Bernardo M. Villegas
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Materialism Need Not Be Evil

           Materialism has usually been associated with either atheism or Marxist communism.  More recently, it can connote what is known as consumerism, the belief that human happiness or fulfillment consists in possessing as much material wealth as possible.  Thanks to a Catholic saint, the tenth anniversary of whose canonization we are celebrating in this month of October, materialism can be "christianized."  St. Josemaria Escriva, Founder of Opus Dei, and named by Blessed John Paul II as "the saint of ordinary life," spoke about Christian materialism in a homily that he delivered in the campus of the University of Navarre, Pamplona, Spain, thirty five years ago.  What he said should be especially reassuring to people of business who may often be torn between their focus on wealth creation and their desire to live the beatitudes. 

          The first idea that people involved in business should keep in mind is that there is nothing inherently wrong in material wealth.   As St. Josemaria said in that homily entitled "Passionately Loving the World,"  "I have taught this constantly using words from holy Scripture.  The world is not evil, because it has come from God's hands, because it is His creation, because 'Yahweh looked upon it and saw that it was good' (cf. Gen. 1:7ff.).  We ourselves, mankind, make it evil and ugly with our sins and infidelities.  Have no doubt:  any kind of evasion of the honest realities of daily life is for you men and women of the world, something opposed to the will of God."

          Not only is there nothing inherently evil in material wealth but the creation of wealth, which is the challenging task of every good entrepreneur or business man, involves one of the highest forms of human work which St. Josemaria consistently taught can be transformed into prayer, service to others  and a path towards holiness.  In that homily in Pamplona, he told his audience composed of people from the most diverse walks of life: "...you must understand now, more clearly, that God is calling you to serve Him in and from the ordinary, material and secular activities of human life.  He waits for us every day, in the laboratory, in the operating theatre, in the army barracks, in the university chair, in the factory, in the workshop, in the fields, in the home and in all the immense panorama of work.  Understand this well:  there is something holy, something divine, hidden in the most ordinary situations, and it is up to each of you to discover it."

          Business people can benefit from the advice that St. Josemaria used to give to university students and workers who were with him in the 1930s.  He told them to learn how to materialise their spiritual life:  "I wanted to keep them from the temptation, so common then and now, of living a kind of double life.  On one side, an interior life, a life of relation with God; and on the other, a separate and distinct professional, social and family life, full of small earthly realities.  No!  We cannot lead a double life.  We cannot be like schizophrenics, if we want to be Christians.  There is just one life, made of flesh and spirit.  And it is this life which has to become, in both soul and body, holy and filled with God.  We discover the invisible God in the most visible and material things."

          A business man who looks at his work of wealth creation as part of co-creating with God, of obeying God's command of dominating this universe, need not be afraid of the wrong kind of materialism.  A business man who sees his work as a service to others, as his share of contributing to the common good of society, will easily understand the following words of St.

Josemaria:  "...I can tell you that our age needs to give back to matter and to the most trivial occurrences and situations their noble and original meaning.  It needs to restore them to the service of the Kingdom of God, to spiritualize them, turning them into a means and an occasion for a continuous meeting with Jesus Christ....We can, therefore, rightfully speak of a Christian materialism, which is boldly opposed to that materialism which is blind to the spirit."

          These revolutionary ideas of St. Josemaria have helped millions of souls all over the world to find meaning in their daily, ordinary tasks and situations.  In celebrating the tenth anniversary of the canonization of this great saint, we can join the Prelate of Opus Dei, Bishop Javier Echevarria, in giving thanks to God and giving homage to the "saint of ordinary life."  In his Letter for October 2012, the Prelate of Opus Dei wrote:  "...Let us give thanks to God with our whole heart for his immense goodness, and also for St. Josemaria's heroic fidelity.  'His life and message,' proclaimed Blessed John Paul II ten years ago, 'have taught countless Christian faithful, particularly lay people, in the most varied professions, to transform their ordinary work into prayer, service of others, and a path towards holiness.'  Therefore, as that great Pontiff added, he may rightly be called 'the saint of ordinary life.' "For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.