sábado, 12 de diciembre de 2015

The most attractive feature of Urbano’s book is its ring of truth. It recounts a life lived to the full ...

An Intimate Portrait of the Founder of Opus Dei


Opus Dei is a Catholic institution made up largely of lay people who believe that everyone is called to holiness and that ordinary life is a path to sanctity. The past forty years have seen several biographies of its founder, Monsignor Josemaria Escriva, who died in 1975 and was proclaimed a saint in 2002. By far the most detailed and comprehensive is the 1800-page, three-volume biography written at the turn of the millennium by Andrés Vazquez de Prada, a member of the “Work” (shorthand for Opus Dei), who knew its founder well and had access to his papers. One therefore can’t help wondering what new information might be found in this fine English translation of a more recent biography initially published in Spanish.

The Man of Villa Tevere by Pilar Urbano is certainly not as exhaustive as Vasquez de Prada’s biography, focusing as it does mainly, although not exclusively, on the years Monsignor Josemaria spent in Rome, where he settled in 1946 and died in 1975. However, it has the immense advantage of offering us an intimate portrait of this twentieth century saint unmatched by any other biography.

Professional historians may lament the fact that the book is no more than a collection of anecdotes centered on the last 30 years of Monsignor Josemaria’s life and told by people who knew him well in Rome. But such an assessment would miss the entire point of the book, which is to shed light on the day-to-day activities of this hero of the Christian faith as they were lived amidst the hustle and bustle of professional work and family life. The book illustrates vividly what it was like to live close to the man that members of Opus Dei affectionately call “Our Father.”

The portrait of Monsignor Josemaria emerging from the numerous stories elegantly recounted by Urbano accords perfectly with the unattributed words appearing on the title page: “Like Nietzsche, you said you could only believe in a God who could dance.Well, I assure you he can: I have known a man who danced with God.”

A good part of the book is devoted to reporting things that Monsignor Josemaria said in “family” gatherings with those seeking to live the lay spirituality of the Work. Thus the reader gets the distinct impression of entering into the daily life of the formative years of that spiritual family that is Opus Dei.

Monsignor Escriva’s whole life was deeply imbued with the presence of God. He kept saying that he could speak of nothing else but God and that doing so was the cause of his happiness. One day in 1971, he told a small group in a get-together: “I laugh, I even laugh out loud all by myself, because I have God’s presence. If I didn’t—the things I could say! But two years ago, I wept a lot. You can’t imagine how consoling those tears during Mass were, even though they hurt my eyes. My serenity now, like my tears then, are all God’s doing.”


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