Prince of Peace, “Prince” of darkness

Prince of Peace, “Prince” of darkness April 28, 2009

Look, I’m a practicing Roman Catholic, but you don’t have to be Catholic, you don’t have to be a Christian to work for Blackwater.
Erik Prince, founder of mercenary military organization Blackwater and convert to Roman Catholicism

An acquaintence of mine is a Pentecostal Christian studying historical theology at a Catholic theological school. He is — as the kids say — “way into” conspiracy theories. I had a conversation with him today about the “tensions” between the Jesuits and Opus Dei. I mentioned that a good resource on Opus Dei is John Allen’s deliberately balanced book, a balance which is helpful in that it lets the real (and very problematic) features of the Opus Dei spirituality shine through, as opposed to the sensationalized “Da Vinci Code” characteristics that we hear about in popular culture.

The problem with Opus Dei’s spirituality is that it is an extreme version of a dualism that has plagued the Church for some time. The Christian separation of politics and religion — the dualism that allowed German Christians to turn a blind eye when other German Christians were slaughtering Jews and that allowed Catholics to slaughter other Catholics in the Latin American civil wars — continues in our own time and in increasingly insidious ways. Sadly, the general assumption of many versions of the Catholic “spirituality of work” seems to be that Catholics should seek to “sanctify” the work that they do, no matter what that work might be. Perhaps the most extreme form of this spirituality is that of Opus Dei’s founder St. Josemaria Escriva who wrote

Opus Dei aims to encourage people of every sector of society to desire holiness in the midst of the world. In other words, Opus Dei proposes to help ordinary citizens like yourself to lead a fully Christian life, without modifying their normal way of life, their daily work, their aspirations and ambitions…. [Members] do not join Opus Dei to give up their job. On the contrary, what they look for in the Work is the spiritual help they need to sanctify their ordinary work.

This fundamental principle is played out, of course, in the classes of people that Opus Dei tends to cater to, as is well known.

Compare this type of spirituality that seems to baptize just about every profession imaginable to the spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola whose Spiritual Exercises includes a section on discerning the state in life to which one is called through a reflection on the “two standards,” i.e. the way of Christ vs. the way of Satan. Unlike the spirituality of Opus Dei which, according to its founder, is not intended to help one “modify” one’s state in life, the Ignatian vision is meant to help the Christian to continually discern, and yes, even to radically modify one’s state in life based on conformity to the standard of Christ as opposed to the standard of Satan. And the Ignatian vision is embodied vividly by its founder who laid his warrior’s sword at the feet of a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary as a gesture of his new way of life, that of a soldier for Christ rather than a soldier of the world.

Are there professions that fit clearly in the latter Ignatian category, that of the standard of Satan? Absolutely. But while most Catholics would point to abortionists and prostitutes as clear (perhaps the only?) examples of “illegitimate” professions, beyond these they are not so comfortable drawing those kinds of lines. Combox discussions here at Vox Nova have occasionally brought up the question of military service and whether it can be a legitimate Christian vocation. (My view is no, at least not in the specific context of the united states military. A forthcoming paper of mine will argue this, foregoing abstract arguments about soldiering in general by focusing on the 21st century u.s. military experience.) Those discussions, predictably, generated arguments on both sides. Surprisingly, though, a Vox Nova discussion a while back attracted some folks who argued that “serving” as a Blackwater (recently renamed “Xe”) mercenary was a legitimate profession. Certainly, while we cannot judge the hearts and minds of Blackwater employees themselves as to whether their very employment by Blackwater is itself sinful, we can judge the actions of Blackwater employees that so clearly manifest sins against the dignity of human life. And we Catholics must have the courage to draw the necessary line that says that some Catholics, like convert Erik Prince who envision a privatized, unaccountable military force that operates for hire in the interest of pure profit (and not for the supposedly noble reasons for which our U.S. military forces exist), are dedicating their lives clearly and deliberately on the wrong side of the Ignatian “two standards.”

This type of Ignatian reflection, however, simply has not been taken very seriously by the Catholic Church at large because it seems to run counter to the correlationist “both/and” tendencies of mainstream Catholic spirituality that tends toward the “I’m okay, you’re okay” mentality. The Ignatian “two standards” sounds a bit too much like the “church vs. world” approach of the Radical Reformation and the churches that were born out of that period of history, and less like the “finding God in all things” mantra that Jesuit-associated folks are used to hearing. In fact, considering the Ignatius’ “two standards” insight, God really can’t be found in “all things,” despite Escriva’s insistence that God can be found anywhere, and in any profession, as long as one “sanctifies” that way of life in some way.

The Catholic tendency to “sanctify” any and all types of work as “vocation” — including the “vocation” of killing and dying for the nation-state and/or for profit — is at root an ecclesial problem. In the words of Catholic theologian and philosopher Robert Brimlow (PDF)

The churches offer no alternative vision to what the secular powers define as good; the churches equate Jesus’ call to discipleship with business as usual.

In the face of such embarrassing examples of Erik Prince, which embody this ecclesial failure, perhaps the Catholic Church could take a lesson from the late theologian John Howard Yoder who argued from his congregationalist Mennonite perspective that perhaps our church communities should consider taking church membership much more seriously, both in terms of one’s entrance into the church, as well as one’s continued membership in the Body of Christ. Central to Yoder’s theology is the Mennonite conviction that membership in the Body of Christ requires the acceptance of a particular social ethic based on a radical following of Jesus. This notion of a “shared social ethic” is something that Catholicism, for all its emphasis on the outward signs and structures of the faith, simply lacks, or rather resists every time our spiritual leaders insist on a spirituality that does not require us to gauge our professions and lifestyles according to the social ethic — the “standard,” in Ignatius’ words — of Christ.

Brimlow, at the risk of sounding like a “sectarian” Catholic (he indeed argues elsewhere that Catholics should become more not less “sectarian”) gets the Ignatian impulse right when he says

To label our work and the professions as ‘callings’ or ‘vocations’ is not only arrogant it also, and more importantly, cheapens the gospel. There is one calling we should recognize — discipleship — and one vocation — to follow Jesus.

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  • I have gone to Opus Dei retreats and many days of reflection and are friends with many Opus Dei people (including family members) and I could not disagree more with your interpretation of Opus Dei spirituality. I have not seen the dualism you seem to see in it by any means. They do not seem to preach that every job is OK: they teach you the principles for you to make that decision in the same way the Church does. Do you have any basis for saying that Opus Dei (which as the Catholic Worker is not necessarily a cohesive “organization” either) encourages or justifies participation of Catholics in jobs that are not aligned with the mission of the Church? Any examples you may know of? It just seems to me like an unfair stretch to me (based on my experience). I do not see any conflict between Opus Dei spirituality and what we read about the mission of the laity in the documents of Vatican II.

  • I have gone to Opus Dei retreats and many days of reflection and are friends with many Opus Dei people (including family members) and I could not disagree more with your interpretation of Opus Dei spirituality. I have not seen the dualism you seem to see in it by any means. They do not seem to preach that every job is OK: they teach you the principles for you to make that decision in the same way the Church does. Do you have any basis for saying that Opus Dei (which as the Catholic Worker is not necessarily a cohesive “organization” either) encourages or justifies participation of Catholics in jobs that are not aligned with the mission of the Church? Any examples you may know of? It just seems to me like an unfair stretch to me (based on my experience). I do not see any conflict between Opus Dei spirituality and what we read about the mission of the laity in the documents of Vatican II.

  • brettsalkeld

    In After Virtue, Alasdair McIntyre reflects on how Christians will have to organize themselves as a community in the post-Christian west. What he proposes might look a little ‘sectarian’ too. Of course, this kind of ‘sectarianism’ lived the right way is not really sectarian at all. The early Christians resisted being co-opted into the larger culture, and transformed it as a result. We can separate ourselves from the Satanic elements of the culture without becoming inward-focused.
    For those who tend to disagree with Michael on matters military, imagine the worst case scenario under Obama or someone with similar views on abortion. The term ‘family doctor’ comes to mean in the West what it currently means in China, namely ‘abortionist’.
    I know of a young man who is currently before a review board at Queen’s University. They are trying to determine whether or no he will be given his degree in medicine despite his refusal to participate in training to provide abortions.
    If the medical profession becomes legally inseparable from the practice of abortion. How will Christians live? Will we train our own doctors? Will they be accredited? Will any health plan cover us when we see them? Perhaps we will have to establish a parallel medical world with our own training and medical co-operatives run out of parishes to pay for services.
    This may look ‘sectarian’ but, lived right, it should work as an invitation to those in the broader community. Yoder, and Iafrate, are right. Christians need a shared social ethic. The goal isn’t to close us off, but to witness to a better way of living.

  • brettsalkeld

    In After Virtue, Alasdair McIntyre reflects on how Christians will have to organize themselves as a community in the post-Christian west. What he proposes might look a little ‘sectarian’ too. Of course, this kind of ‘sectarianism’ lived the right way is not really sectarian at all. The early Christians resisted being co-opted into the larger culture, and transformed it as a result. We can separate ourselves from the Satanic elements of the culture without becoming inward-focused.
    For those who tend to disagree with Michael on matters military, imagine the worst case scenario under Obama or someone with similar views on abortion. The term ‘family doctor’ comes to mean in the West what it currently means in China, namely ‘abortionist’.
    I know of a young man who is currently before a review board at Queen’s University. They are trying to determine whether or no he will be given his degree in medicine despite his refusal to participate in training to provide abortions.
    If the medical profession becomes legally inseparable from the practice of abortion. How will Christians live? Will we train our own doctors? Will they be accredited? Will any health plan cover us when we see them? Perhaps we will have to establish a parallel medical world with our own training and medical co-operatives run out of parishes to pay for services.
    This may look ‘sectarian’ but, lived right, it should work as an invitation to those in the broader community. Yoder, and Iafrate, are right. Christians need a shared social ethic. The goal isn’t to close us off, but to witness to a better way of living.

  • Katerina – I know a guy who has Opus Dei connections. A mutual friend of ours thinks he’s a member, but there’s that whole secrecy thing. If he is not a member, he has been involved with their programs as you are/have been. A friend of mine who passed away recently had an Opus Dei priest as a spiritual director. We talked a couple times about Opus Dei spirituality, and his characterization of it was similar to how I described it. (And he approved of it.) I also recall that Allen’s book includes numerous interviews with current and former Opus Dei members who describe their spirituality, and the examples reflect the principle I cited above from Escriva: the emphasis is more on “sanctification” of one’s current lifestyle without much, if any, change. Opus Dei’s spirituality does not seem to be able to provide the resources for Catholics to draw necessary lines.

    As for the continuity you see between Opus Dei and the description of the mission of the laity at VII, I agree that there is continuity. That’s what I meant when I said that OD seems to be an extreme version of a general Catholic tendency.

  • Katerina – I know a guy who has Opus Dei connections. A mutual friend of ours thinks he’s a member, but there’s that whole secrecy thing. If he is not a member, he has been involved with their programs as you are/have been. A friend of mine who passed away recently had an Opus Dei priest as a spiritual director. We talked a couple times about Opus Dei spirituality, and his characterization of it was similar to how I described it. (And he approved of it.) I also recall that Allen’s book includes numerous interviews with current and former Opus Dei members who describe their spirituality, and the examples reflect the principle I cited above from Escriva: the emphasis is more on “sanctification” of one’s current lifestyle without much, if any, change. Opus Dei’s spirituality does not seem to be able to provide the resources for Catholics to draw necessary lines.

    As for the continuity you see between Opus Dei and the description of the mission of the laity at VII, I agree that there is continuity. That’s what I meant when I said that OD seems to be an extreme version of a general Catholic tendency.

  • Michael, you can’t fault the man for wanting incense with his bloodshed 🙂

    His mission is based in the Gospels. After all, did not Jesus say, “Go ye therefore and invade all nations, democratizing them in the name of… ?” and “Go ye after them and I will make you killers of men”

    One wonders how much off “24” is with the neo-con Blackwater version depicted. The Air Force Academy must be pretty surreal, with its born-again ethos. The religious are highly prone to war, nothing new of course. Disciples tend to do the opposite of the teacher.

    Sanctifying soldiering. Interesting concept. And Jesus said unto them, “WTF is wrong with you people ?”

    Btw, what’s “Xe” ? Xtremely evil ? =)

    As a general rule, converts ought to be shunned for a while, and especially prohibited from blogging for at least 2 years 😉 In particular those converting to Republicatholism.

    ….Hola from Barcelona. Guess what I’m driving, Michael ? A Smartcar LOL. One of the few cars with an automatic transmission.

  • Michael, you can’t fault the man for wanting incense with his bloodshed 🙂

    His mission is based in the Gospels. After all, did not Jesus say, “Go ye therefore and invade all nations, democratizing them in the name of… ?” and “Go ye after them and I will make you killers of men”

    One wonders how much off “24” is with the neo-con Blackwater version depicted. The Air Force Academy must be pretty surreal, with its born-again ethos. The religious are highly prone to war, nothing new of course. Disciples tend to do the opposite of the teacher.

    Sanctifying soldiering. Interesting concept. And Jesus said unto them, “WTF is wrong with you people ?”

    Btw, what’s “Xe” ? Xtremely evil ? =)

    As a general rule, converts ought to be shunned for a while, and especially prohibited from blogging for at least 2 years 😉 In particular those converting to Republicatholism.

    ….Hola from Barcelona. Guess what I’m driving, Michael ? A Smartcar LOL. One of the few cars with an automatic transmission.

  • which as the Catholic Worker is not necessarily a cohesive “organization” either

    Really?

  • which as the Catholic Worker is not necessarily a cohesive “organization” either

    Really?

  • I think, perhaps, that I’d like to be both in Opus Dei and the Catholic Worker.

    Workers of the world, UNITE! hah.

    GREAT article, Michael. Very good. I wonder about Katerina’s point, though. I tend to like Opus Dei, from the people I know who have been formed by them. But like the Church in general, there’s a blind spot when it comes to violence.

    I will try to follow up with a post on my military experience and what “sanctification” might look like for a soldier in the U.S. military.

  • I think, perhaps, that I’d like to be both in Opus Dei and the Catholic Worker.

    Workers of the world, UNITE! hah.

    GREAT article, Michael. Very good. I wonder about Katerina’s point, though. I tend to like Opus Dei, from the people I know who have been formed by them. But like the Church in general, there’s a blind spot when it comes to violence.

    I will try to follow up with a post on my military experience and what “sanctification” might look like for a soldier in the U.S. military.

  • But like the Church in general, there’s a blind spot when it comes to violence.

    Including, of course, the violence of capitalism. And Opus Dei has no interest in challenging that violence.

  • But like the Church in general, there’s a blind spot when it comes to violence.

    Including, of course, the violence of capitalism. And Opus Dei has no interest in challenging that violence.

  • 1. If a work is inherently evil, then is it not possible to sanctify it? If so, then doesn’t the push by Opus Dei to sanctify work lead one to reject intrinsically evil work?

    2. Isn’t John Paul II one of those who advocated expanding the concept of vocation?

    brettsalkeld:

    Yes, but remember that when he wrote After Virture, MacIntyre wasn’t Christian. Thus MacIntyre, at the time, is not pushing for small Christian communities but rather small Aristotelian communities.

  • 1. If a work is inherently evil, then is it not possible to sanctify it? If so, then doesn’t the push by Opus Dei to sanctify work lead one to reject intrinsically evil work?

    2. Isn’t John Paul II one of those who advocated expanding the concept of vocation?

    brettsalkeld:

    Yes, but remember that when he wrote After Virture, MacIntyre wasn’t Christian. Thus MacIntyre, at the time, is not pushing for small Christian communities but rather small Aristotelian communities.

  • To put #1 a different way, “If a work is inherently evil,then isn’t it impossible to sanctify it?”

  • To put #1 a different way, “If a work is inherently evil,then isn’t it impossible to sanctify it?”

  • I will try to follow up with a post on my military experience and what “sanctification” might look like for a soldier in the U.S. military.

    I would very much like to read that, Nate.

  • I will try to follow up with a post on my military experience and what “sanctification” might look like for a soldier in the U.S. military.

    I would very much like to read that, Nate.

  • “There is one calling we should recognize — discipleship — and one vocation — to follow Jesus.”

    Michael,

    Does this mean that the terms “discipleship” and “vocation” each represent a unity without distinction? How does “vocation” fit within the context of an analogical metaphysics? Or does vocation have meaning only as it flows out of a univocal metaphysics, ala Plotinus? Is vocation other wordly?

    To me the real failing of Opus Dei is that in practice it reduces to a sentimental piety. I’ve heard it told many times by members of Opus Dei: be a good Catholic in the work place. The emphasis is always on “good Catholic”, not on transfiguring the work place. To me, such a vision is not compelling.

    It seems Opus Dei should have a transformative mission. It should help sanctify the workplace. This would be a mission worthy of a Church that once shaped the entirety of Europe.

    For instance, if one is a lawyer, an attempt should be made to challenge the basics of law, expand the meanings that are given to legal principles. Give language a more profound dimension. The same can be said for public policy. Challenge the basic assumption that social problems are essentially economic in nature and that the poor are undeserving. Challenge the view that the homeless are just lazy and crazy, or that they exist because of a lack of affordable housing, jobs, or other economic reasons. Challenge the view that violent youth don’t care about morals, or that they have lost their humanity. It goes on and on.

    The key is to wield new forms and use them to reshape society in a transformative way. I see nothing of this going on. Opus Dei doesn’t attempt to transform the intellectual order that underpins secular society. It punts. For this reason, it is not compelling.

    To me, Catholics should be more like the early Jesuits in America — Fr. DeSmet, for instance. They should make hard lonely decisions on behalf of their faith AND the world. There is no room for dualism.

  • “There is one calling we should recognize — discipleship — and one vocation — to follow Jesus.”

    Michael,

    Does this mean that the terms “discipleship” and “vocation” each represent a unity without distinction? How does “vocation” fit within the context of an analogical metaphysics? Or does vocation have meaning only as it flows out of a univocal metaphysics, ala Plotinus? Is vocation other wordly?

    To me the real failing of Opus Dei is that in practice it reduces to a sentimental piety. I’ve heard it told many times by members of Opus Dei: be a good Catholic in the work place. The emphasis is always on “good Catholic”, not on transfiguring the work place. To me, such a vision is not compelling.

    It seems Opus Dei should have a transformative mission. It should help sanctify the workplace. This would be a mission worthy of a Church that once shaped the entirety of Europe.

    For instance, if one is a lawyer, an attempt should be made to challenge the basics of law, expand the meanings that are given to legal principles. Give language a more profound dimension. The same can be said for public policy. Challenge the basic assumption that social problems are essentially economic in nature and that the poor are undeserving. Challenge the view that the homeless are just lazy and crazy, or that they exist because of a lack of affordable housing, jobs, or other economic reasons. Challenge the view that violent youth don’t care about morals, or that they have lost their humanity. It goes on and on.

    The key is to wield new forms and use them to reshape society in a transformative way. I see nothing of this going on. Opus Dei doesn’t attempt to transform the intellectual order that underpins secular society. It punts. For this reason, it is not compelling.

    To me, Catholics should be more like the early Jesuits in America — Fr. DeSmet, for instance. They should make hard lonely decisions on behalf of their faith AND the world. There is no room for dualism.

  • Very interesting issues. I have alwasy regarded OD spirituality as coming directly from Lumen Gentium– we are the people of God, and we are call called to be saints, and the clergy are not superior to us — but distorted by mid-20th century Spanish culture, especially the civil war experience. But you are suggesting (if I read you correctly, and I might not be) that OD is guilty of supporting the radical grace-nature dichotomy that de Lubac and others worked so hard to purge from Catholic theology. An interesting take, and it may well be right.

  • Very interesting issues. I have alwasy regarded OD spirituality as coming directly from Lumen Gentium– we are the people of God, and we are call called to be saints, and the clergy are not superior to us — but distorted by mid-20th century Spanish culture, especially the civil war experience. But you are suggesting (if I read you correctly, and I might not be) that OD is guilty of supporting the radical grace-nature dichotomy that de Lubac and others worked so hard to purge from Catholic theology. An interesting take, and it may well be right.

  • brettsalkeld

    Thank you for the correction Mr. Denton.
    I rather suspect that anyone who falls outside the mainstream will have to live in some similar way, be they Christians, Aristotelians, Muslims or Native populations.
    On the other hand, in my country at least, the birth rates of those groups (excepting the Aristotelians, of whom I have no knowledge ;)) far outstrip those of the ‘mainstream’. It’s going to be an interesting century.

  • brettsalkeld

    Thank you for the correction Mr. Denton.
    I rather suspect that anyone who falls outside the mainstream will have to live in some similar way, be they Christians, Aristotelians, Muslims or Native populations.
    On the other hand, in my country at least, the birth rates of those groups (excepting the Aristotelians, of whom I have no knowledge ;)) far outstrip those of the ‘mainstream’. It’s going to be an interesting century.

  • MM

    It’s also possible that OD in the US easily took on the dualism. In some ways, I think there was an attempt to say grace perfects nature, and so Catholics in the workplace can sanctify the workplace, but as Gerald says, that should mean something — it should be transformative, not just of the person (as Michael is right to say) but also to the workplace itself. If it becomes a justification for the workplace instead of its transformation, then it becomes problematic.

  • MM

    It’s also possible that OD in the US easily took on the dualism. In some ways, I think there was an attempt to say grace perfects nature, and so Catholics in the workplace can sanctify the workplace, but as Gerald says, that should mean something — it should be transformative, not just of the person (as Michael is right to say) but also to the workplace itself. If it becomes a justification for the workplace instead of its transformation, then it becomes problematic.

  • Michael,

    Thanks for the response. Yes, St. Josemaria called it a “disorganized organization”! Just like the CW, the Catholic Church, and any other group within the Church, you are always going to have “extremes” that do not necessarily correspond to the heart and mission of that specific organization. Opus Dei in Latin America looks different than it does in the US (for better or for worse).

    I understand your point, but just because it does not explicitly provide its members with the “tools” to discern which job they should or should not take, does not make it a dualistic spirituality. You have to take Oon. pus Dei in the context of the whole Church. In contrast to the Regnum Christi spirituality, if it can be called that, Opus Dei is not self-contained (I have not experienced the secrecy everyone seems to talk about). It draws from many strands of the Church’s tradition, which makes it so appealing. In the same way, I think the spirituality of the Catholic Worker movement cannot be seen in isolation, because you would find a lot of flaws as well. It has to be seen in the context of the greater Church, just as Day and Maurin did by relying in the tradition of the saints and magisterial pronouncements so heavily.

  • Michael,

    Thanks for the response. Yes, St. Josemaria called it a “disorganized organization”! Just like the CW, the Catholic Church, and any other group within the Church, you are always going to have “extremes” that do not necessarily correspond to the heart and mission of that specific organization. Opus Dei in Latin America looks different than it does in the US (for better or for worse).

    I understand your point, but just because it does not explicitly provide its members with the “tools” to discern which job they should or should not take, does not make it a dualistic spirituality. You have to take Oon. pus Dei in the context of the whole Church. In contrast to the Regnum Christi spirituality, if it can be called that, Opus Dei is not self-contained (I have not experienced the secrecy everyone seems to talk about). It draws from many strands of the Church’s tradition, which makes it so appealing. In the same way, I think the spirituality of the Catholic Worker movement cannot be seen in isolation, because you would find a lot of flaws as well. It has to be seen in the context of the greater Church, just as Day and Maurin did by relying in the tradition of the saints and magisterial pronouncements so heavily.

  • “For instance, if one is a lawyer, an attempt should be made to challenge the basics of law, expand the meanings that are given to legal principles. Give language a more profound dimension.”

    A perfect description of the “Living Constitution” mindset.

  • “For instance, if one is a lawyer, an attempt should be made to challenge the basics of law, expand the meanings that are given to legal principles. Give language a more profound dimension.”

    A perfect description of the “Living Constitution” mindset.

  • “A perfect description of the “Living Constitution” mindset.”

    Hardly.

  • “A perfect description of the “Living Constitution” mindset.”

    Hardly.

  • A constitution should be “living” to bring it into conformity with the natural law…

  • A constitution should be “living” to bring it into conformity with the natural law…

  • Nate Wildermuth

    There’s no doubting that the Gospel transforms not only persons, but through communion in the Holy Spirit, social structures.

    Like yeast?

    What’s interesting, to me, is that while both the Catholic Worker and Opus Dei focus in on personal transformation in the Spirit – becoming Holy – neither engages the prevailing social structures from within the system. It’s like the CW is yeast that is still waiting to be put in bread, and Opus Dei is yeast in the bread, but without sugar to really activate its power.

    Again, perhaps its time to think of a merger??? 😉

  • Nate Wildermuth

    There’s no doubting that the Gospel transforms not only persons, but through communion in the Holy Spirit, social structures.

    Like yeast?

    What’s interesting, to me, is that while both the Catholic Worker and Opus Dei focus in on personal transformation in the Spirit – becoming Holy – neither engages the prevailing social structures from within the system. It’s like the CW is yeast that is still waiting to be put in bread, and Opus Dei is yeast in the bread, but without sugar to really activate its power.

    Again, perhaps its time to think of a merger??? 😉

  • wj

    The spirituality of Opus Dei proceeds directly from Lumen Gentium–so much so that it was considered unduly radical and anti-clerical in its first inception.

    There is an overlap between Opus Dei and Catholic neo-conservatism in this country that is disheartening. But this overlap is accidental, and should not be seen as necessitated by Opus Dei’s spirituality; some of the most outspoken reporters opposed to the Franco regime were members of Opus Dei, and Jose Maria Escriva was always adamant that Opus Dei not be co-opted by political factions.

    This all said, it is true that the spiritual practices of Opus Dei tend to be focused on personal sanctification and piety, as opposed to directly confronting structures of sin in the manner of the Catholic Worker, for example. Again, however, my impression is that most Opus Dei members in Spain believe America to be (1) too militaristic (2) too focused on money and (3) too crass–thereby reflecting the broader European perspective on America.

    Opus Dei in America, in short, is an odd bird.

  • wj

    The spirituality of Opus Dei proceeds directly from Lumen Gentium–so much so that it was considered unduly radical and anti-clerical in its first inception.

    There is an overlap between Opus Dei and Catholic neo-conservatism in this country that is disheartening. But this overlap is accidental, and should not be seen as necessitated by Opus Dei’s spirituality; some of the most outspoken reporters opposed to the Franco regime were members of Opus Dei, and Jose Maria Escriva was always adamant that Opus Dei not be co-opted by political factions.

    This all said, it is true that the spiritual practices of Opus Dei tend to be focused on personal sanctification and piety, as opposed to directly confronting structures of sin in the manner of the Catholic Worker, for example. Again, however, my impression is that most Opus Dei members in Spain believe America to be (1) too militaristic (2) too focused on money and (3) too crass–thereby reflecting the broader European perspective on America.

    Opus Dei in America, in short, is an odd bird.

  • Nate,

    “Again, perhaps its time to think of a merger??? ;)” (Opus Dei & Catholic Worker)

    How would you assess the Jesuits in the schema you set up?

  • Nate,

    “Again, perhaps its time to think of a merger??? ;)” (Opus Dei & Catholic Worker)

    How would you assess the Jesuits in the schema you set up?

  • Yes, I think that OD in America takes its cue from American culture too often, and so sees the world differently from OD in other countries, and global Catholicism more generally. Of course, OD in Spain is influenced by Spanish culture too. In the past, one of the problems with OD in America was divisive figures like McCloskey, but they seem more mainstream now…or at least they keep their heads down!

  • Yes, I think that OD in America takes its cue from American culture too often, and so sees the world differently from OD in other countries, and global Catholicism more generally. Of course, OD in Spain is influenced by Spanish culture too. In the past, one of the problems with OD in America was divisive figures like McCloskey, but they seem more mainstream now…or at least they keep their heads down!

  • Let’s not forget OD’s increasing influence in Latin America. I am more concerned about that than I am about americanist spins on OD, which I think are simply consistent with americanist Catholicism in general… My distaste for OD is based more on the former than on the latter.

  • Michael I

    Right, I suspected your own thoughts on OD stems from what has been happening in LA and how OD seems to support the structures of sin there by being an “opiate of the people” if one wants to use Marxist terms. There is a sense that is how it has become used, though I just would say I think its origin, while having some troubling tendencies from Spain, was different from what it has become in other lands, and why one could recognize the saintly nature of its founder without saying we can’t question its later development. Similar to the Knights of Columbus; I think it is clear the founder was saintly, but what he set up and what we have today are quite, quite different.

  • Austin Ruse

    Your description of Opus Dei is really nothing that I recognize as a Supernumerary in the Work.

    We are called to sanctify our work, yes, but also to sanctify others through our work. Josemaria said that Jesus wanted just a few men and women in every legitimate sphere of human activity in order to transform the world.

    He was reacting against the clerical attitude of many at that time and even now who think that the only people who could be truly holy were the ordained or those who took the habit; that the rest of us were spectators and the best we could hope for is gloming a little holiness off of Father and Brother and Sister.

    In fact, we are all called to a radical holiness and one does not need to run off to the Sacristy or the convent to get it. The way that most of us encounter Christ is in what we do every day and in those we encounter when we do it.

  • jh

    Michael I don’t think you have to worry about “Americanist” spin in Latin American through OD. In fact from my recollection OD has several leading people on the “left” and involved in various progressive projects

    I personally think there is wisdom in the OD approach and I guess I think the influence of “neocons”(what that terms means today) has been overblown

    From my understanding as to various things like Catholic SOcial Doctrine they say there can be several different opinions that Catholics can have as they engage it.

    The question is that when I hear “engaging sinful social structures” well that involves a plan and often a poltical point of view.

    In essence again you have a suddenly non poltical organziation by definition becoming polticial and telling other Catholics you have no need to apply. Your view on Social issue x is not “catholic”.

    That has been a problem in the past with other such movements

    As they say on their web site

    Opus Dei promotes only the teaching of the Catholic Church, and has no views of its own on politics, economics, or social matters. The Church’s teachings leave room for different opinions on many issues, and like other Catholics, Opus Dei members are free to form their own views on these questions.”

    There is wisdom on that. These people work in the entire context of the Church and no doubt have resources to form their Catholic ciew on these matters

  • Henry – Yes, we should definitely be careful to distinguish the founders from their followers… But I also wonder what folks think about the quote from St Josemaria Escriva that I quoted. There have been no comments so far about it.

  • Michael

    I see him trying writing within the spirit of the papal encyclicals on the dignity of work; however, I think it can be used to justify specific work practices which I doubt was his desire, but more to show that the orindary person, not just the clergy, can find holiness in their life.

  • Mark DeFrancisis

    I once had an Opus Dei spiritual director, even though I was not formely part of the Work. The direction was ideology-free, and he himelf seemed himself pretty free of any firm leanings, one way or the other.

    On the other hand, the house at which direction was given did seem like a comfort zone for reactionaries of all different sorts (although this is to in no way imply that ALL members and visatants there were reactionaries).

  • digbydolben

    Personally, I really like the concept of an Opus Dei-like organisation, and I think that it could do much necessary and very good work in the world.

    I just don’t like the secrecy it seems to enjoin upon its members, or its apparent collusion with business and military interests in the Hispanic world.

    I bet Opus Dei in France or Germany or Britain, however, would be an entirely different animal from what it is in the Americas.

  • What I don’t get though, digbydolben, is why an organization like Opus Dei is even necessary if all it does is promote Vatican II’s vision of lay spirituality, as its defenders insist? On the contrary, I think there is more to it than that, an implicit ecclesiology and theology of work (both of which put a different spin on VII, yet using its language and “feel”) that encourages a church-within-a-church dynamic.

  • Austin,

    I couldn’t agree more. I’m not a supernumerary but I keep considering it–I would become one, but I haven’t had the time lately to go to the evenings of recollection and all the other talks they have. Opus Dei spirituality is far from sentimentalism and just pure piety for its own sake.

    I hate to say this, and maybe this is why there is supposedly so much “secrecy”, but you really have to be involved in “The Work” to really understand what it is all about. Until then, all speculation is pointless. I think Opus Dei, just like the Catholic Worker, is very much misunderstood, which is a shame.

    • Katerina

      But isn’t the secrecy the point? Isn’t it what led to the problems with the Legion? Isn’t it part of what makes it a “church” within the Church, following ancient practices of “secrecy” for reasons unknown?

      BTW, I say that understanding why it might have needed it, when it was founded in Spain. But when it became international is it still needed?

  • think there is more to it than that, an implicit ecclesiology and theology of work (both of which put a different spin on VII, yet using its language and “feel”) that encourages a church-within-a-church dynamic.

    But what basis do you have to think (or suspect) that?

  • I hate to say this, and maybe this is why there is supposedly so much “secrecy”, but you really have to be involved in “The Work” to really understand what it is all about.

    But why would this be the case if all “The Work” is is a living out of Vatican II’s vision of lay spirituality? Why does it take being involved in the organization to “get” it?

    But what basis do you have to think (or suspect) that?

    Allen’s book, passages from Escriva like the one above, conversations with the two individuals that I mentioned above, research on th role of OD in Latin America.

    I really am open to being proven wrong about Opus Dei. As I said at the start of the post, I don’t buy the popular image of OD as a secretive cult. I don’t feel that I am “speculating” at all, really. I simply have real concerns with their stated spirituality as I understand it, as expressed by Escriva, the accounts in Allen’s book, and a couple people I know.

    How does OD define “holiness,” for example? Do they ever define it?

  • grega

    Plenty of people throughout history gravitated towards cults and ‘secret societies’. Innocent stuff for the most part in my opinion. If it makes them feel ‘special’ be my guest.Certainly a name like
    “Supernumerary” gives a large part of the story away.
    I do not doubt that this sort of thing works for some.
    Most of us manage just fine without fancy titles.

  • digbydolben

    Also, the “secrecy” seems enjoined AGAINST much of the authoritative hierarchy of the Church. I can tolerate a degree of “secrecy” when and if we’re talking about the mostly uncomprehending, anti-Catholic and secularist press, but against many PRIESTS and FELLOW-CATHOLICS?!

    THAT really DOES seem like a deliberate countering of most of the basic impulses of the Vatican II Church. The Catholic Worker movement seems to me to be superior to Opus Dei because it is less elitist and more open to criticism.

  • Grega – It’s precisely that ‘secretive,’ ‘special’ (read: Gnostic) quality that I think is destructive to the Body of Christ.

  • jh

    I have watched these comments and I get this

    There are icky NEOCONS(whatever the hell that means) that disagree with my world view and honest debate is not wanted

    I am quite frankly shocked. OD allow Catholics to meet their Lord Jesus Christ in a personal way. They don’t have to give a political map how you deal with American politics’ I guess they trust the holy spitit to work through all people through prayer to apply it . Radical notion

    One thing I don’t think people get here is there is a huge need for POLITICS free zone that allows you to meet our Lord without coming down to a position on the way to Health Care, or take a position on affirmation action, or how much should be in Child health insurance program or rather a tax Credit verus a raise in a national Min Raise is the way to go. Yes believe it or not ones position on the IRaq War does not invalidate o invaidate your Baptism or confirmation promises!! Shocking I am sure to some here

    Besides a few Catholic non negotiables there is a ton of legitiamte prayful debate

    I get sick of the Catholic left talking about the un Catholic far right and I get tired of the Catholic righr talking about the anti catholic anti Christ far socialist left

    I have been following this blog for a year and I see incredible arrogance on both sides.

    Radical notion that people on the right and the left can break bread together and have fellowship and not be at each other throats. It must be a neocon conspriary or far left thing to get us off our guard

    So yes if Opus Dei does not take a position on National Health Care and how to do it or not to do it but trust that meeting your Lord in a personal relationship will help you find that the soultion I am fine with that.

    What a radical notion

  • Radical notion that people on the right and the left can break bread together and have fellowship and not be at each other throats.

    But you know what? In Latin America, and elsewhere, the Church has encouraged people on the right and on the left to “break bread” together and has said nothing when they quite literally were at each other’s throats. The Opus Dei spirituality has been a part of that history of allowing this to happen. That’s not me speaking as a “leftie” Catholic; it’s just reality. Spiritualities that justify violence should be rooted out. What a radical notion.

  • St. Josemaria Escriva said:

    ” [Members] do not join Opus Dei to give up their job. On the contrary, what they look for in the Work is the spiritual help they need to sanctify their ordinary work.”

    JH,

    How can your view — “OD allow Catholics to meet their Lord Jesus Christ in a personal way” — lead to the sanctification of work (St. Josemaria Escriva’s intention), especially if the work OD members actually do in their daily lives flows out of and is predicated on an intellectual order that Pope John Paul II calls the “structure of sin.” Law and lawyers is one example. Public policy and policy experts is another. Education and teachers is another. Look at the nature of law, public policy, and education in America. Reflect on its philosophical assumptions. Show me how any work predicated on those foundations can be sanctifying, especially to the social order. How is it possible to sanctify work unless changes are made to the intellectual order that underpins that work? Yet, OD members make their living working on the basis of the status quo. They are the agents of the status quo just like everyone else.

    The Jesuits understand this dilemma very well. Their entire vision of education is to discipline the intellect to unmask logical fallacies in the intellectual order and to make the necessary distinctions which, if pursue in the practical order, will lead to a transformation of that order. Changes in behavior flow out of changes in the heart AND in the intellectual order. This process is what I would call the sanctification of work, or as Chardin would say, “the divinization of the world.”

    To skim across the surface of life like a water-skipper doesn’t lead to a sanctification of work. It is to perpetuate the structures of sin that we should insist on changing.

    Intentions aside, I don’t think OD has thought this through very well. Ultimately, they have subscribed to a disengagement from the world. They never challenge the intellectual order as part of the sanctification process.

  • Austin Ruse

    Opus Dei is not as fancy as what most of your folks are looking for here. Opus Dei is really a rather simple thing for people with a strong desire to be saints in the middle of the world.

    The sanctification of work happens through doing your work as perfectly as you can for the love of God. Given that work is how most of spend our days, this is precisely where we are called to meet Jesus and precisely how we are to achieve the universal call to holiness.

    I suspect there are members of Opus Dei who are working on such grand things as changing the structure of sin in the law, education, public policy etc, or unmasking the logical fallacies in the intellectual order. But these would be personal initiatives for those members of the work who make that choice rather than a corporate work of Opus Dei. “Opus Dei” would not direct its members into such endeavors. The purpose of Opus Dei is to teach individuals how to live the Gospel in the middle of world. The distinction that most people dont get is there is no “Opus Dei” central that gives members their marching orders in the secular realm.

    To say that members of Opus Dei skim across the surface of life or disengage from the world is to show a rather profound lack of knowledge about Opus Dei and its members whcih is odd since Mr. Campbell is close friends with at least one Supernumerary. Does Pat Fagan skim across the surface of life adn is he disengaged from the world?

    I would be happy to answer any questions about Opus Dei formation with anyone here who wants to ask. I fear that most here would rather pontificate….nonetheless, I am here.

  • The sanctification of work happens through doing your work as perfectly as you can for the love of God. Given that work is how most of spend our days, this is precisely where we are called to meet Jesus and precisely how we are to achieve the universal call to holiness.

    This sounds nice, but my point is what happens when you are working a job or involved in an industry that is wrapped up in sin? This is increasingly the case in our global economy. Is Erik Prince, the Catholic Latin-Mass-loving convert who helped dream up a for-profit military agency that has been implicated in massive deliberate human rights abuses, supposed to “do his work as perfectly as he can for the love of God”? After all, St Josemaria says Catholics can be holy “without modifying their normal way of life, their daily work, their aspirations and ambitions.” All they have to do is “sanctify” their work, whatever the hell that means. Does it mean Erik should go to a Tridentine Mass during his lunch break? Carry a Rosary in his pocket like Joe Biden? What does “holiness” possibly mean when one is the head of (or a footsoldier for) such death dealing work?

    Even everyday people are often implicated in death dealing work. One does not have to be an Erik Prince or a Joe Biden. One can be an ordinary soldier praying at night that he is sent back home from Iraq. One can be a P.R. person for Massey Energy coming up with slick, dishonest ad campaigns defending mountaintop removal. One can be a cop in rural Tennessee “just doing his job” by harassing activists who try to help communities organize who have been affected by the coal industry. One can be a Starbucks coffeeshop worker, passing out lattes that come, ultimately, from the exploitation of coffee farmers. One can even be a Catholic blogger who defends racism, sexism, heterosexism, the existence of sweatshops in so-called “Third World” countries, etc.

    We could do any of these things, and St Josemaria would not have us change our lives. He would only have us “sanctify” our work, “doing our best” for Jesus, not questioning whether our work actually is helping us to be holy people, disciples of Jesus of Nazareth.

    Does Opus Dei ever concretely define “holiness”?

  • “The purpose of Opus Dei is to teach individuals how to live the Gospel in the middle of world.”

    This sentence confirms the major point of the original post, and the comments made by me. The inclination of Opus Dei is toward an affirmation of personal sanctity but not necessarily towards the sanctity of work itself. Thus is stated the dualism referred to above.

    Austin, let me say without hesitation and for the record: Pat Fagan is a close personal friend. He has been a friend for whom I have had the highest regard for nearly twenty years. There is nothing in my criticism of Opus Dei that he and I haven’t discussed on many occasions long before you were even aware that we were friends. For you to use him as a rhetorical device with which to shame me shows poor judgment. Frankly, such behavior is unbefitting a Supernumerary.

    It’s the exchange of ideas that count, not who knows whom. As for ideas, you still haven’t given a response to the dilemma of dualism. You have only affirmed, albeit unintentionally, that it exists.

  • Austin Ruse

    After all, St Josemaria says Catholics can be holy “without modifying their normal way of life, their daily work, their aspirations and ambitions.” All they have to do is “sanctify” their work, whatever the hell that means.

    What Josemaria is specifically alluding to here is that one need not run off to monastery to seek holiness. He lived in a time, perhaps we still do, that if someone wanted to experience the heights of Christian living, one had to become a priest or a nun, had to run off and change their normal way of life. He wanted us to know that this was not necesary. One could encounter Christ and love Him deeply by carrying out the simple tasks of any legitimate job with love for Christ.

    You ask me to pass judgement on particular jobs and I can’t do that except to say that this would not apply to doing illegitimate jobs perfectly or doing perfectly jobs that are inherently sinful. Josemaria did not mean that a pornographer could possibly sanctify his job.

    How the hell does one sanctify ones job? Doing it all consciously for love of Christ. Paying attention to detail. Carrying out tasks on time. Not very complicated stuff. By remembering this throughout the day and remaining recollected and in the presence of Him. By offering periods of work for certain intentions. Simple stuff the purpose of which is to reguarly remind yourself that your work is for Him.

    Gerry, i am grateful to receive instructions from you about how to be a Supernumerary, especially since you seem to know so much about it; skimming as we do across the surface of life and disengaged from the world. Pat is not the only Supernumerary who does not fit well into your facile dismissal.

    As to the gotcha you suggest i committed, that
    “The purpose of Opus Dei is to teach individuals how to live the Gospel in the middle of world.” This proposes a fully integrated life, one that does not cordon off various parts of life; the work life from family life from interior life. What do you think the Gospel is for pity sake? Teaching an individual to live the Gospel in the middle of the world is have him fall in love with the world and everyone in it and to try and bring others to the Gospel and all that they teach. Opus Dei is not a plan for private devotion; it is a plan for lighting the world on fire with the love of Christ.

  • How the hell does one sanctify ones job? Doing it all consciously for love of Christ. Paying attention to detail. Carrying out tasks on time. Not very complicated stuff. By remembering this throughout the day and remaining recollected and in the presence of Him. By offering periods of work for certain intentions. Simple stuff the purpose of which is to reguarly remind yourself that your work is for Him.

    Sounds like the perfect spirituality for an obedient patriotic citizenry of good workers. The manager of a sweatshop, for example, would be all about it.

    Leaving town for a few days, but I will leave the thread open. I think it’s good that we’re having this discussion of Opus Dei.

  • “Gerry, i am grateful to receive instructions from you about how to be a Supernumerary, especially since you seem to know so much about it; skimming as we do across the surface of life and disengaged from the world.”

    Austin, you received no instructions from me. I raised a point of contradiction between your jeering remarks about my friendship with Pat and the authentic life of a Supernumerary which is akin to a life of holiness. Clearly, the contradiction, especially as you have exhibited it here, remains concrete and unresolved.

    Why would anyone believe that you are able to sanctify work if you have twice failed to sanctify a friendly conversation?

    But back to the original point. The question of duality remains glossed over and unreconciled, spiritually and intellectually — and now twice in practice.

  • Austin Ruse

    I will try not to return snark for snark and simply answer as if you really wanted to know…

    The example Josemaria frequently used were stonemasons. He would take his students to the tops of Cathedrals and show them fine masonry that no one would ever see since it was so far from the ground, and explain that this is how we should do our work, as if it will only ever been seen by God, perhaps by one’s boss and a few others, but by God.

    The life of man is taken up with work that may or may not be satisfying. The way to make it satisfying is to infuse a spiritual dimension into it. One thing that Opus Dei members are urged to do is offer our work for an intention: “over the next hour I will offer my work for that sick friend and will do it as perfectly as possible, for love of God.”

    Not everyone is called to whatever barricades you think folks should be called to. Most people are busy at their work; caring for their children, writing memos, shoveling gravel, whatever. This spirituality is for anyone who wants to meet Christ where they likely spend most of their time, at work, and to spread the Gospel message to those they come in contact with.

    What;s more, this approach is a good cure for any kind of dualism that you may be tempted to live.

  • Austin Ruse

    Gerry,

    Please dont be so angry. The reason i brought up Pat, which has caused you such angst, is your blithe dismissal of Opus Dei members as “skimming across the surface of life” and “disengaged from the world.” I am quite sure that Pat would not care in the least that i used him as an example of how that is not true. I will let him know I have done so.

    I actaully thought i had answered the questions about dualism. Here is the original post:

    “The problem with Opus Dei’s spirituality is that it is an extreme version of a dualism that has plagued the Church for some time. The Christian separation of politics and religion — the dualism that allowed German Christians to turn a blind eye when other German Christians were slaughtering Jews and that allowed Catholics to slaughter other Catholics in the Latin American civil wars…”

    The notion that Opus Dei’s spirituality is an extreme version of the dualism that allowed the holocaust is pretty strong beer. So if someone were looking for a more extreme version of the dualism that caused the Holocaust one only has to look at Opus Dei. I guess i am kind of stunned by that and would like to see some evidence. The quote that is used for proof of this hardly says “holocaust.” Here it is:

    “Opus Dei aims to encourage people of every sector of society to desire holiness in the midst of the world. In other words, Opus Dei proposes to help ordinary citizens like yourself to lead a fully Christian life, without modifying their normal way of life, their daily work, their aspirations and ambitions…. [Members] do not join Opus Dei to give up their job. On the contrary, what they look for in the Work is the spiritual help they need to sanctify their ordinary work.”

    Waht this means, and what i have already said it means is that one need not become a priest or a nun or run off to the Carthusians to achieve Holiness. This is hardly a dualism that caused the holocaust.

    As i have said before, this applies only to work that is legitimate. It would not apply to a concentration camp guard, a pornographer, an abortionist etc etc.

    Perhaps you can be clearer, Gerry, on how Opue Dei spirituality is a dualism that is an extreme form of what led to the Holocaust.

  • You guys should just go to an evening of recollection or something (that are open to the public, at least here in Houston) to understand better the Opus Dei Spirituality and be more informed before discussing this instead of just speculating. This is the same kind of speculation I have to deal with in regard to the Catholic Worker with people who are not involved and it’s just very frustrating. Only people that are involved in the Catholic Worker seem “get it”. Same with Opus Dei.

    With regard to why you would need Opus Dei to begin with: from a pastoral standpoint, it has been proven that you need small groups within parishes to communicate and discuss effectively Scriptures, Church documents, etc. I see Opus Dei just as a small group within parishes. They have their evenings of recollections in regular parishes and they are open to the public. The “book clubs” that they have meet once a month or so meet at someone’s home and they are just small groups that discuss encyclicals or latest books. Opus Dei does not work against parishes or separate from the Church at large, but it compliments it. Supernumeraries I know are very active in their parishes and are not there to push their agenda in the same way Regnum Christi often tended to do. Like I said, you really have to be involved to understand how Opus Dei interacts with the Church at large. Outside of that it’s just speculation.

    Moreover, we can’t make Opus Dei be something that was not meant to be for on the first place. One of the main things I benefited from during the time I was more active with OD activities was the emphasis on small spiritual practices that help you in approaching your family life, work, and life in general. It basically taught you discipline of the mind, heart and spirit: asceticism that is so much needed to come into the world–to dialogue, to listen to each other, to be compassionate. If more Catholics practiced that, then we wouldn’t have the nasty comments we usually have in the Catholic blogosphere, which serve as Exhibit A.

  • Austin Ruse

    Gerry,
    I just got off the phone with Pat and he had a good chuckle….he told me to keep at it…and taht you were a good guy…(sounds like Pat, don’t it?!)

  • Austin Ruse

    Pat did ask me to ask you guys this: “Just how is the waitress who serves your lunch today supposed to sanctify her work?”

    Maybe your answer is that she is not supposed to. It seems to be that that would be dualism. One of Josemaria’s main tenets is that one’s life must be fully integrated; there cannot be a separation between work/homselife and the faith. So, do you think this waitress should sanctify her work? If so, then how? If not, why not?

  • Katerina – Have you read John Allen’s book on Opus Dei? If so, what did you think of it?

    Again, I don’t think I’m “speculating” really, and I explained why.

  • JC

    I think that the question comes in one’s definition of “sanctify.” For example, a public school teacher is in a professoin which, on numerous levels, is inherently contrary to the Catholic faith (it is not distributivist, as teachers have no ownership of their work; it is not subsidiarist, as the federal government is dictating to parents how to educate their children; it requires Catholics to adopt the “religion out of the public square” mentality that Bl. Pius IX condemned in his Syllabus of Errors).

    Yet a public school teacher can sanctify her work by teaching virtue, giving a Catholic “slant” on the subject she teaches, and by being a witness in her beahvior as a Catholic, without necessarily “preaching” to studnets on one extreme or participating in the outright secularism of the school, on the other.

    I realize that you’re a self-proclaimed anarchist and pacifist, but it is possible to sanctify the work of the military without engaging in its abuses. I don’t know enough about the situation to know if it’s true or not.

    What I *do* know is that very Jesuits today actually follow what St. Ignatius taught–let’s not forget that the first few days of the Exercises involve reflecting on how even a single thought against God warrants eternal damnation, and yet the Jesuits today tallk of “conscience” as if we have the right to excuse our own mortal sins.

    The “problems” you point out with Opus Dei’s spirituality is not an inherent problem but a misinterpretation.

    Given the choice between Opus Dei and the Jesuits, I’d choose Opus Dei any day, just as Pascal chose allegiance to the Jansenists over the Jesuits of his own day.

  • “in temporal and debatable matters Opus Dei does not wish to have and cannot have any opinion, since its goals are exclusively spiritual. In all matters of free discussion, each member of the Work has and freely expresses his own personal opinion, for which he is also personally responsible.”

    http://www.escrivaworks.org/book/conversations-point-76.htm

  • “Integrism? Opus Dei is neither on the right nor on the left nor in the centre. As a priest I strive to be with Christ. Both of His arms — not just one — were outstretched on the Cross. I freely take from every group whatever seems to me good and helps me to keep my heart and my two arms open to all mankind. And every member of Opus Dei is also utterly free, within the bounds of the Christian Faith, to hold whatever opinion he likes.”

    http://www.escrivaworks.org/book/conversations-point-44.htm

  • “I do not understand violence. I do not consider it a proper way either to persuade or to win over. Error is overcome by prayer, by God’s grace, and by study; never by force, always with charity”

    http://www.escrivaworks.org/book/conversations-point-44.htm

  • Austin,

    The essence of my remarks had nothing to do with the kind of bifurcation that led to the Holocaust. It was more philosophical in focus and centered on the question of how to instill new Forms in the culture. MM chimed in and made reference to the Natural Law as the kind of Form that would be at issue. I was going to post a comment that went beyond the universals implicit in Natural Law to the existential content of personal dignity, individual freedom, and human dignity, but I did not. I felt on reflection that his addition was clarifying enough.

    So here is the key of what I said:

    “To me the real failing of Opus Dei is that in PRACTICE [emphasis added] it reduces to a sentimental piety. I’ve heard it told many times by members of Opus Dei: be a good Catholic in the work place. The emphasis is always on “good Catholic”, not on transfiguring the work place. To me, such a vision is not compelling.

    “It seems Opus Dei should have a transformative mission. It should help sanctify the workplace. This would be a mission worthy of a Church that once shaped the entirety of Europe.”

    What I was driving at here are the Forms that shape our culture — Forms that must be changed otherwise the world cannot be transformed.

    The question arises: how can secular society be enriched, i.e., transformed? Here I’m referring to the transformative role that must be played by individuals if the prevailing intellectual order — corrupt as it is — is ever to be changed. If culture is not shaped at a fundamental level of engagement, I see no hope that the world can be transfigured and sanctified as we hope.

    Let me be a little more concrete. Take the case of dysfunctional behavior. We are all too aware of the predicament of the family. Likewise there are questions of abortion, homelessness, substance abuse, violence, gangs, and sexuality. Such behaviors are tearing at the fabric of society. They, not illness or disease, are the greatest threat to the health status of youth. And so forth.

    But to address these behaviors within the context of prevention — not merely treatment, but primary prevention — there is a need to address them at their root cause. It is not enough to manipulate behavior through a system of incentives and disincentives.

    And yet, it is here that one comes face to face with a problem. Social science research cannot address root cause. It can only address correlations. Root cause is spiritual; correlations are material.

    Despite this, social science research is the Form by which we understand and address each of these behavioral problems. As you and I discussed years ago, my view is that the root cause of such behaviors is spiritual. It has to do with the quality of relations that exist among individuals in society. To compound matters, the United States exhibits a social atomism that rests on a foundation of the autonomous individual. It is here that dysfunctional behaviors have their origins. It is from here that all the ills of nominalism and voluntarism emerge.

    To formulate a national prevention strategy for dysfunctional behavior, it is necessary to predicate new Forms in our society. We must unleash the spiritual forces residing within the person as a means by which the quality of relations among individuals can be improved and the spiritual alienation, and social atomism, mitigated.

    This task is consistent with what I would call “transforming the work place”, or “the sanctification of work”. The fact that Opus Dei does not fully engage the Forms of culture indicates that it remains distant from the root cause of the problems that rage against our society. To remain distant is to be disengaged. To be disengaged is to enter into a kind of dualism, especially since the sanctification of work — not just personal sanctification — is the issue.

    I fully accept that this may not be the mission of Opus Dei. As you intimate, not all missions are equal. An accountant in Opus Dei cannot do the kind of sanctification I seek. Nor can a bank teller or a grocery clerk. Nor am I intent upon diminishing the sanctification such persons exhibit. Once more, I believe you are correct when you suggest that they bring a certain dimension through their presence in the work place that otherwise would not exist. They radiate grace and this in itself is transformative.

    But that is not the kind of transformative act I seek. I believe the sanctification of work requires much, much more. It needs to be more fully engaged and deliberately so.

    Given this, I judge the Jesuit example as more compelling. It was for this reason, after two or three years of consideration, I decided not to join Opus Dei. I will go to meetings and services when invited. But to be a formal member is not for me.

    This decision, of course, does not mean that Opus Dei is some kind of evil force existing in society that, when left outside the gaze of scrutiny, would lead to another holocaust. I don’t believe that for a second. It is not a force for evil. But it remains true — as I see it — that Opus Dei has a tendency to emphasize personal sanctification more than it does the sanctification of work. It is here that my reference to having a dualistic tendency draws its significance.

    Back to my example. The real challenge, especially as regards public policy, is to seek ways to instill new Forms, new questions, new approaches, new understandings into the national dialogue These new Forms will counter the existing Forms that afflict this country, particularly in matters of behavior. The challenges America faces are spiritual in nature yet the current methods we use to alleviate those challenges are material.

    An authentic engagement of the world involves moving intellectual inquiry away from an empirical/material center of gravity to one that is spiritual. A new language and leadership would need to be created. A new dynamic of love (quality of relations) would need to be unleashed across the country. This is the vision I have for bringing about an authentic sanctification of work in America. It is a vision that would truly be transformative. As Chardin says, it would involve moving towards an actual “divinization of the world.”

    Hope this clarifies.

  • Austin,

    Pat’s Irish. That’s him, OK.

  • “Put up with your share of difficulties, like a good soldier of Jesus Christ,” St Paul tells us. A Christian’s life is a fight, a war, a beautiful war of peace and completely different from human warfare which results from division and often hatred. The war of the sons of God is a war against their own selfishness. It is based on unity and love. “Though we live in the world, we are not carrying on a worldly war, for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God.” The Apostle is referring to our relentless fight against pride, against our tendency to do evil and our exaltation of self.”

    http://www.escrivaworks.org/book/christ_is_passing_by-point-76.htm

  • Gerald, I wonder if the sanctification of the workplace that you talk about – the new forms – is only possible by the personal sanctification of those engaged in the workplace?

    I think so.

  • “Just how is the waitress who serves your lunch today supposed to sanctify her work?”

    I can give an example of how this might work.

    Awhile back, I had occasion to record the stories of nearly 100 youth incarcerated for major crimes, including murder. This was part of an effort to arrive at the root cause of youth violence through the stories young people told about themselves.

    The particular prison facility I visited had a large staff, numbering in the hundreds. As a subtext to my conversations with young inmates, it became clear that each of them looked to only three staff members in the facility for inspiration, guidance, and hope. Why? The reason was clear. These staff members alone treated the young boys and girls in the facility with dignity and love. They extended themselves in ways that allowed the troubled youth to feel a sense of belonging with them. The young inmates were crying out for love and these three staff members reached out to give it to them. A Trinitarian relationship had been forged among them and this was a form of personal sanctification.

    This situation reminded me of the ending of Flannery O’Connor’s short story “A Good Man Is Hard To Find.” I would suggest everyone to read it. It exists on the internet.

    Despite the gift of the three, the Forms that led to the indifference of the other staff members continued to remain intact. So, while the gifted presence of the three staff members cannot be diminished, the harder task is to sanctify the workplace itself and all those who occupy its space.

    How would Opus Dei respond to that predicament?

  • “in temporal and debatable matters Opus Dei does not wish to have and cannot have any opinion, since its goals are exclusively spiritual. In all matters of free discussion, each member of the Work has and freely expresses his own personal opinion, for which he is also personally responsible.”

    Precisely the dualism I am speaking of. Thanks, Nate.

  • Austin Ruse

    Gerry,
    You are way to smart for me to address most of what you have said, so let me respond to what you call the key to what you said:

    “To me the real failing of Opus Dei is that in PRACTICE [emphasis added] it reduces to a sentimental piety. I’ve heard it told many times by members of Opus Dei: be a good Catholic in the work place. The emphasis is always on “good Catholic”, not on transfiguring the work place. To me, such a vision is not compelling.”

    I have been in and around the Work for a decade and i have never ever heard anyone say the purpose of Opus Dei is to be a good Catholic in the workplace. I have never had a spiritual director say that, or a priest, a Numberary or a Supernumerary. I have never read that in anything Josemaria wrote. One of the great things about Opus Dei is that it is wide open. Anyone can come and get it adn you dont have to be officially connected. You dont have to be Catholic or even Christian to come and get it. What this means is that many people come into the orbit and live the spirituality as best they can and sometimes they do not have a full understanding of Opus Dei. I suspect what you have heard came not from anyone who has been formally formed in Opus Dei but from someone who has not been fully formed.

    What i have heard abundantly is similar to what you wrote next:

    “It seems Opus Dei should have a transformative mission. It should help sanctify the workplace. This would be a mission worthy of a Church that once shaped the entirety of Europe.”

    The transformative mission of Opus Dei starts with the individual. it is transmitted heart to heart with the view to transforming not just the workplace but families, society, the whole world.

    best,

    Austin

  • Austin Ruse

    Michael,

    “in temporal and debatable matters Opus Dei does not wish to have and cannot have any opinion, since its goals are exclusively spiritual. In all matters of free discussion, each member of the Work has and freely expresses his own personal opinion, for which he is also personally responsible.”

    Precisely the dualism I am speaking of. Thanks, Nate.

    Josemaria and Opus Dei posit a radical freedom where its members are free to make up their own minds about temporal and debateable issues. “Opus Dei” does not issue edicts on political issues that the members then must carry out. That would be a violation of freedom. Members are free to hold differing views on political and ohters issues adn they are free to act on these opinions. They are urged to act on them if they feel so called. They are called in each and every case to act as faithful Christians.

    Honestly, I dont see how this is dualism.

  • Nate,

    Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against personal sanctification. It is essential. See my comment just above on how it worked in the prison facility I frequented. But there is also the question of intellectual discipline. In this regard, I direct you to Maritain’s “Three Degrees of Knowledge” and Bernard J. Lonergan’s “Insight”. These two works address the various ways of knowing: Faith, Philosophy, and Science. One Truth, many ways of knowing.

    What I’m calling attention to is an objective intellectual order, i.e., the role of philosophy. The tendency in America is to emphasize the moral order and to say that evil in society results only from the unethical acts of countless individuals that commit those acts. This perspective flows out of the nominalism/voluntarism that shapes the foundations of this country.

    However, aside from a moral order there is an objective intellectual order. This intellectual order transcends the moral order and the shape it takes in society. The moral order is contingent on the ideas that make up the intellectual order.

    The traditional aim of a Jesuit education is to train the intellect to discern the nature of the intellectual order and to critically assess the ideas that deviate from this order. It is here where metaphysics, philosophical anthropology, epistemology and so forth come in.

    Ethic (and politics as a subset of ethics) is built on the foundation of that intellectual order. Ethics is rooted in truth, but it is rooted in truth with a view to action. So there are two distinct things going on here. First, knowing the intellectual order. Second, acting on the basis of that order in the context of the limitations provided by intentionality and circumstance (prudential judgment).

    In America, little attention paid to the nature of ideas themselves. America does not have an intellectual tradition rooted in an objective order, i.e., that is rooted in universals. This is in part due to the the influence of Enlightenment philosophers on America and in part due to our Protestant tradition which is intrinsically anti-intellectual. For Luther and Calvin, the intellect lost its capacity to know truth because of the Fall.

    Because of the Enlightenment and Protestantism, there exist only two ways of knowing: Faith, which purports to give certitude, and Science, which gives only probability. There is no room for philosophy or the intellectual order that reaches down from Faith all the way to Science. The entire middle area is missing. It is this middle area that is the purview of philosophy. Philosophy can take its inspiration from Faith, but it can gain concreteness from Science. What Philosophy adds is an analogical order whose instrument is logic and whose outcome is consistency.

    In America, when we speak of personal dignity, individual freedom, human solidarity, society, or any other idea, we tend to appeal to what is experiential and reducible to sensation. Others would appeal to Faith. But few thinkers dissect the nature of the ideas themselves and lay bare the intellectual order. It is this bifurcation between Faith and Science that brings about the confusion in all things having to do with nature, man and God.

    Catholics need to rediscover the role of the intellect and the place of an objective intellectual order in the scheme of things.

  • JC

    “How should the waitress sanctify her work”?

    The same way a nun in a cloister sanctifies her work: by doing it prayerfully and cheerfully. Read _Story of a Soul_.

    There are many times a Christian can witness in any given job.

    There is also the point of keeping, if possible, a prayer book nearby so you can pray. At my only full-time job, I kept a breviary, a Novena book, and some other resources on my desk. I also kept savior.org open on my computer all day. I found a daily Mass at 7 PM (I worked evening shift), and I started giving up my lunch break to attend Mass.

    I made sure I said some devotion every hour.

    When I worked at JC Penney one summer, people would regularly come up to me and say things like, “I’m so glad you’re working today. You’re the nicest, most helpful person here.”
    I had to deal with an angry couple one time. It’s a long story for a combox, but it was the manager’s mistake, and I did everything I could to help/appease them till the manager was available.
    After it was all resolved, the guy said, “And this guy [me], wow. I was made, and i was yelling at him, and he kept a smile on his face the whole time, and never lost his cool. If someone came to me at my work and spoke to me the way I spoke to him, I’d have cussed them out! But he just stood there and took it.”

    That’s sanctifying your work.

  • Austin,

    I really think the question of dualism is unresolved. But I don’t want to be labor the point. We do agree that the mission must be transformative, both of the person and of the workplace. I find Opus Dei strong in regards personal sanctification and a little weak regarding the sanctification of work. Nonetheless, we can move forward on that basis, always taking care to adjust both poles.

    I do want to add that I have met one Opus Dei person who is a most remarkable personage on art and art criticism. I’ve never met or heard of anyone quite like him, except for Jacques Maritain. I’m sure you know him. Just a fantastic and penetrating mind, and a total inspiration.

    Maybe we can persuade Pat to bring out his Irish jug. Maybe it’s time.

    Jerry

  • digbydolben

    Gerald, you live in Washington, don’t you?

    I’ve heard of this Opus Dei art critic: a friend of mine listened to him taking a group of students through the National Gallery and told me that it was one of the best presentations that anyone there had ever heard, and it was for HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS. (There is a course called “AP Art History,” and I suppose that the gentleman was lecturing to the members of such a class.)

    Here’s a question for you: why don’t you write more in the same vein as what’s above at your own blog? Sometimes I think your mental acuity and refined cultural sensitivity are lost on the hoi polloi who come here to shout at each other–including myself (but if I could just read you without having my nerves rattled by what bigots say, it’d be nice!)

  • digbydolben

    Also, Gerald, I thought you might like this:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124079001063757515.html

    “Waking up slumbering minds” is not an ethical priority in American education–where education has, indeed, NO “ethical priorities,” and is only utilitarian (i.e. to benefit one’s financial prospects).

    There is no strong belief, there, that the failure to develop critical thinking skills in the minds of youth reflects a profoundly corrupt, amoral decision that is grounded in a deep impulse to protect entrenched power. Just look at all the convoluted, tortured reasoning that is going on in the press there to re-define “torture” as being Constitutional.

    You had better believe that the same kind of reasoning is being put on display right now in civics and AP American history classes in high schools across that country. And kids are being made ever more cynical and nihilist by it.

  • Austin Ruse

    I would just say that the Opus Dei art critic, not sure who that is, is not no greater value to the Kingdom than the Opus Dei mom changing diapers and saying, “Lord, I do this for love of you.”

    I totally agree there is an enormous problem with dualism in Catholicism. German at mid-century is a very good example. If those Catholics in that country had a unity of life, none of that could have happened. This is why JP the Great apologized for them. In quite the same way, i expect a future Pope to apologize for Catholics in America who are so complacent or even supportive of the killing of the innocent. This indeed is dualism.

    Having said that, i would also assert that in my experience, the spirituality of Opus Dei does not contribute to that but rather is an antidote.

  • Austin Ruse

    Sorry for bad grammar above…a mistake in haste…it should should, as you likely know: “…is of no greater value…

  • digbydolgen,

    It’s interesting what you say about the art person mentioned above. His enthusiasm for the subject matter would certainly be contagious and have the capacity to excite the passions, intellect, and creative juices residing in each high school student.

    I remember one time writing a speech for a congressman — long ago. He was concerned that his constituents wouldn’t understand some parts of what I wrote. What he was doubtful about was a part that went beyond the “facts and information” mode but reached upward to ideas. The centrality of what I wrote was designed to move the hearts and minds of his audience.

    Although he was doubtful, he went ahead nonetheless and delivered the speech. To his surprise, many in the audience came up to him and congratulated him on his comments. His audiences usually did not do this. One guy in the audience said it all: “I’m not sure I understood everything you said, but boy do I agree with you.” Even more surprising to him, the sections he thought might be a little dicey were precisely the paragraphs the press picked up for publication in a special section of the editorial page. There was a moral message in those words the paper thought had universal significance.

    This goes to the heart of the Jesuit education paradigm. The intellect, whether of the common man or the erudite, has the capacity to grasp profound truths at any and all times — young and old. Modernity denies this capacity. For the Jesuit, the ability to “see” fundamental truths takes place, not necessarily through complicated reasoning, but through an act of the intellect called intellectus intuitiva — a direct and immediate grasp of the object. High school students are no exception in this regard. And when “insight” is conjoined with passion — in this case, the passion of the art critic, for instance — the passion is transmitted to the student. Passion stirs curiosity and the intellect begins to struggle to know more and more. When this dynamic is combined with “the urge to creativity” an energy is unleashed within that manifests itself in truly remarkable ways.

    Thanks for your suggestion. Many times I write something in a comment box and then wonder why I didn’t just write it as a separate post. It’s a good suggestion. It’d probably save me the hassle of being “shouted” at too.