Edmonton’s Faithful Celebrate St. Josemaria
July 26, 2011
On the June 2011 feast day Mass for St. Josemaria Escriva, some of Edmonton’s faithful met at St. Andrew’s Roman Catholic Church to celebrate the Opus Dei founder’s life. And while there is no official Opus Dei centre in Alberta’s capital, there are still hundreds of people, from different cultural, social and professional backgrounds, who learn from the teachings of the founder of the Work. St. Josemaria’s official feast day is June 26th, the date he died in 1975, but since that was a Sunday this year, the Mass was moved to June 20th.
During St. Josemaria’s feast-day celebration Mass at St. Andrew’s, Father David Sands, an Opus Dei priest from Vancouver, paid tribute to St. Josemaria by sharing his personal reflections about him. Having had the opportunity to spend two years in Rome with St. Josemaria while he was still new to Opus Dei, Father Sands explained how the saint was able to develop an instant rapport with most everyone he encountered. “Being around him was the most natural thing on the face of the earth,” said Father Sands in his homily. “Your mind and heart were raised to the Lord whenever you were in his presence, and in his presence, the sense of personal difficulties simply vanished.” Father Sands explained that St. Josemaria made you want to love God the way you ought to love God. “We should all try to go to him for his intercession,” he encouraged. “And ask him to help us in our struggles.”
Throughout Father Sands’ involvement with Opus Dei, people often approached him, curious to know what it was like to have had the opportunity to spend time with such an awe-inspiring person as St. Josemaria. According to Father Sands, the experience with St. Josemaria was simply such an ordinary one. “St. Josemaria was a tremendously natural and ordinary man,” he explained.
And this is most certainly why so many faithful gravitate to the way of St. Josemaria. Because we too are ordinary, and we too yearn to connect to God and grow closer to Him in our everyday lives. What St. Josemaria taught is accessible, inclusive and attainable. We can all become saints in our ordinary life and become sanctified through our daily work and interactions with others. In fact, the day after canonizing St. Josemaria (October 6, 2002), Pope John Paul II commented that “one could say that he was the patron saint of ordinary life.”
Bernadette Schiller is new to Edmonton and to Opus Dei. She moved from Lloydminster a few months ago and has only recently become involved with Opus Dei. She first learned about it through EWTN Global Catholic Network, but unfortunately for her, no days of recollection were offered in Lloydminster, which made it difficult to become involved. Around that same time, a friend of Bernadette’s, who was already involved with Opus Dei, informed her of the recollections held in Edmonton, a city located only a few hours from Lloydminster. This piqued Bernadette’s interest. The next time she visited Edmonton, she attended the recollection at St. Andrew’s.
Bernadette was also invited to attend the women’s silent retreat over the Thanksgiving weekend, and that most certainly set the path for her spiritual walk. “It was just so enriching,” she says. “It gave me a good flavour of what Opus Dei was about. The talks at that time were about sanctifying your day through daily chores, whether that be washing the dishes or changing a baby’s diaper. Offering everything up to God, living in the presence of God, acting as children of God and sanctifying work through prayer. Opus Dei has impacted me by making me think about God more in my daily life.”
Another new friend to Opus Dei is Carol Quist. She and her husband Paul are new Catholics, having joined the Church in 2005. “I’ve only just started coming to Opus Dei for about three months now,” says Carol. “I’m now telling others to come too. There’s a real depth to Opus Dei and it’s also practical. It’s very applicable to daily life. Since I’m pretty new, it’s really helping me get to another level with my faith and I’m looking forward to more.”
Maretta Rogolino has been involved with Opus Dei for five years now. She says that even before she was familiar with Opus Dei teachings, she was already trying to live her life in the way St. Josemaria encouraged. And despite never having been to an Opus Dei recollection before, she was still “thirsty” for it. When she finally did attend one, Maretta was able to delve so much deeper into her already strong faith life. “Opus Dei increased the depth and the amount of encounters with Jesus. I would say to anybody who is curious about Opus Dei that I wouldn’t stand back. If you really want to grow deeper into Jesus’ heart, this is one very powerful way to do it. They say that St. Josemaria had more graces than any other saint, and that cardinals and bishops went to him for advice, so I wouldn’t sit back and wait for any other!” she laughs.
For Lupita and Juan Irizar, Opus Dei has been a compass for their lives for many years. Parents to 16 children — their oldest being the Deacon who assisted at St. Josemaria’s feast day Mass at St. Andrew’s — and exuding joy, Lupita and Juan are examples of what it means to sanctify your life through daily work.
“Both my husband and I are members,” says Lupita. “My husband for about 30 years, and I for about 23 years. What first attracted me was the society of the people. I met a lot of people and there was something special about them and I didn’t know why at first. But I see now that there is a professional approach to work. For me the professional approach to work is very important. In my daily life it helps me to improve in my interior life. It has taught me how to be a better mom, better wife, better friend, and a better daughter.”
Juan says that his whole life is Opus Dei “It’s 24/7, no matter what. If I am at home, if I am working, if I am with my kids, it is all my life. Opus Dei fits into everything. God chose me,” says Juan, smiling.
Debbie Leblanc has been involved with Opus Dei in one way or another for 20 years, but it was four years ago when she came to the realization that Opus Dei was to become her path to sanctity. This is when she decided to become a member. Debbie recalls the first time she ever attended a retreat and says that it was life changing in two very simple ways. “The first was the value of a smile,” she says. “And the second was the value that I could give to the ordinary work I did as a mom. It just made me want to do better and to take pride in it.” She smiles softly and continues, “Opus Dei is everything to me.”
As is the case with many people who are involved in Opus Dei, what first attracted Debbie to it was that she could sanctify her life through ordinary, everyday tasks. “When you’re a mom, especially in today’s society, it’s not always considered noble. Even though I had a university degree and still wanted to be a mom, it was still, often times, a thankless job. But after attending my first Opus Dei retreat, I came home renewed and since then it has transformed my life. Opus Dei has permeated every fiber of my being.”
Father David Sands had the opportunity to spend two years in Rome with St. Josemaria while he was still new to Opus Dei
Glenn Elle moved to Canada from the Philippines last April, together with his wife and now three-year-old son. He has been involved with Opus Dei since high school and joined it over five years ago when he was preparing for his marriage.
“The experience has been tremendous,” says Glenn. “It makes you realize how little you are and also makes you realize you can do something about it — you can grow your faith. Day by day, step by step. Sometimes I don’t realize that even the little things I do are worthy enough to offer up, because at times I feel so small doing a menial task, but in the end it is something I can offer up when the right intention is there.”
He says that he believes the biggest impact it has had on his life is his relationship with his wife. “Because marriage is really a difficult vocation, and so the guidance from the spiritual directors and the spirituality of St. Josemaria really helps.”
He says that with Opus Dei, it’s also wonderful to have access to solid spiritual guidance, and that anyone considering getting involved with Opus Dei or anyone who already is, should have a spiritual director. “Sometimes we refuse this because we think we know the answers already, but just like a doctor, a spiritual director can guide and help us.”
Terry Storms has been involved with Opus Dei since 1988, the same year he became a Catholic. “I think that it has given me an idea of what it means to be a Christian, that you don’t get just by sitting in a pew at Church and listening to the good homilies that we hear from time to time. We have to remember that what our Christian life involves is hard work. That in order to become holy in the midst of all of life’s distractions and difficulties, we must really work at it and have direction. We can’t do it on our own. It’s just not possible.”
St. Josemaria window in Edmonton
Above all, Terry says the most important thing to remember is that we all have just one chance here on earth, and we don’t know how long we have to develop and enrich our relationship with God. “Someone once said that there is a God shaped-hole in every heart,” says Terry. “It’s all about trying to fill that hole by being intimate with God. That’s the really important thing. And in our ordinary life, it seems, we’re not always given much of a chance for that, because there are so many distractions.”
As St. Josemaria once said, "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.”
(Based on an article by Leanne Stone published in Western Catholic Reporter.)