and Other Writings
following is the work of the individual author and does not necessarily
reflect the views or opinions of the Opus Dei Awareness Network,
Joseph I. B. Gonzales, former numerary, six years
I would like to write about what has been called the "vocation
trap" of Opus Dei. It is a "trap" because once a
person gets in, it is psychologically very difficult for him to
get out. I believe that the "trap" in its most coercive
form is a psychological one, yet it has the potential to be as compelling
as a physical jail. In my own case, it took at least three long,
unhappy years for me to decide to leave the Opus Dei organization,
from the time that I first felt the unmistakable desire to leave
to the point at which I actually left.
entrapment process takes more or less the following form:
person "sees" his numerary vocation or at least is persuaded
that he "sees" it.
person writes a letter to the Opus Dei prelate to ask for admission
as a numerary and is accepted.
numerary learns about Opus Dei ideas, customs, and traditions.
some time, for some reason, the numerary does not feel it is his
vocation to stay in Opus Dei--sometimes, he develops this feeling
after learning about Opus Dei ideas, customs, and traditions,
which in some cases is possible only after many, sometimes many,
many years because they are disclosed piecemeal over an extended
period of time, and some aspects are never even revealed.
is told by the priest that he has a vocation, even if he cannot
remember "seeing" it, and that he commits a mortal sin
by leaving Opus Dei.
trusts the priest and does not want to commit a mortal sin, so
he stays on, sometimes agonizing over the decision.
decides to leave and is censured by the organization.
process is rendered abusive primarily because of the lack of informed
consent, although other abusive aspects include the psychological
coercion, the misconstruction of vocation, and the stigmatization
of the former member.
a person is asked to "give everything to God," "God"
here being identified with "Opus Dei," without knowing
the content of this surrender: it is not possible for this person
to know and evaluate the nature of this commitment except after
many, sometimes many, many years, by which time he is no longer
permitted a graceful exit by the Opus Dei organization. Hence, the
lack of informed consent.
situation is a classic "damned if you do, damned if you don't."
The numerary is trapped in Opus Dei and if he or she leaves, there
are unfortunate consequences, real and imagined. Besides the threat
of eternal perdition and the pernicious emotional blackmail engendered
by the charge of betrayal of Jesus Christ, there are other forms
of psychological pressure, in the form, perhaps, of peer pressure
or cognitive dissonance arising from a real upending of the intensely
cultivated Opus Dei weltanschauung. Having invested many years of
wholehearted service to the organization, it becomes very difficult
for the numerary to acknowledge the folly of this investment, cut
his losses, and pull out, to use a stock market analogy. It means
acknowledging a terrible mistake--perhaps the most difficult psychological
step--and spending many, many years afterward correcting the negative
and sometimes traumatic consequences of the mistake.
is a theology of vocation behind this trap that finds its source,
justification, and perpetuation in the words and actions of Blessed
Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer y Albas. By institutionalizing this
specific incorporation process into the Opus Dei system, Blessed
Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer y Albas is ultimately responsible
for its abusive and unfortunate consequences.
Blessed Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer y Albas' system, a vocation
to Opus Dei is defined by the following:
is the product of a moment of prayerful illumination.
bears an essential or intrinsic relation to individual salvation.
is compulsory under the penalty of mortal sin.
recruits are told that once they "see" their vocation,
they have a moral obligation to follow it. The supposed momentary
vision is supposed to validate all the obligations and teachings
that Opus Dei imposes upon the recruits for as long as they remain
in Opus Dei.
meditations preached by Opus Dei priests, the following words of
Blessed Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer y Albas were reported regarding
a son of mine has seen his vocation once and never sees it again,
it should suffice for the rest of his life."
a son of mine leaves the Work, I cannot guarantee his salvation."
latter is a veiled threat, especially since Blessed Josemaria Escriva
de Balaguer y Albas guaranteed the salvation of members if they
stayed in Opus Dei until they died.
numeraries in Opus Dei seems to have been a lifelong obsession for
Blessed Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer y Albas. We were told stories
of how he wept when "God took away the first vocations,"
at how he would personally admonish individual numeraries to "be
faithful" and not to leave, and how he would yell in what seems
to have been staged public anger upon reading letters of separation
of former numeraries or at the numeraries themselves when they expressed
their decision to leave. He identified Opus Dei with Jesus Christ--perhaps
a valid identification in his case, in which he seems to have felt
an indubitable certainty of his vocation to Opus Dei, but certainly
a questionable assumption with respect to many individuals who chose
to follow their own conscience, sometimes after great internal struggle,
and leave the organization. I believe that his intolerance reflects
his narrow-minded convictions and lack of respect for the truth
residing in the consciences of former members.
my own experience, the directors represented leaving Opus Dei as
a mortal sin, and considering how obsessive the directors were in
citing and passing on Blessed Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer y Albas'
ideas and practices, I can only trace the source of this view to
Blessed Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer y Albas himself. When I left,
the priest told me to confess to mortal sin, and from what I understand,
the same ludicrous imposition has been inflicted upon other former
numeraries. This official Opus Dei theology of vocation is
only one version of what constitutes a range of legitimate Catholic
ideas about vocation. Notwithstanding, Blessed Josemaria Escriva
de Balaguer y Albas' theology is represented to the numeraries as
the only version.
Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer y Albas' theology finds similar expression
in the writings of St. Alphonsus de Liguori, who in fact appears
to be one of Opus Dei's official theological sources on this issue.
St. Alphonsus argues that because a vocation bears an intrinsic
relation to individual salvation, the failure of the individual
to respond to the vocation amounts to mortal sin and eternal damnation.
[See Note 1]
another important idea about vocation, which is expressed in the
writings of Fr. Jose Luis Soria, an Opus Dei priest, and that seems
to comprise Opus Dei's official line is that the obligation to remain
steadfast to a vocation can be morally imposed if the vocation is
"absolutely certain." Fr. Soria's view also implies that
it is possible for an individual to be "absolutely certain"
about a vocation. [See Note 2]
there are alternative theological ideas about vocation, some of
which run counter to Opus Dei's official line. Among these ideas
are the following:
vocation is the product of a gradual process of illumination -
St. Joseph is often cited as the classic example.
vocation bears no intrinsic relation to salvation because it demands
more than what is expected or required of a Christian to attain
salvation - This is the argument given, for example, with respect
to a religious vocation, in which the evangelical vows of poverty,
chastity, and obedience are not considered essential for salvation.
sin is involved, for the same reason that the demands of a vocation
exceed what is normally required of a Christian.
vocation is not certain, and even less, "absolutely certain"
- Because a vocation is a moral and spiritual reality rather than
a scientific reality, it is not possible to obtain the same certainty
about a personal vocation as that which characterizes empirical
answers to scientific or empirical questions.
vocation cannot be imposed - This follows from the premise that
a vocation is not certain.
vocation is an invitation from Jesus Christ, not a command.
own personal belief is that it is possible for an individual to
arrive at moral certainty, even a strong moral certainty, of a vocation
or inner calling. However, this conviction must also be confirmed
by external circumstances, especially by the persons who are charged
with the authority to confirm the vocation, as in the case, for
example, of the bishop who ordains a priest. I would like to venture
that a vocation is an inner reality in a person's soul that must
be confirmed by external circumstances. When the inner and outer
reality coincide, the likelihood of a vocation is high but it is
still never scientifically certain.
consequence, I believe that a spiritual director must respect the
inner reality of an individual's conscience. Based on my own experience
in Opus Dei, this respect is truly deficient. How can a spiritual
director be "certain" about a personal vocation, and even
less, impose it? I believe it is more important for a director to
assist an individual in getting in touch with the inner reality
of his or her soul instead of imposing an unqualified commitment
to an organization that after a certain point may have lost much
of its credibility.
Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer y Albas, by his ideas about vocation
that he imposed upon the members of Opus Dei, does a disservice
to the truth. With special implications for the entrapment of well-intentioned
persons is his narrow theology of vocation, which represents a vocation
as certain and mandatory, conveyed in a moment of divine illumination.
But there are a variety of legitimate theological notions about
vocation, and by no means do these ideas universally assert that
vocation is mandatory, and even less, certain. To represent Blessed
Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer y Albas' preferred theological ideas
as core Catholic doctrine is a misrepresentation of the truth. It
is especially oppressive and harmful when such misrepresentation
in the name of truth and holiness distorts individual conscience
and restricts and even twists acting according to such conscience.
This deleterious influence cannot be understated.
1: The following passage is taken from the Catholic Encyclopaedia
on the internet, in the section on Ecclesiastical and Religious
Vocation. The Catholic Encyclopaedia is a bastion of conservative
theology and Catholic apologetics. Notably, here is what it has
to say on the subject of vocation:
Paul does not intend to indicate any particular profession as a
gift of God, but he makes use of a general expression to imply that
the unequal dispensation of graces explains the diversity of objects
offered for our choice like the diversity of virtues. We agree with
Liguori when he declares that whoever, being free from impediment
and actuated by a right intention, is received by the superior is
called to the religious life...The rigorist influences to which
St. Alphonsus was subjected in his youth explain the severity which
led him to say that a person's eternal salvation chiefly depended
on this choice of a state of life conformable to the Divine election.
If this were the case, God, who is infinitely good, would make His
will known to every man in a way which could not be misunderstood."
rigorist way of thinking about vocation that derives from St. Alphonsus
de Liguori was prevalent in the spirituality of Escriva's formative
period, i.e., early twentieth-century Spain, and the paradigm persisted
in widespread form in the Church up to the sixties. Notice that
the above passage underscores the importance of a right intention
in determining the existence of a vocation. Unfortunately, right
intention is impaired by the lack of informed consent, compounded
by the practice of thoroughgoing censorship, the use of "holy
discretion" to conceal vital information, and the absence of
spiritual discernment, specifically concerning vocation, in the
attitudes of the members of the Opus Dei community. This latter
deficiency, which has been noted by Tammy DiNicola, is confirmed
by the experience of others. Notice, too, that the last sentence
in the above passage concedes the ultimately uncertain nature of
believe that the responsibility for establishing this questionable
system of religious incorporation lies not only with Escriva, but
also with the institutional Church for endorsing it in negligent
2: Fr. Jose Luis Soria's views about vocation are located in
a pamphlet, "Vocation," published by the Theological Centrum,
another Opus Dei front organization based in Manila, Philippines,
in the second half of the eighties. I have examined Fr. Soria's
latest version of another "Vocation" pamphlet and it does
not set forth any of these questionable ideas. I suspect that Opus
Dei may have made it difficult to access this Philippine pamphlet,
similar to the fate of the 1950 Constitutions of Opus Dei, which
were first published in 1970 in Paris, or copies of Maria Angustias
Moreno's autobiographical expose when they were originally released
in Spain. There is reason to be suspicious. Robert Hutchinson, Their
Kingdom Come (1996) and Maria del Carmen Tapia, Beyond the
Threshold (1998) have reported that Opus Dei falsifies and destroys
documents. These claims are credible because they are consistent
with my own experience. During my stint as a numerary, I witnessed
the numeraries, including the directors, intermittently burning
books in the garden at the back of the center. Usually, Protestant
Bibles and books on the theory of evolution.
to website May 13, 2002
revised August 12, 2002