– Fr Leonard E Dollentas
Twice, I have visited the Basilica of Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, in Spain. The first was with a group of pilgrims, and it was brief with just few souvenir photos at the sight. The second was last year with a small group of Filipino priests on a convention in Spain. On our way back to the Philippines after the convention, we decided for a short trip to Barcelona. This gave me ample time to admire the extraordinary pinnacles and pillars, stained glass and soaring tree-like structures of this incredible, beautifully endowed house of God. After its completion, the Sagrada Família will be the world’s tallest church, soaring 560-ft (170-m) above Barcelona. Indeed, contemplating the elegance of Sagrada Familia was an overwhelming and definitely a “wow” moment for me.
GAUDI’S LIFE AND DEVOTION TO HIS WORK
The present grandeur of Sagrada Familia was conceived by Antoni Gaudi, a famous Catalan architect who was born in Reus, Catalonia, Spain in 1852. Gaudi was not only known for being a respectable architect, he was also a very devout Catholic. Pope Benedict described Gaudi’s life, in his homily during the consecration of Sagrada Familia on November 7, 2010, as one “lived in dignity and absolute austerity.” He recalled how much he had been moved by Gaudi’s confidence when “in the face of so many difficulties he was filled with trust in Divine Providence and would exclaim, “St Joseph will finish this church.”
Gaudi was appointed the lead architect of Sagrada Familia in 1883, after its original architect Francisco de Paula resigned. He redesigned the church entirely according to his own creativity and his passions in life: Catalan culture, nature, and religion. Presently, the construction of the Sagrada Familia is paid for entirely by private donations, of tickets to the tourists and pilgrims who visit it and groups of devotees organized and motivated by faith. Indeed, if faith could move mountains, it could build Gaudí’s basilica.
Gaudi shown that his work was not simply the compartmentalized professional exercise of his skills but integrated into his life as a devout Catholic. This was apparent in his life of prayer and practice of charity. He was admired for his devotion to the daily Mass, regular confession and his love for the poor. He believed that “the poor must always find a welcome in the Church, which is an expression of Christian charity.” The school he had built for the children of the laborers who built the Sagrada Familia is more evidence of his caring for the poor.
PIETY AND HIS WAY TO SANCTITY
Gaudi became increasingly religious as he became older. His devotion to daily Mass and prayer became more intense reflections of his piety. His mortification became exceedingly venerable yet more alarming to his waning health. He avoided meat and alcohol, having only lettuce dipped in milk for a typical lunch. He gave up all other works in 1914 to devout all his time and his fading energy to the Sagrada Familia. He resolved to live a life of simplicity wearing only shabby and ragged clothing, a life of solidarity with the poor Christ. His dedication of the last years of his life to the Sagrada Familia or the “Cathedral of the Poor” as it was commonly known, was exceedingly venerable. He resorted even to receiving alms in order to continue its construction.
HIS DEATH AND CAUSE FOR BEATIFICATION
On June 7, 1926 he was taking his daily walk to the St Philip Neri church for his prayers and confession, Gaudí was hit by a tram. The people who witnessed the accident thought he was a beggar because of his unkempt appearance and having no identification in his pocket. He lost consciousness, and no one ever bothered taking him to the hospital. A public servant eventually took the skinny, old and injured Gaudí to the hospital, where he got only the rudimentary attention that a poor person would receive.
He was recognized the next day by the priest at the Sagrada Família, but it was too late – he died two days later, on June 10, 1926. He was 73 and spent over 40 years working at the Sagrada Familia. The residents of Barcelona mourned his death, grateful to “God’s Architect.” He was laid to rest in the crypt of the Sagrada Família, underneath his unfinished colossal and stunning sanctuary. The cause for his beatification was opened officially in Rome in 2003.
GOD’S CALL TO HOLINESS IS FOR EVERYONE
When we lose our focus on what is essential, it is likely that we will fail to realize that there is a path for every Christian to be holy. Gaudi remained focused on his journey to holiness. St Josemaria, the founder of Opus Dei said: “We have come to say that sanctity is not for a privileged few, that our Lord calls every one of us, that he expects love from everyone no matter where they are, whatever might be their state in life, their profession, or their position. Ordinary everyday life, with nothing showy about it, can be a means of sanctity. It is not necessary to abandon one’s state in the world to seek God (unless one is called to a religious life), for every path of life can be the occasion of an encounter with Christ.” (Letter 24 March 1930, no.1)
Monsignor Fernando Ocariz, the present Prelate of Opus Dei said that sanctifying work, as St Josemaria understood it means “making one’s work a real offering to God” and this implies two things: 1) “seeking to do work well, because if I truly believe this act is an offering to God, it would be absurd not to do it well “; and 2) “having the correct intention to seek to serve God and others through this particular work.” (J. L. Allen, Jr. Opus Dei, published by Doubleday, p. 79) This is an invitation for everyone to discover a hidden treasure in small things accomplished with love and perfection. One must become a saint in and through the fulfilling of one’s service to society, service to one’s neighbor, service to family and in one’s professional work. Thus, St Josemaria’s famous exhortation is: “sanctify work, sanctify oneself in work, and sanctify others through work.”
COMPLETION OF GAUDI’S MAGNIFICENT WORK
Gaudi’s work, Sagrada Familia, is expected to be completed in 2026, in time for the 100th anniversary of “Gods Architect’s” death. I do not think that there could be a more fitting tribute to the man than to see the basilica, to which he devoted 43 years of his life working with all devotion and efficiency, to finally come to its completion. It would be another chance to visit the Basilica of Sagrada Familia one more time.