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St. Liguori et Als on vocation and Opus Dei

Opus Dei : A Dialogue Between Friend and Foe


As I said elsewhere, my Dialogue with an Ex-member helped me to reach 2 conclusions: on one hand, in nearly all cases anti-Opus Dei argumentation, even when it's not seeking to prove too much, thus proving nothing, is tainted with interpretations and theological points of view, without seeing that the facts alleged are not as pure as previously thought; on the second hand the main areas of possible problems are casuistry and vocation, that is, theological concepts. Casuitry is difficult to argue about since by nature it's concerned with case by case situations. So vocation remains the main path to follow if we want to understand something about the problems. With the writings of St. Liguori I got a very important clue, and studying it about the sin of not following a vocation, I found roughly what seems to be the position of Opus. Still more, I found, to my great surprise, the other themes: about discretion, secrecy, parents as potential obstacles, teenage as the most proper time for vocation, procrastination by the candidate, duty of perseverance, and all this with references to first class theological authorities in the Tradition (St. Thomas et Als). I felt Opus was under St. Liguori's and great saints' umbrella, and this is not really surprising in Opus, where sainthood is partly seen as very important intellectual reference. Now, that saint is not ordinary, Liguori is one of the greatest mind in the history of the Church , patron of moral theologians, a Doctor of the Church, far surpassing Mrg. Escriva intellectually. A powerful ally, even if we must take notice that the rhetorical writings of St.Liguori have not the same precision as his scientific writings (Theologia Moralis), where he makes all the subtle distinctions: for instance, he is sometimes very insistent about vocation, in some formulations, and we find those exact formulations in Mgr. Escriva reported declarations.

Now, perhaps St. Liguori was an old timer, or some of his theories were rather personal to him. So I went through some litterature on theology of vocation of the preconciliar period, not because postconciliar works are bad, but to avoid further complications. Surprise! Liguori's approach is not at all marginal, it's mainstream, and we can see his arguments, with variations, again and again, about some secrecy, attitude toward family, word of director as word of God, etc. The conclusion is that Mgr. Escriva has invented nothing: he just followed what was probably taught to him on the topic. Absolutely nothing bizarre or weirdly innovative.

That was not all. Very often the books referred to "soldiers, militia, recruitment" about religious life. There were "priests-recruiters", who were finding soldiers for God's spiritual militia, etc. I feel this was just rhetoric, but it seems that everybody began to imitate Jesuit attitude when they witnessed the great efficiency and historical success of that order. It went to the point that in confirmation ceremonies, youngsters were integrated, they said, in the Army of Christ.

The litterature brought me to this page, a follow up of An Hypothesis about Conflicting Evidence. Up to this point, my main hypothesis was that in conflicts between some exes and Opus emotions were running very high and some critics were making the mistake of going for an all-out anti-Opus thinking, thus reinforcing the defensive attitude of the institution and weakening their arguments. I thought that the conflicts were leading to more acute crisis because of the defensive-voluntaristic spirituality.
The metaphor was that of a bad divorce causing pain; this pain proves nothing against the institution of marriage, cause marriage is just the condition, not the cause of a painful divorce. Now, I will add qualifications to that: I will suppose as likely that bad divorces have been less numerous in other orders, even before the council, even among traditionalists. I will suppose also that monks who had problems with their ex-orders didn't show so convergent complaints than exes do about Opus. Of course, even about those hypothesis, we can say that those facts are normal given the spirituality of Opus, and that that alone proves nothing - we can say, for instance, that some spiritualities are harder to follow, etc. The problem is that the Jesuits and others don't seem to have the same problems, while they share a lot the same practices and attitudes, or at least they shared it in the past. This is, again, slippery, because we may think that the past is no more, and that comparison between Opus and Jesuit should have taken place in the 50s, a time when there was no criticism against Opus, it seems; but here we have the traditionalists, partly in schism, as witnesses of the past, and yes, it seems likely that they don't encounter some of the problems of Opus, even if they share the same unpopularity.
This is not to say that I fully accept Tom's consensus argument; I just think that there may be something in that argument, and this something is not what most critics say; this something may also involve faults on the part of some ex-members.
Nevertheless, no more than probable truth can be reached in what I will suggest as the best hypothesis, taking into account the basic facts I know. Doing so, I will argue no more ad hominem, that is, I will talk about Opus, not only about opinions of others about Opus.

First, here are the quotes about vocation. Some can be seen as critical, some as vindicating Opus Dei theology.



St. Alphonsus Liguori, Theologia Moralis, Lib.IV, ch. 1, #78, :

"An et quomodo aliquis a Deo vocatus ad religionem peccet si vocationem suam negligat adimplere?
-Respondemus quod neggligere vocationem religiosam per se non est peccatum; divina enim consilia per se non obligant ad culpam".
I interpret roughly: "The question is whether and how someone called by God to religious vocation sins if he neglects to follow his vocation.
-We reply that to neglect a religious vocation is not in itself a sin; in effect, divine counsels in themselves do not imply obligations so that not to follow them would be a sin."
BUT, the text continues:
"Id tamen, ratione periculi aeternae salutis cui vocatus se committit, electionem status faciens non juxta divinum beneplacitum, non potest ab aliqua culpa excusari. Et quidem, si quis crederet quod in saeculo manens damnationem incurreret, tum ob suam fragilitatem quam inter saeculi occasiones expertus est, tum ob carentiam auxiliorum quae in religione haberet; non potest excusari a peccato gravi, cum in grave discrimen salutis suae se injiciat"
"However, this man cannot be pure from any sin, because of the danger of losing eternal salvation in which he throws himself, by not chosing his a state of life according to divine will. And if someone believes that, staying in the world, he would be damned, either because his weakness would be too tempted by the occasions of sin in the world, or because he would have no more the help available in religious life; he would commit a grave sin, because he would throw himself in great danger of eternal damnation."
And follows a whole page of those "per accidens", if not "per se", considerations:
"If someone is morally certain of his vocation, and doesn't follow it, can he be saved as easily in the world? No, there is no doubt that he's putting himself in great danger...God is preparing grace for those he calls; if they say no, they lack this grace that was for them, and it's much more difficult to resist sins and temptations."
Interesting: after saying that it's mortal sin for parents to dissuade a son from entering religious orders without a good reason, S. Liguori says:
"si ergo, qui alteri consulit ut damnum sibi inferat, non excusatur a peccato mortali; nescio quomodo poterit excusari ille ipse qui sibi tale damnum infert"
"So, if someone gives counsel to another in a way that this person brings harm to himself is not excused from mortal sin; I don't know how someone who brings himself the same damage can be excused"
His general conclusion is:
"Si vero loqueris de vocatis, dico teneri [religionem ingredi}; quia Deus negabit ipsis auxilia quae in religione eis parata habebit, et quibus destituti, licet auxiliis ordinariis salvari possent, de facto tamen difficulter salutem adipiscentur"
"If you talk truly about called people, I say that there is an obligation for them to enter religious life; because God will not give them the graces that was prepared for them in religious life, and with the lacking of this, although they can be saved by ordinary graces, however it will be de facto more difficult to be saved".

-From "Great means of salvation and perfection" - Choice of a state of life (Complete Works, III, 1886, pp. 381-409 passim):
"The divine call..is...a special grace... God has much reason to be indignant against those who despise it".
"We must obey the voice of God without delay. Whenever God calls... <one> must obey, and obey promptly...The lights which God gives are transient, not permanent, gifts.... Tardiness in obeying him displeases him...so that in consequence a soul will follow its vocation with difficulty and abandon it again easily" <with references to St Thomas, St John Chrysostome, St Jerome>
"He, then, who wishes to be faithful to the divine call ought not only to resolve to follow it, but to follow it promptly, if he does not wish to espose himself to the evident danger of losing his vocation... and nothing is more precious"
"Means to be employed for preserving a religious vocation in the World:
Generally speaking, HE MUST KEEP HIS VOCATION SECRET, from everybody except his spiritual father <because
people in the world can weaken it>...
... in practice, opposition is always to be feared...
It is certain that in the choice of a state of life, children are not bound to obey parents, because <in this matter of religious life> they have no experience and because their interests make them behave as enemies. <lot of references to Saints>...
St Thomas absolutely advises... to abstain from deliberating on their vocation with their relatives...
If you are called... seek to execute <your resolution> as promptly as you can, and without <your parents> knowledge, if you would not expose yourself to the great danger of losing it...
...He who wishes to enter religion must detach himself from his parents and forget them altogether... he cannot go to visit his parents in their own house, except in the case of... urgent necessity, though always with the permission of the superior; it is also considered a great defect even...to show a desire of seeing parents.
...No one may write to his parents without permission and without showing the letter to the superior
...He who enters religion must altogether renounce his own will, consecrating it entirely to holy obedience"

Riposta ad un giovane( p. 461):
"This point of the choice of a state of life is of the greatest importance, as upon it depends our eternal salvation...
"The greatest number of those who are damned, are damned for not having corresponded to the call of God... for him who doesn't obey the divine call, it will be difficult, and even morally impossible to save himself".

-"You know that some have quit our congregation. How they will end up I don't know; but I'm certain they will live a life always unhappy; they will live and die in anguish for having given up their vocation"
"I pray God to send you death rather than permit that you loose your vocation" (Letters to some Redemptorists)


Saint Thomas Aquinas, An Apology for the Religious Orders, 1902, part II: Against those who would deter men from entering religion, ch. IX.
<this is the main, not the only reference from St. Thomas>

432-433 there are...two points on which those may take counsel who have the intention of entering religious life... But advice should not be sought from kinsfolk.... in the matter of entering religion, relations are not friends, but rather enemies...Therefore, with regard to this matter, the advice of our kinsmen, is to be avoided.
St Jerome... thus enumerates the obstacles which family ties may raise to entrance into religious life...
Blessed Benedict...secretly fled from his nurse...but opened his mind to the monk Romanus, who kept his secret and gave him assistance. Carnal men, to whom the wisdom of God is folly, are, therefore, not to be consulted.


Jesuit texts

Jesuit Spiritual exercices manual (1940), about religious life:
"Christ invites to perfect life; refusal of the invitation is not a sin; but salvation may be put into jeopardy by temptations or sins that would have been avoided by following his call."

Directorium in Exercitia
ch. 39 : "when the soul has been purged from sin, it becomes ready and fit to receive divine illuminations, and the outpouring of and influx of supernatural light" <About 2nd and 3rd weeks of the exercices, during which election is made>
ch.25 <About election>When the time comes for following the divine vocation a special difficulty is sometimes felt, since in matters which are repugnant to sensitive nature human weakness is wont to procrastinate as long as it can...devising reasons and grounds for delay. It is therefore best to overcome this difficulty during the Exercices, and to call to mind the saying of st Ambrose: "The grace of the Holy Spirit knows not tardy efforts". We should imitate also the promptitude of the Apostles who immediately left their nets and their father. This consideration also has weight: If it is ever to be, why not now? And if not now, perchance never. For now the inspiration of God and his help are fresh and strong...

Commentary on Exercices by Gagliardi (1590)
There are 3 kinds of election: The first is purely supernatural, when a man, illuminated by divine revelation... This is the case of only a few persons...
The second takes place by spiritual motion and affections... inspirations...This must take place under the direction and judgment of experienced persons...
The other kind takes place under reason helped by grace. Often, a divine inspiration intervenes...


J.B. Raus, La doctrine de S. Alphonse sur la vocation, 1926.

39 "When those 3 conditions are fulfilled <aptitudes, right intentions, call by a superior>, a novice must have no doubt on his vocation"


J. Guibert, Conseils sur la vocation, 1897.

47 <When parents are indifferent or hostile>Prudence dictates not to talk about a vocation before one is sure about it... Later, and slowly, one will explain oneself to parents
64 When your whole self will be known by your director like an open book, he will read easily what God has prepared for you... and you will follow the path he will show you
69 You will be in peace when you will have received the opinion of your director. You will consider his word as the word of God, and that will be the end of your worries <about your vocation><Assuming the will of the candidate is clear>


J. Millot, Suis-je appelée à la vie religieuse?, 1909.

157 When your soul will be known from your director...he will easily see what God want for you; if you are called, he will say so, and you will follow the path he will show you
188 "You're uncertain, you say. It's not possible...Your election and my confirmation have been too clear..." ;...you are tempted, you must resist"
191 Fighting to keep vocation... You received the light. The word of your director, that your faith consider as the word of God, has settled your ideas and doubts... courage! cause you'll have to fight
193 once one knows one's vocation, one must not go back


F. Mugnier, Petit manuel théologique et pratique de la vocation, 1928.

73 Can the confessor give an order to enter a religious order? <NO, save in very exceptionnal circumstances>
;...he may suggest a path in a very insisting way...but only if the will of the candidate is ready and freely submitted to the confessor; ...the confessor doesn't impose his will
162 <about the vocation broken by the candidate><Before his ordination, everyone is free>
163 ...a candidate may renounce for good reasons... circumstances may change... a better knowledge of the obligations may weaken an already feeble will, without any fault
164 Even if someone thinks religious life is better for him, there is no proof that he would sin if he does not pursue this vocation... if one cannot see that there would be a grave occasion of sin in staying in the world...
there could very easily be a sin in not following a vocation... but it seems too much to say that there is always one... <This, applied to particular cases>would be an imprudent judgment
167 Lost vocations... by fault...
170 According to S. Liguori <With of an element doubt though>...even if there is no obligation per se... there is some sin involved in taking the risk of not following a vocation


F. Mugnier, Freedom for vocation, 1934.

53 If the director says yes, this means that the candidate can freely go ahead... If he says no...the candidate has the duty not to go ahead
54 Even if he is firmly decided, the candidate must not go against the director's decision, even if faillible...he must obey the divine will showed by the authorities decisions
97 <Do not procrastinate>Prudence may become a pretext and a trap. Prudence implies a quick and firm decision... one must not look back
99 It's up to the director to help a weakened will...But he must not will for the candidate, he must only make him will...by giving some lights... Then the candidate must decide...
100 the director must not will for the candidate, but he must will with him... He can pull him away from interminable deliberations, by which the will is weakened...He will bring this soul to an authentic desire for her vocation and to prayer in order to get that will.
103 The director must not dominate, pushing in a way the candidate doesn't know...He must help the will against obstacles, not put pressure on the will


E. Farrell, The theology of religious vocation, 1951.

192 <about priest-councelor> his actions in inducing others to embrace the religious life , provided that they bear no taint of force, simony, or deceit, merit a great reward...
<quoting Suarez> "If violence, simony and deception are ruled out, St Thomas thinks it is per se a good work to persuade another, by good and solid arguments, to become a religious... nor does he think it amiss to use other human means to gain the affection of another, not indeed to persuade him by humane motives, but to induce him more readily to take heed of supernatural motives and reflect on them. However... though in itself this is not wrong, yet we must be careful not to go too far, lest we employ a sort of moral violence or deception. Moreover, we must fear the danger of inconsistency in anyone so persuaded... The reasons which first moved him will later be forgotten or have no further influence. Therefore there is need of great prudence... when anyone asks for advice, we must freely tell him the exact truth. Furthermore we must help him whom the Holy Spirit has begun to move, so that he will remain firm in his purpose..."
196 <if the candidate is already firmly decided> <protracted deliberation is not necessary> there can be no doubt that the power required to carry out the resolution to become a religious will be made available by God.
197 one cannot be absolutely certain of having grace
198 <but one can be certain of one's own intentions> a man knows that he knows; he knows his own mind, his own
<it is not the duty of the director to> question someone well disposed in an attempt to "prove the spirit"; this is the exclusive duty of those... who are charged with testing a vocation. A FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLE IS INVOLVED HERE: A SPIRITUAL DIRECTOR IS NOT A NOVICE MASTER AND SHOULD NOT ACT AS ONE. If the candidate...is firmly resolved and gives evidence of relying upon God... no questions should be raised about the existence of a divine vocation. NOR SHOULD THE POSSIBILITY THAT NATURAL MOTIVES HEVE ENTERED INTO THE
207 a firm resolution...provides the note of certainty that makes protracted deliberation needless


R.M. Gay, Vocation, 1959.

77 <according to St Thomas> nobody can know with absolute certainty that he has grace... <but this means
scientific-philosophical certainty>
78 this is simply the Council of Trent doctrine...: "nisi ex speciali revelatione, sciri non potest, quos Deus sibi elegerit"
80 <moral certitude is enough to justify duty, a moral reality>
131 <true intention supposes that the candidate knows the implications of priesthood>
157 the last practical judgment is up to the candidate, <even if there is discussions about the duty to follow a vocation>
181 the candidate is the main decider
184 other people are just auxiliaries for the candidate... but the candidate alone is not competent enough
187 <Pius XI encyclical> "not to refuse them entry to seminary in time will make it more difficult for them to quit later"
189 the director is just a counselor, he has no authority
191 <but in some sense, the director> is the voice of Christ. So docility...might imply a certain moral obligation
203 if he forgets his proper role, the director ...will impose his opinions... This case is not so rare, when an interest is present, for instance a reputation of vocation director-recruiter. Easily, the director may begin to work for himself, his diocese, his congregation, forgeting that his role is to work for the Spirit
207 the Magisterium teaches that there must be a "security margin"... If there is any positive doubt, one must say no to a candidate
211 the director must give a very exact description of the nature of priesthood
214 <if a candidate doesn't accept a negative decision, the director must do everything he can to dissuade him, making him see his duty>
215 <if a candidate doesn't accept a positive decision, it's different> he cannot use moral pressure, as it was the case for a negative decision
<... In some cases, the candidate may just have some temporary doubts; then the director may help him to overcome them... but the candidate will decide>


F. Cegielka, Spiritual theology for novices, 1961.

128 ordinary means of bodily mortification... are fasting and abstinence. In the religious life the use of the discipline, ...hairbelts...are recommended


F. Duffey, Manual for novices, 1957.

3 the noviciate is the place to find out what the vocation...will entail
4 he must learn...the entire detachment which grows out of complete self-surrender. He has to test his will to find out if he is prepared to give up everything
5 <before noviciate> there was little or no silence and solitude to think the matter. In the noviciate there is ample time...to test the spirit, to examine the intentions and motives.


P. Collin, Noviciat, 1959.

38 <there is some kind of obligation to follow a call> to refuse to follow a vocation call is generally considered dangerous and imprudent
40 the obligation...is not a question of obedience, but of docility
42 <quoting St John Climaque> "if God calls us in that MILITIA...we must not despise this call, for fear of ...the supreme tribunal"
43 Under the duty of prudence, fidelity to a vocation becomes an obligation...
Is it a sin not to follow a vocation? ...difficult, controversial question <quoting Liguori>
...There would be mortal sin if one was disobeying a formal order by God...If one was convinced that it would be morally impossible to be saved without it <quoting St Gregory>...If there would be a grave risk of damnation (a rather common case in the opinion of a lot of people)
48 a counter-call is necessary to check the aptitudes and inner dispositions of the candidate
49 <in the noviciate> the examination of the vocation, already done by the candidate before, will be revised, completed and will concern...motives...aptitudes, right intentions... external causes
59 usually the postulate lasts 6 months
61 <the candidate is fully free to quit the postulate at all times, without notice or explanations>
69 The Church imposes the noviciate as a strict obligation to orders
70 this Church jurisprudence must be known, studied, followed... THOSE WHO DON'T WILL CREATE CONDITIONS
100 <some are certain before entering the noviciate..others still have doubts. Noviciate will give them the occasion to study their vocation>
101 before profession, one must test oneself, one's aptitudes
114 <one can take temporary vows without being totally certain about one's aptitudes>


J. Corrigan, Vocation to religious life, 1960.

57 Every superior holds the place of God, whether he be good or bad <and the author is not Jesuit>
83 a young man who volunteers for the armed forces in time of war does not make a detailed enquiry about the living
conditions of enlisted men... The superiors of any order would be wary of an applicant who wishes to be informed about all these things
86 One of the most difficult penances in religious life is fatigue, and fighting back this fatigue is not easy. Many religious are given more work than they feel thay can possibly do well. When one is not in the best of physical condition, he may be inclined to feel a trifle sorry for himself in being so abused. Such self-pity is deadly to the religious life
126 the purpose of the noviciate is to find out if you give promise of making a suitable member of that order...At the end...you will be told...that you are called to vows . This call is your "external" vocation
136 <before being officially candidate> you may know little or nothing of the life in the religious order which you are thinking of entering. That knowledge is not necessary.
140 <before noviciate> you must ask yourself only whether you are willing to submit yourself to the training
141 Although leaving a religious order is not a disgrace, still, readjustment in the world is not always easy...
ONCE YOU HAVE MADE THE DECISION, YOU SHOULD BE DETERMINED THAT...YOU WILL PERSEVERE TO THE END...You are in much the same position as a person considering marriage. You all know how uncertain is the future for those who marry. If your spouse turns out far differently from what you expected, you have vowed to put up with <it>
146 If you have the firm resolution to become a religious, then you have an internal vocation. Before you have a vocation, strictly speaking, you must...be called to vows
147 "Is it a sin if I refuse Christ's invitation?" The answer is no. However, the real answer is no but...
148 Two extremes views
One answer is that, if you refuse...you will certainly find it more difficult if not practically impossible, to save your soul. A second answer is that no sin is ever committed... Neither of these extreme views is true
149 it may be no sin and yet be a great mistake. Each individual case must be judge separately...
151 There may be possibly be parts of the world where there would be a duty...to become a doctor
159 <if someone has firm intention and is called to vows and refuses> Does he commit any sin?...we must ask "what was his motive?" <if selfish, this would be a sin>...
As a matter of fact, most of those who have received a vocation and later rejected it have done so BECAUSE THEY DID NOT HAVE THE PROPER INTENTION WHEN THEY ENTERED. THEY ENTERED TO GIVE IT A TRY. THEIR INTENTION WAS NOT FIRM
167 <one can be assured of one's vocation if one want it, and if one is accepted>
183 the purpose of the noviciate is to teach you how to become a religious...You should go there, NOT WITH THE
185 <activities in the noviciate> makes for a busy day and a busy year... you will soon begin to wonder how you ever did find time to pursue any studies
186 you are the only one who knows for certain whether you want to become a member...The master of novices will tell you for certain if the order wants you...
<novice master notices that there is a marked difference between new novices and those at the end of their year> Even one year of religious life should make a noticeable difference in a candidate


Some others books on the same subject:

-1927: <according to St. Liguori, losing a vocation is not only to quit after commitments, but also to only refuse to follow the call>. <This involves> "often great risks".
<One must cultivate one's vocation in hiding, with discretion>
"...concerning vocation...discretion is necessary". "The same discretion is IN GENERAL NECESSARY towards parents"...
<If he is good and competent, the director gives advice and lights, no more>

-1941: "He is not a dictator, but an adviser to your conscience. If he abuses...do not consult him anymore. He would not be a director anymore, HE WOULD UNHINGE YOUR SOUL"...
"with supernatural prudence...this priest...is your source of certitude... The director checks whether there are obstacles...You remain free...no obligation... You follow his advice by prudence, not by obedience... There is no duty...Those who refuse don't sin, but their decision is an error."

-1928: "For the intentions to be right, one must want to enter the religious life, and know what one is wanting (e.g.duties of priesthood) while moved by grace".


As I said, what I find impressive in those quotations is that, to my mind, we can roughly recognize Opus attitudes, although theology of vocation is a matter of subtle and complex equilibrium. We find freedom for unordained candidates and that noviciates are testing internal vocation, but also persevance strongly recommended. We read in a very traditional texbook (1941) that a spiritual director would "unhinge the souls" if he would become too pushy, a description some Ex-members would no doubt find accurate. We can even notice little facts reported in the litterature about Opus: noviciate life is a busy life, noviciate - that is, religious life - is causing changes in personality, no doubt increasing interiority, something some parents have told about their kids.
Impressive also is the authority of St. Liguori, Bishop of Naples in the 18th century, who no doubt applied the theology of vocation (secrecy, parents), and who took it from the greatest theologians (S. Thomas et als). We may think here about the historical context, that is, jansenist influence in the works of Liguori, or the often tyrannical power of fathers over their kids in the Middle Ages and Antiquity, but the general approach held out even in the 20th century, although in a softer version perhaps.

So it seems that we can interpret the attitude of Opus about vocation along those lines: the institution thinks it has the great saints and prudent tradition on its side, so it cannot be wrong on that score, the theory must be right.
Some Exes are saying: we have suffered, so something must be wrong somewhere, in theory and/or practice.
Opus will reply: we have independent grounds to prove that our way is right, so any suffering must be incidental and comes from some directors's mistakes, or by the fault of the candidates who failed to follow their vocation, it cannot be our responsibility. Those who entered the institution are responsible for their error, if it was an error, and for the suffering that came later. They did not fight enough to keep their vocation, they are army casualties in the spiritual war against the evil of non-perseverance.

While it is true that suffering by itself proves nothing, we must nevertheless examine if all precautions are taken in order to avoid problems. According to the litterature, there seems to be no theoretical problems with voluntaristic spirituality, defensive system, Ignatian obedience, God's talking through some spiritual directors, active recruiting, certainty about vocations, the concept of mortal sin in not following a vocation, some link between vocation and damnation, attitude towards parents, discretion. Here, if precautions are lacking in those things, it must be mostly in practice, - that is, mistakes by some directors - not in theory .

However, the litterature is pointing out to some insightful ideas: a spiritual director or a recruiter are not masters of novices. We can very well say that some problems were coming from false certainty about vocations due to lack of prudence by some Opus directors, hence some conflicts and the "trapping impression" Tom was talking about, or, using another language, ill-adapted members. But are all the means being used to avoid false certainty? Is the maximum effort being done? I will now suggest what seems to me the best hypothesis on that score: OPUS HAS NO FORMAL NOVICIATE. It's as simple as that. And it has no noviciate because it is not a religious order, but a lay organization. This, in my opinion, can explain very well 2 basic facts: first, only some members have had problems, and those were probably people who would have needed a noviciate, while others were OK without it; second, no supernumerarii have had problems, even if they were recruited the same way, because their life is much more lay, so not in need of a religious life noviciate . So there is one element in St. Liguori Redemptorist thought - noviciate - that is not in Opus.

Now, the main difference between spiritual direction and noviciate is that the latter will explicitly test the vocation; in monasteries the majority of candidates are rejected, or "reoriented", at that stage, and if the noviciate is not properly working, unfit candidates multiply and some day you will go into trouble. We may think here about somewhat bad members of Opus who revolted at some point or who wanted rather improvised reforms to be made; they didn't feel at home and wanted the situation to adapt to them instead of vice-versa. One may presume that a noviciate would have given them a chance to adapt more deeply and make a conscious choice about the home. It is true that Opus has a period of time between application and commitment, and no doubt this is thought as a noviciate
equivalent. However it doesn't seem to be formal enough, with authentic novices masters, etc. So I suggest that in some cases, numerarii vocations are not put to test enough. It looks like as in my discussion with Tom: the internal (aptitude + intentions) vocation is tested before application, the external vocation (call by the superior) is tested after (commitments acceptation). Well, a noviciate would continue to test internal vocation, and would not see it as already certain; certitude would come later. To ask the candidate if he is certain at the moment of application would not be enough - that certitude would be considered genuine but subject to testing, and not only external testing.

According to Tapia (Beyond the Threshold), she spent nearly a year in Opus (1950) before making her first commitment, the oblation (p. 70), and
31 When the...girl gives her life to Opus Dei, she is on probation for the first six months...
six months from the day I wrote the letter... I was allowed to go through... the "admission"
32 The admission means only that you are now officially "on probation"... During this period, Opus Dei superiors can advise you to leave, and you are also able to leave Opus Dei without breaking any law, although superiors always subject persons who try to leave on their own initiative to a kind of emotional blackmail.
"Blackmail" seems to me just an interpretation from Tapia, but nevertheless one must take notice that the usual role of a novice master is to put to test, and more often than not, to reject unfit or uncertain candidates. During her probation, Tapia had a lot of work, studies, with chats about her vocation, but rather casual; and she was doing active recruiting even before her commitment. (By the way, what she describe as official probation policy is very noviciate-like).
She writes:
60 we considered that if we were unable to understand something, it was obviuosly due to our spiritual ignorance... There were many things which I could not understand, but Opus Dei superiors kept insisting that I should ask God to grant me the "good spirit".
One is getting the impression of a no-big-deal-let's-go attitude from her supervisor. Grace of God will act. Yes, but only if there is an authentic vocation, not stemming from love for mom or impressions from the past recruiting period, only if vocation is already certain. Later, in Venezuela, she says that her real self was back, and , in my opinion, it was walking away from Opus, as if her first commitments had been artificial or shaky - or, precisely, unsufficiently tested.

I consider some important points made by Tom about vocation in our dialogue as being confirmed by the following short dialogue I had with Lisa, a friend of Opus Dei like me and an ex-numeraria



1) It seems that there is a "moment of truth" in the discernment of Opus vocation. Would you say that members, once they have "seen" their vocation at that particular moment, must stick to it at all costs?
2)Does this moment usually or always or sometimes take place before the written application, that is before the probation period?
3) Is the probation year-"noviciate" comparable to a religious noviciate? Is it in a separate house or quarter, all candidates together? Is there a master of novices (I mean, not the same person as the director of the house or the spiritual director, or the director who suggested the application to the candidate)? Would you say that in the probation period one is considered to certainly have a vocation to Opus? Or is there really a doubt about vocation in the probation period?

1. The manner of seeing one's "supernatural vocation", whether it's to the religious life or to Opus Dei, depends on every person. It's similar to being in love. Some people fall in love in a moment, some take a while. What matters is that the one who falls in love eventually makes a decision that he or she is accepting that loved one in his or her life in a total, life-changing sense. However, in the case of a supernatural calling, the person sensing or discovering the call should discern very well if he or she is indeed suited to the particular path he or she is considering, because the decision to take it will have to be total and life-long; but more than a marriage, it's beyond death. One must see that that calling comes from God, that it's the purpose for which one was created and given certain personal qualities. Once a person becomes very sure that such is indeed the case (it's very personal and intimate, something entirely between the person and God), then that person is free to choose to follow this calling. If you realise that God made you for something, will it be logical or not to respond positively to it? And if one had made that response, will it be sensible or not to "stick to it at all costs"?
2. ... to join Opus Dei, one must apply in writing, either to the Prelate himself, or to his Vicar in the region or country where one is applying. It's assumed that when one applies to be a member, one must have "seen" his or her calling as a member of Opus Dei. Why apply when you don't see it as God's will for you?
3. The "probation" period is very short, around six months, while the applicant waits for his or her application to be accepted by the proper office. In the meanwhile, the applicant goes on with his or her life, but incorporating into this life with a firmer sense of commitment the practices proper to Opus Dei members. I am sure you have heard of the "Plan of Life"--the Norms of Piety daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, and at all moments. There is also the weekly spiritual direction with a lay older member of Opus Dei, who guides the applicant in feeling more and more identified with Opus Dei's spirituality. All the while, the applicant stays on with his or her family. The situation continues as it is even after the applicant is admitted officially as a member, except in the case of a Numerary, who eventually leaves his or her family to stay in a centre. How soon this happens depends on the situation of the place. Usually, it's after a year after admission as a member.
Unlike a religious congregation, there are no "postulants" or "novices" in Opus Dei. There are only members and
non-members. There is no "master" or "mistress" but directors. To avoid confusion among the new members, a certain person is assigned to oversee their formation and personal needs. Nearly every centre has a person assigned. Depending on the circumstances of the centre or the region, this person may be the same person as the director of the centre, and this person may also be the one to whom the new members go to for spiritual direction. The person assigned is a lay member.
As you may have read in other websites, a member makes an irrevocable commitment to the way of life and statutes of the Prelature on the sixth year of his or her having been admitted as a member. By the time a member reaches this period, he or she is asked whether or not he or she wants to go on with the way of life he or she had been living for those number of years. The doubt or the certainty of one's vocation depends entirely on the member himself or herself, and the answer, in principle, should be made freely by the member. If the member isn't sure about his or her calling, it doesn't seem logical that he or she should still go through this "rite" of making an irrevocable commitment. It doesn't even seem logical that one should live according to the way of life of the members of Opus Dei for so many years, without having found out for oneself if such a life is really the one. Although God does have surprises. I'm neither the first nor only member who eventually discovered another calling. A few Opus Dei members have eventually joined religious congregations or have become diocesan priests (among the men).

1) So the probation period is rather a waiting period, during which a future numerary lives outside Opus houses? He moves in around the time of his first temporary commitment?
2) I repeat part of the last question: Would you say that in the probation period one is considered to certainly have a vocation to Opus? Or is there really a doubt about vocation in the probation period? Or can there be a doubt in some cases and no doubt in other cases? In your answer it seems that the person is "very sure" about his response at the moment of his application.
3) You write: "It's assumed that when one applies to be a member, one must have "seen" his or her calling as a member of Opus Dei. Why apply when you don't see it as God's will for you?". I interpret it as meaning that the application itself is the response to the divine call. Am I right?

1.That's right. The time a future Numerary moves into a centre, after his
application for membership is accepted, depends on the circumstances of his
place. In places where Opus Dei is already well-established and has a wide base
of membership, it's usually around a year after being officially accepted as
member. However, there have been a few cases (usually when Opus Dei is just
starting in a country or region) when persons who have just applied for
membership as Numeraries are either asked or allowed to live in a centre ASAP,
because more hands are needed to normalise Opus Dei's "operations."
2.Look at it this way. It's like getting engaged to be married. Although not all
people who get engaged eventually marry the one they're engaged to, in
normal cases, the one who gets engaged is pretty sure that he wants to live his
whole life with the person he got engaged to. In a similar way, the person
applying for membership in Opus Dei is assumed to be sure about his calling.
Now, during this probation period, the directors of the centre where he applied
at (including his lay spiritual director) can find out whether or not this applicant
is really suited to the calling, just as the applicant (who is treated just as if he
were already a member) can also find out if he's capable of living according to
the Opus Dei spirituality. There's got to be mutual agreement between the two
parties about this applicant truly having the vocation to Opus Dei.
3.You're right about that: application to be an Opus Dei member as a response to
God's call.
As I had written before, when a person applies in writing for membership,
that person is already considered and treated as a real member, with all the
responsibilities and privileges. Although, looking at the rules, it looks as
if the applicant attains membership only upon being accepted, I remember
very well what is practised. When a person writes THE LETTER of application,
everyone rejoices that there is already a new member (as if it were the
birth of a long-awaited child), and the news spreads like wildfire in the
"community." A person who applies as a Numerary is a Numerary, and so on
with the other modes of membership. There's no half-way about it. In
practice, to apply is to join. Opus Dei operates more like a family than
anything else. Legalities about membership hardly come to mind. Reaching the
point of admission after 6 months is more like confirming one's commitment
as a member in such-and-such a manner. The "probation" period is more a
period of getting better acquainted with the ship that one has already
boarded and which has already embarked on the journey.
Actually, if I'm not mistaken in my history, the regulations were developed
some time after the fact of Opus Dei's existence--the way a method for
childcare is developed after the baby is born. (Guidebooks on childcare
started to be written after centuries of childbearing and rearing had been
occurring.) Because the reality that not everyone perseveres in the calling,
or may have even mistaken their calling (the very first women members
actually became religious sisters), had to be taken to account, and measures
had to be provided. I don't want to make it sound as if Opus Dei has written
rules on one hand and another way of acting on the other. When I was a
member, I never sensed a discontinuity between the two. Opus Dei, as a
spirituality, is something very alive and dynamic, rather than something
full of rules, document-logged and bound. And actually, the one-year to
one-year-and-a-half waiting period before a Numerary moves into a centre is
more like the longest period a Numerary can spend "safely" outside a centre,
The usual one-year waiting period for Numeraries before they move into
centres is another historical development. A Numerary has to prepare
materially and emotionally for leaving his family, and his family also needs
to psychologically adjust to that. And now that I think about it, I realise
that this period is also a time for the Numerary to be spiritually,
emotionally and psychologically prepared. Otherwise, it's as if he had moved
into a strange house filled with practical strangers. It gives him the
chance to develop the sense of being at home in a centre, being with other
Numeraries as siblings and good friends. (And despite this preparation,
moving in for real still causes a shock of sorts, you know. I believe that a
similar thing happens to people who get married and live together for the
first time for real.)
In the early years of Opus Dei's development, the Numeraries moved into a
centre as soon as they could, with no period really specified. It depended
on the person's readiness, but it had to be as soon as possible, with a
sense of urgency. (It's part of the spirituality that Numeraries stay in
centres of Opus Dei. A Numerary who stays too long out of a centre, or
who--already living in a centre--starts "playing around" by lessening
without due reason--apart from professional work and/or apostolic
assignment--the time he can spend in the centre, will eventually develop a
sense that the Opus Dei spirituality is something alien rather than
inherent. Like a magnet that loses its magnetic force, or a Catholic who
stops practising his faith. Hope this analogy makes sense.)
>I kept thinking about your questions on the process of becoming a member of Opus Dei, and how my answers seemed to give you the idea that there's a time the applicant isn't really considered a member. It made me remember a religious sister I've met. She was about to enter the juniorate pending her "rating," and she felt nervous whether or not she'd make it. And she told me, as if she were sharing an open secret, that nobody is really a "sister" ("madre") until after she takes her final vows.
>Well, that's one case for Opus Dei's repeated assertion that its spirituality is entirely lay. You had pointed out in your analyses that there are many similarities between Opus Dei's customs, disciplines and attitudes and those of a religious society, like the Jesuits. But Opus Dei isn't anything like a religious congregation, society or order at all. Its customs, disciplines and attitudes, I believe, are simply very Christian and very Catholic; and that for centuries past, these things could be found fully expressed only in the religious life. Opus Dei is for people who are, and who revel in being, lay.
>Anyway, I just want to add that to the information that applying as a member of Opus Dei already means joining it. I told you that applying for membership is like the birth of a child. Being officially admitted as a member, after the standard six months, is more like celebrating the child's first birthday, an affirmation of the child's viability outside the womb. Between the birth and its anniversary, there's no stage in which the child is not a child, of his parents or by nature. At least, this is the attitude all members take towards the applicant. A member is a member is a member

I can give you the main hypothesis your answers help me to formulate and check. It is critical of some aspects of opus, like a follow up to "an hypothesis about conflicting evidence". Quite bluntly: Opus has no noviciate, and this creates prudential failures from time to time, failures that some members are unable to see because those members wouldn't need a noviciate anyway to "test" their vocation. I will suggest that some others need absolutely a noviciate, and that explains some of the main problems.
I know that Opus will answer that it is lay, but the problem is that while being lay, its means of sanctifications (for numerary, not supernumeraries, who have never any problem) come straight from religious orders (Loyola, Liguori, etc.). In the end, its the very charism of opus (ordinary life vs. sanctification) that creates need for some adjustments. Note: According to canon law, a noviciate is stricty mandatory for all religious orders.

However, a caveat. Despite your observation that Numeraries actually live like they belonged to a
"classical" religious order, they don't. There's minimal structure in terms of activities and schedules, and lots of freedom within in. Also, as I said, joining Opus Dei is also like getting married. Nobody presents himself in a centre to say he wants to join, and gets accepted just like that. Each "prospect" undergoes a period of examination of sorts and formation before he is allowed to join. Very few people actually qualify as Numeraries, and more of them stay on faithfully and happily than leave.
Just as there is no "trial marriage" in the Church, there is no "trial membership" in Opus Dei. The capacity of the Numerary to be faithful depends--apart from the reality of the calling--on his "courtship" period, for the preparation begins long before the first commitment is made. And yes, after joining, certainly on the persons who direct him spiritually. And don't worry. The Opus Dei directors are learning from feedback and other mistakes. It may seem slow, but they are learning and adjusting.


I remain a little skeptic about the idea that Opus numerarius life is lay to the point of not being "religious like". Since numerarii have careers, something is different for sure, but it seems also obvious that the spirituality elements and the plan of life, and the schedule in the houses all come from rules of religious orders.

However, what Lisa says confirms that there is no formal noviciate. Contrary to what textbooks recommend, the supervisors in the probation period are often the directors in the preceding period, that is, before application, they even can be the recruiters. Sometimes the candidates move in the houses only after probation, thus making some commitments even without having experienced Opus life from the inside, at least from a physical point of view. "Lack of informed consent" doesn't seem to me the right and theological phraseology here, but no doubt it is a part of "right intentions" . The candidate is assumed to be sure about his own vocational call at the moment of written application, and there seems not to be an intermediate situation between member and non-member: a member is a member. As she says, everybody is happy to greet a new member right from the start.
There is training, as in all noviciates, but not much place for doubt or testing. This seems to confirm some of Tom's
perceptions: too much general certainty at too early a stage, a certainty very possible, but maybe, at least in some cases, only after noviciate or even some commitments.

According to some interviews:
"New members are gradually exposed to Opus Dei practices and restrictions, said Finnerty. But he says they should be fully aware of everything by the time they make their first annual commitment to the group. Pressed to say whether Opus Dei directors tell numeraries they might go to hell if they break their commitment to Opus Dei and leave, Finnerty would not say yes or no."
"...Said Ann Schweninger. And its totally orchestrated. They tell you its a decision you have to make now, that God is knocking on the door, and that you have to have the strength and fortitude to say yes. Tammy DiNicola was told that it was her only chance for a vocation. Basically its a one-shot dealif you dont take it, youre not going to have Gods grace for the remainder of your life." (James Martin article)
We can see the St. Liguori pattern of thought here, plus active vocation apostolate: no procrastination, perseverance, risks of not following the call, although I assume the assessment of the risk is done on a case by case basis (of course, one would "not say yes or no"). It also makes sense that at the moment of first commitment one should know everything important about Opus. But what about oneself? It is true that one must discover not what the candidate wants but what God wants, through the will of the candidate. But one must not discover what the director wants either. During noviciate period, the attraction must be truly supernatural, not mainly under strong influence from the environment. If the candidate must cultivate some kind of Ignatian indifference, so the director must. The surrender of the will must never be unwilled. St. Liguori says that as a first step, a candidate shows great interest, is spiritually attracted and ask for counsel; if a director says yes he will apply and go to a noviciate where ALL aspects of vocation will be tested, although it remains true that external aspects will become more important than before, perhaps more important than internal ones.

Now, there is nothing wrong in apostolate to find new vocations and "fishing", but considering the very active and let's go spirituality, the whole very encouraging atmosphere, it will become easy for a director, at probational stage, to see vocations as certain; after all the efforts to make disciples and the candidates being told previously that yes they should try, it's their way, it may be difficult for a director to say "no, Opus is not for you". The director, especially if he is not first class, will become imprudent, even without any negligence on his part, cause without a noviciate the whole atmosphere may become imprudent. Those occasions of imprudence are all the more unfortunate, considering that a voluntaristic jesuitic ascetism linked to Alphonsian theology of vocation linked to a defensive system, everything pulling in the same direction, can produce a rather heavy cocktail for some candidates. Opus is not helping itself in taking those risks, and later on, when conflicts arise, it compounds the risks by thinking defensively that the theory, rooted in tradition, must be right. It is likely that Opus will interpret broken vocation (not a sin) as lost vocation (sin) because certainty about vocation may be treated too lightly before application and too heavily after. To talk about lost vocation and mortal sin would be less risky if there was a noviciate testing the vocation.
"Holy coercion", that is, some yelling and threatening (remember the army metaphor) as means of sanctification may add to the problem when there is one. I guess, from testimonies, that this took place from time to time. I'm not sure we should be scandalized by this as I think it is pure bluff, often more ridiculous than horrible, although I admit I was never hurt by it; again, strict prudence must apply. I'm tempted to see it as an Escriva's mediterranean eccentricity, no more.

If we take the criticisms of the exes as they are, we have generally a choice between 2 hypothsesis: those who stay in Opus are wrong, or those who quit are wrong. I think it is fair to say that those who quit are wrong; they were ill-adapted because they rejected a spirituality that is acceptable on independent ground, by virtue of saints' tradition. However, and this explains the puzzle, Opus has some responsibilities in the fact that they are wrong.

As I said, Opus has no noviciate because it is lay. This is good logic. No third order has a noviciate and nothing is imprudent in that. The problem is that, concerning numerary life, and ONLY numerary life, so much elements are coming from religious life that religious life prudence seems to be required; a third order prudence is not enough. For instance, Alphonsian theology of vocation seems to apply, and this is something we don't hear about, let's say, vocation to marriage; it would look bizarre to say that not to follow a marriage call is a mortal sin (even if it can be, for sure). St. Liguori's theology of vocation is not ordinary, so we can say there is a discrepancy between ordinary life and numerary means of sanctification, and this is stemming from the very charism of Opus.

The spirituality of work, on its part, implies a certain degree of disapprobation of individualistic intellectual speculation ; Opus members are workers. This can have consequences on conscious personal reflexion. If the grounds of Opus Dei life, mostly excellent, are not explicit enough but stay in the background too much, vocational problems may happen more easily. I suggest that Jesuits, with a comparable spirituality, have had much less problems because their way is more internalized and conscious. It's interesting to note that the Jesuit noviciate lasts 3 full years, and that the 3rd year is taking place at the end of the training period, 10 years! An extreme prudence that may be linked to the peculiarities of Jesuitic spirituality. ( One can note also that Jesuitic obedience applies only after the vows).
A Jesuit writes on that topic:
"The elimination of the inapt candidates in due time could reduce the likelihood of failures, and the duration of the training period - roughly 15 years - gave a security margin: a man who is warned for such a long time about his future duties and who persevere doesn't enter the order like a victim offered to a dictatorship against which he must be protected-a Jesuit is ordained after his 13th year in religious life. The training will come to an end with the TESTS of the 3rd year of noviciate, just after the ordination..."

If I was Opus, I would study carefully the preconciliar Jesuit noviciate in order to find means of really testing vocations during a newly muscled probatory period. That period would take place in a kind of formal, centralized "noviciate" or house of studies under experienced "masters". The candidates would be warned about obstacles and pitfalls, making full use of the temporary commitments. The classical policy towards parents could be kept, but with great prudence and in context, considering that nowadays parents could be scandalized by this to the point of loosing the faith. Mortal sin for quitting could happen at any time but would be emphasized mostly after final commitments.

In the end: On one hand, I think that Mgr Escriva was a charismatic Saint, and a very great spiritual director, but he was no Loyola, and he was no Liguori, and some degree of improvisation took place in the 30s and later, when he decided a lot of things; sure, the postconciliar period went too far in criticising the saints as intellectual and spiritual references, but one must realize that there may be dangers in some decisions along the details, the fine lines. On the other hand , Opus must be extremely careful in any changes, to avoid the tragedy of some other orders after the council; I saw religious orders disintegrate spiritually, and it's not beautiful, some members were made sick because their institute was doing the contrary of what it was doing when they had taken their vows, their lives were in ruin. Opus must make sure NOT to do what people like Tapia want. It must at all costs keep a defensive system, orthodoxy, discipline, obedience, supremacy of dogmatic theology in preaching, teaching, catechesis, etc.etc. Because the Church badly needs Opus Dei .