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Catholic Culture and the “Ordinary Life”

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I often sit here thinking about how much courage it takes to live an ordinary life.” ~ Colum McCann

Today our church commemorates the man who would go on to become affectionately known as the Priest and Saint of the Ordinary Life, the founder of the Opus Dei movement Saint Josemaria Escriva.

Born in Barbastro, Spain on January 9, 1902, he was the second of six children of Jose and Dolores Escriva. He grew up in a devout family where he was nourished and formed in the basic tenets and truths of the Catholic faith. As such, he understood the supreme value of frequent confession, holy communion, recitation of the rosary and almsgiving. Hardship and suffering befell Saint Josemaria at a young age, the death of three of his younger sisters and his father's bankruptcy ultimately introducing him in a very real and tangible way to the meaning of profound suffering. As such, maturity and precociousness would be a part of his otherwise effervescent and cheerful temperament. God would call him to the priesthood in 1925.

His early priestly assignments afforded him the opportunity to care for the poor and indigent, where he swiftly came to experience the practical meaning of charity and the Christian’s responsibility to care for those less fortunate. On October 2, 1928, while on retreat in Madrid, God showed him what would be his very specific and divine mission: he was to found Opus Dei, an institution within the Catholic Church dedicated to helping people in all walks of life to follow Christ, to seek holiness in their daily life, and to grow in love for God and their fellow men and women. "This is God's will for us, that we be saints. In order to bring peace, genuine peace, to souls; in order to transform the earth and to seek God Our Lord in the world and through the things of the world, personal sanctity is indispensable." This quote would in essence form the foundation of the Opus Dei Movement.

In tomorrow’s Gospel (Mark 5:21-43), we encounter the woman afflicted with severe hemorrhages. “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured,” she says. As such, she does just that. In the midst of an otherwise chaotic scene, it is this one woman who touches Jesus differently. She simply reaches out to touch His cloak, but she does so with faith. Many in the crowd happened to merely bump into Jesus; only one touches Him.

In his essay for The Catholic Thing entitled “Cultural or Intentional?,” Father Paul Scalia explains that “Catholicism requires a culture. Or rather, it forms a culture for its own continuation. The Catholic faith is not a hobby that we can relegate to one area of our lives. It is a way of life – indeed, the Way, as the ancient Church called it. (Acts 9:2).” Father Scalia goes on to point out that faith must shape every element of the believer’s life: his or her thoughts, words, actions, certainly relationships. In order for this transformation to take root, the faith must be lived by heart, mind, soul, and body. “It takes up our time with its seasons and feasts,” noted Father Scalia. “It fills up our space with its art and architecture.”

It stands to reason of course that a culture which is properly suffused by Catholic doctrine is far more apt to hand on the faith. We’re not meant to experience God merely in a classroom or by way of books or doctrine. Faith traditions are handed on from our parents and grandparents, by way of our senses too (songs, sights, scents even). This is how one embraces and interiorizes the faith in a more natural, peaceful, and thorough manner. These are the components of a culture that is worth striving for, not only for our children but their children as well.

Saint Josemaría’s approach to holiness was not predicated on retreating from the world, but by remaining precisely where we are. He knew that this was the only way to share the Catholic culture, to allow it to breathe, permeate and flourish in a distracted and blinded world. In many respects, Saint Josemaria Escriva anticipated the Second Vatican Council’s universal call to holiness by some forty years. “You must understand now more clearly,” he wrote “that God is calling you to serve Him in and from the ordinary, material, and secular activities of human life.”

Members of Opus Dei, many of whom I have gotten to know personally in recent years, are invited into an adventure in which Christ is not separate from their passions and concerns but is instead a part of them. They encounter Jesus in the home, the workplace, the gym, the grocery store. All of this is of course augmented with time carved out for Holy Mass, frequent confession, honest examination of conscience and yes, silent time spent in reflection wherein Jesus is allowed to have the last word from time to time.

There is supreme value in the ordinary. It is where the vast majority of us are called to dwell. Don’t miss your opportunity to thrive in what Satan will try to connive you into thinking is the mundane, the meaningless. A life rooted in the Gospel is no such thing. For as novelist Lucy Maud Montgomery was always so swift to point out, “There is no such thing as an ordinary life.”

Not when the stakes are eternal heavenly glory in the presence of the King of Kings.

Saint Josemaria Escriva, pray for us.

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