Friday, September 28, 2012

Christ is Passing By: Learning on the Job

Becoming Catholic late in life reminds me of walking through the stacks of my college library forty years ago and thinking, with a Eureka thought bubble over my head, “I will never have time to read all these books!” So much to learn, so little time. Especially with Catholic culture. There’s so much I will never know. In a rush to catch up, it’s been pretty much all on-the-job training since I was received into the church four and a half years ago.

One example: Opus Dei. Not joining it, just learning what the heck it is. Other than The Scurrilous Da Vinci Code, what did I “know” about Opus Dei? Mysterious? Sounded that way. Dangerously powerful? That seemed to be the anti-Catholic spin. But at a peak on the Camino de Santiago this June I came into my first contact with real evidence of the message of Opus Dei. And I was moved.

The place was the oldest church on the Camino at O Cebreiro, the high gateway to Galicia. Here after Mass, while rain poured down outside, I sat by a chapel where a long prayer bench was spread with open Bibles in two dozen languages. Each was labeled: Lithuanian, Greek, Korean . . . Each was open to a page. The Bible marked English was not even a complete Bible: just the Gospels and Acts. It was open to a passage about Judas’s betrayal and Peter’s denials. I noted that the annotations were longer than the passages themselves, and they explained things I had never known. I noted the edition: The Navarre Bible, Reader’s Edition, Gospels & Acts. When I returned home, I ordered the book on Amazon, and every morning since then I have read a few verses with their accompanying annotations.

It didn’t take long to discover one name frequently cited in the notes: Josémaria Escrivá. I knew that this was the founder of Opus Dei, thanks to the film “There Be Dragons” and thanks to to Fr. Kwang Lee, who gave me a copy of The Way, quotations from Escrivá, for my sixtieth birthday a year ago. Occasionally I have dipped into The Way and found it useful—though I found the film more or less useless. I finally deduced that the Navarre Bible is a complete edition, in several volumes, inspired by Escrivá himself and presumably a project of Opus Dei.

All of which got me to order and read Christ is Passing By, a series of homilies by now-Saint Josémaria Escrivá de Balaguer (1902–1975). Since mid-summer, I have taken the same small-bite-a-day approach to this volume as well, and yesterday I finally finished it. And I was moved.

These are homilies collected from a twenty-year period, approximately 1950–1970, or my first two decades of life. (I liked that.) They speak sense. They talk about Catholic faith and life in a way that talks to me. They are anything but mysterious, and while powerful they are unlikely to be dangerous. You can read try at home.

The Christian vocation, St. Josémaria writes, is “making heroic sense of the prose of each day.” Through our life’s work—in and outside the home—Christians can sanctify themselves and thereby help sanctify the world: “Work, all work, bears witness to the dignity of man, to his dominion over creation. It is an opportunity to develop one’s personality. It is a bond of union with others.”

A central model of the sort of life described here is St. Joseph. Ite ad Ioseph, Escrivá repeats several times: “Go to Joseph!” This speaks to me too since I chose Joseph as my confirmation name at Easter 2008. “Get to know Joseph, and you will find Jesus,” the author writes.

The Christian life, he writes, is fought and won in the trenches of daily life: In what Escrivá describes as “the supernatural sport of overcoming our self.” He says that “The greatest danger for a Christian is to underestimate the importance of fighting skirmishes.”

God is in the everyday, and vice versa: “I don’t have one heart for loving God and another for loving people. . . . We must be human, for otherwise we cannot be divine.”

All of it calls me to renew my baptismal (and marriage) vows every day: “A Christian struggle must be unceasing, for interior life consists in beginning again and again.”

My day usually begins with Mass (and if I don’t finish this post soon, I’ll be late). One of the final chapters in Christ is Passing By is on the Feast of Corpus Christi, and here I read a short statement about the Mass that I wrote out and circled in my journal. You might find it useful:

“The important thing is that we should love the Mass and make it the center of our day. If we attend Mass well, surely we are likely to think about our Lord during the rest of the day, wanting to be always in his presence, ready to work as he worked, and love as he loved.”


  1. Opus Dei remains an elitist, abusive, completely NON-Christian organization. Not surprised YOU'D be attracted to it, though -- it's perfect for effete, pretentious, holier-than-thous who've accomplished absolutely nothing original their entire lives yet think they're special just because of their ancestry. Perfect for you, lol.

    You're still a total asshole, aren't you? Ha.

  2. I could delete the above comment, but I'll let it stand. It speaks for itself

  3. WOW! someone has a chip on their shoulder the size of a pontiac! Now that I've read the comments, and my appetite is whetted, I'll read the actual blog...

  4. Wow, I would not have commented but I just had to smile when I saw how much the devil hates St Josemaria (!!) I too have benefited more than I can begin to say from his writings. Take a look at the books "In Conversation With God." They are incredible.

  5. Attending on mass is a way we build a close relationship to Christ! I hope a lot of people realize how important it is.

    online christian education


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