Ordinary Christians Living an Ordinary Life

On the occasion of the 5th Anniversary of the Canonization of St. Josemaría Escrivá, founder of Opus Dei, SAR NEWS (Bangalore) interviewed Kevin de Souza from the Information Office of Opus Dei in India. Kevin works in the field of advertising and public relations. He joined Opus Dei in 1990. Here are some excerpts from the interview.

SAR News: It was only when ‘The Da Vinci Code’ controversy kicked up, a lot of lay people started getting curious about Opus Dei. Why is there nothing much heard about it?

Kevin: It’s true that Opus Dei came into the limelight with The Da Vinci Code. That controversy in fact proved to be very useful because it helped many to understand something of key importance. Opus Dei is made up of individuals who have made a personal commitment. Each faithful of the prelature has to strive to live the spirit of Opus Dei in his or her own circumstances: a mother who takes good care of her children; a taxi driver who strives to be honest with his clients; a doctor who lives up to the Hippocratic Oath, and so on. They are not exactly material for prime time news or front-page headlines. They are just ordinary people who live with the deep conviction that if Christ reigns in their life, they will attract others to Him.

    Opus Dei in India is still very young. There are a handful of members in Delhi and Mumbai. As other Catholics, they work to earn their living. In their spare time, they may meet up with a friend or organise a class on Christian doctrine. In countries where activities of Opus Dei were initiated earlier, it is easier to “hear” about Opus Dei because of educational and social projects (schools, hospitals, technical training centres, universities, etc.) that have been established through the initiative of individual members and the co-operators along with their friends.

SAR News: There have been movements against the Opus Dei portraying it as fundamentalist and that which propagates rigid penance?

Kevin: Some people attach the label ‘fundamentalist’ to anyone who is faithful to the Church. However, it has a connotation of fanaticism that, can under no circumstances, be applied neither to the Church nor to any institution of the Church and therefore not to Opus Dei. Fanaticism is opposed to charity because it closes itself to the reasons of the others. St. Josemaría Escrivá, the founder of Opus Dei, used to say that we could never be fanatics “not even of Opus Dei”.

    Regarding the second part of your question, if you asked any person in contact with Opus Dei what penance he or she has been encouraged to do, the answer would be: to fulfil one’s work conscientiously, to be punctual, to treat those around one kindly, to be patient with one’s kids, to smile even when one doesn’t feel like it, not to complain when faced with too much work, change of plans, hardships of life…etc. This is the kind of penance propagated in Opus Dei. Like other Catholics, members try to incorporate an element of sacrifice into their lives.

SAR News: Is it true to say that the Opus Dei's work is to protect the Magisterium of the Church?

Kevin: The faithful of Opus Dei make an effort to know what the Magisterium of the Church teaches and put it into practice. This, I would say, is what every Catholic has to do.

SAR News: Would it be right to say that Opus Dei, in principle, is not in favour of inter-religious dialogue and ecumenism?

Kevin: It is incorrect to assume that Opus Dei is opposed to inter-religious dialogue and ecumenism. Centres of Opus Dei are open to people of all religions, Christians and non-Christians alike; we even welcome those who subscribe to no specific religion. Opus Dei is the first institution of the Church that, since 1950, accepts non-Catholic and non-Christian people as Cooperators. I recall how St. Josemaria said in an interview that “there are many separated brethren who feel attracted by the spirit of Opus Dei and who cooperate in our apostolate. And they include ministers, even bishops of respective confessions” (Conversations with Monsignor Escrivá).

SAR News: Do you think mysticism is disappearing from Christianity?

Kevin: I’m assuming that when you talk of “mysticism” you are referring to “spirituality” -- that is to say, the bridge that links man with God through prayer. There are some signs that some Christians are losing their spirituality. Pope Benedict XVI in his recent addresses has repeatedly warned against the dangers of materialism and consumerism. We see many people today who work long hours to make more money with little or no consideration for how that affects the quality time they should be spending with their families. Others would have it that happiness lies in having whatever I want whenever I want it. A month ago in Loreto, the Pope said to the young people assembled there: “Do not be afraid of seeming different and being criticised for what might seem to be losing or out of fashion; your peers but adults too, especially those who seem more distant from the mindset and values of the Gospel, are crying out to see someone who dares to live according to the fullness of humanity revealed by Jesus Christ.”

    By the same token, there is an encouraging wave of change -- a sort of interior renewal within the Church. “The phenomenon of World Youth Day is one of the most important contributions that the late Pope John Paul II made to Catholic life. When elected to the papacy in 1978, one of his ambitions was to strengthen the practice of going on pilgrimage. He succeeded and World Youth Day is now one example of that,” Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney has said. The World Youth Days have played a decisive part in fostering vocations to the priesthood, religious life and lay ministries. The church appears to be growing younger so to speak.

SAR News: What do you think is the most formidable challenge for the Church in the world and the Church in India specifically?

Kevin: In the words of St. Josemaria, I would say that our greatest challenge is the “crises of saints” in the world today (Cf. The Way, No. 301). Be it in India or any other country, Christians have to strive to be consistent with their faith. The starting point is that I make the effort to be an upright person, even if those around me don’t do the same. I must be another Christ in society. In this way, others will inevitably be attracted to living the Christian ideal of holiness in the middle of the world.

SAR News: How do you think lay people can join Opus Dei?

Kevin: Membership in Opus Dei requires a supernatural vocation. It is a personal call from God to place one’s whole life at his service, spreading the message of the universal call to holiness in ordinary work and social life. This vocation is usually discerned after being involved in Opus Dei's activities (retreats, classes, spiritual guidance) regularly over a period of time, which enables one to acquire an in-depth knowledge of Opus Dei. It is also important to acquire consistency in the Christian practices to which members commit themselves: frequent reception of the sacraments, prayer, apostolate and, in general, a humble and constant effort to acquire virtue and struggle for holiness in keeping with the spirit of Opus Dei. Adult Catholics, men or women, married (about 70% of the members are married people) or single, of any background, nationality or socio-economic condition, may be incorporated in the Prelature.