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Book ReviewsEsto Vir! – Be a Man!

 

The Way

by Josemaria Escriva (Scepter Press, Princeton, 1982); www.scepterpublishers.org/

411 pp., $7.95 (pocket-sized, paperback “mini-edition”)

 

Doubleday has recently published a solid book on a “controversial” topic by the journalist John Allen, Opus Dei (320 pages, $24.95). According to its reviews, the book fulfills the promise of its subtitle, “an objective look behind the myths and reality of the most controversial force in the Catholic Church.” (See, e.g., Fr. John Neuhaus’ review in the November 2005 First Things magazine, p. 75.) While I have not yet read Allen’s book, I have received spiritual formation from priests of Opus Dei (in English, commonly called “the Work,” short for its Latin name, which translates as “the Work of God”) throughout my adult life. Friends who are members of the Work have told me not only that they cooperated with Allen’s research, but that they welcomed it and have learned a great deal about the Work by reading his book. If you are interested in the facts and circumstances surrounding this Catholic organization, especially if you were either scandalized or intrigued by its ridiculous depiction in Dan Brown’s silly but bestselling novel, The DaVinci Code, read Allen’s book. If you do not want to pay $24.95 for the fruits of Allen’s research, you can find out a good deal about Opus Dei absolutely free by visiting the Work’s website, www.opusdei.org, or its companion sites about the life and writings of its founder, Msgr. Josemaria Escriva, at www.josemariaescriva.info/ and www.escrivaworks.org.

 

Josemaria Escriva was born in Barbastro, Spain, in 1902, was ordained a priest in 1925, founded the Work in 1928, died in 1975 and was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2002. I first encountered the then-future saint shortly before his death in 1975, while I was a junior in college. A friend had given me a copy of his small but seminal book, The Way (originally published in Spain as Consideraciones Espirituales in 1934). The Way consists of 999 short paragraphs which the saint intended his readers to use as springboards into meditative or contemplative prayer. He himself says by way of introduction:

 

Read these counsels slowly.

Pause to meditate on these thoughts.

They are things that I whisper in your ear – confiding them – as a friend, as a brother, as a father.

And they are being heard by God.

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I won’t tell you anything new.

I will only stir your memory,

so that some thought will arise

and strike you;

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and so you will better your life

and set out along the ways of prayer

and of Love.

And in the end you will be

a more worthy soul.

 

By 1975, men had in general stopped speaking to each other in this way – simple, direct, forceful but intimate, the way fathers should talk to their sons about the most important things. This manner of speaking caught my attention. Turning the page, I found in the very first paragraphs of the book two statements that have stuck with me ever since.

(Story continues below)

 

May your behavior and your conversation be such that everyone who hears or sees you can say: This man reads the life of Jesus Christ. (par. 2)

 

Don’t say, “That’s the way I am – it’s my character.” It’s your lack of character. Esto vir! – Be a man! (par. 4)

 

Every young man of spirit, no matter how well raised in the Faith, reaches a crisis in which he  must reconcile Christ’s meekness and self-denial with his own quite natural and appropriate distaste for cowardice and passivity. At the time, an alien and effeminate pacifism was starting to seep into Catholic culture in America. Young men struggled to find a place in the Catholic landscape. Many could not and left. But, by God’s good grace, I met St. Josemaria, who challenged my character and urged me to live my Catholic Faith by uniting my manhood to Christ’s.

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Let your prayer be manly. To be a child does not mean to be effeminate. (par. 888)

 

Who told you it’s not manly to make novenas? These devotions can be very manly if it is a man who does them, in a spirit of prayer and penance. (par. 574)

 

But the key to manly devotion is to accept the Catholic Faith in its countercultural fullness. A sentimentalized, diluted, muddled Catholicism, reconciled to the secularism of the modern world, will turn you into an idiot, until you can no longer stand it or yourself any longer and apostasize completely. The difficulties of prayer, the unavoidable necessity of penance, and the redemptive value of participation in the sufferings of Christ are realities that the Christian must not only accept, but embrace. The world denies these realities, rejects them, flees from them, tries to rob us even of the vocabulary we need to talk about them. St. Josemaria gives us the necessary vocabulary, and uses it to stand the world on its head:

 

Your mind is sluggish and won’t work. You struggle to coordinate your ideas in the presence of our Lord, but its useless: a complete fog!

Don’t force yourself, and don’t worry either. Listen closely: it is the hour for your heart. (par. 102)

 

Detachment. How hard it is! How I wish that I were fastened only by three nails and had no more feeling in my flesh than the cross! (par. 151)

 

Don’t say, “That person bothers me.” Think: “That person sanctifies me.” (par. 174)

 

Whenever you see a poor, wooden cross, alone, uncared-for, worthless…and without a corpus, don’t forget that that cross is your cross – the everyday hidden cross, unattractive and unconsoling – the cross that is waiting for the corpus it lacks: and that corpus must be you. (par. 178)

 

Remember that the heart is a traitor. Keep it locked with seven bolts. (par. 188)

 

Blessed be pain. Loved be pain. Sanctified be pain…Glorified be pain! (par. 208)

 

I’ll tell you a secret, an open secret: these world crises are crises of saints.

God wants a handful of men “of his own” in every human activity. Then… “pax Christi in regno Christ” – “the peace of Christ in the kingdom of Christ.” (par. 301)

 

“The Mass is long,” you say, and I reply: “Because your love is short.” (par. 529)

 

There is a hell. A trite enough statement, you think. I will repeat it, then: there is a hell!

Echo it, at the right moment, in the ears of one friend, and another, and another. (par. 749)

 

These words are enough to send you away muttering to yourself, “Can men live like this?” But men walked away from Christ muttering the same question. We must confront the words of both servant and Master in all their strangeness and starkness, which is part of their point. God and his saints, including St. Josemaria, mean to change us, not to make us comfortable. We must learn to see reality as they do. Only when we allow their words to change us, to break us painfully free of the world’s short-sightedness, will we see that they are not at all strange, but obviously true. This is the path of sanctification and, as St. Josemaria says, “Conversion is a matter of a moment. Sanctification is the work of a lifetime.” (par. 285) It is a long path and hard and requires perseverance. How shall we do it?

 

The Way’s ultimate paragraph tells us:

 

And what is the secret of perseverance? Love. Fall in Love, and you will not leave him. (par. 999)

 

 

 

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