Modern Day Saint

Saint Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer


Josemaria, founder of Opus Dei, opened a new path of holiness in the Catholic Church, teaching that men and women can become holy by performing their work and daily duties with a Christian spirit.

Josemaria Escriva was born in Barbastro, Spain, on January 9, 1902. He had five siblings: Carmen (1899-1957) and Santiago (1919-1994), plus three younger sisters who died when they were small children. His parents, Jose and Dolores, gave their children a deep Christian education.

In 1915, Jose Escriva's business failed and he found other work, which required the family to move to Logrono. It was as a teenager in Logrono that Josemaria for the first time sensed his vocation. Moved by the sight of footprints left in the snow by a barefoot friar, he sensed that God was asking something of him, though he did not know exactly what it was. He thought becoming a priest would help him discover and fulfill this calling from God, so he began to prepare for the priesthood, first in Logrono and later in Saragossa.

Josemaria's father died in 1924, leaving him as head of the family. After his ordination in 1925, he began his ministry in a rural parish, and subsequently continued it in Saragossa. In 1927, Father Josemaria's bishop gave him permission to move to Madrid to obtain his doctorate in law.

On October 2, 1928, during a spiritual retreat, God gave Father Josemaria the long-expected light to see his mission in the service of the Church and souls: to help all the faithful rediscover the Gospel message that all Christians are called to a life of holiness and apostolic service. Our Lord gave him an immediate understanding of the basic message: people in every sector of society are called to follow Christ by committing themselves to strive for holiness in and through their ordinary duties. From then on, he devoted himself fully to the mission without ever considering it an idea of his own, nor regarding himself as an innovator or reformer. He placed himself and this work of God – Opus Dei – at the service of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

From then on he worked on carrying out this task, meanwhile continuing his priestly ministry, particularly to the poor and the sick. During these early years of Opus Dei, he was also studying at the University of Madrid and teaching classes in order to support his family.

In 1934 Father Josemaria published the first version of The Way, a small book of short points for meditation intending to foster a life of piety. It eventually exceeded 4 million copies, became his best-know work although its contents were elaborated and amplified in additional books (Holy Rosary, Christ is Passing By, Friends of God, The Way of the Cross, Furrow, The Forge, and In Love with the Church).

When the Civil War broke out in Madrid, religious persecution forced Father Josemaria to exercise his priestly ministry clandestinely and to move from place to place seeking refuge. Eventually, he was able to leave the Spanish capital; and, after a harrowing escape across the Pyrenees, he took up residence in Burgos. When the war concluded in 1939, he returned to Madrid and finally obtained his doctorate in law. In the years that followed he gave many retreats to laity, priests, and religious, and continued working assiduously to develop Opus Dei.

In 1946 Father Josemaria took up residence in Rome. During his years in Rome, he obtained a doctorate in Theology from the Lateran University and was appointed by Pope Pius XII as a consultor to two Vatican Congregations, as an honorary member of the Pontifical Academy of Theology, and as an honorary prelate.

He traveled frequently from Rome to various European countries, and to Mexico on one occasion, to spark the growth of Opus Dei in those places. In 1974 and 1975, he made two long trips to a number of countries in Latin America, where he met with large groups of people and spoke to them about their Christian vocation to holiness.

Msgr. Escriva died in Rome on June 26, 1975. By the time of his death, Opus Dei had spread to 32 countries and had 60,000 members. After his death thousands of people, including more than a third of the world's bishops, sent letters to Rome asking the Pope to open his cause of beatification and canonization. Today the number of people in Opus Dei has grown to 84,000 people worldwide, with 3,000 in the United States.

Pope John Paul II beatified Msgr. Escriva on May 17, 1992, in St. Peter's Square in Rome. The ceremony was attended by around 300,000 people. "With supernatural intuition," said the Pope in his homily, "Blessed Josemaria untiringly preached the universal call to holiness and apostolate."

Pope John Paul II canonized St. Josemaría Escrivá, Opus Dei's founder, on October 6, 2002. The canonization took place in Saint Peter's Square before a crowd overflowing St. Peters’s Square and estimated to be nearly 900,000 people.

"By his example and preaching, St. Josemaría has taught many thousands of people that their daily activities can bring them closer to God," said Rev. Arne Panula, the vicar of Opus Dei in the United States. "The Church, in declaring Father Josemaría a saint, reminds us that all men and women are called to sanctity."

Jim Fritz



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