have you forgotten Christ’s life of toil?” The Way No. 356
3.) Humility, Humility, Humility
“Would that you could acquire, as I know you would like to, the virtues of the donkey! Donkeys are humble, hard — working, persevering — stubborn! — and faithful, with a sure step, tough and — if they have a good master — also grateful and obedient.”
– The Forge No. 380
St. Josemaría Escrivá spoke often about the donkey’s role in carrying Jesus to Jerusalem. He even developed a “theology of the donkey” which is based on being as humble as Jesus.
He recognized his nothingness before the Lord, often praying these words from Psalm 73: “When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was stupid and ignorant, I was like a donkey toward thee. Nevertheless I am continually with thee; thou dost hold my right hand.”
St. Josemaría knew that as the Prince of Peace had chosen the donkey to transport Him to Bethlehem and Jerusalem, so He chose him and all Christians to be Christ-bearers to the people of their own times and places.
4.) Embrace the Small Moments
“Have you noticed how human love consists of little things? Well, divine Love also consists of little things.”
– The Way No. 824
St. Josemaría Escrivá spoke often about perseverance. He explained that we must try hard in the little things of life if we wish to succeed in the big ones. This is the message of many other saints such as St. Teresa of Calcutta and St. Thérèse of Lisieux. In simple ways, St. Josemaría Escrivá encouraged the faithful to live well in the small moments of our daily life of work.
There is a story of a winter day, when a young 16 year old Josemaria saw footprints in the snow left by a bare-footed Carmelite friar. When he thought of the dedication shown in those footprints, he wondered about his own call to give his life to God.
This small and almost insignificant sign made a lasting impact on Josemaria. Footprints left nearly anywhere last but a short while. But in this short-lived whisper of holiness, Josemaria heard a call in his soul to give himself to God as a priest. Even though he didn’t know exactly God’s plan, he gave himself completely over to the Lord after this encounter.
5.) Pray, Pray, Pray
“When you pray, but see nothing, and feel flustered and dry, then the way is this: don’t think of yourself. Instead, turn your eyes to the Passion of Jesus Christ, our redeemer. Be convinced that he is asking each one of us, as he asked those three most intimate Apostles of his in the Garden of Olives, to ‘watch and pray.’”
–The Forge No. 753
Prayer is not primarily about feelings; it is a dialogue of love. Consolations can result from prayer and peace in the spiritual life, but we shouldn’t expect that to be our permanent state. St. Josemaría points to the antidote for aridity in prayer: meditation on the Passion of Jesus. In that mediation we encounter Jesus’ love for us in its most concrete expression.
On top of our own weaknesses and busy schedules, we also have an enemy on the attack against us. (1 Peter 5:8-9) The devil definitely does not want us nourished with a regular life of prayer.
St. Josemaría comments about wasting time—decades before there were smart phones. Not inherently bad in themselves, but they can easily dull our appetite for the spiritual life. Remember that the enemy doesn’t always tempt us into full-blown apostasy. He merely has to serve up a steady diet of distractions.
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St. Josemaria Escriva, pray for us!