Monday, January 09, 2006

January 9, Birthday of St. Josemaria Escriva


The Essential Message: Call to Holiness – For All - in the Secular.

This transcends objective categories such as laymen, priest, professional secular work, church work, religious life with vows, charismatic communities, church movements, etc. While all the latter have to do with objective criteria such as states and styles of life, particular religious practices to be performed, vows to be taken, etc., the former has to do with the subject that has to be given to Christ on the occasion of the mundane and the small.

Small Things:

Benedict XVI on St. Josemaria Escriva and “small things”

This was mentioned below on the feast of the Holy Innocents. When Benedict XVI commented on the canonization of Josemaria Escriva, he recalled that “In the causes of canonization there is inquiry into `heroic’ virtue and we almost inevitably have a mistaken concept of holiness: `It is not for me,’ we are led to think, `because I do not feel capable of attaining heroic virtue. It is too high a goal.’ Holiness then becomes a thing reserved for some `greats’ whose images we see on the altars, and who are completely different from us ordinary sinners.” He then counters, “But this is a mistaken notion of holiness, a wrong perception which has been corrected – and this seems to me the central point – precisely by Josemaria Escriva.” He goes on: “And if, then, Josemaria Escriva speaks of the calling of all to be saints, I think that he is actually referring to this personal experience of his of not having done incredible things by himself, but of having let God work”[1](underline mine).

The point of “not having done incredible things by himself” means that he had struggled to do the little things extraordinarily well. I copy what was written below on December 28, the Feast of the Holy Innocents:

“St. Josemaria would affirm: It is heroic to fulfill the acts of piety each day, punctually. It is heroic to pour ourselves out, working for others, never thinking about ourselves. It is heroic to finish our work well, when we are tired and exhausted. It is heroic to continue our ascetical struggle in the points indicated to us, with humility and determination. “You ask me, `Why the wooden Cross?’ And I quote from a letter: `As I raise my eyes from the microscope, my sight comes to rest on the Cross – black and empty. That Cross without a Corpus is a symbol; it has a meaning others won’t see. And I, tired out and on the point of abandoning my work, once again bring my eyes close to the lens and continue. For that lonely Cross is calling for a pair of shoulders to bear it" (Josemaria Escriva, “The Way,” #277).

The heroism asked of us is an everyday heroism of silent and hidden sacrifice. We can never feel vainglory for things so small. The sacrifice of deeds in very small things is the act of self-mastery whereby with God's love as "grace," we hone ourselves by service to others into the figure of "another Christ." We wash feet and by so doing affirm persons. With this, God makes our lives fruitful. We irradite fatherhood by engendering life ("life" as Zoë that is Trinitarian Life [Gift]). Since we act out of love, our sacrifice is a willing one that seeks no applause; we don’t even call it a `sacrifice.’ We receive each day’s annoyances without complaint, as coming from God’s will, with respect and love, with joy and peace. And we strive to fulfill the duty of each moment willingly, although it is hard, since it is God’s will for us.St. Josemaria wrote to his children: “My children, are you and I determined to live a life that serves as a model and lesson for others? Are we determined to be other Christs, to behave like children of God? It’s not enough to say it; we have to prove our determination by our deeds… Are you happy with how you have behaved up until now? You, who are another Christ, who are a child of God, do you deserve to have it said of you that you have come to do and to teach, facere et docere (Acts 1, 1): to teach others by your behavior to do all that is good, that is noble, that furthers the Redemption?”

Benedict XVI himself on “small things”

“The other sign which he has adopted and which, by concealing him more, shows more truly his intrinsic nature, is the sign of the lowly, which, measured cosmically, quantitatively, is completely insignificant, actually a pure nothing. One could cite in this connection the series Earth-Israel-Nazareth-Cross-Church, in which God seems to keep disappearing more and more, and precisely in this way becomes more and more manifest as himself. First there is the Earth, a mere nothing in the cosmos, which was to be the point of divine activity in the cosmos. Then comes Israel, a cipher among the powers, which was to be the point of his appearance in the world. Then comes Nazareth, again a cipher within Israel, which was to be the point of his definitive arrival. Then at the end there is the cross, on which a man was to hang, a man whose life had been a failure; yet this was to be the point at which one can actually touch God. Finally there is the Church, the questionable creation of human history, which claims to be the abiding site of his revelation. We know today only too well how little, even in it, concealment of the divine presence is abolished. Precisely when the Church believed, in all the glory of the Renaissance princedom, that it could strip away this concealment and be directly the `gate of heaven,’ the `house of God,’ it has become once again, and almost more than before, God’s disguise, with God scarcely to be found behind it. Thus what is small by a cosmic or even worldly scale represents the real sign of God wherein the quite other shows itself, which even in relation to our expectations is once again the completely unrecognizable. The cosmic Nothing is the true All, because `For’ is the really divine thing…”[2] (emphasis mine).

John Henry Newman on “small things”

“We must bear in mind what is meant by perfection. It does not mean any extraordinary service, anything out of the way, or especially heroic – not all have the opportunity of heroic acts, of sufferings – but it means what the word perfection ordinarily means. By perfect we mean that which has no flaw in it, that which is complete, that which is consistent, that which is sound – we mean the opposite to imperfect. As we know well what imperfection in religious service means, we know by the contrast what is meant by perfection.

“He, then, is perfect who does the work of the day perfectly, and we need not go beyond this to seek for perfection. You need not go out of the round of the day.

“I insist on this because I think it will simplify our views, and fix our exertions on a definite aim. If you ask me what you are to do in order to be perfect, I say first: Do not lie in bed beyond the due time of rising; give your first thoughts to God; make a good visit to the Blessed Sacrament; say the Angelus devoutly; eat and drink to God’s glory; way the Rosary well; be recollected; keep out bad thoughts; make your evening meditation well; examine yourself daily; go to bed in good time, and you are already perfect.” [3]{The only thing I see missing is Holy Mass].

The Gift of the “I”

The key to understanding the power of the little thing is to understand that the little thing is the token of the total self, or the “I.” To make the gift of the “I” is to become another Christ. As recalled, the name of Jesus Christ is “I Am.” The Person of Christ is the totality of God, and we have been made in the image of God. Hence, we are capable, when grafted onto Christ by Baptism and Orders, to make that same gift – in the little quotidian things of the ordinary, secular day.

St. Josemaria once confided to his sons in a get-together in December of 1970 in Rome:

“The Lord is passing very close to you; I know it, although you don’t realize it. He is passing by quasi in occulto. Besides, without hiding himself, He is in your hearts, in these small battles which perhaps are not so small and that other times you made big with your foolishness, as I do. But I’m not referring to the interior life when I say this.

"Some day, when the years pass, you will see that Jesus has been very close to you; not only in the Eucharist, not only by grace. You have not had the occasion of seeing Him because I have tried that you not see Him, knowing that I want you to love Him with all your strength, with all your mind, with all your heart.”

The Gift of Self Must be Total:

Cardinal Jose Maria Bueno, speaking to St. Josemaria in Rome, suggested to him that if he continued directing things in this exacting way, with this demanding spirit, he would woon find himself with nobody. I thought then that if he were to use greater moderation, the service which the Work offered the different dioceses by providing spiritual nourishment and promoting a full dedication to the ministerial task, would reach more priests and be more readily accepted.

In the midst of these reflections I traveled to Rome, and among other things I spoke to him about I also told him all this. I said, "Look, Josemaria, it seems to me that you are a bit too demanding. When someone asks to join the Work you want him to give up everything – in fact what you want is that he should give himself completely. Isn’t this a bit excessive?"

Josemaria know how to listen, and afterwards spoke in a way that was both clear and convincing. And so his listener was incorporated, almost without realizing it, into that other supernatural sphere in which he himself moved, with surprising naturalness.

"Look" he said to me. "No. In Opus Dei we will not be either one more or one fewer than God wants us to be. And the calling God gives us is one of total, complete self-surrender, each one in his own state, with naturalness, but without concessions. When a priest comes to ask us to give him what we are able to give him, we give him the spirituality which we have: this is one of total self-surrender, without it being necessary for him to leave his place, but giving himself altogether. If I do not give him this, a spirituality which he can follow, what am I to give him? What can Opus Dei give to a priest? It is for this reason that the Work will concern itself with his spiritual direction and help him to live poverty, so that he should learn to be detached, not to possess what he has as if it were his own. And similarly with ecclesiastical science – if we do not ask of him a strict fidelity with regard to the content of the Faith and the Magisterium of the Church, what are we going to ask of hi, given that we have no school of theology of our own nor would ever have one.’ After these words or words to this effect, I ended up saying to myself, It’s true, it’s true. What else could be done, what less could be demanded?”

[1] Josef Ratzinger, “Letting God Work”, L’Osservatore Romano (special supplement) 6 October 2002.
[2] Josef Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (1990) 193.
[3] John Henry Newman, “Prayers, Verses and Devotions” Ignatius (1989) 328-329.

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