Opus Dei: an Association which fosters the Search for Holiness in the World
Opus Dei has played a leading role in the modern development of the laity. We would therefore like to ask you first of all: what, in your opinion, are the main characteristics of this development?
I have always thought that the basic characteristic of the development of the laity is a new awareness of the dignity of the Christian vocation. God's call, the character conferred by Baptism, and grace mean that every single Christian can and should be a living expression of the faith. Every Christian should be 'another Christ, Christ himself', present among men. The Holy Father has put it in a way which leaves no room for doubt: 'It is necessary to restore to Holy Baptism its full significance. By means of this sacrament we are incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church… To be a Christian, to have received Baptism, should not be looked upon as something indifferent or of little importance. It should be imprinted deeply and joyously on the conscience of every baptised person' (Ecclesiam Suam, part 1).
This brings with it a deeper awareness of the Church as a community made up of all the faithful, where all share in one and the same mission, which each should fulfil according to his personal circumstances. Lay people, moved by the Holy Spirit, are becoming ever more conscious of the fact that they are the Church, that they have a specific and sublime mission to which they feel committed because they have been called to it by God himself. And they know that this mission comes from the very fact of their being Christians and not necessarily from a mandate from the hierarchy; although obviously they ought to fulfil it in a spirit of union with the hierarchy following the teaching authority of the Church. If they are not in union with the bishops and with their head, the Pope, they cannot, if they are Catholics, be united to Christ.
Lay people have their own way of contributing to the holiness and apostolate of the Church. They do so by their free and responsible action within the temporal sphere, to which they bring the leaven of Christianity. Giving Christian witness in their everyday lives, spreading the word which enlightens in the name of God, acting responsibly in the service of others and thus contributing to the solution of common problems: these are some ways in which ordinary Christians fulfil their divine mission.
For many years now, ever since the foundation of Opus Dei, I have meditated and asked others to meditate on those words of Christ which we find in St John: 'And when I am lifted up from the earth I shall draw all things unto Myself' (John 12:32). By His death on the Cross, Christ has drawn all creation to Himself. Now it is the task of Christians, in His name, to reconcile all things to God, placing Christ, by means of their work in the middle of the world, at the summit of all human activities.
I should like to add that alongside the laity's new awareness of their role there is a similar development among the clergy. They too are coming to realise that lay people have a role of their own which should be fostered and stimulated by pastoral action aimed at discovering the presence in the midst of the People of God of the charism of holiness and apostolate, in the infinitely varied forms in which God bestows it.
This new pastoral approach, though very demanding, is, to my mind, absolutely necessary. It calls for the supernatural gift of discernment of spirits, for sensitivity towards the things of God, and for the humility of not imposing personal preference upon others and of seconding the inspirations which God arouses in souls. In a word: it means loving the rightful freedom of the sons of God who find Christ, and become bearers of Christ, while following paths which are very diverse but which are all equally divine.
One of the greatest dangers threatening the Church today may well be precisely that of not recognising the divine requirements of Christian freedom and of being led by false arguments in favour of greater effectiveness to try to impose uniformity on Christians. At the root of this kind of attitude is something not only lawful but even commendable: a desire to see the Church exercising a vital influence on the modern world.
However, I very much fear that this is a mistaken way for, on the one hand, it can tend to involve and commit the hierarchy in temporal questions (thus falling into a clericalism which though different is no less scandalous than that of past centuries) and, on the other hand, to isolate lay people, ordinary Christians, from the everyday world, turning them into mere mouthpieces for decisions or ideas conceived outside the world in which they live.
I feel we priests are being asked to have the humility of learning not to be fashionable; of being, in fact, servants of the servants of God and making our own the cry of the Baptist: 'He must increase, I must decrease' (John 3:30), so as to enable ordinary Christians, the laity, to make Christ present in all sectors of society. One of the fundamental tasks of the priest is and always will be to give doctrine, to help individuals and society to become aware of the duties which the Gospel imposes on them, and to move men to discern the signs of the time. But all priestly work should be carried out with the maximum respect for the rightful freedom of consciences: every man ought to respond to God freely. And besides, every Catholic, as well as receiving help from the priest, also has lights of his own which he receives from God and a grace of state to carry out the specific mission which, as a man and as a Christian, he has received.
Anyone who thinks that Christ's voice will not be heard in the world today unless the clergy are present and speak out on every issue, has not yet understood the dignity of the divine vocation of each and every member of the Christian faithful.
In this context what is the role which Opus Dei has fulfilled, and is at present fulfilling?
It is not for me to evaluate the work which, through the grace of God, Opus Dei has done. All I will say is that the purpose of Opus Dei is to foster the search for holiness and the carrying out of the apostolate by Christians who live in the world, whatever their state in life or position in society.
The Work was born to help those Christians, who through their family, their friendships, their ordinary work, their aspirations, form part of the very texture of civil society, to understand that their life, just as it is, can be an opportunity for meeting Christ: that it is a way of holiness and apostolate. Christ is present in any honest human activity. The life of an ordinary Christian, which to some people may seem banal and petty, can and should be a holy and sanctifying life.
In other words: if you want to follow Christ, to serve the Church and help other men to recognise their eternal destiny, there is no need to leave the world or keep it at arm's length. You don't even need to take up an ecclesiastical activity. The only condition which is both necessary and sufficient is to fulfil the mission which God has given you, in the place and in the environment indicated by his Providence.
Since God wants the majority of Christians to remain in secular activities and to sanctify the world from within, the purpose of Opus Dei is to help them discover their divine mission, showing them that their human vocation — their professional, family and social vocation — is not opposed to their supernatural vocation. On the contrary, it is an integral part of it.
The one and only mission of Opus Dei is the spreading of this message, which comes from the Gospel, among all those who live and work in the world, whatever be their background, profession or trade. And to those who grasp this ideal of holiness, the Work offers the spiritual assistance and the doctrinal, ascetical and apostolic training which they need to put it into practice.
Members of Opus Dei do not act as a group. They act individually, with personal freedom and responsibility. Thus Opus Dei is not a 'closed organisation' or one which in some way gathers its members to isolate them from the rest of men. The 'corporate activities' which are the only ones the Work undertakes and for which it takes responsibility, are open to everyone with no type of social, cultural or religious discrimination. And the members, just because it is in the world that they seek sanctity, always work with the people with whom they are connected through their job or their participation in civic life.
It is an essential part of the Christian spirit not only to live in union with the ordinary hierarchy — the Pope and the bishops — but also to feel at one with the rest of one's brothers in the Faith. For a long time I have thought that one of the worst ills affecting the Church today is the ignorance many Catholics have concerning what Catholics in other countries or sectors of society are doing and thinking. We must rekindle the sense of brotherliness which was so deeply felt by the early Christians. It will help us to feel united, while loving at the same time the variety of our individual vocations. And it will lead us to avoid many of the unjust and offensive judgements made by particular little groups in the name of Catholicism, against their brothers in the Faith, who in fact are acting nobly and with a spirit of sacrifice in the particular circumstances of their own countries.
The important thing is for everyone to try to be faithful to his own divine calling. Only thus can he contribute to the Church the benefits deriving from the special charism he has received from God. What members of Opus Dei, who are ordinary Christians, have to do is to sanctify the world from within, taking part in the whole range of human activities. Since their membership in Opus Dei in no way modifies their situation in the world, they take part, as they see fit, in the life of the parish, in group religious celebrations, etc. In this sense too they are ordinary Christians who want to be good Catholics.
However, the members of the Work do not as a rule take part in confessional activities. Only in exceptional cases, at the express request of the hierarchy, do members of Opus Dei work in ecclesiastical activities. They do not adopt this attitude in order to be different, and still less out of disregard for confessional activities. It is simply that they want to do what befits the vocation to Opus Dei. There are already many religious and clergy, and many lay people also, who work in these activities and put their wholehearted efforts into them.
The task to which members of the Work are called by God is of another kind. Within the framework of the universal call to holiness, members of Opus Dei receive in addition a special call to dedicate themselves, freely and responsibly, to look for holiness and carry out the apostolate in the middle of the world, committing themselves to live a particular spirituality and to receive throughout their lives a specific formation. If they were to neglect their work in the world in order to carry out ecclesiastical activities, the divine gifts they have received would be wasted and, through a misguided desire for immediate pastoral effectiveness, they would do real harm to the Church. For there would be fewer Christians dedicated to sanctifying themselves in all the professions and trades of civil society, in the immense field of secular work.
And anyway the demands which continuous religious and professional training makes, as well as the time which each individual dedicates to acts of piety, to prayer and to the generous fulfilment of the duties of his state keep the members fully occupied. There just isn't any spare time.
We know that men and women of all walks of life, single and married people, belong to Opus Dei What is the common element in the vocation to Opus Dei? What commitments does each member undertake in order to attain the aims of Opus Dei?
I can put it in very few words: to look for holiness in the middle of the world, 'nel bel mezzo della strada' as an Italian phrase has it. A person who receives from God the specific vocation to Opus Dei is convinced that he must achieve holiness in his own state in life, in his work, whether it be manual or intellectual, and he lives accordingly. I say 'he's convinced… and he lives accordingly' because it is not a matter of accepting a simple theoretical proposition, but rather of putting it into practice day after day, in ordinary life.
If you want to achieve holiness — in spite of your personal shortcomings and miseries, which will last as long as you live — you must make an effort, with God's grace, to practise charity which is the fullness of the law and the bond of perfection. Charity is not something abstract. It entails a real, complete, self-giving to the service of God and all men; to the service of that God who speaks to us in the silence of prayer and in the hubbub of the world and of those men whose existence is interwoven with our own. By living charity Love — you live all the human and supernatural virtues demanded of a Christian. These virtues form a unity and cannot be reduced to a mere list. You can not have charity without justice, solidarity, family and social responsibility, poverty, joy, chastity, friendship…
You can see immediately that the practice of these virtues leads to apostolate. In fact it already is apostolate. For when people try to live in this way in the middle of their daily work, their Christian behaviour becomes good example, witness, something which is a real and effective help to others. They learn to follow in the footsteps of Christ, who 'began to do and to teach' (Acts 1:1), joining example to word. That is why, for these past forty years, I have been calling this apostolate an 'apostolate of friendship and confidence'.
All the members of Opus Dei have this same desire for holiness and apostolate. And so, in the Work, there are no degrees or categories of membership. The vocation to Opus Dei is one and the same. It is a call to commit oneself personally, freely and responsibly to try to carry out the will of God, that is what God wants each individual to do. What there is, is a multitude of personal situations, the situation of each member in the world, to which the same specific vocation is adapted.
As you can see, the pastoral phenomenon of Opus Dei is something born 'from below', from the everyday lives of Christians who live and work alongside the rest of men. Thus it does not form part of the secularising process, the 'desacralization' of monastic or religious life. It is not a link in the chain which is drawing the religious closer to the world.
When a person receives the vocation to Opus Dei he acquires a new vision of the things around him. He sees social relationships, his profession, his interests, his sorrows and his joys in a new light. But not for a moment does he stop living in the midst of them. Thus one cannot speak of adaptation to the world or to modern society. No one adapts himself to what is part and parcel of himself: with respect to what is proper to himself he simply is. His vocation is the same as that which those fishermen, peasants, merchants or soldiers received in their heart as they sat at Jesus' feet in Galilee and heard him say: 'You must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect' (Matt 5:48).
Let me put it this way: the perfection which a member of Opus Dei looks for is the perfection proper to a Christian. It is the same perfection to which every Christian is called and it consists in living fully the requirements of the Faith. We are not interested in 'evangelical perfection', which is regarded as proper to the religious and to some institutions established on religious lines. Still less are we interested in the 'life of evangelical perfection', which in Canon Law refers to the religious state.
I consider the religious vocation a blessed one and one which the Church needs, and anyone who did not venerate that vocation would not have the spirit of the Work. But it is not my vocation, nor that of the members of Opus Dei. You can say that, in coming to Opus Dei, each and every member has come on the explicit condition of not changing his state in life. The specific characteristic of our way is to sanctify one's state in life in the world, and to be sanctified in the place of one's meeting with Christ. This is the commitment which each member takes on to attain the aims of Opus Dei.
How is Opus Dei organised?
Since, as I have just said, the vocation to the Work finds a man or a woman in his or her normal life, in the middle of their work, you can understand that Opus Dei is not built on the basis of committees, assemblies, meetings, etc. On occasion, to the surprise of some people, I have gone so far as to say that Opus Dei in this sense, is an 'unorganised organisation'. The majority of the members, practically all in fact, live in the same place as they would have lived had they not been members of Opus Dei: in their home, with their family, in the place where they work.
And it 's there precisely that each member of the Work finds the purpose of Opus Dei: to try to be holy, making his life a daily apostolate, which is ordinary, insignificant if you like, but persevering and divinely effective. That's the important thing. And to nourish this life of holiness and apostolate they receive from Opus Dei the spiritual help, advice and orientation they need. But only in the strictly spiritual sphere. In everything else — in their work, in their social relationships, etc. — they act as they wish, knowing that this is not neutral ground but material in which they can be sanctified and which itself can be sanctified and become a means of apostolate.
And so all live their own lives, with the relationships and obligations this entails, and they turn to the Work for spiritual help. This does call for a certain amount of structure, but always a very small amount. Everything is done to limit it to what is strictly indispensable. The Work does organise religious doctrinal formation, which lasts all one's life and leads one to an active, sincere and genuine piety and to an ardour which necessarily encourages constant, contemplative prayer and a personal and responsible apostolic activity, devoid of any kind of fanaticism.
In addition to this all the members know where they can find a priest of the Work with whom they can discuss matters of conscience. Some members, very few in comparison with the total number, live together to attend to the spiritual care of the others, or to conduct some apostolic activity. They form an ordinary home, just like any Christian family, and continue at the same time to work at their profession.
In each country there is a regional government, always collegial in character, headed by a Counsellor; and there is a central government in Rome made up of people of very different nationalities. Opus Dei has two Sections, one for men and one for women, which are absolutely independent, to the extent of forming two distinct associations, united only in the person of the President General.
I hope I have explained what I mean by 'unorganised organisation': we give priority to spirit over organisation and so the life of the members is not strait-jacketed by directives, plans and meetings. Each member goes his own way. What unites him to the others is a shared spirit and a shared desire for holiness and apostolate which accompany him as he strives to sanctify his own everyday life.
Opus Dei has sometimes be described as an intellectual elite which wants to permeate key political, financial and cultural sectors to control them from within, although with good intentions. Is this true?
Almost all the institutions which have brought a new message or have seriously tried to serve mankind by living Christianity fully have met with misunderstanding, especially at the beginning. That is why at the start some people did not understand the doctrine on lay apostolate which Opus Dei lived and proclaimed.
I must also add — although I do not like to talk about these things — that in our case there was also an organised and persistent campaign of misrepresentation. There were people who said we acted secretly (perhaps this was their own way of behaving), that we wanted to occupy important positions, etc. To be more specific, I can say that this campaign was begun, about thirty years ago, by a Spanish religious who later left his order and the Church. He married in a registry office and is now a Protestant minister. Once misrepresentation starts it is carried along for a time by its own momentum: because there are people who write without checking their information, and then not everyone acts as do competent journalists who, realising they are not infallible, are honest enough to make amends when they find out the truth. And this is what has happened in this case even though these slanders are contradicted by evidence that is clear to everyone, not to mention the fact that they appear incredible right from the word go. Anyway all this gossip to which you have referred concerns only Spain, and anyone who thinks that an international organisation like Opus Dei gravitates around the problems of one country has a short sighted and provincial outlook.
The majority of the members of Opus Dei — in Spain and elsewhere — are housewives, workers, shopkeepers, clerks, etc., people whose jobs carry no special political or social weight. The fact that a large number of workers are members of Opus Dei attracts no attention; but one politician, plenty. As far as I'm concerned the vocation to Opus Dei of a railway porter is as important as that of a company director. It's God who does the calling and in the works of God there is no room for discrimination and still less if it is based on demagoguism.
Anyone who, on seeing members of Opus Dei working in all the different fields of human activity, thinks only in terms of 'influence' and 'control', is simply showing what a poor conception of Christian life he has. Opus Dei has no power, and wants no power, over any temporal activity. All it wants is to spread a Gospel message, to all men who live in the world that God wants them to love Him and serve Him by, with and through their secular activities. It follows that the members of Opus Dei, who are ordinary Christians, work wherever and however they like. The only thing the Work does is to help them spiritually, so that they can always act with a Christian conscience.
But let's talk specifically about Spain. The few members of Opus Dei who hold prominent social or political positions in Spain do so — as in all other countries — with personal freedom and responsibility, each following his conscience. That is why in practice you find them taking up very different and not infrequently opposed attitudes.
I would also like to point out that to talk about the presence of members of Opus Dei in Spanish politics as if it were something special gives a very false idea of the facts. For the members of Opus Dei who take part in Spanish public life are a minority as compared with the number of Catholics who are actively involved in that area. Since practically the whole population of the country is Catholic, statistical logic leads one to expect that the people who take part in public life should also be Catholics. In fact you can find at all levels of public administration — from the ministries to the local town council — plenty of Catholics from all sorts of associations of the faithful: some branches of Catholic Action, the ACNP (the National Catholic Association of Propagandists), whose first president was the late Cardinal Herrera, the Sodalities of our Lady, etc.
I don't want to go any further into this subject, but I would like to take this opportunity to state once more that Opus Dei is bound up with no country, no government, no political party, nor with any ideology. In temporal questions its members always act with full freedom and shoulder the responsibility for their actions. They abominate any attempt to make use of religion to support political or party interests.
Simple things are sometimes difficult to explain. That is why I have given you a rather long answer. Anyway the sort of gossip to which you refer is now a thing of the past. These slanders have long stood discredited: now no one believes them. From the very beginning we have always acted in the full light of day (there was no reason for acting otherwise), giving a clear explanation of the nature and aims of our apostolate. Anyone who wanted the facts has always been able to get them. The truth of the matter is that very many people — Catholics and non-Catholics, Christians and non-Christians — regard our work with affection and esteem and cooperate in it.
It is also true that progress in the history of the Church has led to the disappearance of a certain kind of clericalism which tended to misconstrue everything which lay people did and to regard their activity as double-faced and hypocritical. Thanks to this progress it is easier nowadays to understand that what Opus Dei has lived and proclaimed was purely and simply the divine vocation of the ordinary Christian, with a precise supernatural commitment.
I hope the time will come when the phrase 'the Catholics are penetrating all sectors of society' will go out of circulation because everyone will have realised that it is a clerical expression. In any event, it is quite inapplicable to the apostolate of Opus Dei. The members of the Work have no need to 'penetrate' the temporal sector for the simple reason that they are ordinary citizens, the same as their fellow citizens, and so they are there already.
When God calls someone who works in a factory or a hospital or in parliament to Opus Dei, it means that that person henceforward will be determined to avail himself of the means necessary for sanctifying his job, with the grace of God. In other words he has become aware of the radical demands of the Gospel message, as they apply to the specific vocation he has received.
To deduce that this awareness means leaving normal life is a conclusion that is only valid for people who receive from God a religious vocation, with its contemptus mundi, its disdain for the things of the world. But to try to make this abandonment of the world the quintessence or summit of Christianity would obviously be absurd.
So it's not that Opus Dei puts its members into particular environments. They are, I repeat, already there, and there's no reason why they should leave. Moreover, vocations to Opus Dei, which come through God's grace and through that apostolate of friendship and confidence which I mentioned earlier are to be found in all environments.
Perhaps this very simplicity of the nature and way of working of Opus Dei presents a difficulty for people who are full of complications, and seem incapable of understanding anything genuine and upright.
Naturally there will always be some people who do not understand the essence of Opus Dei, but this should come as no surprise because our Lord gave His disciples a forewarning of these difficulties when He told them: 'No disciple is above his Master' (Matt 10:24). No one can hope to be understood by everyone, although he does have a right to be respected as a person and as a son of God. Unfortunately there are always some fanatics who want to impose their own ideas in a totalitarian way, and these will never grasp the love which the members of Opus Dei have for the personal freedom of others, and then also for their own personal freedom which is always accompanied by personal responsibility.
I remember a very graphic anecdote. In a particular city which will remain anonymous, the corporation was debating a grant of money for an educational activity conducted by members of Opus Dei — which, like all the corporate activities fostered by the Work, was making a definite contribution to the good of the community. Most of the councillors were in favour of the grant. One of them, a socialist, explained his opinion, saying that he knew the activity personally: 'This is an activity', he said, 'which is characterised by the fact that the people who conduct it are good friends of personal freedom: students of all religions and ideologies are welcomed in the residence.' The communist councillors voted against the grant. One of them, saying why he did so, told the socialist: 'I am opposed to it because if that is the way things are, this residence is doing effective propaganda for Catholicism.
Anyone who does not respect the freedom of others or wants to oppose the Church is incapable of appreciating an apostolic activity. But even in such a case I, as a man, am obliged to respect him and to try to lead him to the truth; and as a Christian, I must love him and pray for him.
Thank you for clarifying that point. I would like to ask you now what characteristics of the spiritual formation of the members make it impossible for anyone to derive any temporal advantage from belonging to Opus Dei?
Any advantage which is not exclusively spiritual is completely ruled out, because the Work demands a great deal — detachment, sacrifice, self-denial, unceasing work in the service of souls — and gives nothing.
Nothing, that is, in terms of material advantages, because in the spiritual sphere it gives very much. It offers the means to fight and win in the ascetical struggle. It leads one along ways of prayer. It teaches one to treat Jesus as a brother, to see God in all the circumstances of one's life, to see oneself as a son of God and therefore to feel committed to spreading His teaching.
Anyone who does not progress along the way of the interior life, to the extent of realising it is worthwhile to give oneself in everything, will find it impossible to persevere in Opus Dei, because holiness is not just a nice-sounding phrase to be bandied about. it is a very demanding affair.
And besides, Opus Dei has no activity with political, financial or ideological aims. It has no temporal action. Its only activities are the supernatural formation of its members and the works of apostolate — in other words, the constant spiritual attention it gives to the members and the corporate apostolic undertakings in the area of social welfare, education, etc.
The members of Opus Dei have come together only for the purpose of following a clearly defined way of holiness and of cooperating in specific works of apostolate. What binds them together is something exclusively spiritual and therefore rules out all temporal interests, because in the temporal area all the members of Opus Dei are free and so each goes his own way, with aims and interests which are different and sometimes opposite.
Because the Work's aims are exclusively supernatural, its spirit is one of freedom, of love for the personal freedom of all men. And since this is a sincere love for freedom and not a mere theoretical statement, we love the necessary consequence of freedom which is pluralism. In Opus Dei pluralism is not simply tolerated. It is desired and loved, and in no way hindered. When I see among the members of the Work so many different ideas, such a variety of points of view in political, economic, social or cultural matters, I am overjoyed at the sight, because it is a sign that everything is being done for God, as it should be.
Spiritual unity is compatible with variety in temporal matters when extremism and intolerance are shunned and above all when people live up to the Faith and realise that men are united not so much by links of sympathy or mutual interest but above all by the action of the one Spirit, who in making us brothers of Christ is leading us towards God the Father.
A true Christian never thinks that unity in the Faith, fidelity to the teaching authority and tradition of the Church, and concern for the spreading of the saving message of Christ, run counter to the existence of variety in the attitudes of people as regards the things which God has left, as the phrase goes, to the free discussion of men. In fact, he is fully aware that this variety forms part of God's plan. It is something desired by God, who distributes His gifts and His lights as He wishes. The Christian should love other people and therefore respect opinions contrary to his own, and live in harmony and full brotherhood with people who do not think as he does.
Precisely because this is the spirit which the members of the Work have learnt, none of them would dream of using the fact that he belongs to Opus Dei to obtain any personal advantage or to try to impose his political or cultural opinions on others: they just wouldn't put up with it and they would ask him to change his attitude or leave the Work. This is a point on which no one in Opus Dei would ever permit the least deviation, because it is their duty to defend not only their own freedom but also the supernatural character of the activity to which they have dedicated their lives. That's why I think that personal freedom and responsibility are the best guarantee of the supernatural purpose of the Work of God.
It could perhaps be said that so far Opus Dei has benefited from the enthusiasm of its first members, although admittedly there are many thousands of them now. Is there any way of guaranteeing the continuity of the Work against the risk, which an institutions run, of a possible cooling down of the initial fervour and drive?
The Work is based not on enthusiasm but on Faith. The early years were long years, and they were very hard. All we could see before us were difficulties. Opus Dei went ahead by the grace of God and by the prayer and sacrifice of the first few, despite the lack of material resources. All we had was youth, good humour and a desire to do God's will.
From the beginning, Opus Dei's weapons have always been prayer, self-giving and silent renunciation of all forms of selfishness for the sake of serving souls. As I said before, people come to Opus Dei to receive a spirit which brings them to give themselves in everything, while they continue with their ordinary work out of love of God and through Him, out of love for men.
The guarantee against any cooling-down is that my sons and daughters should never lose this spirit. I fully realise that human undertakings get worn out with time, but this does not happen to divine undertakings unless men debase them. Corruption and decay come only when the divine impetus is lost. In our case one can see clearly the Providence of the Lord which — in so short a time, forty years — has seen to it that this specific divine vocation should be received and lived by ordinary people (they're just the same as their fellow men) in so many different countries.
The aim of Opus Dei is, I insist once again, the holiness of each one of its members, men and women who continue just where they were before they joined the Work. All who come to Opus Dei must come with the determination to become saints in spite of everything — that is, in spite of their own miseries, their personal short comings — otherwise they will go away immediately. I think that holiness attracts holiness, and I pray to God that in Opus Dei there will always be this profound connection, this life of Faith. As you can see our confidence is not based on merely human or legal guarantees. Undertakings inspired by God move at the pace of divine grace and in these my one and only recipe is this: to be saints, to want to become saints, with personal sanctity.
Why are there priests in an institution so markedly lay as Opus Dei? Can any member of Opus Dei become a priest, or only these who are chosen by the directors?
Any person who wants to sanctify his own state in life can receive a vocation to Opus Dei: be he single, married or widowed, be he layman or cleric.
Diocesan priests also can join the Work. They remain diocesan priests just as they were before, because the Work helps them to tend towards the Christian perfection proper to their own state, through the sanctification of their ordinary work, which consists precisely in the priestly ministry at the service of their own bishop, of the diocese and of the whole Church. In their case also their commitment to Opus Dei in no way changes their position. They remain fully dedicated to the tasks entrusted to them by their bishop and to the other apostolates and activities for which they are responsible — the Work never interferes in these activities. They sanctify themselves by practising, as perfectly as they can, the virtues proper to priests.
As well as these priests who join Opus Dei after having received Holy Orders, there are in the Work other secular priests who receive the Sacrament after coming to Opus Dei, which they joined as lay people, ordinary Christians. These are very few in comparison with the total number of members, less than two percent, and they devote themselves to serving the apostolic aims of Opus Dei by means of their sacred ministry, giving up, more or less, depending on the case, the exercise of their civil profession. They are, in effect, professional people or workers who are called to the priesthood after having become professionally qualified and after years of work at their jobs, as doctors, engineers, mechanics, farm workers, teachers, journalists, etc. As well as this, they study the relevant ecclesiastical subjects, calmly and thoroughly, and do an ecclesiastical doctorate, and all this without losing the outlook characteristic of their own profession or occupation.
Their presence is needed in the apostolate of Opus Dei. This apostolate is carried out basically by the lay people, as I have said. Each member strives to be an apostle in his own environment, bringing people closer to Christ by his example and word, by dialogue. But in the apostolate, in bringing souls along the paths of the interior life, they come up against the 'sacramental wall'. The sanctifying role of the lay person is incomplete without the sanctifying role of the priest, who administers the Sacrament of Penance, celebrates the Eucharist and proclaims the word of God in the name of the Church. And since the apostolate of Opus Dei presupposes a specific spirituality, the priest must himself be a living witness to this particular spirit.
As well as serving the other members of the Work, these priests can, and in fact do, serve many other people. The priestly zeal which permeates their life should lead them to let no one pass by without receiving something of the Light of Christ. Furthermore, the spirit of Opus Dei, which will have nothing to do with cliques or discrimination, prompts them to feel intimately and effectively united to their brothers, the other diocesan priests. They feel themselves to be, and in fact are, diocesan priests in all the dioceses where they work and which they try to serve wholeheartedly and effectively.
I would like to stress, because it is very important, that the lay members of Opus Dei who receive Holy Orders do not change their vocation. When they freely accept the invitation of the directors of the Work to become priests, they do not act with the idea of uniting themselves more closely to God or of tending more effectively to holiness. They know perfectly well that the lay vocation is full and complete in itself and that their dedication to God in Opus Dei was, right from the start, a clear way to achieve Christian perfection. Ordination therefore can in no way be regarded as a crowning of a vocation to Opus Dei: it is simply a calling given to a few people so that they can serve the others in a new way. And then, of course, in the Work there are not two classes of members, priests and lay people. All are, and feel themselves to be, equal; and all live the same spirit: sanctification in one's own state in life.
You have spoken a lot about work. What place would you say work occupies in the spirituality of Opus Dei?
The vocation to Opus Dei in no way changes or modifies a person's condition or state in life. And since man's condition, his lot, is to work, the supernatural vocation to holiness and apostolate according to the spirit of Opus Dei confirms this human vocation to work. The vast majority of the members of the Work are lay people, ordinary Christians. Their condition consists in having a profession or trade which is often absorbing and by means of which they earn their living, support their family, contribute to the common good, and develop their own personality.
The vocation to Opus Dei confirms all this: to such an extent that one of the essential signs of this vocation is precisely a determination to remain in the world and to do a job as perfectly as possible (taking into account, of course, one's personal imperfections), both from the human and from the supernatural point of view. This means it must be a job which contributes effectively towards both the building up of the earthly city — and therefore it must be done competently and in a spirit of service; and to the consecration of the world — and in this regard it must both sanctify and be sanctified.
Those who want to live their Faith perfectly and to do apostolate according to the spirit of Opus Dei, must sanctify themselves with their work, must sanctify their work and sanctify others through their work. It is while they work alongside their equals, their fellow working men from whom they are in no way different, they strive to identify themselves with Christ, imitating His thirty years in the workshop in Nazareth.
Ordinary work is not only the context in which they should become holy. It is the 'raw material' of their holiness. It is there in the ordinary happenings of their day's work that they discover the hand of God and find the stimulus for their life of prayer. This same professional job brings them into contact with other people — relatives, friends, colleagues — and with the great problems which affect their society and the world at large; and it affords them the opportunity to live that self-giving in the service of others which is essential for Christians. This is where they should strive to give a true and genuine witness to Christ so that all may get to know and love our Lord and discover that their normal life in the world, their everyday work, can be an encounter with God.
In other words, holiness and apostolate and the ordinary life of the members of the Work come to form one and the same thing, and that is why work is the hinge of their spiritual life. Their self-giving to God is grafted on to the work which they were doing before they came to Opus Dei and which they continue to do after they join.
In the early years of my pastoral work, when I began to preach these ideas, some people did not understand me, and others were scandalised: they were so accustomed to hearing the world spoken of in a pejorative way. Our Lord had made me understand, and I tried to make other people understand, that the world is good, for the works of God are always perfect, and that it is we men who make the world bad, through our sins.
I said then, as I do now, that we must love the world, because it is in the world that we meet God: God shows Himself, He reveals Himself to us in the happenings and events of the world.
Good and evil are mixed in human history, and therefore the Christian should be a man of judgement. But this judgement should never bring him to deny the goodness of God's works. On the contrary, it should bring him to recognise the hand of God working through all human actions, even those which betray our fallen nature. You could make a good motto for Christian life out of these words of St Paul: 'All things are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's' (1 Cor 3:22-23), and so carry out the plans of that God whose will it is to save the world.
Could you tell me about the expansion of the Work during the past forty years? What are its most important apostolic activities?
I must say, first of all, that I thank God our Lord for letting me see the Work spread throughout the world only forty years after its beginning. When it was born — in Spain, in 1928 it was born Roman (which, to me, means Catholic, universal). And its first aim was, inevitably, to spread to all countries.
Looking back on these years, I recall a number of things which make me very happy: bound up with the difficulties which are in some way the salt of life. I think of the efficacy of God's grace and the cheerful self-giving of so many men and women who have kept faith. For, I want to stress that the essential apostolate of Opus Dei is the apostolate that each member carries out in his own place of work, with his family, among his friends — an apostolate which does not attract attention, which cannot easily be expressed in statistics but which yields holiness in thousands of souls who keep on following Christ, quietly and effectively during their ordinary everyday work.
There is nothing more I can say on this subject. I could tell you about the exemplary lives of so many people — but if I did that I would take away the intimacy and destroy the human and divine creativity of these lives: to reduce it to statistics would be even worse — and a waste of time, because the fruit of grace cannot be measured.
But I can add something about the apostolic activities the members of the Work conducted in different parts of the world — activities with spiritual aims in which they try to work with dedication and with human perfection also, and in which so many other people also cooperate: they may not be members of the Work but they appreciate the supernatural value of this activity — or its human value, as in the case of so many people who are not Christians and are such an effective help. These are always lay, secular activities, the initiative of ordinary citizens using their civic rights in accordance with the law of the country and they are always approached in a professional way. In other words, they in no way depend on privilege or special favour.
I am sure you know one of the projects of this kind being carried on in Rome: the ELIS Centre, which gives technical and general human training to young people by means of schools, sports and cultural activities, libraries etc. It is an activity which meets needs in Rome and in particular in the Tiburtino area. The same sort of thing is being done in Chicago, Madrid, Mexico and many other places.
Another example is Strathmore College of Arts and Sciences in Nairobi — a pre-university high school which has served hundreds of students from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Through this college a number of Kenyans in Opus Dei, together with fellow citizens, are doing very useful work in the educational field. It was the first educational establishment in East Africa which brought about complete racial integration and through its work it has contributed much to the Africanisation of culture. Kianda College, also in Nairobi, is a similar enterprise, devoted to the education of young women.
Just to take one more example, I should like to mention the University of Navarra. Since it was founded in 1952, it has developed eighteen faculties and institutes with a student enrolment of over six thousand. Contrary to some newspaper reports, the University of Navarra has not been supported by State aid. The Spanish State has contributed nothing to maintenance costs, all it has done is give some subventions to increase the enrolment. The University survives thanks to the help of private individuals and associations. Its teaching system and the pattern of its university life, which are a functions of personal responsibility and solidarity of all who take part in the University, have provided valuable experience in the light of the situation of Universities today.
I could refer to other kinds of activities in the United States, Japan, Argentina, Australia, the Philippines, Ireland, France, etc. But I do not think it is necessary: it is enough to say simply that Opus Dei is today spread to the five continents and that it is comprised of people of over seventy nationalities, of all races and backgrounds.
Finally, are you satisfied with these forty years of activity? Has the experience of recent years (social changes, the Second Vatican Council, etc.) by any chance suggested any changes in the structure of Opus Dei?
Satisfied? I cannot but be satisfied, when I see that, despite my own wretchedness, our Lord built up so many wonderful things around this Work of God. The life of a man who lives by Faith will always be the story of the mercies of God. At some moments the story may perhaps be difficult to read, because everything can seem useless and even a failure. But at other times our Lord lets one see how the fruit abounds and then it is natural for one's soul to break out in thanksgiving.
Indeed, one of my greatest joys was to see the Second Vatican Council so clearly proclaim the divine vocation of the laity. Without any boasting, I would say that, as far as our spirit is concerned, the Council has not meant an invitation to change but, on the contrary, has confirmed what, with the grace of God, we have been living and teaching for so many years. The principal characteristic of Opus Dei is not a set of techniques or methods of apostolate, not any specific structures, but a spirit which moves one to sanctify one's ordinary work.
As I have repeated on so many occasions, we all have personal shortcomings and miseries. And we all should examine ourselves seriously in God's presence and check to see how our life measures up to our Lord's demands. But we should not forget the most important thing: 'If only you knew the gift of God!' (John 4:10) as Jesus said to the Samaritan woman. And St Paul adds: 'We carry this treasure in earthenware jars, to show that the abundance of the power is God's and not ours' (2 Cor 4:7).
Humility, Christian self-examination, begins with recognising God's gift. It is something quite distinct from shrugging one's shoulders at the way things are going. And it has nothing to do with a sense of futility or discouragement in the face of history. In one's personal life, and sometimes also in the life of associations or institutions, there may be things which have to change, perhaps a lot of things. But the attitude with which a Christian should face these problems should be, above all, one of amazement at the greatness of the works of God, compared with the littleness of man.
Aggiornamento should take place, principally, in one's personal life so as to bring it into line with the 'old novelty' of the Gospel. Being 'up-to-date' means identifying oneself with Christ who is not a figure of the past: Christ is living and will live for all ages: 'yesterday and today and forever' (Heb 13:8).
Taking Opus Dei as a whole it can be said without any kind of arrogance but with gratitude to the goodness of God, it will never have any problems of adaptation to the world: it will never find itself in need of being brought 'up-to-date.'
God our Lord put Opus Dei up to date once and for all when he gave the Work its particular lay characteristics. It will never need to adapt itself to the world, because all its members are of the world. It will never be forced to catch up with human progress because it is the members of the Work, together with all the other people who live in the world, who make human progress, by means of their ordinary work.