June 26 is a red letter day for members of Opus Dei—a personal prelature of the Catholic Church founded in Madrid on October 28 1928. The above date marks the 38th death anniversary of its illustrious founder, San Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer who was born in Spain. He was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2002 who declared before thousand of devotees that Saint Josemaria should be “counted among the great witnesses of Christianity.” (A mass will be celebrated by Cardinal Tito Tagle at the St. Therese of the Child Jesus Shrine in front of NAIA III in his honor).
It is expected that masses will also be celebrated to commemorate this anniversary in churches all over the world where members of “The Work” numbering some 90, 000 are to be found who look up to the great saint as “The Father”. These are priests and lay person who dedicate themselves to the teaching of Opus Dei that everyone is called to holiness and that ordinary life is a path to sanctity. In this country the organization counts on a few thousand faithful which includes both sexes and priests who are incardinated, associated or cooperate with the prelature.
Opus Dei attracted much attention with the publication of Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” where the organization was depicted as a secret organization out to subvert the Catholic Church and other incredulous things. The author obviously a fiction writer with an extra-vivid imagination tries very hard to assign to Opus Dei a very sinister role whose self-flagellating members harbor dark secrets and hidden agendas.
Rather than be annoyed, the members made a joke of the novel and even took to selling cilices to the curious eventually caught up with the humor. The founder St. Josemaria must have had laughing fits watching from up there – in the company of the Lord.
For those who have been wrongly fed about Opus Dei, a must read for those for and against the organization is a book “Opus Dei” by John I. Allen Jr. which gives an objective look behid the myths and reality of what he calls “the most controversial force in the Catholic Church?
Opus Dei has been characterized as conservative, a pejorative word when used by cafeteria or “liberal” Catholics who want to undermine the church teachings, specifically on contraception, abortion, same–sex marriage, divorce, euthanasia etc. When members of the organization put up a stubborn defense at attempts to overhaul the magisterium of the Church they are quickly labeled as fossilized and behind the times etc.
On the issue of conservatism perhaps critics have not realized that Opus Dei’s elevation of the layman through its championing of the universal call to holiness, picked up by Vatican II, was perhaps the most revolutionary doctrine of the last century.
Another criticism is that members of Opus Dei are elitists and anti-poor. This stem from the fact that critics only see the minority who live in Alabang or Forbes and whose children go to exclusive Catholic schools. (It is uncanny however is that this charge is not leveled against those Catholic couples who send their children to La Salle or Ateneo but do not belong to Opus Dei). These critics have obviously have not met the many members who graduated from Opus Dei’s Family Farm Schools in Batangas and Negros its household management course for domestic helpers in Laguna, or its technical schools for industrial workers in Camelray, Cavite and Cebu Perhaps they should sit in on those days of recollection organized by Opus Dei for members who are family drivers or domestic helpers.
For those who insist that Opus Dei is out to subvert the church it may interest them to know that the organization has contributed two cardinals and forty-one bishops who come from the ranks of the organization’s clergy numbering 2, 051. It would be interesting for them also to note that the lay members of the organization only draw their doctrinal learning from Opus Dei but belong to all intents and purposes to parishes where they are baptized, confirmed and married by secular priest just like any ordinary Catholics.
There has been charges that Opus Dei favors and have cooperated with rightists or dictatorial regimes here and abroad. If some members for reasons of their own have worked rightist regimes they were certainly doing it on their own as technocrats and without any prodding from Opus Dei which has no political agenda, the founder was so emphatic about this point that he was recorded to have said that when the day comes that his organization will harbor a political agenda that he would be the first to resign. This is how much he respected the freedom of his children.
Finally the charge that Opus Dei members place the interest of the country below that of the organization is the most absurd. Opus Dei follows the Lord’s mandate of giving unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to the Lord what belongs to God. Indeed members strictly follow the mandate of the founder to pray “first of all for your supernatural family and your relatives and for the people of the country that is our Fatherland”. Elsewhere in his book The Way—the bible of members, he talks about motives for penance and we quote “for you, for me, for your family, for your country”.
Finally, the founder of Opus Dei talks about nationalism and Catholicism thus “to be Catholic means to love one’s country, letting no one surpass us in that love and at the same time, to hold the noble aspirations of other countries”.