The Women of Opus Dei
By Miriam Díez i Bosch
NEW YORK, OCT. 19, 2009 (Zenit.org).- We tracked down Marie Oates in Opus Dei headquarters in New York. Her desire to show how women live the Opus Dei charism resulted in her book “Women of Opus Dei: In Their Own Words."
Coedited with Linda Ruf and Jenny Driver (Crossroad Publishing, 2009), the book's profiles range from a Harvard doctor, to stay-at-home moms, to an MIT graduate; it aims to introduce "the women in Catholicism's most intriguing organization."
ZENIT: Finally someone is talking about women in the Opus Dei. Women make up half -- some believe more than half -- of the total number of members of Opus Dei in the United States and worldwide, but most people do not know you. Why this lack of protagonism?
Oates: As part of the Catholic Church, Opus Dei exists to help lay men and women find and love God through their work -- whatever that may be -- and the everyday events that fill a normal life. But having a vocation to Opus Dei does not change the fact that members are still simply lay faithful, the same as other lay faithful in the Catholic Church.
People in Opus Dei do not wear their vocation to Opus Dei on their sleeves. In general, they try to focus on being an "ordinary guy or gal" with their colleagues, family and friends, all the while trying to be more like Christ in their work and with everyone with whom they come in contact. In this way, each one strives to personally give glory to God and to give Christian witness through the way they do their work and through their personal relationships.
Readers will find that there is plenty of "protagonism" -- as well as human imperfections and defects too -- among the women featured in the book.
Each one is the protagonist of her unique and personal effort to live out her calling to holiness as a lay person.
ZENIT: Is there a prototype of a woman of Opus Dei?
Oates: No. As readers will see, the women featured in "Women of Opus Dei: In Their Own Words" are all unique.
The women in the book, just like all the women -- and men -- in Opus Dei, come from all walks of life. Four of the 15 women featured in the book are converts to Catholicism. Three of the women featured are of African American heritage; several come from Asian and Hispanic backgrounds. Several are stay-at-home mothers -- an important professional work esteemed as such by St. Josemaría Escrivá. Several are mothers who raise their families and have other professions they carry out.
There’s a scientist, a couple of medical doctors -- including one of the founders of the Hospice Movement in the United States, hospitality services professionals, a childcare professional, several educators, the president of a women’s college, the executive director of a non-profit organization, etc.
The majority of the women are married, some are single. What they share in common is their vocation -- which is the same calling regardless of their different circumstances.
Though they each have their own personal shortcomings and struggles like everyone, they all love their Catholic faith deeply and find that their vocation to Opus Dei helps them cherish, live and pass on that faith more readily.
Women (and men) in Opus Dei are normal Catholics who want to respond daily to God’s deep love and goodness.
ZENIT: Is there anything distinctive Opus Dei offers to women in terms of formation, ways of behaving?
Oates: The formation offered by Opus Dei, a personal prelature of the Catholic Church, simply echoes the Christian formation recommended by the Church for all the faithful -- men and women. The Christian programs are the same for men and women -- though they are carried out independently of
The independence of the women’s formation programs from the men’s primarily was part of the foundational charism St. Josemaría received from God. It works effectively for Opus Dei’s formational activities, but it might not for other Catholic organizations.
I guess one of the distinctive features of the formation is that it is offered by lay people and priests. It strives to be practical and to help people live the Christian virtues in their place of work, in their normal daily activities.
ZENIT: In your book it is impossible to find the political affiliation of the women featured. Was that done on purpose or is it simply not an issue?
Oates: That was done on purpose because it is not an issue. Let me explain. Members of Opus Dei, as free human beings, are encouraged to be responsible citizens, to vote, to take an interest in the public policies that affect them and others within their various countries and communities.
That said, members of Opus Dei are completely free in the realm of voting, public policies, political party affiliation, etc. Opus Dei is totally non-political. Its ends are completely spiritual. People in Opus Dei tend to be all over the map in their politics -- some are liberal, some are conservative, some are moderate, etc. As devout Catholics, they often share similar points of view on moral “hot button” issues like abortion, euthanasia, sexual ethics, social justice, bioethics, etc. -- all of which have political repercussions.
Still, they are encouraged to approach and decide on those and other issues of public policy in accord with their conscience. There’s no one approach that people in Opus Dei adopt when considering those and other public policy matters. As Christians, they pray about and ponder the matters, and then come up with their own political decisions based on the options available to them.
ZENIT: Do you think the Opus Dei these women represent is the Opus Dei the founder, St. Josemaría Escrivá, envisaged?
Oates: I like to think so. These women are all normal -- they are not perfect, but they are committed to struggle each day to keep Jesus front and center in their lives. We are all “works in progress” until we die.
Our existence on earth is a pilgrimage as we walk in time toward our definitive destiny: eternal life with God. God gives us time here on earth to cultivate the talents we have been given and to make the best of them in his service and the service of souls around us.
I think St. Josemaría would be happy with the dedication, focus and diversity of these women -- and the thousands not included in this book.
Probably, if he had them in a room all together, he would not congratulate them for being in Opus Dei, rather he would challenge them to be more valiant women. He would encourage them to try to be more generous in their love of God and spirit of service. He would urge them to dream apostolically with a world vision, to continue struggling to be better, to convert daily.
He often said that about himself, i.e., that he personally played the role of the prodigal son each day in his own life, and that most of us need to have little and big conversions each day, turning back toward God.
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On the Net:
"Women of Opus Dei: In Their Own Words": www.amazon.com/Women-Opus-Dei-Their-Words/dp/082452425X