The Message of St. Josemaría: Particularly Relevant Ideas for Today’s Society
By Fr. Martin Rhonheimer
The following article was written by Fr Martin Rhonheimer, Professor of Ethics and Political Philosophy at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, and a priest of Opus Dei. It was presented at the Corporate Communication Professional Development Seminar, Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, on March 2, 2007.
I would like to begin with an anecdote that I heard from a colleague. Not far from Rome, in the area surrounding the locality of Pereto, by the Abruzzo mountains one finds a Marian sanctuary venerating Our Lady under the advocation Madonna dei Bisognosi, “Our Lady of the Needy.” In the now-restored sanctuary, there is an impressive fresco of the Final Judgment. Completed by painters of the area around the end of the fifteenth century, it is a magnificent work of art, which speaks with clarity. On one side is paradise, populated exclusively by clerics, monks and religious. In purgatory one sees representatives of all the trades and professions of the day, ordinary Christian of all classes.
The message is unmistakable: the ideal of Christian life and perfection is separation from the world; a coherent and radical “imitation of Christ” is only possible by distancing oneself from normal earthly life. Whoever lives in the world, necessarily dirties his hands – that is, his soul – and after this life needs purification. Sanctity cannot be attained in the middle of the world.
Within the horizon of this perspective it is perhaps easier to understand why, in 1928, the young Josemaría Escrivá ran up against the mistrust, rejection and misunderstanding of not a few of his contemporaries. He affirmed, effectively, that all Christians without exception are called to sanctity, to the fullness of Christian life, to intimate friendship with God and identification with Christ; and they are called in the middle of ordinary life, in the toil of professional work and daily preoccupations, in the intimacy of married love, in family life and in the various spheres that make up society, politics, and economics. God is found everywhere, even in daily work, in the apparent monotony of the ordinary.
There are many consequences of this message. In what follows I would like to highlight a few of them that seem especially relevant today. First, we will consider what I call the “first rediscovery of ordinary life” in the Protestant Reformation and the Protestant work ethic, which has profoundly marked the modern world. Next, I will briefly analyze what I call the “second rediscovery of ordinary life” by St. Josemaría Escrivá, its importance, its fundamental characteristics and its in a certain sense innovative character within the heart of the Catholic Church. Third, I will mention some ascetical and ecclesiological consequences of this rediscovery: love for freedom and a spirit of non-discrimination, important characteristics of what St. Josemaría called “lay mentality,” and the importance of this message for the activity of Catholics in a society marked by secularity and pluralism to open a path that is precisely non-fundamentalist and non-integralist for the evangelizing task of the Church and the realization of her mission to penetrate this world with the truth and spirit of Christ.
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The St. Josemaria Institute was founded in 2006 to promote the life, teachings, and devotion to St. Josemaria Escriva among all men and women who desire to find meaning and happiness in their daily lives by growing closer to God. The St. Josemaria Institute produces and distributes digital and print media as a means to spread Christian values around the world and to help people navigate and live well in the digital age.