In the spiritual ideal of pious
and ascetic virility, intense traditional devotion, the exercise
of virtues according to a neo-Thomistic schema, and the militant
imperative to propagate triumphal Roman Catholicism, The Way
is based on preconciliar religious spirituality, with some reflection
on the Aragonese character.
This preconciliar character is especially
evident if we look at the original points in The Way that
have been revised. Consider point 115: "'Minutes of silence.'
Leave silence for those whose hearts are dry. We Catholics, children
of God, speak with our Father who is in heaven." Now consider
the same point in the 1939 edition: "'Minutes of silence.'--leave
this for atheists, Masons, and Protestants, who have a dry heart.
We Catholics, children of God, speak with our Father who is in heaven."
The book is also a blueprint for many essential features of the
religious subculture of Opus Dei--the "heroic minute,"
"spiritual childhood" before the directors, or the imperative
to "win new apostles." These features are not universal
to Catholic spirituality.
The Way also reflects problematic
aspects of the religious subculture of Opus Dei, such as the bias
against women. However, I would single out one area as the most
objectionable because it possesses the greatest potential for inflicting
psychological damage: religious authoritarianism.
Read, for example, point 856: "Spiritual childhood demands
submission of the mind, which is harder than submission of the will.
In order to subject our mind we need not only God's grace, but a
continual exercise of our will as well, denying the intellect over
and over again, just as it says 'no' to the flesh."
In Opus Dei, obedience to the directors is exercised in an environment
in which information is restricted and behavior is controlled by
a system that continually gathers confidential information about
individual members and persuades them to conform through a process
of unrelenting suasion. By playing upon a mixture of guilt feelings
and good intentions, the regime of obedience is very gradually imposed
over many years, until the rights a lay person is normally entitled
to in secular society and in the Roman Catholic Church are one by
one surrendered. It is constantly hammered that obedience to the
directors is identified with submission to God, inciting misplaced
guilt among those who conflict in conscience with their directives.
All these conditions limit the effective exercise of freedom, especially
for numeraries, who are required to live under greater constraints
than other types of members.
Stories of psychological harm to Maria del Carmen Tapia, Eileen
Clark, or Dr. John Roche, all former numeraries, are not unique
and have been repeated all around the world.
Certainly, obedience is part of the tradition of religious spirituality
in Roman Catholicism. Yet there exist transcendent--universal and
spiritual--values that moderate the uncritical implementation of
this tradition. Among these values, I would mention at least three--truth,
compassion, and discernment. In specific situations, the moderating
influence of these values on obedience in Opus Dei may be seriously
Truth is subverted in the following counsel derived from my own
experience: "Your director might be wrong, but you are not
wrong in obeying the director."
Compassion is lacking in this harsh
rejoinder described in Maria del Carmen Tapia, Beyond the Threshold
(1997): "Monsignor Escriva taught that one should be 'intransigent
with sin, but tolerant with the sinner,' but this was not what he
practiced. If he heard a numerary say she felt 'sorry' for someone,
he would say, 'Be sorry for the Work!'"
Discernment is ignored in this directive
reported in Robert Hutchinson, Their Kingdom Come (1997):
"Obey intelligently but blindly."
The effective practice of obedience for spirituality's sake requires
some check-and-balance. Indeed, in Catholic spirituality less rigid
models of obedience exist.
No doubt many points in The
Way individually considered genuinely promote traditional Catholic
spirituality--in this respect, they are salutary. For this reason,
I give the book four stars. But insofar as The Way reinforces
and even canonizes problematic features of Opus Dei spirituality
with the alleged stamp of the Holy Spirit, it is potentially a harmful