Totus Tuus, portale di cattolici


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Date: march 1997
Author: Evgueny Pazukhin
Source: Istina y Zyzn
Publisher: -

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The Christian Materialism of Blessed Josemaría Escrivá
italian version

The spirituality of Opus Dei is not a "novelty"; it is rooted in the teachings of the Gospel. What is novel about Opus Dei is the introduction of this spirituality into a world that had forgotten it: a world which long ago had lost contact with concepts of the New Testament.

It is not only necessary to call to mind the Gospel message but also to remove the covering which has hidden this message for centuries: "You have the obligation to sanctify yourself. Yes, even you! Who thinks this is the exclusive concern of priests and religious? To everyone, without exception, Our Lord said: 'Be perfect, as My heavenly Father is perfect'" (The Way, no. 291).

The contemporary ecclesial thinking, almost entirely "clericalized," was naturally opposed to "secularizing" the concept of holiness: secularization was seen as an abandonment of Christian spirituality. Blessed Josemaria said these zealous defenders of the spirit "have tried to present the Christian way of life as something exclusively spiritual, proper to pure, extraordinary people, who remain aloof from the contemptible things of this world, or at most tolerate them as something necessarily attached to the spirit, while we live on this earth.

"When things are seen in this way, churches become the setting par excellence of the Christian life. And being a Christian means going to church, taking part in sacred ceremonies, being taken up with ecclesiastical matters, in a kind of segregated world, which is considered to be the ante-chamber of heaven, while the ordinary world follows its own separate path" (Conversations with Msgr. Escriva, no. 113).

But Blessed Josemaria not only called for a rejection of this "spiritualization" of Christianity. He went further, affirming the "high value of the material," presenting the idea of a Christian materialism: "Authentic Christianity, which professes the resurrection of all flesh, has always quite logically opposed 'dis-incarnation,' without fear of being judged materialistic. We can, therefore, rightfully speak of a Christian materialism, which is boldly opposed to those materialisms which are blind to the spirit" (Conversations, 115).

"I often said to the university students and workers who were with me in the thirties that they had to know how to materialize their spiritual life. I wanted to keep them from the temptation, so common then and now, of living a kind of double life. On one side, an interior life, a life of relations with God; and on the other, a separate and distinct professional, social and family life, full of small earthly realities.

"No! We cannot lead a double life. We cannot be like schizophrenics, if we want to be Christians. There is just one life, made of flesh and spirit. And it is this life which has to become, in both soul and body, holy and filled with God. We discover the invisible God in the most visible and material things"(Conversations, 114).

It may be that the essential "novelty" of Escriva's teaching is found in this synthesis of the visible and the invisible. Discovering the spiritual in the material is nothing else than the "contemplative life in the world." Blessed Josemaria constantly preached that New Testament message, a message that the world had been unable to hear.

Starting in the second half of the last century the non-believing Russian intelligentsia began to speak insistently about the subject of work. The enthusiasm of the intelligentsia for the people was above all an enthusiasm for their work. This enthusiasm is seen in the works of Nekrasov, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Uspensky, Dobroliubov and many others. "The world of God is Good," Chekhov said, "Only one thing is bad: ourselves ... We have to work, and forget all the rest."

In the consciousness of the representatives of the Russian intelligentsia of the 19th century, work had come to be seen as a high ideal, a necessary condition for human happiness, an important element in a perfect human society. ...

How was the problem of the sanctification of work and of Christian perfection in the world seen by the Russian Christian intelligentsia and by monks and ecclesiastics? Let us take the example of the Staretz Zosim who one day said the following to Alyosha Karamazov: "Your place is no longer here. I bless you so that you may sanctify yourself in the world. You have to travel a lot and to get married. You have a lot to do. I have no doubts about you and therefore I am sending you. Christ is with you. Take care of him and he will take care of you. Seek happiness in pain. Work, work without resting. ..."

Here we see a clear example of what Blessed Josemaria began to teach many years later. Sanctification in the world, sanctification in marriage, joy in the difficulties of life, and finally, the need to work without ceasing, with dedication. All of this coincides with the fundamental principles of the spirituality of Opus Dei.

Another thing, however, is that Alyosha leaves the monastery for the world at the direction of the Staretz and at the end of his earthly path he returns to the monastery as an effect of a "monastic boomerang." This is very far from the spirituality of Opus Dei and its "lay mentality," but for the Russia of the last century, where monastic sanctity was considered as almost the only path of salvation, this was a characteristic way of thinking. ...

According to Escriva, "the secret" of Opus Dei is not work, but prayer: "If you are not a man of prayer, I don't believe in the sincerity of your intentions when you say that you work for Christ" (The Way, no. 109). Therefore the members of Opus Dei struggle to transform their work into prayer. According to Escriva work carried out with perfection, offered to God and done in God's presence is a prayer: "An hour of study, for a modern apostle, is an hour of prayer" (The Way, no. 335).

"Spiritualization" of matter, love of the world, a lay outlook are important concepts for understanding the spirituality of Opus Dei. ...

Believing in Christ, man participates in transfigured creation. Here is the source of a conception of the world full of optimism, confidence, love. "A man who knows that the world, and not just the church, is the place where he finds Christ, loves that world" (Conversations, no. 116).

In this world which has been transfigured by the resurrection of Christ, believers are already penetrated by the light of Tabor, they participate in eternal life. Those who do not accept all the consequences of the Resurrection or of the Incarnation of Christ reject the world. "Authentic Christianity, which professes the resurrection of all flesh, has always quite logically opposed 'dis-incarnation,' without fear of being judged materialistic" (Conversations, no. 115, 1).




Josemaría Escrivá