Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Anniversary of the Election of Javier Echevarria as Prelate

The Meaning of the Prelate:

“For though you might have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers. Indeed, in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel” (1 Cor 4:15).
Today is the birthday of Bishop Javier Echevarria Rodriguez, born June 14, 1932. As Prelate of Opus Dei and successor to the founder, St. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, and his immediate successor Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, his mission is principally to continue the dynamic of the founder as “engendering sons and daughters.” By this is meant: loving them such as to empower them to make the gift of themselves as laymen and ministerial priests such that they form the family (“communio”) of Opus Dei. By forming the family of Opus Dei, they spread the charism of St. Josemaria that is the giving of the self in the exercise of ordinary secular work and family life. This actualizing the Church as communio with the “characteristic” of secularity is the mission of the Prelature, Opus Dei, as “a little bit of the Church,”
[1] as St. Josemaria once said it.
The engendering proper to true fatherhood has theological and metaphysical dimensions. Theologically, the Pope pronounced on it years ago: “the First Person does not beget the son in the sense of the act of begetting coming on top of the finished Person; it is the act of begetting, of giving oneself, of streaming forth. It is identical with the act of giving. Only as this act is it person, and therefore it is not the giver but the act of giving…”

Metaphysically/psychologically Dr. Conrad Baars comments from clinical psychiatric experience: “Individuals who have been adequately affirmed during their developmental years by unselfishly loving, affectionate, mature parents and/or other significant persons can be said to have received the gift of themselves. They feel worthwhile, significant and lovable. They possess themselves as man or woman. They know who they are. They are certain of their identity. They love themselves unselfishly; They are open to all that is good and find joy in the same. They are able to affirm all of creation, and as affirmers of all beings are capable of making others happy and joyful, too. They are largely other-directed. They find joy in being and doing for others. They find joy in their loving relationship with their Creator. They can share and give of themselves, be a true friend to others, and feel at ease with persons of both sexes. They are capable of finding happiness in marriage or the freely chosen celibate state of life. They are free from psycho-pathological factors which hamper one’s free will and are therefore fully responsible – morally and legally – for their actions”[3].

This need for the relationality of the significant “other” that is the father stimulated then-Joseph Ratzinger to write: “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.”[4]

“For though you might have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers. Indeed, in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel” (1 Cor 4:15).
As Paul engendered sons and daughters into particular Churches that are the universal Church – think of Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Thessalonians Colossians - , Saint Josemaria Escriva engendered Opus Dei as a little bit of the Church analogical to a particular Church with its Christifideles and hierarchical presbyterate both of whom are under the jurisdiction of the Prelate. The particular mission of Opus Dei is to be, as someone suggested to me recently, like DNA to the Church. Opus Dei is not a particular Church, but its physiognomy is “the basic aboriginal relationship obtaining in the Church between Christifideles – called to live out the requirements and implication of their baptism – and sacred ministers, who bring in besides, the ‘ministerial’ consequences of the sacrament of Order.”
[5] Rodriguez continues: “So, what we find in Opus Dei, different yet complementing one another, are the two ecclesial forms of participating in Christ’s priesthood. We find both the ‘substantial’ priority of Opus Dei’s lay faithful, at whose service is the priestly ministry, and the ‘functional’ priority of the sacred ministry in whose head (the prelate) resides the sacra potestas that governs the prelature. The clergy’s ‘functional’ priority was described by the founder when he said that the ministerial priesthood ‘impregnates with its spirit our personal life and all our apostolic work.’”[6]
In a word, the Work is a living “communio,” an “unum” made up of irreducibly different ways of exercising the one priesthood of Jesus Christ. I say “irreducibly” because layfaithful and minister are sacramentally different ways (Baptism and Orders) of exercising the mediation that is the “gift of self.” Again, I say “mediation” because the “I” of the self subdues the self, possesses “it” and makes the gift of it to God of the others (you can only give what you own. You must “own” yourself). But the destination of the gift is ontologically different. The laity make the self-gift in secular ordinary work and are oriented to the secular common good. The ministerial priest is at the service of the laity to enable them to live out their way of living the priesthood of Christ in the world. That is, the preaching of the Word, the administration of the sacraments and the instantiation of the Sacrifice of Calvary in the here and now, are the necessary affirmation to the laity to be able to master themselves as priests, own themselves and be able to make the gift. Hence, the laity are like Our Lady who engenders Christ and gives birth to Him – in themselves - at the center of the secular world. And since the Kingdom of God is the Person of the God-man,
[7] Jesus Christ, by becoming Christ, the instantiate the Kingdom of God here and now! Their priority over the clergy is “substantial” for this reason.” The laity must “be” Christ. Their orientation is toward the world. The clergy must “give” Christ. Their orientation is not toward the world, but to the persons of the laity and other priests. Together, the form the “communio” that is the “unum” that is the Church as Body of the one Christ. If we may, the laity is the “Church of Mary,” and the hierarchical priesthood is the “Church of Peter,” the former being superior to the latter.[8]

All of this boils down to affirming the character of communio in the Church and the Work as a fermentation – or DNA – of this spirit. Basically, “communio” means that no member of an organism can stand on its own. It is an “unum” not a unity. A “unity” is an accidental connection of individuals that each stands on its own. An “unum” can only be made up of persons, each of whom cannot “subsist” as person without being engendered by love and giving self in love. The prototype is the Trinity, its immanent image is the Church and the family, its beneficiary the secular society.

St. Josemaria Escriva: “Father”

The reality and mission of St. Josemaria was not the order, unity, apostolic effectiveness of Opus Dei. It was its very existence. Rodriguez says: “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…. We could say that, in Opus Dei, the image or dimension of the Church’s mystery that most stands out in its ecclesial experience is that of ‘family,’ the ‘Church as family of God.’”[9]

In a word, if the Prelate of Opus Dei were not “father” to the point of affirming each person, layman or priest, man or woman with the heart of Christ which is radical in love to the point of death, Opus Dei could not be “one,” and therefore could not persist in its particular mission to be a leaven for the entire Church who’s very identity is to be “Bride” ...

“…(T)he Church is not an apparatus, nor a social institution, nor one social institution among many others. It is a person. It is a woman. It is a Mother. It is alive. A Marian understanding of the Church is totally opposed to the concept of the Church as a bureaucracy or a simple organization. We cannot make the Church, we must be the Church. We are the Church, the Church is in us only to the extent that our faith more than action forges our being. Only by being Marian, can we become the Church. At its very beginning the Church was not made, but given birth. She existed in the soul of Mary from the moment she uttered her fiat. This is the most profound will of the Council: the Church should be awakened in our souls. Mary shows us the way.”[10]

As the Church “was not made, but given birth… [she] should be awakened in our souls.” So is with Opus Dei. And this is the mission of the Prelate. The shoes that he had to fill and fills them read thus:

“‘Father, you have to try to get some sleep. His answer was, “’if I slept, it would mean I don’t love you. It’s my affection that makes me lose sleep.’”

“In dealing with his children he acted with complete trust and naturalness, with the naturalness of a father and a friend. He would address them affectionately as rogues, scoundrels, bandits, rascals, tugging at the depths of their hearts….

“Querido Quinito – Que Jesús se me guarde! ‘Who loves you more than the Father, you bandit? On this earth, no one. Is that clear…’?

“The Father strove vigilantly to be detached from everything in this world – from everything except his children, who were, as he put it, his ‘near occasion’ for stopping working, to spend time in a get-together with them. Then again, their affection for him, the delicate love with which they responded to his fatherly solicitude, helped him grow in his interior life, as he confided to them:
‘My heart attaches itself to my children – I don’t hide it, and I think you notice it – but it’s something that leads me to God. You drive me on to greater fidelity, and I always want to be more faithful, also for you…

‘When the Lord calls me into his presence, almost all of you – by the law of life – will still be here on earth. Remember then what the Father told you: I love you very much, very much but I I want you to be faithful. Don’t forget this: be faithful. I will still continue loving you when I’ve already left his world to go, by the infinite mercy of the Lord, to enjoy the Beatific Vision. You can be sure that I will then love you even more.’”[12]

After suffering in an Italian dental office [a wicked experience in my time in the 60’s], he returned home in pain and called his sons: “I love you because you are children of God, because you have freely decided to be my children, because you are trying to be saints, because you are very faithful and “majos” – all of my children are. I love you with the same affection that your mothers do. I care about everything about you: your bodies and your souls, your virtues and your defects. My children, it gives ma a lot of joy to speak to you this way? When I see you out there, I won’t be able to do that, and I admit, at times I have to force myself not to get sentimental, not to leave you with the memory of tears, not to keep repeating to you that I love you so much, so much… For I love you with the same heart with which I love the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and the Blessed Virgin; with the same heart with which I loved my mother and my father. I love you like all the mothers of the world put together – each of you equally, from the first to the last.”[13]

The Masculine Hand of the Father:

Escriva could not exercise true fatherhood without exercising the masculine hand. There is sin, evil, laziness, ignorance, stupidity, disobedience. To be a Father who loves means to stop evil As John Paul II said in his last writing: the only thing that stops evil, arrests it and destroys it is suffering for love. Conrad Baars writes: “It cannot be denied that there exist in this world many evils” which, “because they touch the moral core of the human being, require a good deal of personal courage, risk taking, dedication, conviction and determination. Yes, even a readiness to be hurt or even to die, and a readiness to hurt rather than merely relying on a government to provide protection from social evils from the cradle to the grave.”[14] It seems that this is one of the outstanding failures in the formation of persons in society today: the failure of men to exercise the firm hand of restraint to ward off evil, to point out, to correct, to say “No.” And this as a vital dimension of love.

Vazquez de Prada says “it was an obligation of his to correct his children, in order t o bring them close to God. It was an operation of love. If he did not carry it out, that would mean, as he told his children, that ‘I don’t love either God or you.’ He correct whenever necessary without, without discriminating in regard to occupation, experience, age, or health. And he was untiring. He repeated and hammered home all kinds of principles and counsels, regarding orderliness, practice of the virtue of poverty, care in the little things, and the importance of not leaving things half done. If, for example, a job was waiting to be done, he would ask bout the preparations being made for it. Sometimes the person in charge of it would begin with the traditional crutch of excuses: But the ‘well, you see….,’ ‘I thought that…,’ and similar phrases were things the Father did not want to hear from his sons and daughters. And any time he did hear any such expression, he took advantage of the occasion to teach a lesson on how one should fulfill one’s particular duties: with initiative, with live, using all of one’s senses, following matters closely and putting practical effort into their execution. Obeying, he explained, does not consist in something mechanical, or in operating blindly, or in being rigid, like a cadaver, because ‘the dead we piously bury.’”

[1] Pedro Rodriguez “The Place of Opus Dei in the Church,” Opus Dei in the Church, Scepter (1994) 1.
[2] J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (1990) 132.
[3] Conrad Baars, M.D., “”I Will Give Them a New Heart,” St. Pauls (2008) 190.
[4] J. Ratzinger, “Principles of Catholic Theology,” Ignatius (1987) 79-80.
[5] Rodriguez, “The Place…,” op. cit. 38.
[6] Ibid.
[7] See Benedict XVI, “Jesus of Nazareth” Doubleday (2007) 49-57.
[8] John Paul II, “The Marian dimension of the Church is antecedent to that of the Petrine, without being in any way divided from it or being less complementary. Mary Immaculate precedes all others, including obviously Peter himself and the Apostles. This is so, not only because Peter and the Apostles, being born of the human race under the burden of sin, form part of the Church which is ‘holy from out of sinners,’ but also because their triple function has no other purpose except to form the church in line with the ideal of sanctity already programmed and prefigured in Mary. A contemporary theologian has rightly stated that Mary is ‘Queen of the Apostles without any pretensions to apostolic powers: she has other and greater powers (H. U. von Balthasar, Neue Klarstellungen). Address to the Cardinal and Prelates of the Roman Curie (December 22, 1987); L’OR, December 23, 1987.

[9] Rodriguez, “The Place of Opus Dei in the Church,” op. cit 56-57.
[10] J. Ratzinger, “The Ecclesiology of Vatican II,” Conclusion.
[11] Andres Vazquez de Prada, “The Founder of Opus Dei” III, Scepter (2005) 271.
[12] Ibid 272-273.
[13] Ibid 271.
[14] Baars, op. cit 166.
[15] Vázquez de Prada, op. cit 274-275

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