Madrid: The Founding of Opus Dei

Once he had finished his licentiate degree in Law, Josemaría felt the need to do a doctoral thesis – which at that time in Spain was only possible at the University of Madrid – and so he moved there, along with his family in the spring of 1927. There, he carried out tireless work in helping the poor and helpless on the outskirts of the city, especially the dying and those with incurable diseases in the hospital of Madrid. Josemaría took charge of the chaplaincy services for the Patronage of the Sick, a service led by the Damas Apostólicas del Sagrado Corazón. He spent many hours preparing thousands of children for their first communion and their first confession. He also devoted large amounts of time to the sick and dying in the poorer areas of Madrid, which were growing very quickly at the time and were affected by the corresponding social problems. In addition, Josemaría taught at a university academy, specializing in legal studies, to earn the much needed money the family had to live on in a very precarious financial situation. His perseverance in his daily work, prayer, penance and mortification made those years a true "prehistory" of Opus Dei. It was a time of spiritual enrichment, which would prepare him to embrace what God was going to show him.

On 2 October, 1928, during a spiritual retreat, God showed him what had only been an intuition until that moment. And Opus Dei was born; as though burnt onto the soul of a young priest who, from that moment on, would devote all of his energy to carrying it out. At first, Josemaría thought that there might already be an institution that fulfilled the ideals, which God had shown him. However, he soon realized that no such institution existed. Always moved by God, on 14 February, 1930, he understood that he was being called to bring the apostolate of Opus Dei to women as well as men. Thus, a new path was opened in the Church, aimed at helping men and women of all social classes strive for their personal sanctity through a life of apostolate and the sanctification of their daily work, in the middle of the world, without changing their spiritual status in the Church.

It was also in 1930 that a comment from his confessor – "how is that work of God going?" – moved him to call the apostolic institution he was carrying out "the Work of God" (Opus Dei). The expression "Work of God" showed, on one hand, Josemaría's deep conviction that he was carrying out God's will. At the same time, it reflected the message of Opus Dei very well: ordinary life, daily work done for God and out of service for others, turned into work of God, into Opus Dei, through prayer and personal sacrifice.

Saint Josemaría's central message was, undoubtedly, the universal call to holiness through one's daily professional work. Thirty years before Vatican II, in relation to the fullness of Christian life, he wrote: "You have the obligation to sanctify yourself. You too. Who thinks that this is the exclusive task of priests and religious? To all, without exception, the Lord said ‘Be perfect, as my heavenly Father is perfect" (The Way, n 291)." He constantly emphasized that the universal call to holiness through one's personal work involves reminding every Christian that Jesus Christ asks everyone to follow him, no matter where they are or who they are. Everyday Christians must achieve the fullness of Christian life in the place and situation they have in society, making their ordinary work – in imitation of the hidden life of Christ – an occasion of sanctification and service to God and others.

Starting on 2 October, 1928, the founder of Opus Dei spread this message throughout the world, attracting a small group of followers from the very beginning. During this time, society was experiencing changes and tension. The financial situation of hisfamily was still very difficult. Josemaría's pastoral duties changed: in 1931 he left the Patronage of the Sick and took up the position, first of chaplain, (and then of director in 1934) of the Patronage of Saint Isabel. One day, after an especially intense time of personal prayer in the sacristy of Saint Isabel, he wrote one of his first books: a commentary on the mysteries of the Rosary, which he published after slight editing in 1934 under the title "The Holy Rosary". From 1930 onwards, Josemaría began writing down ideas and experiences from his apostolate and personal prayer. In 1932, some of the notes that he had written down were used to make a collection of points of meditation entitled "Spiritual Considerations," which helped support him in his apostolate as well as that of his followers. Revised and completed, these points of meditation later became one of his most well-known books: The Way.

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