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CBN.com In 1924, a Spanish priest named Josemaria Escriva pursued a call he says God gave him to start a lay organization within the Catholic Church. The result was Opus Dei, Latin for “work of God.”
The goal is to lead its members to seek God’s holiness in and through their individual vocations. But, in the last few years, the book and the movie of The Da Vinci Code have subjected Opus Dei to the unwanted glare of media overexposure.
A murderous, masochistic monk and a scheming, corrupt clergyman are both members of Opus Dei. Not the kind of portrayal an organization founded by a now a canonized Catholic saint would expect or appreciate.
We talked with Opus Dei’s communications director atop their 16-floor U.S. headquarters about the media’s perception of the group’s secrecy and the effect The Da Vinci Code has had on their organization.
Peter Bancroft says, “For the past number of years, I’ve been sending out press releases into a black void and nobody pays any attention. So it’s not like we haven’t been wanting to talk. Now we have an opportunity to talk.
“What The Da Vinci Code says about Jesus Christ, Christian history and the Catholic Church… all the misrepresentations about those topics are much more serious than anything it says about Opus Dei.
“In the end it doesn’t matter what people think of Opus Dei. We hope that they think well, but if they don’t, it doesn’t make that much difference. But it matters a whole lot what they think of Jesus Christ.”
One of the ways Opus Dei is clarifying their mission is with the release of a short documentary called Passionately Loving the World. It includes interviews with members from various walks of life explaining why Opus Dei is beneficial to their own spiritual growth.
Terri Carron is a married mother of four who has been Opus Dei’s primary spokesperson to the media. She is a “supernumerary,” which means that, although she has a husband and children, she still practices the precepts of Opus Dei.
“Opus Dei is an institution in the church which helps laymen and women find God in their ordinary daily life and in the activities of their work. It’s not a sect. It’s not a separation. It’s just a part of the Catholic Church. It’s one path in the church,” says Carron. “I’m very much a part of the parish. I teach Sunday School. My kids attend Sunday School in the parish, and I participate and contribute to all the activities that go on.
“It’s about bringing holiness to your whole life. For a long time lay Catholics didn’t really understand that. They thought the holiness should be left to the priests and left to the religious. We Catholics were just kind of hanging on and lucky to be there.
“I think what St. Josemaria’s biggest contribution in building Opus Dei is: our life is as holy. Our vocation to Christ as Christians is as valid and as holy as the priest or the religious.
“You get out there in your world and you become the Christian banker, the Christian dancer, the Christian fashion designer. That’s where you need to be. Not as a pseudo-priest, but out there as a layperson spreading the light of God to where you’re supposed to be.
“People misinterpret that we’re going backwards, or that we’re too conservative or whatever, but I think all people of faith can see that. When you’re really trying to live Jesus Christ, that’s a radical call.”
Many people question the Opus Dei practice of penance through corporeal self-mortification as a being too radical.
“What mortification is very simply a way to unite your own suffering to that of our Savior Jesus Christ,” says Carron. “The second thing is to unite yourself with the suffering of the world -- the whole Christian community and the whole world at large suffers. The third is that it’s a way to acknowledge that the body does sin. It’s freely done. It’s very well monitored so that no one would go overboard or do something other than what is an offering to God. Now that is done by the celibate members of Opus Dei.”
Bancroft says, “The reality of things like the discipline is much more symbolic than anything else. There’s no injury, none of the kind of gore you see in something like The Da Vinci Code."
Bancroft says that he has used the discipline before.
“I think that the physical mortification or fasting do help people work on the interior mortification that is more important,” he says.
So, what is the ultimate goal for Opus Dei members?
Carron says, “I think it is being that salt and light for the earth. If you can make yourself holy, if you can live God, inhabit God, put on Christ, that’s what we were asked to do. That is the goal of Opus Dei -- that each member should put on Christ and get out there as a soldier for Christ. There is no other corporate or political agenda, except to make Christians and make strong Christians.”
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