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William E. May

Michael J. McGivney Professor of Moral Theology

John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at

The Catholic University of America

Washington, D.C. 20017

            Today, a little over generation after the promulgation of the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium of Vatican Council II, one of the great truths central to that document, namely, that all men are called to be saints,[2] is better known by Catholics, although, unfortunately, far too many are still ignorant of it. This great truth was, of course, at the heart of the teaching of Saint Josémaría Escrivá from the moment he founded Opus Dei on October 2, 1928, thirty-seven years prior to Lumen gentium, until his death on June 26, 1975. He ceaselessly preached this truth at a time when it was commonly thought, within the Catholic world, that the call to holiness was reserved for a privileged few. Numerous commentators emphasize this point,[3]and Saint Josémaría himself underscored this truth in a letter written in 1954:        

With the beginning of the Work in 1928, my preaching has been that holiness is not something for the privileged few. We have said that all the ways of the earth, all states of life, all the professions, all honest tasks can be divine....we tell each one--all women and all men--that there where you are you can acquire Christian perfection.[4]

The purpose of this paper is to present systematically and examine theologically the teaching of Saint Josémaría on ordinary life as the place and means of sanctification, giving particular attention to the sanctification of work and family and to the value of "little things."

            I will begin by considering the ultimate basis for the universal call to holiness because it is absolutely necessary to understand why we are called to be saints. I will then examine the meaning of "sanctification" or "holiness"--in what does it consist and what makes its attainment possible? Saint Josémaría's insistence that ordinary or everyday life is indeed for laypeople the "place" and "means" of their sanctification will then be put into its context and examined; in particular, the meaning of work, the value of "little things," and the Christian understanding of marriage and family will be considered.

The Ultimate Basis for the Universal Call to Holiness: Baptism and Our Divine Filiation

A biblical passage frequently on the lips of Saint Josémaría was St. Paul's insistent reminder to the Thessalonians that "this is the Will of God, your sanctification" (1 Thess 4:3).[5] We are called to be saints because of who we are. God made us to be the kind of beings we are precisely because he willed to create beings to whom he could give his own inner Triune life. "We do not exist," Saint Josémaría says, "in order to pursue just any happiness. We have been called to penetrate the intimacy of God's own life, to know and love God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, and to love also--in that same love of the one God in three divine Persons--the angels and all men."[6] Indeed, the ultimate why and wherefore of our existence--the reason our nature is endowed with intelligence and freedom--is that God made us to be not only creatures, but his children, members of the divine family: "Men have not been created just to build the best possible world. We have been put here on earth for a further purpose: to enter into communion with God himself."[7]The sense of divine filiation, as Alvaro del Portillo, among others, has emphasized, is at the core of Saint Josémaría's teaching and preaching.[8]

            We become God's children when, in baptism, "our Father God takes possession of our lives, makes us share in the life of Christ, and gives us the Holy Spirit."[9]Through baptism, indeed, "we are made bearers of the word of Christ"[10] and take upon ourselves the responsibility of shaping our lives according to its demands, [11]of which the most central is that we seek earnestly the holiness to which we are called by the simple fact that we are in truth baptized persons, sealed with its sacramental character, and summoned to participate in the redemptive work of Christ. [12] In short, it is in and through baptism that we become children of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.

God the Father...sent to the world his only-begotten Son, to reestablish peace; so that by his redeeming men from sin, 'we might become sons of God' (Gal 4:5), freed from the yoke of sin, capable of sharing in the divine intimacy of the Trinity....It is God who has the last word--and it is a word of his saving and merciful love and, therefore, the word of our divine filiation. Therefore, I repeat...today, with St. John: “See how greatly the Father has loved us; that we should be counted as God's children, should be indeed his children' (1 Jn 3:19). Children of God, brothers of the Word made flesh, of him of whom it was said, 'In him was life, and that life was the light of man” (Jn 1:4). Children of the light: that is what we are. We bear the only flame capable of setting fire to hearts made of flesh. [13]

Our divine filiation, which literally divinizes us, [14] is the ultimate basis for our vocation to the holiness that God wills us to attain in and through our living union with his only-begotten Son. In and through our baptism we commit ourselves to holiness and to participate in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, for Christ "calls us to identify ourselves with him and carry out his divine mission." [15] Jesus' work of salvation, as Saint Josémaría says, "is still going on, and each one of us has a part in it. It is Christ's will, St. Paul tells us in impressive words, that we should fulfill in our flesh, in our life, what is lacking in his passion, 'for the good of his body, which is the Church' (Col 1:24)." [16]Our divine filiation and thus our vocation to be saints, in other words, has an ecclesial dimension, precisely because the Church is, as Fernando Ocariz so well puts it, "the place of the Christian vocation." [17]As God's children we are members of his Church, Christ's body, the holy people whom he has chosen to cooperate with him in redeeming all things in Christ, and we can cooperate in this mission only if we become what we are, God's very own children, whose "work," like that of our brother Jesus, is to do the Father's will.

            I believe that we can come to a deeper understanding of the meaning of our divine filiation and the crucial significance of baptism if we reflect on the relationship between nature and grace and the existential and baptismal import of free choice.

That human beings differ radically in kind, and not merely in degree, from other animals is a truth that can be philosophically demonstrated, [18]and is a truth central to Catholic faith. Alone of all his material creatures, God made man in his own image and likeness (Gen 1:28), endowing him with intelligence and free choice. He made man to be this kind of creature, to have this nature, precisely because he willed to create a being to whom he could give his very own life. By nature human beings are inwardly receptive of this life; they are the kind of beings who are inwardly capable, because of their nature, of being divinized. It is absurd to think that God could become incarnate in a pig or dog or chimpanzee or dolphin, and it is absurd to think this way because these creatures of his, who lack intelligence and the power of free choice, are not inwardly open, by reason of their nature, to receiving God's very own life. But God has indeed become incarnate in his creature man--he has become "flesh" (sarx egeneto; Jn 1:14). He has shared our nature so that we can share his. And free choice is central to this.

            In giving men the nature they have, God created persons who have the power to make or break their lives by their own free choices. Persons are of themselves, sui iuris, i.e., in their own power or dominion. Their choices and actions are their own, not the choices and actions of others. If God's gift of his own life and friendship is to be in truth a gift, it must be freely received; it cannot be forced on men or settled by anything other than the free choices of the God who gives and the persons to whom it is given. Nature, in other words, is for grace; creation is for covenant.

This truth about human persons--that they are free to determine themselves through their free choices--is a matter of Catholic faith. It is central to the Scriptures (cf. Sirach 15:11-20), to the teaching of the Fathers and all the scholastics, [19]and is the defined teaching of the Church. [20]Free choice is indeed the existential principle of our lives, a truth well expressed by Pope John Paul II when he said, in speaking of the significance of human acts, “Human acts are moral acts because they express and determine the goodness or evil of the individual who performs them. They do not produce a change merely in the state of affairs outside of man, but, to the extent that they are deliberate choices, they give moral definition to the very person who performs them, determining his profound spiritual traits.[21]

Free choice, moreover, is central to the reality of baptism, in and through which, as we have seen, we become "new" creatures in Christ, members of the divine family, children of God called to be holy as our heavenly Father is holy. For at the heart of baptism is a free, self-determining choice whereby one renounces a life of sin--the "old," Adamic existence--and commits oneself to live henceforward worthily as a child of God, as one who has been divinized. Most of us were baptized as infants and, at that time, could not actually make free choices for ourselves. But others, our godparents, stood as our proxies, responding in our name to the call to die to sin and live in a way worthy of God's own children. And, as we grew in the household of the faith, we renewed our baptismal commitment when we received the sacrament of confirmation; and we are given the opportunity to reaffirm this commitment frequently during our lives, particularly during the liturgy of the Easter vigil. In baptism God freely gives his life to us, and, moved by his grace, we freely accept this gift.

Baptism entails the kind of choice rightly called a commitment, and Pope John Paul II emphasizes the paramount importance of the Christian’s baptismal commitment in his encyclical Veritatis splendor. After pointing out that “[E]mphasis has rightly been placed on the importance of certain choices which ‘shape’ a person’s entire moral life, and which serve as bounds within which other particular everyday choices can be situated and allowed to develop” (n. 65), he goes on to declare:

There is no doubt that Christian moral teaching, even in its biblical roots, acknowledges the specific importance of a fundamental choice which qualifies the moral life and engages freedom on a radical level before God. It is a question of the decision of faith, of the obedience of faith (cf. Rom 16:26) “by which man makes a total and free self-commitment to God, offering ‘the full submission of intellect and will to God as his reveals.’” This faith, which works through love (cf. Gal 5:6) comes from the core of man, from his “heart” (cf. Rom 10:10), whence it is called to bear fruit in works (cf. Mt 12:33-35; Lk 6:43-45; Rom 8:5-10; Gal 5:22). [22]

This baptismal commitment is the fundamental choice or option of the Christian. In and through this choice, which henceforth “shapes the Christian’s entire moral life and serves as the framework within which other particular everyday choices can be situated and allowed to develop” (cf. Veritatis splendor, n. 65), Christians freely take on themselves the task and honor of sharing in Christ’s redemptive work; through it they commit themselves to complete, in their own flesh, “what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church” (Col 1:24).

            Germain Grisez has thus correctly identified baptism as the fundamental option of the Christian [23]whereby the Christian freely commits himself to a life in union with Jesus and to share in his redemptive work.

In What Does Sanctification Consist? The Primacy of Grace

All men are called to holiness by God through Christ and in the Spirit. This is, in essence, the meaning of our divine filiation. Essentially, then, holiness or sanctification is, as Alvaro del Portillo has said, "nothing other than the perfection of the Christian life, nothing other than the fullness of divine filiation." [24]

The work of sanctification, of becoming holy, is first and foremost something that pertains to the supernatural order. God takes the initiative. Sanctification, holiness, is possible only if one is intimately united to and abandons oneself to the One whom Scripture calls the Holy One: "Be holy because I am holy" (Lv 11:44). [25] Sanctification is possible only because of the grace of God, freely given to his children through his only-begotten Son, and it consists essentially in an intimate, loving union with Jesus, our Redeemer and Savior.

This truth is absolutely central to the spirituality of Saint Josémaría. With St. Paul he was acutely aware of the tension within human hearts between the "old," Adamic man, the man wounded by sin and concupiscence, and the "new" man in Christ. Of ourselves we are nothing. Saint Josémaría expresses this truth vividly and unforgettably in many of his writings, particularly in the section of The Way dedicated to considerations on the virtue of humility. There he tells us that of ourselves we are "trashcans," [26] "dust, fallen, and dirty," [27] "beggars," [28] etc. Indeed, were we to follow the impulses of our hearts and the dictates of our reason we would lie flat on the ground, prostrate, vile worms, ugly and miserable in the sight of God.[29]

But God is our Father, our Redeemer, our Sanctifier, and his grace, as St. Paul tells us (2 Cor 12:9) and as Saint Josémaría never tires of repeating, is enough for us. [30] Above all, Jesus, in union with whom we are truly God's children, is not only our God, our Lord and Savior, our Redeemer, but is above all our personal friend. Long ago St. Thomas Aquinas rightly said that "Christ is our best and wisest friend," [31] and Saint Josémaría sets this magnificent truth forth time and time again. [32] Precisely because Jesus is our best and wisest friend, we must get to know him intimately by meditating on the Scriptures, in particular on the passion, in order to love him passionately, and to love all persons in him if we are to cooperate with God's grace in the work of sanctification. [33]

Holiness, the plenitude or fullness of our divine filiation, thus consists in a life of intimate union with Jesus and, through him, with the Blessed Trinity. God is love, and he pours his love into our hearts when he gives to us our new being as his very own children, a gift we freely accept when, through faith, we open ourselves to his offer of divine life. Consequently, sanctity or holiness consists in loving perfectly, in loving even as we have been and are loved by God in Christ. As Saint Josémaría says, "The main thing we are asked to do, which is so much in keeping with our nature, is to love: 'charity is the bond of perfection' (Col 3:14); a charity that is to be practiced exactly as Our Lord himself commands: 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind' (Matt 22:37), holding back nothing for ourselves. This is what sanctity is all about." [34]  This loving union with God and, in him, with him, and through him, with our neighbors, is ultimately the work of God's grace and of free, human cooperation with this grace.

Saint Josémaría's teaching on this matter, with its insistence on the primacy of grace, is rooted in the Catholic tradition. Thus in his teaching on the meaning of the "new law" given men through Jesus, the "gospel law" or "law of love," St. Thomas emphasized that what is "most powerful in the law of the new covenant, and in which its whole power consists, is the grace of the Holy Spirit, which is given through faith." Therefore, he continued, "the new law is first and foremost the very grace of the Holy Spirit, which is given to Christ's faithful."[35] Indeed, it seems to me that the teaching of Saint Josémaría on this matter can be synthesized beautifully in a passage from St. Thomas, where the Common Doctor describes the new life given to us through our incorporation into Christ in baptism, when we indeed become God's children and receive the call to holiness. St. Thomas wrote as follows:

Through baptism a person is reborn to a spiritual life, one proper to Christ's faithful, as the Apostle says (Gal 2:20), "the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God [who loved me and gave himself for me]." But this life belongs only to the members who are united to the head, from whom they receive sense and movement. And therefore it is necessary that through baptism a person is incorporated into Christ as his member. For just as sense and movement flow from the natural head to its [bodily] members, so from the spiritual head, who is Christ, flow to his members both a spiritual sense, which consists in the knowledge of the truth, and a spiritual movement, which operates through the inspiration of grace. Hence John says (1:14, 16), "we have seen him full of grace and truth, and of his fullness we have all received." And therefore it follows that the baptized are enlightened by Christ regarding the knowledge of the truth, and they are impregnated by him with an abundance of good works through the infusion of faith. [36]

Ordinary Life as the Place and Means of Sanctification

The Centrality of This Truth, Its Context, and the Dynamic Unity of Saint Josémaría's Thought

Throughout his life Saint Josémaría energetically combated the idea--unfortunately still quite common--that sanctity is for a select few and that one can become a saint only by withdrawing from the world in which one lives. First of all, Saint Josémaría clearly understood the unity of a Christian's life. "We cannot," he said in the homily that he gave at a Mass on the campus of the University of Navarre on October 8, 1967, "lead a double life. We cannot be like schizophrenics, if we want to be Christians. There is just one life, made of flesh and spirit. And it is this life which has to become, in both soul and body, holy and filled with God." [37]Saint Josémaría considered it madness to want to change one's place in the world, as if simply by doing so one could then become holy. [38]Here he was simply following the advice given to Christians long ago by St. Paul to the Corinthians, namely, that "each one should lead the life the Lord has assigned him, continuing as he was when the Lord called him" (1 Cor 7:17).

As Pedro Rodriquez has noted, the madness driving some to change their position in life "is a consequence of what Mons. Escriva de Balaguer has called humorously a 'mystical wishful thinking.'" [39] Moreover, as José Luís Illanes observes, "the expression 'mystical wishful thinking' has two sides to it: on the one hand, it denounces escapism which leads a person to elude the real demands of the Christian vocation; on the other it affirms that Christian vocation can and therefore should be followed in the middle of the world." [40] Saint Josémaría thus insisted that we are to find holiness here and now in the ordinary lives that we live in the world. This indeed, is his central message.

Before citing representative texts of Saint Josémaría on this matter, it will help, I believe, to note the context in which he proclaimed this truth. The widespread notion that sanctity is only for a privileged few has already been noted. Another widespread notion that Saint Josémaría combated throughout his life was a perverse misunderstanding of what the Christian life is all about. Saint Josémaría described this view, overly spiritualistic and clericalistic, as the claim that "being a Christian means going to church, taking part in sacred ceremonies, being taken up with ecclesiastical matters, in a kind of segregated world, which is considered to be the ante-chamber of heaven, while the ordinary world follows its own separate path." [41] To this false spiritualism Saint Josémaría opposed what he was audacious enough to call a "christian materialism," a materialism "boldly opposed to those materialisms which are blind to the spirit," [42] but nonetheless a materialism. He did so precisely because Christianity, "which professes the resurrection of all flesh, has always quite logically opposed 'dis-incarnation.'" [43] This perverse understanding of Christianity leads to the schizophrenia which, as we have already seen, Saint Josémaría roundly repudiated. He saw clearly that "we discover the invisible God in the most visible and material things," and that "a man who knows that the world, and not just the church, is the place where man finds Christ, loves that world." [44]

Saint Josémaría ceaselessly proclaimed that ordinary life is indeed the place and means of our sanctification, and he perhaps most vigorously set this truth forth in his homily on the campus of the University of Navarra, as the following citations indicate:

Everyday life is the true setting [place, lugar in Spanish] for your lives as Christians. Your ordinary contact with God takes place where your fellow men, your yearnings, your work and your affections are. There you have your daily encounter with Christ. It is in the midst of the most material things of the earth that we must sanctify ourselves, serving God and all mankind. [45]

You must understand now more clearly that God is calling you to serve him here and from the ordinary, material and secular activities of human life. [46]

Either we learn to find our Lord in ordinary, everyday life, or else we shall never find him. [47]

A holy life in the midst of secular reality, lived without fuss, with simplicity, with truthfulness. Is not this the most moving manifestation of the magnalia Dei, of those prodigious mercies which God has always worked, and does not cease to work, in order to save the world? [48]

The same message is found in countless talks and other writings of Saint Josémaría.[49]

Indeed, as Rodriguez has noted, "the expression place has here [in the campus homily], as in other writings of the Founder of Opus Dei, a technical meaning: it is an anthropological and theological category, which serves to indicate the historical coordinates of our encounter with Christ and, therefore, of human existence in its concreteness." [50] And our ordinary life is lived in the world; it is immersed in the secular, the material. Saint Josémaría had a truly Catholic appreciation of the intrinsic goodness of the material world. Rodriguez accurately sums this up when he says that the "metaphysical and theological position of matter" in the thought of  Josémaría "is rooted in its relationship to the spirit, in its capacity to serve the spirit and to be penetrated by it, finding in this service its own true destiny." [51] Moreover, as is now well known, the Fathers of Vatican II made their own the teaching of Saint Josémaría on this matter, namely, that it is in the material world, in the midst of one's everyday life, that ordinary men and women are called to be saints. Thus in the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium we read:

A secular quality is proper and special to laymen....the laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God so that by exercising their proper function and being led by the spirit of the gospel they can work for the sanctification of the world from within, in the manner of leaven. In this way they can make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope, and charity.[52]

Moreover, as John Paul II notes in  Christifideles laici, the Council considers the secular condition of the laity "not simply an external and environmental framework, but as a reality destined to find in Jesus Christ the fullness of its meaning....The 'world' thus becomes the place and means for the lay faithful to fulfill their Christian vocation." [53]

Here it is important to note that, as John Paul II insists in Christifideles laici, there is a proper secular "dimension" to the whole Church, common to all the faithful, whether lay, clergy, or religious. [54] But what characterizes Christian lay people is their secular "character" (indoles). Commenting on this distinction between the secular "dimension" proper to the Church as a whole and to all the faithful and the secular "character" definitive of Christian lay people, José Illanes points out that the affirmations of both Lumen gentium and Christifideles laici and the teaching of Saint Josémaría on the condition of the "ordinary Christian" "mutually enlighten one another" and enable us to understand that the purpose of the "Work" Saint Josémaría founded on October 2, 1928 "is precisely to promote among lay people or ordinary Christians of the most diverse social conditions and professions the consciousness of their Christian vocation, of God's call directing them to sanctify themselves and to sanctify others in and by means of the circumstances and realities of their life in the world." [55] 

Ordinary life, the place where we are to sanctify ourselves, is the life of men and women in the world; it is made up of their lives within their families, at their work, in the thousand and one things that they "do" each day. But before examining the meaning of work, marriage and family life, and the value of little things, I want first to summarize the dynamic unity of Saint Josémaría's thought and then, in the following section, to attempt a theological understanding of the reason why ordinary life is indeed the place and means of sanctification.

First, the dynamic unity of Saint Josémaría's thought. From what has been said thus far, and particularly from a reading of his classic work in spirituality, The Way (which, unfortunately, has not figured in prominently in these pages) we can begin to grasp the dynamic unity of his thought. In my opinion, Pedro Rodriguez has accurately summarized this in a study devoted to the spirituality of The Way. He believes that there are three major lines of thought forming the backbone of this work. Two run through it as a refrain, and the third flows from their convergence. The first is the secular or worldly character of man, above all, his creative dynamism as a worker--all viewed from the perspective of the economy of grace. The second is, as it were, the supernatural axis of the vocation to holiness--the primacy of grace, of prayer, of interiority, expressed above all as the living out of one's divine filiation, one's "baptismal spirituality." The third, springing from these two, is the apostolic character of the layperson's vocation, i.e., his calling to participate in the redemptive work of Jesus. [56]

Why Is Ordinary Life the Place and Means of Sanctification?

Ordinary life is the place and means of sanctification because it is in our ordinary, everyday life that we make ourselves to be the persons we are. This life is made up of what we "do" throughout the day. Human persons are "acting persons," and the actions in which they engage are not simply physical events in the material world that come and go, like the falling of rain or the turning of leaves. Human actions, moreover, are not something that "happen" to a person. They are, rather, the outward expressions of a person's choice. For at the core of an action, as human and personal, is a free, self-determining choice, which, as we saw earlier in considering the relationship between baptism and free choice, is the existential principle of our lives.

The Scriptures, particularly the New Testament, are very clear about this. Jesus taught that it is not what enters a person that defiles him; rather, it is what flows from the person, from his heart, from the core of his being, from his choice (cf. Matt 15:10-20; Mk 7:14-23). The core of an action is the free, self-determining choice that abides in the person, making him to be the kind of person he is. The actions we freely choose to do, as St. Thomas reminds us, abide within us, giving to us our identity as moral and spiritual beings. [57]

In other words, it is in and through the actions we freely choose to do each day that we give to ourselves an identity, for weal or woe. This identity abides in us as a disposition to further choices and actions until we make other, contradictory kinds of choices. Thus, if I choose to lie, I make myself to be a liar and I remain a liar until, by another free and self-determining choice, I have a change of heart (metanoia) and repent of my deed. Even then I remain a liar, for I have, unfortunately, given myself that identity, but now I am a repentant liar, one who has, through free choice and God's grace, given to himself a new kind of identity, the identity of one who repudiates his freely chosen lie, repents of it, and is now determined, through free choice and with the help of God's never-failing grace, to amend his life and to be one who speaks the truth.

How does all of this help us understand why ordinary life is the place and means of our sanctification? Recall that the fundamental option, the overarching choice of the Christian is his or her baptismal commitment to live worthily as a child of God and to participate in Jesus's redemptive work--to live out his or her divine filiation. As Saint Josémaría said, "Christian faith and calling affect our whole existence, not just a part of it." [58] By reason of our divine filiation, our common vocation to holiness, and our personal vocation to fulfill in our own flesh "what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his body, the church" (Col 1:24), [59]our mission is to integrate our lives, to bring our whole life, all our choices and actions, into conformity with our baptismal commitment. Just as a husband is summoned and obliged to see to it that his everyday life, made up of the things he freely chooses to do, is in perfect harmony with his freely chosen identity as a husband, so each one of us is summoned and obligated to make every action of our daily life one that conforms to our identity as God's children, co-heirs with Christ, whose only will is to do what is pleasing to the Father.[60]

As Saint Josémaría has said, "conversion is the task of a moment; sanctification is the work of a lifetime."[61]It is the work of a lifetime because it consists in endeavoring, each day, in everything that we do, to make our own lives a true imitation of Christ.

Work, the Value of Little Things, Marriage and Family Life

We are to become saints--to attain the fullness of our divine filiation--in and through our "ordinary, everyday life." But in what does the "ordinary, everyday life" of the lay person, the "ordinary Christian," consist? It consists principally in the daily interactions one has with the members of one's own family--if one is married, particularly with one's spouse and children--with the persons with whom one comes into contact in his or her own work, in the "work" one does, and in the myriad of "little things" that one does from the time one rises in the morning until one retires at night. The "ordinary, everyday life" in the world in and through which we are to sanctify ourselves and others, consequently, consists principally in our life within our own families, the work we do in collaboration with others, and the "little things" of every day. Hence we shall now consider (i) the meaning of work, (ii) the value of "little things," and (iii) marriage and family life.

i. The meaning of work

Throughout his apostolic life Saint Josémaría unceasingly reminded all with whom he came into contact of the dignity, the value, and supreme importance of work in the Christian's life. [62]Indeed, one's ordinary work is, in his mind, "the hinge on which our calling to holiness is fixed and turns." [63]In a celebrated saying, which Pope John Paul II, while still Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, called a "happy expression," [64] Saint Josémaría put the matter this way: "you have to sanctify your work, be sanctified in your work, and sanctify through your work." [65] Ordinary work, for Saint Josémaría, "is not only the context in which [the majority of men] should become holy; it is the raw material of their holiness." [66] It is by sanctifying our work, sanctifying ourselves in our work, and sanctifying others through our work that, as Saint Josémaría said, we can succeed in making "heroic verse out of the prose of each day." [67] In fact, he wrote, "the 'miracle' which God asks of you is to persevere in your christian and divine vocation, sanctifying each day's work: the miracle of turning the prose of each day into heroic verse by the love which you put into your ordinary work." [68]

Saint Josémaría frequently prefixed the adjective "professional" to the substantive "work." [69] But it is most important, indeed absolutely crucial, to realize that "professional work" does not mean "the work of people of the 'professional class'"--doctors, lawyers, teachers--"but professional work in the sense of work undertaken as a stable condition of one's life, work by which one is involved in everyday society."[70]By "work" Saint Josémaría means "every job that is not opposed to the divine law," for every job of this kind is "good and noble, and capable of being raised to the supernatural plane, that is, inserted into the constant flow of Love which defines the life of a child of God."[71]In fact, as Saint Josémaría rightly insisted, "It is time for us Christians to shout from the rooftops that work is a gift from God and that it makes no sense to classify men differently, according to their occupation, as if some jobs were nobler than others. Work, all work, bears witness to the dignity of man, to his dominion over creation. It is an opportunity to develop one's personality. It is a bond of union with others, the way to support one's family, a means of aiding in the improvement of the society in which we live and in the progress of all humanity." [72]

It is evident that what makes work of such importance in the mind of Saint Josémaría is the fact that it is the free, responsible activity of the human person, as the one who is called by God to participate in both his creative and redemptive activity: "work is a participation in the creative work of God....Moreover, since Christ took it into his hands, work has become for us a redeemed and redemptive reality."[73] Saint Josémaría frequently meditated on and asked others to meditate on the passage in the gospel according to St. John in which our Lord says: "And when I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all things to myself" (Jn 12:32). Reflecting on this passage, he said: "By his death on the Cross, Christ has drawn all creation to himself. Now it is the task of Christians, in his name, to reconcile all things with God, placing Christ, by means of their work in the middle of the world, at the summit of all human activities." [74]

Man can sanctify himself in his work--and is called to do so--precisely because, as Rodriguez says, "when man works, he not only transforms things but also, at the same time and above all, he realizes his own proper being and, if he is a Christian, at his work he realizes, develops his own being as a Christian. And this realizing our being as Christian is what is meant by saying that 'one is to sanctify oneself' in one's work." [75] Work, in other words, has an "immanent" aspect as a human activity--as something that man freely chooses to do--and precisely as such it is in and through his work that a human person "fulfills" or "realizes" himself and that, as a Christian, he can "fulfill" his baptismal commitment, his divine filiation. John Paul II brings out this aspect of work--what he terms its "subjective" aspect--magnificently in his Encyclical Laborem exercens. The Holy Father, in passages that express well what Saint Josémaría meant when he said that we are to sanctify ourselves in our work, emphasizes that "as a person, man is the subject of work....Independently of their objective content, these actions [i.e., the actions that go to make up work] must all serve to realize his humanity, to fulfill the calling to be a person that is his by reason of his very humanity [vocationi, ex qua est persona quaeque vi ipsius humanitatis eius est propria]." [76] Continuing, the Holy Father says, in words reminiscent of Rodriguez' comment, that "through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfillment as a human being [se ipsum ut hominem perficit] and indeed, in a sense, becomes 'more a human being.'" [77]

We sanctify ourselves in our work by uniting our work with the redemptive work of Jesus himself. We do so by putting love into our work. As Saint Josémaría said, "the dignity of work isbased on Love. Man's great privilege is to be able to love and to transcend what is fleeting and ephemeral....Work is born of love; it is a manifestation of love and directed toward love....Work...becomes prayer and thanksgiving because we know we are placed on earth by God, that we are loved by him and made heirs to his promises....[it provides us with the opportunity] to give ourselves to others, to reveal Christ to them and lead them to God the Father--all of which is the overflow of the charity which the Holy Spirit pours into our hearts." [78]

We can sanctify ourselves in our work precisely because of our divine filiation and the love that God pours into our hearts when he makes us to be his children. In fact, as Ocariz has observed, it is the "reality of divine filiation that prevents slavery from entering into our work, since 'in the midst of the limitations that accompany our present life, in which sin is still present to us to some extent at least, we Christians perceive with particular clearness all the wealth of our divine filiation, when we realize that we are fully free because we are doing our Father's work.'" [79]

But we can sanctify ourselves in our work only if we sanctify our work. Here we must recall that work, in addition to having the intransitive or subjective aspect considered above, also has a transitive or objective aspect: it has an effect on the material things of this world, on human culture and civilization. There is indeed, as Rodriguez brings out very well, an intimate unity between the intransitive (subjective) and transitive (objective) aspects of work. If, in one's work, one seeks only one's own self-realization, one falls into a false individualistic understanding both of human existence and of our call to holiness as God's children, as members of his family. God calls us, through our work, to "care" for the earth, to "humanize" it. Indeed, as Rodriguez notes, "culture, in truth, is nothing else than nature humanized," and it is humanized through our work. [80]

And we can sanctify our work only if we do it well--a point that Saint Josémaría emphasized again and again in his preaching and writing. A representative and eloquent passage illustrating this aspect of his teaching is the following: "do your work perfectly...love God and mankind by putting love in the little things of everyday life, and discovering that divine something which is hidden in small details. The words of a Castilian poet are especially appropriate here: 'Write slowly and with a careful hand, for doing things well is more important than doing them' [Despacio, y buena letra; el hacer las cosas bien importa mas que el hacerlas]." [81] This passage--and countless passages throughout the works of Saint Josémaría convey the same message--brings out also the value of little things. [82]Saint Josémaría delighted in speaking of the example of medieval stonemasons, whose beautiful craftmanship at the top of cathedrals could not even be seen by those below but only by God. Their work was sanctifying because it was done for God, out of love, and hence it was done well. [83]Sloppy, careless work cannot be sanctified because it is not the proper raw material for sanctification. It cannot contribute to the "humanization" and "redemption" of the world in which we live. If work is to be sanctified it must be done well: "as a motto for your work," Saint Josémaría said, "I can give you this one: if you want to be useful, serve. For, in the first place, in order to do things properly, you must know how to do them. I cannot see the integrity of a person who does not strive to attain professional skills and to carry out properly the task entrusted to his care. It's not enough to want to do good; we must know how to do it. And, if our desire is real, it will show itself in the effort we make to use the right methods, finishing things well, achieving human perfection." [84]

Not only are we called to sanctify ourselves in our work and to sanctify our work, but we are called to sanctify others through our work. By reason of our divine filiation and our baptismal commitment to participate in Christ's redemptive work, our own work, our own freely chosen activities in the material world of everyday life, has an apostolic character. The apostolate of the laity, Saint Josémaría insisted (as did Vatican Council II after him), is not an "ecclesiastical" activity, something "juxtaposed" to their workaday world. Rather our work "is also an apostolate, an opportunity to give ourselves to others, to reveal Christ to them and lead them to God the Father." [85]Indeed, in a particularly picturesque passage Saint Josémaría called one's "professional prestige" in one's job--no matter what the job might be--one's "bait" as a "fisher of men." [86] Our work, in other words, forms our apostolate. It provides us with the occasion to bring to others the redeeming love of Christ.

ii. The value of "little things"

This has been touched on briefly above, in considering work. But the "little things" that constitute so much a part of our daily lives include far more than the "little things" so central to our "work," understood as a "stable condition of one's life, the work by which one is involved in everyday society." [87]By the "little things" that form the warp and woof of our ordinary daily lives Saint Josémaría had in mind the countless "trifling opportunities that come our way" [88]--the way we greet others, cope with the frustrations we encounter (traffic, rude clerks, what have you). All these "trifling opportunities" must be turned into occasions for sanctifying ourselves and others. A cardinal teaching of Saint Josémaría was that we must "be faithful, very faithful, in all the little things." [89]Indeed, as the Founder of Opus Dei put it, the "little things" of daily life, the "trifles," are the "oil, the fuel we need to keep our flame alive and light shining."[90]So true is this that one of the greatest dangers to our lives as Christians lies in imagining that "God cannot be here, in the things of each instant, because they are so simple and ordinary."[91]

So important are "little things" to our ordinary, daily life in the world--the "place" where we are called to sanctify ourselves and others--that Saint Josémaría devoted a special section of The Way to a consideration of their crucial significance for us as children of God, called to make him and his love efficaciously present in the ordinary world in which we live.[92]Two brief reflections included early in this section of The Way sum matters up quite clearly: "You have mistaken the way if you scorn the little things,"[93]and "'Great holiness consists in carrying out the 'little' duties of each moment."[94]

Indeed, it is precisely because she valued "little things" and their crucial importance in living out faithfully God's call to holiness that Mary is our model and the cause of our joy. As Saint Josémaría said in meditating on Mary and the model she offers us, "the supernatural value of our life does not depend on accomplishing great undertakings suggested to us by our overactive imagination. Rather it is to be found in the faithful acceptance of God's will, in welcoming generously the opportunities for small, daily sacrifice," in "accepting from God our condition as ordinary men and sanctifying its apparent worthlessness. Thus did Mary live." [95]

iii. Marriage and Family Life

"Do you laugh because I tell you that you have a vocation to marriage? Well, you have just that--a vocation." [96]Saint Josémaría clearly understood marriage as a divine vocation throughout his life--this passage is found in the first edition of The Way, written in 1939, when the idea that marriage is indeed a divine vocation was not well understood by many Catholics. That Christian marriage is a vocation and a means of holiness is central to the teaching of Saint Josémaría: "For a Christian," he wrote, "marriage is not just a social institution, much less a mere remedy for human weakness. It is a real supernatural calling."[97]

The ordinary life of most laypeople is spent working and in the midst of their families. If they are ever going to sanctify themselves and others--and carry out faithfully the vocation entrusted to them of becoming holy and of participating in Christ's redemptive work--they will do so only by sanctifying their work (as we have seen) and by sanctifying their married and family life.

The great truth here--one clearly recognized by Saint Josémaría--and magnificently developed by Vatican Council II and, in a pre-eminent way, by Pope John Paul II--is that the beautiful human reality of marriage, which has God has its author and came into being with the creation of the first man and woman--is itself, like the man and woman who marry, inwardly capable of being divinized and incorporated into God's covenant of grace and love. This has been the constant teaching of the Church, for the marriages of Christian men and women are sacraments of the new law of grace.[98] Indeed, the marriages of Christian men and women not only point to but inwardly participate in the life-giving, grace-giving spousal union of Christ with his bride, the Church (Eph 5: 31-33). Inasmuch as the sanctifying mission of marriage and family, so dear to the heart of  Saint Josémaría, has been developed so magnificently by Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio, in what follows I will, on the whole, simply seek to summarize and comment on the teaching set forth in that document. [99]

When Christian men and women marry they do so as persons who are already, through baptism, united with Christ and with his spotless bride, the Church, his body (cf. 1 Co 6:15-20). By means of their baptism, as Pope John Paul II states, "men and women are definitively placed within the new and eternal covenant, in the spousal covenant of Christ with the Church. And it is because of this indestructible insertion that the intimate community of conjugal life and love, founded by the Creator, is elevated and assumed into the spousal charity of Christ sustained and enriched by his redeeming power."[100]As a result their marriage "is a real symbol of that new and eternal covenant sanctioned in the blood of Christ. The Spirit which the Lord pours forth gives a new heart, and renders man and woman capable of loving one another as Christ has loved us. Conjugal love reaches that fullness to which it is interiorly ordained, conjugal charity, which is the proper and specific way in which the spouses participate in and are called to live the very charity of Christ, who gave himself on the cross."[101]Christian spouses are thus called upon, John Paul II continues, to be what they are!,[102]that is, spouses who can, in and through their married lives, mediate to their families and to the world in which they live the saving grace of Christ and his Church and to image in their marital and family life the redemptive love that Christ bears for his spotless bride, the Church.

John Paul II assigns four major tasks to Christian husbands and wives. They are: (1) to form a community of persons, (2) to serve life by welcoming from God the gift of human life, nourishing it and educating it in the love of God and neighbor, (3) to participate in the development of society, and (4) to participate in life and mission of the Church.[103]The Christian family, rooted in the sacramental marriage of Christian husbands and wives, is in truth, as the Fathers of the Church, Vatican Council II, and John Paul II remind us, a "church in miniature," the "domestic church."[104]It thus has a specific and original ecclesial role as a believing and evangelizing community and as a community in dialogue with God.[105]Christian married couples "not only receive the love of Christ and become a saved community, but they are also called upon to communicate Christ's love to their brethren, thus becoming a saving community."[106]

In the context of our contemporary culture, characterized by the banal slogan of those who advocate contraception and abortion to the effect that "no unwanted baby ought ever to be born," it seems to me that one of the crucially important sanctifying missions of Christian marriage and family is to enlighten human minds and open human hearts to the sublime truth that "no human person, including unborn children, ought ever to be unwanted, i.e., unloved." And the only way in which a society can be developed in which all human persons are indeed wanted is for men and women to shape their choices in accord with the truth. The truth demands that they recognize the precious goods of human sexuality, the goods of marriage: absolutely fidelity to one's spouse and an openness to the goodness of human life.


Because we make ourselves to be the persons we are in and through the deeds we freely choose to do in our everyday, ordinary life at home and at work, we can only live out our vocation as God's children and attain, with God's grace, the plenitude of our divine filiation by sanctifying ordinary life. It is indeed the place and means of our sanctification. But, Saint Josémaría reminds us, "sanctification is the work of a lifetime."[107]As he likewise noted, "people are not born holy." Rather, "holiness is forged through a constant interplay of God's grace and the correspondence of man." [108]It is possible only with God's help, with his grace. As a result, we must make use of the means needed to ensure that our vocation to holiness can take root and develop. According to Saint Josémaría, the two most indispensable means, "which are like living supports of Christian conduct," are "interior life and doctrinal formation, the deep knowledge of our faith."[109]Without a deep, mature knowledge of the truths that God has so graciously made known to us through the mediation of his Son and of his Son's bride the Church, we can never fulfill our vocation as his children. Nor can we do so unless we develop an interior life, one of constant prayer rooted in personal familiarity with our best and wisest friend, Jesus. What we must do is "foster deep down in our hearts a burning desire, an intense eagerness to achieve sanctity, even though we see ourselves full of failings. Do not be afraid....Speak now from the bottom of your heart: 'Lord, I really do want to be a saint. I really do want to be a worthy disciple of yours and to follow you unconditionally."[110]


1.This paper was first given at a conference in Rome in 1993 to commemorate the beatification of Josémaría Escrivá (now Saint Josémaría), and published in Santità e Mondo: Atti del Convegno teologico di studio sugli insegnamenti del beato Josemaría Escrivá (Roma, 1-14 ottobre 1993), ed. Manuel Belda et al. Città del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1994, pp. 43-70. Eng. tr., “Holiness and Ordinary Life in the Teaching of Blessed Josémaría Escrivá,” in Holiness and the World: Studies in the Teachings of Blessed Josémaia Escrivá, ed. M.Belda. Princeton, N.J.: Scepter Publications, 1997, pp.53-88. Here I have updated references, in particular calling attention to relevant sections of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis splendor.

2. On this see Vatican Council II, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, ch. 4, "De universali vocatione ad Sanctitatem in Ecclesia."

3. Thus, for example, Alvaro del Portillo has insisted that the underlying spirit of the Work is, first of all, "la santificacion en la vida ordinaria, de no admitir ningun tipo de disociacion entre lo humano y lo sobrenatural. La llamada a la plenitud de la vida cristiana es universal, esta dirigida a todos." "El Camino del Opus Dei," in Mons. Josémaría Escriva de Balaguer y el Opus Dei en el 50 aniversario de su fundación (2nd ed.: Pamplona: EUNSA, 1985), pp. 35-36. And Pedro Rodriguez writes: "Esta invitacion universal a la santidad...ha sido tema incesante de la actividad pastoral del autor de Camino." See Rodriguez, Vocación, trabajo, contemplación (Pamplona: EUNSA, 1986), p. 93.

4. Sant Josémaría Escriva, Carta, Roma, March 19, 1954, cited by Rodriguez, Vocación, trabajo, contemplación, pp. 93-94. "Con el comienzo de la Obra en 1928, mi predicacion ha sido que la santidad no es cosa para privilegiados. Hemos venido a decir que pueden ser divinos todos los caminos de la tierra, todos los estados, todas las profesiones, todas las tareas honestas....decimos a cada uno--a todas las mujeres y a todos los hombres--que alli donde esta puede adquirir la perfeccion cristiana."

5. See, for example, Friends of God, Homilies by Josémaría Escriva de Balaguer (New Rochelle, N.Y.: Scepter, 1986), nn. 2, 177, 294.

6. Christ Is Passing By, Homilies by Josémaría Escriva de Balaguer (New Rochelle, N.Y.: Scepter, 1985), n. 133. See also ibid., nn. 64, 65.

7. Ibid., n. 100. On this topic see Fernando Ocariz, "La Filiacion Divina, Realidad Central en la Vida y en la Ensenanza de Mons. Escriva de Balaguer," in Mons. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer y el Opus Dei en el 50 aniversario de su fundación (2nd. ed.: Pamplona: EUNSA, 1985), pp. 173-213, esp. 178-179.

8. Alvaro del Portillo, "Foreword" to Christ Is Passing By, pp. 11-12: At the core of the preaching of Josémaría Escriva "is a sense of divine filiation....He continually echoes St. Paul's message: 'For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry "Abba! Father!" it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him' (Rom. 8: 14-17)." Cf. Saimt Josémaría's appeal to this text from St. Paul in ibid., nn. 64, 118, 135, 136. As another commentator, Fernando Ocariz, has observed: it is essential that the sense of divine filiation be "entendida no como una simple verdad teorica entre otras muchas, sino contemplada y vivida como capital punto de apoyo, como fundamento, de toda la existencia cristiana." "La Filiacion Divina: Realidad Central en la Vida y en la Ensenanza de Mons. Escriva de Balaguer," p. 174.

9. Christ Is Passing By, n. 128. Here I have changed the tenses of the verbs from "has taken" to "takes," "has made" to "makes," and "has given" to "gives."

10. Friends of God, n. 210.

11. See Conversations with Monsignor Escriva (Manila: Sinag-Tala Publishers, Inc., 1985), n. 22.

12. Cf. ibid., nn. 24, 44.

13. Christ Is Passing By, nn. 65, 66.

14. See Ibid., n. 103: "Our faith teaches us that man, in the state of grace, is divinized--filled with God."

15. Ibid., n. 110.

16. Ibid., n. 129.

17. Fernando Ocariz, "La vocación al Opus Dei como vocación en la Iglesia," in El Opus Dei en la Iglesia (Madrid: Ediciones Rialp, 1993), p. 140. See all of pp. 135-197, and in particular pp. 137-148, "Vocación a la santidad en la Iglesia," for a development of this idea.

18. An illuminating presentation of this issue is Mortimer Adler, The Difference of Man and the Difference It Makes (New York: Meridian Books, 1968).

19. See St. Augustine, De libero arbitrio. The apostolic Fathers, such as Justin Martyr, stressed free choice in the face of pagan determinism. Early in the history of Christianity, Justin developed a line of reasoning that was to be used over and over again by such writers as Augustine, John Damascene, and Aquinas. He wrote: "We have learned from the prophets and we hold it as true that punishments and chastisements and good rewards are distributed according to the merit of each man's actions. Were this not the case, and were all things to happen according to the decree of fate, there could be nothing at all in our power. If fate decrees that this man is to be good, and that one wicked, then neither is the former to be praised nor the latter to be blamed. Furthermore, if the human race does not have the power of a freely deliberated choice in fleeing evil and in choosing good, then men are not accountable for their actions." The First Apology 43; trans. W. A. Jurgen, The Faith of the Early Fathers (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1970), Vol. 1, n. 123. A strikingly powerful expression of the reality of free choice was given by St. Gregory of Nyssa in his De Vita Moysis, II, 2-3: “All things subject to change and to becoming never remain constant, but continually pass from one state to another, for better or worse…Now human life is always subject to change; it needs to be born ever anew….But here birth does not come about by a foreign intervention, as is the case with bodily beings…; it is the result of free choice. Thus we are in a certain way our own parents, creating ourselves as we will, by our decisions” (a passage cited by John Paul II  in Veritatis splendor, no. 71). See also St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, 1-2, Prologue.

20. The Council of Trent solemnly defined the truth that human persons, even after the Fall, are gifted with free choice. For text, see Henricus Denzinger and Adolphus Schoenmetzer, Enchiridion Symbolorum Definitionum et Declarationum de Rebus Fidei et Morum (35th ed.: Rome: Herder, 1975), n. 1555. See also Vatican Council II, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes, n. 17, where the Council Fathers stress that the power of free choice "is an exceptional sign of the divine image within man."

21. Pope John Paul II, Veritatis splendor, n. 71. As Karol Wojtyla, John Paul II emphasized this truth in The Acting Person, trans. Andrzej Potocki (Dordrecht/Boston: D. Reidel, 1979), pp. 121-128. The centrality of free choice is developed systematically and masterfully by Germain Grisez, The Way of the Lord Jesus, Vol. l, Christian Moral Principles (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1983), pp. 41-72.

22. Pope John Paul II, Veritatis splendor, n. 66. Internal citations other than Scripture are from Vatican II, Dei Verbum, n. 5, which in turn cites Vatican I, Dei Filius, Chapter 3; DS 3008.

23. Grisez, Christian Moral Principles, p. 551.

24. Alvaro del Portillo: "la santidad...no es otra cosa que la perfeccion de la vida cristiana, que la plenitud de la filiación divina." "Mons. Escriva de Balaguer, testigo del amor a la Iglesia," in Palabra, no. 130 (June, 1976), p. 9. Cited by Ocariz, "La Filiación Divina...," p. 177.

25. This matter is discussed masterfully by Pedro Rodriquez, Vocación, Trabajo, Contemplación, pp. 105-111. I will rely extensively on his treatment of this issue in what follows.

26. The Way (New Rochelle, N.Y.: Scepter, 1985 printing), n. 592.

27. Ibid., n. 599.

28. Ibid., n. 608.

29. Cf. ibid., n. 597.

30. See, for ibid., nn. 707, 729, 733. Rodriguez, in Vocación, Trabajo, Contemplación, p. 106, cites a significant passage from a letter of Saint Josémaría--Carta, Roma, May 31, 1954--in which he says: "Y si a la vista de nuestra debilidad, de nuestros errores personales, se alza un sentimiento de impotencia--siendo yo como soy, puedo consagrar el mundo?--habeis de oir enseguida un si terminante, que resonara en vuestra cabeza y en vuestro corazon: 'sufficit tibi gratia mea, te basta mi gracia'."

31. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, 1-2, q. 108, a. 4, sed contra: "Christus est maxime sapiens et amicus."

32. See, for example: The Way, 88, 91, 421, 806 and especially 422; Christ Is Passing By, especially nn. 162-163, 169; Friends of God, especially nn. 222-225, 228-231, 234-237.

33. See, for example, Christ Is Passing By, in particular the homilies "The Eucharist, Mystery of Faith and Love," "Christ's Presence in Christians," especially nn. 107-109; Friends of God, nn. 299-305.

34. Friends of God, n. 6.

35. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, 1-2, q. 106, a. 1: "Id autem quod est potissimum in lege novi testamenti, et in quo tota virtus eius consistit, est gratia Spiritus Sancti, quae datur per fidem Christi. Et ideo principaliter lex nova est ipsa gratia Spiritus Sancti, quae datur Christi fidelibus." An excellent commentary on St. Thomas's teaching on the new law, the pinnacle of his moral thought, can be found in Servais Pinckaers, O.P., Les sources de la morale chretienne: sa methode, son contenu, son histoire (Fribourg and Paris: Editions Universitaires and Editions du Cerf, 1985), pp. 174-195.

36. Ibid., 3, q. 69, a. 5: "Per baptismum aliquis regeneratur in spiritualem vitam, quae est propria fidelium Christi; sicut Apostolus dicit (Gal 2:20), 'Quod autem nunc vivo in carne, in fide vivo Filii Dei.' Vita autem non est nisi membrorum capiti unitorum, a quo sensum et motum suscipiunt. Et ideo necesse est quod per baptismum aliquis incorporetur Christo quasi membrum ipsius. Sicut autem a capite naturali derivatur ad membra sensus et motus, ita a capite spirituali, quod est Christus, derivatur ad membra eius sensus spiritualis, qui consistit in cognitione veritatis, et motus spiritualis, qui est per gratiae instinctum. Unde Joan. 1 (14) dicitur, 'Vidimus eum plenum gratiae et veritatis, et de plenitudine eius omnes accipimus.' Et ideo consequens est quod baptizati illuminentur a Christo circa cognitionem veritatis, et fecundetur ab eo fecunditate bonorum operum per gratiae infusionem."

37. This homily, under the title "Passionately Loving the World," is found in Conversations with Monsignor Escriva, nn. 113-123. Of all the many texts in which Saint Josémaría expounded the doctrine that our ordinary, everyday life is the place where we are to sanctify ourselves, this homily is perhaps the text that sets this teaching forth most fully and comprehensively. The finest commentary that I have seen on this text is Pedro Rodriguez, "Santità nella vita quotidiana," Studi cattolici, n. 381, 36 (novembre, 1992) 717-729. In what follows I will draw extensively on this excellent article.

38. See, for instance, The Way, nn. 832, 837.

39. Rodriguez, Vocación, Trabajo, Contemplación, p. 98: "La 'locura de cambiar de sitio' es consequencia de lo que Mons. Escriva de Balaguer ha llamado humoristicamente 'mistica ojalatera.'" Rodriguez then goes on, pp. 98-99, to cite at length from a letter of Saint Josémaría--Carta, Roma, March 19, 1954--in which the Founder of Opus Dei speaks at length of this foolishness, a madness that he had encountered time and time again in his apostolic labors.

On this see, for example, Saint Josémaría's homily, "Passionately Loving the World," in Conversations with Monsignor Escriva, n. 116: "Stop dreaming. Leave behind false idealisms, fantasies, and what I usually call mystical wishful thinking: If only I hadn't married, If only I hadn't this profession, If only I were healthier, If only I were young, If only I were old." In a note the English translator observes that in the Spanish text there is "a play on words between 'ojala' ('would that', 'if only') and 'hojalata' ('tin plate'). 'Mistica ojalatera' is 'tin-can mysticism' as well as 'mystical wishful thinking.'"

40. José Luis Illanes, On the Theology of Work: Aspects of the Teaching of the Founder of Opus Dei, trans. Michael Adams (New Rochelle: Scepter, 1982), p. 41.

41. "Passionately Loving the World," n. 113.

42. Ibid., n. 115.

43. Ibid., n. 115.

44. Ibid., nn. 114, 116. On this point, see Rodriguez, "Santità nella vita quotidiana," Studi cattolici, 723-725.

45. "Passionately Loving the World," n. 113.

46. Ibid., n. 114.

47. Ibid., n. 114.

48. Ibid., n. 123.

49. See, for instance, the following: Christ Is Passing By, n. 9: "In order to reach sanctity, an ordinary Christian...has no reason to abandon the world, since that is precisely where he is to find Christ." Ibid., n. 105: Jesus "wants the vast majority to stay right where they are, in all earthly occupations in which they work." Ibid., n. 110: "The ordinary life of a man among his fellows is not something dull and uninteresting. It is there that the Lord wants the vast majority of his children to achieve sanctity." Ibid., n. 198: "Mary sanctifies the ordinary, everyday things--what some people wrongly regard as unimportant and insignificant: everyday work, looking after those closest to you, visits to friends and relatives. What a blessed ordinariness, that can be so full of love of God." Friends of God, n. 18: "Sanctity in our ordinary tasks, sanctity in the little things we do, sanctity in our professional work, in our daily cares." Ibid., n. 60: "The Lord wants you to be holy in the place where you are." Ibid., n. 312: "When faith is really alive in the soul, one discovers...that to follow Christ one does not have to step aside from the ordinary pattern of everyday life, and ...that the great holiness which God expects of us is to be found here and now in the little things of each day."

50. Rodriguez, "Santità nella vita quotidiana," 723.

51. Ibid., 725.

52. Vatican Council II, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, n. 31.

53. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles laici, n. 15. Emphasis in the original.

54. Cf. Ibid., n. 15.

55. José Luis Illanes, "Iglesia en el mundo: La Secularidad de los Miembros del Opus Dei," in El Opus Dei en La Iglesia (Madrid: Ediciones Rialp, 1993), pp. 227-228 (emphasis added): "Puede incluso decirse que las afirmaciones de la Lumen gentium y de la Christifideles laici sobre la indole secular como propia de los laicos y las ensenanzas de Mons. Escriva sobre la condicion de cristiano corriente y la naturalidad se iluminan mutuamente...al senalar que todo intento de comprender al Opus Dei debe partir de la figura del laico o seglar, ya que a lo que el Opus Dei aspira--de acuerdo con el carisma fundacional, tal y como quedo definido el 2 de octubre de 1928--es precisamente a promover entre laicos o cristianos corrientes de las mas diversas condiciones sociales y de las mas diversas profesiones la conciencia de su vocacion cristiana, de la llamada que Dios les dirige a sanctificarse y a sanctificar a los demas en y a traves de las circumstancias y realidades de su vivir en el mundo."

56. Rodriguez, "La espiritualidad de 'Camino,'" ch. 4 of his Vocación, Trabajo, Contemplación, pp. 94-95: "En mi opinion, hay dos grandes lineas que recorren el pequeno gran libro y lo convierten en 'manual de la santidad de los laicos': la primera es el mundo, la situacion mundanal del hombre y, sobre todo, su dinamismo creador--el trabajo--afirmados positivamente y contemplados en la economia de la gracia; la segunda constituye como el eje sobrenatural de la tarea sanctificadora y podriamos califacarla como 'primacia de la gracia,' de la oracion, de la interioridad, que en el libro se expresa, ante todo, como vivencia y sentido de la filiacion divina, lo que configura la espiritualidad de los laicos como 'espiritualidad bautismal.' De la confluencia de ambas lineas estructurantes brota una tercera, que confiere a la vocacion cristiana del laico los rasgos de una vocacion esencialmente apostolica."

57. Cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, 1-2, q. 57, a. 4: "agere est actio permanens in ipso agente."

58. "In Joseph's Workshop," in Christ Is Passing By, n. 46.

59. Each one of us, as Saint Josémaría frequently stressed, has his or her own unique, personal vocation, his or her own unique and indispensable role to play in carrying on Jesus's redemptive work of sanctification. A particularly illuminating text, I believe, is found in his homily, "Freedom, a Gift From God," in Friends of Christ, nn. 28-30. Another is a brief passage in his homily, "The Great Unknown," in Christ Is Passing By, n. 129: "God does not want slaves, but children. He respects our freedom. The work of salvation is still going on, and each one of us has a part in it.”

The truth that each of us has a personal vocation is central to the teaching of Vatican Council II: see, for instance, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, nn. 11, 46; Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes, nn. 31, 43, 75). It is also developed by Pope John Paul II. See his Encyclical Redemptor hominis, 71 AAS (1979) 317 and his homily at Miraflores Park (Cuenca, Ecuador), 7, in Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, 8.1 (1985) 309. On the question of personal vocation see Grisez, Christian Moral Principles, pp. 559-562, 663-664, 753-755, and Living a Christian Life, Vol. 2 of his The Way of the Lord Jesus (Quincy, IL: Franciscan Press, 1993), pp. 113-129.

60. The truth I have attempted to summarize briefly here is developed at length and magnificently, I believe, by Grisez in Christian Moral Principles, especially in chapters 25, 26, and 27, pp. 599-682.

61. "The Conversion of the Children of God," in Christ Is Passing By, n. 58.

62. Among the many, many places in which SaintJosémaría proclaims this teaching are the following: The Way, nn. 162, 306, 334, 348, 373, 697, 933; The Furrow, nn. 482-531; The Forge, nn. 618, 684, 698, 700, 702, 705, 713, 725, 735, 980; Christ Is Passing By, "In Joseph's Workshop," especially nn. 45-51; Friends of God, "Working for God," especially nn. 57, 58, 60, 61, 62, 64, 65; "Opus Dei: an institution which fosters the search for holiness in the world," Conversations with Monsignor Escriva, nn. 55, 59, 70; Carta, Roma, May 31, 1954.

63. Friends of God, n. 62. Here I have used the translation of this passage as found in José Luis Illanes, On the Theology of Work: Aspects of the Teaching of the Founder of Opus Dei, trans. Michael Adams (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1982), p. 49.

64. Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, in a lecture he gave in 1974 on the subject of "Evangelization and the inner man," wrote as follows: "How can man, in his effort to impose himself on the face of the earth, put his spiritual stamp on the world?...We can reply with a happy expression--which everyone knows so well--which Monsignor Escriva de Balaguer has been using for so many years: 'by each person sanctifying his own work, sanctifying himself in his work, and sanctifying others through his work.’" This lecture is published in La fe de la iglesia: textos del Card. Karol Wojtyla (Pamplona: EUNSA, 1979), pp. 94-95. The text is cited by Illanes, On the Theology of Work, p. 101, note 95.

65. This particular form of this saying is given in Carta, Roma, May 31, 1954, and is cited in this way by Illanes, On the Theology of Work, p. 49. The same thought is expressed in slightly different ways in many places by Saint Josémaría. Thus, in Conversations with Monsignor Escriva, n. 55, we read: "Sanctity, for the vast majority of men, implies sanctifying their work, sanctifying themselves through it, and sanctifying others through it. Thus they can encounter God in the course of their daily lives." And in ibid., n. 70: "Those who want to live their faith perfectly and do apostolate...must sanctify themselves with their work, must sanctify their work, and sanctify others through their work." See also Christ Is Passing By, n. 46; Friends of God, n. 9.

66. Conversations with Monsignor Escriva, n. 70.

67. Ibid., n. 116.

68. Christ Is Passing By, n. 50.

69. See, for instance, Ibid., n. 45, n. 49, n. 50.

70. Illanes, On the Theology of Work, p. 9.

71. Friends of God, n. 60.

72. Christ Is Passing By, n. 47.

73. Ibid.

74. Conversations with Monsignor Escriva, n. 59. See Christ Is Passing By, n. 183.

75. Rodriguez, Vocación, Trabajo, Contemplación, p. 80: "el hombre, quando trabaja, no solo transforma las cosas sino que, a la vez y ante todo, realiza su propio ser y, si es cristiano, al trabajar, realiza, despliega ademas su ser de cristiano. Y ese realizar nuestro ser de cristianos es lo que se llama 'santificarse.'"  

76. Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Laborem exercens, n. 6.

77. Ibid., n. 70. An excellent commentary on Laborem exercens is provided by John Finnis, "Fundamental Themes of John Paul II's Laborem exercens (1982)," in The Church's Social Teaching: Proceedings of the Fifth Annual Convention of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars (Scranton, PA: Northeast Press, 1983).

78. Christ Is Passing By, nn. 48, 49.

79. Ocariz, "La Filiación Divina, Realidad Central en la Vida y en la Ensenanza de Mons. Escriva de Balaguer," in Mons. Josémaría Escriva de Balaguer y el Opus Dei en el 50 aniversario de su fundación, p. 198, with an internal citation from Christ Is Passing By, n. 138.

80. Rodriguez, Vocación, Trabajo, Contemplación, p. 81, emphasis added: "La cultura, en efecto, no es otra cosa que Naturaleza humanizada."

81. Conversations with Monsignor Escriva, n. 116.

82. On the value of little things, see in particular the section entitled "Little Things" in The Way, nn. 813-830. See Carta, Roma, May 31, 1954.

83. See the text, for instance, in Friends of God, n. 65.

84. Christ Is Passing By, n. 50.

85. Ibid., n. 75.

86. The Way, n. 372: "You stray from your apostolic way if the occasion--or the excuse--of a work of zeal makes you leave the duties of your office unfulfilled. For you will lose your professional prestige, which is exactly your 'bait' as a fisher of men." Cf. n. 347.

87. Illanes, On the Theology of Work, p. 9. See above, under the discussion of work.

88. See Saint Josémaría's homily, "The Richness of Everyday Life" in Friends of God, n. 9, p. 6.

89. Cf. Ibid., n. 18, p. 12; cf. n. 20, pp. 13-14.

90. Ibid., n. 41, p. 36.

91. Saint Josémaría Escriva, homily "Toward Holiness," in Friends of God, n. 313, pp. 271-272.

92. See The Way, nn. 813-830.

93. Ibid.,  n. 816.

94. Ibid., n. 817.

95. Saint Josémaría, homily, "The Blessed Virgin, Cause of Our Joy," in Christ Is Passing By, n. 172, p. 229.

96. The Way, n. 27.

97. Christ Is Passing By, n. 23.

98. This was solemnly defined as a truth of faith by the Council of Trent at its 24th session, November 1563. For text see DS, nn. 1797-1800, with accompanying canons, nn. 1801-1812. It has been constantly reaffirmed by the magisterium: e.g., Leo XIII, Encyclical Arcanum divinae sapientiae, Pius XI, Encyclical Casti connubii, Vatican Council II, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes, nn. 47-52, Paul VI, Encyclical Humanae vitae, John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio.

99. A superb text devoted to the presentation and analysis of the Church's teaching on marriage and family is Ramón García de Haro, Matrimonio e Famiglia nei Documenti del Magistero (Milano: Edizioni Ares, 1988), English translation by William E. May, Marriage and Family in the Documents of the Magisterium (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993). Chapter eight of this masterful work is devoted to an analysis of the abundant teaching of John Paul II on marriage and family, in particular the teaching found in Familiaris consortio.

100. Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio, n. 13.

101. Ibid.

102. Ibid., n. 17.

103. Ibid., Part III.

104. Vatican Council II, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, n. 11; cf. Decree on the laity, Apostolicam actuositatem, n. 11; John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio, n. 49. Helpful theological studies: Domenico Sartore, C.S.I., "La famiglia, chiesa domestica," Laternanum 45 (1979) 282-303; Jean Beyer, S.J., "Ecclesia domestica," Periodica de re morali, canonica, liturgica 79 (199) 293-326; Vigen Guroian, "Family and Christian Virtue in a Post-Christendom World: Reflections on the Ecclesial Vision of John Chrysostom," St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 35 (1991) 327-350.

105. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio, nn. 50-62.

106. Ibid., n. 49.

107. Christ Is Passing By, n. 58.

108. Friends of God, n. 7.

109. Christ Is Passing By, n. 8.

110. Friends of God, n. 20.

Copyright ©; William E. May 2003

Version: 28th June 2003

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