St Josep Manyanet y Vives

Founder of the Sons and the Missionary Daughters of the Holy Family, (entered heaven on this day, 1901)

Dear Vivian,

I can’t help thinking that your “obsession”, as you call it, is something more.  Technically speaking, “obsessions” are bad things.  Someone who is obsessed with golf, for instance, pours an unreasonable amount of time and money and attention into golf – playing it, reading about it, watching it, thinking about, etc… The operative term, however, is “unreasonable.”  That means not-in-accordance-with-reason.  Reason tells us that most people have other duties and responsibilities in life: honoring God, supporting a family, developing one’s talents, serving the Church.  An obsession with golf, except for a professional golfer who isn’t married, would interfere with those other duties and responsibilities, putting the person’s life out of balance, and maybe even endangering their soul.  Golf becomes their idol.

Your “obsession” is different.  It seems much more reasonable.  You want to educate poor children in the Third World.  You think about them all the time, you raise money for schools, you go there as a volunteer in the summer, you recruit other volunteers… Could it be, my fervent young niece, that God has placed this “obsession” on your heart and wants you to build his Kingdom by following through with it?  He does that sometimes, you know.  Take today’s saint, for instance.

Josep was a normal kid.  Born into a normal Spanish family.  Went to normal school, wanted to be a priest, entered the seminary, got ordained, was assigned to work as his bishop’s assistant… All normal, on the outside, just like you.  But through the years an “obsession” grew within him.  His whole spiritual life was centered on a deep devotion to the Holy Family – to Jesus, Mary and Joseph.  He considered the Nazareth chapter in our Lord’s life to be much more significant than others thought.  And so he asked permission from his bishop to start a religious congregation devoted to assimilating, living out, and spreading a spirituality based on the virtues and values revealed by the Holy Family: humility, simplicity, silence, service, prayer, hard work, generosity, poverty… He ended up founding two religious communities dedicated to that idea, one for men and one for women, and he spent his life tirelessly caring for the growth and spread of those communities, writing, preaching, and traveling in order to fan the flames that the Holy Spirit had ignited.  He even initiated the construction of the famous (and gorgeous) Basilica of the Holy Family in Barcelona, designed by the renowned architect Antonio Gaudi (it’s still not finished, by the way, but it is already an architectural and artistic marvel, embodying in stone the ideals of the Holy Family).

I think it’s more than a coincidence that God inspired this man with such a vision at the start of the “modern” era, when the institution of the family was on the verge of coming under an attack more severe than any since ancient Roman times.  Could it be that your “obsession” is also inspired by the Holy Spirit?  There are ways to tell.  We can keep writing back and forth about it, but it would be easier if you were to talk about it with a wise and trustworthy spiritual director.  In the meantime, count on my prayers.

Your devoted uncle,


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