The Life of St Josemaria Escriva
“If we all pray together, if we add just a bit of good will, our Lord will give us his grace and end this dark, terrible night. Then will come the dawn, the morning filled with sunlight.”
St Josemaria in Fatima, 1972
On December 22, 1971, a beautiful antique image of the Blessed Mother arrived at Villa Tevere. It was a wooden sculpture, almost life-size and… badly in need of restoration. It was a gift to the founder from his Italian sons and daughters. Seeing it, Saint Josemaría addressed our Lady with words of affection while asking from what Church it had been removed. He had it restored as quickly as possible and asked that in the meantime it be mounted in an appropriate temporary site, with freshly cut flowers always kept at Our Lady’s feet. He wanted to make reparation in this way for all the images that had been removed from churches, for the confessionals eliminated, the Eucharist neglected, dogmas attacked, obedience derided, and piety drained.
Those were difficult times. After the council there were many arbitrary and questionable interpretations of its texts, people justifying their claims by appeal to the so-called “spirit of the council.”
The founder had the habit of inscribing a sentence on the first page of his liturgical calendar, as a motto for the entire year. On New Year’s Day of 1970 he wrote: Beata Maria intercedente, fortes in fide! (“Through the intercession of Blessed Mary, may we be strong in the Faith”). But inside he was heartbroken. An alarmed Paul VI denounced signs of the “decomposition of the Church” and the “smoke of Satan” that was penetrating into it. Although he did not want to sadden his followers, he sometimes confided in them: “I am suffering very much, my children. We are living in a time of madness. Millions of souls are confused. There is great danger that, in practice, the Sacraments will be emptied of their content — all of them, including even Baptism — and that the very commandments of God’s law will lose their meaning for consciences.
Afterwards he consoled them, “You know very well that the Church will not die, because our Lord promised that it would not, and his word is infallible. Nonetheless, I have to say that things are going very badly, and I would not be a good pastor if I didn’t tell you. Many times I prefer to keep you from suffering and bear the pain alone.”
“A flock is in good shape,” he also said, “when the shepherds are concerned for the sheep; when they loose the dogs on the wolf; when they do not bring the flock to graze in areas where the grass is poisonous, but where they can find nourishing foliage. The same thing happens with souls. We need shepherds who are not mute sheepdogs, because the dogs, if they remain silent, are useless: they should be barking to sound the alarm.” Viewing the rebellion which confronted the Holy Father, he said, “Pray much for the current Pope and for the Pope who is to come, who will have to be a martyr from the very first day.” He wrote a long letter to all his children urging them “to defend from any possible attack the authority of the Roman Pontiff, which cannot be limited by anyone except God.”
During those very difficult years his teaching overflowed with faithfulness, love for the Church, and hope. “Yes,” he said during a stay in Portugal, “it’s true that this is a time of lack of faith. But it’s also a time of huge faith. Right now, I know people who are making more acts of abandonment to God’s mercy than they’ve ever done in their lives. If we all pray together, if we add just a bit of good will, our Lord will give us his grace and end this dark, terrible night. Then will come the dawn, the morning filled with sunlight. Like these days in Lisbon, which are so wonderful!”
Strong in the faith
Praying at the Shrine of our Lady of Luján, in Argentina
A time to pray. That’s how he defined it. Those years were more than ever a time for prayer. And suffering. In 1970, he had thousands of rosary beads purchased, and gave them out to whoever came to see him, asking them to pray for the Church. It was a time to turn to the Mother of the Church so that the “time of trial” would be cut short. He went forth on a series of Marian pilgrimages, the sorrow in his heart mitigated only by a robust supernatural hope and his instinctive good humor.
“I am going to visit two shrines of the Blessed Virgin,” he wrote to his children prior to a trip to the Iberian Peninsula. “I am going like a pilgrim of the twelfth century: with the same love, with the same simplicity, with the same joy. I will pray there for the world, for the Church, for the Pope and for the Work... . Join me in my prayers and in my Mass.” In April of 1970, he went to Fatima and Torreciudad, the mountain chapel to which he was brought after his cure in 1904 and where through his efforts work on a large shrine had just commenced.
Praying for the Church and the Holy Father
Added to his concern for the Church was his preoccupation with the definitive juridical status of Opus Dei. The figure of secular institute had already appeared inadequate to the founder from the moment of the first pontifical approval in 1947, but it had to be accepted until such time as a canonical framework suitable for the theological and pastoral phenomenon of Opus Dei could be found. New possibilities were opened by Vatican II that would later be developed in canon law — specifically, the provision for personal prelatures.
Shrines of our Lady
Praying before the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico
In this spirit of concern he traveled to the shrine of Guadalupe, in Mexico, in May, 1970. He made a novena to our Lady there, praying for the Church and for the Work. Kneeling in a small balcony facing the sanctuary, he recited the Rosary and spoke aloud to Mary with moving child-like trust. “Lady, I bring you — for I have nothing else — thorns, the ones I have in my heart. But I am sure that with you they will turn to roses… Grant that we may have in us, in our hearts, little roses blooming all the year round: the roses of daily life, ordinary roses, but filled with the perfume of sacrifice and love. I have said little roses, on purpose, because it suits me better, for in my whole life I have only been able to do ordinary, everyday things, and even then I often haven’t been able to finish them. But I am sure that it is there, in my everyday ordinary behavior, that you and your Son are waiting for me.”
At another point he continued, “Here I am. Because you can do everything! Because you love! My mother, our Mother(…), keep us from everything that stops us being your children, everything that is trying to obstruct our path and spoil our vocation(...). Hail Mary, Daughter of God the Father; Hail Mary, Mother of God the Son; Hail Mary, Spouse of God the Holy Spirit; Hail Mary, Temple of the Most Holy Trinity: greater than you, no one but God! Show us that you are our Mother! Show what you are able to bring about!”
To console the Pope, Saint Josemaría requested an audience and was received on June 25, 1973. He did not go to ask for anything, only to give the Holy Father a bit of good news: the fidelity of thousands of persons in the Work, the ordination of a good number of professionals to be priests, 100 percent priests, the blossoming apostolate in so many parts of the world. Paul VI understood, and he was grateful.