3 Tips from St. Josemaría on How to Grow Holier at Holiday Family Gatherings

The great 20th-century saint urges Catholics to ‘reflect the Gospel’s light’ in a darkened world.

St. Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer in 1966
St. Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer in 1966 (photo: Opus Dei Communications Office / Wikimedia Commons)

Thanksgiving is the unofficial kick-off to the holiday season. Many of us will be opening our homes to friends and relatives. Emotions run high with excitement and … anxiety!

That’s right — anxiety. Because families are comprised of all sorts of people, and some of them are difficult, with prickly personalities. Although you’re looking forward to gathering with loved ones on the holidays you may find yourself thinking: “If only that one person who aggravates me the most would just decline the invitation — then all would be perfect!”

You think, “That person bothers me!” 

When you find yourself in this situation, reach for the wise words of St. Josemaría Escrivá — the “saint of ordinary life.”

He offers this advice: “Don’t say, ‘That person bothers me.’ Think, ‘That person sanctifies me.’” 

St. Josemaría was a Spanish priest who (at the young age of 26) had the divine inspiration to found Opus Dei, which means “Work of God” in Latin. Opus Dei is a personal prelature of the Catholic Church. Its mission is to “spread the Christian message that every person is called to holiness and that every honest work can be sanctified.”

St. Josemaría was witty, yet humble. He fervently preached that every path of life could be a path to sanctity. What’s more, we don’t have to go searching for God, “because all the paths of the earth can be the occasion for an encounter with Christ.” 

He promoted peace and urged everyone to do the same. He wanted each person to bring happiness to all they encounter and to “reflect the Gospel’s light.” 

The Spanish saint wrote several books overflowing with practical suggestions to living a Christian life and drawing closer to the Lord.

Here are 3 pieces of advice from the great saint’s book Furrow you can put into practice when gathering with your relatives this holiday season.

 

1. “Prayer is a time for holy intimacies and firm resolutions.” (457)

Before your family arrives, say a prayer. I like to say an Our Father, a Hail Mary and the Come, Holy Spirit prayer every morning. Ask God for peace in your home and resolve to do your part in keeping the peace throughout the gathering. That may mean choosing to bite your tongue or deciding to engage in conversation with that one person you’d rather not talk to.  

 

2. “It’s not enough to be good; you need to show it. What would you say of a rose bush that produced only thorns?” (735) 

Show kindness to that person who gets under your skin. Does he have a favorite dessert or side dish? Find out and surprise him at the meal! You’ll make him feel special. You might even see a softer side of this person you’ve never seen before. A simple gesture like this could be the start of a new and improved relationship. 

 

3. “Practicing charity means respecting other people’s way of thinking. It means rejoicing at their road to God, without trying to make them think like you or joining you.” (757) 

You may be seeing a relative for the first time in months or even years. Perhaps she’s living a life that’s not in communion with the Faith. Your heart aches for her. Remind her how much you love her. Remind her how much she’s loved by God. But leave it at that. Don’t try to force a conversion over dinner. Instead, make the decision to pray for them regularly.

“Each person will reach God by following his own way,” says St. Josemaría. “Don’t get sidetracked in comparisons, or in wanting to know who is higher. That does not matter; what does matter is that we should all attain the end."


So this holiday season don’t hesitate to engage with those difficult loved ones you would normally try to avoid. Instead seize the opportunity to put St. Josemaría’s words into practice and receive a greater abundance of God’s sanctifying grace!

As part of Jewish-Christian dialogue, a joint concert was given on Sept. 4, 2021, in the Dohány Street Synagogue by the Solti Chamber Orchestra in Budapest. Hungary.

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