Women in Social Life and in the Life of the Church
Monsignor, the presence of women in social life is extending far beyond the sphere of the family, in which they have moved almost exclusively up to now. What do you think about this development? What, in your opinion, are the main characteristics that women have to develop if they are to fulfil their mission?
Firstly, let me say that I do not think there need be any conflict between one's family life and social life. Just as in a man's life, but with particular shades of difference, the home and the family will always occupy a central place in the life of a woman. For it is obvious that when she spends time on her family she is fulfilling a great human and Christian role. Nevertheless, this does not exclude the possibility of her having other professional work — for housework is also professional work — in any worthwhile employment available in the society in which she lives. I can understand why you state the problem the way you do. But I think that if we systematically contrast work in the home with outside work, retaining the old dichotomy which was formerly used to maintain that a woman's place was in the home but switching the stress, it could easily lead, from the social point of view, to a greater mistake than that which we are trying to correct because it would be more serious if it led women to give up their work in the home.
Even on the personal level one cannot flatly affirm that a woman has to achieve her perfection only outside the home, as if time spent on her family were time stolen from the development of her personality. The home — whatever its characteristics, because a single woman should also have a home — is a particularly suitable place for the growth of her personality. The attention she gives to her family will always be a woman's greatest dignity. In the care she takes of her husband and children or, to put it in more general terms, in her work of creating a warm and formative atmosphere around her, a woman fulfils the most indispensable part of her mission. And so it follows that she can achieve her personal perfection there.
What I have just said does not go against her participating in other aspects of social life including politics. In these spheres, too, women can offer a valuable personal contribution, without neglecting their special feminine qualities. They will do this to the extent to which they are humanly and professionally equipped. Both family and society clearly need this special contribution, which is in no way secondary to that of men.
Development, maturity, emancipation of women should not mean a pretence of equality, of uniformity with men, a servile imitation of a man's way of doing things. That would not get us anywhere. Women would turn out losers, not because they are better than men or worse, but because they are different.
In terms of fundamentals, one can in fact speak of equal rights which should be legally recognised, both in civil and ecclesiastical law. Women, like men, possess the dignity of being persons and children of God. Nevertheless, on this basis of fundamental equality, each must achieve what is proper to him or her. In this sense a woman's emancipation means that she should have a real possibility of developing her own potentialities to the fullest extent — those which she has personally and those which she has in common with other women. Equal rights and equal opportunities before the law do not suppress this diversity, which enriches all mankind. They presuppose and encourage it.
Women are called to bring to the family, to society and to the Church, characteristics which are their own and which they alone can give: their gentle warmth and untiring generosity, their love for detail, their quick-wittedness and intuition, their simple and deep piety, their constancy… A woman's femininity is genuine only if she is aware of the beauty of this contribution for which there is no substitute and if she incorporates it into her own life.
To fulfil this mission, a woman has to develop her own personality and not let herself be carried away by a naive desire to imitate, which, as a rule, would tend to put her in an inferior position and leave her unique qualities unfulfilled. If she is a mature person, with a character and mind of her own, she will indeed accomplish the mission to which she feels called, whatever it may be. Her life and work will be really constructive, fruitful and full of meaning, whether she spends the day dedicated to her husband and children or whether, having given up the idea of marriage for a noble reason, she has given herself fully to other tasks.
Each woman in her own sphere of life, if she is faithful to her divine and human vocation can and, in fact, does achieve the fullness of her feminine personality. Let us remember that Mary, Mother of God and Mother of men, is not only a model but also a proof of the transcendental value of an apparently unimportant life.
At times, however, a woman is not sure of having found the place which suits her and to which she is called. Often, if she has a job outside, the demands of the home weigh her down and if she spends all her time with her family, she feels that her scope is being limited. What would you say to women who have this experience?
This very real feeling is frequently due to particular limitations which we all have because we are human: it comes because we lack well-determined ideals capable of guiding our whole life, or because of a subconscious pride. At times, we would like to be outstanding in everything. And since this is impossible, it leads to confusion and anxiety, or even depression and boredom: you cannot do ten things at the same time, you do not know which to do, and you end up doing nothing well. In this situation, jealousy can develop, one's imagination easily becomes escapist and seeks refuge in fantasy which, leaving reality far behind, ends up weakening one's will-power. It is what I have repeatedly called 'mystical wishful thinking', made up of useless day dreams and empty ideals: If only I hadn't married, if only I did not have this job, if only I had better health, or was younger, or had more time!
Like everything valuable the solution is costly. It lies in the search for the true centre of human life, which can give priority, order and meaning to everything. We find this centre in our relations with God by means of a genuine interior life. By making Christ the centre of our lives, we discover the meaning of the mission he has entrusted to us. We have a human ideal that becomes divine. New horizons of hope open up in our life and we come to the point of sacrificing willingly, not just this or that aspect of our activity, but our whole life, thus giving it, paradoxically, its deepest fulfilment.
The problem you pose is not confined to women. At some time or other, many men experience the same sort of thing with slightly different characteristics. The source of the trouble is usually the same lack of a high ideal that can only be discovered with God's light.
But smaller remedies, which seem trivial, must also be used. When there are lots of things to do you have to establish priorities, to get organised. Many difficulties stem from downright disorder. There are women who do hundreds of things and all of them well because they are well organised and have courageously imposed order on all their work. They know how to concentrate at each moment on what they have to do, without getting worried about what is round the corner, or what they might have been able to do before. Others are overwhelmed by all that there is to do, and because they are overwhelmed, they do nothing.
Certainly there will always be many women whose only task is to run their home. This is a wonderful job which is very worthwhile. Through this profession — because it is a profession, in a true and noble sense — they are an influence for good, not only in their family, but also among their many friends and acquaintances, among people with whom they come in contact, in one way or another. Sometimes their impact is much greater than that of other professional people, to say nothing of when they put their experience and knowledge at the service of hundreds of people in centres devoted to the formation and education of women, like those which my daughters in Opus Dei direct all over the world. Then they teach others to run a home, and become educators who are more effective, I would say, than many university professors.
Please excuse me for insisting on the same subject. Through the letters which reach our Editor's desk, we know that some mothers of large families complain about their being limited to the role of having children, and feel dissatisfied about not being able to devote their life to other fields: professional work, cultural activities, social work… What advice would you give them?
Now just a moment! What is social work, if not giving oneself to others, with a sense of dedication and service and contributing effectively to the good of all? The job of a woman in her house is a social contribution in itself and can easily be the most effective of all.
Take the case of a large family. The mother's work is comparable to that of professional teachers and in many cases leaves them in the shade. A teacher manages to educate a number of boys and girls more or less successfully in the course of his life. A mother can give her children a solid set of values and shape their character, and can make them, in their turn, other teachers, thus setting up an uninterrupted chain of responsibility and virtue.
In these matters it is easy to be misled by mere numbers and to think that the work of a teacher, who sees hundreds of people pass through his classes, or that of a writer who reaches thousands of readers, is more valuable. That is all very well, but how many people are really formed by that teacher or writer? A mother has three, five, ten or more children in her care and she can make of them a true work of art, a marvel of education, of balance and understanding, a model of the Christian way of life. She can teach them to be happy and to make themselves really useful to those around them.
Besides, it is natural for the children to help with the household chores; and a mother who knows how to bring up her children well can manage this. This way she will have spare time which, if used well, will enable her to cultivate her personal interests and talents and to enrich her culture. Fortunately, these days there is plenty of technical equipment, household appliances and that sort of thing, which can be great time-savers if full advantage is taken of them and they are used correctly. As in every field, personal qualities are what count. Some women with the latest-model washing machine take longer to do the washing, (and do it worse) than when they did it by hand. Appliances are useful only when one knows how to use them.
I know of many married women with large families who manage their home very well and still find time to cooperate in other apostolic tasks, just like that early Christian married couple, Aquilla and Priscilla. They worked in their house and at their job, and besides this were splendid cooperators of St. Paul. With their word and example they brought Apollo to the Faith of Jesus Christ, a man who was later to become a great preacher of the early Church. As I have already said, someone who really wants to, can overcome quite a number of limitations, without neglecting any of his duties. In fact, there is time for a lot of things: for running a home with professional outlook, for giving oneself continually to others, for improving one's own culture and for enriching that of others, and for carrying out many other effective tasks.
You refer to the presence of women in public life, in politics. What do you consider the specific task of women in this field?
The presence of women in the whole range of social life is a logical and entirely positive phenomenon, part of the broader phenomenon to which I referred earlier. A modern democratic society has to recognise women's right to take an active part in political life and it has to create conditions favourable for everyone who wants to exercise this right.
A woman who wants to play an active role in public affairs has an obligation to prepare herself adequately, so that the part that she takes in the life of the community can be responsible and positive. All professional work demands previous training and a constant effort to improve one's formation and to adapt it to the new circumstances that may arise. And this is very specially true for those who aspire to occupy leading positions in society, because they are called to a very important service on which the entire community's well-being depends.
A woman with adequate training should find the field of public life open to her at all levels. In this sense it is impossible to point out specific tasks that correspond to women alone. As I said earlier, in this field what is specific is not the task or position in itself, but the way in which the work is done. There are values which a woman more readily perceives, and her specific contribution will often, therefore, change the whole approach to a problem, and can lead to the discovery of completely new approaches.
By virtue of their special gifts, women greatly enrich civil life. This is very obvious, for example, in the sphere of family or social legislation. Feminine qualities offer the best guarantee that genuine human and Christian values will be respected when it comes to taking measures that affect family life, education. and the future of youth.
I have just mentioned the importance of Christian values in the solution of social and family problems, and I want to stress their particular importance in all public life. Just as for a man, when a woman takes part in political activity, her Christian Faith confers on her the responsibility of carrying out a genuine apostolate, that is to say, a Christian service to the whole of society. This does not mean representing the Church officially or semi-officially in public life, and even less using the Church for your own personal career or for party interests. On the contrary, it means forming your own opinions with freedom in all those temporal matters in which Christians are free, and accepting personal responsibility for your opinions and actions, which should be always in keeping with the Faith you profess.
In the homily you gave in Pamplona last October during the Mass you celebrated at the Assembly of the Friends of the University of Navarra, you spoke of human love in words which made a deep impression on us. Many readers have written commenting on the impact they felt on hearing you. What would you say are the most important values of Christian marriage?
The majority of the members of Opus Dei are married people, so in this field I can speak from the experience of many years of priestly activity in many countries. For the married members of Opus Dei human love and marriage duties are part of their divine vocation. Opus Dei has made of marriage a divine way, avocation, and this has many consequences for personal holiness and for apostolate. I have spent almost forty years preaching the vocational meaning of marriage. More than once I have had occasion to see faces light up as men and women, who had thought that in their lives a dedication to God was incompatible with a noble and pure human love, heard me say that marriage is a divine path on earth!
The purpose of marriage is to help married people sanctify themselves and others. For this reason they receive a special grace in the sacrament which Jesus Christ instituted. Those who are called to the married state will, with the grace of God, find within their state everything they need to be holy, to identify themselves each day more with Jesus Christ, and to lead those with whom they live to God.
That is why I always look upon Christian homes with hope and affection, upon all the families which are the fruit of the Sacrament of Matrimony. They are a shining witness of the great divine mystery of Christ's loving union with His Church which St. Paul calls sacramentum magnum, a great sacrament (Eph 5:32). We must strive so that these cells of Christianity may be born and may develop with a desire for holiness, conscious of the fact that the Sacrament of Initiation — Baptism — confers on all Christians a divine mission that each must fulfil in his own walk of life.
Christian couples should be aware that they are called to sanctity themselves and to sanctify others, that they are called to be apostles and that their first apostolate is in the home. They should understand that founding a family, educating their children, and exercising a Christian influence in society, are supernatural tasks. The effectiveness and the success of their life — their happiness — depends to a great extent on their awareness of their specific mission.
But they mustn't forget that the secret of married happiness lies in everyday things, not in daydreams. It lies in finding the hidden joy of coming home in the evening, in affectionate relations with their children, in the everyday work in which the whole family cooperates; in good humour in the face of difficulties that should be met with a sporting spirit; in making the best use of all the advantages that civilisation offers to help us rear children, to make the house pleasant and life more simple.
I constantly tell those who have been called by God to form a home to love one another always, to love each other with the love of their youth. Any one who thinks that love ends when the worries and difficulties that life brings with it begin, has a poor idea of marriage, which is a sacrament and an ideal and a vocation, It is precisely then that love grows strong. Torrents of worries and difficulties are incapable of drowning true love because people who sacrifice themselves generously together are brought closer by their sacrifice. As Scripture says, aquae multae, a host of difficulties, physical and moral, non potuerunt extinguere caritatem, cannot extinguish love (Cant 8:7).
We know that the idea of marriage, as a way of holiness, is not new in your preaching. As far back as 1934, when you wrote 'Consideraciones Espirituales' you insisted on the fact that marriage should be seen as a vocation. But in this book and later in 'The Way', you also wrote that 'Marriage is for the soldiers and not for the General Staff of Christ's army.' Could you explain how these two points can be reconciled?
In the spirit and life of Opus Dei there has never been any difficulty in reconciling them. To begin with, it is well to remember that the greater excellence of celibacy, chosen for spiritual motives, is not a theological opinion of mine, but part of the Church's faith.
When I wrote those words back in the thirties, there was a tendency among Catholics, particularly in the sphere of day-to-day pastoral activity, to encourage the search for Christian perfection among young people only by making them appreciate the supernatural value of virginity, while neglecting to mention the value of marriage as a way of holiness.
In general, schools did not teach young people to see the true dignity of marriage. Even now it is quite common, in the retreats given to pupils during their last year at secondary school, to stress subjects related to a possible religious vocation rather than to a possible vocation to marriage. There are still some people, though they are gradually disappearing, who undervalue married life, giving young people the impression that it is something the Church simply tolerates, as if marriage precluded any serious striving for sanctity.
In Opus Dei we have always acted differently. While making clear the purpose and the excellence of apostolic celibacy, we have pointed out that marriage is a divine way on earth.
I am not afraid of human love — that holy love of my parents which our Lord used to give me life. I bless this love with both hands. The partners are both the ministers and the matter of the Sacrament of Marriage, as the bread and wine are the matter of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. That's why I like all the songs about pure holy love, for in them I find, interwoven, both human and divine love. But, also, I always say that people who follow a vocation to apostolic celibacy are not old maids who do not understand or value love; on the contrary, their lives can only be explained in terms of this divine Love (I like to write it with a capital letter) which is the very essence of every Christian vocation.
There is nothing contradictory about being fully aware of the value of the vocation to marriage and understanding the greater excellence of the vocation to celibacy propter regnum caelorum 'for love of the kingdom of heaven' (Matt 19:12). I am convinced that any Christian who tries to know, accept and love the teaching of the Church, will understand perfectly how the two are compatible if he tries also to know, accept and love his own personal vocation. That is to say, if he has faith and lives by it.
When I wrote that marriage is for the 'soldiers', I only described what has happened always in the Church. As you know, the bishops — who form the Episcopal College, which has the Pope as its head, and who govern with him the entire Church — are elected from among those who live celibacy. The same is true in the Eastern Church, in which there are married priests. Furthermore, it can be easily understood and shown that those who are celibate are de facto freer of ties of affection and have greater freedom of movement to dedicate themselves permanently to conducting and supporting apostolic undertakings. This is also true in the lay apostolate. This is not to say that the rest of the laity cannot, or in fact do not, carry out a splendid apostolate and one of prime importance. It only means that there are different duties, different forms of dedication in Positions of diverse responsibility.
In an army — and this is all the comparison was meant to express — the soldiers are as necessary as the general staff and can be more heroic and merit more glory. In a word, there is a variety of tasks and all are necessary and worthy. What is really important is that each person should follow his own vocation. For each individual, the most perfect thing is, always and only, to do God's Will.
And so a Christian who seeks to sanctify himself in the married state and is conscious of the greatness of his own vocation, spontaneously feels a special veneration and deep affection towards those who are called to apostolic celibacy. When one of his children, by God's grace, sets out on this path, he truly rejoices and comes to love his own vocation to marriage even more because it has permitted him to offer the fruits of human love to Jesus Christ, who is the great Love of all men, married or celibate.
Many married couples find themselves confused, regarding the number of children that they should have, by the advice they receive at times from some priests. What advice would you give them?
Those who confuse people's consciences in this way forget that life is sacred. They deserve the severe reproaches that our Lord made to the blind who lead the blind, to those who do not want to enter the Kingdom of Heaven and do not let others enter either. I do not judge their intentions and in fact I am sure that many give such advice guided by compassion and a desire to find a solution to difficult situations. I cannot, however, hide the fact that I am deeply saddened by the destructive and in many cases devilish work of those who not only fail to give sound doctrine but go further and undermine the teaching of the Church.
Married couples should remember, when they receive advice and recommendations on this matter, that what they have to do is to discover what God wants of them. With sincerity, a right intention, and a minimum of Christian formation, our conscience knows how to discover God's will in this sphere as in others. There are cases in which we seek advice that will favour our own selfishness, and suppress with its apparent authority the voice of our inner convictions. Then we even go from adviser to adviser until we find a 'benevolent' one. This is a pharisaical attitude which is unworthy of a child of God.
The advice of another Christian and especially a priest's advice, in questions of faith or morals, is a powerful help for knowing what God wants of us in our particular circumstances. Advice, however, does not eliminate personal responsibility. In the end, it is we ourselves, each one of us on our own, who have to decide for ourselves and personally to account to God for our decisions.
Over and above any private advice stands God's law, which is contained in sacred Scripture, guarded and taught by the Magisterium of the Church with the assistance of the Holy Spirit. When a particular piece of advice contradicts God's word as taught by the Magisterium, we have to reject it decisively. God will give His grace to those who act with an upright intention. He will inspire them as to what to do and, when necessary, He will enable them to find a priest who knows how to lead their souls along pure and right paths even though at times they may be difficult ones.
Spiritual guidance should not be used to turn people into beings with no judgment of their own, who limit themselves to carrying out mechanically what others tell them. On the contrary, it should tend to develop men with their own Christian standards. This requires maturity, firm convictions, sufficient doctrinal knowledge, a refined spirit and an educated will.
It is important for married people to acquire a clear sense of the dignity of their vocation. They must know that they have been called by God not only to human love but also to a divine love, through their human love. It is important for them to realise that they have been chosen from all eternity to cooperate with the creative power of God by having and then bringing up children. Our Lord asks them to make their home and their entire family life a testimony of all the Christian virtues.
I shall never tire of repeating that marriage is a great and marvellous divine path. Like everything divine in us, it calls for response to grace, generosity, dedication and service. Selfishness, in whatever shape or form, is opposed to the love of God which ought to govern our lives. This is a fundamental point which one must always bear in mind with regard to marriage and the number of children.
There are some women who have had many children already and are afraid to tell their friends and relations that they are going to have another child They fear the criticism of those who think that, now 'the pill' has arrived, large families are old-fashioned Indeed, it can be difficult to bring up a large family in contemporary society. What would you say to us on the subject?
I bless parents who, joyfully accepting the mission that God entrusts to them, have many children. Moreover, I ask married couples not to block the well-springs of life and I invite them to have enough supernatural outlook and courage to bring up a large family, if it is God's will. When I praise large families, I do not refer to those which are the result of mere physiological relations. I refer to families founded on the practice of human virtues, which have a high regard for personal dignity and know that giving children to God consists not only of engendering their natural life but also undertaking the lengthy task of their upbringing. Giving of life comes first, but it is not everything.
There may be particular cases in which God's will, which shows itself in ordinary ways, is precisely that a family be small. Nevertheless, the theories that make birth control an ideal, or a universal or general duty, are criminal, anti-Christian and humanly degrading. To appeal to a presumed post-conciliar spirit opposed to large families would be to adulterate and pervert Christian doctrine. The Second Vatican Council has proclaimed that 'especially worthy of mention among the married people who fulfil the mission entrusted to them by God, are those who, with prudent mutual agreement, generously accept a more numerous offspring to educate worthily' (Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes, 50). Moreover, Pope Paul VI, in an address on 12 February 1966, commented 'that the recently concluded Second Vatican Council should diffuse among Christian couples a spirit of generosity in order to increase the new People of God… that they should always remember that this expansion of God's kingdom and the possibilities of the Church's penetration among mankind in order to bring about eternal salvation and the salvation of the world are also entrusted to their generosity'.
The number is not in itself the decisive factor. The fact of having few or many children does not on its own make a family more or less Christian. What matters is the integrity and honesty with which married life is lived. True mutual love transcends the union of husband and wife and extends to its natural fruits — the children. Selfishness, on the contrary, sooner or later reduces love to a mere satisfaction of instinct and destroys the bond which unites parents and children. A child who suspects that he has come into the world against his parents' will, who feels he was born not of a pure love, but because of miscalculation or oversight, can hardly consider himself a good son — a true son — of his parents.
I was saying that, in itself, the number of children is not a decisive factor. Nevertheless, I see clearly that attacks on large families stem from a lack of Faith. They are the product of a social atmosphere which is incapable of understanding generosity, trying to conceal selfishness, and unmentionable practices under apparently altruistic motives. Paradoxically, the countries where most birth control propaganda is found, and which impose birth control on other countries, are the very ones which have attained a higher standard of living. Perhaps their economic and social arguments in favour of birth control could be taken more seriously if they led them to give away a sizeable part of their great wealth to those in need. Until then it will be hard not to think that the real motive behind their arguments is hedonism and ambition for political domination, for demographic neo-colonialism.
I am not unaware of the great problems facing humanity, nor of the actual difficulties which a particular family can confront I often think of this and my fatherly heart, which I have to have as a Christian and as a priest, is filled with compassion. Nevertheless, it is not lawful to look for the solution in this direction.
I do not understand how Catholics and even priests have for years advised, with an easy conscience, the use of the pill to prevent conception. The teachings of the Popes cannot be disregarded just like that. Nor ought they to allege, as they do with incredible flippancy, that the Pope when he does not speak ex cathedra is simply a private theologian subject to error. To say nothing of the tremendous arrogance it supposes to affirm that the Pope makes mistakes, while they do not.
Besides, they forget that the Pope is not only a teacher, and infallible when he says so expressly, but also the chief Legislator. In this case Pope Paul VI has laid down in unequivocal terms that all the dispositions of the much revered Pius XII in this very delicate matter are still binding and must necessarily be followed. Moreover, Pius XII only permitted some natural procedures — not the pill — to avoid conception in isolated and difficult cases. To advise the contrary is, therefore, a serious act of disobedience to the Holy Father in a grave matter.
I could write a huge volume on the disastrous consequences that the use of these, and other contraceptives, brings with it, namely: the break down of married love (the married couple come to see each other as accomplices rather than as husband and wife), unhappiness, infidelity, mental and spiritual distress, great harm to the children, a loss of married peace… However, I do not think it is necessary to go into all this; I prefer simply to obey the Pope. If, at some time, he were to decide that the use of a particular medicine were licit to prevent conception, I should adapt myself to whatever he said. And, following the norms established by the Pope and those of moral theology, I would examine in each case the evident dangers to which I have just referred and I would give my advice in conscience to each individual.
And I would always bear in mind that our present-day world will not be saved by men who aim to drug the spiritual life and reduce everything to a question of economics or material well-being. Its salvation will come from men and women who know that moral law is geared to man's eternal destiny, who have faith in God and generously face up to the demands of their Faith, helping those around them to appreciate the transcendental meaning of our life on earth.
This certainty should lead them not to encourage escapism, but to ensure effectively that all men have the necessary material resources, that there be work for all and that no one finds himself unjustly confined in his social and family life.
The frustration caused by not being able to have children leads, at times, to discord and misunderstanding. In your opinion, what meaning should Christian couples who are childless give to their married life?
In the first place I would tell them that they should not give up hope too easily. They should ask God to give them children and, if it is His Will, to bless them as He blessed the Patriarchs of the Old Testament. And then it would be good for both of them to see a good doctor. If in spite of everything God does not give them children, they should not regard themselves as being thwarted. They should be happy, discovering in this very fact God's Will for them. Often God does not give children because He is asking more. God asks them to put the same effort and the same kind and gentle dedication into helping their neighbours as they would have put into raising their children, without the human joy that comes from having children. There is, then, no reason for feeling they are failures or for giving way to sadness.
If the married couple have interior life, they will understand that God is urging them to make their lives a generous Christian service, a different apostolate from the one they would have fulfilled with their children, but an equally marvellous one.
If they look around they will discover people who need help, charity and love. There are, moreover, many apostolic tasks in which they can work. If they give themselves generously to others and forget themselves, if they put their hearts into their work, they will be wonderfully fruitful and will experience a spiritual parenthood that will fill their souls with true peace.
The particular way of doing this may vary in each case, but in the last analysis it is a matter of being concerned for others with a sense of loving service. God, who always rewards, will fill with a deep joy those souls who have had the generous humility of not thinking of themselves.
There are marriages in which the wife, for some reason or other, finds herself separated from her husband in degrading and unbearable conditions. In these cases it is difficult for her to accept the indissolubility of the marriage bond. Women in these circumstances complain that they are denied the possibility of building a new home. What answer would you give to people in such a situation?
While understanding their suffering, I would tell them that they can also see in their situation God's Will, which is never cruel, for God is a loving Father. The situation may be especially difficult for some time, but if they go to our Lord and His blessed Mother, they will receive the help of grace.
The indissolubility of marriage is not a caprice of the Church nor is it merely a positive ecclesiastical law. It is a precept of natural law, of divine law, and responds perfectly to our nature and to the supernatural order of grace. For these reasons, in the great majority of cases, indissolubility is an indispensable condition for the happiness of married couples and for the spiritual security of their children. Even in the very sad cases we are talking about, the humble acceptance of God's Will always brings with it a profound sense of satisfaction that nothing can substitute. It is not merely a refuge, or a consolation, it is the very essence of Christian life.
If women who are separated from their husbands have children in their care, they should understand that their children continue to need their loving motherly devotion, and especially now, to make up for the deficiencies of a divided home. They should make a generous effort to understand that indissolubility, which for them means sacrifice, is a safeguard for the integrity and unity of the great majority of families and ennobles the parent's love and prevents the abandonment of the children.
Surprise at the apparent hardness of the Christian precept of indissolubility is nothing new. The Apostles were surprised when Jesus confirmed it. It can seem a burden, a yoke, but Christ Himself said that His yoke was sweet and his burden light.
On the other hand, although recognising the inevitable hardship of a good many situations, which often could and should have been avoided, we should be careful not to overdramatise. Is the life of a woman in these circumstances really harder than that of other maltreated women, or of people who suffer any of the other great physical or moral sorrows that life brings with it?
What really makes a person unhappy and even destroys a whole society is the frenzied search for well-being and the attempt to eliminate, at all costs, all difficulties and hardships. Life has many facets, very different situations. Some are harsh, others may seem easy. Each situation brings its own grace. Each one is a special call from God, a new opportunity to work and to give the divine testimony of Charity. I would advise those who feel oppressed by a difficult situation to try to forget about their own problems a bit and concern themselves with the problems of others. If they do this they will have more peace and, above all, they will sanctify themselves.
One of the greatest blessings a family can enjoy is the peace of a stable family life. Unfortunately, however, quite a few families are divided over political or social questions. Now do you think these conflicts can be overcome?
I have only one prescription: strive to live together in harmony and to understand and pardon each other. The fact that someone thinks differently from me (especially in matters which are open to personal opinion) in no way justifies an attitude of personal enmity nor even of coldness or indifference. My Christian Faith tells me to have charity for everyone, including those who do not have the grace of believing in Jesus Christ. Just think, then, how much greater must be the obligation to have Charity when people are united by the same blood — and the same Faith and divided only by differences of opinion. Besides, since in these matters no one can claim to be in possession of absolute truth, friendly and loving relations offer a real opportunity for learning from others what they can teach us. All the members of the family can learn something from the others if they want to.
It is not Christian, nor even human, for a family to be divided over such matters. When the value of freedom is fully understood and the divine gift of freedom is passionately loved, the pluralism that freedom brings with it is also loved.
I will tell you what happens in Opus Dei, which is a large family where all are united by the same spiritual aims. In everything that is not a matter of Faith, each member thinks and acts as he wishes with complete freedom and personal responsibility. The pluralism which logically and sociologically derives from this fact does not create any problems for the Work. Rather, it is a sign of good spirit. Precisely because pluralism is not feared in Opus Dei, but is loved as a legitimate consequence of personal freedom, the different opinions of the members in Opus Dei are no obstacle to Charity and mutual understanding in their dealings with each other. Freedom and Charity — I always come back to them because in fact they are essential conditions. We must live with the freedom Christ won for us and with the Charity He gave us as a new commandment.
You have just spoken about family unity as a great value. In the light of this fact, how is it that Opus Dei does not organise activities of spiritual formation for husbands and wives together?
In this, as in so many other aspects of life, Christians can choose different solutions in accordance with their own preferences or opinions, and no one may impose an exclusive system upon them. We would flee like the plague from that approach to pastoral work and the apostolate in general which seems to be no more than a revised and enlarged edition, in religious life, of the one party system. I know that there are Catholic groups that organise retreats and other formative activities for married couples. I have no objection whatever to their doing what they think is best nor to people taking part in their activities if they find that they help them live their Christian vocation better. But I do not consider this to be the only way of doing things and it is by no means self evident that it is the best.
There are many facets of Christian life in which married couples, and in fact, the whole family can, and at times should, take part in together, such as the Eucharistic Sacrifice and other acts of worship. I think, nevertheless, that certain activities of spiritual formation are more effective if they are attended separately by husband and wife. For one thing, it highlights the fundamentally personal character of one's own sanctification, of the ascetic struggle, of union with God. These certainly affect others, but the role of the individual conscience in them is vital and cannot be substituted. Furthermore, it makes it easier to suit the formation given to the particular needs, circumstances and psychology of each person. This does not mean to say that in these activities the fact that the participants are married is disregarded, nothing could be further removed from the spirit of Opus Dei.
For forty years I have been preaching and writing that each person has to sanctify himself in ordinary life, in the concrete situations of every day. Married people, therefore, have to sanctify themselves by living their family obligations perfectly. One of the aims of the retreats and other means of formation organised by Opus Dei for married men or women is to make them more fully aware of the dignity of their vocation to marriage and help them prepare themselves, with the grace of God, to live it better.
In many aspects the demands which married love makes on men and on women are different and their love shows itself in different ways. With specific means of formation they can be helped effectively to discover these details of love in their daily lives. In this way, separation for a few hours or a few days will, in the long run, make them more united and help them to love each other more and better than they did before, with a love full of respect.
I repeat that we do not claim that our way of acting in this is the only good one, or that it should be adopted by everyone. It simply seems to me that it gives very good results and that there are strong reasons — as well as long experience — for doing things this way but I do not take issue with the contrary opinion. Furthermore, I would add that if in Opus Dei we adopt this procedure in certain types of spiritual formation, nevertheless in numerous other activities married couples, as such, participate and cooperate. I am thinking, for example, of the work which is done with the parents of pupils in schools conducted by members of Opus Dei, in the meetings, lectures etc., especially arranged for the parents of students who live in halls of residence run by the Work.
So you see, when the type of activity requires the presence of the married couple, husband and wife both take part. But these types of meetings and activities are different from those that are directed towards personal spiritual training.
Still on the subject of the family, I would like now to turn to the education of the children and the relations between parents and children. The changes that have affected family life in recent years sometimes make mutual understanding difficult and even lead to a breakdown in communication, to what has been called the 'generation gap.' How can this be overcome?
The problem is an old one although perhaps it arises now more frequently or more acutely because of the rapid evolution that characterises modern society. It is perfectly understandable and natural that young and older people should see things differently. This has always been the case. The surprising thing would be if a teenager were to think just as an adult does. We all felt a tendency to rebel against our elders when we began to form our own judgement autonomously. But we have come to understand, with the passing of the years, that our parents were right in many things in which they were guided by their experience and their love. That is why it is up to the parents to make the first move. They have already passed through this stage. It is up to them to be very understanding, to have flexibility and good humour, avoiding any possible conflicts simply by being affectionate and farsighted. I always advise parents to try to be friends with their children. The parental authority which the rearing of children requires can be perfectly harmonised with friendship, which means putting themselves, in some way, on the same level as their children. Children — even those who seem intractable and unresponsive — always want this closeness, this fraternity, with their parents. It is a question of trust. Parents should bring up their children in an atmosphere of friendship, never giving the impression that they do not trust them. They should give them freedom and teach them how to use it with personal responsibility. It is better for parents to let themselves 'be fooled' once in a while, because the trust that they have shown will make the children themselves feel ashamed of having abused it — they will correct themselves. On the other hand, if they have no freedom, if they see that no one trusts them, they will always be inclined to deceive their parents.
This friendship, this knowing how to put oneself on the children's level, makes it easier for them to talk about their small problems; it also makes it possible for the parents to be the ones who teach them gradually about the origin of life, in accordance with their mentality and capacity to understand, gently anticipating their natural curiosity. I consider this very important. There is no reason why children should associate sex with something sinful, or find out about something that is in itself noble and holy in a vulgar conversation with a friend. It can also be an important step in strengthening the friendship between parents and children, preventing a separation in the early moments of their moral life.
Parents should also endeavour to stay young at heart so as to find it easier to react sympathetically towards the noble aspirations and even towards the extravagant fantasies of their youngsters. Life changes, and there are many new things which we may not like. Perhaps, objectively speaking, they are no better than others that have gone before, but they are not bad. They are simply other ways of living and nothing more. On more than one occasion conflicts may arise because importance is attached to petty differences which could be overcome with a little common sense and good humour.
However, not everything depends on the parents. The children also have to play their part. Young people are always capable of getting enthusiastic about great undertakings, high ideals, and anything that is genuine. They must be helped to understand the simple, natural and often unappreciated beauty of their parents' lives. Children should come to realise, little by little, the sacrifice their parents have made for them, the often heroic self-denial that has gone into raising the family. They should also learn not to over-dramatise, not to think themselves misunderstood nor to forget that they will always be in debt to their parents. And as they will never be able to repay what they owe, their response should be to treat their parents with veneration and grateful filial love.
Let's be frank — the normal thing is for the family to be united. There may be friction and differences, but that's quite normal In a certain sense it even adds flavour to our daily life. These problems are insignificant, time always takes care of them. What remains firm is love, a true and sincere love which comes from being generous and which brings with it a concern for one another, and which enables the members of the family to sense each other's difficulties and offer tactful solutions. Because this is the normal thing, the vast majority of people understand me perfectly when they hear me say (I have been repeating it since the 1920s) that the fourth commandment of the Decalogue is a 'most sweet precept'.
Perhaps as a reaction to compulsory religious education, reduced at times to a few routine and external practices, some young people today pay almost no attention to Christian piety because they consider it sentimental nonsense. What solution would you suggest for this problem?
The question carries its own answer. The meaning of true piety should be taught first by example and then by word. False piety is a sad pseudo-spiritual caricature which generally results from a lack of doctrine and from a certain psychological defect. The logical result is that it is repellent to anyone who loves authenticity and sincerity.
I am very glad to see how Christian piety takes root among young people today, as it did forty years ago:
— when they see it lived sincerely in the lives of others;
— when they understand that prayer is speaking with God, not anonymously, but personally, as a father with a friend, in a heart to heart conversation;
— when we try to make them hear deep in their souls the words with which Jesus Christ himself invites them to a confidential encounter: vos autem dixi amicos — 'I have called you friends' (John 15:15);
— when a strong appeal is made to their Faith, so that they see that our Lord is 'the same yesterday and today and forever' (Heb 13:8).
It is essential for them to realise that simple and heartfelt piety also calls for the exercise of human virtues and that it cannot be reduced to a few daily or weekly pious acts. It must penetrate our entire life and give meaning to our work, rest, friendships and entertainment, to everything that we do. We are children of God all day long, even though we do set aside special moments for considering it, so that we can fill ourselves with the awareness of our divine filiation which is the essence of true piety.
I was saying that young people understand this very well. I might add that anyone who tries to live it will always feel young. A Christian who lives in union with Jesus Christ can relish, even if he is eighty, the words we pray at the foot of the altar: 'I will go unto the altar of God, of God who gives joy to my youth' (Ps 42:4).
Do you consider it important, then, to teach children to practise their Faith from their earliest years? Do you think some acts of piety should be lived in the family?
I think it is precisely the best way to give children a truly Christian upbringing. Scripture tells us about those early Christian families which drew new strength and new life from the light of the Gospel. St Paul calls them 'the Church in the household' (1 Cor 16:19).
Experience shows in all Christian environments what good effects come from this natural and supernatural introduction to the life of piety given in the warmth of the home. Children learn to place God first and foremost in their affections. They learn to see God as their Father and Mary as their Mother and they learn to pray following their parents' example. In this way one can easily see what a wonderful apostolate parents have and how it is their duty to live a fully Christian life of prayer, so they can communicate their love of God to their children, which is something more than just teaching them.
How can they go about this? They have excellent means in the few, short, daily religious practices that have always been lived in Christian families and which I think are marvellous: grace at meals, morning and night prayers, the Holy Rosary (even though nowadays this devotion to our Lady has been criticised by some people). Customs vary from place to place, but I think that one should always encourage some acts of piety which the family can do together in a simple and natural fashion.
This is the way to ensure that God is not regarded as a stranger whom we go to see in the church once a week on Sunday. He will be seen and treated as He really is, not only in church but also at home, because our Lord has told us, 'Where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them' (Matt 18:20).
I still pray aloud the bedside prayers I learnt as a child from my mother's lips, and I say so with the pride and gratitude of a son. They bring me closer to God and make me feel the love with which I learned to take my first steps as a Christian. And as I offer to God the day that is beginning, or thank Him for the day that is drawing to a close, I ask him to increase, in heaven, the happiness of those whom I especially love and to unite us there forever.
May I ask another question about young people? Many of their problems reach us through our magazine. One of the most common arises when parents seek to impose their ideas on their children, deciding their future for them. This happens both when it is a question of deciding on a career or job, and in the choice of a boy— or girl-friend. It is even more frequent if they are thinking of following a call from God to work in the service of souls. Is there any justification for this attitude on the part of parents? Doesn't it violate the freedom which young people need if they are to become personally mature?
In the final analysis, it is clear that the decisions that determine the course of an entire life have to be taken by each individual personally, with freedom, without coercion or pressure of any kind. This is not to say that the intervention of others is not usually necessary. Precisely because they are decisive steps that affect an entire life and because a person's happiness depends to a great extent on the decisions made, it is clear that they should be taken calmly, without precipitation. They should be particularly responsible and prudent decisions. And part of prudence consists precisely in seeking advice. It would be presumption — for which we usually pay dearly — to think that we can decide alone, without the grace of God and without the love and guidance of other people, and especially of our parents.
Parents can, and should, be a great help to their children. They can open new horizons for them, share their experiences and make them reflect, so they do not allow themselves to be carried away by passing emotional experiences. They can offer them a realistic scale of value. Sometimes they can help with personal advice; on other occasions they should encourage their children to seek other suitable people such as a loyal and sincere friend, a learned and holy priest or an expert in career guidance.
Advice does not take away freedom. It gives elements on which to judge and thus enlarges the possibilities of choice and ensures that decisions are not taken on the basis of irrational factors. After hearing the opinions of others and taking everything into consideration, there comes a moment in which a choice has to be made and then no one has the right to force a young person's freedom. Parents have to be on guard against the temptation of wanting to project themselves unduly on their children or of moulding them according to their own preferences. They should respect their individual God-given inclinations and aptitudes. If their love is true, this is easy enough. Even in the extreme case, when a young person makes a decision that the parents have good reason to consider mistaken and when they think it will lead to future unhappiness, the answer lies not in force, but in understanding. Very often it consists in knowing how to stand by their child so as to help him overcome the difficulties and, if necessary, draw all the benefit possible from an unfortunate situation.
After giving their advice and suggestions, parents who sincerely love and seek the good of their children should step tactfully into the background so that nothing can stand in the way of the great gift of freedom that makes man capable of loving and serving God. They should remember that God himself has wanted to be loved and served with freedom and He always respects our personal decisions. Scripture tells us: 'When God created man, He made him subject to his own free choice' (Sir 15:14).
Just a few words more to refer in particular to the last case that you mentioned, the decision to give oneself to the service of the Church and of souls. I think Catholic parents who do not understand this type of vocation have failed in their mission of forming a Christian family. They probably are not aware of the dignity that Christianity gives to their vocation to marriage. But my experience in Opus Dei is very positive. I often tell the members of the Work that they owe ninety per cent of their vocation to their parents because they have known how to educate their children and have taught them to be generous. I can assure you that in the vast majority of cases, practically in all, the parents respect and love their children's decision. They immediately see the Work as an extension of their own family. It is one of my greatest joys and yet another proof that in order to be very divine you have to be very human as well.
The theory that love justifies everything is current today and as a result, engagement is looked upon by some people as a sort of 'trial marriage'. They say that it is hypocritical and reactionary not to follow what they consider to be imperative demands of love. What do you think of this attitude?
Any decent person and especially a Christian would consider it an attitude unworthy of men. It debases human love confusing it with selfishness and pleasure.
Reactionary? Who are the reactionaries? The real reactionaries are the people who go back to the jungle, recognising no impulse other than instinct. Engagement should be time for growing in affection and for getting to know each other better. As in every school of love, it should be inspired, not by a desire to receive, but by a spirit of giving, of understanding, of respect and gentle consideration. Just over a year ago, with this in mind, I gave the University of Navarra a statue of the Virgin Mary, Mother of Fair Love, so that the undergraduates who study there might learn from Her the nobility of love, human love included.
A trial marriage? How little anyone who uses the term knows about love! Love is a much surer, more real, more human reality. It cannot be treated as a commercial product that is tested and then accepted or rejected on the basis of whim, comfort and interest.
This lack of moral standards is so pitiful that it does not even seem necessary to condemn people who think or act in this way. They condemn themselves to the barrenness, the sadness, the desolate loneliness they will suffer within a very few years. I never stop praying for them, loving them with all my heart and trying to make them understand that the way back to Christ is always open. They can be saints, upright Christians, if they make an effort. They will lack neither the necessary grace nor our Lord's pardon. Only then will they really understand love — divine Love and also noble human love. And only then will they experience peace, happiness and fruitfulness.
One great problem of society is that of single women. We refer particularly to those who had a vocation to marriage and did not marry. As a result they ask, 'What is our purpose in the world?' What reply would you give them?
'What is our purpose in the world?' To love God with all our heart and all our soul and to spread this love to all. Does that seem little? God does not abandon any soul to a blind destiny. He has a plan for all and He calls each to a very personal and non-transferable vocation.
Matrimony is a divine way and a vocation, but it is not the only way nor the only vocation. God's plans for each particular woman do not necessarily involve marriage. You say they had a vocation to marriage and did not manage to find a husband. In some cases that may be true. And at times self-love or egoism may have kept God's call from being fulfilled. In most cases, however, it may be a sign that our Lord has not really given them a vocation to marriage. I admit they like children; they feel they would be good mothers and would give themselves whole-heartedly and faithfully to their children and their husband. However, this is normal in every woman, including those who, because of a divine vocation, give up the possibility of marriage in order to work in the service of God and souls.
They have not married. Very well then, let them go on loving the will of our Lord as they have up to now, keeping close to His most loving heart. Jesus never abandons us; He is always faithful. He takes care of us in every moment of our lives, giving Himself to us now and forever.
Moreover a woman can fulfil her mission as a woman (with all her feminine characteristics including her maternal sentiments) in environments outside her own family. For example, in other families, in a school, in social work. The possibilities are endless. Society is at times very hard, and unjustly so, on those it calls 'old maids'. There are single women who are a source of happiness and peace. They see that things get done and spend themselves generously in the service of others. They are mothers in a deeper and more real way than many who are mothers only in a physiological sense.
My previous questions have referred to engagement. Turning to the topic of marriage, what would you advise married women to do to ensure that their marriages continue to be happy with the passing of the years and that they do not give way to monotony? This question may not seem very important but we receive many letters on this subject.
I think it is in fact an important question and therefore the possible solutions are also important even though they may seem very obvious. If a marriage is to preserve its initial charm and beauty, both husband and wife should try to renew their love day after day and that is done through sacrifice, with smiles and also with ingenuity. Is it surprising that a husband who arrives home tired from work begins to lose patience when his wife keeps on and on about everything she thinks has gone wrong during the day? Disagreeable things can wait for a better moment when the husband is less tired and more disposed to listen to them.
Another important thing is personal appearance. And I would say that any priest who says the contrary is a bad adviser. As years go by a woman who lives in the world has to take more care not only of her interior life, but also of her looks. Her interior life itself requires her to be careful about her personal appearance; naturally this should always be in keeping with her age and circumstances. I often say jokingly that older facades need more restoration. It is the advice of a priest. An old Spanish saying goes: 'A well-groomed woman keeps her husband away from other doors.'
That is why I am not afraid to say that women are responsible for eighty per cent of the infidelities of their husbands because they do not know how to win them each day and take loving and considerate care of them. A married woman's attention should be centred on her husband and children as a married man's attention should be centred on his wife and children. Much time and effort is required to succeed in this, and anything which militates against it is bad and should not be tolerated.
There is no excuse for not fulfilling this lovable duty. Work outside the home is not an excuse. Not even one's life of piety can be an excuse because if it is incompatible with one's daily obligations it is not good nor pleasing to God. A married woman's first concern has to be her home. There is an Aragonese saying which goes: 'If through going to church to pray a woman burns her stew, she may be half an angel, but she's half a devil too.' I'd say she was a fully-fledged devil.
Apart from the difficulties that can arise between parents and children, disagreements between husband and wife are also frequent and at times they seriously upset family peace. What advice would you give to married couples in this respect?
I would advise them to love one another and to realise that although disagreements and difficulties will crop up throughout their lives, if they are solved with naturalness they can even contribute to the deepening of their love.
Each of us has his own character, his personal taste, his moods — at times his bad moods — and his defects. But we all have likeable aspects in our personality as well, and for this reason, and many others, everyone can be loved. It is possible to live happily together when everyone tries to correct his own defects and makes an effort to overlook the faults of others. That is to say, when there is love which cancels out and overcomes everything that might seem to be a motive for coldness or disagreement. On the other hand, if husband and wife dramatise their little differences and reproach each other for their defects and mistakes, they put an end to peace and run the risk of killing their love.
Couples have the grace of the married state — the grace they receive in the Sacrament of Marriage — which enables them to live all the human and Christian virtues in their married life: understanding, good humour, patience, forgiveness, refinement and consideration in their mutual relations. The important thing is not to give up the effort, not to give in to nerves, pride or personal fads or obsessions. In order to achieve this, husbands and wives must grow in interior life and learn from the Holy Family to live with refinement, for supernatural and at the same time — human reasons, the virtues of a Christian home. I repeat again that the grace of God will not be lacking.
Anyone who says he cannot put up with this or that, or finds it impossible to hold his peace, is exaggerating in order to justify himself. We should ask God for the strength to overcome our whims and to practise self-control. When we lose our temper we lose control of the situation. Words can become harsh and bitter and we end up by offending, wounding and hurting, even though we didn't mean to.
We should all learn to keep quiet, to wait and say things in a positive, optimistic way. When her husband loses his temper, the moment has arrived for the wife to be especially patient until he calms down, and vice versa. If there is true love and a real desire to deepen it, it will very rarely happen that the two give in to bad temper at the same time.
Another very important thing is to get used to the fact that we are never a hundred per cent right. In fact one can say that in matters like these, which are usually so debatable, the surer we are of being completely right, the more doubtful it is that we really are. Following this line of reasoning makes it easier to correct oneself later on and if necessary to beg pardon, which is the best way of ending a quarrel. In this way peace and love are regained. I am not encouraging you to quarrel but it is understandable that we should fall out at times with those we love most, because they are the people we are always with. We are not going to fall out with someone in Timbuktu! Thus small rows between husband and wife, if they are not frequent, (and they should see to it that they are not) are not a sign that love is missing and in fact they can help to increase it.
Finally, I would advise parents never to quarrel in front of their children. They can remind each other of this with a certain word, a look or a gesture. If they can not avoid the argument altogether they can, at least, put it off till later when they are more calm. The family atmosphere should be one of peace between husband and wife because peace is a necessary condition for a deep and effective education. Children should see in their parents an example of dedication, sincere love, mutual help and understanding. The small trifles of daily life should not be allowed to hide from them the reality of a love that is capable of overcoming all obstacles.
At times we take ourselves too seriously. Each of us gets angry now and again. Sometimes because it is necessary; at other times because we lack a spirit of mortification. The important thing is to show, with a smile that restores family warmth, that these outbursts of anger do not destroy affection. In a word, the life of husband and wife should consist in loving one another and loving their children, because by doing this they love God.
A school conducted by the Women's Section of Opus Dei was opened recently in Madrid, with the aim of creating a family environment and offering a complete training program for domestic staff which will enable them to become qualified in their profession. What influence do you think these kinds of activities of Opus Dei can have in society?
The main aim of this apostolic work (and there are many similar ones directed by members of Opus Dei who work together with other people who are not members of our Association) is to dignify the work of domestic staff in such a way that they can do their work with a scientific approach. I say 'with a scientific approach' because housework should be carried out as a true profession.
We must not forget that there are people who have wanted to present this work as something humiliating, but it is not. No doubt, the conditions under which this work used to be done were humiliating and sometimes they still are, even today, when domestic staff are subjected in their work to the whim of an arbitrary employer who does not guarantee their rights, and who gives them low wages and no affection. Employers must be lead to respect an adequate work-contract with clear and precise guarantees in which the rights and duties of both parties are clearly established.
Apart from these legal guarantees, the person who offers this service must be trained for the job, which means she must be professionally prepared. I said 'service' — although the word is not popular these days — because any job that is well done is a wonderful service to society, and this is as true of domestic work as it is of the work of a professor or judge. The only work that is not a service is that of a person who works for his own self-interest.
Housework is something of primary importance. Besides, all work can have the same supernatural quality. There are no great or mean tasks. All are great if they are done with love. Those which are considered great become small when the Christian meaning of life is lost sight of. On the other hand, there are apparently small things that can in fact be very great because of their real effects.
As far as I am concerned, the work of one of my daughters in Opus Dei, who works in domestic employment is just as important as that of one who has a title. In either case all I am concerned about is that the work they do should be a means and an occasion for personal sanctification and the sanctification of their neighbour. The importance depends on whether a woman in her own job and position in life is becoming more holy, and fulfilling with greater love the mission she has received from God.
Before God all men have the same standing, whether they are university professors, shop-assistants, secretaries, labourers, or farmers. All souls are equal. Only, at times, the souls of simple and unaffected people are more beautiful; and certainly those who are more intimate with God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are always more pleasing to our Lord.
With this school that has been opened in Madrid, a lot can be done. It can be a real and effective help to society in an important task; and a Christian work in the heart of the home, bringing happiness, peace and understanding to many households. I could go on talking for hours on this subject, but what I have already said is enough to make clear that I understand that work in the home is especially important because through it so much good or harm can be done to families. Let us hope that it will do much good and that there will be many able and upright people whose apostolic zeal will draw them to turn this profession into a happy and fruitful task in so many homes throughout the world.
Many different factors, among which must be included the teaching of the Church's Magisterium, have contributed to create and promote the deep social awareness that exists today. We hear a lot about the virtue of poverty as giving witness to Christianity. How can a housewife, whose duty it is to secure the well-being of her family, live this virtue?
'The poor will have the Gospel preached to them' (Matt 11:6), we read in Scripture, precisely as one of the signs which mark the arrival of the Kingdom of God. Those who do not love and practise the virtue of poverty do not have Christ's spirit. This holds true for everyone. For the hermit who retires to the desert; and for the ordinary Christian who lives among his fellow men, whether he enjoys the use of this world's resources or is short of many of them.
I would like to go into this topic at some length because when poverty is preached nowadays it is not always made clear how its message can be applied in daily life. There are some people, well-intentioned no doubt but they haven't quite managed to move with the times, who preach a poverty which is the result of 'armchair speculation'. This poverty has certain ostentatious outward signs while at the same time it betrays enormous interior — and also sometimes exterior — deficiencies.
Recalling an expression of the prophet Isaiah — discite benefacere (Is 1:17) — I like to say that we have to learn to live every virtue and perhaps this is especially true of poverty. We have to learn to live it, otherwise it will be reduced to an ideal about which much is written but which no one seriously puts into practice. We have to make people see that poverty is an invitation which our Lord issues to each Christian, and that it is therefore a definite call that should shape every human life.
Poverty is not a state of miserable want; and it has nothing to do with dirtiness. Because, to start with, what makes a Christian is not so much the external conditions of his existence as the attitude of his heart. And with this, we are getting close to a very important point, on which a correct understanding of the lay vocation depends. For poverty is not simply renunciation. In certain circumstance Christians may be asked to give up everything as a testimony to poverty. They may be asked to challenge directly a society bent on material well-being, and thus to proclaim to the four winds that nothing is good if it is preferred to God. However, is this the witness that the Church usually asks today? Isn't it also asking us to give an explicit testimony of love for the world and of solidarity with our fellow men?
Sometimes when people consider Christian poverty they take as their main point of reference the religious whose job it is to give, at all times and in all places, official and public testimony of poverty. Such considerations run the risk of not recognising the specific characteristics of a lay testimony, lived interiorly, in the ordinary circumstances of everyday.
The ordinary Christian has to reconcile two aspects in his life that may at first seem contradictory. There is on the one hand, true poverty, which is obvious and tangible and made up of definite things. This poverty should be an expression of faith in God and a sign that the heart is not satisfied with created things and aspires to the Creator; that it wants to be filled with love of God so as to be able to give this same love to everyone. On the other hand an ordinary Christian is and wants to be one more amongst his fellow men, sharing their way of life, their joys and happiness; working with them, loving the world and all the good things that exist in it; using all created things to solve the problems of human life and to establish a spiritual and material environment which will foster personal and social development.
Achieving a synthesis between these two aspects is to a great extent a personal matter. It requires interior life, which will help us assess in every circumstance what God is asking of us. For this reason I do not want to give fixed rules, although I will give some general indications with special reference to mothers of families.
Poverty consists in large measure in sacrifice. It means knowing how to do without the superfluous. And we find out what is superfluous not so much by theoretical rules as by that interior voice which tells us we are being led by selfishness or undue love of comfort. On the other hand, comfort has a positive side which is not luxury nor pleasure seeking, but consists in making life agreeable for one's own family and for others, so that everyone can serve God better.
Poverty lies in being truly detached from earthly things and in cheerfully accepting shortage or discomfort if they arise. Furthermore it means having one's whole day taken up with a flexible schedule in which, besides the daily norms of piety, an important place should be given to rest, which we all need, to family get-togethers, to reading and to time set aside for an artistic or literary hobby or any other worthwhile pastime. We live poverty by filling the hours of the day usefully, doing everything as well as we can, and living little details of order, punctuality, and good humour. In a word, it means finding opportunities for serving others and finding time for oneself without forgetting that all men, all women — not only those who are poor in a material sense — have an obligation to work. Wealth and abundance of economic means only increase one's obligation to feel responsible for the whole of society.
It is love that gives meaning to sacrifice. Every mother knows well what it means to sacrifice herself for her children; it is not a matter of giving them a few hours of her time, but of spending her whole life in their benefit. We must live thinking of others and using things in such a way that there will be something to offer to others. All these are dimensions of poverty which guarantee an effective detachment.
It is not enough for a mother to live in this way. She should also teach her children to do so. She can do this by fostering in them faith, optimistic hope and charity; by teaching them not to be selfish and to spend some of their time generously in the service of other less fortunate people, doing jobs suited to their age, in which they can show in a practical way, a human and supernatural concern for their fellow men.
To sum up: each person has to go through life fulfilling his vocation. To my way of thinking, the best examples of poverty are those mothers and fathers of large and poor families who spend their lives for their children and who with their effort and constancy — often without complaining of their needs — bring up their family, creating a cheerful home in which everyone learns to love, to serve and to work.
Throughout this interview you have commented on important aspects of human life, in particular those which refer to women, and on the value that is given to them in the spirit of Opus Dei. In conclusion, could you give us your opinion as to how the role of women in the life of the Church can best be promoted?
I must admit this question tempts me to go against my usual practice and to give instead a polemical answer, because the term 'Church' is frequently used in a clerical sense as meaning 'proper to the clergy or the Church hierarchy'. And therefore many people understand participation in the life of the Church simply, or at least principally, as helping in the parish, cooperating in associations which have a mandate from the hierarchy, taking an active part in the liturgy and so on.
Such people forget in practice, though they may claim it in theory, that the Church comprises all the People of God. All Christians go to make up the Church. Therefore the Church is present wherever there is a Christian who strives to live in the name of Christ.
In saying this, I am not seeking to minimise the importance of the role of women in the life of the Church. On the contrary, I consider it indispensable. I have spent my life defending the fullness of the Christian vocation of the laity, of ordinary men and women who live in the world, and I have tried to obtain full theological and legal recognition of their mission in the Church and in the world. I only want to point out that some people advocate an unjustifiable limitation of this collaboration. I must insist that ordinary Christians can carry out their specific mission — including their mission in the Church — only if they resist clericalisation and carry on being secular and ordinary, that is, people who live in the world and take part in the affairs and interests of the world.
It is the task of the millions of Christian men and women who fill the earth to bring Christ into all human activities and to announce through their lives the fact that God loves and wants to save everyone. The best and most important way in which they can participate in the life of the Church, and indeed the way which all other ways presuppose, is by being truly Christian precisely where they are, in the place to which their human vocation has called them.
It is very moving to think of so many Christian men and women who, perhaps without any specific resolve, are living simple, ordinary lives and trying to make them a living embodiment of the Will of God. There is an urgent need in the Church to make these people conscious of the sublime value of their lives, to reveal to them that what they are doing, unimportant though it appears, has an eternal value, to urge them, to teach them to listen more attentively to the voice of God who speaks to them through everyday events and situations. God is urging the Church to fulfil this task, the task of making the entire world Christian from within, showing that Christ has redeemed all mankind.
Women will participate in this task in the ways that are proper to them, both in the home and in other occupations which they carry out, developing their special characteristics to the full.
The main thing is that like Mary, who was a woman, a virgin and a mother, they live with their eyes on God, repeating her words fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum — 'be it done unto me according to Thy word' (Luke 1:38). On these words depends the faithfulness to one's personal vocation — which is always unique and non-transferable in each case — which will make us all cooperators in the work of salvation which God carries out in us and in the entire world.