Entrepreneurship can be daunting. We see the wild success of tech giants like Steve Jobs or Mark Zukerberg and can be inclined to question: “Do I have what it takes?” Moreover, good ideas seem nearly obvious in retrospect, so much so that it can be tempting to wait until you have the “perfect” and “sure” idea before you feel ready to launch. St. Josemaria Escriva sees a different way to be a changemaker. Keep reading to learn how this “Saint of Ordinary Life” calls us all to start, to persevere, and to embrace the ordinary.
Born in 1902 and canonized 100 years later in 2002, Josemaria Escriva was a Spanish priest who founded Opus Dei, the only personal prelature in the Catholic Church. He grew up in a devoutly Catholic family in northeast Spain between Zaragoza and Andorra. Josemaria experienced persecution and war at a time where anti-clericalism required him to go into hiding or take refuge on more than one occasion. It’s safe to say that the Spanish Civil War was not a convenient time for entrepreneurial ventures.
Nevertheless, in 1928, Josemaria was divinely inspired to create Opus Dei and spread a universal call to holiness.
“Great holiness consists in carrying out the little duties of each moment.” – St. Escriva
The term “Opus Dei” means “Work of God” and Josemaria began this movement with a resolute belief that anyone could be holy – not just the saints, priests, monks, and nuns. It is the only personal prelature in the Catholic Church. And what is that exactly? It is a designation established by Canon law. Thus, it is legally unique, but in practice, the teaching is not separate from the Catholic Church as a whole. Members of Opus Dei may continue to be part of their local parish, nation, place of work, etc… In many ways, it can be thought of as a religious order or an organization that is open to both religious and lay individuals. The leader of Opus Dei is called “The Prelate” and serves as both a Bishop within the Catholic Church and the head of Opus Dei.
Nearly 100 years since Josemaria was inspired to create the Opus Dei movement, the Prelature now has approximately 85,000 members worldwide.
Blaze a Trail
“Don’t let your life be barren. Be useful. Blaze a trail. Shine forth with the light of your faith and of your love.” (The Way, 1)
One thing every successful entrepreneur has in common is that they embrace action. In a world where nothing is certain, action is the only way forward. St. Josemaria Escriva planned with the big picture in mind. He knew that God called each and every one of us to holiness, not just the ordained clergy. However, to get to such a place within the Church, he knew that he needed to blaze a trail, step by step.
This isn’t to say that the way to one’s goal is direct. Entrepreneurship and systems change is, in reality, a messy process with little wins and big setbacks. Josemaria Escriva rightly saw failure as an opportunity for growth, which allowed him to keep his eyes on God’s plans, even when things weren’t working out. As he would say, “You haven’t failed; You have acquired experience, forward!”
Perseverance & Little Wins
“To begin is easy; to persevere is sanctity. Let your perseverance not be a blind consequence of the first impulse, the work of inertia: let it be a reflective perseverance.” (The Way, 983)
It is significant to note that Josemaria spent the first 8 years of Opus Dei with less than 20 members following his vision. He did not give up. Not only that, but his movement wouldn’t become officially established by the Catholic Church until another 8 years after his death. If Josemaria measured the success of Opus Dei simply by speed or formal recognition, he likely would have been disappointed or even discouraged. Instead, his fidelity to the idea that sanctity could come through perseverance and the accumulation of little ordinary acts of love, grew into a movement that spanned 6 continents and around 30 countries at the time of his death.
“You and I have to be rebels, but the kind that gives solutions. Solutions based on justice and charity.” – St. Escriva
Entrepreneurs, especially social entrepreneurs, are often called “changemakers”. In reality, this is a nice way of saying that they are “troublemakers” or “rebels”. St. Josemaria Escriva believed that the combined energy of everyday people all directed towards the will of God could create huge movements of justice and charity in the Church.
Stanford University Professor Debra Meyerson coined the term “tempered radicals” to refer to these changemakers who are not “heroic leaders of revolutionary change”, but rather the “cautious and committed catalysts who keep going and who slowly make a difference”. Tempered radicals “recognize modest and doable choices in-between” and are truly “sensitive improvisers who are able to recognize and act on opportunities as they arise.” (Meyerson p.3-13)
Josemaria was a “tempered radical” and he called you, me, and individuals at all levels of the church, to see justice and holiness as something within our power to amplify.
Learn more about Josemaria Escriva below:
Meyerson, Debra. Rocking the Boat: How to Effect Change Without Making Trouble. Harvard Business Press, 2008.
Opus Dei. “How is Opus Dei Related to the Catholic Church.” Videos About Opus Dei, 31 May 2006, https://opusdei.org/en-us/video/2-how-is-opus-dei-related-to-the-catholic-church/. Accessed 10 October 2020.
Opus Dei. “Saint Josemaria.” Opus Dei, 8 June 2017, https://opusdei.org/en-us/section/saint-josemaria/. Accessed 10 October 2020.
St. Josemaria Institute. “Blaze a Trail.” St. Josemaria Institute, N/A, https://stjosemaria.org/. Accessed 10 October 2020.
St. Josemaria Institute. “The Quotable Saint.” St. Josemaria Institute, N/A, https://stjosemaria.org/quotable-st-josemaria/. Accessed 10 October 2020.