Adapted by Eric Valles
from “OPUS DEI, In Everyday Life” by Michael Pakaluk and Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis
At a Creative Arts Program plenary session, a Singapore writer who used to teach at the Catholic Junior College, Christine Lim Su Chen,
said that, as a writer, she is obliged to write religiously for a set number of hours everyday. This serves as practice and
routine that conditions her to write. She is not alone in this regard. The unofficial Singapore poet laureate Edwin Thumboo also starts working early in the morning
daily after reading the Bible. Such a schedule imposes limits on these writers. At the same time, it liberates them from other
concerns in order to be faithful to their craft. We could have similar signposts that bind us to God in our striving for sanctity.
These could be the norms of piety in a plan of life.
The norms are standards set for our union with God. They are also encounters with the fullness of revelation who is
Jesus Christ. St. Josemaria Escriva referred to them as expressions of “Christ[‘s wish] to become incarnate in
our things, to vivify from within even our most insignificant actions” (Christ Is Passing by, no. 174). Our Lord constantly
showed his apostles how to do this: He “prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling
down upon the ground” (John 17:1-2). “Even then he repeatedly gives the same advice to his disciples: Watch and
pray” (John 17: 6-19). The norms of piety are reliable lights in moments of darkness and uncertainty: “Truly,
truly, I say to you, if you ask anything of the Father, he will give it to you in my name. Hitherto you have asked nothing
in my name; ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:23-24). They are also a steady guide toward
discernment of a vocation. One decides to live a "plan of life," as it is called. This includes certain daily spiritual practices
and acts, or "norms of piety," habits that keep one’s love and fervor strong.
The norms are woven into the fabric of our daily activities. We make a morning offering after stumbling out of bed
and recite "Serviam!" echoing St. Michael's pledge of allegiance to God,in contrast to Satan's "I will not serve." It reminds
us that we are called to serve God, the Church and our fellowman. Let us recall a saying of a wise, holy man: "If you wish
to become a saint, first of all start rising early." King David, Lot and other biblical figures
fell into sin for lingering in bed.
St. Josemaria recommended other norms of piety:
A few minutes of mental prayer, Holy Mass –daily, if you can manage it – and frequent Communion; regular
recourse to the Holy Sacrament of Forgiveness – even though your conscience does not accuse you of mortal sin; visiting
Jesus in the tabernacle; praying and contemplating the mysteries of the Holy Rosary, and so many other marvelous devotions
you know and can learn (Friends of God, no. 149).
Some married members of Opus Dei do the New Testament and spiritual readings soon after waking up. They do so for 15
minutes. Through reading the New Testament, they hope to become intimately familiar with all the details of Christ's life,
so that they can have an almost intuitive sense of how to imitate him in the ordinary circumstances of life. St. Josemaria
wrote in The Way, "May your behavior and your conversation be such that everyone
who sees or hears you can say: This man reads the life of Jesus Christ" (n. 2).
Mental prayer is a powerful means of union with the divine. It can contribute to the renewal of the Church, and lead
to a great desire for apostolate. St. Josemaria wrote: "First, prayer; then, atonement in the third place-very much 'in the
third place'-action" (The Way, n. 82). Without prayer we would be mere activists like some Catholic groups in Spain before the civil war. Not all of them persevered.
That the norms of piety are effective is affirmed by the great spiritual authors. Thomas a Kempis in Imitation of Christ, for instance, wrote:
Progress means a program; with the best will in the world, it is an anxious business, and if the man who has a firm
resolve often fails to keep it, what of the man who seldom or never makes any fixed resolution at all? … That is why
holy people, when they make a resolution, depend more on God’s grace than on any wisdom of their own; in all their decisions,
it is the grace of God that gives them confidence. They know that “man proposes and God disposes;” the course
of a man’s life is not what he makes it.
The norms of piety are like the act of tilling the soil. One would still need to plant the seeds of grace to
make that soil fruitful.
This plan of life ought to be compatible with our professional work and our other obligations, even rest and recreation.
Michael Pakaluk, an American supernumerary member of Opus Dei, writes in his blog:
In the evenings, when my wife comes back from her meetings, or I from
mine, we spend time together over a cup of tea, talking about the
day. Naturally, we especially like to swap stories about funny
the children said
or did. Or, if we need to make a decision about the
household, this is the time we'll talk it over. Before bedtime we
each make a general examination of conscience, which should be
for any Christian. And so my day comes to a
close. It was a fairly ordinary day-nothing especially earthshaking
or unusual. Yet, for most of us, this is the stuff of sanctity.
The plan of life is demanding, but it is not a straitjacket. There could be variations when circumstances call for
this. The norms of piety are for fostering devotion—i.e., love of God. They are like the flowers that a man in love
gives to his sweetheart. This effort imbues our work, our family time and rest with supernatural sense. As such, the norms
prevent any waste of time. “If you have time on your hands, think again a little. It’s quite likely that you have
become lukewarm” (Friends of God, no. 42).
Perseverance in fulfilling the norms of piety in the plan of life prevents us from giving in to depression or dissipation.
It keeps us fighting no matter how difficult our situation may be. This was what kept Cardinal Francis Van Thuan going during
his 13 years of imprisonment under vehemently Communist Vietnam. He celebrated mass and even taught his guards holy hymns.
Whenever he would hear the guards sing “Alma Redemptoris Mater” or some other hymn, Cardinal Van Thuan would remember
to say his prayers. He kept the faith for a now vibrant Catholic community.
The struggle to fulfill faithfully the norms of piety will protect us against temptations. Thomas a Kempis writes:
Those billows of rage will soon calm down and grace will return to soothe your smarting feelings. I live in readiness
to help you – it is your Lord telling you this –in readiness to comfort you more than I have before; all you have
to do is to trust and call on me with devotion.