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Ordinary Work, Extraordinary Grace: My Spiritual Journey in Opus Dei.

Ordinary Work, Extraordinary Grace My Spiritual Journey in Opus Dei WRITTEN BY Scott Hahn PUBLISHED BY Doubleday, New York, 2006 ISBN: 0385519249, Hardcover, pp. 155, $26.95 CND

Since there is already a vast ocean of literature on Opus Dei, Scott Hahn was able to devote this book to one particular aspect of the Work, namely, the spiritual teachings of St. Josemaria Escriva, the founder. In fact, each of the twelve chapters begins with a passage from St. Josemaria's seminal work, The Way.

Once a rabidly anti-Catholic Presbyterian minister, Scott Hahn is now a prominent Catholic apologist. A Professor of Theology and Scripture at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, he has written more than a dozen Catholic books, and recorded more than five hundred lectures. What was not as well known is that Hahn is also a member of Opus Dei and, hence, well-qualified to write Ordinary Work, Extraordinary Grace.

At the outset, Hahn enumerates the features of Opus Dei that attracted him even before his conversion: its devotion to the Bible, its ecumenism, the righteousness of its members, the ordinariness of their lives, its stress on holy ambition and on hospitality, and the importance of prayer. Literally the "Work of God" and, thus, known by its members as "the Work," Opus Dei is defined as "a way of sanctification in daily work and in the fulfillment of the Christian's ordinary duties." It is said that, as a young priest, Escriva was given a vision of what the movement he was to found would look like in the future! In this call to holiness of the laity, Escriva anticipated the teachings of Vatican II and Opus Dei itself would not achieve its ideal organizational. Although, like other Catholics, members must obey the bishops of the diocese in which they reside, for their spiritual formation, they are also subject to the bishop appointed for Opus Dei.

The call to holiness for its members entails a plan of life or the norm for everyday living: Morning Offering, mental prayer, Mass, the Angelus, spiritual reading, the Rosary, small act of penance, short visit to the Blessed Sacrament, the Opus Dei preces prayers, nightly examination of conscience, three Hail Mary's, and the sign of the cross with Holy Water. Members also commit to weekly confession, a monthly day of recollection, and a yearly retreat. In addition, the movement founded by St. Josemaria has a special devotion to his namesakes, Our Lady and St. Joseph. For someone new to the Church like Hahn, these practices would have taught him not only how to be a Catholic, but an exemplary one.

Not surprisingly, in a spiritual movement known as "the Work," Hahn expends considerable energy describing the concept of sanctification through ordinary work: "We serve the Church best by working with human perfection and offering that work as a holy sacrifice to God." Even though Hahn mentions all types of workers--housewives, farmers, cab drivers--Opus Dei has a particular appeal for professionals. All members are exhorted to do their work with utmost professional excellence. Moreover, by offering everything to God, it is possible, through holy ambition, not only to strive for success, but also to answer the call to holiness. "What's more, we must look upon our raises and promotions as not only our just desserts, but God's just desserts!" While this might seem like a free pass for over-achievers, Hahn insists that holy ambition is not self-aggrandizement, but an acknowledgement that we will be judged by how well we use the time and talent God has given us. Despite its appeal to type A personalities and careerists, Hahn insists that Opus Dei is neither exclusive nor elitist, but rather the way in which one can sanctify his success by offering it to God.

The spiritual foundation of Opus Dei, however, is not sanctification through work, but rather "divine filiation," a term Hahn uses no fewer than fifteen times. By "divine filiation," St. Josemaria meant that we truly become God's children through Baptism. As a Protestant steeped in covenant theology, Hahn found the concept of sonship enormously attractive and uses it to explain how this "divinization" can sanctify everything that fills up a human life, including work and the family. Hahn discusses Escriva's thoughts on marriage, the blessings of children, and the gift of celibacy. Moreover, Escriva wanted the family paradigm to be applied to life in Opus Dei and in the Church and he hoped that the Work would be spread through an apostolate of friendship. So attractive did Hahn find these teachings, that he insists, from the beginning, Opus Dei felt like home.

But just because he was so comfortable in Opus Dei from the start, the subtitle, My Spiritual Journey in Opus Dei, is somewhat misleading. Those who are familiar with Hahn might recall that he co-authored, with his wife, Kimberly, an earlier work entitled, Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism. This book outlines the emotional, intellectual, and spiritual distances they traversed from their days as students in an Evangelical Protestant seminary to their separate conversions to Catholicism some five years apart and the strains on their marriage in the intervening time. In what they call their "testimony" or conversion story, no detail is too small to share or too personal. Theirs, indeed, was a journey.

This is the antithesis of Hahn's spiritual journey in Opus Dei. In fact, this is rather an impersonal personal story. Having assured the reader twice how at home he felt in Opus Dei from the beginning, it comes as something of a shock to read late in the book, "I still remember the moment when I 'got' Opus Dei. Up till then, I didn't truly understand what set Opus Dei apart from anything else." And this comes after pages and pages of calm elucidation of the teachings of St. Josemaria. A friend in Opus Dei had told him that he would further his wife's conversion more by downplaying theological arguments and turning up the romance. Then comes a phrase never used in Rome Sweet Home, "I'll spare you the details."

In fact, throughout the book, it seems that Hahn does, indeed, spare us the details. Whether he had any doubts about Opus Dei, whether his involvement in it caused any further trouble in an already strained marriage, whether he worried about making such a major commitment, or even exactly when he joined Opus Dei all these are details that Hahn does not choose to share with the reader. Obviously, there is no comparison between his journey to Catholicism and his spiritual journey in Opus Dei.

But while it may not be much of a journey, this book is certainly a very attractive, even compelling, presentation of how the spiritual insights and teachings of St. Josemaria Escriva can transform ordinary &cork into extraordinary grace.
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Author:Tardif, Joan
Publication:Catholic Insight
Date:May 1, 2007
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