Look in the Columbia dictionary for a definition and you read: "Believing that a Catholic can lead a holy life without taking religious vows, lay members pledge to serve God in worldly vocations." "Opus" is a Latin word meaning "the work proves the craftsman." The Apostle Paul put it this way:" We are God's workmanship. As an organization Opus Dei has attracted derision in some circles because it is secretive, practices disciplines like self-immolation and is conservative in what for some are distressingly pre Vatican II ways.
The Hallmark Channel will carry a special on Opus Dei Sunday June 11 (check local, listings) and you will see how little resemblance the organization bears to Dan Brown's hapless albino Silas. You'll learn the cilise, strapped tightly around Silas leg dripping with blood, was actually used by Pope John Paul and Mother Theresa and never draws blood. It is a reminder of Christi's suffering producing a single-minded focus on identifying with Jesus, kind of a step above fasting.
After watching the Hallmark special you may conclude as I did that Opus Dei seems a tad on the legalistic side. I'm sure individual members are tempted with the smug self-righteousness I've seen in Protestant fundamentalism. But that Dan Brown could portray such a distorted image of Opus Dei is in keeping with the wild, National Enquirer-style conspiracy weaving of his entire book. Reviewers who call The Da Vinci Code extensively researched are the students you knew who used Cliff Notes and "The Onion" for their term papers. Our suspicions and concerns about Opus Dei say more about us than Opus Dei.
As far as I can tell the members of Opus Dei are seeking to live sanctified lives in the real world. Their roots are in Jesus who challenged his followers "if anyone wants to be my disciple, you must deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me. The early believers shared all things in common, worshipped daily, praying and fasting, as do members of Opus Dei today.
That one can live a holy life without taking special vows and joining a monastic, cloistered community, is exactly the message of Jesus. Today's easy breezy Christianity bears little resemblance to Opus Dei, but then it bears little resemblance to Jesus and his disciples either.
Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.