Ms. Elia Rivera is the Executive Director of the St. Josemaria Institute in Woodridge, IL which is a suburb of Chicago. With St. Josemaria”s feast recently past, I have contacted Rivera to introduce us to the institute, Opus Dei, and its founder, St. Josemaria Escriva.
JQ: Good morning Ms. Rivera. I hope you have had a wonderful week so far. Before we get into the institute and Opus Dei, can you give us a brief summary of your vocation, family, history, and work you do with the institute?
ER: My family has been close to Opus Dei for many years so I have known about St Josemaria Escriva my entire life. However it was during college when I really became familiar with the life and teachings of St Josemaria and chose to become a Cooperator. A Cooperator of Opus Dei is not a member but an individual who chooses to offer spiritual and material support to the mission and activities of Opus Dei. As Cooperators we usually also participate regularly in the activities offered by Opus Dei such as retreats, circles, classes, and other activities for spiritual and personal development.
I joined the St. Josemaria Institute as Executive Director over two years ago. After working several years in the field of sacred art I felt like this was a natural transition. Like sacred art, which clearly serves the purpose to help us in our worship and knowledge of God, the saints also help us in our worship and knowledge of God, especially through their examples of love, prayer, dedication, suffering and joy. And, through the mission and activities of the St. Josemaria Institute, we are able to share St. Josemaria’s teachings on the Christian vocation, the universal call to holiness, the sanctity of life and family, and the dignity of work, among people who are searching and longing for a deep and lasting friendship with God in the midst of their daily (“ordinary”) lives.
JQ: I think before we learn of the institute and its work, it might be a good idea to introduce St. Josemaria Escriva. Who is this guy? When and where did he live? He is the founder of Opus Dei? What is his central message for Christians living in the world?
ER: St Josemaria Escriva was a priest and the founder of Opus Dei.
He was born in Barbastro, Spain in 1902. His parents were a devout Catholic couple. He had one brother and four sisters (although only one survived beyond the age of 8). At the age of 16, he felt that God was asking something from him. He decided that as a priest he would best discern what God was asking from him. He entered the seminary in 1918 and was ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Zaragoza, Spain in 1925 (only a few months after the death of his father).
As a young priest, St. Josemaria served in a small parish and among the sick and the poor of Madrid, Spain. He also took on the responsibility of caring for his mother and young siblings as a result of his father’s sudden death.
However, on October 2, 1928, during a spiritual retreat in Madrid, St. Josemaria saw the mission that God had been stirring in his heart. In his own words, St Josemaria saw that “sanctity is not reserved for a privileged few. All the ways of the earth, every state in life, every profession, every honest task can be divine.” And, “since God wants the majority of Christians to remain in secular activities and to sanctify the world from within, the purpose of Opus Dei is to help them discover their divine mission, showing them that their human vocation—their professional, family, and social vocation—is not opposed to their supernatural vocation. On the contrary, it is an integral part of it.”
From that moment St Josemaria dedicated the rest of his life to the spiritual needs and growth of Opus Dei. He died in Rome on June 26, 1975. He was canonized a saint by Blessed Pope John Paul II on October 6, 2002. His feast day is June 26th.
JQ: So he founded Opus Dei. Can you briefly inform us about what a personal prelature is? How many people are part of the “The Work?” What does this calling entail? Does Opus Dei have any corporate works that it runs as an organization?
ER: A personal prelature is an organization in the Catholic Church similar to a diocese; it is made up of clergy and laity who carry out a mission and pastoral activities around the world.
Opus Dei was established as a personal prelature in 1982. There are approximately 85,000 members around the world—priests and lay people, men and women, married and single. To join Opus Dei one needs to have a vocation or a calling from God. If anyone is interested in learning more about Opus Dei, including the “corporate works”, I highly recommend visiting their website: opusdei.org.
JQ: I have heard about this thing called a “Plan of Life.” What is this? How does a person incorporate such a practice into our daily lives?
ER: Just like we plan out our calendars and daily schedules, a plan of life is in a way the daily schedule of prayers and activities we set for ourselves to keep up our relationship with God and to live a true Christian life. A plan of life could include the morning offering, daily Mass, Gospel reading and reflection, Holy Rosary, a few minutes of silent (mental) prayer, and examination of conscience.
However there is no set way for a plan of life because it’s important that it be a plan that is achievable and that fits in with the demands and schedules of our everyday life- family, school, work, etc.
St Josemaria was a great proponent of the plan of life for all Christians and offers some “tips” in this excerpt from his book “Friends of God”.
JQ: Escriva has written some books. Which do you recommend to a person that is interested in his spirituality of the Work? Can those interested in these works buy them from the institute?
ER: St Josemaria’s most famous and recommended book is “The Way”, which is a collection of 999 points on the interior life that are meant to help
us in our personal prayer. However, I usually recommend “Friends of God” or “The Way of the Cross”, which include his homilies and meditations on so many important aspects of the Christian life: holiness, vocation, virtues, faith, freedom, suffering, etc.
JQ: How is the St. Josemaria Institute involved with Opus Dei? What are some of the main initiatives that the institute performs?
ER: As we explain on our website: St. Josemaria was the founder of Opus Dei. His teachings are the basis of the mission of the St. Josemaria Institute. As such, the messages of the two organizations are intertwined. However, the St. Josemaria Institute hopes to promote St. Josemaria”s valuable teachings to the general public regardless of people”s relationship to Opus Dei.
Some of the initiatives of the St. Josemaria Institute include our website (www.stjosemaria.org), which is chockfull of information, articles, and resources on the life and teachings of St Josemaria. We also help promote the celebration of his feast day on June 26th. Members of our Board and staff are available for talks, presentations, and interviews, such as this one, which help promote the mission of the institute. And, in 2014, we will be offering our first pilgrimage to Spain to follow “In the Footsteps of St Josemaria”.
JQ: On the institute’s website, I see many links for videos. I think it is pretty cool to be able to see video footage of canonized saints. Which video is your favorite? Why?
ER: I think it’s pretty cool too! Most of the videos of St Josemaria come from his meetings in the 1960’s and 1970’s with families, young people, and priests. He wanted to go out to meet with the people, to teach them the truths of the Faith, especially during the time of so much change both in the society and in the Church. And today we still have that—it’s awesome!
But my favorite video is a 2 minute clip from one of his meetings with a group of women. One of the women asked him, “How can we fall in love more with Christ?” And, in his fatherly way, he shares the “secret” to falling in love with Christ, which is in fact through very human means… by spending time with Christ, conversing with Him, and getting to know Him.
Fall in Love with Jesus is the title of the video and can be found at the link.
JQ: When promoting St. Josemaria Escriva, have you been openly received?
ER: St. Josemaria Escriva was canonized only 10 years ago so I have come across many people who have never heard of him but they have been open to learning more about him. And, I think the reason people are open to learning about him is because his teachings are quite practical and applicable to most of our situations since we all work, we have families, we have friends, we are members of society, and we are striving to live faithful Christian lives.
JQ: When I googled the institute’s location, I found you are neighbors with the Midwest Theological Forum. Is there a close relationship between you two? The Didache Series is the best religious textbooks I have seen.
ER: The St. Josemaria Institute was founded by Fr. Jim Socias who is also the founder of Midwest Theological Forum (MTF). MTF is very generous in offering us a place to operate from and supports us in every way possible.
I also think “The Didache Series” is an excellent series of religious textbooks. But for those of us who are no longer of the “textbook age”, I highly recommend “Introduction to Catholicism for Adults” also published by MTF.
JQ: How can people connect with the institute? Do you have a facebook page or youtube channel?
ER: Yes, people are welcome to connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube. A great way to also connect with us is by subscribing to our email list—we send out 1 to 2 emails per month. And anyone who has any specific questions or requests is welcome to contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you, Jared, and your readers, for this great opportunity. Ignitum Today is doing a great job of capturing the minds and hearts of our generation and presenting it to the world in such a fresh and positive way – I am very happy to be a part of it.