We are deeply moved, and our hearts profoundly shaken, when we listen attentively to that cry of St Paul: ‘This is God’s will for you, your sanctification.’ Today, once again, I set myself this goal and I also remind you and all mankind: this is God’s Will for us, that we be saints.
In order to bring peace, genuine peace, to souls; in order to transform the earth and to seek God Our Lord in the world and through the things of the world, personal sanctity is indispensable. In my conversations with people from so many countries and from all kinds of social backgrounds, I am often asked: ‘What do you say to us married folk? To those of us who work on the land? To widows? To young people?’
I reply systematically that I have only ‘one stewing pot’. I usually go on to point out that Our Lord Jesus Christ preached the good news to all, without distinction. One stewing pot and only one kind of food: ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work.’ He calls each and every one to holiness; he asks each and every one to love him: young and old, single and married, healthy and sick, learned and unlearned, no matter where they work, or where they are. There is only one way to become more familiar with God, to increase our trust in him. We must come to know him through prayer; we must speak to him and show him, through a heart to heart conversation, that we love him.
Talking with God
‘Call upon me and I shall hear you.’ The way to call upon him is to talk to him, turn to him. Hence we have to put into practice the Apostle’s exhortation: sine intermissione orate; pray always, no matter what happens. ‘Not only with your heart, but with all your heart.’
You may be thinking that life isn’t always easy, that we all have our share of bitterness, sadness and sorrow. I tell you again, with St Paul, that ‘neither death nor life, no angels or principalities or powers, neither things present nor things to come, no force whatever, neither the height above us nor the depth beneath us, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which comes to us in Christ Jesus Our Lord’. Nothing can take us away from the charity of God, from Love, from keeping up a constant relationship with our Father.
In recommending this unbroken union with God, am I not presenting an ideal so sublime that it is unattainable by the majority of Christians? Certainly the goal is high, but it is not unattainable. The path that leads to holiness is the path of prayer; and prayer ought to take root and grow in the soul little by little, like the tiny seed which later develops into a tree with many branches.
We start with vocal prayers which many of us have been saying since we were children. They are made up of simple, ardent phrases addressed to God and to his Mother, who is our Mother as well. I still renew, morning and evening, and not just occasionally but habitually, the offering I learned from my parents: ‘O my Lady, my Mother! I offer myself entirely to you, and in proof of my filial love, I consecrate to you this day my eyes, my ears, my tongue, my heart…’ Is this not, in some way, a beginning of contemplation, an evident expression of trusting self-abandonment? What do lovers say when they meet? How do they behave? They sacrifice themselves and all their possessions for the person they love.
First one brief aspiration, then another, and another… till our fervour seems insufficient, because words are too poor…: then this gives way to intimacy with God, looking at God without needing rest or feeling tired. We begin to live as captives, as prisoners. And while we carry out as perfectly as we can (with all our mistakes and limitations) the tasks allotted to us by our situation and duties, our soul longs to escape. It is drawn towards God like iron drawn by a magnet. One begins to love Jesus, in a more effective way, with the sweet and gentle surprise of his encounter.
‘I will release you from captivity, wherever you may be.’ We shake off slavery, through prayer: we know we are free, borne on the wings of a lover’s nuptial song, a canticle of love, which makes us want never to be parted from God. It is a new mode of going about this earth, a mode that is divine, supernatural, marvellous. Remembering oft-repeated phrases of the Spanish Golden Age, we may like to taste for ourselves that truth: ‘I am alive; or rather, not I; it is Christ that lives in me!’
One gladly accepts the need to work in this world and for many years, because Jesus has few friends here below. Let us not turn away from our duty to live our whole life — to the last drop — in the service of God and his Church. And all this, freely: in libertatem gloriae filiorum Dei, qua libertate Christus nos liberavit; with the freedom of the children of God which Jesus won for us by dying on the tree of the Cross.
It may be that, even from the beginning, dark clouds will appear and, at the same time, the enemies of our sanctification may employ techniques of psychological terrorism so vehement and well orchestrated — it is a real abuse of power — that they drag in their absurd direction even those who for a long time had behaved in a more reasonable and upright manner. Yet though their voices sound like cracked bells, that have not been cast from good metal and have a very different tone from the shepherd’s whistle call, they so distort speech, which is one of the most precious talents ever bestowed on men by God, a most beautiful gift for the expression of deep thoughts of love and friendship towards the Lord and his creatures, that one comes to understand why St James says that the tongue is ‘a whole world of malice’. So great is the harm it can do: lies, slander, dishonour, trickery, insults, tortuous insinuations.
“Towards Holiness” is an excerpt from the homily given by St. Josemaria Escriva on November 26, 1967. The homily is published by Scepter Publishers in the book “Friends of God”. The content is intended for the free use of readers, and may not be copied or reproduced without permission from ©The Studium Foundation.
St. Josemaria Escriva, priest and founder of Opus Dei, was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2002 and declared the “saint of the ordinary” for his example and teachings on the value of work and daily life as the path to holiness in the middle of the world.