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.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Women of Opus Dei: In Their Own Wordsby M. T. Oates, Linda Ruf, Jenny Driver
A doctor, a professor, a dancer, a stay-at-home mom, and a marketing executive are some of the inspiring women portrayed in this collection that describes the women of Opus Dei, a Roman Catholic organization composed of clergy and lay members dedicated to fostering Christian principles at all levels of society. Each essay, interview, and profile in this compilation
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A doctor, a professor, a dancer, a stay-at-home mom, and a marketing executive are some of the inspiring women portrayed in this collection that describes the women of Opus Dei, a Roman Catholic organization composed of clergy and lay members dedicated to fostering Christian principles at all levels of society. Each essay, interview, and profile in this compilation explores facets of Opus Dei that are unfamiliar to many. The DaVinci Code and other popular entertainments have whetted the interest in this controversial organization, and promulgated many assumptions that members of the organization contest. The women portrayed in this collection encompass an inspiring—and, for some, surprising—segment of a Catholic institution that encourages women around the globe to develop their skills and talents to the fullest and to be engaged in the world. Single, celibate women and those raising families describe their first encounters with Opus Dei, what made them decide to join, and how it transforms and orders their daily lives. Relevant information on the organization and workings of Opus Dei, its structure, and some of the key practices of the members are also discussed.
"An honest appraisal from women who know Opus Dei from the inside out." Publishers Weekly
"I loved these women! From changing diapers, to Harvard medical internships, to the top of a Tibetan mountain, they show all women how to confront the ordinary circumstances of life with extraordinary joy. Whether former atheists or cradle-Catholics, they have discovered a path that will inspire any woman who longs for a deeper way to deal with her days." Delia Gallagher, Vatican analyst and former CNN faith and values correspondent
"Perhaps no part of contemporary Roman Catholicism has been more misunderstood and misconstrued than has Opus Dei, especially in the days since the publication of the popular bestseller, The DaVinci Code. This collection of interviews and autobiographical statements, by contrast, offers its readers not only a sympathetic, but also a very informative, presentation of the prelature and is to be highly recommended to those who are interested in this influential organization." Phyllis Tickle, author, The Divine Hours
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Women of Opus Dei
In Their Own Words
By M.T. Oates, Linda Ruf, Jenny Driver
The Crossroad Publishing CompanyCopyright © 2009 M. T. Oates, Linda Ruf, and Jenny Driver, M.D.
All rights reserved.
Children of Their Father God
The Equality of Men and Women
To begin with, it must be clearly stated that the equal treatment and value of women and men is established in Opus Dei's statutes and all the formal documents describing Opus Dei. Women and men in Opus Dei share:
* the same vocation and the same plan of Christian formation (that is, ongoing group and individual formation, comparable in many ways to professional development programs, provided to the faithful of Opus Dei);
* the same practices of piety, the same Christian customs and warm, family outlook proper to Opus Dei;
* the same expectations that Opus Dei has for all its faithful. Each woman and man in Opus Dei is expected to: (1) strive to become saints by struggling each day to live their vocation to Opus Dei in his or her personal circumstances; and (2) to take advantage of the ongoing classes of instruction and supports provided to them by Opus Dei.
This equality is rooted in the Bible and stems directly from God's fatherhood. "God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them" (Gen. 1:27). Jesus, especially in the Gospel of St. John, speaks clearly and beautifully about God as a loving Father. "For the Father himself loves you" (John 16:27). "Your Father knows what you need before you ask him" (Matt. 6:8). There are many more references made expressly by Jesus attesting to the Fatherhood of God.
This concept, known as divine filiation, is the foundation of a vocation to Opus Dei and is derived from Catholicism's emphasis on God the Father as Creator and first person of the Blessed Trinity. In Christ Is Passing By, no. 64, St. Josemaría puts it this way:
Awareness that God is our Father brings joy to our conversion: it tells us that we are returning to our Father's house. This divine filiation is the basis of the spirit of Opus Dei. All men are children of God. But a child can look upon his father in many ways. We must try to be children who realize that the Lord, by loving us as his children, has taken us into his house, in the middle of the world, to be members of his family, so that what is his is ours, and what is ours is his, and to develop that familiarity and confidence which prompts us to ask him, like children, for the moon!
A child of God treats the Lord as his Father. He is not obsequious and servile, he is not merely formal and well-mannered: he is completely sincere and trusting. Men do not scandalize God. He can put up with all our infidelities. Our Father in heaven pardons any offence when his child returns to him, when he repents and asks for pardon. The Lord is such a good Father that he anticipates our desire to be pardoned and comes forward to us, opening his arms laden with grace.
Do I always work with the joy of one who knows he or she is a child of God? This is a question all members of Opus Dei try to reflect on at least once a week.
Understanding and having a firm conviction that God is a loving Father is what allows Christians, and therefore persons in Opus Dei, to flourish in living their vocation. It is the source of joy as well as their source of interior peace and strength.CHAPTER 2
From Toxicity to Transcendence
St. Josemaría and Contemplation in the Workplace
Jenny Driver, M.D., is an Instructor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and a numerary member of Opus Dei. She gave this presentation at a conference entitled "Passionately Loving the World" in Toronto, Canada, in January 2003. The conference was held to commemorate the centennial of the birth of St. Josemaría Escrivá, the founder of Opus Dei.
I am a physician, not an expert in theology or philosophy, and I never knew St. Josemaría personally. I do, however, consider myself an expert in one thing: stress. Like many of my colleagues, I am a connoisseur of stress. We have an ice cream shop in the United States called Baskin-Robbins. It has thirty-one flavors. If stress came in thirty-one flavors, I would have tasted each and every one of them. A recent poll listed medical internship as one of the top five most stressful jobs in the United States.
On July 1, the first day of internship, the only people in teaching hospitals more nervous than the new interns are the patients who know that they are being cared for by green recruits, fresh out of medical school. My first night on call I was awakened by a page from an anxious-sounding nurse who said, "Come quick. Mr. Jones's heart rate is in the 200s and I can't find his pulse." I sped off toward the unit, flipping through the little book that tells me what to do in emergencies, my heart rate rivaling that of Mr. Jones. Much to my embarrassment, I tripped on a wire and made the final leg of my journey on my stomach as if "sliding into home plate." I glanced at the EKG, then gave my first order as a physician. "Let's get ready to shock him." Much to my relief, my resident calmly walked in and shepherded me through the resuscitation.
That was the beginning of a love-hate relationship with my pager. On busy days my pager would go off forty to fifty times, calling me to emergencies or asking for sleeping pills or enemas. Occasionally we would receive a welcome message from a friend, like "Let's eat." We called that "friendly fire." Eating, sleeping, and other functions we had once considered vital became subject to the dictates of our pagers and the condition of our patients. During my internship year, it was routine to work 30-hour shifts and 120-hour workweeks in the intensive care unit, caring for the city's sickest patients on a few hours of sleep, or none. We worked fueled by caffeine, adrenaline, and the fear of making a mistake.
Within a few months of internship, the idealism with which interns initially embrace their role often gives way to a kind of cynicism. This is reflected in the slang commonly used in the hospital subculture. Patients who were very sick and not likely to leave the hospital soon became "rocks." One might ask an intern on the geriatrics service, "How big is your rock garden?" Getting a new patient from the emergency room during a night on call was called "taking a hit." We began to use "torture" analogies to describe our work. "I really got flogged with pages last night," or, "I was hit hard."
We helped each other work through experiences like having to tell a young mother that she was full of cancer or making an error that led to a patient's death. The emotional, physical, and existential stress took its toll on us. The changes in personality produced by this stress were described as "becoming toxic." It was an accepted part of the job, and we learned to overlook our colleagues' depression and irritability as "toxicity." Each one of us ultimately faced the questions, "Why am I doing this? What is the meaning of my patient's suffering? What is the value of my work?"
But there was no time to think about or answer these questions. Products of a contemplatively challenged society with few spiritual roots, the majority of us kept working and kept going, hoping that the angst brought on by our work would pass with time. My workplace was desperately in need of a soul. For me, that need was met by St. Josemaría's teaching about the possibility of contemplation in the midst of a frenetic work life, which helped me transform my work from an experience of sheer stress into a place where I can encounter God.
My experience of contemplation and an inner life began on a Himalayan peak in northern India, surrounded by Tibetan prayer flags, thin bits of cloth whipping in the wind, as if echoing the prayers of pilgrims before me who had climbed the mountain in search of peace and spiritual help. I added my brightly colored flags to the faded and tattered ones. I had left my home, my culture, and my religion behind and was spending my junior year abroad in India. A poster child for Generation X, I had been baptized Catholic but fell away from the Church in childhood despite the example of a very devout mother and a Catholic education. I was turned off by what I considered the "corruption of organized religion" and the materialism of my society.
When I went off to college I had a deep spiritual longing. I majored in -isms and Indian studies and longed to "escape" from the world and from the ordinary. In Existentialism 101 I was intrigued by Martin Heidegger's concept of "authentic existence," a state of "mindfulness of being" in contrast to the "forgetfulness of being" in which one surrenders to the everyday world and becomes lost in its concerns. I lived a double life: my spiritual interests were my own private quest and were not integrated with the reality of my social and school life.
I climbed the mountain because there, far away from the worries and stresses of the world, I felt peaceful. I was able to forget about the contradictions and inconsistencies of my own life. It was easy to have a spirituality that demanded nothing of me that I didn't want to give. I felt I had escaped the "world" and material things with all their negative influence on me. I had moments of light and inspiration. Once, when I was spending time in Dharamsala, in northern India, where the Dalai Lama lived in exile, I noticed that bells would ring at odd times. I wondered what they meant. I went up to an elderly Tibetan woman, and asked her what the bells were for. She smiled and laughed: "They are to remind you that it is now." At that time, I did not grasp the meaning of her words. It was only later, much later, through the words of St. Josemaría, that I came to understand them.
As soon as I returned from India, my Buddhist veneer wore off. Fighting with my brothers and full of complaints, I was really longing for my mountain. I had no way of integrating my "spirituality" with the reality of each day. It was about that time that my mother introduced me to some women in Opus Dei.
I was immediately fascinated by their ideal of being contemplatives in the midst of the world, something I thought to be a contradiction. I was moved by their obvious love for and intimacy with God, who was a person to them, someone loving and understanding. These women were busy professionals and threw themselves into their work, but somehow they had a depth and peace that helped them absorb the bumps in the road that seemed to throw me off-kilter. Through my friends in Opus Dei and the life and teaching of St. Josemaría, I came to a deeper understanding of the truths of the Catholic faith. I began to pray and came back to the sacraments. I no longer needed a mountain retreat to feel close to God. I had discovered him in the center of my soul.
The quest to live with constant knowledge of God's presence and providence was the "authentic existence" I had been searching for. So much of my life had been spent living on a level of worry and stress, trying to be "in control" and railing against my limitations. Rarely living in or enjoying the present moment, I ruminated on the past or was concerned about the future, having unrealistic expectations like "saving" all of my patients, never making mistakes, or always "looking good" to others. I realize how little I listened to people, how my worries about work and the people I loved crowded my consciousness.
I began to understand the inner struggle that was needed in order to overcome the restlessness and anxiety that had characterized my life to that point and to understand the transforming power of the sense of being a child of God. God was no longer an impersonal spectator or harsh critic, but rather a loving parent, who was intimately involved in the happenings of each moment. St. Josemaría described this awareness of being a beloved child of God as divine filiation. It is the wellspring from which his whole spiritual life flowed.
So much of my "toxicity" stemmed from a lack of inner life and not knowing how to have balance in my life or expectations. In my opinion Martha was toxic when she complained to Jesus that Mary wasn't helping. It wasn't because Martha was working and Mary was loving. It was because Martha didn't see that work could be love. She had forgotten that God himself was close to her and that through her work she was serving him. She was thinking only of herself, and this is what led to her unhappiness.
As is described beautifully in John F. Coverdale's book Uncommon Faith, in a moment of incredible stress, when everything seemed to be going against him, St. Josemaría, riding in a streetcar, was suffused with a deep, profound, and permanent knowledge of, and confidence in, God's love for him. That confidence, that experience, of knowing that he was a beloved child of God was what allowed him to go forward. This was a life-transforming moment for St. Josemaría. It enabled him to have an incredible optimism and resilience in the face of disappointments, disasters, and betrayals of all kinds. His whole life is a testament to the power of one who knows how to become a child.
This power is beautifully illustrated by a vignette I read many years ago. It occurred during the terrible earthquake in Armenia that I'm sure many of you remember. A grade school had been leveled, and a large number of children were buried and presumed dead. There was no heavy machinery available to help remove the rubble. Long after the other parents had given up from exhaustion, one man doggedly continued digging for over twenty-four hours, until finally he heard the voice of his child. The little boy was saying, "Daddy, I knew you would come. I knew you would come." He just kept repeating that. It took a number of hours to actually extricate the child completely, and later relief workers marveled at that child's apparent lack of post-traumatic stress disorder, which many people have after a horrible experience like that. For the child, the experience had only confirmed the love of his father for him.
I remembered this story in the days following September 11, as I saw the toll that event had taken on my patients, who have cancer, and on their families. A young child is buried alive, but survives unscathed, while thousands of people are shaken to their core and require antidepressants or antianxiety medication, because of an event they witnessed on television. At its roots, anxiety is a fear of loss, a fear of rejection, a fear of meaninglessness. It comes from living without a sense of the providence of God, or from losing it.
St. Josemaría often repeated and meditated on the words Omnia in bonum: All things work together for the good of those who love God (see Rom. 8:28). He said, "My children, see God behind every event and circumstance." It has always interested me that the Chinese character for "crisis" is the same as the one for "opportunity." For St. Josemaría, accepting the events of each day as the will of God gave them a new meaning. Each "crisis" was now an opportunity for union with God and growth in virtue.
He used to say, "Don't say, 'That person bothers me.' Think, 'that person sanctifies me'" (The Way, 174). This simple advice has helped me see the difficult situations I encounter in my work as something positive, something God permits so I can grow in some way. This point of view gives my work a sense of meaning. It has even helped me be on better terms with my beeper. Instead of swearing every time it goes off, I have learned over time to think, "God is calling me."
In Christian terms, as I carry out my work for God, I am somehow participating in his plans to make the world, and myself, better. I begin to see the value of the mundane and the monotonous. I am able to have contemplative moments throughout my day. When I write prescriptions, I picture the face of the patient I am helping. When I sit down to do dictations, I offer that hour as a prayer for the patients whose stories I am telling. When I go to visit dying patients, I take their hand and comfort them in some way, and I become Veronica, wiping the face of Christ. As St. Josemaría would say, the ordinary happenings of my working day can "sanctify" me. In other words, I become less centered on myself and more on God and others.
Here is another quote I love: "I will never share the opinion — though I respect it — of those who separate prayer from active life, as if they were incompatible. We children of God have to be contemplatives: people who, in the midst of the din and the throng, know how to find silence of soul in a lasting conversation with our Lord, people who know how to look at him as they look at a Father, as they look at a friend, as they look at someone with whom they are madly in love" (Forge, 738).
I do battle with the things that separate me from God and lead me to anxiety and toxicity on many fronts. E-mail is an ever-present temptation, addiction, and vortex. I realized that it had become a source of anxiety for me and led me to interrupt my work and not work well. So I only check it twice a day. What a conquest! The daily struggle to put my work down when it's time to go is another thing I have learned, based on the inspiration of St. Josemaría. In that way my work doesn't dominate me.
Excerpted from Women of Opus Dei by M.T. Oates, Linda Ruf, Jenny Driver. Copyright © 2009 M. T. Oates, Linda Ruf, and Jenny Driver, M.D.. Excerpted by permission of The Crossroad Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
M. T. Oates is a writer and communications consultant. Her writings have appeared in numerous publications including The Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, and The Washington Times. She lives in New York City. Linda Ruf is a certified public accountant and an authority on The Da Vinci Code as it relates to the teachings of the Catholic Church and Opus Dei. She lives in Washington, DC. Jenny Driver, MD, is a staff physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and an instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. She lives in Providence, Rhode Island.
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