Time is passing into eternity, and it’s happening every day.
The Church marks the passing of time with the liturgical year, which makes each day bear more significance than simply another cycle of 24 hours. With the proclamation of the Gospel at daily Mass, the mysteries of the life of Christ are made present to sanctify our very lives. Yet, the Church extends her claim over the temporal even further: “The Liturgy of the Hours … is the daily prayer of the Church, marking the hours of each day and sanctifying the day with prayer.” Monks had a different name for the Liturgy of the Hours: opus Dei, or work of God. It is one realization of St. Paul’s exhortation to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17) that still constitutes the hourly rhythm of the Church. In her wisdom, the Church provides a way for sanctifying every hour of one’s life, of allowing every minute of the day to be drawn up into the eternity of God through prayer.
The Church has acknowledged another way of seeking sanctification in the hour-to-hour of one’s ordinary day-to-day life. She has done this by recognizing the special founding grace given in 1928 to St. Josemaría Escrivá, whose feast day we celebrate today. Although required to pray the Liturgy of the Hours as a priest, it does not seem that St. Josemaría named his new group—Opus Dei—from the ancient practice of the Church. Nonetheless, the similitude is evident. Saint Josemaría desired everyone—priests, celibate men and women, married couples—to participate in the Work, as St. Josemaría affectionately called his vision. As contemplatives in the middle of the world, they would sanctify their work by offering it to God. Members of the Work were to seek eternity in the midst of time. He once wrote:
I assure you, my sons and daughters, that when a Christian carries out with love the most insignificant everyday action, that action overflows with the transcendence of God. That is why I have told you repeatedly, and hammered away once and again on the idea that the Christian vocation consists of making heroic verse out of the prose of each day. Heaven and earth seem to merge, my sons and daughters, on the horizon. But where they really meet is in your hearts, when you sanctify your everyday lives. (Conversations 116)
With a holy prescience, St. Josemaría called the laity to the heights of their Christian vocation and founded a group that would support them in their mission. As the Second Vatican Council would only articulate years later, the laity are situated in secular professions so as to “work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven” (Lumen Gentium 31). Nothing is merely temporal: everything has eternal significance. “In a laboratory, in the operating room of a hospital, in the barracks, in the university department, in the factory, in the workshop, in the fields, in the family home, and in all the immense panorama of work,” St. Josemaría said, “God awaits us each day.” There is no separation in a Christian’s life between faith and work. Work must be the moment of sanctification for one’s self and one’s colleagues.
Before infusing the temporal sphere with the light and grace of God through work, however, St. Josemaría offered two essential helps: prayer and sacrifice. “Action is worth nothing without prayer: prayer grows in value with sacrifice” (The Way 81). Sanctified work comes from a contemplative soul, one who speaks daily with Jesus in silent prayer. From this loving union of friendship with the crucified One, loving sacrifices then abound: “That joke, that witty remark held on the tip of your tongue; the cheerful smile for those who annoy you … this, with perseverance, is indeed solid interior mortification” (The Way 173).
Transformed by prayer and sacrifice, the Christian is markedly different than everyone else. His or her life becomes a shining light to those dwelling in darkness. For the Christian, every moment in time becomes an encounter with God, a sanctifying event. Mysteriously and beautifully, by grace we are made full participants in the opus Dei: the sanctification of every person and of time itself.
Image: Photo by Opus Dei Communications Office (CC BY-SA 2.0)