Monday, March 31, 2008

Opus Dei Opens Its Doors to Everyone

Msgr. Fernando Ocariz is the vicar general of Opus Dei. He has written a number of solid theology books, among them an excellent treatise on Christology, called the Mystery of Jesus Christ. Here is an interview that appeared in the Spanish edition of Zenit and has now been translated to English. The author is Miriam Díez i Bosch

ROME, MARCH 31, 2008 ( The doors of Opus Dei are open to everyone, says the prelature's vicar general, Monsignor Fernando Ocáriz.

ZENIT spoke to Monsignor Ocáriz for the 25th anniversary of the establishment of Opus Dei as a personal prelature -- the only one in existence at present.

He explains the relationship between this institution and the dioceses, and says that the strength of the group is simply the power that comes from the Gospel.

Q: Opus Dei was born to help laypeople in their ordinary life. Are laypeople truly a part of the prelature of Opus Dei, or is the prelature only for the relatively few priests of Opus Dei?
Monsignor Ocáriz: Opus Dei was born precisely to remind everyone, both priests and laypersons, of the universal call to holiness. As [the founder] St. Josemaría taught since 1928, the fact that this call is universal and that God calls each person, means that all upright human realities -- professional work, family and social relations -- can and should be a sanctified and sanctifying reality.

As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said when the founder of Opus Dei was canonized, the message of St. Josemaría Escrivá has helped to correct an erroneous idea of sanctity, as thought it were reserved only for the "great." Sanctity means becoming a friend of God, letting the Other act, the only one who can make this world good and joyful.

The laypeople of Opus Dei, both women and men, married or single, are an integral part of the prelature, just as much as the priests who constitute its clergy. The relationship between these sacred ministers and the lay faithful is that proper to the Church.

At the same time, each layperson also belongs to the diocese where he or she lives, just like any other Catholic. As John Paul II said on a number of occasions, referring specifically to Opus Dei, the ministerial priesthood of the clergy and the common priesthood of the lay faithful are united and linked in a unity of vocation and governance to fulfill the prelature's mission of evangelization under the guidance of its prelate.

Q: At this time Opus Dei is the only personal prelature. Do you receive inquiries from other ecclesiastical institutions that would like to become personal prelatures?

Monsignor Ocáriz: Yes, at the moment it's the only personal prelature. However, there are other ecclesiastical circumscriptions in the Church which are delimited on a personal -- and not territorial -- basis, for various pastoral needs. For instance, there are the apostolic exarchates that exist in some countries to care for faithful of Oriental Rites, the military ordinariates, and a personal apostolic administration erected a few years ago in Brazil.

Only the Holy See can establish a personal prelature. Furthermore, canon law lays down that the episcopal conferences that are involved also have to be consulted. Establishing a personal prelature is a pastoral decision, aimed at furthering the Church's mission in a world characterized by a constant movement of people. For example, in the post-synodal apostolic exhortations "Ecclesia in America" and "Ecclesia in Europa," John Paul II refers to personal prelatures as a possible solution for people in need of special pastoral attention, mentioning groups of immigrants in particular.

It is also possible, as happened with Opus Dei, that the action of the Holy Spirit inspires particular apostolic tasks, which give rise to pastoral needs that require the structure of a personal prelature.

I am not aware that Opus Dei has received any consultations from other institutions regarding the possibility of becoming a personal prelature. However, in the context of congresses, pastoral gatherings, etc., people of Opus Dei have sometimes been asked to pass on the experience the prelature has gathered over the years.

Q: What truth is there to Opus Dei's alleged independence -- autonomy, if you prefer -- stemming from the fact that juridically it is a personal prelature?

Monsignor Ocáriz: The reality is exactly the opposite. Erecting a prelature means precisely "dependence." It means placing a part of the Christian people in pastoral dependence under a member of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. It doesn't make sense to speak of independence or autonomy, since, on the contrary, Opus Dei depends on a prelate appointed by the Roman Pontiff.

The prelate and his vicars exercise ecclesiastical power in common with the other pastors, under the supreme authority of the Pope, in accord with the universal law of the Church and the particular law contained in the statutes which the Holy See has established for the prelature.

I think that the experience of the presence of Opus Dei in so many dioceses all over the world should contribute to an understanding, even from a practical point of view, that the personal prelatures introduced by the Second Vatican Council do not harm the unity of the particular churches. On the contrary, their purpose is to serve these churches in the general evangelizing mission of the Church.

As Benedict XVI wrote to the present prelate, Bishop Echevarría, on the 50th anniversary of his priestly ordination, "when you foster the eagerness for personal sanctity and the apostolic zeal of your priests and laypeople, not only do you see the flock that has been entrusted to you grow, but you provide an effective help to the Church in her urgent evangelization of present-day society."

Q: Is it correct to say that there are "Opus Dei bishops"?

Monsignor Ocáriz: It depends what you mean by that phrase. When, as occurs at times, a priest of the prelature's clergy is called by the Holy Father to the episcopate, the same thing happens as with any diocesan priest: He ceases to be incardinated in the ecclesiastical circumscription from which he comes, although he continues to receive spiritual assistance from the prelature. He has the same canonical status as any other bishop.

Obviously, the prelate of Opus Dei has no power whatsoever over the episcopal mission of these bishops.

Q: I imagine that you don't see any "before and after" in Opus Dei as a result of the "Da Vinci Code" phenomenon.

Monsignor Ocáriz: Clearly not. It makes no sense to think that such a novel could have an historical impact great enough to result in a "before and after" in Opus Dei

On the other hand, it may very well have influenced some people. Without ignoring the disorientation that this type of literature could give rise to in some readers, I know that many people have decided to make contact with the prelature and its activities of Christian formation precisely as a consequence of the information that it gave about the Work, in order calmly to counteract the book's errors.

There have also been very many examples of solidarity with Opus Dei on the part of journalists, writers, and other people who have followed this topic more closely. It has occasioned a marvelous ecclesial solidarity; in times like these one truly senses that the Church is a family.

Q: At times one hears people speak of the "power" of Opus Dei. Why do you think this image has arisen?

Monsignor Ocáriz: Despite our personal limitations -- we neither are nor see ourselves as "the head of the class" -- God has blessed Opus Dei's work for souls with abundant apostolic fruit. Seen from a human point of view, some might see this as an expression of "strength" or "power."

In reality, the Work is a small part of the Church, and its "power" comes from its source: from the Gospel, which, as St. Paul writes, is "the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith." The fruitfulness of the work of Opus Dei's faithful is caused by the Holy Spirit in the Church and through the Church.

Anyone who comes to an apostolic activity organized by the prelature -- its doors are open to everyone -- is offered a broad vista of Christian life. Anyone who comes to the Work seeking human influence or anything other than a spiritual goal would not last very long. He would hear people speaking about love for Jesus Christ and the Church, about Christian commitment, about spiritual life and generous service to others.

Celibacy and Opus Dei

The New Statesman proposes the third in a series of testimonies of Opus Dei members. Writing today is Kristina Boskova, a Registered Nurse working in a London hospital, and is a Numerary member of Opus Dei. When still a student in Bratislava, she came to London as an au pair, fell in love with the place and decided to stay. She came in contact with Opus Dei and eventually joined at the age of 20; she is now 24 years old.

Kritina's focus is on celibacy, a gift barely understandable for those without a supernatural outlook of life. Here is her post:
My dream was always to be a film director. I used to live in Elstree near the BBC Studios and thought the break-through would just happen one day! Nevertheless, I decided to study nursing! At the age of 19 I used to spend most of my time (and money) in the pub with my friends. All day Saturday and Sunday was spent shopping! It all got rather boring…

Then I met a friend who introduced me to Tamezin Club, a youth club run at one of the Opus Dei houses, where I began helping out with all sorts of activities. I loved the young people and found the work I was doing with them very creative and fulfilling. Little by little I became more interested in Opus Dei and received formation in the Catholic Faith which led me to think more deeply about my vocation in life.

Eventually I decided that my vocation was to become a member of Opus Dei. Then I had to make the choice between being a Supernumerary member, which meant I could marry and raise a family or a Numerary member which meant accepting celibacy. It was a big decision for me. I realized I would have to pray about it and follow my conscience. After much prayer, I decided I wanted to be a Numerary member. I asked to join, but they made me wait. I eventually joined in 2004 when I was 20 years old.

I now work full-time in a London Hospital as a staff nurse. I love what I am doing: caring for people, learning how the body works and how computers work and I love putting it all together! And, perhaps a throwback from the days when I thought of being film director, I like making short videos and DVDs, which tend to be short promotional or travel documentaries.

In my work I find it very helpful to consider my spiritual childhood. I am a daughter of God, a God who loves us and cares for us more than all the mothers of the world. This helps me to be happy and cheerful and do my best. My colleagues and I often have a good laugh at work – you certainly need humour in stressful or tiring situations. Good humour and cheerfulness are required when helping patients, when they are ill and feeling low, or scared, or worried about the future. And it can also help a patient get over an embarrassing moment. Many of my colleagues are practising Christians, and many are Muslims and we have an excellent relationship. My colleagues all work hard in the hospital and when they go home they still have so much to deal with, such as hungry children, food shopping and noisy neighbours. I have the great good fortune of going home and finding the other people of Opus Dei have prepared food for me, done my washing and cleaned the house. And sometimes when I may be upset or sad because a patient is very ill or has died, I am cared for. I, in my turn, correspond to that kindness by trying to be kind, witty and good company for them. I think this is a wonderful form of Christian fraternity.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Finishing Things Can Sanctify

Here is the second installment in The New Statesman of testimonies by members of Opus Dei in England about their experiences. William Keenan, 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 tells about his struggle to finish things for God. A well-written piece:

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.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The New Statesman Lets Members Opus Dei Share their Uplifting Stories

This week in the New Statesman, a UK paper, the Faith Column will look into the lives of four members of Opus Dei. It begins with Nick Thomas tells how his relationship with God has strengthened as he has grown in his faith. Here goes:
My parents were Anglicans and my earliest memory of praying to God was saying my prayers before going to bed. I remember going to church on Sundays but my two brothers and I were not keen to say the least. Eventually because we were too much to handle we boys stopped going to church altogether and after a while I slipped out of the practice of saying the prayers my mother taught me. My only contact with religion was through the schools I attended. In the school assemblies we would sing hymns and there was usually some talk on an aspect of Christian life. The one I clearly remember was about a Catholic priest who went to live on an island where lepers had been abandoned. He looked after them and eventually caught leprosy himself and died.
When I reached the age of eighteen I was an agnostic. I went to university in London to study Physics at Imperial College. My eldest brother had just finished his History degree at King’s and in his final year he had stayed at Netherhall House, a residence for students. My brother had liked Netherhall and said it was a good place to study. The residence, run by members of Opus Dei, was open to anyone of any faith or none and was more like a family home. After dinner people would have coffee together and there would be a get-together where people would talk about anything and everything.
I found the transition from school to university difficult. The level was very demanding and by the time of my exams I had become quite depressed. One of the chaps living there, a member of Opus Dei, who was a teacher and came from my hometown in the north of England, suggested I should pray about it. He even took me into the chapel of the residence and showed me how to do it. At the time it didn’t appear to have any effect and I didn’t keep it up. But I got through my exams and left Netherhall for the summer vacation. I began to pray and to read about Jesus Christ’s life and his teaching. When I went back to Netherhall to do a PhD in Medical Physics in King’s College Hospital I gradually began to practise my Anglican faith again, helped by the members of Opus Dei at Netherhall and the talks on Christian doctrine given there.
The greatest influence on me at this time was the Mass, which was said every morning in the chapel of the residence. I was overwhelmed by the Catholic teaching of the priest saying the words of the consecration just as Christ said at his Last Supper. “This is my body (…) this is my blood.” The bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus Christ. So, when we eat the bread or drink the wine we are eating or drinking the body and blood of Jesus, true God and true man. In the world around me I could see all the efforts and sacrifices people were making to acquire money or material things and yet here in the Mass was this infinitely greater thing: God, my creator and creator of all these material things. And since for Catholics the Mass is also the sacrifice of Calvary, I came to understand that we can offer to God, along with Our Lord’s sacrifice, ourselves and all that we do.
I became a Catholic. The teaching of Opus Dei is that people can become holy through their ordinary lives, so I expect the example of the members of Opus Dei living out their Christian lives also had an effect on me. A year later I joined Opus Dei as a numerary (celibate member). However, since Opus Dei is a family, numeraries still live together as a family.
The founder of Opus Dei, Saint Josemaría Escrivá, used to say that members owed 99% of their vocation to their parents. Mine were a marvellous example to me and my brothers. They had continued to practise their faith (despite our apathy), and they were supportive of me when I decided to become a Catholic. It was a very happy occasion for all of us when they also joined the Catholic Church a few years later.
After my PhD I went into research at King’s College Hospital in Medical Ultrasound and later moved to Guy’s Hospital to work as a clinical scientist in Vascular Ultrasound which involves using ultrasound to diagnose problems with blood flow in the arteries and veins.
I try to go to Mass every day. During Mass I offer to God all that I am going to do that day, the patients I am going to scan, the students I am going to teach, the reports and my research. And I pray for my family, relatives and friends. Whatever may happen that day (good or bad) I offer to Our Lord. The Mass also helps me remember that I am always in the presence of God. This way I try to do my work well for Him. And, whenever there are difficulties, I ask for his help.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Pope speaks to UNIV 2008 students

On Wednesday March 20th, Pope Benedict received some 4000 students from all over the world.  They were part of the UNIV congress sponsored by Opus Dei.  Click here for a brief video of the event.  

He invited them to be ready to be counter cultural in their witness.  Very exciting to be there with such a great pontiff!  He seemed to be quite happy, as he invoqued the intercession of Saint Josemaria.


It was 1982 when Pope John Paul II made the bold move to establish Opus Dei as the world's first Personal Prelature, a juridical status foreseen by the Second Vatican Council.  It was clear that he gave this status not as a special privilege or as a source of power, but as means to help Opus Dei serve the Church in accordance with a God-given charism.  A lot has happened in these last 25 years, and Church leaders have wanted to reflect on this phenomenon.  Here is an article posted in Zenit on March 13, 2008:

Pope John Paul II had a collegial spirit in his work with the Congregation of Bishops, and the Pontiff's establishment of Opus Dei as a personal prelature reflects that, affirmed a retired Vatican official.

Cardinal Julián Herranz, retired president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, affirmed this at a gathering of Church leaders Monday that discussed the apostolic constitution "Ut Sit," with which John Paul II assigned Opus Dei the status of personal prelature in 1982.

Personal prelatures were foreseen by the Second Vatican Council with the goal of favoring the Church's evangelizing dynamism. In a personal prelature, the jurisdiction of a prelate is assigned to a certain group of faithful from one or more dioceses, rather than to a geographical area.

At the meeting Cardinal Camillo Ruini, Benedict XVI's vicar for the Diocese of Rome, thanked Opus Dei "for the service it carries out in favor of dioceses worldwide and in a special way that of Rome," not only because of the roles that some priests of the prelature play in parishes or in other diocesan services, but above all in the striving for holiness and for the apostolate that each of the faithful promotes.
Cardinal Herranz focused his remarks on the preparation of "Ut Sit," explaining how the document shows the "depth and the collegial spirit with which John Paul II followed and directed the work of the Congregation for Bishops."
The current prelate of Opus Dei, Bishop Javier Echevarría, explained that the juridical state of the personal prelature is best suited to the pastoral phenomenon that the founder, St. Josemaría Escrivá, envisioned in 1928, when Opus Dei was founded.

Everyday Christians

The prelate said that Opus Dei "is made up of everyday Christians" working to spread the message "that faith can and must impregnate, from within, all human existence with all its realities: in the first place, the needs of professional work and, in general, family and social life."
By doing this, the prelature can help each person to sew back together the "great gap between faith and our own personal existence made up of work and earthly interests."
Paul O'Callahan, dean of the faculty of theology at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, said that "the uniqueness of Opus Dei's work with respect to the teaching of the Council, is not found in the newness of its message; it is in the fact that the Work tries to put into practice the Church's mission and to promote its effective realization."
With the creation of the prelature, he continued, "it was not a matter of offering yet another theoretical look at the Council's message or of adding new elements to it, but simply putting it into practice."
The mission of the prelature, O'Callahan said, "simply coincides with that of the Church; its faithful do not change anything, they act. The Work does not have its own doctrine, its own theology. It simply wants to be a small part of the Church."
Today, Opus Dei is made up of 86,000 members throughout the world, including 21 bishops.