Disclaimer: Clarifying Catholicism is not affiliated with Opus Dei. This is one writer’s experience with the group and how it has changed his life. We hope that it inspires you to look into more Catholic groups to enrich your spiritual life in this difficult time. You are all in our prayers.
By Eugene Beh, columnist
In 2006, when the movie Da Vinci Code was released in the cinemas, like the book, though it was a fiction, it brought much attention and controversy amongst the media and the public. Suddenly, there was a vast interest in the plot and many people started asking questions about the Catholic faith. Many of my Catholic friends and I refused to watch the movie as our support to the Catholic Church criticising the plot of the movie and book. U.S. Catholic bishops launched a website, JesusDecoded.com, refuting the key claims in the novel that were about to be brought to the screen and denounced its depiction of both the Jesus-Mary Magdalene relationship and that of Opus Dei as “deeply abhorrent”.
I bought a book that debunked Da Vinci Code and its fictional claims. Also, I joined a crowd of at least more than 500 catholics who attended a talk on Debunking Da Vinci Code at my parish in Church of St. Francis Xavier, Malaysia. With all the fascination around the movie and people questioning the faith, I found it was then a very good opportunity for me and my friends to evangelise the Good News to others, especially non-believers. I felt that God had opened a door, turning this sensational moment into an opportunity for dialogue. But what intrigued me most was to find out more about the truth of Opus Dei, since it was depicted by Dan Brown in the book.
I had begun reading more about Opus Dei and learned that the name is Latin for “Work of God”. Opus Dei was founded by St. Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer on 2 October 1928 in Madrid, Spain. Opus Dei’s mission is to spread the Christian message that every person is called to holiness and that all honest work can be sanctified, imitating the life of St. Joseph, the carpenter who lived his holiness, being the father of Jesus and sanctifying his carpentry work for God.
At that time, I found the message of sanctifying work and life to God was rather new to me, practically unheard of. I had not heard of this from Catholic Charismatics Renewal, which I was a part of then, and neither from any homilies by priests on Sundays.
Opus Dei acquired a completely adequate canonical status when John Paul II erected it as personal prelature. It is worldwide in scope, consisting of a prelate, his clergy, and lay faithful men and women. Prior to being ordained, the priests belonged to the prelature as lay members. Priests and lay faithful work together to spread the ideals of holiness in the world and the sanctification of work. Opus Dei’s central organisation is based in Rome and is headed by a prelate, nominated by the pope. The current prelate is Monsignor Fernando Ocáriz, who was appointed in 2017.
People of all kinds belong to Opus Dei: priests and lay people, men and women, young and old, married and single, of every occupation and social situation. Most members are married and have families – these are called supernumeraries. Some members (numeraries and associates) make a commitment to celibacy and generally have more time and availability to dedicate to the various activities promoted by Opus Dei. Some celibate men are ordained as priests, who make up roughly 2% of the membership.
After doing this research, I met a friend, Nicholas and his family, who are all members of Opus Dei. He invited me to join them for their monthly recollection and circle. It was then that I felt I had a renewal of mind, discovering the meaning of holiness through Opus Dei. I had learned that holiness means following Jesus Christ, imitating Him in thoughts, feelings, words and deeds. It means loving God and neighbour, with a love that gives rise to other virtues, such as humility, justice, integrity, and solidarity. Holiness is attained only with God’s assistance and our constant striving. The teaching that everyone is called to holiness was at the heart of the Second Vatican Council, which was enormously influential in shaping the Catholic Church’s understanding of what it means to be a follower of Christ in the modern world.
I also learned about “divine filiation” meaning the awareness of being a child of God and acting accordingly, ordinary life (finding God in everyday things), charity and apostolate (like the early Christians, giving witness to their faith and helping others to know Christ), love for freedom (in anything that is not a matter of faith, each person makes his or her own decisions and takes responsibility for them), prayer and sacrifice (trying to have a constant dialogue with God and being ready to put one’s interests and those of others before one’s own) and unity of life (trying to live out one’s faith in every aspect of life).
After much discernment, I decided to be a cooperator for Opus Dei, which means my work and prayers are to support the Work. I began living out the spirituality of Opus Dei each day. My day starts with the Sign of the Cross and spending some quiet minutes in mental prayer, thanking God for all that He has blessed me with. During my drive to work in the mornings, I pray the Rosary. At noon, the Angelus. I then offer up my work as a prayer for those who are in need, my friends, and for special intentions that I have. Performing my work to my very best equals the prayers being offered up. During the evening, I try to attend daily Mass as frequently as possible because Christ is waiting for me to offer Himself at the altar. At the end of the day, I do spiritual reading and reflection on the Gospel, as well as an examination of conscience. I ask myself these 3 simple questions: What have I done well today? What have I not done well today? How can I do better?
Much to my surprise, the truth of what Opus Dei really is, is not as it was depicted in the book, being a secret cult organization within the Catholic Church. There wasn’t any secret at all. Being with the Charismatics Renewal movement, I was then fascinated with the gifts of the Holy Spirit and misled for focusing primarily on asking for the gifts that I wanted. What I discovered was that to live an ordinary life as a lay person in a spiritually extraordinary way meant to obtain more graces through the Sacraments, be in the presence of God in my daily life, and reach out to those around me, bringing them to Christ. This was “the secret” towards holiness and sainthood.
Edited by: Maggie Rudman and Mary Ryan