The Apostolate of Opus Dei in Five Continents
People have sometimes said that Opus Dei was organised internally along the lines of secret societies. What is to be thought of such a statement? Could you give us, with this in mind, your own idea of the message you wanted to address to men of our time when you founded the Work in 1928?
Ever since 1928 my preaching has been that sanctity is not reserved for the privileged few and that all the ways of the earth can be divine. The reason is that the spirituality of Opus Dei is based on the sanctification of ordinary work. The prejudice must be rejected that the ordinary faithful can do no more than limit themselves to helping the clergy in ecclesiastical apostolate. It should be remembered that to attain this supernatural end men need to be and to feel personally free with the freedom that Christ won for us.
To proclaim and to teach how to practise this doctrine I have never needed anything secret. The members of the Work detest secrecy because they are ordinary faithful, the same as anyone else. They do not change their status when they join Opus Dei. It would be repulsive for them to carry a sign on their back that said, 'Let it be known that I am dedicated to the service of God' . That would be neither lay nor secular. But those who associate with members of Opus Dei and are acquainted with them realise that they belong to the Work, for, even if they do not publicise their membership, neither do they hide it.
Could you give a brief picture of the world wide structure of Opus Dei and of its relations with the General Council in Rome over which you preside?
The General Council is independent for each section — the men's and the women's — and resides in Rome. A corresponding organisation exists in each country, presided over by the Counsellor of Opus Dei in that nation.
But do not imagine a powerful organisation, spread out like a vast network to the farthest corners of the world. Rather, imagine an 'unorganised organisation' in which the principal work of the Directors is to see to it that all the members receive the genuine spirit of the Gospels (a spirit of charity, of harmony, of understanding, all of which are absolutely foreign to extremism) by means of a solid and appropriate theological and apostolic formation. Beyond this, each member acts with complete personal freedom. He forms his conscience autonomously. And he tries to seek Christian perfection and to Christianise his environment, by sanctifying his own work, whether it be intellectual or manual, in all the circumstances of his life and in his own home.
Furthermore, direction in the Work is always collegial. We detest tyranny, especially in the exclusively spiritual government of Opus Dei. We love pluralism. The contrary would lead to ineffectiveness, to neither getting things done nor letting other people do them, to never improving.
Point 484 in your spiritual code, 'The Way', specifies: 'Your duty is to be an instrument' What meaning should be given to this statement in the context of the preceding questions?
'The Way' a code? Not at all. I wrote a good part of that book in 1934, summarising my priestly experience for the benefit of all the souls with whom I was in contact, whether they were in Opus Dei or not. I never suspected that thirty years later it would be spread so widely — millions of copies, in so many languages. It is not a book solely for members of Opus Dei. It is for everyone, whether Christian or not. Among those who have translated it on their own initiative are Orthodox, Protestants, and non-Christians. 'The Way' must be read with at least some supernatural spirit, some interior life and apostolic feeling. It is not a code for the man of action. The aim of the book is to help men become friends of God, to love Him and serve all men. In other words, to be an instrument — which gets back to your question — as St. Paul the Apostle wanted to be an instrument of Christ — a free and responsible instrument. Anyone who tries to see a temporal goal in the pages of 'The Way' is mistaken. Do not forget it has been common for spiritual authors of every age to see souls as instruments in the hands of God.
Does Spain occupy a preferred position in the Work? Can it be considered the starting point of a more ambitious programme, or is it just another area of activity among so many others?
Of the sixty five countries from which the members of Opus Dei come, Spain is merely one among others, and we Spaniards are in the minority. Geographically, Opus Dei was born in Spain. But from the beginning its aim has been universal. And I myself have lived in Rome for twenty years.
Has the fact that some members of the Work are active in the public life of Spain politicised Opus Dei in that country in some way? Do they not compromise the Work, and even the Church?
No, not in Spain, or in any other place. I insist that each of the members of Opus Dei carries on his work with full freedom and with personal responsibility. They compromise neither the Church nor the Work, for they are supported neither by the Church nor by the Work in their personal activities.
People who have a military concept of apostolate and spiritual life will always tend to see the free and personal work of Christians as a collective activity. But I assure you, as I have said time and time again since 1928, that variety in thought and action in what is temporal and in what is a matter of theological opinion poses no problem for the Work. On the contrary, the diversity which exists and will always exist among the members of Opus Dei is a sign of good spirit, of an honest life, of respect for the legitimate opinion of each individual.
Do you believe that in Spain, by reason of the particularism inherent in the Iberian people, a group within the Work could be tempted to use its power to satisfy particular interests?
You have formulated an hypothesis which I dare to guarantee will never occur in the Work. Not only because we associate exclusively for supernatural ends, but also because if a member of Opus Dei were to attempt to impose, directly or indirectly, a temporal criterion on the other members, or if he should try to make use of them for human ends, he would be expelled at once. For the other members would rebel and their rebellion would be legitimate and holy.
In Spain Opus Dei prides itself on including people in all walks of life. Is this valid for the rest of the world, or must it be admitted that in other countries the members of Opus Dei come from the upper classes such as the top levels of industry, the civil service, politics, and the professions?
In Spain and in the whole world, people of all social conditions belong to Opus Dei: men and women, old and young, workers, businessmen, clerks, farmers, members of the professions, etc. It is God who gives the vocation, and with God there is no distinction of persons.
But Opus Dei does not pride itself on anything. Apostolic undertakings grow, not by human effort, but by the breathing of the Holy Spirit. It is reasonable for an association with earthly aims to publish impressive statistics as to the number, social standing, and qualities of its members. And, in fact, organisations in search of temporal prestige usually do so. But when the sanctification of souls is the aim, to act in such a way would encourage triumphalism, whereas Christ wants each individual Christian, personally, and the whole Christian body, collectively, to be humble.
How is the Work developing in France at the present time?
As I was telling you, the government of the Work in each country is autonomous. You can obtain the best information on the work of Opus Dei in France by asking the Directors of the Work in that country. But among the activities Opus Dei carries on corporately, for which Opus Dei as such is responsible. there are student residences like the Residence Internationale de Rouvray in Paris and the Residence Universitaire de l'Ile Verte in Grenoble; conference centres like the Centre de Rencontres Couvrelles in the Department of Aisne, etc.
But let me remind you that the corporate works are the least important thing. The main task of Opus Dei is the direct, personal witness which the members give in the practice of their own ordinary work. And for this, it is useless to count the members. But do not think about the ghost of secrecy. By no means. The birds that fill the skies are no secret, but no one thinks of counting them.
What is the present status of the Work in the rest of the world, especially in the English speaking countries?
Opus Dei feels as much at home in England as in Kenya, in Nigeria as in Japan, in the United States as in Austria, in Ireland as in Mexico or Argentina. In each place it is the same theological and pastoral phenomenon which takes root in the souls of the people of that country. It is not anchored to one particular culture nor to one specific historical period.
In the English speaking world, thanks to God's help and the cooperation of very many people, Opus Dei has apostolic works of different types: Netherhall House in London, devoted to Afro-Asian students, Hudson Centre in Montreal for the human and intellectual development of young women, Warrane College for the students in Sydney. In the United States, where Opus Dei began to work in 1949, one could mention Midtown, a centre for workers in the Near West Side of Chicago, Stonecrest Community Center in Washington for the education of women who lack professional training, Trimount House, a university residence in Boston, etc.
One final remark: the Work's influence, so far as it exists in each case, will always be spiritual and of a religious, never a temporal, nature.
Various sources assume that a solid enmity places most religious orders, and especially the Jesuits, in opposition to Opus Dei. Do these rumours have any foundation at all, or are they one of those myths which people build up when they are not well acquainted with a problem?
We are not religious. We bear no resemblance to religious nor is there any authority on earth which could require us to be religious. Yet in Opus Dei we venerate and love the religious state. I pray every day that all venerable religious will continue to offer the Church the fruits of their virtues, their apostolic works, and their holiness. The rumours you spoke of are just that — rumours. Opus Dei has always enjoyed the admiration and the sympathetic goodwill of religious of many orders and congregations, especially of cloistered monks and nuns, who pray for us, write to us often, and make our work known in a thousand ways because they appreciate the meaning of our life: contemplatives in the midst of the cares of the secular city.
The Secretary General of Opus Dei, Alvaro del Portillo, was a friend of the last General of the Jesuits. I am equally close to the present General, Father Arrupe, and I have a high regard for him.
Misunderstandings, if they should occur, would show a lack of Christian spirit, for our Faith calls for unity, not for rivalries or divisions.
What is the position of the Work as regards the Council's Declaration on Religious Freedom, and especially as regards its application in Spain, where the 'Castiella Project' is still suspended? And what about the alleged 'integrism' for which Opus Dei has occasionally been reproached?
Integrism? Opus Dei is neither on the right nor on the left nor in the centre. As a priest I strive to be with Christ. Both of His arms — not just one — were outstretched on the Cross. I freely take from every group whatever seems to me good and helps me to keep my heart and my two arms open to all mankind. And every member of Opus Dei is also utterly free, within the bounds of the Christian Faith, to hold whatever opinion he likes.
With respect to religious freedom, from its foundation Opus Dei has never practised discrimination of any kind. It works and lives with everyone because it sees in each person a soul which must be respected and loved. These are not mere words. Our Work is the first Catholic organisation which, with the authorisation of the Holy See, admits non-Catholics, whether Christian or not, as cooperators. I have always defended the freedom of individual consciences. I do not understand violence. I do not consider it a proper way either to persuade or to win over. Error is overcome by prayer, by God's grace, and by study; never by force, always with charity. From the first moment this is the spirit we have lived. You can understand, then, how the Council's teaching on this subject could only make me happy.
As to the specific project you refer to, it is not my problem to solve. It belongs to the Church's hierarchy in Spain and to the Catholics of that country. It is up to them to apply the Council's spirit to the case in question.
Some readers of 'The Way' are surprised by the statement in point 28: 'Marriage is for the soldiers and not for the General Staff of Christ's army'. Can that be taken as a disparaging appraisal of marriage, which would go against the Work's desire to be inserted in the living realities of the modern world?
I advise you to read the previous point of 'The Way', which states that marriage is a divine vocation — it was not at all frequent to hear that sort of affirmation around 1925.
The conclusions you spoke of could only spring from a failure to understand my words. With that metaphor I wanted to recall what the Church has always taught about the excellence and supernatural value of apostolic celibacy. At the same time I wanted to remind all Christians that they must consider themselves milites Christi (soldiers of Christ), in St Paul's words, members of the People of God who are on earth engaged in a divine warfare of understanding, holiness and peace. All over the world there are many thousands of married couples who belong to Opus Dei, or who live according to its spirit. And they are well aware that a soldier may be decorated for bravery in the same battle from which the general shamefully fled.
You established your residence in Rome in 1946. What is there about the Pontiffs with whom you have dealt that stands out in your memory?
For me, in the hierarchy of love, the Pope comes right after the Most Holy Trinity and our Mother the Virgin. I cannot forget that it was his Holiness Pius XII who approved Opus Dei at a time when some people considered our spirituality a heresy. Nor can I forget that the first words of kindness and affection I received in Rome in 1946 came from the then Monsignor Montini. The affable and paternal charm of John XXIII, every time I had occasion to visit him, remains engraved in my memory. Once I told him 'In our Work all men, Catholics or not, have always been lovingly received. It is not from your Holiness that I learned ecumenism.' And Pope John laughed with obvious emotion.
What more can I tell you? The Roman Pontiffs, all of them, have always had understanding and affection for Opus Dei.
Monsignor, I had the opportunity of listening to you answer the questions of an assembly of more than 20,000 persons gathered in Pamplona a year and a half ago. You insisted then on the need for Catholics to conduct themselves as responsible and free citizens, and 'not to make a living by being Catholic'. What importance and what scope do you give that idea?
I have always been annoyed by the attitude of those who make a profession of calling themselves Catholic, and also of those who want to deny the principle of personal responsibility, upon which the whole of Christian morality is based.
The spirit of Opus Dei and of its members is to serve the Church, and all men, without using the Church. I like Catholics to carry Christ, not in name, but in their conduct, giving a real witness of Christian life. I find clericalism repugnant and I understand how, as well as an evil anticlericalism, there also exists a healthy anticlericalism. It proceeds from love for the priesthood and opposes the use of a sacred mission for earthly ends, either by a layman or by a priest. But I do not think that in this I oppose anyone. In our Work there is no spirit of monopoly. There is only a desire to cooperate with all who work for Christ, and with all Christians or not — who make of their lives a splendid reality of service.
It remains only to say that the important thing is not so much the dimension I have given to these ideas, especially since 1928, but that which the Magisterium of the Church has given them. Not long ago the Council aroused, in the poor priest that I am, an emotion which is impossible to describe. For it reminded all Christians, in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, that they must feel their full citizenship in the earthly city — by taking part in all human undertakings with professional competence and with love for all men, by seeking that Christian perfection to which they are called by the simple fact of their Baptism.