What is Opus Dei?, by Dominique le Tourneau

What is Opus Dei?, by Dominique le Tourneau

Michael Gilchrist

by Dominique le Tourneau

(Gracewing, 2001, 126pp, $21.95. Available from AD Books)

Reviewed by Michael Gilchrist

With 84,000 members worldwide, including 1,800 priests, there is no doubt that Opus Dei has made a significant mark on the Catholic Church since its founding in Spain in 1928. During the pontificate of John Paul II it was evident that Opus Dei was held in particularly high regard by the Holy Father as a paragon of orthodoxy at a time of widespread theological dissent within the Church.

Not surprisingly, there have been numerous books about Opus Dei, both by its friends and detractors. Regarding the latter, in a sense Opus Dei seems these days to have taken over from the Jesuit order as an embodiment of Catholicism's "dark side". For the generally anti-religious or dissenters within the Church, a derogatory reference to Opus Dei elicits the same nods of agreement that come when words like Crusades, Inquisition or Galileo are mentioned.

In all cases, we are dealing with a combination of ignorance and bigotry. The Da Vinci Code is only the latest in the line with its falsifications and distortions.

The present compact work aims to present the basic facts about Opus Dei - its founder Saint Josemar’a Escriv‡, establishment and expansion, distinctive spirituality, canonical position and role within the Church, membership, apostolate and theo- logy.

Essentially Opus Dei embodies what Vatican II taught about sanctifying the temporal order, seeking holiness in the context of ordinary life and work.

The author is a French priest and canon lawyer, and presumably himself a member of Opus Dei, being described as "someone who knows Opus Dei from the inside."

While What is Opus Dei? is clearly an apologetic for the organisation, it is not presented in a heavy-handed manner, but rather cites the relevant information and where necessary presents the Opus Dei response to certain misunderstandings or criticisms. It is therefore a useful book for those wishing to get their facts straight or respond to criticisms, or who might be interested in entering the ranks of Opus Dei in some capacity.

The following quote is indicative of the book's flavour: "The only influence Opus Dei has on the work of its members is through the spiritual training it gives them, which motivates them to become increasingly aware of the implications of the Gospel message and to strive to apply it to their daily lives."

Clearly Opus Dei is an organisation for mature Catholics, not for the young and impressionable. As with the priesthood, those who enter need to have had a reasonable experience of the world, to possess a balanced temperament and to under- stand the implications of any decisions they make. Over-zealous and undiscerning recruitment in both cases can prove counterproductive. These days, hopefully, wiser heads will avoid the kinds of problems that can arise from this.

The present book would be a helpful resource in this regard.

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