Q: Dear Dan, I am contemplating a vocation to Opus Dei. For years, I have been hearing a call. I am afraid however, when I read negative info on websites. I feel torn apart. Can you guide me, provide some insight?
A: Dear Friend, your concerns are valid. To set the stage for my comments I need to state that I am not a member or in any way formally or informally affiliated with Opus Dei. However, I have engaged with an Opus Dei priest who wrote the forward for my book Navigating the Interior Life, I have attended one Opus Dei meeting, and I have read quite a bit on Opus Dei, including the web site you reference (though I have not provided the link because I believe the authors of the site are guilty of calumny and detraction). I also have a few good friends who are in some form of relationship with Opus Dei.
Lets take a look at a few of the accusations against Opus Dei.
Corporal Mortification: This is listed on one site as the top bullet point reflecting problematic issues with Opus Dei. Beyond the tactic of putting this item forward first, the complaint about this issue is, on its face, absurd. Why, because they don’t really practice corporal mortification? Actually, no, they do. It is because in the teaching and tradition of the Church, there is nothing wrong with corporal mortification as long as it is undertaken with free will and under the guidance of a spiritual director. So, why all the shouting about it? Simply put, these people reject the traditions of the Church. If you are not familiar with the tradition and practice, Fr. Barron has provided a very helpful video discussing the corporal mortification practiced by Pope John Paul II.
Aggressive Recruitment: Here’s a quote the opponents of Opus Dei offer as problematic, “University residences, universities, publishing houses. . . are these ends? No, and what is the end? . . . to promote in the world the greatest possible number of souls dedicated to God in Opus Dei…”(Founder of Opus Dei, Cronica, v, 1963)”.
The first point is that they deceptively omitted St. Jose Maria Escriva’s name and substituted “Founder of Opus Dei.” Why would they do this? Because it militates against their cause. The founder of Opus Dei is a saint. He has undergone extreme scrutiny and found to be holy enough to be named a saint. Do they reject the Church’s work and decision on this matter? I think the answer is obvious.
Aggressive Recruitment Continued: So, they cite the quote provided above in their opening paragraph outlining the problem of recruitment. Let’s cut to the essence of the quote. They are concerned that St. Escriva is encouraging recruitment of souls to God within the Church approved framework of Opus Dei! Oh the horror! More people to God in a Church approved institution!? This must be stopped! Forgive me, I can’t hold back the sarcasm because this is simply juvenile The Church teaches that all of us are called to this “aggressive recruitment” – it is called “evangelism.” Jesus, in Luke chapter fourteen tells us to, “Go out to the highways and hedges, and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.” Is it ok to make friends with folks in order to “compel” them to “come in”? Is there a better way? Is it problematic to make friends with people to help them to heaven? Are you kidding me?
“Alienation” from Families: The complaints here are simply painful reflections of the normal process of separation from family for those entering religious life. Coupled with the challenges of their suffering, these complaining parents either are not committed to the Church or are ignorant of Church teachings on religious life. I don’t mean to belittle their struggles but the implications are clear.
In the history of the Church, religious are always called out of their families and into the new family of their charisms. Many orders have fallen out of the rigor of this practice as they stray from the parameters established by the Church and their founders. Unfortunately, many modern witnesses of this trend assume that this laxity is the healthy norm when it is not. They then compare the practices of Opus Dei to these wayward organizations and coupled with the pain of losing their children to the work of God, they feel compelled to cry foul. The real foul here is the failure of the traditional orders to maintain their fervency for Christ.
Is Opus Dei Beyond Reproach?
All that said, is Opus Dei a perfect institution beyond reproach of any criticism? No, and no such institution exists. Are they guilty of any of the negative criticism they receive? I am sure they are. Is the problem endemic to the organization? I have not seen it and neither has the Holy See. Thus, the constitutions of the organization are valid and Church approved and supported.
Furthermore, if I claim to be a magisterium faithful Catholic, I need to be supportive of the Holy See and the organizations they approve. Does this mean I cannot be critical? Of course not. However, we need to think with the Church in these matters, not criticize organizations on the basis of practices that are actually approved by the Church. Otherwise, we will find ourselves opposing the Church itself and maybe Christ Himself.
My bottom line conclusion? You should pursue a vocation within Opus Dei with all your heart. Allow the Lord to lead you and enjoy the journey. If you find the charism does not match your call, pursue others with all your heart and enjoy the journey!
I would like to open the comboxes to those of you who have testimonies of good experiences within Opus Dei and other similar organizations that are faithful to the magisterium of the Church. How have they helped you? How have you been blessed by your involvement? I am not interested in reiterations of the calumny, detraction, or gossip. If you have complaints, avoid these grave sins and take your concerns to those who have the proper authority and perspective to address them. Again – positive comments only please.