“We Are Beloved”: An Interview with Catherine McMahon
“You must understand now, more clearly, that 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, no. 114).
In this interview the St. Josemaria Institute speaks with Catherine McMahon on St. Josemaria, community, and maintaining faith in a predominantly secular society. Catherine works as the Director of Beloved, an initiative within Ireland which is rooted in the spirituality of St. Josemaria and aims to help women unlock the truth, beauty, and goodness in loving and being loved by Him.
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey of faith.
Catherine: I was raised a Catholic but like many, I stopped practicing my faith during my teens. It wasn’t until college when I met a recent convert that I began to question my motives for leaving my faith. It was her simplicity and frankness that led me back to prayer and the Sacraments.
On top of that, I was lucky enough to study for five years at the University of Navarre, which helped me, among other things, to intellectualize my faith and have the confidence to believe that I could make an impact in this world.
Since then I have been working in youth work entrusted to the Opus Dei Prelature in Ireland. It has been genuinely enriching for my faith because I get to work at something that not only benefits the faith of others but also helps me a lot in my relationship with God. Like everything, it’s not easy sometimes, but I truly believe that it’s only in the light and shadows of one’s faith that you produce your best work.
Q: What is the inspiration behind Beloved? When did it launch and how are you and your team hoping to enrich the lives of young adult women today?
Catherine: In 2018, Pope Francis visited Ireland for the celebration of World Meeting of Families. The final Mass before his departure was, you could say, our Damascus. Each of us who are now involved in Beloved realized then that we needed to do something that would help make young women in Ireland immensely proud of being Catholic. And so began our journey and we launched Beloved in July, 2019.
We want Beloved to “reach out to the peripheries” as Pope Francis encourages us: to dialogue with those who doubt or do not believe, while at the same time, giving confidence to believers so that they can be proud of their faith and be able to share their faith with friends and family. For us, it’s very much about sharing the beauty of the Catholic faith: to love it, to see its relevance and beauty for our modern world, and have the confidence to share it with others.
Q: The teachings and spirituality of St. Josemaría and Opus Dei are an important part of your mission. Which of his teachings have most impacted you? And, what do you believe makes St. Josemaría an important spiritual guide for us today?
Catherine: St Josemaría is a huge influence for Beloved. Our main inspiration comes from his famous homily “Passionately Loving the World”. A well-known line from that homily is: “Your ordinary contact with God takes place where your fellow men, your yearnings, your work and your affections are. There you have your daily encounter with Christ. It is in the midst of the most material things of the earth that we must sanctify ourselves, serving God and all mankind” (Conversations, no. 113).
We want Beloved to be in midst of ordinary life and help young women find Christ there. That is why we balance our inspiration between faith and life. We are inspired by quotes and inspirations from saints but equally from others who are not saints and sometimes not Catholic – writers, artists, philosophers, thinkers. We want to show the richness of ordinary life, that others – who may think very differently to you – can also nurture your life. To see our faith in the richness of humanity and vice versa.
I think St Josemaría is an important spiritual guide for us today because he can help us to be that leaven in the dough in society: to imbue society with Christian ideals. As Christians we can run the risk of separating ourselves from the world the more society distances itself from God. But St Josemaría gives us the spiritual tools to enjoy this world in its full glory: to see and experience the richness of ordinary life and society as a source for our sanctity. This is a huge contribution to the Catholic Church and something that many of us are still unpacking. Opus Dei is a concrete living out of St Josemaría’s life and teachings, and it’s beautiful to see how so many people of very different backgrounds and viewpoints have applied his teachings to their everyday lives, inspiring and encouraging them to be that leaven in society, living out holiness organically in their lives.
Q: Although the focus of Beloved is geared toward fostering community among young adult women in Ireland, why is it important for not only young adults but people of all ages to find community and journey with others in faith?
Catherine: It’s hugely important, in fact, essential. I think the restrictions of COVID-19 have proved to us even more the necessity of genuine relationships. No amount of online connection can replace our innate need for one-on-one deep authentic relationship. For our faith to thrive, we need others to help us along the way. This is obvious in families where the faith of parents nourishes the faith of children and teens, but as adults we also need the help and support of others.
You see that in the life of St Josemaría Escrivá. I don’t think he would have become the great saint that he is if it were not for the friendships he had in his life, most especially with Blessed Alvaro del Portillo. We need friends to be there for us in our faith. We simply cannot do it alone.
That is why we wanted to make sure that the priority of Beloved would be people who could meet in real time and enjoy each other’s company, to learn and be supported by friends who truly care for them. So while we use our online platform to keep in touch and be a daily support, we also create opportunity for meet-ups and events that foster genuine friendship and community.
Q: Today’s world offers countless distractions that pull us away from our relationship with God. What advice would you share with those who are looking to refocus or establish their spiritual life in the midst of a predominantly secular society?
Catherine: Really good question! I have found Cal Newport’s blog and books (one in particular – “Digital Minimalism”) very helpful in this regard. We use his material quite a bit in Beloved. I think distraction needs be tackled as a life choice. Once it’s embedded in your daily living, then it can help your spiritual life. For example: to look for ways to diminish distraction during work (turn off notifications, avoid looking at your phone, etc.) or in family life (at meal times). Build in the habit of reading literature in your daily routine because, if you are trigger happy with any device, you’ll notice how reading is a really difficult exercise to do. Over time, all these things diminish our need for distraction and increase our ability to be in the moment.
There are obviously different things you can do to ensure your relationship with God is not plagued by distraction: for example, avoid bringing your phone into Church or at least put it on airplane mode; use visual aids like an image of our Lady, or use pen and paper to jot down your ideas during your personal prayer. I would also say believe in the benefit of small acts of piety and connection with God throughout the day (e.g. just stopping for a second to say “Jesus, I’m doing this for You” or “Help me do this well” as you start your work). As St Josemaría called them these are the “twigs” to keep the fire burning:
Et in meditatione mea exardescit ignis. And in my meditation a fire shall flame out.’ That is why you go to pray: to become a bonfire, a living flame giving heat and light.
So, when you are not able to go on, when you feel that your fire is dying out, if you cannot throw on it sweet-smelling logs, throw on the branches and twigs of short vocal prayers and aspirations, to keep the bonfire burning. And you will not have wasted your time. (The Way, no. 92)
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us? Where can our readers learn more about Beloved?
We also have a “sister” site called Hearts+Minds (which we just began in May) because women who were not in the age bracket of Beloved wanted something for themselves! It’s lovely to see how the message of St Josemaría rings home to all ages and in all times. You can find Hearts+Minds on Instagram (@heartsandmindsire) and online: www.hearts-minds.ie.