Department store magnate Harry Selfridge said, “There’s no fun like work,” but probably most people would disagree.  The daily monastic routine can help a monk appreciate the daily secular treadmill of a married man who gets up, shaves, showers, gets dressed, and goes off to a job he once thought he was just the man cut out for all time to do, only to see it lose its lustre.

To keep an even keel, he needs to understand that it is not for the lustre that he is doing his job.  Rather, it is for his wife, his kids, his fellow employees, his customers or clients.  Not in the sense of a workaholic’s lie, “I’m only doing this for you, dear,” but because life is good when we forget ourselves and do our best to do good for others.

Yet, notice that word forget:  “Living for others” can become another lie, using others to stroke one’s own ego.  Like a good parent, any good provider or mentor must be preparing other people to stand on their own two feet.  Some people, while thinking they are being pastoral and helpful, need to be needed and thus become meddlesome.  Sometimes they need reminding to get over their self-importance.

Providentially, Lent gives an opportunity for considering one’s own self-deceit and self-importance.  Whatever one’s calling, the honeymoon lustre may long ago have faded away, and it can be easy to lose perspective, like looking into a mirror borrowed from a fun house.  As something similar to a set of corrective lenses, Lent is a good time for reviewing what has been called the Little Way.

While the term originated with Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, the concept can he found also in her older contemporary, Saint Conrad of Parzham.  Unfortunately, Saint Conrad, a Capuchin lay brother in Bavaria, left almost no writings.  He distilled his spirituality into the words, “The cross is my book.”  A worthy sentiment, but sparse fare for meditation over forty days, and for some people, each attempt to read Saint Thérèse’s famous autobiography has been like trying to drink a glass of maple syrup.

Another approach to the Little Way is through a book simply called The Way.  First published in Spanish in 1934, and now translated into more than forty languages, it contains 999 sections, each consisting of a sentence or short paragraph, by Saint Josemaría Escrivá.

In October, 1928, in Madrid he had a vision in which he saw the Catholic phenomenon since known as Opus Dei, God’s Work.  From the first, Opus Dei has been controversial, but here a summary by John L. Allen, Jr., from his book, Opus Dei (2005), will suffice.  As Allen put it, for someone associated with Opus Dei, “holiness is not something to be achieved in the first place through prayer and spiritual discipline, but rather through the mundane details of everyday work.”

With that angle on the Little Way in mind, four aphorisms from The Way deserve special attention.  Here, paraphrase is intentional, hoping the reader will seek out the book itself.  In section 590, Escrivá advises not to be a gilded weather vane glittering atop a building.  Even though it can be seen by all, it adds nothing to the stability of the structure.  Better instead to be a foundation stone, hidden from view but supporting everything.

In section 823, he points out that a large building has been put together brick by brick, with bag after bag of cement.  A vast edifice made up of little things, one by one.  Each brick and each bit of cement might seem unimportant, but each one has its place.

In section 830, he acknowledges that one might simply be a bolt in a big machine.  However, he makes us aware that a bolt that is weak or loose or out of place can wreck and ruin the whole apparatus.  Maybe one had aspired to be something more elegant than a bolt, but significance outweighs elegance.

In section 998, he draws our attention to a donkey yoked to a waterwheel.  Every day the donkey goes round and round, turning the wheel.  An outwardly dull life, but without it, there would be no water to bring life to gardens and orchards.

In 2006, the movie adaptation of the novel The Da Vinci Code gave visual expression to that story’s sinister view of Opus Dei, but in 2011, the film There Be Dragons presented Opus Dei and its founder in a more positive light.  While members of Opus Dei and people sympathetic to it awaited There Be Dragons with strong anticipation, critics were underwhelmed.  For instance, Bob Hoover, a critic for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, said it “impresses without inspiring.”  Likewise, Steven D. Greydanus, film critic in the National Catholic Register, conceded, “It’s not unwatchable.”

If nothing else, just as the 1966 film of A Man for All Seasons forever defined for many people the person of Saint Thomas More, There Be Dragons has given an enduring dramatic version of Saint Josemaría Escrivá.  Opus Dei’s founder was portrayed by Charlie Cox, an English actor adept at complex characters.  For example, his previous role was as a young duke in need of a wife so he can sire an heir, but he has been on romantic and intimate terms with a footman at Downton Abbey.  As Josemaría Escrivá, Cox conveyed a range from a hot-headed seminarian given to coarse language to an energetic young priest with time for everyone, even in the midst of a civil war.

Despite the film’s fairly tedious subplot of a fictional estranged friend of Josemaría Escrivá, it does vividly depict Escrivá’s vision that led to Opus Dei.  Men and women from all walks of life join him in seeing Jesus working alone in Joseph’s carpenter shop.  Whether a brick, a bolt, or a donkey, everyone and everything can be an instrument of, and every work can be an occasion for, God’s grace.

When a Spanish bishop expresses doubts about this new vision, suggesting that it might be a kind of Protestantism, Cox’s Escrivá smiles, “but Jesus spent most of His life working in a shop.”  There he puts his finger on the essence of Christianity’s Little Way, the ordinary daily tasks in an obscure workshop in first-century Nazareth.  For any Christian, that’s not a bad place to spend at least a Lent.