What do Saints Work at from Heaven?
The saints live their lives in this world in order to love God and other people, imitating Jesus Christ, who “went about doing good”. But when they reach heaven, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 2683) tells us that they “constantly care for those whom they have left on earth. (...) Their intercession is their most exalted service to God’s plan. We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world.”
It does indeed seem that in heaven God grants them the possibility of continuing the mission they exercised here below, but even more fruitfully. “From heaven I’ll be able to help you better,” St Josemaria told us at the end of his life, and at the same time he asked us to pray that he could “vault over” Purgatory.
Having worked with this Saint for more than 20 years, I have found that he was quite right. The help he gave to those around him with his holy life was enormous, as was the help he provided to so many millions more through his books. But from the moment he made the leap into heaven, his help has been multiplied, and has reached a huge crowd of people, through his intercession before God for so many people’s needs, big and small. And the most remarkable thing of all is this: that if, for instance, he intercedes for a girl to find the contact lens she lost on a bus, at the same time he touches her heart to give admittance to Jesus Christ.
The novelty of something well known
The aspect that has struck me most strongly is that the favors obtained through St Josemaria almost always have two sides. They are not just about solving a problem, but they also leave a light, a spiritual result, in the people who invoke him.
The mission that God entrusted to Josemaria Escriva on October 2, 1928, was to found Opus Dei, a way to holiness through daily work and by fulfilling ordinary Christian duties. With Jesus Christ the well-known panorama of every day takes on unexpected novelty, unsuspected greatness, being lit up by our Lord’s redeeming love.
Reading the letters that tell of graces obtained through St Josemaria’s intercession, you find an amazing variety of situations: from home-makers struggling with some small domestic problem, to drug addicts and the suicidal. Some letters tell terrible stories of ruined lives with seemingly no way out. Others tell of struggles against disease, or people who get a job or find something they had lost... Additionally, most of them talk about coming back to God, sometimes after a life that had been lived very far from the faith.
What do these accounts of favors obtained through St Josemaria’s intercession have in common? Several things. In the first place, there is little of the “marvelous” about them: they don’t involve exceptional or paranormal phenomena, although among them there are certainly events that are scientifically inexplicable. These include, particularly, extraordinary cures that have been properly proved and verified, accounts of which have been collected and published in another book. But in general, as I say, the favors attributed to St Josemaria are very “ordinary” ones.
Piety yes; superstition, no
This fits in with the message and mode of life of St Josemaria, founder of Opus Dei, who was a real “apostle of ordinary life”. He said of himself that he was “not keen on the miraculous” and instinctively avoided anything that sounded like a “marvel” or “wonder”. In The Way, his most popular book, he wrote: “I’m not one for miracles. I have told you that in the holy Gospel I can find more than enough to confirm my faith” (no. 583). He believed above all in the daily miracles of the Eucharist, the sacraments, and grace. And from heaven he has continued to teach people how to discover Jesus Christ in daily life, so that no-one should rashly presume that God will intervene to save them trouble. “Miracles,” he said in a homily, “are a sign of the saving power of God, not a cure for incompetence nor an easy way to dodge effort. The ‘miracle’ which God asks of you is to persevere in your Christian and divine vocation, sanctifying each day’s work: the miracle of turning the prose of each day into heroic verse by the love which you put into your ordinary work. God waits for you there. He expects you to be a responsible person, with the zeal of an apostle and the competence of a good worker” (Christ is Passing By, 50).
That was another thing that characterized him: the unity between his life and his faith. He thought it was nonsense for someone to appeal to the saints to solve a problem, while themselves leading a life apart from God, without the slightest intention of amendment. That is the sort of attitude, unfortunately, that leads some people to confuse piety with superstition.
The saints are “Christ’s hands”
Mgr Joaquín Alonso
Our Lord never ignores our needs: he is always holding out his hands to us. According to a popular story, in a church in Germany there is a large crucifix. The church was bombed, and the figure of Christ lost its arms. An inscription was afterwards added to the Cross: “I have no hands but yours”. The saints are the hands Christ uses to help us. Perhaps this new book can help us to think that our Lord is asking us too to lend him our hands.
Msgr. Joaquin Alonso, preface to the book Favores que pedimos a los santos by Msgr. Flavio Capucci, Madrid: Palabra, 2012.
Msgr. Alonso was Theological Consultor to the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints. For many years he was one of St Josemaria’s closest coworkers in directing Opus Dei.