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An Introduction to Opus Dei

by John L. Allen

Opus Dei, literally “The Work of God”, is a personal prelature of the Catholic Church. It’s like a diocese, but not. It’s like a religious order, but not. It is an organization of both lay people- men and women- and priests dedicated to the sanctification of work. In other words, it promotes living in the secular world but dedicating the work done in that world to God. The members of The Work, as it can be referred to, are not “religious” in the sense of monks or nuns. Except for the priests that provide sacramental-spiritual care for the organization, everyone is still a normal, everyday lay person. For that reason, it can’t be a religious order.

They are like a diocese in that they have a prelate who is the spiritual head of the entity, but they have no territorial bounds (hence “personal” in personal prelature). Members of Opus Dei are fully under the spiritual care and judicial governance of their local (and territorial) bishop, but in the additional matters that Opus Dei is involved with, they are under the spiritual care of their Prelate. More on exactly what that means will come later.

I say this as an introduction because I’m starting to research more about this group. They are seen in a very negative light by the recent Da Vinci Code works (which most of the “facts” presented by the book or movie are completely untrue) and so I wanted to dive deeper into the only personal prelature of the Church in order to find out what they are really about.

To start this process, I purchased two books: Opus Dei : An Objective Look Behind the Myths and Reality of the Most Controversial Force in the Catholic Church by John Allen, Jr. and The Way by St. Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei. John Allen’s name may sound familiar from his work with National Catholic Report and CNN as their Vatican expert. He was also the reported that visited Austin and quoted me in one of his weekly column. Knowing John Allen’s work and from what I had heard, his book is literally the most in-depth and objective report written regarding the organization. The Way is considered a foundational text containing 999 little proverbs that St. Josemaria wrote in light of the spirituality he sought to institutionalize through The Work.

I read the John Allen text during my New York trip- mostly in flight and in the late night hours before bed- and was really impressed by his description. I would suggest this book as a starting point for someone who wants to know a bit about every aspect of the group, albeit this is someone who is not involved with Opus Dei talking. The only problem I had with the book is that the case studies were a bit more than I cared to read. I’m more of a nuts and bolts type of person and if after reading the first case study and the start of the second, I think I understand the opinion presented, I’d rather move on.

I have not looked much at The Way, but that shall come. It is organized into various topics such as “character”, “study”, “direction”, “forming the spirit”, “the love of God”, etc. One example of these proverbs come from the chapter regarding study: “332. There is no excuse for those who could be scholars and are not. … 355. People engaged in worldly business say that time is money. That means little to me. For us who are engaged in the business of souls [of which I read would be all Christians], time is glory!”
As I read up a bit more about The Work, I hope to share more of my insights along to you.

By Brandon Kraft

My life is an open-source book.

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