This modern saint's mom and dad were models of holiness for him.
Not all saints had holy parents, but many saints became great in large part because of their virtuous parents. One example is St. Josemaría Escrivá, a modern saint whose parents were an example to him throughout his life.
Anyone who’s wondered how the saints were raised will appreciate a new book, Parents of the Saints: The Hidden Heroes Behind Our Favorite Saints. Author Patrick O’Hearn takes an in-depth look at the lives of saints’ parents, identifies common traits among them, and describes how they nurtured their children’s vocations.
It turns out there’s a lot that parents can do to encourage holiness in their children, and this book lays it all out clearly. Among the many holy parents O’Hearn describes is the admirable Escrivá family.
Josemaría Escrivá, who became a Spanish priest, was the founder of Opus Dei, a personal prelature of the Catholic Church that is a way of sanctification through daily work and ordinary duties. Escrivá died in 1975 and was canonized less than three decades later, in 2002.
Escrivá was blessed with parents who were not only pious Catholics but also people of great natural virtue. His parents, José and Dolores Escrivá, consecrated him to Our Lady when he almost died at the age of two:
Little Josemaría was only two years old when he got sick, so seriously sick that the doctor expected him to die. Around him, the Escrivá household fell silent. Finally, Doctor Campos, who had done everything possible to save him, told his father: “He won’t last through the night.”
But José Escrivá and his wife Maria Dolores Albás Escrivá were devout Catholics who prayed to God with great faith for their child’s cure. Dolores promised the Blessed Mother that, if he got well, she would bring him on pilgrimage to the ancient chapel of Torreciudad perched on a sloping cliff in the foothills of the Pyrenees.
The next morning the doctor returned to call on the family. “At what time did the little boy die?” he asked. The boy’s father, unable to contain his joy, replied, “Not only did he not die, but he seems completely recovered!”
The family made the pilgrimage soon after, and the boy remained close to Our Lady throughout his life.
St. Josemaría learned many valuable lessons from his parents’ examples, some of which are described in this article on their family life. In the Parents of the Saintsbook, O’Hearn explains how the Escrivá parents particularly modeled three saintly traits: sacramental life, suffering, and simplicity.
1Devotion to the sacraments
Many parents of the saints shared a profound love for the Sacraments, especially for Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. This love manifested in frequent attendance at Mass, reverent reception of Holy Communion, and much time spent in Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.
The Escrivá family faithfully attended Mass together every Sunday, and Escrivá’s father, in particular, modeled for him a deep love for the Holy Eucharist. O’Hearn writes,
In addition to Sunday Mass with his family, Josemaría’s father would arrive punctually at weekday Mass every morning around seven … Like his father, Josemaría became an ardent lover of the Eucharist, especially during seminary, when he was noted for frequently visiting the Most Blessed Sacrament during his free periods and sometimes spending the entire night before the Eucharistic King.
2Patience in suffering
Suffering is an inescapable part of the human condition. The holy parents of saints did not seek out suffering for its own sake, but when it came their way, they tried to bear it with the love and patience of Christ.
At times it seems that holy people bear more than their share of hardships. St. Louis de Montfort once wrote, “The most faithful servants of the Blessed Virgin, being also her greatest favorites, receive from her the greatest graces and favors of Heaven, which are crosses.”
These words certainly apply to José and Dolores Escrivá, who endured many crosses. They suffered the deaths of most of their six children at very young ages. In fact, they lost three daughters under the age of 10 in a three-year span. O’Hearn writes,
Like the three nails that pierced Christ’s hands and feet, causing unimaginable pain, so too did the deaths of José and Dolores’s precious daughters cause intense suffering.
Very soon after their daughters’ deaths, the family suffered more misfortune. A business partner deceived José, and he was forced to declare bankruptcy and liquidate all of his assets.
The family had been upper-middle-class, but were suddenly reduced to poverty and had to move away from their beloved hometown. Even worse, many of their family members and neighbors scorned and rejected them.
It was an agonizing period for the Escrivás, but their response was heroic. O’Hearn writes,
“Despite all these trials, José and his wife surrendered to the will of God by seeking to bear this cross secretly and heroically. They sought to console Our Lord rather than receive the consolation and pity of man … In the crucible of their sufferings, which resulted in greater poverty, José and Dolores clearly taught their future saint about resignation to suffering … Later in life, St. Josémaria understood more fully the power and beauty of suffering, largely in part due to his parents’ example.”
St. Josémaria himself once said, “My parents, my quietly heroic parents, are my great pride.”
The Escrivás sought to embrace a simple and frugal lifestyle even before their financial destitution, but naturally, simplicity became even more pronounced in their home after José’s bankruptcy. Josémaria’s mother, O’Hearn writes, “set a most holy example of simplicity by treasuring every moment and using every breath to glorify God rather than waste her time on frivolous things.”
His father, meanwhile, showed by his actions that he knew what was most important in life. He prioritized family time, enjoying long walks with his children and time outside with the whole family.
He live very simply and sacrificed everything for his family. It’s no wonder that, years later, St. Josémaria said of him, “I owe him my vocation.”