Interview: “Holiness for Everyone”
In July 2012, the St. Josemaria Institute interviewed author Eric Sammons who shared insights on the inspiration behind his book “Holiness for Everyone: The Practical Spirituality of St. Josemaria Escriva” as well as some helpful ideas for families on preparing for the “Year of Faith” declared by Pope Benedict XVI.
SJI: Your new book “Holiness for Everyone: The Practical Spirituality of St. Josemaria Escriva” illustrates in a very concise and engaging way the essential teachings of St Josemaria and the universal call to holiness. Your book may be the first time many people will hear about St. Josemaria and/or get to know him. When and how did you first discover St Josemaria?
ES: As a practicing Catholic, I had heard of Opus Dei, and by extension, St. Josemaria. My general impression was positive, but not very detailed. It was not until a trusted professor spoke of the impact the saint had on his life that I really became interested in studying the life and teachings of St. Josemaria.
SJI: What motivated you to write this book? Do you think it was a book that was missing among the other books already published about St Josemaria or by him?
ES: My motivation was my own experience. My undergraduate degree is in Systems Analysis, and for over 15 years I worked in software development, including 10 years running my own firm. Early on in my professional career, I struggled to balance my work life, my family obligations and my spiritual life. How could I grow in holiness when I had to spend most of my time at the office, doing work around the house or raising a family? It was during these struggles that I was introduced to St. Josemaria and his teachings; it was like a light bulb going off in my head. These activities – work, family life – were not obstacles to holiness, they were the means to it!
I also had a number of friends who had the same struggles I did. This made me realize the need to spread the spirituality of St. Josemaria to others, to write a book that would introduce this great saint to others as I was introduced to him.
I do think this book is unique. It gives a perspective on St. Josemaria and his teachings from outside Opus Dei. Most books about St. Josemaria seem to be written for current Opus Dei members, or those actively involved in Opus Dei activities. I wanted Holiness for Everyone to be a book that a Catholic completely unfamiliar with St. Josemaria and Opus Dei could pick up and use in a practical way.
SJI: Did you have a specific audience in mind when you set out to write the book? How did that shape the content and style of the book, which is very user-friendly?
ES: Yes – my audience is primarily lay Catholics who have a desire to grow in the spiritual life. In writing the book, I assumed that the reader knew little about Opus Dei and St. Josemaria. I also wanted the book to be very practical. It is important to note that this book is not primarily about St. Josemaria, but rather a guidebook on how in the modern world one can become holy. I use St. Josemaria’s teachings as the proven means to achieve that goal.
SJI: Pope Benedict XVI stated that the saints “show us the way to attain happiness, they show us how to be truly human.” In our society we seek spiritual guides and mentors for all areas of our life, what do you think makes St Josemaria a good spiritual guide for us today? How do you think St Josemaria especially shows us the way to happiness?
ES: First of all, St. Josemaria is a good spiritual guide today simply because he is a modern saint. He died only a few decades ago and understood very well the challenges of the modern world. He was a visionary who rediscovered the universal call to holiness decades before it was officially proclaimed anew by the Church at Vatican II.
Our modern world is, quite frankly, not conducive to holiness. We live in a fragmented, atomized world that seeks personal pleasure above all other goods. Yet St. Josemaria emphasized that seeking holiness would result in true happiness – a happiness founded on being a child of God and living as our loving Heavenly Father wants us to live. It is the paradox of the Gospel: only through losing our lives can we find life.
SJI: Throughout your book, as did St Josemaria, we are reminded that we are all called to be saints, “…saints who will show the world a better way to live.” What do you think St Josemaria would say is a better way to live?
ES: He would give us the words of Christ, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:25). It is by dying to self that we find joy and happiness, for by doing so, we live as Christ lived. We see this in the ordinary means of life. Who are the couples who have been happily married for decades? Those who selflessly gave their lives to their spouses and children. Self-giving is the “secret” which unlocks the path to holiness.
SJI: You mention early in the book that the universal call to holiness, which was at the heart of St Josemaria’s mission, has always been a part of Christianity but lost its meaning when “the urgency of the Christian life was lost”. Do you think that’s true today too? Do you think that this concern is a reason why Pope Benedict XVI has declared a “Year of Faith” for the Church?
ES: I think every age faces the danger of losing the urgency of the Christian life. In previous generations, perhaps the danger was the laziness that comes from complacency. Today, the danger is conformity to the secular world. In either case, the great adventure of the Christian life is not seen for all its splendor. There is no life greater than the one that is lived for Christ. Look at the saints of the past: the apostles, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Ignatius of Loyola, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. These were people on fire with divine love, whose passion for Christ was so deep it transformed their very being. This is what Pope Benedict is urging us to today: be on fire with Christ’s love, and your life – and the lives around you – will be transformed.
SJI: Chapter 6 of your book is filled with many practical suggestions inspired by St Josemaria for living a prayerful life, a holy life. In addition to those suggestions, what extra things do you recommend that we do to live the “Year of Faith” and to reignite the sense of urgency of the Christian life? Are there things that can be done as a family?
ES: The Year of Faith is a call to learn our faith more deeply, live it more intimately, and share it more boldly. So I would recommend that families take these three aspects of the Year of Faith and apply them in their daily lives. Find times to discuss the faith with your children, especially as it relates to contemporary situations. Add a regular family devotion, such as the Rosary or Divine Mercy Chaplet. And encourage the practice of the faith with our loved ones, neighbors and co-workers. All this should be done, as St. Josemaria would say, “naturally.” Our faith should be as much a part of us as our skin is part of our body.
SJI: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions. To end, although you are deeply familiar with many of his writings, can you share with us one of your favorite points from “The Way” by St Josemaria and why?
ES: Point 301: A secret, an open secret: these world crises are crises of saints.
One cannot watch the news or browse the internet without a sense that our world is adrift. We run from crisis to crisis, desperate to find someone or something that will make it all right. We feel frustrated that we cannot do anything to make a real difference in the world. Yet St. Josemaria, backed by centuries of Catholic teaching, is telling us the way out of our problems: become saints. It is saints who change the world, and each one of us is called to sainthood. It is only after we embrace the call to radical holiness that our crises will find true resolutions.
Eric Sammons is the author of “Who is Jesus Christ? Unlocking the Mystery in the Gospel of Matthew” (Our Sunday Visitor, 2010) and “Holiness for Everyone: The Practical Spirituality of St. Josemaria Escriva” (Our Sunday Visitor, 2012). He began his study of the Catholic faith in 1991 as an Evangelical Protestant, leading to his conversion to the Catholic Church in 1993. He continued his studies of Catholicism and received his Master’s of Theology degree at Franciscan University of Steubenville. His studies have focused on Scriptural interpretation, Patristics, and Christian spirituality. Eric has been married for over 16 years to his beautiful bride, Suzan, who has been deeply involved in pro-life work over the years, spending countless hours praying and sidewalk counseling in front of abortion clinics. They have six children and reside in Venice, Florida where he currently serves as Director of Evangelization for the Diocese of Venice. For more information on Eric Sammons visit www.ericsammons.com
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