In St. Josemaría Escrivá’s book The Way, we read: “One always goes to Jesus and one returns to him through Mary.” (1) The teaching is simple, and challenging. Referring to this point, Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, his successor at the head of Opus Dei, said: “I once asked our Father, many years ago: ‘I can understand that we always go to Jesus through Mary, but why did you write, and moreover in italics, that one also returns?’ ‘My son,’ our Father answered me, ‘because when a person has the misfortune of separating himself from God through sin, he goes to Mary and She takes us once more to Jesus.'” (2)
Here then we have two statements: first, “One always goes to Jesus through Mary,” then “one returns to him through her.” How so? Let us start with the first one.
We Go to Jesus Through Mary
Mary in the Life of Saint Josemaría
St. Josemaría was brought up in a family with great devotion to Mary. His mother, Maria Dolores, was named after Our Lady. (3) So were his four sisters, Carmen, Asuncion, Lolita and Rosario. (4) At the age of two, he fell seriously ill and was at the point of death. His mother prayed to the Blessed Virgin for him to recover, promising to go on a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Torreciudad if he did so. He was cured immediately. Years later, when tragically his three younger sisters died one after the other in ascending order and young Josemaría thought it would be his turn next, his mother reassured him, “Don’t worry, you have been offered to Our Lady of Torreciudad.” (5)
As a seminary student in Saragossa, he used to make daily visits to the Shrine of Our Lady of Pilar. (6) His fervor in prayer at that time earned him the nickname “Mystical Rose,” which hurt him deeply as he saw in this an element of mockery against Our Lady. (7) After ordination, he said his First Mass in El Pilar, in the chapel of Our Lady. All the time, he was asking God for light to see what He wanted of him. His prayer was accompanied by petition to Mary: Domina, ut videam! Domina, ut sit! (8) This prayer was materialized in an inscription written with a nail at the bottom of a statue of Our Lady of Pilar, in 1924. (9)
The answer came on 2 October 1928, when God made him see (that was the word he used) Opus Dei: his task was to teach men and women everywhere that God wanted them to be saints in their ordinary life. This took place on the Feast of the Holy Guardian Angels. Significantly, while not forgetting to be grateful to the Guardian Angels (for whom he always felt a great devotion), Escrivá associated this event more with Mary. It was the bells of the Church of Our Lady of the Angels, ringing out their joy on that feast, that Escrivá heard that day. He said the sound had never ceased to echo in his ears. (10)
The task God had assigned to him (not just to explain the theory of the universal call to holiness—which the Second Vatican Council was to proclaim for the whole Church thirty six years later—but to set up a institution which would put it into practice) seemed humanly impossible. Escrivá set about it with determination. Convinced of his inadequacy he went with great confidence to Our Lady. There was a little statue of the Blessed Virgin in the house where he dwelt and it became his custom to go to the statue each time he went out of the house or returned, to find strength in her. The statue became known as “The Lady of the Kisses.” (11)
Such was his trust in Mary’s help that he told the members of Opus Dei, “My children, you and I have often reflected on the fact that each step in the legal journey of the Work has been taken under the protection of the Mother of God.” (12) He also addressed her with the bold title of omnipotencia suplicante: “Mother of God, you are omnipotent in your petition.” (13)
Opus Dei received its definitive approval from the Holy See in 1950. It had suffered fierce persecution for over a decade prior to that date. This definitive approval was followed by a particularly insidious attack.