Tuesday, February 13, 2007

February 14, 1943: The Priestly Society of the Holy Cross

The events of God's intrusion into the soul and mind of St. Josemaria Escriva on two 14ths of February - 1930 and 1943 - create a Communio of laymen and priests that destroys the clerical power structure that has dominated the Church for the better part of 1500 years. The Church as Body of Christ is secular in the way the Humanity of Christ is secular. Paul VI said the Church "has an authentic secular dimension, inherent to her inner nature and mission, which is deeply rooted in the mystery of the Word Incarnate, and which is realized in diffent forms through her members" (Talk to Secular Institutes, Februrary 2, 1972 AAS 64 208 (1972). What took place is the recovery of the "aboriginal relationship" between Christifideles and sacred ministers dynamized in love to make the gift of self whereby they form the secular "unum" that is the reality of the Church. What is revolutionary for a clericalized Church is the "substantial" priority of Opus Dei's lay faithful, at whose service is the priestly ministry.

The layman and the priest are equal in priesthood (sacramentally made mediators) and mission (to put Christ at the summit of all human activities) but different in the orientation of their priestly personalitites: the layman is to the world, the minister is to the layman. Neither can be or stand without the other as is germane to the communio.

The self-gift of both must be complete as priesthood of Christ. The self-giving is dynamized by the paternal love of the prelate who must persistently engender them. St. Josemaria wanted the inscription "genuit filios and filias" on his tombstone.

The mission of Opus Dei is to communicate this reality to the Church as a yeast or "little bit of the Church" to the dough. In this sense, Opus Dei can only be explained as analogous to a diocese or particular church. Pedro Rodriguez said: "We can say that he ground for the analogy between Opus Dei and the partiuclar Church is the common `theological substance' of ecclesial bodies structurally organized according to the basic `common

priesthood/ministerial priesthod' relationship - the fact that both have the substantial elements of the internal dimension of the Church's structure" ("The Place of Opus Dei in the Church" in Opus Dei in the Church, Scepter [1994] 47). But Opus Dei is not a particular Church, rather a transdiocesan, universal convocation of the faithful that transcends particular Churches (even though it has in common with them, as we have pointed out, the internal dimension of thier structure)."

* * * * * * * * * * * *

St. Josemaria Escriva wrote: “Time went by. We prayed. The three who were to be ordained [engineers] as the first priests of the Work were studying very hard, putting their hearts into it. Then, one day…”

Before going on, let me insert that fact that Opus Dei was an eminently lay reality from first sighting it on October 2, 1928. St. Josemaria “saw” laymen - not women - and priests. The women came in 1930 and the priests in 1943, both on February 14, during Holy Mass. He did not know who they were to be, or how they were to fit.

In 1940, he wrote: “Two topic of capital importance: the women and the priests.” Vazquez de Prada continues: “Both groups were essential, and in the 1930’s Father Josemaria had launched initiatives with both, only to see them fail. Yet in both cases the efforts were renewed. It was as if, after preliminary drafts, God had given the founder fresh pages on which to compose the definitive versions. Certain by now that the priests had to come from within Opus Dei itself, Father Josemaria retraced his steps. He wrote:

“In the early years, I accepted the help of a few priests who wanted to bind themselves to Opus Dei in some way. But God soon made it quite clear to me that, although they were good people (some of them outstandingly good), they were not the ones called to carry out that mission. And so, in an early document, I indicated that for the time being – I would later let them know till when – they should limit themselves to administering the sacraments and to strictly ecclesiastical functions…. At the end of 1930, Father Josemaria had written: `The priest members have to come from among the lay members.”[1]

Given the fact of the pre-eminently lay character of Opus Dei, the fact that the priests were to come from the laity meant that the priest in Opus Dei had to be nothing but priest. What was needed from the priest was that he be priest and nothing but priest since everything else was given in the lay members of the Work. Hence, St. Josemaria, shortly after the Ordination of the first three on June 25, 1944, wrote:

We need priests with our spirit: priests who are well prepared, cheerful, and effective, with a sportsmanlike attitude toward life, who joyfully sacrifice themselves for their brothers and sisters without seeing themselves as victims, and who know that everyone in the Work loves them wholeheartedly. My children, pray hard that they be very cheerful, very holy, that they do not think about themselves, but only about the glory of god and good of souls.

“Our priest must have in their souls a basic disposition to spend themselves entirely in the service of their brothers and sisters, convinced that the ministry to which they have been called, within Opus Dei, is a great honor, but above all a great burden – easy to bear, however, if they strive to be very united to our Lord, since his yoke is always easy and his burden light - `iugum meum suave est, et onus meum leve.’

He then repeatedly said to them:

“Be priests first of all. And then, priests. And always and in everything, only priests.

“Speak only of God.

“When a penitent wants you, drop whatever you are doing and take care of him.”[2]

* * *

Then, “On the morning of February 14, 1943 – already a day of thanksgiving for the Work as the anniversary of the founding of the women’s branch on February 14, 1930 – Father Josemaria left early to say Mass for his daughters in the oratory of Jorge Manrique. They all participated with great devotion, and he was immersed in God throughout the Holy Sacrifice.

“As soon as Mass was over, he took out his notebook and wrote on the page for February 14, feast of Saint Valentine, `In the house of the women, during Holy Mass: “Societas Sacerdotalis Sanctae Crucis” [The Priestly Society of the Holy Cross].” And then, on that same page, he made a little drawing, of a circle with a cross inside it. After making his thanksgiving, he went downstairs, asked for a sheet of paper, and went into a small reception room, while his daughters waited for him in the vestibule.

Encarnita later wrote:

“A few minutes later he reappeared in the vestibule, and it was clear he was deeply moved. `Look,’ he told us, pointing to a sheet on which he had drawn a circle with a cross of special proportion in its center, `this will be the seal of the Work. The seal, not the coat of arms.’ Opus Dei will not have a coat of arms. It represents the world, and, in the very heart of the world, the Cross.”[3]

As the Church, Layfaithful and Ministers in Opus Dei Are Equally Priests of Christ yet Irreducibly Different

Lumen Gentium #10 reads: “Though they differ essentially and not only in degree, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood are none the less ordered one to another, each in its own proper way shares in the one priesthood of Christ.” Using precise terminology, the Church is saying that the ministerial priest and the layfaithful of the common priesthood are equal as identical in their sharing in the one priesthood of Jesus Christ. Their irreducible difference lies elsewhere. That “elsewhere” is the orientation of `attitude’ of the self-gift that is the meaning of priest in Judeo-Christian revelation. Since priesthood means relation (the result of mediating between self and God in the service of others) the orientation or direction of the relation of the layfaithful is to the world, which they love passionately. The orientation or direction of the relation of the ministerial priest is to be totally in the service of the layfaithful to activate their priesthood. They celebrate Mass, preach the revealed Word and administer the sacraments, above all, Penance. John Paul II put it best when he said: “This Marian profile is also – even perhaps more so – fundamental and characteristic for the Church as is the apostolic and Petrine profile to which it is profoundly united… 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… because their triple function has not other purpose except to form the Church in line with the ideal of sanctity already programmed and prefigured in Mary.”[4]

Using common parlance, laymen and priests form the communio of the Church – the Body of the One Christ - by the mutual gift of self. Priesthood means “mediation” and it takes place by mediating between self and God in the service of others. Laymen do it on the occasion and exercise of their professional, secular work in the world. Priests do it by acting in the Person of Christ serving the layman. The direction of the relationality is different, and therefore irreducible. Yet they are both total self-gift and relational, and therefore priests of Christ.

Opus Dei is all Christ’s priesthood. It is priestly throughout. And, as priestly, it is secular. The more priestly, the more secular. Everybody must live out the “priestly soul,” which is the “lay mentality.” The priestly soul is the self-mastery that comes from subduing the self as one subdues the earth in order to take it as private property. The prototype of the priestly soul is the Divine Person of the Logos subduing and mastering the human will of the man (not person), Jesus of Nazareth, thus making that human will His own. You own the earth that you subdue. That act of self-mastery is the supreme act of freedom that differentiates the human person from a merely cosmic stimulus-response organism working out of sheer necessity. That freedom is what St. Josemaria understood to be the “lay mentality,” i.e. the freedom with which each one decides about himself in all that pertains to what is open to opinion. What is not open to opinion is the Revelation of Jesus Christ and the morality consequent to it.

This anecdote of Malcolm Muggeridge could help us:

“… Some forty years ago, shortly before the outbreak of the 1939-45 war, the person whom I have most loved in this world, my wife Kitty, was desperately ill, and, as I was informed by the doctor attending her, had only an outside chance of surviving. The medical details are unimportant; probably today, with the great advances that have taken place in curative medicine, her state would not be so serious. But as the situation presented itself then, she was hovering between life and death, though, needless to say, there was no voice, as there might well be nowadays, to suggest that it might be better to let he go.

“The doctor explained that an emergency operation was essential, and, in honesty, felt bound to tell me that it would be something of a gamble. Her blood, it appeared, was so thin as a result of a long spell of jaundice that before he operated a blood-transfusion was desperately needed – this was before the days of plasma. As he said this, an incredible happiness amounting to ecstasy surged up inside me. If I could be the donor! My blood group was established, and found to suitable; the necessary gear was brought in, very primitive by contemporary standards – just a glass tube one end of which was inserted in her arm and the other end in mine, with a pump in the middle drawing out my blood and sending it into her. I would watch the flow, shouting out absurdly to the doctor: `Don’t stint yourself, take all you want!’ and noting delightedly the immediate effect in bringing back life into her face that before had seemed grey and lifeless. It was the turning point; from that moment she began to mend.

At no point in our long relationship has there been a more ecstatic moment than when I thus saw my life-blood pouring into hers to revivify it. We were at one, blood to blood, as no other kind of union could make us. To give life – this was what love was for; to give it in all circumstances and eventualities; whether God creating the universe, or a male and female creating another human being…” or Malcolm Muggeridge giving lots of his blood to his wife.

The Priesthood of Jesus Christ

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1544) says, “Everything that the priesthood of the Old Covenant prefigured finds its fulfillment in Christ Jesus, the `one mediator between God and men’” (1 Tim. 2, 5). The CCC goes on to say: The Christian tradition considers Melchizedek, `priest of God Most High,’ as a prefiguration of the priesthood of Christ, the unique `high priest after the order of Melchizedek;’ holy, blameless, unstained,’ `by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified,’ that is, by the unique sacrifice of the cross.’”

The priesthood of Jesus Christ is connected not to the Levitical priesthood, but to the order of Melchizedek. In some way, the priesthood of Melchizedek runs through Abraham and through the priesthood of fathers of families who were enjoined to make the offering of their first born to the Lord that is then linked up to the priesthood of Christ. There is a connection between the gift of self and the offering of the first born in that the first born was considered to have a greater affinity of blood, body and spirit to the parents. Therefore, God’s enjoining: “You shall give Me the first-born among your sons” (Exodus 22, 28b) is the call of the father of the family to make the gift of his very self in the flesh of his dearly beloved.

Melchizedek was thought to be Shem, the first born of Noah. The word “priest” is first deployed in the Bible in reference to Melchisedek. St. Paul refers the priesthood of Christ, not to the Levites, but to Melchizedek in that he offers bread and wine to Abraham, bread and wine that Christ is going to change into His very Self as flesh and blood. Melchizedek offers the bread and wine to Abraham and blesses him thereby empowering him to enter into this lineage of father-priest in sacrificing his first born Isaac. We are dealing here with the deep meaning of priesthood as gift of self.

Scott Hahn says: “As a `priest of God Most High,’ Melchizedek `brought out bread and wine.’ What is the connection between his priesthood and those two offerings? During the days of Genesis 14, the priest did not need to offer the bloody sacrifices, for these only became necessary later, when Israel became enslaved band addicted to the gods of Egypt (see Exodus and Ezekiel 20). God’s strategy to break Israel from these idolatrous customs was to make the people sacrifice ceremonially on Mount Sinai the very animals they had worshiped as gods in Egypt. Before this, before the Golden Calf, the pre-Israelites practiced a patriarchal family religion rooted in nature, in which fathers were high priests and their firstborn sons were priests under their authority.”[5]

The Levites, we know, received the priesthood that existed in the fathers of families prior to the abomination of the worship of the Golden Calf. Hahn continues: “In Israel, only a Levite could be a priest; yet Jesus was not a Levite. So Old Testament Jews might be tempted to say that he couldn’t be a priest. The book of Hebrews, however, alludes to the wilderness generation under Moses, which committed idolatry and rebelled against God. Their rebellion was the Golden Calf, and God’s punishment was to take away the priesthood from the firstborn and give it to the Levites temporarily. The writer of Hebrews is suggesting that Jesus Christ, God’s Son, is righteous enough to restore the original pattern of the father-son family priesthood – the `order of Melchizedek’ – because God, through Christ’s sacrifice, is adopting us into a divine family.”[6]

However, even though it is difficult to see self-gift in the offering of bread and wine by Melchisedek, we know from the prototypical priesthood of Jesus Christ that that bread and wine is going to be transubstantiated into Christ’s very self, and that the lineage of Christ the real Priest is revealed to be precisely according to the order of Melchisedek, and not in the order of the Levites. It seems that the “order of Melchisedek” is revealed in the sacrifice that is enjoined on Abraham, that of sacrificing Isaac, which in reality is his very self. And, of course, what we are looking at is the divine gift of God the Father sacrificing His Beloved Son for us. Somehow, the mediation that is revealed priesthood is the very gift of oneself to death.

Notice, also, that if this is the reality of Christ who is the revelation not only of God, but of man, this priestly reality of the God-man Jesus Christ demands a corresponding anthropology – indeed, a metaphysical anthropology – that will be able to give an ontological account of self-mastery, self-gift. The category of substance is inadequate to do this.

Benedict XVI on the Levites:

“The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup, you hold my lot” (Psalm 16, 5).

The key: They are to own no land. Their plot is God Himself. They are to possess Him passionately.

“After taking possession of the land, every tribe obtained by the drawing of lots his portion of the holy land and with this took part in the gift promised to the forefather Abraham.

“The tribe of Levi alone received no land: Its land was God himself. This affirmation certainly had an entirely practical significance. Priests did no live like other tribes by cultivating the earth but on offerings. However, the affirmation goes deeper. The true foundation of the priest’s life, the ground of his existence, the ground of his life, is God himself.

“The Church in this Old Testament interpretation of the priestly life… has rightly seen in the following of the apostles, in communion with Jesus himself, the explanation of what the priestly mission means. The priest can and must also say today with the Levite, `Dominus pars hereditatis meae et calicis mei.’ God himself is my portion of land, the external and internal foundation of my existence.

“The theocentricity of the priestly existence is truly necessary in our entirely function-oriented world in which everything is based on calculable and ascertainable performance. The priest must truly know God from within and thus bring him to men and women: This is the prime service that contemporary humanity needs.

”If this centrality of God in a priest’s life is lost, little by little the zeal in his actions is lost. In an excess of external things the center that gives meaning to all things and leads them back to unity is missing. There the foundation of life, the `earth’ upon which all this ca stand and proper, is missing.”

Benedict XVI then discusses celibacy in reference to this overriding need to live just for God:

“Celibacy…can only be understood and lived if it is based on this basic structure.

“The solely pragmatic reasons, the reference to greater availability, is not enough: Such a greater availability of time could easily become also a form of egoism that saves a person from the sacrifices and efforts demanded by the reciprocal acceptance and forbearance iin matrimony; thus, it could lead to a spiritual impoverishment or to hardening of the heart.

“The true foundation of celibacy can be contained in the phrase Dominus pars – You are my land. It can only be theocentric. It cannot mean being deprived of love but must mean letting oneself be consumed by passion for God and subsequently, thanks to a more intimate way of being with him, to serve men and women too. Celibacy must be a witness to faith: Faith in God materializes in that form of life that only has meaning if it is based on God.

“Basing one’s life on him, renouncing marriage and the family, means that I accept and experience God as a reality and that I can therefore bring him to men and women. Our world, which has become totally positivistic, in which God appears at best as a hypothesis but not as a concrete reality, needs to rest on God in the most concrete and radical way possible.

“It needs a witness to God that lies in the decision to welcome God as a land where one fins one’s own existence. For this reason celibacy is so important today in our contemporary world even if its fulfillment in our age is constantly threatened and questioned.”[7]

Priestly Total Self-Gift Means to “Taste God” (because the self experiences self as "other Christ")

God “failed” in Adam and therefore started the human race over again in Himself. God “failed” in the parable of the Banquet where the first guests invited failed to come. Benedict XVI asks why did this happen, and what is one to do? – because this is precisely the situation we are in today in the Church. He responds:

“St Gregory the Great in his explanation of this text sought to delve into it further and wondered: how can a man say "no" to the greatest thing that exists; that he has no time for what is most important; that he can lock himself into his own existence?

And he answers: in reality, they have never had an experience of God; they have never acquired a "taste" for God; they have never experienced how delightful it is to be "touched" by God! They lack this "contact" -- and with it, the "taste for God". And only if we, so to speak, taste him, only then can we come to the banquet.

St Gregory cites the Psalm from which today's Communion Antiphon is taken: Taste, try it and see; taste and then you will see and be enlightened! Our task is to help people so they can taste the flavor for God anew.

In another homily, St Gregory the Great deepened further the same question and asked himself: how can it be that man does not even want to "taste" God?

And he responds: when man is entirely caught up in his own world, with material things, with what he can do, with all that is feasible and brings him success, with all that he can produce or understand by himself, then his capacity to perceive God weakens, the organ sensitive to God deteriorates, it becomes unable to perceive and sense, it no longer perceives the Divine, because the corresponding inner organ has withered, it has stopped developing.

When he overuses all the other organs, the empirical ones, it can happen that it is precisely the sense of God that suffers, that this organ dies, and man, as St Gregory says, no longer perceives God's gaze, to be looked at by him, the fact that his precious gaze touches me!

I maintain that St Gregory the Great has described exactly the situation of our time -- in fact, his was an age very similar to ours. And the question still arises: what should we do?

I hold that the first thing to do is what the Lord tells us today in the First Reading, and which St Paul cries to us in God's Name: "Your attitude must be Christ's -- 'Touto phroneite en hymin ho kai en Christo Iesou'".

Learn to think as Christ thought, learn to think with him! And this thinking is not only the thinking of the mind, but also a thinking of the heart.

We learn Jesus Christ's sentiments when we learn to think with him and thus, when we learn to think also of his failure, of his passage through failure and of the growth of his love in failure.

If we enter into these sentiments of his, if we begin to practice thinking like him and with him, then joy for God is awakened within us, confident that he is the strongest; yes, we can say that love for him is reawakened within us. We feel how beautiful it is that he is there and that we can know him -- that we know him in the face of Jesus Christ who suffered for us.

I think this is the first thing: that we ourselves enter into vital contact with God -- with the Lord Jesus, the living God; that in us the organ directed to God be strengthened; that we bear within us a perception of his "exquisiteness".

This also gives life to our work, but we also run a risk: one can do much, many things in the ecclesiastical field, all for God ..., and yet remain totally taken up with oneself, without encountering God. Work replaces faith, but then one becomes empty within.

I therefore believe that we must make an effort above all to listen to the Lord in prayer, in deep interior participation in the sacraments, in learning the sentiments of God in the faces and the suffering of others, in order to be infected by his joy, his zeal and his love, and to look at the world with him and starting from him.

If we can succeed in doing this, even in the midst of the many "noes", we will once again find people waiting for him who may perhaps often be odd -- the parable clearly says so -- but who are nevertheless called to enter his hall.

Once again, in other words: it is a matter of the centrality of God, and not just any god but the God with the Face of Jesus Christ. Today, this is crucial.

There are so many problems one could list that must be solved, but none of them can be solved unless God is put at the centre, if God does not become once again visible to the world, if he does not become the determining factor in our lives and also enters the world in a decisive way through us.”

To “taste God” is to experience God in yourself. This is possible because the metaphysical anthropology of the human person is the image of the divine Persons. The only person I can experience in the use of my freedom in the act of self-determination is myself. If I master myself to give myself in prayer as Jesus Christ is prayer to the Father (being a pure relation to the Father which reveals itself when incarnate as prayer), I can experience within myself – in some way – what Christ experiences in Himself as a divine Person. The more gift I make of myself, the more gift I experience; the more gift I experience, the greater the actual consciousness I have of what it means to be the Son of God; the greater that consciousness, the more able I will be to be able to say: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16, 16).

[1] Andres Vazquez de Prada, “The Founder of Opus Dei,” Volume II: God and Daring, Scepter (2003) 420.

[2] Ibid 454.

[3] Ibid 428-429.

[4] John Paul II Address to the Cardinal and Prelates of the Roman Curia, December 22, 1987.

[5] Scott Hahn, “The Meal of Melchizedek,” Internet.

[6] Idem

[7] Benedict XVI, “Address of Benedict XVI to the Roman Curia, December, 22, 2006,” Origins January 18, 2007, Vol. 36, No. 31, 492-493.

[8] Benedict XVI, First Address to the Bishops of Switzerland, Nov. 7, 2006.


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