Mike Aquilina

Magnum Opus

Tuesday June 26th 2007, 3:02 am

Today, June 26, is the memorial of St. Josemaria Escriva, the 20th-century priest who founded Opus Dei, a path to holiness through ordinary work, family life, friendship, and such — the stuff of everyday life. His is a decidedly modern spirit, but he conceived it as a retrieval of the way of the “early Christians” (his preferred term). Opus Dei was, he said, “as old as the Gospel and, like the Gospel, ever new.” He often cited the authority of the Church Fathers. A quick scan of his books online at EscrivaWorks yields many passages from Clement of Alexandria, Ignatius of Antioch, Tertullian, Ambrose, Justin Martyr, Origen, Cyril of Jerusalem, Cyril of Alexandria, Leo the Great, Jerome, lots and lots from John Chrysostom and Gregory the Great, and dozens from Augustine.

These early Christians were not mere ornaments on his pet project. His vocation was itself a return to the sources — the pre-Nicene sources of the life and labor of ordinary, faithful Christians. The journalist John L. Allen, in his book-length study of Opus Dei, described just how radical St. Josemaria’s vision was: “The idea of priests and laity, men and women, all part of one organic whole, sharing the same vocation and carrying out the same apostolic tasks, has not been part of the Catholic tradition, at least since the early centuries.”

Back in the 1990s (before St. Josemaria’s canonization), the theologian Domingo Ramos-Lissón wrote an excellent study of the man’s patristic influences. It’s titled “The Example of the Early Christians in Blessed Josemaria’s Teachings,” and it’s available free online at the website of the magazine Romana.

Scott Hahn has written what I consider the finest appreciation of St. Josemaria’s reliance on the Fathers. It’s in his recently released book Ordinary Work, Extraordinary Grace: My Spiritual Journey in Opus Dei. The whole book is great. You really should own it!