Interview: 10 Questions about the St. Josemaria Institute
In February 2012, the Executive Director of St. Josemaria Institute, Elia Rivera, was interviewed by the web-editors of the St. Josemaria information website in Rome (www.josemariaescriva.info). In the interview, she answers “10 Questions about the St. Josemaria Institute” and explains the mission and goals of this young non-profit organization in the United States.
1. When and why was the St. Josemaria Institute established?
The St. Josemaria Institute was founded in 2006 in the United States. Our mission is to help people discover and explore the life and teachings of St. Josemaria, the “patron saint of ordinary life”, who’s become a spiritual guide for thousands of people around the world who’ve learned from his work and example the value of finding God in our everyday life as the means to our happiness, our holiness.
2. Why is it important to promote St. Josemaria Escriva in the United States?
St. Josemaria is important for the whole world. He had a universal and supernatural outlook that was aimed at helping every individual discover the profound value of their everyday life as a means of finding God and changing the world.
Americans share a desire to help others, to be happy, and to change the world; but God, the true source of this desire, is often left out of the picture, so many people still feel empty despite their efforts. St. Josemaria, like all the saints, shows us the way to find God; and, in finding God, to open ourselves to the mission God entrusts to each of us and be truly fulfilled by all the facets of our life—family, work, study, worship, service, friendship, cultural activities, and civic duties.
Even St. Josemaria acknowledged that this can sound simplistic and impossible at the same time, but that’s exactly what God wanted St. Josemaria to show us—that we are called by God to find the divine (or supernatural) meaning in everything that we do because nothing is a waste, everything is a gift or challenge from God. I think that many people in the United States will be surprised to discover that this was the message of St. Josemaria because it’s compelling, relevant, practical, and, with God’s grace, it is effective.
3. Do many people come into contact with the St. Josemaria Institute? Are they primarily from the United States?
Since we are a national organization we foster most of our interactions remotely or online; so we do come into contact with a steady flow of people every day. The majority of our friends and contacts are in the United States and Canada, but we are also in touch with people from other English-speaking countries, especially the Philippines, India, Africa, Australia and the UK. We welcome anyone who wants to learn more about St. Josemaria or who wants to help us in our mission. And everyone is encouraged to take advantage of all of the materials that we offer.
4. What are some of the highlights of the materials offered by the Institute?
The Institute is well known for starting the initiative of the “Mass Kits” to encourage the celebration of the Feast Day Mass of St. Josemaria [on June 26] in parishes, seminaries, hospitals, and on campuses throughout the country. On that day we celebrate his life with the universal Church, but it is also an opportunity to ignite our own spiritual life as we reflect on his exemplary life and holiness. The “Mass Kits” include the Propers of the Mass in English and Spanish, prayer cards, a framed portrait of St. Josemaria—items that can make the celebration more special. The kits are distributed for a donation and can be ordered through our website.
The Institute also produced the award-winning documentary “Passionately Loving the World” in which we interviewed nine individuals living in the United States who agreed to share with us the impact of St. Josemaria and his teachings on their lives and families. Each interview reveals the happiness and grace that can come from living a life that is open to God and to doing His will, to offering up every situation and to serving others with sincere joy and charity, especially our own family, friends, and coworkers. The documentary is now on DVD with subtitles in 21 languages and can also be ordered on our website.
I should mention too that we are able to produce and distribute most of our materials because of our connection with Midwest Theological Forum, the publisher of the Handbook of Prayers and other publications on the Liturgy and the Faith. The Handbook of Prayers is now a best-seller and is a must-have for every Catholic—they recently came out with a Student Edition which is great for young people. It contains the basic prayers, devotions, and teachings of the Catholic Church, and it includes many references to St. Josemaria’s writings and prayers. Midwest Theological Forum also distributes many of the works by and about St. Josemaria, which we also promote through the Institute.
5. Blessed John Paul II called St. Josemaria “the patron saint of ordinary life,” a saint with a practical view of holiness who showed us that work, study, and every situation can be an opportunity for prayer. How does the Institute help people understand this characteristic feature of his spirituality, and put it into practice?
The documentary “Passionately Loving the World” was produced precisely to address this important question. Prayer—dialogue with God—is a common theme among all the individuals that were interviewed. As they share their personal stories, they reveal how prayer shapes their entire day, their everyday challenges, their decisions, their affections, and their goals. We can talk and write about prayer endlessly, but the message really comes home when we connect with another person and with their story. This is why reflecting on the lives of the saints and extraordinary individuals is so important—it’s a great way to foster in ourselves and in others, the importance of prayer in daily life.
Since the documentary, we’ve continued to develop additional initiatives focused on prayer, especially for and among the family. We published a new “Prayer for the Family” through the intercession of St. Josemaria and a “Novena for a Happy and Faithful Marriage”. We also commissioned a statue of St. Josemaria for the family to encourage private devotion and family prayer.
We plan on continuing to explore video and film as a way to encourage reflection and prayer in daily life. But we are also working hard on redesigning and updating our website since it is our greatest tool for reaching people and for promoting all of these great materials that we hope people will enjoy.
6. Is it challenging to direct an Institute that is dedicated to promoting the life and teachings of a saint?
Yes, it’s a challenging job and that is why I love it. It requires a great deal of vision to see that the Institute has a very important mission and role in our culture.
Personally, the first challenge was realizing that I have a lot more to learn about St. Josemaria and that I wouldn’t be very effective in my work if I didn’t spend some time every day reading and studying the writings by and about St. Josemaria. And, I look at it from a professional perspective. There’s a lot of material I need to cover and understand in order to transmit it to others in creative and practical ways. Right now, I’m reading The Man of Villa Tevere by Pilar Urbano. It’s a great read for those who want an intimate look at his life and personality—the author captures many subtleties of his personality and anecdotes that sometimes get lost in epic biographies.
Secondly, the task of editing and managing a website alone can be a full-time job (as you know); it requires a lot of research and planning to stay on top of an editorial calendar, news, blogs, technology, and social media. In 2011, in addition to undertaking the redesign of our website, we joined Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. It’s so exciting to connect with people in new ways, but that can be a challenge in itself.
I think a lot about the fact that by being online we are spreading the message of St. Josemaria through methods that now reach all cultures and generations and put us in communication 24/7. I think about people who come to our website looking for something specific and those who just stumble upon us. I want to make sure that we connect with everyone and that people will be happy because of what they find. It’s a responsibility that has to be taken seriously and with great enthusiasm because it can have a huge impact.
Lastly, and most importantly, when you set out to do your job well for the good of others and to offer it to God—no matter what it is—you are always going to feel challenged by the desire to do your best. This is one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from St. Josemaria.
7. When and how did you join the St. Josemaria Institute?
I joined the Institute on February 14, 2011. (I say the exact date because it was a special day for St. Josemaria and for the priests and for the women of Opus Dei, and it will always be a special day for me.) I was recruited by my high school religion teacher, Fr. James Socias. He told me about the big goals and mission of the Institute, and I knew that I wanted to be a part of it.
St. Josemaria tells the story of being at the sea in Valencia one day watching the fishermen returning from their catch, pulling in their nets. A young boy showed up and started helping them with the nets. It was obvious that he was more in the way than helpful but the fishermen didn’t scold him or scare him away, they let him help. Reflecting on this anecdote, I started to laugh because I felt like that young boy. When I saw the enormous task ahead for the Institute, I couldn’t wait to jump in and do my part. Of course, I immediately recognized that I have a lot to learn and to grow, but confidence, cooperation and the desire to do God’s will helped me to “pick up the nets” and to keep going. With lots of help from St. Josemaria and my coworkers, it’s been an exciting beginning and the future looks great.
8. What has been your biggest challenge and your biggest reward so far? Is there something in particular that has been especially touching?
This year, the Institute helped promote the theatrical release of the film There Be Dragons in the United States. It was a challenge because it opened in over 20 cities around the country and we had less than 3 months to make a big promotion. In the end, over 100,000 people saw the film in theaters and I am certain that thousands more will watch the film on DVD—the reward was worthwhile.
However, I think I’ve been most moved by a recent anonymous letter that we received in the mail. The letter contained a $5 bill and a note that just read “Thank you, St. Josemaria.” That “thank you” could have been for anything—a physical cure, a new job, acing an exam, reconciliation with a loved one—all we can know is that St. Josemaria was instrumental in leading this person to seek and accept God’s will and to be at peace. The anonymity and sense of gratitude reminded me of the widow in the Gospel whom Jesus was moved by because she gave everything, she gave 100%. I was filled with so much hope witnessing that those same acts of faith and gratitude are still very much alive today.
9. It is true that many people have credited St. Josemaria for interceding before God for cures, favors, and reconciliation. St. Josemaria has also been a means for conversion, for many souls turning back to God. Can you share with us a testimony of someone who might have shared their conversion experience with you?
I haven’t yet come across a testimony that answers this specific question. However, I was reminded of something else. For the technical work on the Institute’s website, I enlisted the help of my friend who is a professional web and graphic designer. We have known each other for over 10 years but I had never really spoken to her in detail about St. Josemaria. As I would send her the content and materials to upload onto the website, I took for granted that she would also be reading the content. At one of our meetings, she told me that she was surprised by how much his message made sense, how practical and how true. “You’re reading it?” I asked her. “Yes, of course! It’s great!” She couldn’t believe it. I was so happy because his message, which is so encouraging and clear, came at the right moment in her life. St. Josemaria bypassed me and went directly to her in his own words. And with all the work that we’re doing on the website together, I “warned” her that in addition to being a website expert she’ll soon become an expert on St. Josemaria too!
10. Since you are in the midst of redesigning and updating the St. Josemaria Institute’s website, which feature would you most recommend to a friend?
It really depends on the person. I think people will come to the St. Josemaria Institute for many reasons—for information, news, articles, videos. Our goal with the website, and with the Institute, is to connect with people—to listen, to answer questions, to share stories and ideas, and to strengthen our families and communities. I hope that many people will be inspired to join our efforts and help us spread the message of St. Josemaria
Link to the original interview: http://www.josemariaescriva.info/article/10-questions-about-the-st-josemaria-institute