Peculiar Holy Work

Back in October of 1928 a Spanish priest named Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer founded a group known formally as The Prelature of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei.  Monsignor Escriva alleged that while on retreat in Madrid the bells of a nearby church began to peal and suddenly God made him see Opus Dei in a vision.

Since that time Escriva’s “path of sanctity” has garnered considerable controversy with its alleged elitism and misogyny, and particularly in its apparent right-leaning politics which the Francois Government of Spain approved while in power.  Escriva’s group had grown rapidly, spreading from Spain into other European countries—especially fascist-style governments.  And through the last decade of the twentieth century and first decade of the twenty-first its influence has infiltrated Latin America and the United States.

Recent studies have shown that there are  more than 3000 Opus Dei members in the United States, with prime concentrations in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Florida, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri, Colorado, Arizona, Texas and California.  Their centers are commonly situated near large college campuses, which makes it convenient for attracting new members.  But Opus Dei insists that they do not actively recruit or indulge in proselytism; they simply present themselves as a “distinct brand of spirituality.”  Yeah.

In a democratic culture such as in the United States, it is recognized that groups that operate under a shield of secrecy are interested only in their own advantages and welfare, not society in general.  So  it is more than a bit distrubing when Opus Dei members continually sidestep any efforts from the curious to get straightforward answers regarding their practices and corporate activities.  This, of course, is denied, but in 1995, for example, when a journalist sought a copy of Opus Dei’s constitution and statutes he was give a copy written in technical church Latin.  That’s the approved way of  “doing God’s work” apparently. 

The claim is that Opus Dei is a lay organization, but the strong emphasis on “commitments,” obedience and hierarchy seem more like the poorly disguised replication of clerical regimentation.  Indeed, male “numeraries” are encouraged to consider ordination to priesthood.  Women numeraries, on the other hand, are expected to devote themselves to domestic duties such as cleaning the men’s centers and cooking for them.  It’s all according to Paul, the self-appointed apostle to Jesus, who said that  it pleased God for women to be subservient to men.  Thus female members are embraced as “family” to make their work more appealing.

As in typical cults, those who take up commitment to Opus Dei—the numeraries—are expected to turn over their income  from which is doled out a stipend  for personal items.  For this favor they are expected to follow a daily routine that includes Mass, personal prayer, devotional readings, and in some cases physical mortification.  The cult-like behavior is seen also in isolation of members from former friends, and even a member’s incoming and outgoing personal mail is monitored.  Personality changes are the norm; generally the change is in the person becoming more  secretive and withdrawing from their immediate family.  The dedicated who endure this rationalize it away by saying, “You can’t become a saint alone.”

In 1982, God’s top representative in the Vatican granted Opus Dei the canonical status of  “personal prelature,” which allowed it juridical operation much like Catholic religious orders without regard for geographic limits.  That pope-recognized status, however, makes it somewhat questionable how the organization can legitimately claim to be a lay organization.

Add to this that Escriva who died in 1975 got rushed into “sainthood” in 1992—a mere seventeen years later!  There was open questioning by some at this unprecedented move and considerable distrust arose when numerous  persons were prevented from testifying at church tribunals that were deliberating on Escriva’s life.  Kept smothered were little character frailties such as having a nasty temper and what some had said were his “pro-Nazi tendencies.”

As mentioned earlier, there are more than 3000 Opus Dei centers in the United States and they sponsor such  noble sounding activities as outreach programs for the poor, retreat houses, programs for married Catholics, and educational programs for children.  On the other hand, the organization keeps such a secretive approach that even though Opus Dei is active in nearly every large archdiocese in the nation, the Catholic leadership routinely declares that they have no knowledge or contact with them!

Strange spirituality.  Makes one wonder, should we be concerned about the imbalance in the U.S. Supreme Court Justices where today six of the nine are Catholic?

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