Saint Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer (January 9, 1902 – June 26, 1975) (also known as José María or Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer y Albás, born José María Mariano Escrivá y Albás) was a Catholic priest from Spain, and founder of Opus Dei. He was canonized in a controversial process by Pope John Paul II, who declared Saint Josemaría as "counted among the great witnesses of Christianity.
He was a member of the Pontifical Academy of Theology and Consultor of the Congregation of Seminaries, and Consultor of the Pontificial Commission for the Authentic Interpretation of the Code of Canon Law.
His principal work was the foundation, government and expansion of Opus Dei. He and the organization have been accused of many things, including political involvement. CNN Vatican analyst John Allen Jr., however, says that these accusations are mere myths that grew from black legends propagated against Opus Dei and Escrivá. Opus Dei and Escrivá continue to be polarizing subjects among certain members of the Catholic Church.
One of the six children of José Escrivá y Corzán and wife María de los Dolores Albás y Blanc, Josemaría Escrivá was born 9 January, 1902, in the small town of Barbastro, in Huesca, upper Aragon, Spain, the second of six children and the first of two sons. Escrivá first felt that "he had been chosen for something," it is reported, when he saw footprints left in the snow by a monk walking barefoot.
He then decided that the best way to follow God's call was by becoming a priest of the Roman Catholic Church. After obtaining the blessing and help of his father, he studied in both Logroño and Zaragoza and was ordained a deacon in Zaragoza on Saturday, December 20, 1924. He was ordained a priest, also in Zaragoza, on Saturday, March 28, 1925. After a brief clerical appointment to a parish in a rural area he went to Madrid, the Spanish capital, in 1927 to study law at university.
A prayerful retreat helped him to further discern what he considered to be God's will for him, and on October 2, 1928 he "saw" Opus Dei (Latin for "Work of God") as a new lay movement through which Catholics might learn to sanctify themselves without abandoning secular life. According to John Paul II's Christifideles omnes, a papal decree which contains a condensed biography of Escrivá, "[t]o this mission he gave himself totally. From the beginning his was a very wide-ranging apostolate in social environments of all kinds. He worked especially among the poor and the sick languishing in the slums and hospitals of Madrid."
During the Spanish Civil War, Escrivá went into hiding to escape persecution by anti-clerical elements, although he continued ministering to Catholics, potentially risking his life. When the war ended in 1939, he was able to resume his studies in Madrid and complete a doctorate in law.
The Priestly Society of the Holy Cross, attached to Opus Dei, was founded on Sunday, 14 February 1943, and Escrivá himself moved to Rome in 1946.
Christifideles omnes, the papal decree, states that "in 1947 and on Monday, 16 June 1950, he obtained approval of Opus Dei as an institution of pontifical right. With tireless charity and operative hope he guided the development of Opus Dei throughout the world, activating a vast mobilization of lay people.... He gave life to numerous initiatives in the work of evangelization and human welfare; he fostered vocations to the priesthood and the religious life everywhere....Above all, he devoted himself tirelessly to the task of forming the members of Opus Dei."
After earning a doctorate in theology from the Lateran University, he was appointed Consulter to two Vatican Congregations and made an honorary member of the Pontifical Academy of Theology. Pope Pius XII acknowledged Escrivá's work by making him an Domestic Prelate, which allowed Escrivá to use the title of Monsignor, and by granting Opus Dei his official approval on June 16, 1950. Later on, Escrivá also was consulted by many Cardinals during the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). Many biographers commented on his contribution regarding the universal call to holiness, the role of the laity, the importance of the Holy Mass as the centre and root of the Christian life. Escrivá worked throughout his life to foster Opus Dei's work, so that when he died 26 June, 1975 Opus Dei covered five continents and had more than 60,000 members from eighty nationalities.
One of the persons who knew Escrivá most was the Bishop of Madrid where Opus Dei was founded, Bishop Leopoldo Eijo y Garay, for Escrivá would visit and report to him quite frequently and the two established very strong bonds of friendship. In a 1943 report to Rome, the bishop stated: "The distinctive notes of his character are his energy and his capacity for organization and government; with an ability to pass unnoticed. He has shown himself most obedient to the Church hierarchy--one very special hallmark of his priestly work is the way he fosters, in speech and in writing, in public and in private, love for Holy Mother Church and for the Roman Pontiff."
During the time when some Jesuits were spreading the notion that Opus Dei is a "new heresy" and had the "secretive character" of Freemasonry, Eijo y Garay wrote to the Jesuit Provincial of Toledo, Carlos Gomez Martinho, S.J. in 1941: "Fr. Escrivá is an exemplary priest, chosen by God for apostolic enterprises; humble, prudent, self-sacrificing in work, docile to his bishop, of outstanding intelligence and with a very solid spiritual and doctrinal formation." Eijo y Garay also told a leader of the Falange who went to consult the bishop on the "secret and Masonic" society founded by Escrivá: "To think that Fr. Josemaría Escrivá is capable of creating anything secret is absurd. He is as frank and open as a child!"
Dr. Viktor Frankl, an accomplished Austrian Author, Psychiatrist, Neurologist, the founder of Logotherapy and Nazi death-camp survivor, met Escrivá in Rome in 1970. Later he wrote of "the refreshing serenity which emanated from him and warmed the whole conversation", and "the unbelievable rhythm" with which his thought flowed, and finally "his amazing capacity" for getting into "immediate contact" with those he was speaking to. Frankl went on: "Escrivá evidently lived totally in the present moment, he opened out to it completely, and gave himself entirely to it. At the end of the meeting, Frankl whispered to the translator, "This man is a spiritual atomic bomb.
"The first impression one gets from watching Escrivá 'live,'" John L. Allen, Jr. writes after watching some films on the founder of Opus Dei in 2005, "is his effervescence, his keen sense of humor. He cracks jokes, makes faces, roams the stage, and generally leaves his audience in stitches in off-the-cuff responses to questions from people in the crowd.
In his canonization homily, Pope John Paul II described Escrivá as "a master in the practice of prayer, which he considered to be an extraordinary 'weapon' to redeem the world...It is not a paradox but a perennial truth; the fruitfulness of the apostolate lies above all in prayer and in intense and constant sacramental life."
In the Decretal Letter of John Paul II or his Decree of Canonization, he refers to the short prayers of Escrivá which summarize his life: "Domine, ut videam! [Lord, that I might see!], Domina, ut sit! [Lady, that it might be!], Omnes cum Petro ad Iesum per Mariam! [All together with Peter to Jesus through Mary], Regnare Christum volumus! [We want Christ to reign!], Deo omnis gloria! [All the glory to God!]."
"In these aspirations one can trace the entire life story of Blessed Josemaría Escrivá. He was barely sixteen when he began to recite the first two aspirations, as soon as he had the first inklings of God's call. They expressed the burning desire of his heart: to see what God was asking of him, so that he might do it without delay, lovingly fulfilling the Lord's will. (cf Lk 18:41) The third aspiration appears frequently in his writings as a young priest and shows how his zeal to win souls for God went hand in hand with both a firm determination to be faithful to the Church and an ardent devotion to Mary, the Virgin Mother of God. Regnare Christum volumus! [We want Christ to reign!] (cf 1 Cor 15:25): these words aptly express his constant pastoral concern to spread among all men and women the call to share, through Christ, in the dignity of God's children. God's sons and daughters should live for the purpose, to serve Him alone: Deo omnis gloria! [All the glory to God!]" (cf Roman Canon, Major Doxology and minor elevation)
John Paul II, during the thanksgiving Mass for the canonization of St. Josemaría said the following: "In the Founder of Opus Dei, there is an extraordinary love for the will of God. There exists a sure criterion of holiness: fidelity in accomplishing the divine will down to the last consequences. For each one of us the Lord has a plan, to each he entrusts a mission on earth. The saint could not even conceive of himself outside of God's plan. He lived only to achieve it. St Josemaría was chosen by the Lord to announce the universal call to holiness and to point out that daily life and ordinary activities are a path to holiness. One could say that he was the saint of ordinary life.
Escrivá conceived the Mass as the "center and root of the Christian's interior life," a terminology which was later used by the Second Vatican Council. According to Giovanni Battista Cardinal Re, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, "St. Josemaría strove with all his strength to make the Eucharist the center of his life...For him, Jesus was not an example to imitate from afar, an abstract moral ideal, but his Jesus, a person we should live alongside continuously."
The present Opus Dei prelate Bishop Javier Echevarría Rodríguez said that Escrivá strove to follow whatever was indicated by the competent authority regarding the celebration of Mass. When the new rites were adapted by the Catholic Church after Vatican II, Echevarria said that Escrivá "accepted the reform with serenity and obedience." Since his prayer was much integrated with the liturgy for the past 40 years, Escrivá found the shift difficult and asked Echevarria to coach him in celebrating the new rites. Although he missed the practices of the old rites, especially some gestures such as the kiss on the paten which showed love, he prohibited his followers to ask for any dispensation for him "out of a spirit of obedience to ecclesiastical norms." "He has decided to show his love for the liturgy through the new rite," commented Echevarria. However, when Msgr. Annibale Bugnini, Secretary of the Consilium for the Implementation of the Constitution on the Liturgy, found out about Escrivá's difficulties, he granted Escrivá the possibility of celebrating the Mass using the old rite. Whenever Escrivá celebrated this rite, he did so only in the presence of one Mass server.
Paul VI summarized his view of what he called the "extraordinariness" of Escrivá's sanctity in this way: "He is one of those men who has received the most charisms (supernatural gifts) and have corresponded most generously to them."
John Paul II also stated on Sunday, 6 October 2002, after the Angelus greetings: "Love for our Lady is a constant characteristic of the life of Josemaría Escrivá and is an eminent part of the legacy that he left to his spiritual sons and daughters." The Pope also said that "St. Josemaría wrote a beautiful small book called The Holy Rosary which presents spiritual childhood, a real disposition of spirit of those who wish to attain total abandonment to the divine will."
Since he was 10-11 years old, he already had the habit of carrying the Rosary in his pocket. As a priest, he would ordinarily end his homilies and his personal prayer with a conversation with the Blessed Virgin. He instructed that all rooms in the centres of Opus Dei should have an image of the Virgin. He encouraged his spiritual children to greet these images when they entered a room. He pushed for a Marian apostolate, preaching that "To Jesus we go and to Him we return through Mary." While looking at a picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe giving a rose to Juan Diego, he commented: "I would like to die that way." On June 26, 1975, after entering his work room, which had a painting of the Virgin of Guadalupe, he slumped on the floor and died.
He has been criticized for his attitudes towards women. On the other hand, his supporters say that through him Opus Dei has been able to raise the quality of life of many women, and refer to his utmost respect for women and his interest in improving their lot. From the conservative women's movement Elizabeth Fox-Genovese asserted: "Opus Dei has an enviable record of educating the poor and supporting women, whether single or married, in any occupation they choose." Bishops have also been happy that Opus Dei has raised the dignity of women due to its teachings that marriage and the family are a vocation.
Opus Dei's founder changed his name many times over the course of his life. Four days after birth, he was baptized in the Cathedral at Barbastro, Spain with the baptismal name recorded among Church records as José María Julián Mariano. "According to the entry in the baptismal register of the Church where he was christened, his surname was spelled Escriba." He was given the same first name as his father, José Escriba; his mother was named María de los Dolores Albás Blanc.
According to critics like Luis Carandell, Robert Hutchison, and Michael Walsh (an ex-Jesuit and ex-priest), before the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), he began joining and adding the more aristocratic "y Albás" to his surname. In Castilian Spanish, use of the conjunction "y" ("and") joining one's father's and mother's surnames is associated with aristocratic families.
One of the earliest members of Opus Dei, and a close friend for years, the architect Miguel Fisac, who later left Opus Dei, says that Escrivá found it embarrassing to have his father's family name since his father's firm went bankrupt. According to Fisac, he also had a "great affection he felt for the aristocracy" and was embarrassed that he was not associated with aristocratic family names. For this he is portrayed as ambitious by one historian: a "mixture of mysticism and ambition" (Blaye 1976:262).
But as early as his school days, José Escriva had "adopted the rather more distinguished version spelled with a "v" rather than a "b." His name is spelled Escrivá in the memento of his first Mass. In 1943, when he was 41, Church records were altered on June 20 to memorialize the change: the registry book of the Barbastro Cathedral and the baptismal certificate of José María were annotated to reflect "that the surname Escribá was changed to Escrivá de Balaguer." On June 16, 1940, the Spanish "Boletín Official del Estado" records that Father Escrivá requested of the government that he be permitted to change his "first surname so it will be written Escrivá de Balaguer." He justified the petition by claiming that "the name Escrivá is common in the east coast and Catalonia, leading to harmful and annoying confusion."
According to Vasquez de Prada, a writer, Opus Dei member, and official biographer who produced a three-volume biography of Escrivá, the move has nothing to do with ambition but with fairness and loyalty to his family's real name, a loyalty which his father, José Escriva, insisted on. The main problem is that in Spanish the letters b and v are pronounced in the same way, thus; many bureaucrats and clerics have made a mistake in transcribing the Escrivá family name in some official documents throughout the generations. The addition of "de Balaguer" was also a necessity felt by many Spanish families to distinguish their family names from others with the same name but who proceed from other regions, especially if the other families have histories which are peculiar and entirely different from one's own.
His brother Santiago states that his older brother Josemaria "loved the members of his family" and took good care of them. When their father died, he says, Escrivá told their mother that "she should stay calm, because he will always take care of us. And he fulfilled this promise." Escrivá would find time in his busy schedule to chat and take a walk with his younger brother, acting like a father towards him. When the family transferred to Madrid, Escrivá followed the instructions of their father that he take up his doctorate in Law. "Thanks to his docility to this advice," says Santiago, "he was able to support the family by giving classes in Law, and with this he acquired a juridical mentality...which would later be so necessary to do Opus Dei."
Monsignor Escrivá also modified his first name. From the common José María, he changed it to the original Josemaría. Biographers state, that around 1935 [age 33], "he joined his first two names because his single love for the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph were equally inseparable."
Many of his contemporaries recount the tendency of Escrivá to preach about patriotism (love for country) as against nationalism (disordered love for country which leads to hating other people).
However, there are quite a number of criticisms leveled upon him regarding his relationship with General Franco. Accusations of right-wing tendencies, like Escrivá's criticisms of the crimes committed by Republican forces during the Spanish Civil War, are common. Critics point to an alleged Fascist link, saying that he was a supporter of Francisco Franco. Vittorio Messori says that this is part of the black legend against Escrivá and Opus Dei. Allen (2005) states that based on his research Escrivá could not be said to be pro-Franco (for which he was criticized for not joining other Catholics in praising Franco) nor anti-Franco (for which he was criticized for not being pro-democracy). According to Allen, there is no statement from Escrivá for or against Franco.
Escrivá's followers and some historians have emphasized his personal effort to avoid partiality in politics. Professor Peter Berglar, a German historian, asserts that Franco's falangists suspected Escrivá of "internationalism, anti-Spainism and Freemasonry" and that during "the first decade of Franco's regime, Opus Dei and Escrivá were attacked with perseverance bordering on fanaticism, not by enemies, but by supporters of the new Spanish State. Escrivá was even reported to the Tribunal for the Fight against Freemasonry." (Berglar, Opus Dei: Life and Works of Josemaria Escrivá 1994, p.180-181)
There is a letter from Escrivá to Francisco Franco which his critics say show this supposed link. His detractors say that he implicitly supported Francoism's endorsement of National-Catholicism and the rise of Catholicism as the official religion of Spain. In the letter he also expresses some kind of Spanish patriotism. He wrote, "Although a stranger to any political activity, I cannot help but rejoice as a priest and Spaniard that Spain, through its Head of State, has officially accepted the law of God in accordance with the Catholic faith". However, his Catholic supporters assert that this letter expresses support for human rights, human dignity and freedom. Escrivá, together with the Popes, preached that all citizens should practice patriotism and love for their country, at the same time loving other nations.
In the teaching of Escrivá, all of creation has been sanctified by the God-made-flesh: movies, boardrooms, games and gardens are meetings places with the Father God who is near. He even preached a Christian materialism, in which the Christian is supposed to passionately love the world while fighting against his own lust, greed and vanity.
Monsignor Escrivá accepted several awards like these:
In 1968, Escrivá petitioned for and was granted by the Government of Spanish dictator Franco the title of Marquis of Peralta. He was granted the title of Marques for four years, from 1968 to 1972, when Escrivá left the title in favour of his brother.
Maxim 677 in "The Way", an important book written by Escrivá, has this to say:
Several pro-Opus Dei biographers say that he sought neither these awards nor the title, but that they were nevertheless granted to him. They say that he accepted them out of charity to those who were granting these and that he did not give the slightest importance to these awards. These biographers also state that he prohibited his followers from asking for the title of Marques de Peralta, and was only forced to accept it due to the advice of some Cardinals who told him that he had the obligation to accept it for the sake of his brother, Santiago, and as a way of being an example of fulfilling civil duties and exercising rights. Although official biographers do not explain the reason why Escrivá retained the title for 4 years, his brother Santiago said: "The decision was heroic because he knew that he will be vilified as a result... Josemaría did what is best for me. After the right amount of time has passed, without making use of the title (in fact he never had the intention of using it), he passed the title on to me."
Many biographers also refer to his spirit of detachment and poverty. Escrivá taught that material things are good, but that people should not get attached to them, but should only serve God. He said "he has most who needs least." Many biographers report that it took only 10 minutes to gather his possessions after his death.
His cause for Canonization was introduced in Rome on February 19, 1981 on the strength of the apparently miraculous cure in 1976 of a rare disease, lipomatosis, suffered by Sister Concepción Boullón Rubio, whose family had prayed to Escrivá to help her. On April 9, 1990, Pope John Paul II declared that Escrivá possessed Christian virtues to a "heroic degree", and on July 6, 1991 the Board of Physicians for the Congregation of the Causes of Saints unanimously accepted the cure of Sister Rubio. A second reported miracle apparently brought about by Escrivá's intervention was ruled valid by the Congregation and approved by Pope John Paul II in December 2001; he was beatified 17 May 1992.
John Paul II, who frequently expressed public support for Opus Dei and its work, canonized Escrivá on 6 October 2002. During the canonization, there were 42 cardinals and 470 bishops from around the world, general superiors of many orders and religious congregations, and representatives of various Catholic groups. One-third of the world's bishops (an unprecedented number) petitioned for the canonization of Escrivá.
During the days of the canonization event, Church officials commented on the universal reach and validity of the message of the founder, echoing John Paul II's decree Christifideles Omnes on Escrivá's virtues, which said that "by inviting Christians to be united to God through their daily work, which is something men will have to do and find their dignity in as long as the world lasts, the timeliness of this message is destined to endure as an inexhaustible source of spiritual light, regardless of changing epochs and situations."
However, Opus Dei critics criticize what they see Escrivá's lightning canonization. They argue that the whole process was plagued by irregularities. On the other hand, supporters refer to Fr. Rafael Perez, an Augustinian, "one of the best experts" on canonization and who was the judge of Escrivá's Madrid Tribunal. He says that the process was fast because first, Escrivá's figure is "of the universal importance;" second, the Postulators "knew what they were doing;" third, in 1983 the procedures were simplified in order to present "models who lived in a world like ours." Fr. Flavio Cappucci, the Postulator also reported that the 6000 postulatory letters to the Vatican showed "earnestness." (Documentation Service Vol V, 3, March 1992) Escrivá's canonization was one of the first to be processed after the 1983 Code of Canon Law streamlined the procedures for canonization, and so it moved more quickly than was typical before. Mother Teresa is on pace to be canonized even more quickly, having been beatified just 6 years after her death (Escrivá was beatified in 17 years).
Many other concerns rose during Escrivá's nomination for Sainthood, mainly denoting an ill-tempered behavior of Escrivá's, which has been proven with partial evidentiary support. Father Capucci, the postulator over the nomination for Sainthood described the chief criticisms that surrounded Escrivá's attitude. They included: "...that he had a bad temper, that he was cruel, that he was vain, that he was close to Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, that he was pro-Nazi and that he was so dismayed by the Second Vatican Council that he even traveled to Greece with the idea that he might convert to the Orthodox religion
One of the most controversial accusations made by the opposition to Opus Dei is that Escrivá was active in bolstering the support of Fascist regimes, including that of Francisco Franco and Augusto Pinochet in Chile. The statements have been emphatically denied by the Roman Curia. One supporter argued that connecting Opus Dei with the Franco government is a "gross slander, and supporters say that there were notable members of Opus Dei, such as Antonio Fontan and Rafael Calvo Serer, who were vocal critics of the Franco regime.
This has been seen by his critics as a support for Franco, but supporters deny this. John Allen said that a pro-Franco interpretation cannot be sustained. The most that can be said, he says, is that he was neither anti-Franco nor pro-Franco. On the other hand, in the latest book by Julian Cardinal Herranz titled En las afueras de Jerico, he says that Escrivá was against dictatorships.
While some theologians downplayed the importance of the message and teachings of Escrivá, Roman Catholic Cardinals of all theological persuasions spoke highly of his influence in the Catholic Church of the present and the future.
Ugo Cardinal Poletti, in the Decree Introducing the Cause of Beatification and Canonization of Msgr. Escrivá, wrote in 1981: "For having proclaimed the universal call to holiness since he founded Opus Dei in 1928, Msgr. Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer, has been unanimously recognized as the precursor of precisely what constitutes the fundamental nucleus of the Church's magisterium, a message of such fruitfulness in the life of the Church." Sebastiano Cardinal Baggio, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, wrote a month after the death of Escrivá: "it is evident even today that the life, works, and message of the founder of Opus Dei constitutes a turning point, or more exactly a new original chapter in the history of Christian spirituality." A Vatican peritus or consulter for the process of beatification said that "he is like a figure from the deepest spiritual sources." Franz Cardinal König, Archbishop of Vienna, who, according to Messori "is considered one of the leaders of the so-called "progressive current," wrote in 1975:
The "absolutely central" point in Escrivá's teaching, says American theologian William May, is that "Sanctification is possible only because of the grace of God, freely given to his children through his only-begotten Son, and it consists essentially in an intimate, loving union with Jesus, our Redeemer and Savior." ("Holiness and ordinary life in the teaching of St. Josemaría Escrivá").
Escrivá's books, including Furrow, The Way, Christ is Passing By, and The Forge, continue to be read widely both by members of Opus Dei and by other Catholics attracted to his spirituality, which emphasises the laity's calling to daily sanctification (a message also to be found in the documents of Vatican II). Pope John Paul II made the following observation in his homily at the beatification of Escrivá:
As regards Escrivá's place in history, Pierre Chaunu, Protestant historian, professor at the Sorbonne in Paris, President of the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences in 1993, said that "The work of Escrivá de Balaguer will undoubtedly mark the 21st century. This is a prudent and reasonable wager. Do not pass close to this contemporary without paying him close attention." (Vue Culturelle, 5-6 February 1983)
John Paul II's decree Christifideles omnes also states: "By inviting Christians to seek union with God through their daily work - which confers dignity on human beings and is their lot as long as they exist on earth - his message is destined to endure as an inexhaustible source of spiritual light regardless of changing epochs and situations.