The Richness of Ordinary Life | A Homily by St. Josemaria Escriva
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.”1 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 vestra2 ‘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.
Another thing I have never forgotten, though it took place a long time ago, was once when I had gone into the Cathedral in Valencia to pray and I passed by the tomb of the Venerable John Ridaura. I was told that whenever this priest, already very advanced in years, was asked how many years he had lived, he would reply with great conviction, in his Valencian dialect, Poquets, ‘Very few! Only those I have spent serving God.’ For many of you here, the fingers of one hand are still sufficient to count the years since you made up your minds to follow Our Lord closely, to serve him in the midst of the world, in your own environment and through your own profession or occupation. How long is not all that important. What does matter is that we engrave, that we burn upon our souls the conviction that Christ’s invitation to sanctity, which he addresses to all men without exception, puts each one of us under an obligation to cultivate our interior life and to struggle daily to practise the Christian virtues; and not just in any way whatsoever, nor in a way which is above average or even excellent. No; we must strive to the point of heroism, in the strictest and most exacting sense of the word.
The goal that I am putting before you, or rather that God has marked out for us all, is no illusory or unattainable ideal. I could quote you many specific examples of ordinary men and women, just like you and me, who have met Jesus passing by quasi in occulto,3 at what appeared to be quite ordinary cross-roads in their lives, and have decided to follow him, lovingly embracing their daily cross.4 In this age of ours, an age of generalised decay, of compromise and discouragement, and also of licence and anarchy, I think it is more important than ever to hold on to that simple yet profound conviction which I had when I began my priestly work and have held ever since, and which has given me a burning desire to tell all mankind that ‘these world crises are crises of saints’.
Interior life. We need it, if we are to answer the call that the Master has made to each and every one of us. We have to become saints, as they say in my part of the world, ‘down to the last whisker,’* Christians who are truly and genuinely such, the kind that could be canonised. If not, we shall have failed as disciples of the one and only Master. And don’t forget that when God marks us out and gives us his grace to strive for sanctity in the everyday world, he also puts us under an obligation to do apostolate. I want you to realise that, even looking at things humanly, concern for souls follows naturally from the fact that God has chosen us. As one of the Fathers of the Church points out, ‘When you discover that something has been of benefit to you, you want to tell others about it. In the same way, you should want others to accompany you along the ways of the Lord. If you are going to the forum or the baths and you run into someone with time on his hands, you invite him to go with you. Apply this human behaviour to the spiritual realm and, when you go towards God, do not go alone.5
‘ If we do not wish to waste our time in useless activities, or in making excuses about the difficulties in our environment — for there have always been difficulties ever since Christianity began — we must remember that Christ has decreed that success in attracting our fellow men will depend, as a rule, on how much interior life we ourselves have. Christ has stipulated that our apostolic endeavours will only be effective if we are saints; rather (let me put it more correctly) if we strive to be faithful, for while we are on this earth we shall never actually be saints. It may seem hard to believe, but both God and our fellow men require from us an unswerving faithfulness that is true to its name and is consequent down to the last detail, with no half measures or compromises, a faithfulness to the fullness of the Christian vocation which we lovingly accept and caringly practise.
Some of you might think I am referring only to a select few. Don’t let the promptings of cowardice or easygoing ways deceive you so easily. Feel, instead, God urging each one of you on, to become another Christ, ipse Christus, Christ himself. To put it simply, God is urging us to make our actions consistent with the demands of our faith. For our sanctity, the holiness we should be striving for, is not a second class sanctity. There is no such thing. The main thing we are asked to do, which is so much in keeping with our nature, is to love: ‘charity is the bond of perfection’;6 a charity that is to be practised exactly as Our Lord himself commands: ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind,’7 holding back nothing for ourselves. This is what sanctity is all about.
Certainly our goal is both lofty and difficult to attain. But please do not forget that people are not born holy. Holiness is forged through a constant interplay of God’s grace and the correspondence of man. As one of the early Christian writers says, referring to union with God, ‘Everything that grows begins small. It is by constant and progressive feeding that it gradually grows big.’8 So I say to you, if you want to become a thorough-going Christian — and I know you are willing, even though you often find it difficult to conquer yourself or to keep climbing upwards with this poor body of ours — then you will have to be very attentive to the minutest of details, for the holiness that Our Lord demands of you is to be achieved by carrying out with love of God your work and your daily duties, and these will almost always consist of small realities.
1. Eph 1:4-5
2. 1 Thess 4:3
3. Jn 7:10
4. Cf. Mt 16:24
5. St Gregory, the Great, Homiliae in Evangelia, 6, 6 (PL 76, 1098)
6. Col 3:14
7. Mt 22:37
8. St Mark the Hermit, De lege spirituali, 172 (PG 65, 926)
“God wants us to be saints” is an excerpt from the homily “The Richness of Ordinary Life” given by St Josemaria Escriva on March 11, 1960. The homily is published by Scepter Publishers in the book “Friends of God”.
Reproduced by the St. Josemaria Institute courtesy of the Studium Foundation. The content is intended for the free use of readers, and may not be copied or reproduced without permission from ©The Studium Foundation (www.escrivaworks.org).
St. Josemaria Escriva, priest and founder of Opus Dei, was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2002 and declared the “saint of the ordinary” for his example and teachings on the value of work and daily life as the path to holiness in the middle of the world.