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Opus Dei, And The Cult Of Insignificance

Opus Dei: too secret?
"A member of the Opus Dei? Where? I haven't seen any!"

1) Introduction

"What is the Opus Dei?" This text doesn't try to answer that question, since there are many excellent sources of information available on that topic, starting with their own web site (www.opusdei.org). "What about that Da Vinci Code?" This text doesn't bother with idiotic novels, so please consult The Da Vinci Hoax (OLSON, Carl, MIESEL, Sandra. Ignatius Press, 329 pages) or some equivalent. "Are all those nasty rumors about the Opus Dei really true?" As far as I know, some of them are, and that's what I'm going to talk about here.

2) What I don't condemn about the Opus Dei

There are many things about the Opus Dei which I don't condemn, on the contrary. I sing their praises and I thank the Lord for them!

2.1) Holy Founder. Saint Josémaria Escriva is exactly that: a saint!

2.2) Total faithfulness to the Magisterium. The Opus Dei just teaches what the Catholic Church officially teaches. That might seem obvious, but these days, it's unfortunately quite rare.

2.3) Quality control. I've met or seen members of the Jesuits, Dominicans, Assumptionist Fathers, etc., who were complete heretics. But I've never met an Opus Dei Priest who wasn't fully Catholic. Also, I've heard of at least two persons in Quebec City who were kicked out of the Opus Dei because they rejected some teachings of the Church. Actually, the Opus Dei might be one of the last Catholic organizations in the Province of Quebec with a Quality Control System that is still functional.

2.4) Excellent spiritual direction. I've had four spiritual directors over the years, and except for Father Engelbert Lacasse, S.J., they've all been Opus Dei Priests. It's not their fault if I'm not a better person, since they've all given me excellent advice.

2.5) The nature of their enemies. Some of the dumbest and most corrupt people I know attack the Opus Dei. Whether Abortionists, Beer-swizzlers, Catholic-bashers, Detractors of authority, etc., the whole alphabet of sinners is united in their hatred of the Opus Dei. As Blaise Pascal says for the Catholic Church, the very kind of people who reject Her is also a proof of Her divine origin.

2.6) Faithfulness to the intention of the Founder. Saint Josémaria didn't found a political party, or a union, or a league of defense for the rights of Catholics, etc. Fortunately, the Opus Dei has so far managed to stick to the original spirit of the Founder: helping its members sanctify themselves.

2.7) Real action here, not good intentions elsewhere. Sadly, many "Catholic" organizations these days stridently advocate all kinds of good intentions, but about huge problems far, far away, while simultaneously ignoring real problems right here and now! The Opus Dei concentrates on helping its members pray, go frequently to the Sacraments (especially Confession and the Eucharist), read good spiritual books, humbly follow advice of their spiritual director, and do their daily work as best as they can, in order to sanctify their work, sanctify themselves in their work, and sanctify the people around them at work.

2.8) Good books. Some of the best books I own were written by the Founder or by members of the Opus Dei.

Etc., etc...

3) Some bad things I don't like about the Opus Dei

First, a disclaimer. I haven't conducted a scientific study on the Opus Dei, so perhaps what I've observed applies only to the men's section of the Opus Dei in Quebec City.

My fundamental claim is that some members of the Opus Dei tend to cultivate their own insignificance. Satan twists some good teachings of Saint Josémaria, in an attempt to nullify the good influence of the Opus Dei. This cult of insignificance lets members of the Opus Dei keep a good conscience and apparently follow the teachings of their holy Founder, while simultaneously letting the Devil destroy the Church. Here are what I consider to be indications of this behavior:

3.1) The Catholic Omertŕ. My main inspiration for The Catholic Omertŕ is discussions I had with Opus Dei Priests.

3.2) The image of the Opus Dei trumps the salvation of souls. On several occasions, I discussed the problem of the "Prions en Église" (See paragraph 6.5 of "My Subjective Assessment Of Cardinal Ouellet") with an Opus Dei Priest. He agreed that they contained heresies, that they also promoted heretical books, and that it was awful that they were distributed in all Catholic churches in the Province of Quebec, every Sunday. Would he be willing to write a letter denouncing that? "No, because the following day the Opus Dei would be in all the newspapers." Personally, if I had been in his position, I would have said: "Sure! Who cares about the Opus Dei's corporate image, as long as we do everything we can to protect the lambs of Jesus!" But that Priest just said: "We don't use them, so it's not our problem."

3.3) "The plausibility of our denials is unimpeachable!" ("Cancerman", from the X-Files). Members of the Opus Dei will participate in other associations, as long as they can maintain the plausibility of their denials. If they can't hide in that assocation, they will tend to shun it. For example, I was encouraged to avoid the Christian Heritage Party in favor of a big party like the Liberals or the Conservatives, where I could "work from the inside, like leaven in dough". I replied that all other political parties in Canada support abortion (including the Conservatives), which a Christian cannot endorse in any way, but that didn't seem to matter.

Another example of the excessive importance they grant to "the plausibility of their denials" is this very text. So far, two Opus Dei Priests have talked to me about it, but while being careful to avoid leaving any evidence behind. Phone calls, private meetings, yes. But no e-mails or letters, since "littera scripta manet", written documents are harder to deny.

3.4) Cluelessness about environmental issues. I've never heard of a member of the Opus Dei involved in any kind of environmental advocacy. I was even told bluntly by an Opus Dei Priest that the Church is here to send people to Heaven, so we didn't have to worry about the environment. Of course, I fully agree that Heaven is an infinitely higher priority than saving pandas or beluga whales! But Christ clearly says that in order to get to Heaven, we must give food to the hungry, water to the thirsty, etc. [Mt 25:35]. Destruction of our environment is directly opposed to this! For example, global warming could threaten millions of men with floods, hurricanes and other climate-related disasters. (One of the many indications of this cluelessness is the scorn heaped upon someone showing up for weekday Mass wearing knee-length bermuda shorts. You can almost hear them think: "Firstly, knees are genitals, and secondly, every member of the Opus Dei is rich enough to own a car, so why can't you get an air-conditioned bicycle?")

3.5) Public collective action is discouraged, in favor of individual secret action. Of all the means available to defend the Church, the only one available to the Opus Dei seems to be writing letters to the Editor of the local newspaper. This is encouraged verbally, as well as in Opus Dei books like "In Conversation With God". I once tried to point out the lack of effectiveness of such actions, since it's so easy for an anti-Catholic newspaper to simply throw out those letters. At the minimum, we should at least send a single letter with many signatures, and transform a single letter into a popular and well-known petition! No. Public collective action is specifically discouraged, even (of course) if the Opus Dei is never mentioned. Anyone trying to organize Catholics so as to better defend their rights is poo-poohed, and shrugged off with a "holier than thou" smirk. Why? I don't know, but maybe it would decrease the plausibility of their denials (See #3.3 above).

3.6) Hiding behind Saint Josémaria and the Church. Any member of the Opus Dei will gladly admit that, individually, they are sinners and hence imperfect, but a systematic problem with the Opus Dei is considered impossible. Anybody who says anything negative about the Opus Dei is considered to be attacking the Holy Founder and the Catholic Church. This obviously prevents them from seeing a systematic problem and correcting it, even a systematic problem not related to the excellent teachings of Saint Josémaria and the Magisterium.

Bruce Willis Die Hard 3.
Somehow, between this, and putting paper bags over their heads,
there must be a golden mean for members of the Opus Dei!

4) Some minor irritants in the Opus Dei

There are other far less serious problems, which are mostly just annoying:

4.1) The mythical Opus Dei plumber. It is possible to be a member of the Opus Dei without being a university professor or a lawyer. Honest! Well, OK, I'll have to take their word for it!

4.2) Sirupy self-publicity. Over the years, I've received many e-mails, flyers, and word-of-mouth communications from the Opus Dei. Based on a statistical analysis of all this, I've concluded that Copernicus was wrong, and that planet Earth revolves around Saint Josémaria! Seriously, it would be nice to once in a while see the Opus Dei promoting something other than itself.

While arguing with my spiritual director, I tried to give an example of something the Opus Dei could have encouraged in Quebec City: the Life Chain. It's a North American event, for all Christian denominations, approved by well-known Catholic Bishops, etc. I had supplied all the information to the Opus Dei, including flyers for the event. The Priest replied, totally oblivious to the fact he was proving I was right and he was wrong: "Well of course we couldn't promote that event, it wasn't organized by the Opus Dei!"

4.3) "Rich? We're not rich!" I really like the current location of the Opus Dei house in the cushiest part of uptown Quebec City (beautiful, comfortable, well-organized, etc.), but I wonder why they don't have another house in the poorest part of downtown. First, it wouldn't cost much, and second, it would help them remain in contact with reality. (Since I also live uptown, I have the same problem. Recently, I started participating in an unrelated group, but downtown. At first, I felt like I was visiting a foreign country!)

4.4) Stealth Demerit Points. Opus Dei wannabes beware: when you get invited to their monthly recollections, every invitation is counted. Even thought it looks like an informal invitation, made by someone who is just casually talking to you, it is nevertheless known by the Priest in charge of that section, and after a few absences your "Learner's Permit" is silently revoked, and you'll never get your license! In my case, I went, but was dismayed because: (i) I could barely understand the instruction given by the Priest, because of his soft voice and strong Spanish accent; (ii) the other instruction given by a layperson was rather diluted, for someone like me who often studies the official teachings of the Church; (iii) it felt like we all had duck tape over our mouths and paper bags over our heads. I was actually looking forward to meeting other people faithful to the Magisterium (defending the Pope in the Quebec Diocese is a rather unpopular activity). But the Priest later explained it was intentionally that way: no fraternization, no milk and cookies, etc., so as to filter out anyone not desperate to become a member of the Opus Dei.

4.5) The "regroup or disperse" dilemma. I'm listing this item at the very bottom of my list, because it's based only on conversations with a single Opus Dei Priest. I was told very clearly that my letter called "Please, Mr. Cardinal, Could You Leave Us One Parish?" was bad, and that the Cardinal should not provide us with at least one Parish where the Liturgy, the Sacraments and the Homilies would be compatible with the official teachings of the Catholic Church. Obviously, I totally disagree, since when you put 100 rowers in rowboat, 20 rowing in the right direction, and 80 rowing in the wrong direction, obviously the rowboat will go in the wrong direction! If you want to go in the correct direction, you need to discipline the bad 80 rowers, or put those 20 good rowers in another rowboat. The funny part of this conversation is that the same Priest clearly told me that I could never become a member of the Opus Dei, unless I "had a kind of conversion, and made an act of faith in the Opus Dei Approach". In other words, I could not get on their rowboat unless I promised to row exactly in the same direction as them! What is even funnier is that, as you can see from Section 2 here above, the Opus Dei and I agree 100% on all the essentials of the Catholic Faith! But the situation in the Quebec Diocese is totally different! Those "80 Liberal Protestant rowers" are not even in the same Church as the other "20 Catholic rowers"!

5) The specific vulnerability of the Opus Dei

Science teaches us that human bodies can be more or less vulnerable to viruses, depending on their age, health, genetics, etc. I claim it's the same thing for "social bodies". Organizations, depending on their constitution, their training, their membership, etc., are more or less vulnerable to "social viruses". Morever, even if infected with the same virus, they can react differently. ("Receptum est in recipiente per modum recipientis" [Summa Theologica, Ia, q. 84, a. 1, in corpus])

Fundamentally, what is the Opus Dei "cult of insignificance"? I claim it's just another strain of the Catholic heterostupidity virus. (This Opus Dei strain can be described by the following subset of paragraphs: 3.2, 3.4, 3.5, 3.6, 3.8, 3.15. Notice on the other hand the complete absence of paragraphs 3.1, 3.7, 3.10, etc.) Whether they like it or not, the Opus Dei in Quebec City is subject to the same harmful social influences which surround us all. So far they have stood up very well to these harmful influences, perhaps better than all the other "Catholic social bodies" in the Province of Quebec. But I claim they have not escaped unscathed.

6) Conclusion

I have referred, and I will continue to refer young persons to the Opus Dei. But on the other hand, if the Opus Dei in Quebec City is not purged of this "Cult of insignificance", then its members will continue to be taught the art of being vanquished. In their own particular way, they will contribute to the eradication of the Catholic Faith here in Quebec.

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