Homily by Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Galea-Curmi
Shrine of Madonna tal-Ħerba, Birkirkara
21st June 2019
Celebrating St Josemaria Escriva, Founder of Opus Dei, one cannot fail to see how close his writings are to the teachings of Pope Francis, particularly on one important subject on which I would like to focus today: our call to holiness – a subject in which St Josemaria was a precursor of the Second Vatican Council, particularly the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium.
Pope Francis, in his Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et exsultate, published last year, speaks of the call to holiness in today’s world. He says: “To be holy does not require being a bishop, a priest or a religious. We are frequently tempted to think that holiness is only for those who can withdraw from ordinary affairs to spend much time in prayer. That is not the case. We are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves” (no. 14).
Then he elaborates: “Are you called to the consecrated life? Be holy by living out your commitment to joy. Are you married? Be holy by loving and caring for your husband or wife, as Christ does for the Church. Do you work for a living? Be holy by labouring with integrity and skill in the service of your brothers and sisters. Are you a parent or a grandparent? Be holy by patiently teaching the little ones how to follow Jesus. Are you in a position of authority? Be holy by working for the common good and renouncing personal gain.”
Pope Francis says that he likes to contemplate the holiness present in God’s people, such as in those parents who raise their children with immense love, in those men and women who work hard to support their families, in the sick, and in elderly religious who never lose their smile. “Very often it is a holiness found in our next-door neighbours, those who, living in our midst, reflect God’s presence” (no. 7).
I am reminded here of an experience I had last Sunday at St Vincent the Paul Home for elderly people. There are hundreds of residents there. I was visiting one of the wards when I came to a room where there was a man in bed who was asleep. His wife was sitting near the bed. She told me she had been coming to St Vincent de Paul to visit her bedridden husband for ten years. She never missed a day. She wanted to be near him in his illness, providing comfort and support. As Pope Francis says, holiness is found in people near to us.
One cannot fail to point out how similar the words of Pope Francis are to those of St Josemaria Escriva. I quote Escriva: “Sanctity is not for a privileged few. The Lord calls all of us. He expects love from all of us—from everyone, wherever they are; from everyone, whatever their state in life, their profession or job. For the daily life we live, apparently so ordinary, can be a path to sanctity: it is not necessary to abandon one’s place in the world in order to search for God…because all the paths of the earth can be the occasion for an encounter with Christ” (Letter 24-III-1930, no. 2).
St. Josemaria Escriva, who lived a life of faith, a life dedicated to doing God’s will, sought to encourage everyone to understand this personal call to holiness.
On 2nd October 1928, while on a spiritual retreat in Madrid, St Josemaria discovered what Opus Dei was to be. He described it as “a mobilization of Christians of all walks of life who would make the world holy by offering to God their daily duties”. From that day forward the young priest dedicated all his energies to this mission.
A new way was thus opened in the Catholic Church, directed at promoting, among people of all walks of life, the search for holiness through ordinary secular life and the need to be an apostle in the middle of the world. We need it so much today. We need Christians who are witnesses, who are not afraid to stand up and be counted.
St Jose Maria found in prayer the source of strength to live a holy life. He says: “There is only one way to become more familiar with God, to increase our trust in him. We must come to know him through prayer; we must speak to him and show him, through a heart to heart conversation, that we love him” (Friends of God, no. 294). St Josemaria began writing down notes from his personal prayer. One of the main attractions of his book The Way, now a spiritual classic book, is its direct, conversational style, its personal and deeply human character – straight from the heart, straight to the heart.
Pope Francis says that holiness is the most attractive face of the Church. We thank God today for St Josemaria, who has helped the Church be much more attractive through his promotion of ordinary holiness. As Pope Francis says: “We need a spirit of holiness capable of filling both our solitude and our service, our personal life and our evangelizing efforts, so that every moment can be an expression of self-sacrificing love in the Lord’s eyes. In this way, every minute of our lives can be a step along the path to growth in holiness” (Gaudate et exsultate, no. 31).
✠ Joseph Galea-Curmi