Sunday, May 07, 2006

4th Sunday After Easter: In Opus Dei, "Good Shepherd" Means "Father"

1) The ability to give the self depends on the experience of having an identity, self-confidence and a true self-love. But the experience of the self as “good” can come only from the affirmation of another. Without it, we cannot affirm the others by the gift of ourselves since you cannot give what you do not have. Hence, the question: how does one come to experience the self as “good?”

2) We cannot give it to ourselves, but someone else can give it to us. In fact, this is the only way since we image God the Son Who is nothing but the affirmation of the Father. Benedict XVI once said: “Something strange happens here. We have seen that the inability to accept one’s I leads to the inability to accept a thou. But how does one go about affirming, assenting to, one’s I? The answer may perhaps be unexpected: We cannot do so by our own efforts alone. Of ourselves, we cannot come to terms with ourselves. Our I becomes acceptable to us only if it has first become acceptable to another I. We can love ourselves only if we have first been loved by someone else. The life a mother gives to her child is not just physical life; she gives total life when she takes the child’s tears and turns them into smiles. It is only when life has been accepted and is perceived as accepted that it becomes also acceptable. Man is that strange creature that needs not just physical birth but also appreciation if he is to subsist…”[1]

3) Being a “little bit” of the Church – as a slice from top to bottom – Opus Dei is not primarily an institution, but a communio of persons whereby one cannot exist as believing person-in-act without the other. The relationship between the layfaithful and the ministerial priests of the Work adheres exactly “to the basic aboriginal relationship obtaining in the Church between christifideles – called to live out the requirements and implications of their baptism – and sacred ministers, who bring in, besides, the `ministerial’ consequences of the sacrament of order…”[2] The key to understanding the vocation to Opus Dei is to grasp that it consists in the act of giving self that everyone else is called to do by the sacrament of Baptism. The only difference is the actual doing of it. In the imagery of the founder, it is the difference between a light lit and a light not yet lit. This light is the gift of the “I” that is to be communicated in the apostolate.

4) Since this gift cannot be given without being affirmed by another, the “function” of the Prelate is to be Father. “Opus Dei is a prelature because it has a prelate directing it, possessed of sacra potestas. And, of course, because it has clergy and laity – its faithful people. But a gathering of priests and lay people does not produce the `organic unity’ of a personal prelature’ unless it has a head, who brings unity to that grouping and makes it the compages apostolica identified and regulated by John Paul II in Ut Sit. In other words, that `little bit’ of the Church of which St. Josemaria Escriva spoke is a personal prelature because the Church‘s supreme authority has entrusted its pastoral care… to a prelate. Within Opus Dei we find the constitutional dimension of the communio hierarchica. Because we find a prelate who belongs to the Church’s hierarchy and is the hierarchical head of the prelature.

“His jurisdiction extends to all members of the prelature, priests as well as lay people, but it is circumscribed by the specific aim and the apostolic mission that the Church as recognized and approved for Opus Dei.[3]

Now – “We ought to say that in Opus Dei’s institutional life and in its members’ relations with their prelate, what is decisive is neither his `jurisdiction’ nor their obedience. Rather, what truly defines Opus Dei’s prelate is his `fatherhood,’ his role as a pastor who is a father to all the prelature’s faithful. That is why in Opus Dei he is usually called `Father.’ The prelate’s role in the life of Opus Dei deeply configures the prelature. Therefore it is important to consider it when determining the ecclesial profile of the social arrangement lived therein….(Ibid 56)

“If God wanted people in Opus Dei to live the Christian calling on that `foundation’ – on the `sweet awareness’ that forms its very core (divine filiation in Christ0 – its pastor’s role, precisely owing to the Church’s sacrament structure, had to be radically that of a father, who would be a kind of `living sign’ of the love God the Father has for us in the Son. That is how Fr. Escriva lived, as the college students and workers at his side were discovering. The ecclesial experience which they initiated had its root and richness in the joyful practice of divine filiation in Christ, whose ecclesial dimensions were the brotherhood of all (including the secular aspects of Christian life) and the fatherhood of that priest, of that pastor, who loved them with God’s love, who took care of them and guided them with a `fatherhood’ that partook of the Father `from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.’ For them, Fr. Josemaria was simply `Father;’ and their group a family within the great familia Dei of the Church.

“This spiritual experience was no mere `spiritual incident;’ rather, as said above, it had indeed `foundational’ implications. This experience of the Church and of Opus Dei as `family’ is a real and permanent gift in that `little bit’ of the Church under study. Looking at the Work, the founder saw `an extraordinary reality of brotherhood and unity… a family of supernatural bonds, where Jesus’ words are fulfilled: `Behold my mother and brethren, because whoever does the will of my Father who is in heaven is my brother and my sister and my mother’ (Mt. 12, 49-50)"
(Ibid 58-59).

Conclusion: In a word, the mission of the Prelate is always to be “the Father” as engendering sons and daughters, giving them the self-confidence of their worth (all the blood of Christ coursing through their veins), and therefore enabling them to make the gift of themselves. This brings about the organic unity of the Work as family and communio personarum where laity and priests – all with the same identical vocation to be Christ Himself as self-gift – serve one another as irreducibly different sacramental sharings in the one priesthood of Christ. The mission of the layman is to engender Christ in himself by his self-gift on the occasion and in the very execution of secular work in the world. The mission of the ministerial priest is to serve the exercise of the priesthood of the laity. Neither can do without the other, and neither can do without the engendering love of the Father.

[1] J. Ratzinger, “Principles of Catholic Theology,” Ignatius (1987) 79-80.
[2] P. Rodriguez, “The Place of Opus Dei in the Church” in Opus Dei in the Church, Scepter (1995) 38.
[3] Idem 52.


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