Tuesday, April 20, 2010

April 20, 1994: Election and Confirmation of the Prelate of Opus Dei

May 1, 1994, ten days after his election and confirmation by John Paul II as Prelate of Opus Dei, Bishop Echevarria – now “The Father” - wrote to his children: “I am now experiencing in my own heart which is expanding in love for you more and more – each son and each daughter – a truly paternal and maternal love. It is the grace which I have asked for from the first moment after the Roman Pontiff has named me Prelate of Opus Dei.”

This is the basic mission of all the Prelates who are and will be successors of St. Josemaria Escriva: to engender sons and daughters by their paternal and maternal love. It makes sense since the reality of Opus Dei is “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.” The statute #4, 2 states: “The ministerial priesthood of the clergy and the common priesthood of the lay people are so intimately linked that both, in unity of vocation and government, require and complement each other (ad invicem) in striving for the end proper to the prelature.”

This reality is the secularity of the lay persons and ministers who are ontologically configured (they each have a distinct sacramental “character”) to live out the priesthood of Jesus Christ in equal but irreducibly different ways. The relational character of the laity is to make the gift of self to the world by the exercise of their professional work. This “gift of self” is the exercise of the one priesthood of Christ whereby each mediates between self and the world/the other. This conflates with the Christian anthropology of the person as “finding self by the sincere gift of self” (Gaudium et Spes #24). It is what St. Josemaria called “the priestly soul.” The layman gives self to the world by precisely using the things of the world (work). It is this that the Church calls “secularity” as “character.”[1] The layman, then, has a secular “character.”

The ministerial priest is secular – together with the entire Church, including Religious – as“denomination.”[2] Both “character” and “denomination” are secular in function of the humanity of Jesus Christ which is ontologically distinct from His divine Nature, but which exists and is “dynamized” – used – by the divine Person of the Logos to live out the divine Life through it, as His own. Hence, the divine and the human in Christ as personally one, yet with the freedom of autonomy of the divine “I” willing humanly. The key to understanding this consists in understanding the freedom of the human will of Jesus Christ.[3] This is free in that it is deployed by the divine Person of the Logos-Son to live out His Relation to the Father. This relationality is His very Being. He is not a “substance” that relates accidentally. His Being as Son isrelation to the Father. Hence, the human will of Christ shares in the freedom of God (as divine “I”) that is not necessity but total giftedness as Love. Hence, freedom cannot be reducible to choice, but to a radical overflowing of self in gift and gratuitous love.

The layman lives this relation/gift in his service to persons in the world, using the very things of the world (work) – raising them to the personal level of relation - and hence “loving the world passionately.”[4] He becomes Christ Himself in this self-determining to be gift in the world.

The ministerial priest as ordained with sacramental “character” (ontological configuration to Christ as priest in His very Being as relational Self-gift to the Father) does not directly serve the world, but the laity. His mission is not to stand out and gather the masses around him, but to activate the priesthood of the layman who indeed must stand out by the excellence of his professional, secular work. For the priest to do this is a clericalism which enforces a millennium and a half which identified the Church and the pursuit of holiness with the clerical life. This is as false as it is widespread, and it must be countered. The mission of the priest is “to do and disappear.” His mission is to be “carpet” so that the layman “may tread softly.”[5]

St. Josemaria wrote: “All of you, my children, ought to serve one another as required by our fraternal spirit, but priest cannot permit their lay brethren to treat them preferentially. We priest in the Work are slaves of the others and, following the Lord’s example (who came not to be served, but to serve: Non venit ministrari, sed ministrare: Mt. 20, 28), we have to place our hearts on the floor, so that the others may tread softly. Therefore, to let yourselves be served by your lay brothers and sisters without necessity goes against Opus Dei’s spirit” (Letter, 2 February 1945, #20). Pedro Rodriguez continues: “This awareness of the substantial priority of the Work’s lay faithful led the founder to write even the following: ‘In our path to holiness, owing to its lay nature, the priesthood – while it is a sacrament that also imprints a character – is for us, so to speak, a circumstance that in no way alters our God-given vocation. Our calling is the same for all, each one responding to it in his own state in life’ (Letter, 28 March 1955, #44).”[6]

But all of this is to say that Opus Dei is not primarily an institution but a "communio" of persons who are constitutively related by the sacraments, and, as a personal reality in the world and in the Church, it is quintessentially secular. It must be understood - within the observation of Benedict XVI – to be like David. Saul attempted to dress David in his armor to fight against Goliath. But David could not even walk so weighed down was he by the "institutions" of helmet, shield, etc. He removed it all and armed with the power of the Lord (loin cloth and sling = sacraments of Baptism and Order), he waded into battle with freedom. So it must be in the Work. The power is not in the institution but in the exercise of personal freedom and personal responsibility dynamized by grace and seconded by the affirming love of the Prelate (the Father).

The point of this is to affirm that without the active direction of the Prelate concerning the charism received from the Lord by St. Josemaria and his affirmation and love for his sons and daughters that empowers the self-gift of the secular communio that is the Church and the Work as a "little bit of the Church," the Work cannot be the reality that is willed by Christ. And so, to love and communicate with the Father is a two-way ticket. The more of a saint he is, the more he will love and interpret the charism, and the more sanctified and effective we will be.

[1] See “Christifideles laici” #15.

[2] Ibid

[3] See Ratzinger’s “Journey To Easter” Crossroad (1986) 100-103 (and “Journey Towards Easter” 88-91. See also, “Behold the Pierced One” Ignatius (1986) 37-42.

[4] Cf. Escriva’s “Passionately Loving the World” Scepter.

[5] St. Josemaria Escriva, Letter, 8 August 1956, #7.

[6] Pedro Rodriguez, “Opus Dei in the Church” The Place of Opus Dei in the Church Scepter (1994) 38.

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