"Finish at least one of your projects"

For William Keenan, Opus Dei's teachings in St Josemaría Escriva's book for meditation <em>The Way</

I first came into contact with Opus Dei when a doctor in my parish began holding monthly social gatherings for parishioners at his home. One day he invited a priest of Opus Dei to give a talk. I seem to recall, that the talk wasn’t received too well with many of the liberal Catholics at the meeting. But I found the idea of finding holiness in everyday life and ordinary work fascinating.

I was then a journalist on the Daily Express in Manchester editing and laying out the feature pages, which included the City pages, the Leader page and the William Hickey gossip pages. My working hours were from four or five in the evening until around three a.m. the following morning. If I went straight home and to bed I would often have difficulty getting to sleep. I would find myself looking at the ceiling and redesigning pages and rewriting headlines in my head.

Several times a week when we finished work we would drive to the Press Club in Albert Square for a couple of pints of beer. This would mean getting to bed about four in the morning and rising about lunch time. After lunch I would try to do some writing. Then it was time to go to the office again.

I decided I would like to know more about Opus Dei and finding holiness in work and everyday life. The doctor who had organised the meeting was not a member of Opus Dei but used to go to the monthly evenings of recollection at Greygarth Hall, the Manchester centre of Opus Dei. He said the next time he was going he would take me with him. But he was unable to make it in the next few months so I took myself off to Greygarth for an evening of recollection.

Recollection, I discovered, consisted in a priest giving two meditations followed by Benediction. Afterwards there were tea, cakes, and biscuits. After that evening of recollection what impressed me very much was not what had been said during the meditations but the happiness and cheerfulness of the people I met and chatted to over tea and biscuits. That was the reason I continued attending over the next few months.

One person I seemed to get on particularly well with was a student from the Basque country of Spain who I think was doing a doctorate in electrical engineering. One day he asked how my writing was going and I told him about a play I had just started working on. He looked a little puzzled because the previous time we spoke I had told him about a novel I was writing whose central character was a northern detective called John Marne whose ankle had been crushed by a thieves' get-away car so he would always walk with a limp.

When he asked what had happened to the John Marne novel I explained that I had decided it wasn’t working, that it was no good and that I would be better doing a play. He then produced a copy of The Way -- the book for meditations written by St Josemaría Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei -- which is now a best selling spiritual classic. He showed me Point 42 which says, “Why those variations in your character? When are you going to apply your will to something? Drop that craze for laying corner stones, and finish at least one of your projects.”

The point really went home. I kept thinking about it and realised that of my many unfinished writing projects the detective novel was the nearest to completion. So I sat down and finished it.

I sent it off convinced that it wasn’t good enough, and it was immediately accepted. This led to two other novels and a biography and about eight plays for BBC Saturday Theatre. Many times when I was three quarters through writing them, I wanted to start something else and had to struggle to put the finishing touches to each particular project.

Since then I have met many writers who, when they were three quarters through what they were working on, would decide it was no good. And I would repeat the point in The Way and get them to finish it. A good friend of mine had been commissioned by the BBC to write a television play. One day he rang me to say he couldn’t finish it. It wasn’t working, it wasn’t good. He was going to send the BBC their money back. I took him for a pint and persuaded him to keep the money and finish his play. He did and it was broadcast without need for a rewrite.

I think it only fair to say that the point in St Josemaria’s The Way has not only helped me but also many of my friends and fellow writers.

William Keenan first encountered Opus Dei in Manchester in the 1960s. He is a writer and journalist and he worked for many years on the Daily Mirror as a feature writer, television critic and investigative journalist. He has also written several detective novels and radio plays for the BBC.
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Former Irish premier John Bruton on Brexit: "Britain should pay for our border checks"

The former Taoiseach says Brexit has been interpreted as "a profoundly unfriendly act"

At Kapıkule, on the Turkish border with Bulgaria, the queue of lorries awaiting clearance to enter European Union territory can extend as long as 17km. Despite Turkey’s customs union for goods with the bloc, hauliers can spend up to 30 hours clearing a series of demanding administrative hoops. This is the nightmare keeping former Irish premier John Bruton up at night. Only this time, it's the post-Brexit border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and it's much, much worse.   

Bruton (pictured below), Taoiseach between 1994 and 1997, is an ardent pro-European and was historically so sympathetic to Britain that, while in office, he was pilloried as "John Unionist" by his rivals. But he believes, should she continue her push for a hard Brexit, that Theresa May's promise for a “seamless, frictionless border” is unattainable. 

"A good example of the sort of thing that might arise is what’s happening on the Turkish-Bulgarian border," the former leader of Ireland's centre-right Fine Gael party told me. “The situation would be more severe in Ireland, because the UK proposes to leave the customs union as well."

The outlook for Ireland looks grim – and a world away from the dynamism of the Celtic Tiger days Bruton’s coalition government helped usher in. “There will be all sorts of problems," he said. "Separate permits for truck drivers operating across two jurisdictions, people having to pay for the right to use foreign roads, and a whole range of other issues.” 

Last week, an anti-Brexit protest on the border in Killeen, County Louth, saw mock customs checks bring traffic to a near standstill. But, so far, the discussion around what the future looks like for the 260 border crossings has focused predominantly on its potential effects on Ulster’s fragile peace. Last week Bruton’s successor as Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, warned “any sort of physical border” would be “bad for the peace process”. 

Bruton does not disagree, and is concerned by what the UK’s withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights might mean for the Good Friday Agreement. But he believes the preoccupation with the legacy of violence has distracted British policymakers from the potentially devastating economic impact of Brexit. “I don’t believe that any serious thought was given to the wider impact on the economy of the two islands as a whole," he said. 

The collapse in the pound has already hit Irish exporters, for whom British sales are worth £15bn. Businesses that work across the border could yet face the crippling expense of duplicating their operations after the UK leaves the customs union and single market. This, he says, will “radically disturb” Ireland’s agriculture and food-processing industries – 55 per cent of whose products are sold to the UK. A transitional deal will "anaesthetise" people to the real impact, he says, but when it comes, it will be a more seismic change than many in London are expecting. He even believes it would be “logical” for the UK to cover the Irish government’s costs as it builds new infrastructure and employs new customs officials to deal with the new reality.

Despite his past support for Britain, the government's push for a hard Brexit has clearly tested Bruton's patience. “We’re attempting to unravel more than 40 years of joint work, joint rule-making, to create the largest multinational market in the world," he said. It is not just Bruton who is frustrated. The British decision to "tear that up", he said, "is regarded, particularly by people in Ireland, as a profoundly unfriendly act towards neighbours".

Nor does he think Leave campaigners, among them the former Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers, gave due attention to the issue during the campaign. “The assurances that were given were of the nature of: ‘Well, it’ll be alright on the night!’," he said. "As if the Brexit advocates were in a position to give any assurances on that point.” 

Indeed, some of the more blimpish elements of the British right believe Ireland, wedded to its low corporate tax rates and east-west trade, would sooner follow its neighbour out of the EU than endure the disruption. Recent polling shows they are likely mistaken: some 80 per cent of Irish voters say they would vote to remain in an EU referendum.

Irexit remains a fringe cause and Bruton believes, post-Brexit, Dublin will have no choice but to align itself more closely with the EU27. “The UK is walking away,” he said. “This shift has been imposed upon us by our neighbour. Ireland will have to do the best it can: any EU without Britain is a more difficult EU for Ireland.” 

May, he says, has exacerbated those difficulties. Her appointment of her ally James Brokenshire as secretary of state for Northern Ireland was interpreted as a sign she understood the role’s strategic importance. But Bruton doubts Ireland has figured much in her biggest decisions on Brexit: “I don’t think serious thought was given to this before her conference speech, which insisted on immigration controls and on no jurisdiction for the European Court of Justice. Those two decisions essentially removed the possibility for Ireland and Britain to work together as part of the EEA or customs union – and were not even necessitated by the referendum decision.”

There are several avenues for Britain if it wants to avert the “voluntary injury” it looks set to inflict to Ireland’s economy and its own. One, which Bruton concedes is unlikely, is staying in the single market. He dismisses as “fanciful” the suggestions that Northern Ireland alone could negotiate European Economic Area membership, while a poll on Irish reunification is "only marginally" more likely. 

The other is a variation on the Remoaners’ favourite - a second referendum should Britain look set to crash out on World Trade Organisation terms without a satisfactory deal. “I don’t think a second referendum is going to be accepted by anybody at this stage. It is going to take a number of years,” he said. “I would like to see the negotiation proceed and for the European Union to keep the option of UK membership on 2015 terms on the table. It would be the best available alternative to an agreed outcome.” 

As things stand, however, Bruton is unambiguous. Brexit means the Northern Irish border will change for the worse. “That’s just inherent in the decision the UK electorate was invited to take, and took – or rather, the UK government took in interpreting the referendum.”