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The story of an exercise-book

Dalia, Lithuania.

September 17, 2013

Tags: The Way, Friends of God, Year of Faith
“How many ways are there to God?” “As many as there are people.” (Joseph Ratzinger, Salt of the Earth, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1997, p. 32).

As a teenager I discovered St Josemaria’s message about holiness in the middle of the world. But years later, God made me see it still more clearly. I grew up in Alytus, a small town surrounded by forests and lakes, in the Dzukija region in south-west Lithuania. I have a sister and a twin brother. Ever since we were little my mother and grandmother have taken care to teach us the faith, and in spite of the difficulties they made sure we could get to Mass every Sunday. This meant a 3-kilometer walk to catch a bus for another 17 kilometers. It was in the Soviet era, when the regime persecuted believers, and publishing or reading religious books was forbidden. In spite of all that, some people risked their lives to keep the Faith alive. I remember friends of my mother coming to our house from time to time with spiritual books and prayer-books, printed clandestinely or copied out by hand. We kept them just long enough to read them.

Some time between 1982 and 1985, someone brought us a book containing points from St Josemaria’s book The Way in Lithuanian. We had completely forgotten about it until, last summer, while sorting out my mother’s things, I happened to find an exercise-book where my sister Rima had written a brief note about the author and had copied points 437 to 699 of The Way. It made me immensely happy to re-read those ideas, which are now so familiar to me and which I love so much. During those years we knew nothing about Opus Dei; we didn’t know who Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer was, but in some way he became one of the family. Indeed, my mother always reminds us how, in those difficult Communist years, she was quite clear that each person is called to holiness.

Years later, I met Opus Dei. I was living in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, and it was through my niece Justina that I first went to an Opus Dei center. I remember how happy, affectionate and welcoming the people there were, and what an impression it made on me to see people who were really living by the Christian faith they professed. But I was up to my eyes in work and was also studying for a further qualification, and I didn’t attend the Center regularly.
Cover of the exercise-book in which, during the Communist era, many points from <i>The Way</i> had been copied out. After the author’s name, title, and publication details, comes the note: “The author was born in Spain in 1902”.
Cover of the exercise-book in which, during the Communist era, many points from The Way had been copied out. After the author’s name, title, and publication details, comes the note: “The author was born in Spain in 1902”.

Shortly after that my 15-year-old nephew was diagnosed with leukemia. It was a terrible shock to all of us. We all clubbed together to get him seen by top specialists. We also had recourse to supernatural means: very many people were praying for him to be cured. A few days before June 26, 2009, the doctors reported that the leukemia had disappeared, and he could lead a normal life.

I think that God used those circumstances to shake me up, and I decided to go back to the Christian formational activities in the Opus Dei center.

The story, however, doesn’t end there. I was, and still am, very grateful for everything I am receiving, and I wanted lots more people to find out about St Josemaria and his life and message. Soon we began making regular trips to my hometown, Alytus, and organized the first activity there. I suggested to some friends that we could meet up once a month to explore topics related to the faith and friendship more deeply together. They liked the idea and we agreed to begin the following month. This time I took a friend with me (also called Dalia) who is an actress. I prepared a commentary on a homily from Friends of God, and Dalia thought of another text she could read. We hired a small meeting-room and 13 people turned up – those who’d come the month before, and friends of theirs. They were extremely interested and asked us to talk about the Christian virtues.

We also started spiritual days of recollection once a month. The first was held in June, in the church of the Guardian Angels. As the parish priest had announced it the Sunday before, more people came. We took several books by St Josemaria. They disappeared in a flash, and we promised to come with more supplies next time. One of the women who came, Grazina, told us that she’d had a prayer-card of Blessed Josemaria (as he was then) ever since she was 10 and often prayed through his intercession, though she knew nothing else about him.

In this Year of Faith we have been giving a series of classes about the truths of the Creed. I am amazed at the fruitfulness of the seed sown by St Josemaria’s words, discovered in an exercise-book 30 years ago.

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