Freedom and Pluralism in the People of God
We would like to begin this interview with a subject on which opinions are highly divided: the question of aggiornamento. In your opinion, what is the real meaning of this word in the life of the Church?
Faithfulness. Aggiornamento, as I see it, means above all faithfulness. A husband, a soldier, an administrator, who faithfully fulfils at each moment, in each new circumstance of his life, the duties of love and justice which he once took on, will always be just that much better a husband, soldier or administrator. It is difficult to keep this keen sense of loyalty constantly active, as it is always difficult to apply a principle to the changing realities of the contingent world. But it is the best defence against ageing of the spirit, hardening of the heart and stiffening of the mind.
The same thing applies to the lives of institutions, and in a very special way to the life of the Church which does not follow a precarious human plan but a God-given design. The world's redemption and salvation are the fruits of Jesus Christ's loving filial faithfulness to the will of the heavenly Father Who sent Him, and of our faithfulness to Him. Therefore aggiornamento in the Church, today as in any other period, is fundamentally a joyful reaffirmation of the People of God's faithfulness to the mission received, to the Gospel.
This faithfulness should be alive and active in every circumstance of men's lives. It therefore requires opportune doctrinal developments in the exposition of the riches of the depositum fidei, as can clearly be seen in the two thousand years of the Church's history and recently in the Second Vatican Council. It may also require suitable changes and reforms to improve, in their human and perfectible element, the organisational structures and the missionary and apostolic methods of the Church. But it would be, to say the least, superficial to think that aggiornamento consists primarily in change, or that all change produces aggiornamento. One need only consider that there are people who seek changes which go outside and against the Church's doctrine and would put the progressive movement of the People of God back several centuries in history. back at least to feudal times.
The Second Vatican Council has often used the expression 'People of God' to designate the Church. It has thus shown clearly the common responsibility of all Christians in the single mission of this People of God. What, in your opinion, should be the characteristics of the 'necessary public opinion in the Church,' of which Pius XII already spoke, in order to reflect effectively this common responsibility? How is the phenomenon of 'public opinion in the Church' affected by the particular relationships of authority and obedience which exist in the heart of the Christian community?
I do not think there can be such a thing as truly Christian obedience unless that obedience is voluntary and responsible. The children of God are not made of stone. Nor are they corpses. They are intelligent and free beings. And they all have been raised to the same supernatural order as those who hold authority. But no one can use his intelligence and freedom properly, whether it be to obey or to give an opinion, unless he has acquired an adequate Christian education. The problem of 'necessary public opinion in the Church' is fundamentally the same as the problem of the doctrinal training of the faithful. Certainly the Holy Spirit distributes his abundant gifts among the members of the People of God, all of whom are responsible for the mission of the Church. But far from exempting anyone from the obligation of acquiring adequate doctrinal training his action makes it more pressing.
By 'doctrine' I mean the knowledge which each person should have of the mission of the Church as a whole and of his particular role, his specific responsibilities, in that mission. This, as the Holy Father has frequently reminded us, is the colossal task of education which the Church must undertake in the post-conciliar period. The solution to the problem which you mention, as well as to other yearnings which are felt today in the heart of the Church, depends directly, I feel, on how well this task is done. Certainly, more or less 'prophetic' intuitions of some uninstructed 'charismatics' cannot guarantee the necessary public opinion among the People of God.
Regarding the forms of expression of this public opinion, I don't think it is a question of organs and institutions. A diocesan pastoral council, the columns of a newspaper, even though it isn't officially Catholic, or even a personal letter from one of the faithful to his bishop, can all be equally effective. There are many legitimate ways in which the faithful can express their opinion. They neither can nor should be strait-jacketed by creating a new body or institution. And much less if it meant having an institution which ran the risk of being monopolized or made use of, as could so easily happen, by a group or clique of official Catholics, regardless of their tendencies or orientation. That would endanger the prestige of the hierarchy itself and it would seem a mockery to the other members of the People of God.
The concept of 'People of God', to which we referred before, expresses the historical character of the Church as a reality of divine origin which also includes some changing and transitory elements. Bearing this in mind, how should the priestly character be expressed in the lives of priests today? What aspects of the priest's life, as described in the Decree Presbyterorum Ordinis would you underline for the present times?
I would underline a characteristic of priestly existence which is not part of these changing and transitory elements. I refer to the perfect union which should exist, as the Decree Presbyterorum Ordinis reminds us on several occasions, between a priest's consecration and his mission. Or, in other words between his personal life of piety and the exercise of his priestly ministry; between his filial relationship with God, and his pastoral and brotherly relations with men. I do not believe a priest can carry out an effective ministry unless he is a man of prayer.
Some sectors of the clergy are concerned about the presence of the priest in society. Taking their cue from the Council (Constitution 'Lumen Gentium', 31; Decree 'Presbyterorum Ordinis', 8) they propose that priests undertake a professional or manual activity in civil life: 'priests in the factory', etc. We would like to know your opinion on this.
Let me first say that, even though I consider it mistaken for many reasons, I respect the opinion contrary to my own, and recognise the apostolic zeal of its proponents who can count on my prayers and affection.
A priest's ministry may be encumbered by timidity and complexes, which usually indicate human immaturity, or by clerical tendencies which denote supernatural immaturity. But when the priesthood is exercised properly, without those obstacles, I think it is sufficient in itself to ensure a legitimate, simple and authentic presence of the priest-man among the other members of the human community to whom he addresses himself. Usually nothing more will be needed in order to be in living communion with the world of work, to understand its problems and to share its fortunes. Recourse to the ingenuous 'passport' of 'amateur lay' activities can offend, for all sorts of reasons, the average layman's good sense and will rarely be effective, because its very lack of authenticity condemns it to failure from the outset.
The priestly ministry, especially in these times of great scarcity of clergy, is a terribly absorbing task which leaves no time for 'double-jobbing'. Men need us so much (though many do not realise it) that there will never be a surplus of priests. We need more helping hands, more time, more energy. This is why I often say to my sons who are priests that the day one of them noticed that he had time on his hands, he could be quite sure he had not lived his priesthood well that day.
And bear in mind that in the case of these priests of Opus Dei, we are dealing with men who before receiving Holy Orders usually have worked for years in some intellectual or manual activity in civil life. They are priest-engineers, priest-doctors, priest-workers etc. Nevertheless, as far as I know none of them has thought it necessary to approach men with a slide-rule, a stethoscope or a pneumatic drill, in order to make himself heard or win the esteem of civil society and his former colleagues and companions. It is true that at times they exercise their professions or trades, in a way compatible with the obligations of the clerical state. But they never feel impelled to do so in order to be 'present in civil life'. Their motives are different: social charity, for example; or absolute financial need, in order to initiate some apostolic undertaking. Paul too had occasion to return to his trade as a tent maker. But not because Ananias told him in Damascus that he should learn to make tents in order to be able to preach Christ's gospel to the Gentiles in a fitting manner.
To sum up — and may I make it clear that with this I am not prejudging the legitimacy nor the rectitude of intention of any apostolic activity — I see the professional man or worker who becomes a priest as more authentic and more in accordance with the doctrine of Vatican II than the figure of the worker-priest. Except in the field of specialised pastoral work, which will always be necessary, the 'classical' figure of the worker-priest already belongs to the past: a past in which the marvellous potential of the lay apostolate was hidden to many eyes.
At times we hear complaints about priests who adopt definite positions on temporal problems and particularly on political questions. Today, unlike other times, many of these positions are taken up to favour greater freedom, social justice etc. Undoubtedly, active intervention in these matters is not proper to the ministerial priesthood, apart from exceptional cases; but do you not think that a priest should denounce injustice, the absence of freedom, etc., as un-Christian? How can these opposing demands be reconciled?
A priest, by virtue of his teaching mission should preach the Christian virtues, and their practical demands and manifestations in the concrete circumstances of the lives of the men to whom he ministers. He should, also, teach men to respect and esteem the dignity and freedom with which God has endowed the human person, and the special supernatural dignity which a Christian receives at Baptism.
No priest who fulfils this duty of his ministry can ever be accused, except through ignorance or bad faith, of meddling in politics. Nor could it be said that his teaching interferes in the apostolic task which belongs specifically to the laity, of ordering temporal structures and occupations in a Christian fashion.
Concern is felt throughout the Church for the problems of the Third World. It is generally recognised that one of the greatest difficulties emanates from the shortage of clergy, and particularly of native priests. What is your opinion, and what experience have you had in this field?
I fully agree that the increase in native clergy is a problem of primary importance for ensuring not only the development but even the permanence of the Church in many countries, especially in those which are undergoing a period of bitter nationalism.
As regards my own experience in this field, I must say it is one of the many motives I have for giving thanks to our Lord. Hundreds of laymen of Opus Dei from more than sixty nations, including many where the Church urgently needs to develop a native clergy, are being trained and ordained priests with sound doctrine, a universal (catholic) outlook, and an ardent spirit of service. (I can say that they are certainly better than I am.) Some have been consecrated bishops in countries where the problem is particularly acute and have already established flourishing seminaries.
Priests are incardinated in a diocese and depend on the Ordinary. What justification can there be for them to belong to an association which is distinct from the diocese and even organised on a world-wide basis?
The justification is clear: legitimate use of the natural right of association, which the Church recognises for the clergy as well as for the rest of the faithful. There is a centuries-old tradition testified to by the example of the many praiseworthy associations which have helped the spiritual life of secular priests. It has been repeatedly reaffirmed in the teaching of the recent Popes (Pius XII, John XXIII and Paul VI), and in the solemn declarations of the Second Vatican Council (cf Decree Presbyterorum Ordinis, 8).
It is worth bearing in mind here that the competent conciliar Commission rejected, with the subsequent approval of the General Congregation, a Council father's proposal that there be no priestly associations other than those fostered or directed by the diocesan bishop. It clearly based its rejection on the natural right of association which the clergy also enjoy; the reply stated: 'What the Council has declared as befitting lay people (in that it derives from natural law and suits the dignity of human nature) cannot be denied to priests.'
By virtue of this fundamental right, priests are free to found associations or become members of those which already exist, provided the associations pursue good aims which are in keeping with the dignity and requirements of the clerical state. To understand properly the legitimacy and scope of the secular clergy's right of association and avoid all misunderstandings, reservations or danger of anarchy, one should recall the distinction which necessarily exists and which should be respected, between the cleric's ministerial function and the sphere of his personal life.
In fact a cleric, and particularly a priest, incorporated by the sacrament of Holy Orders into the Ordo presbyterorum, is constituted by divine law as a cooperator of the Episcopal Order. The specific ministerial function of diocesan priests is determined, according to the practice of ecclesiastical law, by incardination, which attaches a priest to the service of a local church, under the authority of the respective bishop, and by a canonical mission, which confers upon a priest a definite ministry within the unity of the presbyterium whose head is the bishop. It is obvious, therefore, that the priest depends on his bishop, by virtue of a sacrament and juridical bond, in everything which refers to the assignment of his particular pastoral work; the doctrinal and disciplinary instructions which he receives for the exercise of his ministry; a just financial remuneration; and in all the pastoral indications which the bishop may give for the care of souls, for divine worship and for applying the prescriptions of common law relating to the rights and obligations derived from the clerical state.
All these necessary relations of dependence give juridical expression to the pastoral obedience, unity and communion with his own Ordinary which a priest ought to live with tact and refinement. But there also exists in the life of a secular priest a legitimate sphere of personal autonomy, freedom and responsibility, in which he enjoys the same rights and obligations as any other person in the Church. His juridical condition is thus clearly different from that of minors (cf. Canon 89 of the Code of Canon Law), and from that of the religious, who renounce the exercise of all or some of their personal rights by virtue of their religious profession.
Within the general limits of morality and of the duties proper to his state, a secular priest can freely administer and decide, individually or together with others in an association, all the spiritual, cultural and financial aspects of his personal life. He is free to look after his own development in accordance with his personal preferences and capabilities. He is free to lead the social life he wishes, and to order his life as he thinks best, provided that he fulfils the obligations of his ministry. He is free to dispose of his personal private goods according to the dictates of his conscience. And above all, he is free in his spiritual and ascetic life and in his acts of piety to follow the inspirations of the Holy Spirit, and to choose, from among the many means which the Church counsels or permits, those which are most suited to his own particular circumstances.
Both the Second Vatican Council and Pope Paul VI in his Sacerdotalis Coelibatus have earnestly commended diocesan and interdiocesan, national and world-wide associations which foster the holiness of priests in the exercise of their ministry and have been approved by the appropriate ecclesiastical authorities. The existence of such associations in no way weakens, as I have already said, the bond of communion and dependence which links each priest with his bishop, the brotherly unity which unites the members of the priesthood, nor the effectiveness of each priest's service in his own local Church.
The mission of the laity is carried out, according to the Council, in the Church and in the world. Often this is misunderstood because people concentrate on one aspect or the other. How would you explain the laity's task in the Church and in the world?
I think by no means they should be considered as being two different tasks. The layman's specific role in the mission of the Church is precisely that of sanctifying secular reality, the temporal order, the world, ab intra, in an immediate and direct way.
In addition to his secular task, a layman (like a cleric or a religious) has certain fundamental rights, duties and powers within ecclesiastical society related to his juridical status as a member of the faithful: active participation in the liturgy, the possibility of cooperating directly in the hierarchy's apostolate, and of offering advice to the hierarchy in its pastoral task. if invited to do so, etc.
The specific task which belongs to the layman as layman, and his generic or common one as a member of the faithful are not opposed but rather superimposed. They are not contradictory but complementary. To concentrate solely on the specific secular mission of the layman and to forget his membership of the Church would be as absurd as to imagine a green branch in full bloom which did not belong to any tree. But to forget what is specific and proper to the layman, or to misunderstand the characteristics of his apostolic tasks and their value to the Church, would be to reduce the flourishing tree of the Church to the monstrous condition of a barren trunk.
You have been saying and writing for many years that the vocation of the laity consists of three things: 'to sanctify work, to sanctify themselves in work, and to sanctify others through work'. Could you explain exactly what you mean by sanctifying work?
It is difficult to explain it in a few words, because the expression 'sanctifying work' involves fundamental concepts of the theology of Creation. What I have always taught, over the last forty years, is that a Christian should do all honest human work, be it intellectual or manual, with the greatest perfection possible: with human perfection (professional competence) and with Christian perfection (for love of God's Will and as a service to mankind). Human work done in this manner, no matter how humble or insignificant it may seem, helps to shape the world in a Christian way. The world's divine dimension is made more visible and our human labour is thus incorporated into the marvellous work of Creation and Redemption. It is raised to the order of grace. It is sanctified and becomes God's work, operatio Dei, opus Dei.
We have reminded Christians of the wonderful words of Genesis which tell us that God created man so that he might work, and we have concentrated on the example of Christ, who spent most of His life on earth working as a craftsman in a village. We love human work which He chose as His state in life, which He cultivated and sanctified. We see in work, in men's noble creative toil not only one of the highest human values, an indispensable means to social progress and to greater justice in the relations between men, but also a sign of God's Love for His creatures, and of men's love for each other and for God: we see in work a means of perfection, a way to sanctity.
Hence, the sole objective of Opus Dei has always been to see to it that there be men and women of all races and social conditions who endeavour to love and to serve God and the rest of mankind in and through their ordinary work, in the midst of the realities and interests of the world.
The Decree 'Apostolicam Actuositatem', 5, clearly affirms that it is the mission of the whole Church to instil a Christian spirit in the temporal order. This mission therefore pertains to everyone: hierarchy, clergy, religious and laity. Could you tell us how you see the role and function of each of these sectors in the Church in this single common mission?
You will find, in fact, that the answer is given in the Council documents. The role of the hierarchy is to point out, as part of its Magisterium, the doctrinal principles which must preside over and illuminate the carrying out of this apostolic task (cf Constitution Lumen Gentium, 28; Constitution Gaudium et Spes, 43; Decree Apostolicam Actuositatem, 24).
The immediate task of directly ordering temporal realities in the light of the doctrinal principles enunciated by the Magisterium corresponds specifically to the laity, who work immersed in all the circumstances and structures of secular life. But, at the same time, they must act with the necessary personal autonomy in making concrete decisions in their social, family, political and cultural life (cf. Constitution Lumen Gentium, 31; Constitution Gaudium et Spes, 43; Decree Apostolicam Actuositatem, 7).
The mission of religious, who separate themselves from secular realities and activities to take up a particular state of life, is to give public eschatological witness, which helps to remind the rest of the faithful that the earth is not their permanent home (cf Constitution Lumen Gentium, 44; Decree Perfectae Charitatis, 5). The numerous works of charity and social welfare, which so many religious men and women carry out with a great spirit of self-sacrifice, also constitute a contribution towards instilling Christian spirit into the temporal order.
One characteristic of all Christian life, no matter what form it takes, is the 'dignity and freedom of the children of God'. Throughout your teaching, you have insistently defended the freedom of the laity. To what exactly do you refer?
I refer precisely to the personal freedom of every layman to take, in the light of principles given by the Church, all the concrete, theoretical or practical decisions which he considers most appropriate and most in agreement with his own personal convictions and aptitudes. For example, decisions referring to different philosophical or political views, to different artistic or cultural trends, or to the problems of professional and social life.
All those who exercise the priestly ministry in the Church should always be careful to respect the autonomy which a Catholic layman needs, so that he will not find himself in a position of inferiority in relation to his fellow laymen, and can carry out efficiently his own apostolic task in the middle of the world. To attempt the opposite, to try to instrumentalise lay people for ends which exceed the proper limits of our hierarchical ministry, would be to fall into a lamentably anachronistic clericalism. The possibilities of the lay apostolate would be terribly curtailed; the laity would be condemned to permanent immaturity and above all, today especially, the very concept of authority and unity in the Church would be endangered. We cannot forget that the existence among Catholics of a true diversity of criterion and opinion in matters which God has left to the free discussion of men is in no way opposed to the hierarchical structure or the unity of the People of God. On the contrary, it strengthens them and defends them against possible impurities.
The vocation of the laity and that of religious — though they share a common Christian vocation — are very different. How is it possible, then, for religious to prepare students in their schools for their vocation as lay people?
It is possible in so far as religious, whose meritorious work in the service of the Church I sincerely admire, attempt to understand fully the characteristics and demands of the lay vocation to holiness and apostolate in the middle of the world; and in so far as they respect them and know how to teach them to the students.
Not infrequently, in speaking of the laity, people tend to ignore women and thus they give a confused picture of the role of women in the Church. Similarly people tend to understand the social emancipation of women simply as the participation of women in public life. What do you think is the mission of women in the Church and in the world?
To begin with, I see no reason why one should make any distinction or discrimination with respect to women, when speaking of the laity and its apostolic task, its rights and duties. All the baptised, men and women alike, share equally in the dignity, freedom and responsibility of the children of God. There exists in the Church that fundamental unity which St Paul taught to the first Christians: Quicumque enim in Christo baptizati estis, Christum induistis. Non est Iudaeus, neque Graecus: non est servus, neque liber: non est masculus, neque femina: 'Now there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, nor between slave and freeman, nor between man and woman' (Gal 3:27-28).
For many reasons, including some derived from positive law, I consider that the distinction between men and women with respect to the juridical capacity for receiving Holy Orders should be retained. But in all other spheres I think the Church should recognise fully in her legislation, internal life and apostolic action exactly the same rights and duties for women as for men. For example, the right to do apostolate, to found and direct associations, to give their opinion responsibly on matters which affect the common good of the Church. I fully realise that all this, which is not difficult to admit in theory when we consider the theological arguments in favour, will in fact meet with resistance from some quarters. I still remember the surprise and even the criticism with which some people reacted to the idea of Opus Dei's encouraging women who belong to our Association to seek degrees in theological studies. Now instead they are tending to imitate us in this, as in other things.
Nevertheless I think resistance and misgivings will disappear little by little. Basically it is only a question of understanding the Church, of realising that the Church is not composed only of clerics and religious, but that the laity also, men and women, are People of God, and have, by divine law, a mission and responsibility of their own. But I would like to add that, as I see it, the essential equality between men and women demands an understanding of the complementary roles which they play in the Church's growth and in the progress of society. Not in vain did God make them man and woman. This diversity should be considered not in a 'patriarchal' sense, but in its full, rich depth of tones and consequences. In this way men are freed from the temptation of 'masculinising' the Church and society, and women from seeing their mission in the People of God and in the world as no more than showing that they can do equally well the tasks which were formerly reserved to men. I think that both men and women should rightly consider themselves as the protagonists in the history of salvation, but each complementing the work of the other.
It has been pointed out that 'The Way', published in its original form in 1934, contains many ideas which were then considered 'heretical' by some people and have now been confirmed in the Second Vatican Council. What can you say about this? Which are these ideas?
Perhaps, if you will permit me, we can discuss this question more fully on another occasion. For the moment I would simply say that I thank our Lord for seeing fit to use The Way, which has run through numerous editions in many languages (the number of copies published has already passed the two and a half million mark), to place in the minds and in the lives of people of so many different races and tongues those Christian truths which were to be confirmed in the Second Vatican Council, thus bringing peace and happiness to millions of Christians and non-Christians.
For many years you have been particularly concerned about the spiritual and human welfare of priests, and especially of diocesan priests. For as long as you could, you spent a lot of your time preaching retreats to priests and giving them spiritual guidance. At a certain point you started looking for ways in which priests who felt they had this vocation could belong to Opus Dei, while remaining fully diocesan and dependent on their Ordinaries. What circumstances in the life of the Church, apart from other reasons, motivated this concern of yours? Could you tell us in what way that activity has helped and can help to resolve some problems of the diocesan clergy or of the life of the Church?
What gave rise to my concern and to this apostolate of the Work were not circumstances of a more or less accidental or transitory character, but permanent spiritual and human needs of a spiritual and human nature, intimately related to the life and work of diocesan priests. I refer fundamentally to their need of being helped to find personal holiness in the exercise of their own ministry, with a spirit and means which in no way modify their status as diocesan priests. In this way they are in a position to respond to the grace of the divine vocation which they have received with a youthful spirit and ever increasing generosity. They are able to forestall, prudently and promptly, the spiritual and human crises which can easily arise from many different factors. These possible crises may be due to isolation, environmental difficulties, indifference, the apparent futility of their work, routine, fatigue, carelessness in maintaining and perfecting their intellectual formation, and also — and this is the root cause of crises of obedience and unity — lack of supernatural outlook in their relations with their own Ordinary and even with their brothers in the priesthood. The diocesan priests who make legitimate use of the right of association to become members of the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross (Opus Dei) do so solely because they desire to receive personal spiritual help. They act in a manner entirely compatible with the duties of their state. Otherwise this help would be no help, but rather a complication, hindrance and disorder.
An essential characteristic of the spirit of Opus Dei is that it does not take anyone out of his place: unusquisque, in qua vocatione vocatus est, in ea permaneat (1 Cor 7:20). Rather it leads each person to fulfil the tasks and duties of his own state, of his mission in the Church and in society, with the greatest possible perfection. Therefore when a priest joins the Work, he neither modifies nor abandons any part of his diocesan vocation. His dedication to the service of the local Church in which he is incardinated, his full dependence on his own Ordinary, his secular spirituality, his solidarity with other priests etc., are not changed. On the contrary, he undertakes to live his vocation to the full, because he knows that he must seek perfection precisely in fulfilling his obligations as a diocesan priest. In our Association this principle has a series of practical applications of a juridical and ascetic nature, which would take a long time to describe. Let me say only, by way of example, that in Opus Dei, unlike other associations where a vow or promise of obedience to the internal Superior is required, the dependence of the diocesan priests is not a dependence of government but rather a voluntary relationship of spiritual assistance. There is no internal hierarchy for them, and therefore no danger of a double bond of obedience.
What these priests find in Opus Dei is, above all, the permanent, continuous ascetical help which they want to receive, with a secular and diocesan spirituality, and independent of the personal and circumstantial changes which may take place in the government of the respective local Church. Thus, in addition to the general spiritual direction which the bishop gives with his preaching, pastoral letters, conversations, disciplinary instructions, etc., they have a personal spiritual guidance which continues no matter where they are, and which complements the common guidance imparted by the bishop, while always, as a grave duty, giving it full respect. This personal spiritual direction, so strongly recommended by the Second Vatican Council, and by the ordinary Magisterium, helps to foster the priest's life of piety, his pastoral charity, his steady continued doctrinal training, his zeal for the diocesan apostolates, his love and obedience for his own bishop, his concern for vocations to the priesthood and to the seminary, etc.
The fruits of this work are for the local Churches where the priests serve. My soul of a diocesan priest rejoices at this. Moreover, on repeated occasions, I have had the consolation of seeing with what affection the Pope and the bishops bless, desire and encourage this work.
On several occasions, with reference to the early years in the life of Opus Dei, you have said that all you had was 'youth, the grace of God, and good humour'. Besides, during the twenties, the doctrine concerning the laity was not as developed as we see it today. Nevertheless, Opus Dei is now a noteworthy factor in the life of the Church. Could you explain to us how, being a young priest, you were able to have sufficient foresight and understanding to carry out this task?
I never had any other aim than that of fulfilling the Will of God. Please do not ask me to go into details about the beginnings of the Work, which the Love of God began to make me suspect back in 1917. They are intimately connected with the history of my soul and belong to my interior life. All I can say is that I acted at every moment with the permission and affectionate blessing of the Bishop of Madrid, who was my very dear friend and in whose diocese Opus Dei was born on 2nd October, 1928 and later, with the constant approval and encouragement of the Holy See, and in each individual case with that of the Ordinaries of the places in which we work.
Some people, precisely because of the presence of laymen of Opus Dei in influential positions in Spanish society, speak of the influence of Opus Dei in Spain. Can you explain what this influence is?
I dislike intensely anything that might sound like 'blowing one's own trumpet'. But I think it would not be humility but blindness and ingratitude to the Lord, who so generously blesses our work, if we did not recognise that Opus Dei has a real influence on the life of Spain. It is logical that in those countries where we have been working for quite a few years — and the Work has been in Spain for thirty-nine years, because it was God's will that our Association should be born to the life of the Church in Spain — the influence of Opus Dei should already have had a noticeable social impact which reflects the progressive development of our apostolate.
How is this influence felt? Obviously, since Opus Dei is an Association with spiritual and apostolic aims, the nature of its influence — in Spain as in the other countries, spread over the five continents, in which we are working — can be none other than spiritual and apostolic. Opus Dei's influence in civil society is not of a temporal nature (social, political or economic); though it is reflected in the ethical aspects of human activities. Like the influence of the Church itself, the soul of the world, it belongs to a different and higher order and is expressed precisely by the word 'sanctification'.
This leads us to the subject of the members of Opus Dei whom you call influential. In an association whose aim is political, those members will be 'influential' who occupy positions in parliament or in government, in the Council of Ministers, in the Cabinet. In a cultural association, the 'influential' members will be philosophers of renown, or authors of national reputation, etc. But if, as in the case of Opus Dei, the Association seeks the sanctification of men's ordinary work, be it manual or intellectual, it is obvious that all of its members have to be considered influential because all of them work, and in Opus Dei the general duty of man to work carries with it special disciplinary and ascetical significance. All of them endeavour to do their work, whatever it may be, in a holy, Christian manner, with a desire for perfection. For me, therefore, the witness which a son of mine who is a miner gives among his companions is as influential as important and necessary, as that of a vice-chancellor of a university among the other members of the academic body.
Where, then, lies the influence of Opus Dei? The answer is easily found when we consider the sociological fact that people of all classes, professions, ages and states of life, belong to our Association; men and women, clergy and laity, old and young, celibate and married people, university men, industrial and agricultural workers, clerks, members of the professions, people who work in official institutions, and so on. Have you considered the great power of spreading Christianity represented by such a broad and varied spectrum of people; especially if they are counted in tens of thousands and are animated, with the same apostolic spirit, to sanctify their profession or job, regardless of differences of social environment, to sanctify themselves in that work and sanctify with that work?
To this personal apostolic work should be added the growth of our corporate works of apostolate: student residences, conference centres, the University of Navarra, training centres for skilled and unskilled workers, technical institutes, schools, secretarial colleges, home management schools, etc. These centres are undoubtedly sources which project the Christian view of life. Managed by laymen, directed as professional activities by lay citizens who are the same as their colleagues at work, and open to people of all classes and conditions, these centres have made many sectors of society appreciate the need of offering a Christian solution to the problems which arise in the exercise of their profession or job.
All of this gives Opus Dei prominence and significance in society not the fact that some of its members occupy positions of human influence. This does not interest us in the least, and is left therefore to the free decision and responsibly of each member. What interests us is that all the members (and the goodness of God is such that there are many) carry out tasks of which even the most humble are divinely influential.
This is quite logical. Who would say that the influence of the Church in the United States began on the day that a Catholic, John Kennedy, was elected President?
You have occasionally referred to Opus Dei as 'organised unorganisation'. What exactly do you mean by this?
I mean that in our apostolate we give primary and fundamental importance to the spontaneity of the individual, to free and responsible initiative guided by the action of the Spirit, and not to organisational structures and tactics imposed from above, from the seat of government.
There is obviously a minimum of organisation, with a central government, which always acts collegially and has its seat in Rome, and regional governments which are also collegiate, each headed by a Counsellor. But all the activity of these organisms is directed fundamentally to one task: to provide the members with the spiritual assistance necessary for their life of piety, and an adequate spiritual, doctrinal, religious and human formation. And then, off you go! That is to say, Christians, sanctify all the paths of men, for all bear the imprint of the footsteps of God.
Having reached this point, the Association as such has done its job, the job precisely for which the members of Opus Dei have come together. The Association has nothing else to do. It neither can, nor should it, give any further indications. Here begins the free and responsible, personal action of each member. Each one does his apostolate on his own initiative, working with complete personal freedom. Autonomously forming his own conscience before the concrete decisions he has to take, he endeavours to seek Christian perfection and to give Christian witness in his own environment, sanctifying his own work. whether it be professional, intellectual or manual. Naturally, as each one makes decisions autonomously in his secular life, in the temporal realities in which he moves, there will often be different options, criteria and ways of acting. We have, in a word, that blessed 'unorganisation', that just and necessary pluralism, which is an essential characteristic of good spirit in Opus Dei, and which has always seemed to me the only just and orderly way to conceive the apostolate of the laity.
I will add that this 'organised unorganisation' appears even in the corporate works of apostolate which Opus Dei directs as an association, with the desire of contributing to resolve in a Christian way the problems which affect the community of each country. These activities and initiatives of the Association are always of a directly apostolic nature. They are educational or social welfare activities. But it is precisely our spirit to see that these initiatives should not come from above. And since the circumstances, needs and possibilities of each nation or social group are unique, the central government of the Work leaves to the regional governments practically total autonomy. It is their responsibility to decide, foster and organise the concrete apostolic activities which they consider most appropriate, a university centre, a residence for students, a welfare centre or an agricultural college for farm workers. The logical result is that we have a multicoloured and varied mosaic of activities, a mosaic which is 'organisedly unorganised'.
In that case, how does Opus Dei fit into the pastoral activity of the whole Church and into ecumenism?
I feel that I should first makes something clear. Opus Dei is not, nor can it in any way be considered a reality tied to the evolutionary process of the ' state of perfection' in the Church. It is not a modern or 'up-to-date' form of that state. In fact neither the theological concept of the status perfectionis, which St Thomas, Suarez and other authors have decisively formulated in doctrine, nor the various juridical forms which have been given or may be given to this theological concept, have anything to do with the spirituality or the apostolic goal which God has wanted for our Association. I simply point out, because a complete doctrinal exposition would take a long time, that Opus Dei is not interested in vows, or promises, or any form of consecration for its members, apart from the consecration which all have already received through Baptism. Our Association in no way wants its members to change their state in life, or to stop being ordinary faithful exactly the same as anyone else, in order to acquire a status perfectionis. On the contrary, what it wants and seeks to achieve is that each should do apostolate and should sanctify himself within his own state, in the place and condition which he has in the Church and in society. We take no one out of his place, nor do we separate anyone from his work nor from his aims and noble commitments in the world.
Hence, the social reality, the spirituality and the action of Opus Dei fit into a quite different vein in the life of the Church. They are in the theological and vital process which is bringing the laity to assume its responsibilities in the Church fully, and to participate in its own way in the mission of Christ and his Church. This has always been, during the nearly forty years of the Work's existence, the constant, calm but forceful concern through which God has desired to channel, in my soul and in the souls of my sons, the desire of serving him.
What contribution has Opus Dei made to this process? This is perhaps not the most suitable historical moment to attempt a general evaluation of this type. These questions were treated extensively, and with what joy to my soul, in the Second Vatican Council, and quite a few of the concepts and situations which refer to the life and mission of the laity have been sufficiently confirmed and illuminated by the Magisterium. Nevertheless there remains a considerable number of questions which, for the vast majority, are still real 'frontier problems' of theology. Most of these debated problems seem to us to be already divinely resolved, in the spirit which God has given to Opus Dei and which we endeavour to live faithfully, despite our personal imperfections. But we do not pretend to present these solutions as the only possible ones.
At the same time there are other aspects of this process of ecclesiological development which represent quite significant doctrinal enrichment. God undoubtedly has desired that Opus Dei, along with other no less worthy apostolic ventures and associations, should contribute in no small part to them, with its spirit and its life. However these are doctrinal enrichments which may be long in becoming incorporated into the life of the whole People of God. You yourself have touched upon some of these aspects in your earlier questions: the development of an authentic lay spirituality; the understanding of the layman's proper and specific role in the Church, a role which is neither ecclesiastical nor official; the clarification of the rights and duties which the layman has by virtue of being a layman; the relations between hierarchy and laity; the equality and dignity of the complementary, not contrary, tasks which men and women have in the Church; the need to achieve an orderly public opinion in the People of God, and so forth.
All this obviously constitutes a very mobile reality, which is often paradoxical. Something which when said forty years ago scandalised most if not all who heard it, now sounds strange to hardly anyone. But on the other hand there are still very few who understand it fully and who live it properly.
I can explain this better with an example. In 1932, commenting for my sons and daughters in Opus Dei on some of the aspects and consequences of the special dignity and responsibility which Baptism confers upon people, I wrote for them in a document, 'The prejudice that ordinary members of the faithful must limit themselves to helping the clergy in ecclesiastical apostolates has to be rejected. There is no reason why the secular apostolate should always be a mere participation in the apostolate of the hierarchy. Secular people too have a duty to do apostolate. Not because they receive a canonical mission, but because they are part of the Church. Their mission… is fulfilled in their profession, their job, their family, and among their colleagues and friends'.
Today, after the solemn teachings of Vatican II, it is unlikely that anyone in the Church would question the orthodoxy of this teaching. But how many people have really abandoned the narrow conception of the apostolate of the laity as a pastoral work organised 'from the top down'? How many people have got beyond the previous 'monolithic' conception of the lay apostolate, and understand that it can and indeed should exist without the necessity of rigid centralised structures, canonical missions and hierarchical mandates ? How many people who consider the laity as the longa manus Ecclesiae, do not at the same time confuse in their minds the concept of Church-People of God with the more limited concept of hierarchy? How many laymen understand that unless they act in tactful communion with the hierarchy they have no right to claim their legitimate sphere of apostolic autonomy?
Similar lines of thought could be formulated with regard to other problems because there is in fact a great deal which remains to be done, as much in the way of doctrinal exposition, as by education of consciences and reform of ecclesiastical legislation. I often ask our Lord — prayer has always been my great weapon — that the Holy Spirit will help His People, and especially the hierarchy, in accomplishing these tasks. And I also ask him to continue using Opus Dei so that we may be able to contribute and help, in whatever way we can, in this difficult but wonderful process of development and growth in the Church.
You also wanted to know how Opus Dei fits into ecumenism. Last year I told a French journalist — and I know that the anecdote has been retold, even in publications of our separated brethren — what I once told the Holy Father John XXIII, moved by the affable and fatherly kindness of his manner: 'Holy Father, in our Work all men, Catholics or not, have always found a welcome. I have not learnt ecumenism from your Holiness'. He laughed, for he knew that way back in 1950, the Holy See had authorised Opus Dei to receive in the Association as Cooperators people who are not Catholics or even Christians.
In fact there are many separated brethren who feel attracted by the spirit of Opus Dei and who cooperate in our apostolate, and they include ministers even bishops of their respective confessions. As contacts increase, we receive more and more proofs of affection and cordial understanding. And it is because the members of Opus Dei centre their spirituality simply on trying to live responsibly the commitments and demands of Christian Baptism. A desire to seek Christian perfection and to do apostolate, endeavouring to sanctify their own professional work; the fact of living immersed in secular reality and respecting its proper autonomy, but dealing with it with the spirit and love of contemplative souls; the primacy which we give in the organisation of our apostolate to the individual, to the action of the Spirit upon souls, to the dignity and freedom which derive from the divine filiation of Christians; the defence of the legitimate freedom of initiative, within a necessary respect for the common good, against the monolithic and institutionalistic conception of the apostolate of the laity; these and other aspects of our way of being and acting are so many points of easy contact with our separated brethren. Here they find, put into living practice, a good many of the doctrinal presuppositions in which they, and we Catholics, have placed so many well-founded ecumenical expectations.
Turning to another topic, we would like to know your opinion regarding the present situation of the Church. How would you describe it? What role do you think can be played in these times by the tendencies which in general terms have been called 'progressive' and 'integrist'?
As I see it, the present doctrinal position of the Church could be expressed as 'positive' and at the same time 'delicate', as in all crises of growth. Positive, undoubtedly, because the doctrinal wealth of the Second Vatican Council has set the entire Church, the entire priestly People of God, on a new supremely hopeful track of renewed fidelity to the divine plan of salvation which has been entrusted to it. But delicate as well, because the theological conclusions which have been reached are not, let us say, of an abstract or theoretical nature. They are part of a supremely living theology, which has immediate and direct applications in the pastoral, ascetic and disciplinary fields and which touches very deeply the internal and external life of the Church: liturgy, organisational structures of the hierarchy, apostolic forms, Magisterium, dialogue with the world, ecumenism. And therefore at the same time this theology touches very deeply the Christian life and the very conscience of the faithful.
Both aspects affect us deeply: both Christian optimism, the joyful certainty that the Holy Spirit will draw fruit from the doctrine with which He has enriched the Spouse of Christ; and also prudence on the part of those who study and govern because, now especially, immense harm could result from a lack of serenity and consideration in the study of these problems.
As regards the tendencies which you call 'integrist' and 'progressive', I find it difficult to give an opinion on the role which they can play at the present moment, because I have always rejected the suitability and even the possibility of making classifications or simplifications of this sort. This division is, at times, taken to great extremes and perpetuated as if theologians (and the faithful in general) were destined always to be circling these opposite poles. As far as I can see, it seems to derive ultimately from the belief that progress in the doctrine and in the life of the People of God is the result of a perpetual dialectical tension. I, on the other hand, prefer to believe wholeheartedly in the action of the Holy Spirit, who breathes where He will and upon whom He will.