True face of Opus Dei
Wlodzimierz Redzioch talks to Bishop Javiere Echevarría, the Prelate of Opus Dei.
Wlodzimierz Redzioch: - Your Excellency, you are the head of the organisation of the Catholic Church, which is in focus of international media. Unfortunately, they as a rule show its distorted picture. Could you tell us what Opus Dei is?
Bishop Javier Echevarría: - Saint Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer repeated that Opus Dei is 'God's way of Christians who want to live as true Christians'. The aim of Opus Dei members is not to make spectacular things. They are ordinary Christians who try to pursue sanctity in their daily lives. Since the prelature, Church's institution, consists of priests and laymen, i.e. ordinary people, we feel comfortably in the world: among people, at work, in families... I will say even more: not only do we feel good in the world but we love the world, we love daily life with its thousands of obligations and tasks. One cannot be Christian only at church but one must be Christian in ordinary situations. One should lead a life of faith in God, of hope and love for all people like the first Christians did, and then every day becomes a holiday. This idea of 'greatness' of daily life constitutes the peak of the message of St Josemaría, the ideal that, thanks to God, is shared by many, including those who do not belong to Opus Dei.
As far as the interest of media in the prelature is concerned I think that it results from the fact that the number of those who passionately seek the transcendental dimension of our reality through Opus Dei is very big. In a word, we deal with something that still 'draws' people to Christianity, which Benedict XVI has stressed on various occasions.
- Opus Dei is the so-called personal prelature. We know well what religious congregations or institutes of consecrated life are but most Catholics have no idea that 'personal prelature' means. Could you explain this term to us?
- A personal prelature varies from a religious congregation and from an institute of consecrated life. It is a structure of the Catholic Church to which both priests and laity can belong and whose head is the prelate...
- So we can say that this structure is similar to the structure of a diocese with believers all over the world...
- No, we cannot, since a prelature does not intend to be a particular Church.
- Perhaps it is better to compare it to a Field Bishopric?
- This would be a better comparison.
- You were a close collaborator of the Founder of Opus Dei for many years. What are your recollections of Saint Josemaría?
- Of course, I have very many recollections but what struck me about Saint Josemaría was his joy, faithfulness to the Church and love for people. Whatever I do I wonder what St Josemaría would have done in a given situation. He could have created this wonderful ecclesiastical reality embracing the whole world, which is Opus Dei today, out of nothing. These are not only laymen and priests who belong to the prelature but millions who collaborate with the organisation. Naturally, the prelature would not exist if there were no action of God's grace and if the concrete person Saint Josemaría did not respond to God's calling.
- Saint Escrivá collected his spiritual maxims in the book entitled 'The Way', which is a real spiritual guide for members of Opus Dei. How can you characterise your spirituality?
- The important aspect of daily life, which I have already mentioned, is undoubtedly work. Apart from encouraging to regular prayer and deep sacramental life the message of Opus Dei focuses on work, which if done conscientiously and treated as an offering to God and service to your neighbour, can become a method of sanctification and encounter with Christ. In his book St Josemaría wrote: 'For contemporary apostle the hour of learning is the hour of prayer'.
Another aspect of the spirituality of Opus Dei is the awareness of every Christian that he/she is a child of God. God is the Father, our Father, and this fact, if we fully understand it, radically changes everything; and allows us to face all challenges of daily life in a positive way.
I should also mention that freedom plays an important role in the message of St Josemaría. Freedom is an impulse to Christian involvement and freedom is connected with personal responsibility.
- What were the relationships between the Popes: John XXII, Paul VI, John Paul II and Opus Dei?
- The relationships between Opus Dei and the above-mentioned Popes were intensive and deep. Naturally, we should also mention Pius XII, John Paul I and Benedict XVI. As for John Paul II, I can say that he was like father to Opus Dei. It was him that elevated Opus Dei as a personal prelature in 1982, after long preparations that began during the Second Vatican Council and were carried out simultaneously with the work on the new Code of Canon Law. It was him that canonised Josemaría Escriva in 2002, calling him 'saint of daily life.' I was greatly impressed by John Paul II's gesture. After the death of my predecessor Bishop Álvaro del Portillo he came to the church of the prelature to pray at the coffin of the dead. Earlier, in 1984 John Paul II gave Fr Álvaro a copy of the picture of Our Lady of Czestochowa. Today this picture is placed at a place of honour in the curia of the prelature in Rome. Every time I see the icon I feel united with all Catholics in Poland. The icon reminds me of my numerous pilgrimages to Czestochowa. The first one was with Bishop del Portillo in 1979 and the last one I made as the prelate of Opus Dei was on the feast of Our Lady of Jasna Gora, on 26 August 2005. I am convinced that John Paul II gave a lot to the world and to the Church. Undoubtedly, he gave a lot to Opus Dei thanks to his spiritual fatherhood.
- Many people were surprised that the response of the prelature to the slanders, which Brown's book contain, was unequivocal but lenient as well: you did not bring a lawsuit against him, you did not demand any compensation... Why did the prelature react in this way?
- I would like to turn your attention to the fact that the saddest aspect of Brown's book is not what he says about Opus Dei but the false picture of Christ and his Church, which he gives to readers. Opus Dei, part of the Church, is a beautiful and young reality. The writer's invention can dim this beauty and that makes us sad. However, we realise that the beauty of the Church, including Opus Dei, is revealed in its fullness when we show the love of Christ and not our grudges. In this perspective love is the best way to present the figure of Jesus Christ and the reality of the Church. Therefore, our reaction was decisive and at the same time kind, and it expressed our responsibility. Let us not forget that love is Christ's commandment and what's more, it is the most important commandment.
So I repeat that what is most painful in "The Da Vinci Code' is the way to trivialize the person of Christ. It was good that the latest book of Benedict XVI focused on the historical person, his divine and human nature, of Jesus Christ. This is a wonderful occasion for Christians and for all people to get to know Jesus and deepen their relationships with the Son of God who became man.
- The 80th anniversary of Opus Dei falls next year. What are your preparations for this event?
- First of all, each of us prepares through personal conversion. We must ask ourselves before God: How do we serve the Church, the Pope and other people?
As far as the prelature is concerned it would be an occasion to explain what Opus Dei is. Just now, when we are approaching our 80th anniversary Opus Dei begins working in Russia and soon we will be also present in Romania.