How did you become a priest?
My mother was Catholic; my father was a nominal Lutheran -- he didn't really practice. But my mother had a strong faith. People thought I might become a priest. I was an altar boy, so people said they could see me in a Roman collar. That was all very nice, but I had no intention of doing that. I wanted to study math. I went away to college, to Harvard. When I was there, I encountered Opus Dei, and I liked this idea of seeking God in the midst of the world. After college, I applied to business school and got in, but I had the opportunity to go to Europe for a couple years. There, I met St. Josemaria, who was not St. Josemaria -- he was Monsignor Escriva at that time. I stayed on, and I decided to do a doctorate in theology. I was finishing my thesis in Spain, and I was a layman who headed a university residence for guys. I dealt with their problems and heartbreaks, and that pushed me more toward a deeper sense of pastoral work. Monsignor Escriva asked me if I would be willing to be a priest. I was ordained in Madrid in the summer of 1973.
What was it like to meet a saint in the flesh?
It was a moving experience. People ask now that he's been canonized, since I lived around him for a couple years, "Did you ever think of him being a saint?" We always think of saints as ancient. There are a few saints in modern times, but I never thought it could be anyone I'd lived near. But St. Josemaria's love for God and his zeal for souls and just his good humor and his kind of earthiness were things that very much impressed me.
Tell me more about the Catholic Information Center.
Some people call this an oasis, a bunker. I like to think of it as a beachhead -- a launching pad to help people strengthen their spiritual life and their understanding of the teachings of the Church, particularly the Church's teachings on Catholic social doctrine, which is not about revelation or Scripture or inspirations from God, so much as 20 centuries of the experience of living according to a principled anthropology. In the early Church, following Christ was called "the Way." It was not so much the group as the lifestyle and what they were trying to do -- a moral life, the vision, the cheerfulness, the optimism. And so what we're trying to do at the CIC is help get those tools of Catholic social doctrine into the hands and heads and hearts of the young professional crowd in Washington.
Opus Dei has faced controversy; some have called it secretive. What is it really about?
It's part of the church. It was begun in 1928 by St. Josemaria. The vision that he had on Oct. 2, 1928, was that everyone is called to holiness, and the majority of those people are called to holiness right where they are. God doesn't take them out of the world to become a priest or a monk or a nun. Up to that time, really, for almost 15 centuries, the world was looked upon as being at best a distraction. He saw that, no, the world came out of God's hands good. We've scarred it, but that doesn't mean it's a bad place. Opus Dei essentially gives people the means to build spiritual direction, helps the spiritual life and the professional persona, so that they can find our Lord in the midst of where they are, have a solid life, be real loving for their fellows.
At your core, what is one of your defining beliefs?
That I am a beloved son of God. God is my father, who really has my best interests at heart.
- Liz Essley
- Liz Essley