When Love is Strengthened
St Josemaria would invite people to take the Holy Family as their model and also to try their best, with daily self-giving, to make their family life into a foretaste of heaven. The family is a school of love, in the first place for the woman and man who decide to get married. The founder of Opus Dei said, “I constantly tell those who have been called by God to form a home to love one another always, to love each other with the love of their youth. Anyone who thinks that love ends when the worries and difficulties that life brings with it begin, has a poor idea of marriage, which is a sacrament and an ideal and a vocation. It is precisely then that love grows strong. Torrents of worries and difficulties are incapable of drowning true love, because people who sacrifice themselves generously together are brought closer by their sacrifice” (Conversations, no. 91).
“I have spent almost forty years preaching the vocational meaning of marriage,” St Josemaria tells us in the same book, referring to ideas that he had been preaching about from the very beginning of Opus Dei. With God’s help, which is never lacking, wife and husband can persevere in their love, and through that love they find the possibility of growing as Christians, which also means improving their characters.
If people enter into marriage and live in it with that attitude, they find that marriage is a true vocation, a path to their meeting with God. Like on every path, there will be difficulties along the way. Sometimes the husband’s and wife’s ways of thinking will be different. Perhaps selfishness will try to take over in their souls.
They need to be forewarned so as not to be taken by surprise. St Josemaria was very supernatural and at the same time very human, and because he foresaw these natural difficulties in marriage, he used to say, “As we are all human beings, sometimes you will quarrel, but do it very seldom. And afterwards each of you should recognize that it was your fault, and each should say to the other, ‘I’m sorry!’ and give the other a kiss… And on you go!” (Notes taken in a family gathering, June 4, 1974).
Like that, the relationship between husband and wife becomes a constant opportunity to practice self-giving to the other. It is a learning process in which each of the spouses becomes aware, in the daily context of their earthly journey, that they belong to the other. In that wonderful atmosphere of trust, loyalty, sincerity and affection, real self-surrender, they show that they are ready to receive the children God wants to entrust to them, children who are also the fruit of their love.
If people sincerely want to put this ideal into practice, it is essential to practice the virtue of chastity with the greatest care, including in the married state. The use of sexuality, which is good, beautiful, something wanted for them by God, should never lose its noble original meaning. In St Josemaria’s words, I will remind you that “When there is chastity in the love of married persons, their marital life is authentic; husband and wife are true to themselves, they understand each other and develop the union between them. When the divine gift of sex is perverted, their intimacy is destroyed, and they can no longer look openly at each other.
A married couple should build their life together on the foundation of a sincere and pure affection for each other, and on the joy that comes from having brought into the world the children God has enabled them to have. They should be capable of renouncing their personal comfort; and they should put their trust in the providence of God. To have a large family — if such is the will of God — is a guarantee of happiness and of effectiveness, in spite of everything that the mistaken proponents of a life based on selfish pleasure may say to the contrary.” (Christ is Passing By, no. 25)
Normally, married love, like every honest human love, is also shown in little things. St Josemaria talked countless times about the importance of what seems little, but is great if it is done with love, in the different aspects of Christian life. For instance, he encouraged a warm, personal conversation with God in ordinary everyday situations. Because our contact with God is like a family conversation: we are his children, and he is our Father. And so when St Josemaria found something useful in meditating on divine love, he also applied it to human love, to family life; and vice versa. I will repeat this, making my own some words in which he underlined that every tiny detail has significance.
He said, “But they mustn’t forget that the secret of married happiness lies in everyday things, not in daydreams. It lies in finding the hidden joy of coming home in the evening, in affectionate relations with their children, in the everyday work in which the whole family cooperates; in good humor in the face of difficulties that should be met with a sporting spirit; in making the best use of all the advantages that civilization offers to help us rear children, to make the house pleasant and life more simple” (Conversations, no. 91).
St Josemaria would invite people to take the Holy Family as their model and also to try their best, with daily self-giving, to make their family life into a foretaste of heaven. I can still hear his voice saying this sort of thing: in Nazareth, no-one keeps anything for themselves: everything there is placed at the service of God’s plans, with constant concern of each for the others. With ever-renewed constancy, St Josemaria used to meditate on the Gospel scenes that show us the Holy Family. He liked to get inside that home in his imagination, as another of the people living there, and think about the habitual conversations between Jesus, Mary and Joseph. From that custom, he drew valuable lessons for the faithful of Opus Dei and for everyone who came to him for advice.
Bishop Javier Echevarria was the second successor of St. Josemaria as head of Opus Dei (1994-2016). He delivered this closing address at the International Congress on the Family and Society at the Universitat Internacional de Catalunya (Barcelona, Spain, May 17, 2008).