Opus Dei: September 2005

Opus Dei means work of God, the work that we all hope to take part in. Opus Dei is also the name of a group within the Roman Catholic Church and a secret-society bogeyman in Brown's DAVINCI CODE. Founded in 1928 by Josemaria Escriva, Opus Dei focuses on the holiness of ordinary, everyday work--both as a means for personal transformation and as a way to transform secular society. Primarily a "lay organization" Opus Dei currently has around 85,000 members worldwide, over half of whom are women.

I find it interesting that Opus Dei was considered a new and unique perspective. After all, isn't the whole point of the Church to edify her members so that they can shine the light of Christ into their homes, into the marketplace, into the world at large? Yet by shifting the center of spiritual life from the church or monastery into the street, Opus Dei was seen as a frontal attack on clericalism and the local authority of the church. Leading the world to Christ was no longer the province of the ordained few, but the task of ordinary men and women turned loose on the world. In the 30's and 40's founder Josemaria Escriva was charged with heresy.

This church in the streets was such an unusual idea, that in 1982 Pope John Paul issued the personal prelature, a new category of canon law, for Opus Dei. The personal prelature is like a diocese, except instead of being geographically defined it is defined by the people within it. So the organization was sort of a church, without geographic boundaries, different from a secular institution, different from a religious order, different from the local parish.

I learned all this from a Spring Arbor interview of John L. Allen, author of OPUS DEI, a new book "separating the myths from the facts" about this organization--$24.95. The concept of dioceses without boundaries is very interesting in light of the travail of the Episcopal Church, where over the past ten or more years whole parishes have been bailing out of the dioceses of apostate Bishops. And, of course The Word Shop has long been a street-waif, proclaiming the love of God in Christ Jesus to whoever happens by. I put OPUS DEI on my order list. Let me know if you want to read it, too.

"If we could see the church as a society of ministers in the world, we would approach the radical change Christ sought to initiate." --Elton Trueblood

Laura said that I'd love EXODUS, a book by Dave Shiflett on why Americans are fleeing liberal churches for conservative Christianity. ($23.95 new--$10 for this used copy.) "Love" was probably the wrong word. Who could love a book that chronicled a beloved mother wasting away? Nonetheless, Shiflett has gathered interesting interviews from throughout the Church--Anglican, Roman, Orthodox, Baptist, Methodist, Church of Christ...and sprinkled astonishing statistics in every chapter. Take for example Spong, the darling of the media (Bishops who DO believe in the basic tenets of the creed aren't generally courted by the media--yet). I read that in ten years of Spong's Bishopric the number of confirmed communicants in his diocese halved--from 44,423 to 23,073. "Eighteen churches closed in one year," Phil said. Shiflett's thesis is that people go to church to find God, not to hear some pundit's opinion on social issues. Enough of that on TV...where the pundits are better looking.

The Church's engagement with social issues takes place in the home and in the street where the pain and suffering of a broken world bleeds it's life into the gutters. The agents of change are those who are in every crack and cranny of society...in other words, it's you and me. (Yes, I'm sure I could have come up with a better plan too, but nobody asked.)

Thomas Merton's little paperback, LIFE AND HOLINESS, has some wonderful chapters on the spiritual value of work and the necessity for every Christian's engagement with the issues of justice, oppression and other problems of our common life. ($4 used pb...oop). Stephen Covey's THE 7 HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE FAMILIES is the best book I've yet read on bringing various spiritual principles to bear on familial life. ($8 used hb) Gerald May's THE AWAKENED HEART ($16.95 new, $7 used) is about opening yourself to the love you need and staying present to that love in the midst of...you know, the gnarly social issues you're going to be dealing with in the next 24 hours.

"Never feel guilty about reading.  It is what you do to do your job." --Peggy Noonan

I did two late afternoon shifts this week. 3:00 - 6:00 is not a time I am usually at the store, but we shuffled shifts and there I was. The rest of the staff had done such a great job cleaning, pricing, shelving...that after just a bit of batting books about, I settled in and read. On Tuesday I read Covey's 7 HABITS in the front room, while a young woman read Walter Wangerin's RAGMAN in the back room. The descending sun cast a golden glow over the rows of books. I sipped my tea, settled deeper in my chair and thought, "Oh yes, this is good."

We are ten years old next month. An amazing gift.

Alliee +