Thursday, October 02, 2008

80th Anniversary of the Foundation of Opus Dei

The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity took flesh from the Virgin Mary and became man without ceasing to be God. As Person, He was not half man and half God. He was fully man and fully God.

His public appearance was heralded by John the Baptist as being the Kingdom of God in person: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3, 2). Benedict XVI labors to make clear that, indeed, Jesus Christ is the Kingdom of God in Person. As man, He is visible as Jesus of Nazareth, but as God, He is invisible as Jesus the Christ. The divine is present but invisible to the eye.

This affected even John the Baptist who began to doubt if Jesus was really the Christ, “or shall we look for another?” (Lk. 7, 19). From prison, he sent messengers to ask this question, and they returned with the response: “Go and tell John what it is that you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is he who takes no offense at me!” (Lk. 7, 20-23).

The Scandal of Always: The Divine is Not Visible to the Eye

The “offense” consists in the presence of the divine “in” the world but ineffectively, and therefore powerlessly. And to be powerless is not to be God. The scandal of the presence of evil in the world that is evident and the so-called presence of God in the world that is not evident. And because of this discrepancy between the evident evil and the non-evident divine, Benedict has stated that “Christian theology… in the course of time turned the kingdom of God into a kingdom of heaven that is beyond this moral life.”[1] In a work, Christian theology “clericalized” the Kingdom of God into a “reality” above this world, and after it chronologically. He continues to say: “(W)hat is sublime in this message is precisely that the Lord was talking not just about another life, not just about men’s souls, but was addressing the body, the whole man, in his embodied form, with his involvement in history and society; that he promised the kingdom of God to the man who lives bodily with other men in this history…that Christ was not just looking forward to another life, but was talking about real people.”[2]

The Kingdom of God “is not a concept, a doctrine, or a program subject to free interpretation, but it is before all else a person with the face and name of Jesus of Nazareth, the image of the invisible God. If the kingdom is separated from Jesus, it is no longer the kingdom of God which he revealed.”[3] It is not a parade that one can watch from a sideline. It “is not to be found on any map. It is not a kingdom after the fashion of worldly kingdoms; it is located in man’s inner being. It grows and radiates outward from that inner space.”[4] “Jesus is speaking in the present tense: the Kingdom of God cannot be observed, yet, unobserved, it is among those to whom he is speaking.
It stands among them – in his own person. ‘Jesus in person is the “mystery of the Kingdom, made over as gift” to the disciples by God.’[5]

“In him the future is present, God’s Kingdom at hand, but in such a way that a mere observer, concerned with recording symptoms or plotting the movements of the stars, might well overlook the fact, In a splendid coinage of Origen’s, Jesus is he autobasileia, ‘the Kingdom in person.’ This leads on to another text about the Kingdom whose reference to the present is (even) less debatable. In Luke and Matthew we read: “If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons then the Kingdom of God has come open you.” (Lk. 11, 20). This verse carriers though above reflections to a deeper level and clarifies them in the light of the Gospel’s own inner logic. Jesus is the Kingdom, not simply by virtue of his physical presence but through the Holy Spirit’s radiant power flowing forth from him. In is Spirit-filled activity, smashing the demonic enslavement of man, the Kingdom of God becomes reality, God taking the government of t his world into his own hands. Let us remember that God’s Kingdom is an event, not a sphere. Jesus’ actions, words, sufferings break the power of that alienation which lies so heavily on human life. In liberating people, they establish God’s Kingdom. Jesus is that Kingdom since through him the Spirit of God acts in the world.”[6]

Opus Dei as Activating the Kingdom of God

The verbal revelation of Opus Dei to St. Josemaria Escriva consisted in the following:

- August 7, 1931: Locution: “Et si exaltatus fuero a terra, omnia traham ad meipsum” (Ioann. 12, 32). “A voice, as always, perfect, clear:… And the precise concept: it is not in the sense in which Scripture says it; I say it to you in the sense that you put me at the summit of all human activities, so that in all the places of the world, there may be
Christians with a personal and most free dedication, that they be other Christs.”
- October 16, 1931: Locution: “You are my son, you are Christ.” And I only knew how to repeat: Abba, Pater!, Abba, Pater! Abba!, Abba!, Abba!

The import of the mission of Opus Dei is to form people such that they achieve identity with Jesus Christ. The mission is not to bring about a sequela Christi but ipsi Christi. That is, they are to open themselves to the Love of Christ through the sacraments (above all Holy Mass) and contemplative prayer whereby they can master themselves to make the total gift of themselves to Christ and the others in the exercise of the ordinary secular realities. In a word, they are to become “other Christs,” and in so doing, they activate the Kingdom of God in the secular world. By becoming Christ in act by dint of living the small obligations of the moment, they become Christ, and therefore the Kingdom in person. This is nothing more than living the Christology of the God-Man Who is the center of the entire physical cosmos. They bring all things to Christs by becoming Christ, staying in the world and subduing all things by their professional work, turning it into gift and service by making it prayer in union with the Mass: “All things are yours, and you are Christ’s and Christ is God’s” (1 Cor. 3, 23).

The Scandal of Now: The Financial Crisis 2008

The jargon of the entire communication industry insistently repeats that the greed driving the malfeasance of the financial industry is natural and structural as in “inherent.” Ultimately, man is naturally greedy; i.e. man is an animal, not a free and responsible person. That being so, there is no talk of conversion and improvement of man by God to generosity and magnanimity within the nurture of family, but rather the use of the extrinsic structure of capitalist financial dynamics a la Adam Smith. Basically, the only hope – it is alleged - is to continue pitting greed against greed as the essential dynamic of capitalism and as the structure of salvation. In a crisis such as this moment, the New York Times’s Eduardo Porter on 9/29/08 offers fear as “the cure for greed.” The WSJ on 9/22/08 wrote: “Yes, greed is ever with us, at least until Washington transforms human nature. The wizards of Wall Street and London became ever more inventive in finding ways to sell mortgages and finance housing. Some of those peddling subprime loans were crooks, as were some of the borrowers who lied about their incomes. This is what happens in a credit bubble that becomes a societal mania.”
It is not wrong to attribute the problem to greed. But what is pernicious is to attribute greed to man as constitutive and therefore remedied only by extrinsic compulsion by the economic system or interiorly, yes, but by fear, which is to bypass the human person as person. The message that must be communicated is that man is a person, and that economics is a personal activity that must be ordered by moral truth.

I repeat Joseph Ratzinger’s observation on the tradition inaugurated by Adam Smith as a most noxious determinism if not embedded in the morality of the freely self-determining person which actually makes it work. Ratzinger wrote:

“We must face the objection raised especially after the Second Vatican Council, that the autonomy of specialized realms is to be respected above all. Such an objection holds that the economy ought to play by its own rules and not according to moral considerations imposed on it from without. Following the tradition inaugurated by Adam Smith , this position holds that the market is incompatible with ethics because voluntary “moral” actions contradict market rules and drive the moralizing entrepreneur out of the game. For a long time, then, business ethics rang like hollow metal because the economy was held to work on efficiency and not on morality. The market's inner logic should free us precisely from the necessity of having to depend on the morality of its participants. The true play of market laws best guarantees progress and even distributive justice.

The great successes of this theory concealed its limitations for a long time. But now in a changed situation, its tacit philosophical presuppositions and thus its problems become clearer. Although this position admits the freedom of individual businessmen, and to that extent can be called liberal, it is in fact deterministic in its core. It presupposes that the free play of market forces can operate in one direction only, given the constitution of man and the world, namely, toward the self-regulation of supply and demand, and toward economic efficiency and progress.
This determinism, in which man is completely controlled by the binding laws of the market while believing he acts in freedom from them, includes yet another and perhaps even more astounding presupposition, namely, that the natural laws of the market are in essence good (if I may be permitted so to speak) and necessarily work for the good, whatever may be true of the morality of individuals. These two presuppositions are not entirely false, as the successes of the market economy illustrate. But neither are they universally applicable and correct, as is evident in the problems of today's world economy. Without developing the problem in its details here — which is not my task — let me merely underscore a sentence of Peter Koslowski's that illustrates the point in question: “The economy is governed not only by economic laws, but is also determined by men...”. Even if the market economy does rest on the ordering of the individual within a determinate network of rules, it cannot make man superfluous or exclude his moral freedom from the world of economics. It is becoming ever so clear that the development of the world economy has also to do with the development of the world community and with the universal family of man, and that the development of the spiritual powers of mankind is essential in the development of the world community. These spiritual powers are themselves a factor in the economy: the market rules function only when a moral consensus exists and sustains them."

This financial crisis of 2008 offers itself as an opportunity to confront the secularity of Kingdom of God with the vocation and mission of Opus Dei on its 80th anniversary of founding. Opus Dei as “a little bit of the Church,” as well as the Church herself, is not called as such to solve any particular historical secular situation. But each individual person as “another Christ” is indeed called upon to solve it within the gambit of their professional responsibility in the society. They personally become the Kingdom and draw the world into it.

[1] J. Ratzinger, “”What It Means To Be a Christian,” Ignatius (2006) 28.
[2] Ibid 28-29.
[3] John Paul II, “Mission of the Redeemer,” #18.
[4] Benedict XVI “Jesus of Nazareth” Doubleday (2007) 48.
[5] F. Musssner “Praesentia Salutis. Gesammelte Studien zu Fragen und Themen des Neuen Testamentes (Dusseldorf 1967) 95.
[6] J. Ratzinger, “Eschatology” CUA (1988) 34-35.

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