Saturday, July 21, 2018

Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St. Josemaria Escriva: Priesthood as Living Faith

--Father Robert Connor (Plinthos minor editing of typos)

Walking in the streets of Logroño, Spain in December, 1917 or January 1918 – during Christmas vacation, Josemaria Escriva “came upon prints in the snow made by bare feet. His curiosity piqued, he stopped and stared at those white imprints so obviously left by one of the Discalced Carmelite fathers. Moved to the very depths of his soul, he asked himself, ‘If others can make such sacrifices for God and neighbor, can’t I offer him something?’”[6]

The footprints had been made by Father Jose Miguel. Following that snowy trail, the boy sought out the Carmelite for spiritual direction. He now had, very deep inside, ‘a divine restlessness’ that moved him to a more intense life of piety, manifested in prayer, mortification, and daily Communion. ‘When I was scarcely an adolescent our Lord cast into my heart a seed burning with love.’

This sharp change was, however, just a brief prelude to greater demands on the part of our Lord:

“I began to have intimations [inklings] of Love, to realize that my heart was asking for something great, and that it was love… I didn’t know what God wanted of me, but it was evident that I had been chosen for something. What this was would come later… Realizing, at the same time, my own inadequacies, I made up that litany which is a matter not of false humility but of self-knowledge: ‘I am worth nothing, I have nothing, I can do nothing, I am nothing, I know nothing…’[7]

He was set on fire with love, yet at the same left in the dark. By the light of our Lord’s grace he could see that he had been chosen, but for what remained obscure…

Looking back,he could see that from the very morning when he saw those footprints in the snow, something had been leading him directly toward Love…

“Our lady of Mount Carmel was pushing me to become a priest. Until I was sixteen years old, dear Mother, I would have laughed at any one who said I would one day be wearing a cassock. It happened all of a sudden, when I saw that some Carmelite friar had walked barefoot in the snow… How obligated you are, sweet Virgin of the Kisses, to lead me by the hand like a little child of yours…

“Jesus undoubtedly wanted me to cry out from within my darkness, like the blind man in the Gospel. And I cried out for years, without knowing what I was asking for. And I shouted many times the prayer ‘Ut sit’ [Let it be!] which seemed to be a request for a new being.”[8]

“All this was obvioiusly not the result of a chance encounter with the footprints of a Discalced friar. These was nothing accidental about this encounter, as Josemaria well knew. It was a gift from God. Therefore his commitment had to be a total self-giving, without asking for a proof or extraordinary sign. And immediately, after he made it, he began receiving an outpouring of graces that shortly brought his soul to a state of manifest maturity, to judge by his spiritual director’s invitation to him.

“It was not, however, to religious life that God was calling him. He soon saw this clearly, and said so to the Carmelite….

“For years, starting back when my vocation first came about in Logroño, I constantly had on my lips, as an aspiration, ‘Domine, ut videam!’ [Lord, that I may see!]. I was convinced that God wanted me for something, even though I didn’t know what the something was. I am certain that I expressed this several times to Aunt Cruz (Sister Maria de Jesus Crucificado) in letters that I sent her at her convent in Juesca. The first time I ever meditated on the passage in Saint Mark about the blind man whom Jesus cured, the passage where Christ asks him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ and he answers, ‘Rabboni, ut videam’ [Lord, that I might see], this phrase became deeply engraved in my mind. And despite the fact that I (like the blind man) was told by many to keep quiet… I went on saying and writing, without knowing why,’Ut videam! Domine, tu videam!; and at other times. ‘Ut sit! Let me see, Lord, let me see. And let it be.’

But, as Vazquez de Prada writes, this was basically a “base of operations.” Because on October 2, 1928, he is given the vocation to found Opus Dei which is the priestly vocation that is the identification to become “another Christ,” “Christ Himself” as self-gift to the Father and to all men. Priesthood means mediation, and the mediator –as in Christ – is the self giving, and the mediated is Christ. The giver is the self; and the given is the self. St. Josemaria will later write that we are “priests of our own existence.” And the only place to understand that is Hebrews 9, 11-14 where Jesus Christ – God/man – enters into the presence of the Father not with the blood of bulls and goats, but with His own Blood. This is St. Paul’s account of what it means to be “Son.” As “Father” is the action of engendering Son, Son is the action of obeying and adoring Father. The meaning of “Father” and “Son” as revealed by Christ as One (“I and the Father are one” [Jn. 10, 30]) and yet Distinct Persons (“The Father is greater than I [Jn. 14, 28]). Father, Son and Spirit are “One God” because each distinct Person is Relation.

So, what was being poured into Escriva was the Christian anthropology of Priesthood that is the same for every human person created in the image and likeness of the Son, incarnate in the Divine Person of Jesus Christ, extolled and lived by the first Christians, articulated by the Fathers of the Church and developed for the ending of the second millennium and beginning of the third in Vatican II. It is new and old.

For the “OLD” besides Hebrews 9, there is the 5th c. Father, St. Peter Crysologus.[9] For the “NEW”, Luman Gentium #10.[10] Therefore this date of July 16, the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel is highly significant for Opus Dei and for the Church since it harkens back to Escriva’s abrupt vocation to the priesthood, but not as clerical – as religious or secular – but as the physiognomy of Jesus Christ, God/man, Gift of self and, as such, mediator of his own life and existence. Hence, the vocation of every man and woman is priestly forming a priestly people of God.

[6] Vazquez de Prada “The Founder of Opus Dei”, Vol. I, Spanish original 1997 (69-73).

[7] Meditation of 19 March 1975

[8] Idem. Footnotes to p. 70.

[9] From a sermon by Saint Peter Chrysologus, bishop – d. 450 : “Each of us is called to be both a sacrifice to God and his priest I appeal to you by the mercy of God. This appeal is made by Paul, or rather, it is made by God through Paul, because of God’s desire to be loved rather than feared, to be a father rather than a Lord. God appeals to us in his mercy to avoid having to punish us in his severity.

Listen to the Lord’s appeal: In me, I want you to see your own body, your members, your heart, your bones, your blood. You may fear what is divine, but why not love what is human? You may run away from me as the Lord, but why not run to me as your father? Perhaps you are filled with shame for causing my bitter passion. Do not be afraid. This cross inflicts a mortal injury, not on me, but on death. These nails no longer pain me, but only deepen your love for me. I do not cry out because of these wounds, but through them I draw you into my heart. My body was stretched on the cross as a symbol, not of how much I suffered, but of my all-embracing love. I count it no loss to shed my blood: it is the price I have paid for your ransom. Come, then, return to me and learn to know me as your father, who repays good for evil, love for injury, and boundless charity for piercing wounds.

Listen now to what the Apostle urges us to do. I appeal to you, he says, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice. By this exhortation of his, Paul has raised all men to priestly status.

How marvellous is the priesthood of the Christian, for he is both the victim that is offered on his own behalf, and the priest who makes the offering. He does not need to go beyond himself to seek what he is to immolate to God: with himself and in himself he brings the sacrifice he is to offer God for himself. The victim remains and the priest remains, always one and the same. Immolated, the victim still lives: the priest who immolates cannot kill. Truly it is an amazing sacrifice in which a body is offered without being slain and blood is offered without being shed.

The Apostle says: I appeal to you by the mercy of God to present your bodies as a living sacrifice. Brethren, this sacrifice follows the pattern of Christ’s sacrifice by which he gave his body as a living immolation for the life of the world. He really made his body a living sacrifice, because, though slain, he continues to live. In such a victim death receives its ransom, but the victim remains alive. Death itself suffers the punishment. This is why death for the martyrs is actually a birth, and their end a beginning. Their execution is the door to life, and those who were thought to have been blotted out from the earth shine brilliantly in heaven.

Paul says: I appeal to you by the mercy of God to present your bodies as a sacrifice, living and holy. The prophet said the same thing: Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but you have prepared a body for me. Each of us is called to be both a sacrifice to God and his priest. Do not forfeit what divine authority confers on you. Put on the garment of holiness, gird yourself with the belt of chastity. Let Christ be your helmet, let the cross on your forehead be your unfailing protection. Your breastplate should be the knowledge of God that he himself has given you. Keep burning continually the sweet smelling incense of prayer. Take up the sword of the Spirit. Let your heart be an altar. Then, with full confidence in God, present your body for sacrifice. God desires not death, but faith; God thirsts not for blood, but for self-surrender; God is appeased not by slaughter, but by the offering of your free will.

[10] 10. Christ the Lord, High Priest taken from among men,(100) made the new people “a kingdom and priests to God the Father”.(101) The baptized, by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated as a spiritual house and a holy priesthood, in order that through all those works which are those of the Christian man they may offer spiritual sacrifices and proclaim the power of Him who has called them out of darkness into His marvelous light.(102) Therefore all the disciples of Christ, persevering in prayer and praising God,(103) should present themselves as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.(104) Everywhere on earth they must bear witness to Christ and give an answer to those who seek an account of that hope of eternal life which is in them.(105)

Though they differ from one another in essence and not only in degree, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood are nonetheless interrelated: each of them in its own special way is a participation in the one priesthood of Christ.(2*) The ministerial priest, by the sacred power he enjoys, teaches and rules the priestly people; acting in the person of Christ, he makes present the eucharistic sacrifice, and offers it to God in the name of all the people. But the faithful, in virtue of their royal priesthood, join in the offering of the Eucharist.(3*) They likewise exercise that priesthood in receiving the sacraments, in prayer and thanksgiving, in the witness of a holy life, and by self-denial and active charity.
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