Artist Arnold Shives says B.C.’s beauty inspires him to create, but Opus Dei reminds him to do it for God. Photo submitted

Opus Dei at 90: Making life extra-ordinary

By  Agnieszka Rusk, Canadian Catholic News
  • October 29, 2018

VANCOUVER – The summits of B.C.’s Coastal Mountains and Rockies inspire longtime artist Arnold Shives.

The North Vancouver man has gone hiking and alpine climbing over many of these elevations, and finds their natural beauty inspire him to pick up a paint brush. “Nature is like another Scripture,” said Shives. “It is a path to God because it’s God’s handiwork.”

But while glaciers and forests impel him to paint, the spirituality of St. Josemaria Escriva and Opus Dei motivate him to do his best, and do it for God.

“It comes down to the notion that our work is not just an add-on,” Shives said. “Our daily activity, the work in our family, our recreational activities and our professional activities are very important.”

St. Escriva, the “saint of ordinary life,” founded Opus Dei in Madrid, Spain, in 1928 to encourage lay people to pursue holiness in everyday life. Now, as it marks its 90th birthday this month, members in B.C. are reflecting on how St. Escriva’s approach has transformed their families, jobs and lives.

Shives first encountered Opus Dei at the invitation of a priest 31 years ago and found its approach remarkably practical. 

“Whatever we are doing, we have to do as well as we can. It has great value in the sight of God if we are doing it as well as we can and with the purpose of glorifying God,” he said.

Family, work and hobbies are ways ordinary Catholics can come to a deeper love for and understanding of God and His world. “I found that unique. I hadn’t come across that kind of teaching before, at least in a concrete kind of way.”

Opus Dei stood in stark contrast to other Catholic groups that had told the landscape painter if he wanted to connect his craft with his faith he should start painting saints and angels.

Shives also discovered Opus Dei members placed importance on going to Mass and confession, “not just pleasant, pious practices,” but a way to be grounded in faith.

So, he began going to recollections at Immaculate Conception Parish in Vancouver and a few years later joined the 90,000 or so Catholics around the world in 66 countries who are Opus Dei members.

The Work (as it is also known) first landed in Canada in 1957 with a handful of priests and an aeronautical engineer arriving from Spain in Montreal. It wasn’t until 1997 that Opus Dei was established in Vancouver, where it now runs two centres for men’s and women’s faith formation events, retreats and meditations. Other Canadian cities with centres include Montreal, Toronto and Edmonton. 

In her vocation of marriage, Ida Gazzola is grateful to Opus Dei.

A mother of seven children between the ages of two and 16, Gazzola said life can be incredibly busy, but going to Mass and spending time in prayer are things she could not drop.

“If you say, ‘I’m too busy I can’t go to Mass,’ you’re really depriving yourself of the thing that was going to help you the most in your life,” she said. “The activities I go through with Opus Dei, it’s the same thing. It helps me to be a better mom.”

She attends monthly recollections and finds the moments to pray and meet other faithful married people give her strength and new ideas of how to help her children, husband and friends.

“My involvement in The Work has been profound and has shaped me,” she said. “Opus Dei is so tied in with what the Catholic Church is. It’s not anything new, it’s just living the faith.”

Gazzola is a supernumerary, the most common type of member of Opus Dei. Supernumeraries are often married, and while their priority is their family, they make themselves available to serve Opus Dei by running fundraisers, boys’ and girls’ clubs or prayer groups.

“It’s a vocation. It’s not something you join because you feel like it. It’s more divine and profound than that,” said Gazzola. 

Opus Dei’s other members include numeraries — who are celibate, live in Opus Dei centres and commit their lives to running its programs and efforts — and assistant numeraries, who also live in centres.

Those who are not members but who participate in Opus Dei events are called “co-operators.” This gives a person from any walk of life a way to be involved.

(The B.C. Catholic)

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