June 26th is the feast day of
St. Josemaria Escriva.
Around the world, Masses are celebrated in his honor and everyone is invited!
St. Josemaria Escriva was born in Barbastro, Spain on January 9, 1902. His family on both sides was steeped in the cultural and Christian traditions of Spain and colored by the personality of their native province, Aragon. In his parents -Jose Escriva and Dolores Albas - Josemaria had clear examples of faithful and pious Christians. Jose and Dolores gave birth to their first child, Carmen, in 1899. She was followed by Josemaria and three more girls before 1910. The beginning of the 1910's was a period of trials for the family, marked by the deaths of the three younger daughters and a severe economic setback that resulted in the family leaving Aragon and settling in the neighboring province in the town of Logroño. St. Josemaria, a bright young student with a cheerful and open personality, watched his parents suffer these hardships with a deep faith in God.
At the age of 16, while walking in Logroño on a cold winter day, St. Josemaria noticed footprints in the snow left by the bare feet of a Carmelite friar. As he considered the life of dedication represented by the footprints, he felt a deep awakening in his soul and wondered if he too was called to give himself to God. From that day St. Josemaria felt that God wanted something from him, though he did not know what it was. Convinced that he could best discern this call as a priest, he decided to give up his intended career as an architect and enter the seminary. He began to pray intensely with great faith asking God to reveal His divine will. "Lord, let me see!" (Lk 18:41) was his simple prayer for many years.
In 1918, St. Josemaria began his ecclesiastical studies at the Seminary of Logroño, and in 1920 he continued in Zaragoza, where he was appointed to a position of leadership in the seminary by the Archbishop of Zaragoza. During his years at the seminary, St Josemaria strengthened his spiritual formation through frequent reading and personal prayer. On many nights he spent long hours before the Blessed Sacrament of the seminary church in intimate and deeply felt conversation with God. He also made daily visits to the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar, a popular Marian shrine in Zaragoza. In 1923, after his theological studies were well under way, and having obtained permission from his superiors, St. Josemaria began studying civil law at the University of Zaragoza. He chose to study civil law to fulfill a wish made by his father years earlier, when St. Josemaria told him about his decision to become a priest. The time he spent with professors and fellow students at the seminary and the university enriched his personality and prepared him for his future mission. St. Josemaria was ordained a priest on March 28, 1925 only a few months after the unexpected death of his father. His family, made up of his mother, his sister Carmen, and his brother Santiago, moved from Logroño to Zaragoza where they were, to a large extent, under St. Josemaria's care. He started his priestly ministry in the parish of Perdiguera (of the diocese of Zaragoza), and later returned to Zaragoza.
In the spring of 1927, St. Josemaria and his mother, sister, and brother moved to Madrid where he pursued a doctorate in law. In Madrid, he carried out various priestly ministries, attending to the poor and helpless in the outskirts of Madrid. He also spent a great deal of time with incurable and dying patients in hospitals around the city. He became chaplain of the Foundation for the Sick and he prepared thousands of poor children for their first Confession and first Holy Communion. To support the financial needs of his mother, sister, and brother, St. Josemaria became a teacher in an academy, tutoring university students in juridical studies. All this, together with constant prayer, mortification, and penance, made these years a prelude to Opus Dei; that is, a period of spiritual growth that prepared St. Josemaria for what God was to ask of him.
On October 2, 1928, during a spiritual retreat, God clearly revealed to St. Josemaria what Opus Dei was to be. St. Josemaria described it as a mobilization of Christians of all walks of life who would make the world holy by offering God their daily duties. On that day Opus Dei was born, as a reality branded on the soul of a young priest who from that time dedicated all his energies to it. At first, St. Josemaria's natural humility in the face of the proliferation of religious foundations, led him to research as to whether an institution such as the one God revealed to him already existed. However, from October 2, he also began to seek people who would understand this manifestation of God. He soon discovered that nothing existed similar to what God was requesting of him. Guided always by God, on February 14, 1930, St. Josemaria also came to understand that this apostolic work would include women.
A new way was thus opened in the Church, directed at promoting, among people of all social classes, the struggle for sanctity through ordinary secular life and the need to be an apostle in the midst of the world. It was also in 1930 when a casual question put to him by a friend ("How is that Work of God getting on?") led him to think that this could be the name of this apostolic mission. The expression "Work of God" manifests, on the one hand, St. Josemaria's profound conviction that he was fulfilling a divine wish, and at the same time, expresses clearly what Opus Dei means in practice: ordinary life, professional work, conversion through prayer and personal generosity for the service of all humankind.
The nucleus of the message transmitted by St. Josemaria was the announcement of a universal call to sanctity in the fulfillment of ordinary work. Thirty years before the Second Vatican Council, St. Josemaria, speaking on the plenitude of Christian life, proclaimed with supernatural daring:
"You have the obligation to sanctify yourself. Even you, who thinks that this is the exclusive task of priests and religious orders. To all, without exception, the Lord said 'Be perfect, as my heavenly Father is perfect'" (The Way, 291).
This was the message that St. Josemaria promoted and which drew to him a group of people- small at the beginning- but destined to grow. Meanwhile, the social context of St. Josemaria's life underwent changes and tensions. The economic situation of his family continued to be difficult. His pastoral ministry also changed. In 1931, St. Josemaria left the Foundation for the Sick and assumed the task, first as chaplain and later, in 1934, as Rector of the Royal Foundation of St. Elizabeth. There, in the sacristy of St Elizabeth's, after especially intense personal prayer, St. Josemaria put into writing what was to be one of his first books: reflections on the mysteries of the Rosary, which were published in 1934, under the title of Holy Rosary. St. Josemaria also began writing down notes from his personal prayers. Gathering together some of these notes, he composed a collection of points for meditation which he entitled Spiritual Considerations. These were first printed in 1934 and were helpful in conveying his apostolic work to those around him. In 1939, the points were published entitled The Way (Camino) and became St. Josemaria's best known work and a spiritual classic.
In 1935, although there were hardly more than a dozen members of Opus Dei, St. Josemaria contemplated its expansion from Madrid to other Spanish cities. However, the start of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 made it impossible to carry out these plans immediately. During the time the conflict lasted, St. Josemaria carried on with his ministry; first in Madrid, at grave risk to his life, and later, in Burgos, after making a dangerous crossing of the Pyrenees mountains. In Burgos, he dedicated himself tirelessly to renewing contact with those who formed part of Opus Dei, and to his priestly activities. Taking advantage of the time he now had, St. Josemaria decided to resume work on his doctoral dissertation in civil law, centering it not on the subject he had decided on before (the documents he had left in Madrid were practically lost) but on an interesting ecclesiastical reality that existed in Burgos: the quasi-episcopal jurisdiction of the abbess of the Monastery of Las Huelgas. In 1942, he presented and defended his doctoral dissertation. Two years later, completing and amplifying his research, he published his third book, an extensive monograph on the Abbess of Las Huelgas.
The Spanish Civil War slowed the expansion of Opus Dei but strengthened the vocations of many its first members who eagerly began the apostolic development of Opus Dei at the war's conclusion. The 1940's witnessed a strong growth of Opus Dei which, in a short time, was established in several of the major Spanish cities. St. Josemaria dedicated most of his energy and time to spurring on this expansion and in attending to the new vocations, making this work compatible with the preaching of numerous spiritual retreats for priests. During this time of ecclesiastical reconstruction, of healing the wounds caused by the war, various bishops, knowing St. Josemaria's priestly depth, approached him to request his collaboration.
Beginning in the 1940's, St. Josemaria encountered fierce adversity: both from within and without the Church. He bore these attacks with serenity and a supernatural outlook. He never lacked, in those difficult circumstances, the encouragement and blessing of the Bishop of Madrid, Leopoldo Eijo y Garay, who had followed the development of Opus Dei from its beginnings. To publicly show his support, Bishop Eijo y Garay granted Opus Dei its first written approval in 1941. On February 14, 1943, St. Josemaria found the solution to a question that had been worrying him: how would priests be involved in Opus Dei? On this day, during Mass, he received the inspiration to create the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross, a priestly association in which members of Opus Dei who became priests could be incardinated. Later that year the Bishop of Madrid allowed for its canonical establishment. In 1944, three members of Opus Dei were ordained to the priesthood.
The end of World War II made it possible to think about the universal expansion of Opus Dei, which had already begun, albeit in a limited way (Portugal and Italy), during the war. This expansion meant being subject to pontifical rather than diocesan authority, and so, in 1946 St. Josemaria moved to Rome, settling there until his death. In 1947 and 1950 Pope Pius XII granted Opus Dei the canonical approvals permitting not only the expansion of Opus Dei, but also the admittance of married people as members. Further, diocesan priests could also join the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross, while remaining united with their bishops. In 1982, after St. Josemaria's death, Opus Dei was established by the Pope as a Personal Prelature, thus achieving full juridical configuration in keeping with the reality of its spirit and activity.
During his years in Rome (1946-1975), St. Josemaria stimulated and guided the expansion of Opus Dei throughout the world, using all his energies to give the faithful of Opus Dei, both men and women, a solid doctrinal, ascetic and apostolic formation, that would permit them to sanctify their different professions and to spread the Christian message from the most varied spheres of life. This expansion was in fact very rapid. In 1946 members of Opus Dei began to work in Great Britain, Ireland and France, reaching most of the countries of Western Europe in successive years. In 1948 it began its work in Mexico and the United States and, soon afterwards, in a large number of Latin American countries. At the end of the 1950's and the beginning of the 1960's, Opus Dei established a stable presence in Asia and Africa: Japan, the Philippines and Kenya. At the death of St. Josemaria, Opus Dei had more than 60,000 members of 80 nationalities. As fruit of its activity, numerous people drew closer to the Catholic faith or progressed in their Christian life. Many educational, charitable and apostolic initiatives were started as well, such as the University of Navarre (Spain), of which St. Josemaria was the first Grand Chancellor.
In 1948 and 1953 two centers of formation were established in Rome, one for men and another for women (the Roman College of the Holy Cross, and the Roman College of Holy Mary). The Colleges made it possible for members of Opus Dei from diverse countries to study in Rome. Both Roman Colleges facilitated the direct and immediate contact of many of the first generations of Opus Dei members with St. Josemaria.
In 1959, the recently-elected Pope John XXIII convened an ecumenical council: the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). St. Josemaria followed the council enthusiastically praying and asking the members of Opus Dei to pray for its success. When the Council's documents were published he immediately began to implement them into the life and liturgy of Opus Dei's centers. The expansion of Opus Dei drew attention not only from Christian spheres, but also from society as a whole, and from the media. In 1966, journalists from France, the United States, Spain, and Italy met and interviewed St. Josemaria. In 1968, these interviews and a homily delivered in 1967 were published as Conversations with Msgr. Escrivá de Balaguer. In the years that followed, St. Josemaria also compiled two collections of meditations and homilies: Christ is Passing By (1973) and Friends of God (released posthumously in 1977). Other works published after St. Josemaria's death, include The Way of the Cross (1981), Furrow (1986) and The Forge (1987).
Following the close of the Second Vatican Council, St. Josemaria engaged in catechetical activity preaching the faithful implementation of the Second Vatican Council. He not only received numerous visitors in Rome, but also traveled widely around Europe and America (1970, 1972, 1974, 1975). These journeys enabled him to meet with thousands of people, to whom he strove to transmit the love for Christ, the Virgin Mary and the Church that filled his own heart. All this required a considerable effort on his part - he bore the physical marks of a long life, full of hard work - but he did not hesitate in offering all his energy for the Church and for souls.
On June 26, 1975, St. Josemaria gave up his soul to God after suddenly collapsing on entering the room where he worked. He passed away with the same simplicity that had characterized his life. The fame of the heroic virtues of St. Josemaria soon extended around the world, and countless people turned to his intercession, asking for both material and spiritual favors.
On May 12, 1981, his Cause of Beatification and Canonization was opened in Rome. After a rigorous study of his life and his writings, and with the proof of a miracle brought about through his intercession, John Paul II beatified him on May 17, 1992 in Rome, before a huge crowd of people filling St. Peter's Square.
After the approval of a new miracle, he was solemnly canonized by Blessed John Paul II on October 6, 2002 before an immense crowd that surpassed the previous one, reaching nearly half a million people. This figure bears witness to the widespread devotion to St. Josemaria Escriva, a man who proclaimed that every person has the ability and responsibility to seek God in their ordinary work and lives.
"May you seek Christ, May you find Christ, May you love Christ." - St. Josemaria Escriva
Copyright © 2012, St. Josemaria Institute