Holiness in Ordinary Life? Are You Crazy?

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If some ordinary lay person living in the middle of the world before October 2, 1928, the date God founded Opus Dei through St. Josemaría, were to say that his faith encouraged him to be holy, to be a saint, he would have been dismissed as crazy. The predominant view then was that only priests and religious were really expected to strive for sanctity.  Hopefully, that person would have responded to his detractors saying the same thing that St. Josemaría decried: “I am a madman, madly in love with Jesus Christ.”   The founding of Opus Dei met with much criticism from many good and holy people, even though he was preaching what would become known 35 years later as the central message of the Second Vatican Council: “the universal call to holiness” in the middle of the world.

“Like St. Paul, St. Josemaría too experienced that God had opened the door of faith to him, when he discovered that God wanted the “divine paths of the world” to be opened up, by finding “something holy, something divine, hidden in the most ordinary situations, with a “lively awareness of eternity.” That was why he called Madrid his “Damascus,” the place where he received the clear light on his vocation and his mission to found Opus Dei. The holiness to which God was calling him was to be sought in daily life and in loving the world. The work that God was bringing about in him was to be found in ordinary life, which is transformed into a meeting-place with God.”[1]

At the time, in 1928, people were not ready to receive such a “radical claim” that all the faithful are called to sanctity.  St. Josemaría observed that this was natural to the life of the First Christians. This message of our faith, St. Josemaría would say, was “as old as the Gospel and as the Gospel, new.”  One example that illustrates the skeptical reaction to this idea of the true call to holiness for the laity was when a certain cardinal in the Vatican heard the message explained to him for the first time in 1946.  He replied, “You have come a hundred years too soon.”

Prominent testimonials to St. Josemaría’s role in the history of the Church are not lacking.  One expert from his canonization process said, “One can see that these writings have preceded and anticipated the most important decisions of Vatican II… They have presented the ideal of ordinary life in direct and fruitful contact with the Gospel, which up to now had never appeared in the history of the Church.”[2]  Another Theological Consulter wrote, “In our days these writings constitute an inexhaustible source of inspiration for a new dawn for the Church of God in its presence to the world.”[3] Pope Paul VI himself said to him one day, “God has given you the charism of placing the fullness of the Church out there in the street.”[4]  Lastly, Blessed John Paul II in his homily for the canonization of St. Josemaría spoke of him as “the saint of the ordinary” and he stated, “To elevate the world to God and transform it from within: this is the ideal the holy founder points out to you.  …Following in his footsteps, spread in society the consciousness that we are all called to holiness whatever our race, class, society, or age.”[5]

What would St. Josemaría, whose “faith was so thick, you could cut it with a knife,” [6] say to us now in this interesting Year of Faith? The same thing he wrote in 1939 in his spiritual classic The Way, 301:

“A secret, an open secret: these world crises are crises of saints.  God wants a handful of men ‘of his own’ in every human activity. And then… ‘pax Christi in regno Christi–the peace of Christ in the kingdom of Christ’.”


[1] Giulio Maspero, Faith and Life in St. Josemaría Escrivá, Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, p. 2.

[2] Flavio Capucci, The Beatification of Msgr. Escrivá, Scepter Press, 1991, p. 8.

[3] Ibid, p. 9.

[4] Pilar Urbano, Man of Villa Tevere, 1994, p. 343.

[5]Blessed John Paul II, Homily for the Canonization of St.  Josemaría, L’Osservatore Romano, October 9, 2002, p. 6/7.

[6] Words spoken by the successor of St. Josemaría,Venerable Bishop Alvaro del Portillo.

Fr. Mark Mannion

About Fr. Mark Mannion

Fr. Mark Mannion, a priest of the Prelature of Opus Dei, preaches recollections and gives spiritual direction in Chicago. He was previously was the Chaplain of Windmoor Study Center in South Bend from 2001-2010.