What Opus Dei Isn't

A friend asked me to weigh in on this really, REALLY long negative take on Opus Dei, written by an unhappy former member, and the resulting back and forth on her facebook timeline. But, it got way too long for facebook, so I'm putting it here.

So . . . what Opus Dei isn't:

MOSTLY it isn't albino assassin monks.

I have been involved with Opus Dei for over seven years. I am a cooperator and my husband is a supernumerary and I'm allowed to tell you that because it's NOT a secret.

The people I have met through Opus Dei have been WITHOUT EXCEPTION absolutely lovely. I am friends with people who are cooperators like me, married members like my husband, celibate members (called numeraries) and priests -- from all over the country and all over the world. And they have all been kind and helpful and, most tellingly, well-formed Catholics.

Because that's the point of Opus Dei: Catholic formation. It's really just that: helping people to know and live their faith in whatever life circumstances they find themselves.

I have personally found the formation, spiritual direction, and friendships I have found through Opus Dei to be absolutely invaluable to me as a wife, mother, writer, and Catholic.

According to the internet, there are people who are very unhappy with their experiences with Opus Dei. But, of course, the same could be said about the Catholic Church at large.

Opus Dei is a tool. That's it. You can put a ladder down on the ground and jump up and down on it and say, "This ladder doesn't work. It's stupid." Or you could prop it against the wall like you should, but then start kicking out rungs here and there until you can't go up any farther and say, "Hey, this ladder stinks, and so do all the other people with ladders." But really, in neither of those cases would the ladder be at fault.

Frankly, I'm not going to be all that much help addressing the issues brought up by that article. Because I'm not a numerary, I haven't had many of the life experiences that he has had in that regard, and also because my experience with Opus Dei has been utterly unlike what he describes. Mostly it sounds to me like Opus Dei was never a good fit for this guy (and vice versa) and I wonder why he stuck with it for so many years when he never much seemed to like it. I would generally not recommend that for anyone.

I can, however address the concerns in the Facebook comments, which I hope are not widespread, because they were, to me, very surprising in how far from my reality they were. But just in case they are widespread, here goes . . .

1. It's secretive and exclusive: Opus Dei just isn't organized like, say, the Boy Scouts, where there's a hierarchy and set guidelines, and you can call National HQ and sign up. There is cooperation between members, but each center is run independently, by its own members. St. Josemaria envisioned it as an apostolate of friendship. Meaning that one friend would recommend it to another and word would spread that way. People are generally introduced to what cooperators and members do slowly, for the same reason you'd introduce someone who expressed an interest in math to addition before handing them a calculus book. But I have found the members I know very willing to answer questions. And hey, they let ME in, so how exclusive could it be?

2. It's bossy and time consuming: Opus Dei has only ever made recommendations to my husband or myself. No event is required. No personal practices are mandatory. But that said, it would be pretty silly to say you wanted to be a part of an organization, but not want to take any of its recommendations.

Here are the recommended activities for a cooperator like myself:

1. A daily plan of life (things I try to get to each day, like a Morning Offering, Mass, the Angelus etc.).

2. A monthly mini-retreat lead by a priest called an Evening of Recollection (2-3 hours).

3. A monthly "circle" lead by a supernumerary or numerary member (1 hr).

4. Monthly spiritual direction by a priest or lay member of Opus Dei (People often choose a lay member since then it can be a person who has a more similar life experience to yourself. I have had both, both were great. I see a priest now.).

5. A yearly retreat (1 weekend).

In addition to those things, a supernumerary also usually participates in:

1. A weekly circle (1 hr).

2. A yearly doctrine seminar (1 week).

It can feel like a lot sometimes, but it's all voluntary. And when I realize how much more effective and efficient I am when I am properly focused, it seems silly not to make the time.

Also, what I lose in help around the house and with the kids on the evenings and weekend and week that my husband is gone, I more than make up for in having a husband who is willing to help around the house and with the kids on every other day! I'm still pretty sure I come out on top time-wise over wives whose husbands spend a lot of time golfing, fishing, playing with model trains, or going to Star Trek conventions.

3. The members are "image conscious in the extreme and worldly": I'm not sure what to do with this one. That has not been my experience. I live in LA, so you could pretty easily throw that label around, but the Opus Dei families that I know really run the financial gamut. Some are struggling financially, but have a great perspective on it. And even the ones who are wealthy have a refreshing lack of attachment to their things. It's hard to have that without formation. I do often hear encouragement to dress nicely, which in a world of moms in velour sweat suits is pretty counter-cultural. But I find that looking pulled-together makes me act pulled-together, and maybe even BE pulled-together. But again, an individual is free to disregard that or any other advice.

So that's MY experience of Opus Dei. If you have had a bad experience with Opus Dei, or one of its events or members, please allow me to say that I am honestly very sorry. But know that your experience is not representative of all experiences with Opus Dei.

If you are interested in receiving the formation that Opus Dei provides, your best bet is to ask someone you know who is involved with Opus Dei about going to an Evening of Recollection or a retreat. If you don't think you know anyone involved with Opus Dei, send me an email and I'll see if I can help you figure it out.

Or, the Opus Dei website can be found here.

All centers of Opus Dei are listed with their local diocese, so you could always call your diocese to ask to be referred to someone locally. Information from MY local centers of Opus Dei here in Los Angeles can be found at Walnut Grove Cultural Center (for women) or Tilden Study Center (for men).

If you happen to be in Rome, you can stop by:

Our Lady of Peace Prelatic church of Opus Dei75, Viale Bruno Buozzi

00197 RomeTel. 06-808961

Open daily 8.30 a.m. – 8.25 p.m. (from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., use entrance at n. 36 Via di Villa Sacchetti).

Mass times: Daily at 8.30, at 12.00 noon and at 19.30

If you are not interested in receiving the formation that Opus Dei provides, I'm totally cool with that too. Just promise me you won't join it anyway, be a member for 17 years, then write constant angry tirades against it on the internet. 'Cause that's just crazy.

Update: Thanks to Claire for the shout out and some love for St. Josemaria over at her blog, Everything is Grace