Saturday, August 29, 2009

Young Women Participate in Service in the City - Boston 2009

The Joy of Giving to Those Who Cannot Give Back

August, 27, 2009

In Social Initiatives of the Opus Dei website

While summer is synonymous with TV reruns and midnight burritos for many high school students, fourteen girls from around the US gathered in Boston this summer to spend part of their vacation in service. Service in the City is a program for high school women that engages them in community service opportunities around the city, and teaches that true citizenship starts in everyday life among family and friends.

This year the girls spent many hours every day volunteering at different charitable organizations: playing with children at the Salvation Army day care; performing a talent show at the Vernon Hall nursing home in Cambridge; compiling clothing packages at Cradles to Crayons, an organization in North Quincy dedicated to providing children with the necessary items they need to flourish. After a full day around Boston, the high school girls returned to the residence in Back Bay for workshops on topics like human dignity, moral personality, identity and freedom.

When asked for the themes they thought inspired Service in the City, the participants volunteered: Love. Friendship. Perseverance. Service. Dignity. Respect. As one explained, “Service is not only work, but also the way you interact with the people you are working for.”

Service in the City is sponsored by Bayridge Residence, a student residence for young women in Boston’s Back Bay and a corporate apostolate of Opus Dei. Bayridge residents Emily Austin, a doctoral student at Boston University, and Helen Keefe, an undergraduate at Harvard, organized and led this year’s program.

“The goal is that these girls go back home with a greater sense of love and responsibility for those around them, manifested in little deeds of service,” said Emily, director of Service in the City. “I know we’re succeeding when one girl tells me that after her experience washing dishes at Rosie’s Place, a resource center for homeless women in Roxbury, she wants to work on not complaining at home when it’s her turn to do the dishes.”

More on the Movie on St. Josemaria

Filming starts on biography of Opus Dei founder Print E-mail

By Mark Pattison - Catholic News Service

Friday, 28 August 2009

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Filming has begun in Argentina on a biography of St. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, the founder of Opus Dei. The movie, "There Be Dragons," is expected to be released in the summer or fall of 2010.

Directing the film is Roland Joffe, whose past films include "The Mission" and "The Killing Fields."

Joffe, who also wrote the screenplay, said he was not told what to write or how to present either the saint or the group, a personal prelature within the church, after earlier rejecting an offer to film a script provided by Opus Dei.

The film is set at the time of the Spanish Civil War, which tore apart the European nation during the second half of the 1930s.

And, likening it to his own creative freedom, Joffe said St. Josemaria "made no attempt to influence the people he worked with in terms of their politics." The director spoke at an Aug. 23 press conference in Argentina that was conducted in English, Spanish and Portuguese; U.S. reporters were allowed to listen in.

"At that time, that's pretty heroic. That's a time when almost all human beings were faced with making extraordinary choices," he said.

Charlie Cox, whose past film credits include "Stardust" and "Casanova," plays the priest. Wes Bentley, who had parts in "Ghost Rider" and "American Beauty," plays Manolo, a friend of Josemaria's who goes in and out of his life. Ukrainian actress Olga Kurylenko, who has acted in "Quantum of Solace," "Hitman" and "Max Payne," plays Ildiko, a Hungarian woman who casts her lot with the Republican movement, which falls to the Francisco Franco-led rightist rebels.

Other actors in "There Be Dragons" include Dougray Scott, Geraldine Chaplin, Derek Jacobi and Charles Dance.

"We found ourselves making a film about love -- human love and divine love. About hate -- which I guess is human -- about betrayal and mistakes," Joffe said. Further, "I don't know if there's anybody who wants to live his life without meaning. So it's also a story about people trying to find meaning about their lives, and that's a powerful kind of story."

Responding to a question about source material for the script, Joffe said, "I researched as much as any writer can. History is not available to us; attempts at history are available to us. As an artist, one takes a difficult step that fiction is a way of understanding the truth.

"There were certain liberties I could take if those liberties could take us to the personal issues that people felt," Joffe continued, saying he was taken with St. Josemaria's idea that "a way to God is found through everyday life. And that life is also found through the Spanish Civil War. That is still felt by Spaniards very much today."

"I've been to many Opus Dei centers, and met many Opus Dei members (in doing research for the movie). And I've yet to encounter anything odd-seeming," said Cox. "I've been brought up a Catholic. I'm not a great practicing Christian. I've been to church infrequently, but I've never stopped going."

Cox added there is "an inner journey I've been going on during this film. I don't know where it will lead. My relationship with the Catholic Church and with God has certainly been profoundly affected for the better throughout this process," he added.

Asked whether he thought St. Josemaria was really a saint, Cox answered, "It's an impossible question to answer. ... I have to leave that up to the Catholic Church and not to myself."

Joffe recalled that when he made "The Mission," which dealt with Jesuit missionary activity in South America at the time of the slave trade, he used two Jesuits as advisers: a "very, very right-wing Jesuit -- those things do exist -- and a left-wing Jesuit, Father Daniel Berrigan."

He said he asked Father John Wauck, an Opus Dei priest who is a professor of literature and communication of the faith at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, "whether he'd serve the same purpose as Daniel Berrigan -- explain to Charlie (Cox) what he knew about Josemaria ... in as open and honest way as he could, what it means to be a priest. That's what he gave up his rather precious time to do, and I'm grateful for it."

When one questioner asked whether he thought "There Be Dragons" was some kind of response to the movie "The Da Vinci Code," which characterized Opus Dei as a bizarre cult, Joffe replied, "Well, it'd be a very expensive response." The price tag of "There Be Dragons" is estimated at $30 million.

"'The Da Vinci Code' stands on its own legs, whatever they may be," he added. "I think they took a rather cliched view and created a character and said he came from Opus Dei, and that is a bit much. But it's a fine movie."

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Opus Dei to be in a movie again

August 22, 2009

Bringing a Saint’s Life to the Screen

The film director Roland Joffé, who has yet to regain the acclaim he won a generation ago for “The Killing Fields” and “The Mission,” is shooting a movie in Argentina focused on the founder of Opus Dei, an elite and powerful organization within the Roman Catholic Church.

The film, “There Be Dragons,” set during the Spanish Civil War, weaves fictional characters created by Mr. Joffé with the story of St. Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer, the Spaniard who founded Opus Dei and was canonized by the church.

The project was initiated by a member of Opus Dei, is partly produced and financed by the group’s members and has enlisted an Opus Dei priest to consult on the set. News of the project has set off criticism among some former Opus Dei members that the movie will be little more than propaganda for the organization. But Mr. Joffé, in the first interview he has given about the film, said that he had been given complete creative control and that Opus Dei never had any influence on the project.

He ditched the script he was originally given, he said, because he did not want to make what he called a “biopic” about Escrivá’s life. But, he added, he was intrigued by Escrivá’s ideas about the power of forgiveness and the capacity of every human being for sainthood. Opus Dei — the name is Latin for work of God — teaches that ordinary work can be a path to sanctity if the believer maintains a demanding regimen of religious practices intended to achieve holiness.

“I was very interested in the idea of embarking on a piece of work that took religion seriously on its own terms and didn’t play a game where one approached religion denying its validity,” Mr. Joffé said.

When pressed, he called himself a “wobbly agnostic” but added, “I do believe that rigid atheism is a rather intellectually short-sighted position.”

The Opus Dei members behind the project were delighted to enlist Mr. Joffé, whose reputation was that of a political leftist who made films that asked profound ethical questions.

In the 1980s Mr. Joffé was nominated for Academy Awards as best director for “The Killing Fields,” about the genocidal war in Cambodia, and “The Mission,” about Jesuit missionaries who try to defend a South American tribe from Portuguese slave traders. But his career has sputtered since, with movies like “The Scarlet Letter” and “Captivity,” a horror movie, earning him nominations for the Golden Raspberry Awards, which honor the worst of the film industry.

Mr. Joffé’s portrayal of Escrivá’s actions during the 1930s is likely to be provocative, especially in Europe. Some historians have accused Escrivá of collaborating with Franco. Mr. Joffé said he concluded after doing extensive research that Escrivá had been eager to avoid doing anything that would jeopardize the church’s position in Spain.

“Josemaría himself left Spain, and basically stayed out, and my sense is that he didn’t agree with and didn’t want to get involved in politics at the time,” he said.

Opus Dei has received tremendous publicity in recent years, most of it negative, from “The Da Vinci Code,” the 2003 novel by Dan Brown, and the 2006 movie based on the book. In both, Opus Dei, which claims more than 80,000 priest and lay members worldwide, is portrayed as a murderous cult whose members flog themselves with whips and wear barbed chains around their thighs.

Some members do practice what they call a mild form of “corporal mortification.” But what has made the group even more an object of suspicion is that some of its members do not readily identify themselves as such, and occupy influential positions in business, politics and other professions.

Heriberto Schoeffer, an independent film producer in Los Angeles and a member of Opus Dei, said he first conceived of a film dramatizing the life of Escrivá after reading a book about his escape over the Pyrenees during the Spanish Civil War. “All I wanted is for people to see a good side of him, because so many bad things are said about him and Opus Dei,” Mr. Schoeffer said.

With financing from a friend who is also an Opus Dei member, Mr. Schoeffer contracted a screenwriter, Barbara Nicolosi, a former nun and conservative Catholic who started a training program for Christians in Hollywood. She said in an interview that it took her two years, and three research trips to Spain, to write the script, an “Indiana Jones adventure story about a guy who was motivated by Jesus.”

Mr. Schoeffer said that he showed the script to Hugh Hudson, the director of “Chariots of Fire,” who thought the screenplay “smelled pro-Franco, so he didn’t want to do it,” and then brought it to Alejandro González Iñárritu, the Mexican director whose films include “Babel” and “21 Grams,” who found it too complicated.

Mr. Joffé also turned it down initially, but he said he reconsidered after he saw video of Escrivá answering a question from a Jewish girl who wanted to convert to Catholicism. Escrivá told her that she should not convert, because it would be disrespectful to her parents. “I thought this was so open-minded,” Mr. Joffé said.

In writing the new script, Mr. Joffé came up with a convoluted plot in which a young journalist discovers that his estranged father has a long-buried connection to Escrivá.

To perform research, Mr. Joffé traveled to South America, Spain and Italy. Mr. Schoeffer, who has since left the project, said they met in Rome with two prominent members of Opus Dei: Joaquín Navarro-Valls, who was the Vatican spokesman under Pope John Paul II, and the Rev. John Wauck, a priest who is a professor of literature and communication of the faith at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, in Rome. (Father Wauck is now the on-set adviser).

The British actor Charlie Cox (“Stardust”) plays Escrivá, and Wes Bentley (“American Beauty”) plays the journalist’s father. The ensemble cast also includesDerek Jacobi and Geraldine Chaplin.

The financing of about $30 million came from about 100 investors, and raising it was a struggle, said Ignacio G. Sancha, the lead producer, a Spanish financier and lawyer who is also a member of Opus Dei.

The film’s backers are not avoiding controversy, and may even be anticipating it. They have hired Paul Lauer, the publicist for Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ,” another religious epic with a no-name cast and a big-name director, which cashed in on all the attention it generated.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Inside Opus Dei's world headquarters

El Padre

Inside Opus Dei's world headquarters

By Dr. Robert Moynihan, reporting from Rome

In 2006, when The Da Vinci Code was released as a film, some high Church officials strongly objected to it because it was based on the idea that Jesus married and fathered children and because it depicted Opus Dei, a recognized Prelature within the Catholic Church, as a murderous cult.

.Angels & Demons, which came out this spring and also features the Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (played by actor Tom Hanks, photo) and is about Langdon's attempt to help the Holy See thwart a plot by the Illuminati, an ancient secret brotherhood, to kill four cardinals and bomb the Vatican as a new Pope is being elected.

This spring, the Vatican's newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, said in a review that Angels & Demons was historically inaccurate and filled with stereotypes, but the paper concluded it was "harmless" entertainment and not a danger to the Church. (The newspaper also praised director Ron Howard's "dynamic direction" and the "magnificent" reconstruction of locations like St. Peter's Basilica and the Sistine Chapel. Much of the film was shot on sets that painstakingly recreated Church landmarks....). To read, click here.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Mel Gibson, Marriage, Divorce and Christ

Torn Asunder: Divorced from His message, National Review (Online), April 24, 2009

Mel and Robyn Gibson's recently announced divorce proceedings set the gossip and entertainment pages abuzz. Many wondered how Mel Gibson, the producer of The Passion of the Christ and a professed Catholic (although the church he reportedly attends near Los Angeles is not recognized by the Catholic Church), would reconcile his divorce with his beliefs, which hold that divorce is wrong.Divorce among Catholics is not new, and divorce among movie stars is de rigueur.

What makes the Gibsons' story striking is that they had been able to buck the divorce epidemic for the past 28 years and raise seven children together. Their large family, the length of their marriage, and their apparent determination to live by the teachings of the Catholic Church in the Hollywood stratosphere make them an anomaly. Indeed, even as people try to paint Mel as a hypocrite, many describe the Gibson marriage as extraordinary for its endurance; some even describe it as a success. But if Mel and Robyn truly have been trying to live by the teachings of the Catholic faith, a divorce cannot and never will mean success.

Catholic teachings on marriage are rooted in several things Jesus said, including:

"From the beginning of creation, 'God made man male and female.' For this reason a man may leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and two shall become one. So they are no longer two but one. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder." Mark 10:6-9

'"Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery." Luke 16:18

These unequivocal pronouncements stunned Jesus' disciples. "The disciples said to Him, 'If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry.' " Matthew 19:10.

The early Church's emphasis on Christian marriage echoed what Jesus taught and played a key role in the spread of Christianity, according to renowned religion sociologist (and agnostic) Rodney Stark. In his best-selling book, The Rise of Christianity, Stark argues that Christianity's rapid expansion in the first few centuries A.D. had a lot to do with the countercultural mores of the early Christians regarding marriage, sexual ethics, and the value of human life. Drawing on a variety of historical resources, Stark describes the Mediterranean world at the time of Christ as a society in which promiscuity, prostitution, bisexuality, homosexuality, birth control, infanticide, and abortion were widely practiced and sanctioned. Moreover, a preference for sons at that time led to female infanticide. Marital infidelity was common - when men would acquiesce to marry at all.

According to Stark, the early Church especially attracted female converts precisely because its teachings emphasized the importance of marriage, family, marital fidelity, and chastity, and forbade divorce, artificial birth control (already practiced then), abortion, and infanticide - all practices that objectified the women of those times, making them second-class citizens. Stark argues that early Christian women enjoyed tremendous status, respect, and an improved quality of life compared with their contemporaries. Not surprisingly, Christian families soon began to outpace their counterparts in terms of progeny, and thus proceeded to expand their presence (and values) demographically.

On a practical level, if the Gibsons do divorce, Robyn, as a single mother of the Gibson children, will have few financial concerns other than the difficulties of managing a few hundred million dollars. But their situation is not the norm. Many women and children - and sometimes men - are much more vulnerable to harsh economic consequences and a lower quality of life after divorce. Also, research has shown that children of divorce frequently encounter emotional and educational setbacks.

The Catholic Church teaches that spouses can - and sometimes should - separate in cases of physical and emotional abuse, but, in the eyes of God, the marriage itself remains indissoluble. Its meaning is rooted in God's fidelity to his covenant, especially Christ's permanent union with His Church. Only God can judge the hearts of those facing difficult marital situations, but if we take Him at His word, quitting is not really an option.

- Marie T. Oates is a communications consultant and the lead editor of the book Women of Opus Dei: In Their Own Words (Crossroad Publishing, April 2009)

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Holy Week and Easter 2009

Pope Benedict XVI has taken advantage of these Holy days to speak to us about our shared Christian identity as Catholics. In a world that increasingly tilts toward secularism away from God, we need these words of the Holy Father to help keep Jesus Christ at the center of our lives, informing our choices big and small each day.

Everyone should try to read and absorb the inspiring and insightful words of the Holy Father. Here are links to some of his Holy Week homilies:

Palm Sunday 2009

Holy Thursday - Crism Mass

Holy Thursday - The Lord's Last Supper

Good Friday's Way of the Cross at the Colosseum

Easter Vigil

Easter Sunday

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Problems We Face Stem From a Lack of Personal Responsibility

As popular sentiment continues to crest in opposition to the AIG bonuses, big financial firms and related players in general, some (like Alan Greenspan) have described our current market meltdown as a cyclical phenomenon. In other words, this large, across-the-board economic crash should be expected to occur every 100 years or so...thus making this crash the equivalent to a person needing to get new fillings every 20 to 30 years -- they just fall apart after a period of time.

Perhaps it's true that such trends can be tracked over time, but why not just call a spade a spade: a number of financial professionals (including government regulators) lacked personal responsibility with respect to practicing appropriate ethics when managing other peoples' money. This lack of personal responsibility translates into negligence at the least and criminality in many, if not most cases. More importantly, it translates into huge financial and job losses for tens of millions of people all over the country, indeed the world.

Given the different accounts emerging (A must see is this segment on PBS's News Hour -
Author Traces Demise of Bear Stearns in 'House of Cards'), about our economic melt down and the ensuing mayhem and finger-pointing, it's easy to see that peoples' greed blinded them over time. But at core, these people lacked courage and virtue when it came time to do the right thing. They let themselves get carried along and led many innocent people over the cliff with them. That's why until there is a concerted effort to reinstate ethics and virtue into our financial and business sector, we will not cure what ails our economy, and we certainly will not reinstate peoples' confidence in such a flawed system.

To read some points St. Josemaria wrote about responsibility, click here.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Having vs. Being

People are reeling from the current economic crisis gripping our nation, indeed the world. They (we) are looking for answers to give us a sense of peace amidst the turmoil. Some of the questions we want to ask include: How do we make things right again? What was the era of prosperity we just experienced? If it was so prosperous, why do we find ourselves so beset by fear, insecurity and confusion now, so shortly after its collapse, its "fall"? How can I find or create opportunity when everyone and everything seems to be closing down, hunkering down? What are the key elements to maintaining a prosperous society? Can our leaders get us back on track?

A number of factors have contributed to our current situation. Some people who should have known better acted irresponsibly out of greed (For more on this, watch CNBC's David Faber's fascinating and informative documentary House of Cards.). And yet, while top financial players (in business and government) may be responsible for the widespread sale of shoddy investment instruments, we cannot ignore that large segments of our population routinely increased their consumption by increasing their debt -- not a healthy habit.

Since our economic system is in collapse, and each one of us plays a role of some sort within our nation's economic and cultural system, we should think about what makes for a healthy economy and how our outlook and behavior can contribute to improving the current situation. I recently came across these words of John Paul II which might provide some new insights around what consumption should mean to a Christian:

"A given culture reveals its overall understanding of life through the choices it makes in production and consumption. It is here that the phenomenon of consumerism arises. In singling out new needs and new means to meet them, one must be guided by a comprehensive picture of the person which respects all the dimensions of his being and which subordinates his material and instinctive dimensions to his interior and spiritual ones. If, on the contrary, a direct appeal is made to human instincts--while ignoring in various ways the reality of the person as intelligent and free--then consumer attitudes and lifestyles can be created which are objectively improper and often damaging to the person's physical and spiritual health. Of itself, an economic system does not possess criteria for correctly distinguishing new and higher forms of satisfying human needs from artificial new needs which hinder the formation of a mature personality. Thus a great deal of educational and cultural work is urgently needed, including the education of consumers in the responsible use of their power of choice, the formation of a strong sense of responsibility among producers and among people in the mass media in particular, as well as the necessary intervention by public authorities...It is not wrong to want to live better; what is wrong is a style of life which is presumed to be better when it is directed towards "having" rather than "being," and which wants to have more, not in order to be more but in order to spend life in enjoyment as an end in itself.[75] It is therefore necessary to create lifestyles in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings and investments. In this regard, it is not a matter of the duty of charity alone, that is, the duty to give from one's "abundance," and sometimes even out of one's needs, in order to provide what is essential for the life of a poor person. I am referring to the fact that even the decision to invest in one place rather than another, in one productive sector rather than another, is always a moral and cultural choice. Given the utter necessity of certain economic conditions and of political stability, the decision to invest, that is, to offer people an opportunity to make good use of their own labor, is also determined by an attitude of human sympathy and trust in Providence, which reveal the human quality of the person making such decisions." CENTESIMUS ANNUS (On the Hundredth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum), #36 Pope John Paul II (May 1991)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

First Review of Soon-to-be Released Book - Women of Opus Dei: In Their Own Words

From Publishers Weekly - February 2, 2009

Women of Opus Dei: In Their Own Words Edited by M.T. Oates, Linda Ruf and Jenny Driver. Crossroad, $24.95 paper (224p) ISBN 978-0-8245-2425-8

The Catholic group Opus Dei (Latin for “work of God”) emerges in this compact collection of essays and interviews as an entity that gives its female members a deep sense of purpose amid ordinary and extraordinary circumstances. Whether they are stay-at-home mothers or professionals in academia and business, these women tell of lives changed by their faith and what they commonly refer to as “the Work.” Opus Dei members, according to founder St. Josemaría Escrivá, aspire to be “contemplative souls in the midst of the world who try to convert their work into prayer.” They do this through offering their work to Christ and following a spiritual regimen of daily prayer and regular theological development programs. Excerpts from Escrivá's writings and an explanation of the group's structure help fill out the selected narratives. Readers looking for the kind of intrigue found in The Da Vinci Code's treatment of this group won't find it here, but they will get an honest appraisal from women who know Opus Dei from the inside out. (Apr.)