Sunday, December 30, 2012

History of the Consecration of Opus Dei to the Holy Family

*Taken from: Andrés Vázquez de Prada, “The Founder”, Vol. 3.

When he [St. Josemaria] came to Rome in 1946, he was drained, not knowing what the future held in store. As he was soon to learn, it was a sustained battle, to the very end of his days, to find the canonically correct path for Opus Dei. But there was more to it than that. He was fond of calling the fourth commandment—to honor father and mother—the "sweetest precept of the Decalogue." Now only a few weeks had passed since the granting of the definitive approval, when renewed attacks broke out that seemed to embitter even this "sweetest precept."

The tactics were the same as those that had already been used in Spain. Despite the definitive approval from the Holy See, the detractors went back to work, sowing confusion and anxiety among the families of members of Opus Dei in Italy. The first round of attacks was followed by another, even more shrewdly planned, and then yet another. (Yet the rapid and continuous expansion of the Work still went on.)

Monsignor Escriva went out of his way to maintain close, cordial relations with the families of students who frequented the Pensionata. He wanted the parents to feel part of Opus Dei's family. Busy as he was, he passed on news about their children, and asked for their collaboration and prayers, hoping they would experience the Work as theirs—as in fact it was.

His warmth in dealing with the families of his children comes through in his letters. For instance, a letter to the mother of Mario Lantini, written a year after Mario asked to be admitted to the Work:

My dear Mrs. Lantini:
I received your kind letter, and sincerely thank you for what you tell me, especially about your prayers, which are, without a doubt, the best gift that you and your husband could make to Opus Dei and its members.

I am truly happy with the vocation of your son Mario, and I thank God for it—he always works with the joy and enthusiasm of one who is serving the Lord. When I see your son, I can't help but think of his parents' goodness. He owes his vocation, in part, to you.
Please continue to pray to the Lord for Opus Dei.
Greetings and a blessing,
Josemaría Escrivá de B.

As the apostolic trips from the Pensionata to the various cities of Italy began, the number of persons joining the Work also increased.

In April 1949, a South American student, Juan Larrea, asked admission. His family was not pleased. They may not have known what Opus Dei really was, or the decision may have interfered with family plans and dreams. Juan himself explains what happened: 

My father was Ecuador's ambassador to the Holy See. He told me that he was going to take up the matter with Monsignor Montini, the [Vatican's] Undersecretary of State. I spoke with Monsignor Montini, telling him my story, and after a long and very friendly conversation, Monsignor Montini said, "I will have a message for your father that will put him at peace." Some days later he received my father and told him that he had spoken with Pope Pius XII, who said, "Tell the ambassador that his son could not be in a better place than Opus Dei." Twenty years later, when I was bishop, I visited Monsignor Montini, now Pope Paul VI, and he affably reminded me of that audience.

Things were different with parents who opposed their children's decision after certain people had fanned their initial unhappiness into full-fledged antagonism. The founder had hoped the decree (Primum Inter) would put a stop to this, but that did not happen.

Also in April 1949, Umberto Farri, a young man of twenty-one who was often at Villa Tevere, requested admission to the Work. He went to Milan in 1950 at the founder's request, and returned to Rome in November of the following year. Meanwhile, his father, Francesco, had come into contact with parents of other university students who had asked admission to Opus Dei. Everything happened with such speed that, in some homes, the damage done to the previously good relations between parents and children seemed irremediable. Acting on the advice and with the direction of a Jesuit priest, Father A. Martini, Francesco Farri addressed a formal petition of protest, dated April 25, 1951, to Pope Pius XII. In all, five fathers of members signed.

The peace of their families, they told the Pope, had been "interrupted and disturbed":

Young men belonging to these families have ended up not fulfilling their familial duties toward their parents and other relatives; and, in the case of some of them, also their duties regarding their studies, to which they had previously dedicated themselves with diligence and good results. All this has disrupted their preparation for life and their loyalty and sincerity of behavior toward their parents and spiritual fathers. They are abandoning the human and Christian principles of their homes and the religious associations they previously frequented.

Why did they doubt their children's vocations to Opus Dei? Because "all these developments have taken place in an atmosphere which does not seem consistent with the loyalty of a godly spirit and which, above all, offers no guarantee that these young people have not been artificially induced to make decisions for which they were not ready."

The petitioners described themselves as troubled in conscience and "worried about their children's loss of moral values," all the more so because the members of the institute Opus Dei "are carrying on a proselytizing effort by methods that do not fit the Church's tradition of loyalty and clarity in this matter."

Winding down, they asked the Pope to give them "consolation." They did not mean to oppose their children's legitimate aspirations and eventual vocations, but they did ask that they "return to their studies to finish them in normal settings, and then, after consulting with learned, devout, and experienced men, make their definitive decision."

As he had done in similar circumstances in 1941, when Monsignor Escrivá learned of this petition he asked his children to take it in silence, to pray, and to keep smiling and working. They did. Thus, as Mario Lantini explains, his experiences did not come to light until, thirty years later, he testified before the tribunal for the founder's beatification process. Even then, he said, he was reluctant to go into what happened "because Monsignor Escrivá always forbade us, explicitly, to speak of this, lest we fail in charity, even when talking among ourselves; as it says in a point of The Way (no. 443), 'If you can't praise, say nothing.'" No one in Opus Dei knew what had happened except those involved, the founder, and Don Alvaro, at that time Counselor of the Italian region."

Don Alvaro affirmed that "even in the most trying moments" he had never heard the founder speak "one single word of recrimination against those who defamed him." A small sheet of paper bears this handwritten note of his:

"Place under the patronage of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph the families of our members, so that they'll come to participate in the Work's gaudium cum pace [joy with peace] and obtain from the Lord an affection for Opus Dei."

Summing up the episode in a letter to his children, Monsignor Escrivá wrote:

Now I would like to tell you the details about the consecration I made of the Work and the families of its members to the Holy Family on May 14 of this year. It was done in the oratory (which for this reason will in the future be called the oratory of the Holy Family), which still has no walls, amid nails and pieces of wood from the formwork that supported the cement for the beams and ceiling until it set. But some exact notes, written down at the time, have been saved, so I won't go more into that here. I will just tell you that I could only turn to heaven when faced with the diabolical schemes (which God permitted!) of certain unscrupulous individuals who got some fathers of families to sign a document full of falsehoods, and made sure it ended up in the Holy Father's hands. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph saw to it that the storm clouds passed over without a deluge; everything was cleared up.

It appears that the Holy Family's help was quickly forthcoming. One of the petition's signers backed out the very same week it went to the Pope, and the rest soon realized how senseless this claim of a "distressing situation" was. From then on they did not try at all to hold their children back, and peace returned to their homes. The complaints to the Holy Father faded away, for lack of evidence to support them. To Monsignor Escrivá's great joy the affection of the families of his children for Opus Dei grew. The consecration to the Holy Family has been an annual event since then. The formula reads:

Grant them, Lord, to come to know better each day the spirit of our Opus Dei, to which you have called us for your service and our sanctification. Instill in their hearts a great love for our Work, and an ever-growing appreciation of the beauty of our vocation, so that they may feel a holy pride in your having deigned to choose us, and learn to thank you for the honor you have bestowed upon them. Bless especially their cooperation in our apostolic work, and make them always share in the joy and peace that you grant us as a reward for our dedication.

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