Josemaria Escriva - Saint of the Roman Catholic Church
The anti-Republican Basque Catholic priest who overcame every human obstacle to proclaim the majesty of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
1. Who is this priest and Monsignor?
He was born on 9th January 1902 and died on 26th June 1975. He was brought up in Spain a Roman Catholic and ordained a priest on 28th March 1925 in Zaragoza at the very young age of 22 years going on 23. Clearly from a very early age he was determined to be a devoted Catholic Priest, and he never relinquished that hold despite the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), the Second World War (1939-45), the post-war Franco regime in Spain (1945-75), and the revolutionary Vatican II (1960’s) Council in Rome. In his life he was regarded highly by his contemporaries - look at the many honours conferred on him. Moreover, Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI spoke of his great holiness after his death. He was beatified on 17th May 1992 and canonised on 6th October 2002, both in the Vatican City by Saint John Paul II the Polish Pope.
2. What is the essential charism of Escriva?
That he proclaimed Roman Catholicism and her sanctity in the Holy Mass above all else. For him this whole life of his was the work of God and he desired the same value for his fellow men. His laity based fellowship movement was called Opus Dei, which has thousands of members: Roman Catholics worldwide. He was a Catholic priest, but he wished his crusaders to be Catholic Laypeople. Thus, he laid down a marker for the simple individual, uncluttered by high office or ecclesiastical trappings to forge the way forward for Christians. The accent was, and is, on holiness of living being attainable and worthwhile for every soul regardless of priestly or worldly rank. The consolation is in Christ Himself within the Mass Catholic and Holy Communion eventually for every single one of us: A teaching with revolutionary results if taken to its proper limits and true extremes. Catholicism will moulder into mediocrity or excel in her highest reaches. Escriva taught this “climb every mountain” philosophy of life - each higher than the last. He was the messenger of hope and endeavour from Christ Himself to each human being.
3. Escriva the man.
As said previously, he was ordained a priest in Zaragoza, Spain midway between Barcelona and the Basque north coast within easy reach of the Pyrenees. Thus, his natural allegiance was Basque Catholic and anti the fascism of Franco and his Falangists. Yet he fled Republican Madrid at the outbreak of the civil war and was prepared to welcome Franco’s victory in that war, despite the flattening of his partrie’s Guernica and the subjugation of that homeland by the Franco fascist regime. He lived to see Franco grow old as he did age himself. What can we say about Escriva’s dalliance with Franco? Franco was the best hope for Spanish Catholicism in the 1930’s and later, and Escriva knew it. Like it or not even for a Catholic Republican purist like myself, it is difficult to see how the Catholics in the Republican side could hold sway amongst the Communists, Anarchists, Socialists and Republicans. Escriva voted with his feet and conserved his precious life for his crucial post-civil war Opus Dei ministry - some 35 years of example and faith from 1940.
I know little else of the man and I discount a lot of the internet entry concerning tittle tattle. Suffice to say he carried out his priestly orders to his dying day and remained celibate - unremarkable yet noble. He did not bring dishonour down on our Holy Church. Not everyone is called to the Catholic priesthood but, if you are, remember the anointing of the oil of chrism in your Baptism. Escriva has ground out that oil in his life and the foundation of his lay apostolate: Opus Dei: as it is known. He did not work for God for nothing.
The allegation of secrecy was made against Opus Dei in Escriva’s time and later, as it has been levelled against European Freemasonry and what used to be called Frank Buchman’s moral re-armament (the Oxford Group - active: 1930-2000). In all these three cases secrecy may be discerned, but to good effect. With Opus Dei religious holiness was and is the aim without improper interference. In the case of MRA the highest personal ideals and sacrifices had to be protected from external misconstruction. Finally, Freemasonry is built on charitable works and the right hand should not see what the left hand does. It is a fundamental liberty in a free society that two or more may come together for a lawful purpose. These three modern examples personify the value of this privacy which I describe. Of course, when the struggle is over the story will undoubtedly be told, but thank God for our private lives as individuals, as married couples and in these three religious or quasi-religious loosely formed associations, now and in the past. Quietness and prayer disappear under the glare of the disaffected.
Back to Escriva - what is his legacy? Not the World’s tributes or post-burial Papal praises. There are two schools in South London that breathe the spirit of Opus Dei both fee paying and primary level I believe. Where is European Catholicism? In the doldrums, I fear, across the Continent and in England. Only the Italians know their Catholic prayers and even they are a little indifferent to the fate or our Holy Mother Church. Yet Escriva’s depth of prayerfulness and Catholicity may revive Roman Catholicism in Europe from its incipient weakness and paucity. What matters? Not the ministerial posts, celebrities, sports personalities and the media thinking, but the Escriva (Spanish) message of humility and spiritual resurgence which may blossom into Catholic Church attendance figures. Escriva adroitly perceived that the modern world and its characteristics have to be analysed through participation in the Catholic Holy Mass and by the power of truth emanating from that sacrifice of the Mass.
Pius XII, who was a contemporary of Escriva, had recognised this didactic in World War II and he offered his Masses in St Peter’s for all mankind. Escriva was close to the Rome of that long reigning Pontiff. To Escriva he wished himself to be an instrument of Christ by the Mass I speak of. Do not bury the treasure, but make it grow. The message of veracity was his “Way” as he taught others, but built on the Son of God. He wanted everyone to share his understanding of true Christianity. For him the work of God is in Christ’s vineyard - have no fear there is plenty of work to be done. Long live Opus Dei for tous le monde.