In an interview with ABCNEWS.com, Opus Dei national spokesman Brian Finnerty explains some of its practices. Two answers are excerpted from published explanations by Opus Dei's founder, the late Josemaria Escriva:
Q: Opus Dei's core message of lay spirituality has always been a component of the Christian faith, so what makes Opus Dei different?
Finnerty: "I think lay spirituality is something that has been in the church from the very beginning, but it's something which often has been forgotten. That focus on the universal call to holiness, and that idea that the activities of daily life, and especially work, can be a path to holiness, that idea is something which is particularly characteristic of Opus Dei. There's no other institution of the church which is really set up to spread that message."
Q: How does Opus Dei's message of lay spirituality actually impact what one does in the workplace?
Finnerty: "Recognizing that I'm going to work today not so that I can earn money, but because it's a way that I can serve God, in God's act of creation.
"Another aspect of it as well is simply trying to do the work well. Trying to do your best work that you possible can. And it means trying to be a good friend to the people around you …. Trying to live your various Christian virtues at work.
Another aspect as well is trying to do your work realizing you're in the presence of God. There are some concrete ways that you can do in order to help promote that. One thing that people are encouraged to do is start the day with a little prayer at their desk. It doesn't have to be anything flashy or anything like that, it can be like, 'Dear God, I offer up the work to you I'm going to do today.' Or it could be you have a little cross at your desk."
Q: Why do Opus Dei numeraries and associates commit to a life of celibacy?
Finnerty: They "live apostolic celibacy in order to be available to help carry out the apostles of Opus Dei …
"Because, if someone is an engineer or something like that, he can communicate what it's like to try to live the Christian faith in the middle of the world better perhaps, or in certain ways that a priest can't. It's useful to have lay people that are available to help set up activities in Kansas or Milwaukee or wherever. And that's something you can't ask a married person, who has sometimes a commitment to their natural family, in the same way …."
Q: Why do Opus Dei numeraries commit to turning their salaries over to Opus Dei?
Finnerty: "A person who is married, that person obviously is making all of his income available to his spouse and his children, he's thinking first in terms of the others. Living in a spirit of generosity is something everybody is called to do, depending upon what the individual circumstances are. And if someone is a numerary in Opus Dei and he has make that lifetime commitment, that is something in which there is no problem in doing."
Q: Why do Opus Dei facilities segregate male and female members?
Finnerty: "Opus is a fairly unique institution in the church in that you have [lay] men and woman living a commitment of apostolic celibacy. It's just a measure of prudence that helps to keep it that way."
Q: Why do Opus Dei numeraries do "corporal mortification," using the discipline and the cilice?
Finnerty: "I would say that the idea of making small sacrifices is something that is still very much a part of the life of the church, not just for members of Opus Dei. For example, during Lent, everyone is called to make some sort of sacrifices, such as giving up coffee or whatever …."
Escriva: "Ask Our Lord to help you to take a tough line with yourself, for love of him; to help you apply, with all naturalness, the purifying touch of mortification to everything you do.
"Christ gives us his risen life; he rises in us, if we become sharers in his cross and his death. We should love the cross, self-sacrifice and mortification."
Q: Why do Opus Dei spiritual directors read the mail of numeraries?
Finnerty: "I think that thing is something which only applies to the younger members …
"It's something different than some years ago, as far as the directors might open the mail. They don't read mail. They stopped doing that. That custom was changed. I think the spirit is still the same, in that people are encouraged to share it, if people think there is something important that they need to talk to or get advice on, they're encouraged to do that. I think the idea is that that's a helpful process."
Q: Why is the reading material of numeraries restricted?
Finnerty: "The members of Opus Dei, and for Christians generally, are sort of encouraged to realize that there are certain things, literature that might represent an attack on the faith, and it's a real possibility that if somebody keeps on gorging on nihilistic literature or something like that it is a real possibility that somebody can read there way out of the Catholic Church."
Q: Does Opus Dei restrict members' freedom?
Finnerty: "I think in any state of life a person is going to make commitments to others and that involves a certain degree of self-sacrifice. If a person is a husband or a wife, that person is going to feel a certain degree of responsibility to who he or she is living with. I think freedom involves the ability to make decisions and the ability to stick by them and to generously serve other people, and if a person insists that I'm never going to accept any limitations or any requirements, that I'm going to serve a person in a certain way, then that person is not really free."
Q: What is the main way Opus Dei brings in new members?
Finnerty: "All of the new members are [brought in] simply through the personal contact of other people who are in Opus Dei and are trying to share their faith with their friends. One of the things, I think, which is characteristic of the lay spirit of the Opus Dei is the apostolate of friendship."