Looks of surprise come my way when people learn of my devotion to St. Josemaría Escrivá (1902-1975), the Spanish priest who founded Opus Dei. What might be even stranger is that I would write a book highlighting his role as a spiritual “coach.”
Since I am a religious priest, a Norbertine, it might seem odd that I would find inspiration and guidance from a saint whose hallmarks include secularity and lay holiness, finding God in the midst of the world and not in a monastery. Now, I live in a monastery. I can tell you that God is here and may be found here by anyone with even a marginal interest in finding Him. Monasteries make it easy to find Him. They exist for that reason: Not only are they places for living the vowed life, consecrated to prayer for the Church and world, but they also stand as beacons to attract anyone and everyone, with or (as yet) without faith, to find the Lord.
What does St. Josemaría Escrivá have to do with all of this?
When we look to the saints for inspiration, we should focus mainly on how they responded to God in their lives. Everything else, it seems to me, is secondary to that. What did their “yes” look like? Did they ever struggle or resist His will? Where did their surrender lead them, and what fruits did that surrender yield? These are daily questions for all Christians, and daily points of examination of conscience for those who, like me, are especially consecrated to His service.
I know how to answer these questions for St. Josemaría: His surrender to God led him to attract multitudes of people from all walks of life to follow the Lord in daily and professional life, without change of location or profession, but with structure, discipline and the intentionality to grow in holiness by means of the work and relationships of their state in life.
These are the blessings that St. Josemaría’s “yes” brought into the Church and, indeed, into the world.
But the question of our surrender to God and the fruits of that surrender remain open ones for us. What the Lord did with St. Josemaría’s willingness to form Opus Dei is clear. What the Lord will do with our willingness to follow Him is still unfolding. But we look to Escrivá’s example to help us let it unfold without hindering it.
If St. Josemaría emphasized finding God in the world, it must be said that even with all the helps the monastery affords, effort is still required to seek and find Him. The art and architecture, the sacred liturgy, our observances— all of these explicitly point to the Lord. They make no sense without Jesus. But they do not substitute for faith. Nor do they exempt us from choosing to surrender ourselves each day to His will.
I find in St Josemaría as “coach” the motivation to begin each day with renewed confidence and vigor to follow the Lord. He is tough and uncompromising, but at the same time, so completely understanding of human weakness. As he writes in “Christ is Passing By”:
“I know that the moment we talk about fighting we recall our weakness and we foresee falls and mistakes. God takes this into account. As we walk along it is inevitable that we will raise dust; we are creatures and full of defects. I would almost say that we will always need defects. They are the shadow which shows up the light of God’s grace and our resolve to respond to God’s kindness. And this chiaroscuro will make us human, humble, understanding and generous.”
By culling into a short book all of the headings under which I take inspiration from St. Josemaría, I hope to introduce (or reacquaint) readers with the vitality of his example and message for living as holy disciples wherever in the world the Lord has placed them.
Fr. John Henry’s book, “Coached by Josemaría Escrivá” is available through Scepter Publishers (https://scepterpublishers.org/) or from Amazon.