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Saint of the Day – St. Josemaria Escriva

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Feast Day: June 26
Patronage: Opus Dei
Birth: 9 January 1902 Barbastro, Aragon, Spain
Death: 26 June 1975 (aged 73) Rome, Italy
Beatified: 17 May 1992, Saint Peter’s Square, Vatican City by Pope John Paul II
Canonized: 6 October 2002, Saint Peter’s Square Vatican City by Pope John Paul II

Life: Saint Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer y Albás (9 January 1902 – 26 June 1975) was a Roman Catholic priest from Spain who initiated Opus Dei, an organization of laypeople and priests dedicated to the teaching that everyone is called to holiness by God and that ordinary life can result in sanctity. He was canonized during 2002 by Pope John Paul II, who declared Saint Josemaría should be “counted among the great witnesses of Christianity.”

Escrivá gained a doctorate in civil law at the Complutense University of Madrid and a doctorate in theology at the Lateran University in Rome. His principal work was the initiation, government and expansion of Opus Dei. Escrivá’s best-known publication is The Way, which has been translated into 43 languages and has sold several million copies.

Escrivá and Opus Dei have aroused controversy, primarily concerning allegations of secrecy, elitism, cult-like practices, and political involvement with right-wing causes, such as the rule of Francisco Franco in Spain (1939–1975). After his death, his canonization attracted considerable attention and controversy, by some Catholics and the worldwide press. Several journalists who have investigated the history of Opus Dei, among them Vatican analyst John L. Allen, Jr., have argued that many of these accusations are unproven or have grown from allegations by enemies of Escrivá and his organization. Cardinal Albino Luciani (later Pope John Paul I), John Paul II, Benedict XVI, Francis, Óscar Romero, and many Catholic leaders have endorsed Escrivá’s teaching concerning the universal call to holiness, the role of laity, and sanctification of ordinary work. According to Allen, among Catholics, Escrivá is “reviled by some and venerated by millions more”.

José María Mariano Escrivá y Albás was born to José Escrivá y Corzán and his wife, María de los Dolores Albás y Blanc on 9 January 1902, in the small town of Barbastro, in Huesca, Aragon, Spain, the second of six children and the first of two sons. José Escrivá was a merchant and a partner of a textile company which eventually became bankrupt, forcing the family to relocate during 1915 to the city of Logroño, in the northern province of La Rioja, where he worked as a clerk in a clothing store. Young Josemaría first felt that “he had been chosen for something”, it is reported, when he saw footprints left in the snow by a monk walking barefoot.

With his father’s blessing, Escrivá prepared to become a priest of the Catholic Church. He studied first in Logroño and then in Zaragoza, where he was ordained as deacon on Saturday, 20 December 1924. He was ordained a priest, also in Zaragoza, on Saturday, 28 March 1925. After a brief appointment to a rural parish in Perdiguera, he went to Madrid, the Spanish capital, during 1927 to study law at the Central University. In Madrid, Escrivá was employed as a private tutor and as a chaplain to the Foundation of Santa Isabel, which comprised the royal Convent of Santa Isabel and a school managed by the Little Sisters of the Assumption.

Mission as the founder of Opus Dei

A prayerful retreat helped him to discern more definitely what he considered to be God’s will for him, and, on 2 October 1928, he “saw” Opus Dei (English: Work of God), a way by which Catholics might learn to sanctify themselves by their secular work. He founded it during 1928, and Pius XII gave it final approval during 1950. According to the decree of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, which contains a condensed biography of Escrivá, “[t]o this mission he gave himself totally. From the beginning his was a very wide-ranging apostolate in social environments of all kinds. He worked especially among the poor and the sick languishing in the slums and hospitals of Madrid.”

During the Spanish Civil War, Escrivá fled from Madrid, which was controlled by the republicans, via Andorra and France, to the city of Burgos, possessed by the nationalist forces of General Francisco Franco. After the war ended during 1939 with Franco’s victory, Escrivá was able to resume his studies in Madrid and complete a doctorate in law, for which he submitted a thesis on the historical jurisdiction of the Abbess of Santa María la Real de Las Huelgas.

The Priestly Society of the Holy Cross, affiliated with Opus Dei, was founded on Sunday, 14 February 1943. Escrivá relocated to Rome during 1946. The decree declaring Escrivá “Venerable” states that “in 1947 and on Monday, 16 June 1950, he obtained approval of Opus Dei as an institution of pontifical right. With tireless charity and operative hope he guided the development of Opus Dei throughout the world, activating a vast mobilization of lay people … He gave life to numerous initiatives in the work of evangelization and human welfare; he fostered vocations to the priesthood and the religious life everywhere… Above all, he devoted himself tirelessly to the task of forming the members of Opus Dei.”

Later years
According to some accounts, at the age of two he suffered from a disease (perhaps epilepsy) so severe that the doctors expected him to die soon, but his mother had taken him to Torreciudad, where the Aragonese locals venerated a statue of the Virgin Mary (as “Our Lady of the Angels”), thought to date from the 11th century. Escrivá recovered and, as the director of Opus Dei during the 1960s and 1970s, promoted and oversaw the design and construction of a major shrine at Torreciudad. The new shrine was inaugurated on 7 July 1975, soon after Escrivá’s death, and to this day remains the spiritual center of Opus Dei, as well as an important destination for pilgrimage. By the time of Escrivá’s death during 1975, the members of Opus Dei numbered some 60,000 in 80 countries. As an adult, Escrivá suffered from type 1 diabetes and, according to some sources, also epilepsy.

During 1950, Escrivá was appointed an Honorary Domestic Prelate by Pope Pius XII, which allowed him to use the title of Monsignor. During 1955, he received a doctorate of theology from the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome. He was a consultor to two Vatican congregations (the Congregation for Seminaries and Universities and the Pontifical Commission for the Authentic Interpretation of the Code of Canon Law) and an honorary member of the Pontifical Academy of Theology. The Second Vatican Council (1962–65) confirmed the importance of the universal call to holiness, the role of the laity, and the Mass as the basis of Christian life.

During 1948 Escrivá founded the Collegium Romanum Sanctae Crucis (Roman College of the Holy Cross), Opus Dei’s educational center for men, in Rome. During 1953 he founded the Collegium Romanum Sanctae Mariae (Roman College of Saint Mary) to serve the women’s section (these institutions are now joined into the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross.) Escrivá also established the University of Navarre, in Pamplona, and the University of Piura (in Peru), as secular institutions affiliated with Opus Dei. Escrivá died on 26 June 1975, aged 73.

Three years after Escrivá died, the then Cardinal Albino Luciani (later Pope John Paul I) celebrated the originality of his contribution to Christian spirituality.

– Christi Simus Non Nostri


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