Bernardo M. Villegas
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The Centrality of Jesus Christ (Part 1)

          In a pastoral letter dated February 14, 2017, the Prelate Opus Dei, Very Rev. Msgr. Fernando Ocariz, mapped out what we can call in organizational parlance the strategic plan of the Prelature of Opus Dei for the next eight years.  As in any strategic planning document covering a relatively long period of time, the Prelate reminds all of us what we can call the mission-vision statement of Opus Dei.  At the very core of this mission is to proclaim the Person of Jesus Christ to the whole world.  To quote from the Letter, “In first place is the centrality of the Person of Jesus Christ, whom we want to get to know, deal with, and love.  Putting Jesus at the center of our life means deepening in our contemplative prayer in the middle of the world, and helping others to travel along paths of contemplation.”  As we move towards the culmination of the Lenten Season which reminds the whole world of the supreme sacrifice of the God-Man Jesus Christ who gave up His life for the redemption of mankind, it is appropriate for us to reflect on what it means to put Christ at the center of lives.

         Since the only desire of Opus Dei is to serve the Church as she wants to be served, as the Founder St. Josemaria Escriva always repeated, it is appropriate for me to point out that Msgr. Ocariz was echoing in his Letter the words of Pope Francis in the Apostolic Exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel” issued at the end of the Year of Faith on November 24, 2013.  In the section entitled “Personal encounter with the saving love of Jesus,” Pope Francis underscores the very raison d’être of evangelization:  “The primary reason for evangelizing is the love of Jesus which we have received, the experience of salvation which urges us to ever greater love of him.  What kind of love would not feel the need to speak of the beloved, to point him out, to make him known?  If we do not feel an intense desire to share this love, we need to pray insistently that he will once more touch our hearts.  We need to implore his grace daily, asking him to open our cold hearts and shake up our lukewarm and superficial existence.  Standing before him with open hearts, letting him look at us, we see that gaze of love which Nathaniel glimpsed on the day when Jesus said to him:  ‘I saw you under the fig tree’ (John 1:48).  How good it is to stand before a crucifix, on our knees before the Blessed Sacrament, and simply to be in his presence!  How much good it does us when he once more touches our lives and impels us to share his new life!  What then happens is that ‘we speak of what we have seen and heard’ (I John 1:3).”

         For those of us trying to live one of the features of the spirit of Opus Dei, which is to be “contemplatives in the middle of the world,” we appreciate the reminder we have received from the Prelate of Opus Dei on the very specific manner in which we can respond to the challenge of Pope Francis quoted above, to base our whole life on the “centrality of the Person of Jesus Christ.”  Msgr. Ocariz gets down to the specifics:  “It means rediscovering with new light the anthropological and Christian value of the various ascetical means; the person in  all of his or her integrity:  intellect, will, heart, relations with others, fostering interior freedom, which leads us to do things for love; helping people to think, so that each person can discover what God is asking of them and make decisions with full personal responsibility; nourishing confidence in God’s grace, in order to be on the alert against voluntarism and sentimentalism; expressing the ideal of Christian life without confusing it with  perfectionism, and teaching people how to live with and accept their own weakness and that of others, practicing, with all its consequences, a daily attitude of abandonment to God’s will, grounded on divine filiation.”

         To obtain the maximum spiritual benefits from the Holy Week that starts on Palm Sunday, April 9, it would be useful to review some of the ascetical means to which the Prelate of Opus Dei refers.  The most important of these means is prayer, the daily attempt to get closer to the Person of Jesus Christ through what is known as mental prayer which is nothing more than the determination to spend a few minutes every day trying to converse with Him as a Friend, using our own words while talking to Him about our daily concerns.  Those who have already developed this habit can intensify this effort to “seek Christ, find Christ and love Christ” (advice given by St. Josemaria Escriva) during that fixed time daily to converse with Our Lord.  For those who still do not have the habit, this coming Holy Week could be a very good time to start.

         Our mental prayer should be complemented by the daily reading of the New Testament for as short as five minutes each time.  There is no better way to get to know Jesus than to read what we can call His autobiography, since the Gospels were written about Jesus Christ by Jesus Christ Himself, their Author being  God.  As Pope Francis wrote in “The Gospel of Joy,” “The best incentive for sharing the Gospel comes from contemplating it with love, lingering over its pages and reading it with the heart.  If we approach it in this way, its beauty will amaze and constantly excite us.  But if this is to come about, we need to recover a contemplative spirit which can help us to realize ever anew that we have been entrusted with a treasure which makes us more human and helps us to lead a new life.  There is nothing more precious which we can give to others.”  (To be continued).