Opus Dei - struggle for holiness

Piotr Chmielinski

'Your ordinary contact with God takes place where your fellow men, your yearnings, your work and your affections are. There you have your daily encounter with Christ. It is in the midst of the most material things of the earth that we must sanctify ourselves, serving God and all mankind. Far away on the horizon heaven seems to meet the earth. Do not forget that where heaven and earth really meet is in the heart of a child of God' (St Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer)

In the centre of Warsaw

The quiet, peaceful Gornoslaska street in Warsaw. On can see an inconspicuous villa, at 43 Gornoslaska. It does not differ from the neighbouring buildings. There is no information who lives here but the initiated know that this is the Personal Prelature of Opus Dei (God's Work), the organisation that has been accused of being secret, elite and that it influences governments of various countries. A few weeks ago Newsweek Polska asked on its cover page what influence Opus Dei exerted on the government of Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz. Is it really so? - Yes. I know people who have been formed by Opus Dei and now they are members of the government. But in Opus Dei we do not ask who works and where one works but we ask how one works, Fr Piotr Prieto, Regional Vicar, Opus Dei in Poland, tells 'Niedziela'. He adds that a person who takes the formation of Opus Dei, does it on his own.
- Our meetings concern only spiritual matters. We do not interfere in earthly, political issues. Opus Dei is still a relatively new institution in the Church. And people look at Opus Dei using the well-known categories. And what they see does not fit the schemes they know. That's why they say: Something is wrong here. They have not learnt to understand freedom yet. They think that some people are controlled by Opus Dei and act on behalf of this organisation but this is not the case, Fr Prieto says.

Like at a petrol station

He gives an example of a petrol station. A car approaches it, the driver fills up the car with petrol and drives away. The way he drives his car depends on him. The petrol station cannot be responsible for this.
- Opus Dei works like a petrol station. People use our formation, listen to our teaching, take part in meetings and then they go back to their homes and work, and carry out concrete resolutions, the Regional Vicar emphasises.
Fr Prieto mentions that Opus can be of certain danger to the environments that are unfriendly to the Church because Opus Dei tries to provide a solid formation for the laymen. - Similar articles have also appeared in other countries, he adds.

Personal Prelature

Opus Dei was founded in Madrid in 1928 by St Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer. Opus Dei is a personal prelature, which means that Opus is not a territory organisation. It gathers priests and laymen, living in the whole world, under the jurisdiction of the prelate. 'The prelature is connected with what can be called sanctification of time. Since it receives the time of thousands of people, needed to fulfil one's specific task: personal Christian formation, and through it spreading the evangelical ideal of universal call to holiness in the specific place they occupy in the world. Sanctification of time defines every member's professional and family responsibilities as well as social relationships' (from the book 'Opus Dei - proba wyjasnienia' [Opus Dei - An Attempt to Explain It]).
Opus Dei aims at fostering individual holiness in the world. St Josemaria formulated this aim in his book 'The Way': 'Your duty is to sanctify yourself. Yes, even you. Who thinks that this task is only for priests and religious? To everyone, without exception, our Lord said: 'Be ye perfect, as my heavenly Father is perfect.'

Numeraries and supernumeraries

The members of Opus Dei belong to three groups. The first one is the supernumeraries. They now account for about 70% of the total membership. Generally they are married men or women, for whom the sanctification of their family duties is the most important part of their Christian life. The second group is the associates of the prelature. They are men and women who commit themselves to celibacy, and they are more ready to carry out apostolic works than supernumeraries. Some live with their families, or wherever is convenient for professional reasons. The third group is the numeraries. They are single and circumstances allow them to be more available to attend to the apostolic undertakings and the formation of the other Opus Dei members. They are usually able to live in Opus Dei centres. The numeraries give their earnings to Opus Dei.
- Just as father gives his family what he earns. Opus Dei is not an order where people take the vow of poverty. I voluntarily give what I earn in order to provide for myself, my family, the house and to support the apostolic initiatives of Opus Dei, Fr Prieto explains.
Generally members of Opus Dei do not reveal their membership to the prelature. And this may be the reason why they are often accused of keeping deliberately their membership in secret. But they themselves think that the fact they do not tell about it does not mean they want to hide it on purpose. People who do not belong to Opus Dei do not also inform publicly that they belong to some parish, that they confess every now and then or they have a spiritual director.
- I do not tell all people about my family problems, my financial situation or that I have lost my job. Naturally, people close to me know about this. It applies to my Christian life, Fr Prieto says.
Are there any characteristics of a member of Opus Dei? No, not at the first sight. Normal job, time with family, rest. But when you take a closer look you can see that members of Opus Dei treat their jobs in a special way. This is an area of their sanctification. That's why they work a lot and try to do their best. And at the same time they do not neglect their families. The supernumeraries have often many children.
The most important thing for them is their contact with God. 'Daily Mass is at the first place - centre and source of Christian life. Every day they spend time on personal prayer, reading the Bible, rosary... Normality and daily intensity of inner life, without strange gestures and showing up, are key characteristics of Opus Dei' (fragment of the above mentioned book).

Everybody can join Opus Dei

Opus Dei is often accused of elitism and lack of openness. This is another falsehood. Anyone can join Opus Dei. Naturally, except for the religious since they have already had their religious vocations.
- Our meetings are free of charge, open to all those who want to struggle for holiness every day and live in the spirit of Opus Dei. In Poland one can find a lot of information about Opus Dei in the media, on the Internet (www.opusdei.org) or in books. We have already mentioned 'The Way', which has been sold in several million copies all over the world. One can also find films with the teaching of St Josemaria. The centres in Krakow, Szczecin, Poznan and Warsaw are known. Some are small students' halls of residence. Students live there although they are not members of Opus Dei. Moreover, it happens that some of them are non-believers or non-practising Christians. The centres have their websites. You can get leaflets about their activities, and naturally anyone who wants can come there, Fr. Prieto informs.

"Niedziela" 6/2006

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl