St. Josemaría Escrivá, The Last of the Romantics

The last of the Romantics, the heir of those who fought for personal freedom in the 19th century, has nothing to do with the Volkgeist (popular spirit) of German Romanticism, which, from Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) onward, evolved into the pseudo-religious mystique of ideological and aggressive nationalism. We are referring to the “Christian romanticism” to which St. Josemaría Escrivá, the founder of Opus Dei, always referred.

Christian Romanticism

With the meaningful expression “last romantic,” coined by St. Josemaría himself, Msgr. Mariano Fazio titles his book, “St. Josemaría Escrivá: The Last of the Romantics.” In his book, the author highlights the passionate defense of freedom, not relativistically understood, by the founder of Opus Dei. Indeed, in Escrivá’s teachings, we find a respect for the freedom of others that never translates into indifferentism. Escrivá, a Christian who “loved tradition but was not a traditionalist,” emphasized that true freedom arises from love for the Truth and charity. This ideal encourages the cultivation of natural and Christian virtues, enabling each person to enhance their talents and vocation in their concrete reality.

“With the nostalgic words, ‘the last romantics,’” Msgr. Fernando Ocáriz, Prelate of Opus Dei, notes in the foreword that, “St. Josemaría wanted above all to challenge his listeners, to awaken in them this same love of freedom that he bore in his heart. ‘Don’t let me be “the last of the romantics.” This is Christian romanticism: to love the freedom of others, with affection.’” This is not the path of freedom understood as self-determination, which today often manifests itself as subjectivistic and narcissistic, but rather the freedom that leads to responding to the universal call to holiness. Such freedom is indispensable from both civil and political perspectives, fostering social bonding and community belonging, which enable us to feel free, united, and supportive.

Everything Comes from Personal Encounter

Msgr. Fazio personally met St. Josemaría at a gathering for high school students organized in the small town of Bella Vista, Buenos Aires (Argentina), on June 22, 1974. He was struck, among other things, by the radiant smile of the Spanish priest. By the end of that friendly encounter, something ignited in his 14-year-old heart. In his book, rather than delving into personal details, Msgr. Fazio avoids both biographical and theological essay styles. Instead, he presents a structured account of the insights received by St. Josemaría, which were passed down to him.

In the first part titled “The Divine Pathways of the Earth,” Fazio outlines the core message of grace received by Escrivá on October 2, 1928, the day Opus Dei was founded while on a spiritual retreat in Madrid, Spain. This included “the call to sanctification and apostolate in everyday life,” along with the methods used to spread this doctrine worldwide.

At the same time, the saint met many difficulties in this process. In 1962, recalling the early days of Opus Dei, St. Josemaría said there was the most brutal misunderstanding because what is now common doctrine in the world was not understood then. “I faced a situation that had persisted for centuries: there was nothing. To human eyes, the entire Work seemed a disproportionate endeavor. As a result, some people called me crazy and a heretic, among other things.” However, he managed to overcome the situation and continue his path.

The second part, “Contemplatives in the Middle of the World,” sketches the distinctive aspects of the spiritual life of the Work’s founder, following a “Trinitarian pattern.” In the third part, “In the Church and in the World,” Fazio examines the various “arenas” where every individual is called to pursue holiness. The fourth part, “Freedom: A Gift from God,” explores comprehensively “the profound theme of freedom as an essential condition for living our vocation to holiness.” The fifth part, “At All the Crossroads of the World,” is devoted to three fundamental spheres of ordinary life where each person is invited to pursue sanctity: work, family, and civil society. And the book concludes with the powerful assertion: “The World is Emmaus.”

The Human Realism of Holiness

The appendix of the book reprints a significant text by Joaquin Navarro Valls (1936-2017), the memorable spokesman of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI until 2006. This text was edited shortly after Josemaría Escrivá’s beatification in Rome on May 17, 2002, and it underlines the essential role of the founder of Opus Dei in fostering a new “awareness of the call to live the fullness of Christian life through everyday circumstances and normal activities” in the latter half of the 20th century (J. Navarro Valls, The Human Realism of Holiness, L’Osservatore Romano, Oct. 6, 2002).

In the introduction to the text, Msgr. Fazio reminisces about the years he spent alongside Navarro Valls at the Opus Dei Center in Rome, during which they “shared events, interests, joys, and sorrows.” This journey culminated on July 7, 2017, when he presided over Navarro Valls’ funeral at the Basilica of Sant’Eugenio in Rome which was filled to its utmost capacity.

Rector of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross and Vicar General of Opus Dei

Msgr. Mariano Fazio, formerly the Rector of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross (PUSC), currently serves as the Vicar General of Opus Dei since 2014. Born in Buenos Aires on April 25, 1960, he holds a degree in History from the University of Buenos Aires and a PhD in Philosophy from PUSC. He was ordained a priest in 1991 by St. John Paul II. For seven years, he taught Philosophy of Law in Ecuador and actively participated in the civil and cultural life of the country, including contributing as a columnist for the newspaper El Telégrafo. From 1996 to 2002, he served as the inaugural Dean of the School of Church Communications at PUSC and subsequently held the position of Rector from 2002 to 2008. He continues to teach History of Political Doctrines at the university. In 2008, he returned to the Americas where he served as the Regional Vicar of Opus Dei for Argentina, Paraguay, and Bolivia until 2014. Msgr. Fazio has authored over twenty books on modern society and processes of secularization, including titles such as “Historia de la filosofía contemporánea,” “Historia de la filosofía moderna,” and “Storia delle idee contemporanee.” His publications also encompass several biographies of recent Pontiffs, including Blessed Paul VI, Benedict XV, Benedict XVI, St. John XXIII, and Pope Francis.

Alina-Maria Balaj Alina-Maria Balaj

Alina-Maria Balaj is the Communications Coordinator for Research Projects at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome where she is also a researcher and a PhD Candidate in the School of Church Communications. The focus of her research is on the communication of the responsibility of women in the Church and in society. She also has a BA in Journalism and International Relations and European Studies (University of Oradea, Romania) and a MA in Church Communications (Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome, Italy). She speaks Romanian, English, Italian, Spanish and French. Her research interests include: institutional communication, history of the Church, feminism, philosophy, and theology. 

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