Opus Dei

By Kathleen Howley

It has always puzzled me that Catholics who believe and accept the full teachings of the Catholic Church are labeled "Conservative" or "orthodox," while dissenting members who support, say, only two out of every 10 teachings -- on a good day -- are just called plain, old "Catholic."

If anyone deserves an adjective, shouldn't it be those who reject the Christ-given Magisterial teaching authority of the Holy See? Shouldn't it be the ones who proudly declare their opposition to the Chair of Peter?

Well, that's not the way it works in the 1990s. If all you do is support the basic teachings of the ancient faith -- not one iota more, nor one jot less -- sooner or later, you're gonna get a negative label.

Thus, it's no surprise that the Chicago archdiocese announced in May that it would refuse to sell an unused college seminary to Opus Dei for a reported $8.75 million.

Opus Dei, a canonically-approved Personal Prelature of the Church established by -- and widely praised by -- John Paul II, wanted to use the facility as the new site of Northridge Preparatory School, an all- boys high school.

Several archdiocesan groups voted to reject the sale because, in their words, Opus Dei is an elitist, secretive organization that has too much power in Rome -- you know, all the things that people used to say about the Jesuits.

Months later, there are no other interested buyers. Like many disused Catholic facilities, the seminary may eventually be sold to an Eastern sect, or a New Age group. Or, perhaps it will be sub-divided as condos, with the chapel that was once used for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass turned into a club house. Just as long as Opus Dei doesn't get it.

Admittedly, Opus Dei has an image problem. Secular newspapers regularly run negative stories about it. Liberals in the Catholic Church disdain the world-wide group, founded almost 70 years ago by a Spanish priest beautified in 1992.

Why? In part, because Opus Dei doesn't preach dissent, or New Age theology, or goddess worship. All it does is urge its mostly-lay members to grow in personal holiness, and to serve the Catholic Church as it wishes to be served.

It's a novel concept, isn't it? Rather than following the current fashion of insisting upon serving Our Lord according to our own whims, they want to do things His way.

Opus Dei, Latin for the "Work of God," shares some similarities with the much older, but lesser-known, Congregation of the Oratory, founded in the sixteenth century by St. Philip Neri.

Both stick to the basics of the faith. Both are unwaveringly in their fidelity to the Roman Pontiff. And, both focus on giving the working man and woman the spiritual food they need to bring the light of Christ into the world -- namely, the Sacraments of the Catholic Church.

And, in modern times, both have been persecuted, because of it.

If you're looking for an example, read "The Last Roman Catholic?" by James Demers. He recounts the smear campaign that led up to the 1989 expulsion of the Oratorians from the archdiocese of Ottawa, in Canada.

The congregation was asked by Archbishop Joseph Plourde to take over a crumbling church in the poorest section of Ottawa. They started rebuilding the church, beginning with the Mass. No more ad-libbed Consecrations -- just the liturgy of the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church.

Within six months, the pews of the church were filled with Catholics who traveled great distances to experience the reverence and piety of the Mass. A local choir was trained in the singing of Gregorian Chant and polyphony. Several doctrine classes began meeting regularly, and an architectural restoration project was underway.

As you might imagine, the liberals who dominated the archdiocese were inflamed. They had been slogging away, day in and day out, with their faddish twists to the Mass and their voguish theology. But, the pews of their churches, and their parish collection boxes, were slowly emptying out.

The Oratorians were labeled "ultra-conservative" -- even though their only crime was to preach the full wealth of the Catholic faith. They were called "divisive" -- despite the fact that their only concern was their Father's business -- hearing Confessions, celebrating Mass, and instructing their parishioners in the basics of the faith.

Eventually, the church was taken away from them, and their parishioners set adrift.

It's too bad that Catholic liberals are so intolerant. But, they are correct to fear both the Oratorians and Opus Dei. Any group that helps Catholic laypeople lead lives of old-fashioned sanctity ought to be dreaded by the church-busters on the left.

For, such is the stuff that builds faith, and spawns strong Catholic families, with offspring who have sound vocations and deeply held convictions -- just the attributes that it will take to restore the Catholic Church in America and defeat the apostles of Modernism.

Kathleen Howley is a syndicated columnist
Copyright 1995, Living Word Syndicate