Opus Dei – The First Years1940-1944
The Spanish Civil War slowed the expansion of Opus Dei but strengthened the vocations of many its first members who eagerly began the apostolic development of Opus Dei at the war’s conclusion. The 1940’s witnessed a strong growth of Opus Dei, which in a short time was established in several of the major Spanish cities. St Josemaria dedicated most of his energy and time to spurring on this expansion and in directing the new vocations. However, during this time of ecclesiastical reconstruction in Spain, many bishops asked St Josemaria to preach to their clergy. After the devastation of the civil war it was necessary to nourish the spiritual life of priests, and the laity as well. St Josemaria’s reputation was growing, not only as an excellent preacher, but also as a holy priest. Some years the number of priests making these retreats exceeded one thousand.
His preaching was his personal prayer made out loud. To his listeners he conveyed his love for our Lord, his own interior life. His theme was always Jesus and the good news of the Gospel, reflecting on Christ’s life in vivid terms. Whatever his immediate topic, whether sin or grace or eternal life, his destination was always personal union with Jesus who lives and who loves us.
Nevertheless, his growing reputation also caused St Josemaria to encounter fierce adversity: both from within and without the Church. He bore these attacks with serenity and a supernatural outlook. He never lacked, in those difficult circumstances, the encouragement and blessing of the Bishop of Madrid, Leopoldo Eijo y Garay, who had followed the development of Opus Dei from its beginnings. To publicly show his support, Bishop Eijo y Garay granted Opus Dei its first written approval in 1941.
On February 14, 1943, St Josemaria found the solution to a question that had been worrying him: how would priests be involved in Opus Dei? On this day, during Mass, he received the inspiration to create the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross, a priestly association in which members of Opus Dei who became priests could be incardinated. Later that year the Bishop of Madrid allowed for its canonical establishment. In 1944, three members of Opus Dei were ordained to the priesthood.