Ever since Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code came into print and was then later brought to the big screen by Ron Howard, misconceptions immediately arose around Opus Dei and its beloved founder, Saint Josemaria Escriva. Sometimes deemed a cult with manipulative and unorthodox recruiting tactics, others see the lay Catholic organization as a divinely inspired miracle whose purpose it is is to evangelize a secularized and wounded society and culture, the latter being something closer to the truth. Opus Dei (The Work) is an idea that is not really theologically new, for look at the Shakers and the Shaker religion. It is the practical and the theological that when merged offer an enlightening and refreshing outlet, especially considering the militant atheism and secularism that has unfortunately gotten hold of society at large. Evangelization is not something that the Church created, nor is it something that can be solely done by deacons, priests and nuns. Rather, it takes all types of people in all different areas of economic and professional classes. The idea of converting one's employment into a form of prayer with specific intentions attached is a comforting and powerful step in a positive direction for many people who are trying to lead authentic Christian lives. By offering one's work to God and the Church, the jobs at hand are often spiritualized and are thus accomplished with an extraordinary caliber of efficiency, competence, respect and love. Without prayer that is not necessarily the case. No nook or cranny is overlooked in one's job or career; no small detail is dismissed, because to falter through indifference or just laziness would be fully contrary to the utilization of what God imbued into that human soul. Souls should be the best because they have the best in them, most notably Jesus Christ truly present in the Holy Eucharist.
Opus Dei has also been mired in controversy, and it has also had many detractors, most notably being those affiliated with ODAN, the Opus Dei Awareness Network, a grassroots organization made up of former members whose experiences within the lay group have been unfortunately less than stellar. In Allen's book, from the impressions that I got, was that former members were really subjected to peer pressure from zealots who did not conduct their behavior in the best Christian light; they guided people not in the spirit of goodwill and Christian compassion but in some measure as corporate careerists within Opus Dei. They, too, could have been categorized as extremist holy rollers. Former members felt that they had to modify their belief systems to fit in, political, social and otherwise. Yet, the Prelature of Opus Dei insists that Opus Dei is a divine calling, a different kind of religious vocation for non clergy, which I agree with, for people can't simply conform. It either is meant to be or it isn't. If it's not, and people will themselves to stay, problems will most certainly arise. That is why there is a waiting period of six years before people are fully inculcated members. Opus Dei want people to prey and do well in their jobs, because that is God's will for them, to do and be the best, but to keep God always in mind. That is their desire, not to brainwash, manipulate or alter a person's political views, for there are liberals and conservatives within the group, just as there are doctors, lawyers, politicians, bus drivers and barbers as well. They are given an equal footing in the apostelate in terms of theological and philosophical training, for prayer alone takes precedence, and that is something that people of all classes and backgrounds can freely participate in. Within Opus Dei, there are monthly meetings that are called Evenings of Recollection and Circle, whereby members and nonmembers alike reflect on Gospel readings and how to translate those readings into more practical components in their daily lives.
Healthy faith is a good thing, for it makes a healthy and a happier society. I have noticed it in my own life and in the lives of those around me. Opus Dei has enhanced (for the better) the spiritual lives of many people, and while there are unpleasant claims by former members, which I also believe to be true involving the cilice and the discipline, I think it is a minor issue in the grand scheme of things when looking at what Opus Dei provides. It is an organization, though still fairly young, that is a work-in-progress. A majority will agree on that point. For anyone interested, the collected works of Saint Josemaria Escriva would be a fine beginning, particularly the works The Way, The Forge, The Forrow and Friends of God: Homilies by Josemaria Escriva. Allen's book was very well detailed; the good and the bad were both depicted with equal fairness and objectivity, and for anyone interested, this book would also be a good starting point.
I have never (to my knowledge) met a member of Opus Dei; I had no previous knowledge beyond the most superficial about this group. Allen's book starts off strongly and finishes in the same eager spirit, as he addresses Opus Dei with his own suggestions about how they could dispel the myths and be more straightforward with the rest of us about their mission, their indocrination, and their allegiances. Friends of mine knowing my own religious interests had been asking me what I knew about Opus Dei … more
It's a cliché by now to say that someone has "wrestled" with a difficult question, but to the extent it can ever be applied appropriately, I believe this book merits it. John L. Allen has tacked a large and complex topic -- one that is surrounded in myth and mystery, brings out strong feelings from critics and defenders alike, and involves questions of deep, even eternal, importance. He has done it remarkably well. I've read, I believe, all of John … more
For readers ofThe Da Vinci Code, John Allen's book on Opus Dei may be something of a revelation. One opens it expecting to find at the very least GPS coordinates pinpointing albino monk training camps. Or perhaps full disclosure of untold wealth flowing through offshore bank accounts. Instead one finds exhaustive research, interviews and careful analysis that reveal a group alive with ideas and purpose, but a bit short on sinister plans. Removing the sense of mystery surrounding Opus Dei may not serve future thriller writers well, but the journey is fascinating in its own right. Allen's biography of Opus Dei is also necessarily a brief biography of Saint Josemaría Escrivá, born in Spain in 1902, whose vision of the sanctification of work gave birth to Opus Dei, or "The Work" as its members call it. The idea of finding sanctification through work was not original to Escrivá, but the power of his vision certainly brought it to a fuller realization within the Catholic church. Allen explores this central idea that "one can find God through the practice of law, engineering or medicine, by picking up the garbage or by delivering the mail, if one brings to that work the proper Christian spirit." For Escrivá sanctification flowed in equal measure both in and outside the walls of the church. Much of Allen's own work getting to know Opus Dei is done with numerous, wide-ranging personal interviews, from the halls of the Vatican, to Africa, to U.S. suburbs. Allen is ...