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Jun 25, 2020

St. Josemaría Escrivá and Ordinary Life Sanctification

Merridith Frediani

Our children have formed a loosely organized Put Upon Club. This club has no officers but has three affiliate members who like to remind us of their membership when we ask them to do a second or (gasp) third job in one day. Somewhere along this journey as a family, they erroneously determined that they should only have to perform one task per day. We have tried to disabuse them of this sentiment only to be reminded that they are in the Put Upon Club. Here’s how it plays out:

Parent: Please unload and reload the dishwasher.

Child: But I already did a job today. I took out the garbage.

Parent: You can do more than one job per day. Your father and I work full-time jobs, plus he teaches part-time and I write part-time so it won’t hurt you to help out more than once each day.  

Child, with glazed over eyes, has stopped listening and harrumphs:  Fine.

If I am being honest I have to say that I am also a member of the Put Upon Club. While lugging the fourth load of laundry up the stairs, I may feel resentful. While loading the dishwasher (which sits less than a foot away from the sink where the dirty dishes always land) I sometimes wish I was allergic to food scraps. My children know that we have a recycling bin because they take it to the cart outside, but they don’t seem to know how items get into that bin because those items are often left on the counter. Sigh. I am put upon.

Finding God in Ordinary Life

There is a better perspective. St. Josemaría Escrivá is the founder of Opus Dei, an organization with the message:

“Work, family life, and the ordinary events of each day are opportunities for drawing close to Christ, and making Him known to others.”

In other words, those tasks we feel put upon doing, can help us grow closer to Jesus. They can help us sanctify our lives and grow in holiness. Huh?

St. John Paull II, in his homily at the canonization of St. Josemaría took it further (emphasis mine):

“Work and any other activity, carried out with the help of grace, is converted into a means of daily sanctification.”

If your only exposure to Opus Dei has been through Dan Brown’s books, you may be pleasantly surprised to learn that what it really is, is a vision of people growing in holiness while being in the world and “Christianizing” their surroundings. St. Josemaría “envisioned people of every nation and race, of every age and culture, seeking and finding God right in the middle of their ordinary life, their work, their family, their friendships. Christians in the world would be able to renew the world without separating themselves from it in the least.”

Do Small Things in Service to Others

Josemaría Escrivá grew up in a faithful family in Barbastro, Spain with loving parents. Three of his sisters died in childhood and the family’s savings were lost in a bad business deal. Josemaría saw his father as the “personification of Job,” a man who persevered despite devastating hardship. No doubt, this example sowed the seed of Opus Dei. Regarding his family situation, he said.

“And life went on. My father reacted heroically, then he fell ill, as I realize now, from undergoing such great misfortunes and worries. He was left with two children and my mother. And he found the strength to bring us forward, not sparing himself any humiliation to provide us with a decent life. He might have remained in a position that was very comfortable for those times, if he had not been a Christian and a gentleman, as they say in my country. I can’t remember a harsh gesture from him. I recall him as always calm, with a cheerful look. He died worn out, when he was only 57. He died exhausted, but he was always smiling … ”

The example of his father cemented in him the holiness of matrimony. In marriage we serve God through serving our spouses. I have found keeping this in mind to be helpful in my attempts to escape the Put Upon Club. It is helpful to remember that I can find holiness in the daily tasks of being a wife and mother. I can find joy in serving my husband. I know there are women reading this who are spitting out their lattes right now, aghast at the words “serving my husband.” I’m not dragging us back to the 1950s nor advocating for a servile role for women. We can, however, do small things in service to others out of love rather than obligation.

Direct All Work to God

I can look at my husband’s shoes on the floor and be aggravated or I can see it as an opportunity to help the one I love and put them away. I can wash and fold his laundry and feel peeved or I can offer it up for his holiness. There is no expectation that this type of service is one-way. I know my husband does lots of things he doesn’t feel like doing, because he wants to make me happy. There have been many trips to fetch the custard I was craving or grocery store runs because I didn’t want to go. 

Matrimony is “a divine pathway, a vocation, and this has many consequences for personal holiness and for apostolate,” said St. Josemaría. The first and principal field of sanctification and apostolate is precisely the family. He added:

“Christian couples should be aware that they are called to sanctify themselves and to sanctify others, that they are called to be apostles and that their first apostolate is in their home. They should understand that founding a family, educating their children, and exercising a Christian influence in society, is a supernatural task. The effectiveness and the success of their life — their happiness — depend to a great extent on their awareness of their specific mission.”

St. Josemaría believed in the holiness and sanctity of daily life and that all of us are called to this holiness. He believed that through our work, whether we are engineers, construction workers, teachers, or parents, we can grow closer to Jesus and, in our humble example, help others grow on their own path to holiness. He pictured “a tailor saint, a baker saint, an office saint, a factory worker saint. A saint, seemingly like everyone else around him, but deeply identified with Jesus Christ.”

St. Josemaría died June 26, 1975 at age seventy-three, but his message lives on in the quotidian lives of everyday people around the world. As we do our tasks, we can offer them to God. We can do them with love. We can consider it an honor to serve those around us. St. Josemaría believed that by directing all our work to God, sanctifying ourselves and others, we can become people who have a contagious faith that can, and will, change the world. 

You May Also Like:

Are You Humble? These 17 Signs from St. Josemaría Will Help You Know

Finding Time for Prayer [Fr. Mike Video]

Early Church and Evangelization with Dr. Scott Hahn [Every Knee Shall Bow Podcast]

Walking Toward Eternity: Daring to Walk the Walk [Study Program]

Merridith Frediani’s perfect day includes prayer, writing, unrushed morning coffee, reading, tending to dahlias, and playing Sheepshead with her husband and three teenagers. She loves leading small faith groups for moms and looking for God in the silly and ordinary. She blogs and writes for her local Catholic Herald in Milwaukee.

Featured image, “Templo de San Josemaría Escrivá (Guadalajara) Estado de Jalisco, México” sourced from Catedrales e Iglesias/Cathedrals and Churches on Flickr {Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)}

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