Josemaría Escrivá's Crusade for Holiness

The Life and Times of Opus Dei Founder

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 2, 2002 (Zenit.org).- With the canonization of Josemaría Escrivá approaching this Sunday, the Vatican's Office of Liturgical Celebrations pointed out the highlights of the life of the Opus Dei founder.



A statement from the Vatican office Tuesday explained that with the canonization, the Church "invites the faithful to transform all the moments and circumstances of life in occasions to serve the Church and all souls with joy and simplicity, illuminating the ways of the earth with the light of faith and love." This, according to the Holy See, is the lesson of Escrivá.

Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer was born in 1902 in Barbastro, Spain, near the Pyrenees. The second of six siblings, as the biography issued by the Vatican explains, he grew up in a cheerful family, acquiring the Christian faith from his parents and from school.

He soon came to know suffering through the death of his three younger sisters and the bankruptcy of his father. In 1915, his family moved to Logroño where his father had found a new job.

In 1918, Escrivá realized that God wanted something special of him, as a priest. He started his ecclesiastical studies in Logroño and entered the diocesan seminary of Saragossa in 1922.

He also pursued studies in civil law with the permission of his superiors. In 1925, he was ordained and started his pastoral ministry.

In 1927 he moved to Madrid in order to obtain a doctorate in civil law. After his father's death in 1924, Escrivá had become the head of the family, and as a result his mother and siblings moved with him. In the Spanish capital, he took on an intense pastoral work, serving especially the poor, the sick and children.

At the same time, he supported himself and his family with other jobs, like teaching law courses. His priestly apostolate also extended to university students, artists, laborers and intellectuals.

On Oct. 2, 1928, during a spiritual retreat in Madrid, he felt inspired by God to found Opus Dei, or "Work of God." Its goal is to remind the baptized that the Christian vocation is a call to holiness and apostolate, and to promote a personal commitment to follow Christ.

In 1930, he saw that the mission confided to him by God must also include women.

In 1934, the first edition of "The Way" was published. It is Escrivá's most widely read book, with some 4 million copies sold. He is also well known in spiritual literature for other titles such as "The Holy Rosary," "Christ Is Passing By," "Friends of God," "The Way of the Cross," "The Forge" and "In Love with the Church."

In 1940, after the end of the Spanish Civil War, he began to preach spiritual exercises to hundreds of priests in response to petitions from bishops throughout the country. Meanwhile, Opus Dei began to extend throughout the peninsula. World War II temporarily hampered its growth elsewhere in Europe.

In 1943, Father Escrivá saw that Opus Dei should have its own clergy, with priests incardinated in the prelature. Thus the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross was founded.

Father Escrivá moved to Rome in 1946. From 1945 to 1975, the apostolic work of Opus Dei started in some 30 countries, under his direct encouragement.

Beginning in 1948 married women and men could also belong fully to Opus Dei. In 1950, the Holy See approved the admission of people belonging to other religions as cooperators. Thus, Christians from other confessions as well as members of other religions started to collaborate formally with the apostolic undertakings of Opus Dei.

In the 1950s, Josemaría Escrivá promoted many initiatives, including professional training schools for men and women, technical schools for farmers, universities and schools, hospitals and clinics.

As a result of the deliberations of the Second Vatican Council, the magisterium was to confirm fundamental aspects of the spirit of Opus Dei, such as the universal call to holiness, professional work as a means to holiness and apostolate, the value and lawful limits of Christian freedom in temporal affairs, and the Mass as the center and root of the interior life.

Between 1970 and 1975, the founder undertook long catechetical trips throughout Europe and America. Monsignor Escrivá died in Rome on June 26, 1975.

His beatification on May 17, 1992, attracted 300,000 people.