Josemaría Escrivá Obras

Why are there priests in an institution so markedly lay as Opus Dei? Can any member of Opus Dei become a priest, or only these who are chosen by the directors?

Any person who wants to sanctify his own state in life can receive a vocation to Opus Dei: be he single, married or widowed, be he layman or cleric.

Diocesan priests also can join the Work. They remain diocesan priests just as they were before, because the Work helps them to tend towards the Christian perfection proper to their own state, through the sanctification of their ordinary work, which consists precisely in the priestly ministry at the service of their own bishop, of the diocese and of the whole Church. In their case also their commitment to Opus Dei in no way changes their position. They remain fully dedicated to the tasks entrusted to them by their bishop and to the other apostolates and activities for which they are responsible — the Work never interferes in these activities. They sanctify themselves by practising, as perfectly as they can, the virtues proper to priests.

As well as these priests who join Opus Dei after having received Holy Orders, there are in the Work other secular priests who receive the Sacrament after coming to Opus Dei, which they joined as lay people, ordinary Christians. These are very few in comparison with the total number of members, less than two percent, and they devote themselves to serving the apostolic aims of Opus Dei by means of their sacred ministry, giving up, more or less, depending on the case, the exercise of their civil profession. They are, in effect, professional people or workers who are called to the priesthood after having become professionally qualified and after years of work at their jobs, as doctors, engineers, mechanics, farm workers, teachers, journalists, etc. As well as this, they study the relevant ecclesiastical subjects, calmly and thoroughly, and do an ecclesiastical doctorate, and all this without losing the outlook characteristic of their own profession or occupation.

Their presence is needed in the apostolate of Opus Dei. This apostolate is carried out basically by the lay people, as I have said. Each member strives to be an apostle in his own environment, bringing people closer to Christ by his example and word, by dialogue. But in the apostolate, in bringing souls along the paths of the interior life, they come up against the 'sacramental wall'. The sanctifying role of the lay person is incomplete without the sanctifying role of the priest, who administers the Sacrament of Penance, celebrates the Eucharist and proclaims the word of God in the name of the Church. And since the apostolate of Opus Dei presupposes a specific spirituality, the priest must himself be a living witness to this particular spirit.

As well as serving the other members of the Work, these priests can, and in fact do, serve many other people. The priestly zeal which permeates their life should lead them to let no one pass by without receiving something of the Light of Christ. Furthermore, the spirit of Opus Dei, which will have nothing to do with cliques or discrimination, prompts them to feel intimately and effectively united to their brothers, the other diocesan priests. They feel themselves to be, and in fact are, diocesan priests in all the dioceses where they work and which they try to serve wholeheartedly and effectively.

I would like to stress, because it is very important, that the lay members of Opus Dei who receive Holy Orders do not change their vocation. When they freely accept the invitation of the directors of the Work to become priests, they do not act with the idea of uniting themselves more closely to God or of tending more effectively to holiness. They know perfectly well that the lay vocation is full and complete in itself and that their dedication to God in Opus Dei was, right from the start, a clear way to achieve Christian perfection. Ordination therefore can in no way be regarded as a crowning of a vocation to Opus Dei: it is simply a calling given to a few people so that they can serve the others in a new way. And then, of course, in the Work there are not two classes of members, priests and lay people. All are, and feel themselves to be, equal; and all live the same spirit: sanctification in one's own state in life.

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