Jon Kennedy
Jon Kennedy


Jon Kennedy's 'Postcards from
the Nanty Glo in My Mind'

Questions about Opus Dei

I've received the following questions regarding Monday's Jonal entry on Opus Dei. Some longer questions have been "compressed" into shorter versions here or broken into several shorter ones. Questions are in bold, the answers in regular font.

According to my research, Opus Dei is where the Catholic Church likes to recruit its clergy. A desirable notion as it seems some members of Opus Dei adopt a life of celibacy, something future Catholic priests need to get an awareness of before they find themselves walking that path.

I hadn't known this, but it makes sense. These are among the Catholics most interested in deepening their faith and their knowledge of it.

I wonder if Opus Dei is a way for Catholics to get to the bottom of religion. As my memory serves me, Catholics do not have Bible school, Sunday school, or Bible study groups that help teach "what it's all about."

Actually I think there are a lot of Bible study groups (in homes but with the support of the parishes) in Catholic churches now, but there's nothing as "universal" as the adult Sunday school classes in Protestant churches. I think a lot of Catholics join in "ecumenical" Bible studies in homes and work places these days, as well. But those doing so are nowhere near the majority of those attending services.

Are Catholics who just go to Mass on obligatory days of worship, hold to the fasts, partake of the sacraments, in the process taught to be good Christians?

If that's all, I would doubt it. In "our day" Catholic schools were intended to fill this need, though their success was spotty (many coming out of them wounded rather than healed, if popular "general knowledge" serves). But even Catholic schools seem in retreat now.

Is the making of a good Catholic, the making of a good Christian, possible without an organization like Opus Dei?

Most of the faithful probably go on frequent retreats, where there is good teaching. Catholic television programming can't be overlooked. Diocesan-level Catholic journalism runs circles around Protestant journalism (only the Southern Baptists, among Protestants, come close). And Catholic campus ministries (Newman Clubs) at secular universities are extensive and usually headed by priests.

I personally feel there is a prevailing attitude that says: "This is the way we do it; don't ask questions."

Some priests and bishops probably still have this attitude, but most now probably would consider it very "anti-Vatican-II." There's much more openness and a desire to dialogue with inquirers now.

Do Orthodox Christians have activities like Bible study groups or an organization like Opus Dei?

There are many Bible studies, and even some adult Sunday school classes, though they're far from universal. There are regional seminars and retreats, and in many places monasteries play a major role in the formation of the faithful. I know of nothing quite like Opus Dei, though Russia and Romania have important lay Orthodox ministries and organizations.

Are Orthodox Christian converts who come from other religions, more learned in the Bible than Orthodox Christians who were raised in the faith?

Probably. Converts in general tend to be more "vitally interested" in the inner doctrines and workings of their faiths than those raised in them.

Is the OC faith similar to my conception of Catholicism, i.e., "This is the way we do it, and don't ask questions"?

No, I've never seen this attitude in Orthodoxy. I met an Eastern European priest in the Vintondale OC a couple of years ago and he could not have been more open and eager to discuss any questions raised.

And of whom are the questions asked, if and when they arise?

Anyone can teach, though priests, monks, and bishops are in the best positions to do so. But recently our parish sponsored a seminar led by a layman from the nearby Greek Orthodox Church, an expert on relationships who had developed a biblical approach. In Orthodoxy many of the most esteemed teachers (called "elders") are not ordained, and even bishops often defer to their greater wisdom and experience of God.

If one is to do one's daily work in the spirit of and for God....how does one manage to do that if one hates the profession they're in or are locked into a mundane job due to lack of a better one because no better one is available or obtainable? To me, that signifies acceptance of the notion: This is God's plan for me and I'll not question but just accept. It seems to me it's easier to work for God if one is in a profession one loves rather than one is yoked to out of need or circumstance.

Good points and questions, except that we're never to "settle" for something second-best for the long term; if you yearn for a more "fitting" vocation, consider it God's prompting and work toward it. The Old Testament is full of faithful men and women who rose to high offices by aspiring to be and do more. With faith, this is almost always possible. But even if your best job offer is greeter at Wal-Mart, greet the people in and with the love of God (though I don't mean "spiritualizing" it beyond being hearty and sincere in your welcome). Do your best in that position until God, through and sometimes despite your efforts, gives you a promotion.

I'm wondering if the Masonic Rite organization (having been told that a strong faith in God is one of the conditions of membership), is the Protestant equivalent of the Catholic Opus Dei? I've been told the Masons are not exclusively Protestant....

Actually, its requirement of faith is about the same as that in Alcoholics Anonymous. "However you conceive of God or god" is fine. I've known 32nd-degree Jewish Masons, though at the time (years ago) I also was told they could go no higher than that. The Catholic Church has in the past prohibited membership in it as a virtual cult (I'm not sure of its current position on Masonry), and most conservative Baptists agree with this, as I do, though some Orthodox are Masons. Ironically, the Masons are a gnostic cult, as they are based on "secret" teachings like the gnostics, and orthodox Christians believe there should be no aspects of the faith that are not available to be known freely by all. The Eastern Orthodox who join "get around" this by saying it's just a charitable organization and not a religion, but I consider this casuistry.

You say you had no knowledge of Opus Dei until recently. Knowing or suspecting your hunger for knowledge about things pertaining to religion, is it possible that Opus Dei is also a somewhat secretive organization?

I'm no expert, but based on the articles I've read on Opus Dei, I don't think it's "secret" in that sense. We Orthodox say that we have some doctrines, like the presence of the body and blood of Christ in the communion bread and wine and our reverence of the Blessed Virgin, that are "internal," not for speaking about casually in "the world." But all these teachings are easy to find in books and I think if anyone showed strong desire to understand them, most priests and bishops would openly discuss them with such inquirers. I think Opus Dei has been like this.

One last thought/question: During Orthodox Christian services, it seems that non-Orthodox Christians are allowed to approach the priest for a blessing (though not communion) while communion is being offered. Is this something the Roman Catholics practice also? I found this to be a very welcoming gesture and made one feel to "come taste." Is this a universal practice among OC congregations or a matter of individual clergy choice?

I think it is universally practiced among Orthodox, though some priests may have not seen it requested in many years and may be "taken aback" to see it. Some Orthodox churches are very "protective" of communion, almost presenting it in a way that even Orthodox don't feel comfortable coming forward. This is changing, I think, and would be the exception in America, but in Greece and Russia, especially if English is your only language, you might be rejected until the priest gets better acquainted with you. In the Vintondale church (which is "Russian" by background) I had the impression that only a few in the small congregation were expected to come for communion and others weren't encouraged. But in Conemaugh, also in a "Russian" church but with an "American" priest, after revealing my parish membership back in California, I was welcomed to join the sacrament. I've been in a Catholic church in which non-Catholic visitors were encouraged to come forward for a blessing without communing, but am not aware how widely it is practiced

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