Saint Josemaria Escriva
By Jocelyn Trindade
St. Josemaria Escriva is a modern saint who taught us that everyday people in ordinary professions and circumstances can be holy. Born in Barbastro, Spain in 1902, he was one of Jose Escriva and Dolores Escriva’s 6 children, though three of them died when still young. Jose Escriva was a textile worker. His parents always taught all of their children to put God first in their lives and made sure that the faith took up a prominent place at home and in their children’s hearts.
In 1915 the Escriva family had to move to Longroño and it was here that St. Josemaria first started thinking of a vocation to the priesthood. He was moved one winter day when he saw a friar walking barefoot in the snow. This friar was living a life of poverty and gave up everything so he could better follow Jesus with an undivided heart. Seeing the footprints in the snow that the friar left behind, St. Josemaria’s heart was moved; he felt that God was asking something more from him, and though he didn’t know exactly what God wanted, he realized that he would better figure it out as a priest after studying law at the University of Saragossa. He was ordained on March 28, 1925 and from that day forward St. Josemaria proved to be a worthy priest of Jesus Christ and brought many souls to Him. His first assignment was at a small parish and later was moved to Saragossa, the city where he took up his studies in law school.
Two years later in 1927, St. Josemaria moved to Madrid to obtain a doctorate in law and it was there, in Madrid, while on retreat that he very clearly understood the specific mission that God was calling him to him. And so, St. Josemaria founded Opus Dei (Latin for “The Work of God”) at the Basilica de La Milagrosa (Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal). Through this “call within a call” that St. Josemaria experienced of first to the priesthood and then to founding Opus Dei, he continued to give himself tirelessly to God’s people by working most especially with the poor and the sick in hospitals.
In 1936 when a civil war broke out, St. Josemaria continued to shepherd souls even when it was dangerous to do so. He would dress in civilian clothing to hide his identity and sit on park benches to hear confessions. When men or women would come to him for confession, to bystanders it looked like they were in the midst of a normal leisurely conversation, but what St. Josemaria was really doing was reconciling sinners to Christ in the Sacrament of Mercy.
St. Josemaria used his talents for Christ. He obtained many doctorate degrees in law and theology and was an advisor for several Vatican offices. But he didn’t stop there. St. Josemaria traveled to many cities and countries to speak to men and women about their universal call to holiness and how to become saints by ordinary means. St. Josemaria knew that holiness wasn’t something that only few were called to. He recognized that being holy was something that every baptized person has the potential for.
He did so most especially through founding Opus Dei, which is a model for living out holiness at every state in life by continually joining one’s work to Christ. In this way, students, plumbers, doctors, athletes, and stay-at-home moms could very concretely and practically live out their mission of being “other Christ’s” in the world. By sanctifying ordinary work moment by moment, Christians are able to bring Christ to secular places and transform culture from within, starting first with themselves. St. Josemaria Escriva knew the great secret; ordinary things, when given to God, become extraordinary and can be the means that help us reach holiness.
St. Josemaria died in Rome on June 26, 1975, beatified on May 17, 1992, and canonized on October 6, 2002 by Blessed John Paul II. Hundreds of thousands of Catholics continue to follow St. Josemaria Escriva’s vision of sanctifying ordinary tasks with, through, and for Christ. When we recognize that we, too, are capable of becoming great saints, Christ’s mission for us to be “salt, light, and leaven” for society doesn’t seem so impossible.
St. Josemaria had a knack for making holiness very attainable through very practical means. He loved to take mundane tasks and use them as examples to show how to sanctify our actions. One of the things that St. Josemaria taught his spiritual sons and daughters involves sleeping… Or, I guess I should say, not sleeping. He taught that at the exact moment when our nemesis – the alarm clock – goes off (what he called the “heroic minute”) in the morning, we should immediately arise out of bed without hitting the snooze button. Disciplining our bodies in this way, St. Josemaria taught, was a way of echoing St. Michael’s “Serviam,” or “I will serve” which he cried out when thousands of fallen angels led by Lucifer said to God, “I will not serve.” St. Josemaria recognized the importance of small mortifications and sacrifices as soon as you wake up because if we could say “no” to sleep, which is good, we would be better able to say “no” to that which is sinful during the day when we are much more alert.
St. Josemaria constantly urged those under his care to strive for the greatness we were made for and not to settle for anything mediocre. He always offered challenging spiritual advice but he also knew that human beings are weak creatures; he was patient with others in their gradual improvement of their souls. One of St. Josemaria’s famous sayings was, “Nunc coepi,” “now I begin again.” St. Josemaria recognized that the path to holiness was a continual process of daily conversion. He said, “Your interior life has to be just that: to being… and to begin again.”
Standing as a great saint of modern times, St. Josemaria teaches us that holiness is very much possible even for ordinary Christians. Through his intercession, may we continue to seek holiness in our daily lives! St. Josemaria Escriva, pray for us!