Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Opus Dei and Me

This entry was triggered by Megan’s comments on my previous blog entry.

This happened more than 20 years ago. I was working in lower Manhattan at the time.

One afternoon, I walked from my office building to go to the nearest Catholic Church (Our Lady of Victory) in order to receive confession. I went specifically to receive the Sacrament face-to-face, rather than use the traditional screen. It was obvious to me that the priest who heard my confession was a “heavy hitter.” He was very serious, very spiritual, and ultra-orthodox—exactly what I needed and wanted. To say that he was passionate about the faith would be an understatement. I sensed all this immediately from my brief, routine confession. He also asked me questions about my moral behavior at work—no one had ever asked me that before. That struck me as very conscientious on his part—somebody that really cared about my soul.

After confession, I was brimming with curiosity about who and what he was, and so I asked him, “What order do you belong to?”

“Oh, I don’t belong to an order.”

I looked at him with stunned curiosity. He was like no Diocesan priest I had ever run into before. Moreover, now that my confession was over, his manner of speaking, overall body language and demeanor was one of humility and self-effacement.

Quietly, he said, “I belong to the Prelature of Opus Dei.” I’m sure he saw the look of recognition on my face, at the mention of the name. His body language and facial expression changed to a cringe-like look of someone that had experienced undeserved hurt before and was anticipating more-- I had previously read reports in the mass media about Opus Dei (of course, I sensed that most, if not all, of the talk of conspiracies, of them being a cult, of manipulative recruiting and of being a secret power within the church was sour grapes and bunk.)

In my need to try and say something intelligent, I blurted out, “You guys are controversial.”

He responded sharply, “There’s no point in existing if you’re not controversial!”

This was a man was on a mission from God! (I can't say that about every priest that I've met.)

I just stood there, wanting to know more. After a pause, he very hesitantly handed me a business card with his name, a phone number and the address of the Opus Dei prayer center on Riverside Drive in Manhattan. I still remember his name: Fr. Lamb. The last thing he said to me (very humbly) was that he hears confessions here every Thursday.

This was the most memorable and high quality confession that I have ever had. I have had no contact with him or Opus Dei since. I’ve researched them on the Internet and in the media, including about the conspiracy theories, allegations of being a cult, allegations of being a secret power within the church and government, and of “recruiting.” I’ve made one observation about these negative stories: There are about 150,000 Opus Dei members, worldwide, and it seems like the worst allegations seem to be originating from two or three individuals and some of these are from decades ago. It seems the same stories get recycled over and over by the media. And none of this is to say that the individuals telling these stores have any credibility either.

I am not naïve. I do have some minor, negative opinions of Opus Dei, but again, based only on what I’ve read. I am sure some people have had negative experiences with them. It’s not inconceivable that in an organization of 150,000 people that has existed since the late 1920’s that there may have been some faults, imperfections or horror stories. But that occurs in every organization.

My brother works with a person whose wife is a member of Opus Dei. The woman’s husband says that he has never heard of any of the crazy things the mass media has mentioned.

With regard to The Da Vinci Code: I read and appreciate serious, literary fiction. I purchased the book, a long time ago, to see what the fuss was all about. I’m perfectly capable of reading a book with an open mind, as fiction. However, I started the book twice and couldn’t get past the first chapter. The idea that an Opus Dei numerary would be a cold-blooded, pre-meditated killer is just so flagrantly ludicrous that it made me laugh out loud. Even as a self-contained work of fiction, it had no credibility for me. I conclude that the author is like most of the reporters in the mass media—completely ignorant about anything to do with religion.

I think that any religious organization with a clear sense of mission and highly motivated members is potentially liable to be associated with conspiracy theories or accused of being a cult. I can even understand that for some non-Catholics or non-religious people that a global organization of highly motived people that practices chastity, individual poverty and obedience might conjure up some paranoia.

I do not have any problem with them recruiting. Common sense dictates that if one is a member of an organization and you want that organization to grow and prosper that you are going to try and recruit people and that you are going to try and recruit the very best people you can. In my parent’s generation, in Jesuit run schools, the Jesuits always recruited the top students. No one ever had a problem with that; it was an honor to be the subject of Jesuit recruitment!

I will say this. The organization originated in Spain, from before the Spanish Civil War. It is said that their founder supported the fascists in the civil war. That is water long under the bridge, but it is no surprise to me if the organization reflects or embodies some of the Old World, traditional Spanish attitudes and customs.

There are still many, very conservative, traditional Catholics in America and the world. I think that if they find a spiritual home in Opus Dei, well good for them! It’s a free country.

Around roughly the time that I met Fr. Lamb, I was dating a girl named Vicki. She had a friend who had been a member of Opus Dei. Vicki had taken part in some of their activities but decided it wasn’t for her. She felt that the women were too segregated from and subservient to the men in the organization. Other than that, she had no issues with them.

I think that Opus Dei’s overall purpose, of being a vehicle to help people in the work place achieve sanctity, is one of genius. I’ve read about how so many members are in the professions and the business world. Unfortunately, I’ve never had the opportunity to encounter a member at work. I would love to have the opportunity to have an Opus Dei numerary as a boss or in higher management.

And after posting this blog entry, I just hope I don’t have any albino hitmen coming after me! (LOL)


Blogger Deep Furrows said...

thanks for this thoughtful, balanced post!

5:16 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

You really kept me going with your description of entering the church for confession. It helps to know that some people actually like being demanded of when they go to confessions. We priests think that if we set the bar too high people might get scared away. But ultimately, leading people up higher towards an honest sanctity is the most exciting you can propose. The Da Vinci Code really has been a blessing, because evryone ultimately knows that the Silas character is bogus, yet many folks still perceive that there is something nevertheless fascinating and wonderfully demanding in the Church.

8:41 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

I was just curious as to the links between the media's protrayal and the reality. I know that the media gets a lot of things wrong and spreads misconceptions like Californian wildfires.

6:12 PM  
Anonymous Margaret said...

You know that if you ever wanted to get a better feel for Opus Dei, you could call the local center. Attending an evening of recollection would give you a much better feel for the spirituality, and allow you to actually meet people who belong.

12:56 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

I'm starting to realize that I'm not free from misperceptions within the Catholic Church. I should not be surprised, given that I've come across it before all too much; but honestly, Catholics are Christians!

7:18 PM  
Blogger kabloona said...

While reading an old (paper) diary, I discovered that I actually went to confession twice to Fr. Lamb. It was in 1984!

7:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On his site, Dan Brown specfically states that the DaVinci Code is a work of fiction, making use of real objects and, in the case of Opus Dei, a real organization. Beyond that, it's fictional.

I really can't see what the fuss is all about. Any group made up of men, no matter how good, will have some bad apples. That's just part of being human.

Religions and religionists are taking themselves way too seriously lately, I think. I'm an ex-Catholic; ex because I feel very unwelcomed and that I'm the only sinner in a church filled with those conceived without sin. That's the downside of "Love the sinner, hate the sin" and the way it's been applied. Just my opinion, but I think churches putting up barriers to sinners and pedophile scandals are alot more to worry about than some admitted work of fiction.

12:35 PM  
Blogger Deep Furrows said...

I just re-read this post and what gets me is that you could tell right away that the priest had been formed by a charism. The charisms are truly a wellspring for the Church.

9:56 PM  
Blogger GP said...

I read it and came to some conclusions. That's quite interesting what you wrote. Can you expain what makes numerary so invaluable?

2:16 PM  
Blogger kabloona said...

If I understand the question correctly from GP:

I just think it would be a potentially interesting experience working for someone so commited and who has integrated beliefs about faith and work.

2:30 PM  
Blogger Francois said...

you made me realize, in one way, our true responsibilities as catholics in this world.. there is more for all of us to learn.. God bless you and my prayers are with you..

2:20 PM  
Blogger wow power leveling said...

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3:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My 15 year old son was recruited by Opus Dei while attending a local Catholiic High School. He became withdrawn and secretative. I finally found out what was going on the next year. i confronted him with the information I had gotten through teachers at his school who were aware of teachers recruiting students through their religious classes. I found out two middles age men were calling him on a nightly basis, I had not idea who they were but I did confront my son about that as well. He did not know that they were Opus Dei recruiters. I researched everything I could find on this group. I called his school and talked to the president of the school who was shocked that this was going on. I took my son to therapist who eventually was able to deprogram him but it took a year of weekly therapy. so, yes this is a dangerous group. We have left the church because of this incidence. I can not belong to an organization that does not live in the light.

11:19 AM  
Blogger kabloona said...

That is very sad. I hope the two school teachers were fired. My oldest son went to a Catholic high school, and if something like that ever happened to him, I would be as disturbed as you.

7:50 PM  

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