“Footprints Towards Love”: An Interview with Holly Rodriguez
St. Josemaria Escriva wrote that, “[In] Opus Dei we venerate and love the religious state. I pray every day that all venerable religious will continue to offer the Church the fruits of their virtues, their apostolic works, and their holiness […] Opus Dei has always enjoyed the admiration and the sympathetic goodwill of religious of many orders and congregations, especially of cloistered monks and nuns, who pray for us, write to us often, and make our work known in a thousand ways because they appreciate the meaning of our life: contemplatives in the midst of the cares of the secular city” (Conversations, no. 43).
In this interview, the St. Josemaria Institute speaks with Holly Rodriguez, artist and author of Loving Christ Through St. Josemaria Escriva. Holly will be entering a Discalced Carmelite Monastery and shares how the life and writings of St. Josemaria have inspired her to follow God’s call in her daily life and towards religious life.
Q: Can you briefly share with us a bit about your background, family, and faith?
Holly: I was born and raised in California, in a Hispanic community. My family on my mother’s side were immigrants from Spain who left during the Spanish Civil War and gained their American Citizenship in Puerto Rico. From there, they moved to California sometime in the 1940s. On my father’s side of the family, they are California natives of Irish descent.
I grew up typically surrounded by Catholicism but nobody in my immediate family was a practicing Catholic anymore. I wasn’t raised in the Catholic faith, but it was all around me in the local culture of the Hispanic community I grew up in, so I was very familiar with Our Lady of Guadalupe. I converted later in life while living and working in England.
Q: How did you come to know about St. Josemaria Escriva? What has been his role in your life?
Holly: During the covid-19 pandemic, I was really discerning my vocational calling, and at a crossroads trying to listen to what God was saying in terms of what He wanted for my life, and how best I could serve Him. I knew I was called to celibacy and had thought of becoming a religious nun or sister off and on. I discovered Opus Dei while looking into various vocations in the church. I was fascinated and dove into the writings of St. Josemaria Escriva. I wanted to seek deeper knowledge on how to serve Christ and St. Josemaria provided me with the guidance and knowledge that I had been searching for. He taught me how to sanctify my everyday ordinary work, or the small mortifications which I could offer up to Our Lord as blessings for others, and this gave me the strength to endure.
It was St. Josemaria Escriva who said that “A saint is a sinner who perseveres.” I reached out to an Opus Dei priest to learn about the Work, and what a vocation in Opus Dei would be like. I was very interested, especially in the Numerary or Numerary Assistant vocations. I spent a year corresponding with a wonderful friend and Numerary in London, and the Opus Dei priest who were both helping me in my discernment journey.
I decided that year to become a Cooperator of the Work and devote myself to the teachings of St. Josemaria, adopting him as my spiritual guide and patron. I embarked on a 40-day personal prayer retreat, which later became my book. I felt so much closer to Christ through St. Josemaria, and I trusted that he would help me to discern by interceding for me in my vocational journey.
Q: You wrote a book to help draw others close to Christ through St. Josemaria. Tell us about the book and what inspired you to share your work with others in this way.
Holly: I began writing in a personal journal each day, for 40 days during the height of the covid-19 pandemic. I would reflect on the writings of St. Josemaria and find Sacred Scriptures which were the foundation for those writings, to grow in closeness to Christ, accompanied by a daily Rosary routine. I found that this practice had such a strong effect on me, and on my faith life, that perhaps God had inspired me to take on that journey and write so that I could help others to strengthen their ordinary daily life, with these short, yet powerful prayers and reflections. Each day focuses on something different that we can all relate to in our daily lives.
The book is what I would describe as a field guide for all who are walking on the narrow path toward sainthood in a chaotic world. St. Josemaria became my teacher and guide on how to walk closer with Christ, endure suffering, and carry my crosses with dignity and transformative grace, and I wanted to share that gift with the world.
Q: Tell us about your vocation story and your journey to the Discalced Carmelites. What attracted you to this religious order in particular, and how did this calling take shape?
Holly: When I joined RCIA and embarked on my conversion journey in the Catholic faith, I found a little book one day left in the tearoom of the parish. I was volunteering there, and everyone had left that afternoon. I tidied up and found a small copy of St. Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle. I took it home and read it, then returned it to the parish library. St. Teresa of Avila would become my Confirmation saint, and I took the name “Teresa.”
From that time onwards, Carmel would providentially appear in my life in various ways. It wasn’t until I really began discerning a vocation that I learned more about the Discalced Carmelite Order. I had thought before about possibly becoming a nun, but it was just an idea and not something I’d seriously considered at the time, due to other priorities in life.
When I had finished publishing my book and continued to discern a vocation in Opus Dei, I began thinking about entering a religious community once more. I had to really silence my thoughts and focus my mind on Christ during this time so that I would make the right decision. I was reading the book on St. Josemaria titled 40 Years with a Saint by Blessed Alvaro del Portillo at the time. In it, Blessed Alvaro writes about the early years of St. Josemaria, and about how when he was a boy in Logroño, Spain, he witnessed a barefoot Carmelite friar walking in the snow.
Upon seeing the footprints in the snow, St. Josemaria was so incredibly affected spiritually by the witness of sacrifice and love of Christ on the part of the Carmelite friar, that he began his discernment toward priesthood. I would later learn via Opus Dei that this Carmelite Friar who left the footprints in the snow was named Fr. Jose Miguel. He would become the spiritual director of St. Josemaria.
St. Josemaria would later describe the encounter with the footprints as a trail leading him toward love. He knew that God was calling him to something great, he just didn’t know what yet! Those footprints did not only lead St. Josemaria down the path of love but would also lead me down that path, through him!
Providence would have it, that upon meeting the mother superior of the Discalced Carmelite community as an aspirant for the first time, she gave me a little book on the history of the community and about vocation, titled Footprints. Those footprints that had led St. Josemaria closer to God, and toward a life of love, devotion, and sacrifice, had also led me. It was, I believe, St. Josemaria and God, showing me the path toward my vocation. God had used him as a wonderful instrument of His divinity, through providence, in this way.
Q: How were the life and writings of St. Josemaria influential in leading you to take this path in life?
Holly: St. Josemaria taught me the value of sacrifice, about what truly loving Christ entails. His writings gave me a profound sense of what it means to love and how to embrace the way of the Cross. I believe that God knew St. Josemaria was just the teacher and guide I needed. And he is also such a wonderful intercessor. His writings also brought me so much closer to the Blessed Sacrament and taught me the true meaning of Eucharistic adoration. His book titled In Love with the Church brought me closer to understanding our amazing Catholic faith.
Q: You mention that you are also an artist. What role has art played in the different aspects of your life, and how do you put your artistic talents into practice?
Holly: Art has always been a part of my life since I was a young child. I think that artists can see the beauty in things that others may miss. An artist sees in colors and poetry, and I believe that the great artists of history were given such an amazing gift to paint beautiful images of sacred art because they saw the beauty in Christianity. Since my conversion, I use my art for the Church. I give those talents back to God and use them for His work because these talents belong to him. I am just the paintbrush in the hand of God, who is the Master Artist. Whether it be publishing work, designing event flyers, parish newsletters, prayer cards, painting, or making rosaries, it is all for God.
Q: What advice can you share with other young men and women who are discerning a vocation to religious life or feel inspired to give their lives to God?
Holly: Embrace silence and aloneness with Christ. Eucharistic adoration allows us to be in the presence of Perfect Love, and in this stillness, we can take our time and pause everything else going on around us to listen to Him; to meditate on Him, on His limitless mercy and how we can give back to Him, to love Him by allowing ourselves to be an instrument of His divine will.
Q: Holly, thank you so much for your time. Is there anything else that you’d like to share with us? We will certainly pray for you as you begin this new chapter in your life, and, as St. Josemaria often did, ask for your prayers as well!
Holly: Thank you very much, it has been a privilege and as a Cooperator of Opus Dei, I will keep all members, families, and priests of the Work in my daily prayers within Carmel. I learned through my discernment with Opus Dei that many Carmelite communities in Spain and around the world are Cooperators of Opus Dei as well! A Carmelite life is a life of love and prayer. I may not have been called to a vocation in Opus Dei, but it was Opus Dei along with the Holy Spirit that led me to Carmel, and in following those same footprints toward love that St. Josemaria followed, I too can embrace a life of sacrifice out of love. Our Lord loves a cheerful giver, and a heart on fire for Him!