As many of you know, Jay is a supernumerary member of Opus Dei. I, while not a member, am a co-operator and participate in lots of Opus Dei sponsored activities, including the retreat I just returned from. I have great fondness and respect for the organization and simply cannot understand why, when I mention it, so many people look uncomfortable.
I have recently been doing some research to figure out why Opus Dei has a "reputation", and all I have come up with is fluff. Yet, for a something so completely unsubstantiated, there certainly is a lot of material to be found suggesting that Opus Dei is secretive, ultra-rich, a cult, elitist, actually controlling the Vatican, demeaning to women, or any other number of sensationalistic ideas that people want to put forth. Most of these theories pre-date The Da Vinci Code, so I can't even point my finger and say that Dan Brown started it all, although he certainly fueled the fire.
So what is it then? I must say I am helpless to understand. In my experience, Opus Dei helps people to become better Christians through being better at whoever they already are: employees, homemakers, spouses, parents and friends. The idea is that the world will be transformed through the transformation of individuals, so the more people learn to live the virtues truly and for the love of God, the better off the world will become.
Through Opus Dei formation, Jay and I have learned such shocking and scandalous notions as: think of others before yourself, pray a lot, make sacrifices for the good of others, be the best you can be at whatever job you do, be cheerful, trust God, strive to improve yourself, and other similar things.
But most of all, we have learned to thoroughly and completely trust God, as we are his children. This is what brings peace, and goodness knows I could not be dealing with my life right now if I did not have this total trust and peace. I credit my Opus Dei formation for the level at which I have arrived at this.
Opus Dei, of course, wants to grow so its formation can reach more people. This is a good thing, nothing scary or threatening. The group is not chasing people down and making them sign up, but instead encourages them to attend activities and then decide for themselves. Once someone decides to join, he or she actually has to wait awhile to be sure that really want to be a part of the work. Just to take myself as an example, in the ten years or so that I have been attending Opus Dei activities, I have never been pressured (or even asked) by anyone inside the organization to join.
Opus Dei does not tell its members how to think or how to vote, it only asks that one form his or her own conscience based on the principals of the Catholic faith (which all Catholics should be doing anyway). Opus Dei does not separate members from their geographical parishes, rather it encourages them to be as involved as possible. It supplements a Catholic's parish activities rather than replaces them.
Pope John Paul II was very supportive of the organization, as is Pope Benedict, so there is no truth to the idea that it is a maverick, wacked-out, red-headed stepchild of the church. Rather, there are many, many diocesan priests who are members themselves, though not actually Opus Dei priests.
So, I simply don't understand why people are suspicious of, put off by or otherwise threatened by Opus Dei. I, for one, think its great and am a far better and happier person for the principals I have learned through my involvement with it.
(Oh, and if any of my readers decide to join after reading this post, please let me know so I can pick up my free toaster! ;-).