St Josemaria gave me the certainty that God is a Father
The following is an interview with Maddalena Vintini from Verona, Italy. A lawyer, she and her husband Gianluca have three children. She has belonged to the Opus Dei Prelature for nearly 30 years. In 2011 she gave up her law work to become head-teacher at the Centro Scolastico Gavia.
Interviewer: Maddalena, what impressed you most about St Josemaria’s teachings?
Maddalena: I met Opus Dei when I was very young, and so I started reading St Josemaria’s teachings as a teenager, especially The Way. The first thing I remember, which struck me then and which still echoes in my heart now, nearly 40 years later, is the first point in The Way. At the age of 13 or 14, you typically dream of doing great things, of blazing a trail, but I could sense that that desire for greatness, fruitfulness, trail-blazing, was something more than an adolescent day-dream – there was someone who had engraved it on my heart.
As time went by, with changing circumstances, with the joys and sorrows that life brings with it, I have come to understand that St Josemaria was pointing me to a path of daily greatness. That ambition of blazing a trail, not being content with a sterile life, took shape in the way I loved, the way I worked, the way I lived each moment of the day to the full, feeling like a daughter of God, feeling loved by Him. That, for me, is the most valuable lesson. St Josemaria has given me the certainty that God is a Father who loves me, not in a general sort of way but me myself, and although it may seem strange He loves me as I am. He helps me to get up when I fall down, He rejoices with me and suffers and supports me with His grace when something bad happens to me. I’m never alone, our Lord is always close to me, wherever I am working – in court, now at school, at home with my family when I am doing the housework, cooking, or talking to my husband and children. God is never indifferent or far-off.
Int. Do St Josemaria’s teachings help you to achieve a work-family balance?
Maddelena: Yes, they help a lot, because his life was itself an example of it: he was a man who worked a lot, really intensely, but everyone I’ve met who knew him says how lovingly he spent himself on his children in Opus Dei, how he remembered the letters they wrote him, how he cared for the people who lived with him, not only from the spiritual aspect but on the human level as well.
When I started working as a lawyer I was 27, with one small child and expecting another. I thought I would never manage to harmonize my job with my role as wife and mom. But with my husband’s support, and the weapon St Josemaria always recommended – prayer, dialogue with our Lord – I have kept going forward day after day. Without long-term plans, but talking things through with God every day, and trying to understand what the priorities were at each moment, not for the sake of duty but to be happy. I was helped very much indeed by something St Josemaria used to say, “do what you ought, and put your heart into what you are doing” (The Way, 815). Once I have decided in my prayer on the time I should spend on work and on being with my family, I try to be there where I am one hundred per cent. In my work, concentrating on what I have to do, perhaps offering it up for my husband or for one of the children who has an exam today, or who is going through a difficult time; and when I get back home, I stop thinking about work and dedicate myself to my family. Of course it doesn’t happen automatically. I always have to fight, because when they are teenagers the kids need you there even more. And our Lord has given us the gift of a child with learning difficulties, whose need of us is still more crucial. St Josemaria has awakened in me the desire for a fully unified life, without gaps, without conflicting directions, without the imaginary crosses we sometimes invent for ourselves, but joyfully carrying the little cross that takes us closer to Jesus.
Maddalena with her husband and their three children.
Int. What led you to give up your profession and become a head-teacher?
Maddalena: It wasn’t “what” so much as “who”. I’d been a lawyer for more than 20 years, a partner in a very good legal practice with people who were not only good lawyers but good friends. My specialism was family law, which was what I’d always wanted. But I had been feeling for some time that there was more to life than that, and, as I told my husband, I did not think I’d be a lawyer till I died. At the same time as my regular job I had always been involved in our kids’ schools and the association that runs them: Ed. Res., which is a group of parents who wanted to take the decisions about how their children were educated, following the model of the Spanish “escuelas de Fomento”. I joined the parents’ committee and then the governors’ board of a girls’ school. I simply loved the work, because it was a chance to take part in an educational project aimed at transforming society from within, starting off from families and children.
Three years ago, in August, while I was on a study course near Rome, I had a phone call asking if I would be prepared to leave my law practice and work as director of Gavia, a girls’ school in Verona. I didn’t have much time to decide, because the school year was about to start. I asked for some days so I could go home, talk it over with my husband, and take the decision. I remember that I went to the oratory, the chapel, which, thank God, was there in the house where I was staying, and said to our Lord, “Perhaps this is the reason for the blessed uneasiness I’ve been feeling.”
My husband supported me in my choice, which affected the whole family in many ways including my pay, which would be less. A week later I left my lawyer friends and the job I had loved for many years. I said goodbye to my clients, which was a delicate matter in view of the sector I was involved in, and embarked on this new adventure.
Three years on, I’m very happy with my choice. I work with the parents, the teachers and others who help me in my job, because I’m still a beginner at it, but one who loves it passionately. On the other hand, my experience of the law helps me in many situations. Ultimately I owe my decision to St Josemaria; I have on my desk a little silver duck which reminds me that we need, as he used to say, to jump into the water if we want to learn to swim. I have changed the type of work I do, but the sea is still the same, a shoreless sea, which is mankind, where God asks us to work. The homily by St Josemaria that I like most is the one he gave at the University of Navarre, “Passionately loving the world”. There he tells us that heaven and earth meet, not on the horizon, but in our own souls when we do our best to sanctify our normal daily actions. That fascinated me when I was little and it still fascinates me now!