"Holiness for Everyone" – Review
St. Josemaria Escriva hasn’t had a fair shake. In 2003, Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code painted his religious apostolate, Opus Dei, as a band of secretive, murdering zealots. Unfortunately, that portrayal seeped into the Church and many Catholics became skeptical of Opus Dei and its founder. Then in 2011, There Be Dragons debuted, a new film about Escriva’s life. However it was widely panned, poorly attended, and did little to improve his reputation.
So when I discovered Eric Sammons was writing a new book on the spirituality of St. Josemaria, I was thrilled. St. Josemaria was the first saint I read after becoming Catholic (his little homily collection, Friends of God, is powerful reading before Mass.) Since then I've benefited from his other writings, especially The Way. Unfortunately, Escriva remains unknown in most circles which means if anyone needs to be rediscovered today, it’s this twentieth-century saint.
Eric is definitely up to the task. His 2010 book, Who Is Jesus Christ?, remains a favorite both for its richness and depth. Eric’s writing is always impressively clear and packed with spiritual wisdom. More importantly, he lives what he writes. His work is birthed from personal experience: when Eric talks about prayer, devotion, or holiness, it’s not as an objective observer. He’s in the arena, seeing things from within.
In Holiness for Everyone: The Practical Spirituality of St. Josemaria Escriva (Our Sunday Visitor, paperback, 144 pages), Eric uses his own lived experience of St. Josemaria's program to re-introduce a man Pope John Paul II called “the saint of ordinary life.” The book begins with a short biography of Escriva before diving in to Escriva's favorite theme, one which also grounded the Second Vatican Council: God’s goal for you is nothing less than sainthood, and therefore we’re all called to sanctity.
"Our first step toward understanding St. Josemaría's message," writes Sammons, "will be understanding the Catholic teaching, forgotten at times but renewed in recent years, of the call that each and every Christian has to holiness. St. Josemaría's spirituality did not develop in a vacuum, but instead stands on the shoulders of the entire tradition of Catholic spirituality."
But how can we become holy, especially those of us mired in the day-to-day grind of cubicles, toddlers, bills, and chores? Escriva’s whole work is an answer to that question, and Eric guides us through some of his solutions:
- Divine Filiation. At the heart of St. Josemaria’s spirituality is an emphasis on our identity as sons and daughters of God. Besides helping us see God as a loving father, this of course means we’re all connected as a family, a family that can spur each other toward holiness.
- Spiritual Freedom. There are only two options in the spiritual life: to be a slave or to be a son. The former binds you to your passions and the world. The latter, however, is the key to real freedom. When you choose your role as a son or daughter of God, you're liberated from the earthly bonds of sin.
- Ordinary Holiness. St. Josemaria was often called “the saint of the ordinary” and it was because of his strong emphasis on everyday sanctity. Like St. Therese, Escriva taught that you don’t have to be a priest or nun to live a saintly life. You can be holy whatever your state in life in all the small things each day.
- Sacred Work. Outside of perhaps John Paul II, no other twentieth-century saint connected work with holiness like Escriva. He taught that work was not a distraction to sanctity but a prime avenue toward it. It’s through our work that we strengthen our virtues and our will to sacrifice. Work, Escriva would say, is the way to heaven.
As in Who Is Jesus Christ?, Eric includes helpful end-of-chapter suggestions. Each chapter concludes with Read, Meditate, Pray, and Contemplate items which yield a lectio divina style reflection. In most book, I usually skip the end-of-chapter questions, but these provoked me, pushing me toward serious reflection.
If you want a more biographical introduction to St. Josemaria or Opus Dei, there are several great options (I especially recommend John Allen’s book, Opus Dei or Scott Hahn’s spiritual memoir.) However, Eric’s book moves past biography into the realm of spiritual reading. He doesn’t just provide basic facts; he gives you a roadmap toward holiness, unveiling Escriva’s ‘ordinary path’ toward sanctity and inviting you down the Way.