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Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children. Email
Wednesday, October 02, 2002 "Blessed be pain. Loved be pain. Sanctified be pain. . .
Glorified be pain!" Josemaria Escriva, The Way
A Procession of Flagellants, Goya
Opus Dei founder Josemaria Escriva, to be made a saint Oct. 6, is said to have been so fierce in beating himself with a cord-like whip called a "Discipline" that he routinely spattered the bathroom walls with blood.
The Opus Dei movement Escriva launched is today seen in the vanguard of the Catholic Church's New Evangelization, and is influential from Rome to K Street.
Yet certain devotional practices of the society remain positively medieval. These exercises in corporal mortification include wearing for two hours a day a spiked chain called a “Cilice” that breaks the skin around the upper thigh, and beating oneself 33 times once a week with the “Discipline.”
Opus Dei members interviewed by the Chicago archdiocesan newspaper said whipping is a form of suffering for God.
Martinez was put off by reading that Escriva whipped himself until he bled when she began looking into Opus Dei. “When I read that, I didn’t understand, because I always thought God gave me my body and he wants me to take care of it,” she said.
When she raised the issue with her Opus Dei spiritual director, he said that some people are called to emulate the suffering of Jesus on the cross. Others are not.
Suffering and sacrifice aren’t unusual in modern culture, said Hefferan, citing the grimaces she often sees on the faces of joggers in the morning. But most people do it for themselves, she said, while Opus Dei members do it for God.
“Sacrificing for God is the foreign idea,” she said.
Reporter Isambard Wilkinson of the Telegraph raised the issue of self-flagellation in this highly readable take on Opus Dei:
SHORTLY after I arrived in Madrid, long before other religious organisations knew of my existence, I received a telephone call from an Opus Dei official.
"You may not know who we are," he said in a consciously unthreatening voice. "But would you like to come and have an informal discussion about things?"
Sipping sherry in the organisation's press office in Madrid, I quickly appreciated what the message was. "You will hear all sorts of inaccurate theories about Opus Dei. We have no political influence at all. There is nothing strange about us," said Luis Gordon, Opus Dei's press officer.
Most Spaniards will tell you that Opus Dei is mysterious but offer very little information on what the organisation does. Most prefer merely to shudder at the mention of its name.
According to its critics, Opus Dei is a secretive and conservative religious order of well-placed people who form a near-Masonic shadowy influence behind Spain's political and financial elite.
Opus Dei's swiftly expanding influence at the heart of the Vatican makes it an obvious target for conspiracy theories. That is perhaps unsurprising as the group is known to favour practices with more than a whiff of the medieval - including the wearing of cilicios, pointed chains which dig into the thigh, or self-flagellation with a five-tailed whip while chanting the Salve Maria.
The Opus Dei man has a timeless take on the issue: "Do you like pretty women? So do I. Do you know what effort they make to get a nice figure, and increase their height with high heels - this is a very hard mortification, much more than a cicilio.
"Why does society accept this terrible mortification and then is scandalised when people do it for God?" asked Mr Gordon.
An entertaining feature in The Economist 10 years ago on old-boy networks from Skull and Bones to the Trilateral Commission looked at Opus Dei:
THE Jesuits have been around longer, but Opus Dei is rapidly supplanting the older, more intellectual order as a powerful elite at the heart of the Catholic Church. Although the organization is fairly secretive, it received unprecedented publicity earlier this year when 150,000 members descended on Rome for the beatification of the organisation's founder, Monsignor Jose Maria Escriva de Balaguer.
Opus Dei (literally, the work of God) originated in Spain in 1928, but has now spread its network through 80 countries. Many of its members are recruited at school and university. Although only 2% of Opus Dei members are priests, the organisation's adherents dedicate themselves to prayer and self-discipline. The real masochists live in residencies run by the Opus Dei, where they practise self-flagellation and wear uncomfortable spikes on the inside of their trousers. But most members of the society live outwardly normal lives and keep their membership of Opus Dei a secret, even from close friends and relatives.
Outsiders hoping to identify members of Opus Dei must look for tell-tale signs. Somewhere in the house of most members will be a small model of a donkey, representing the ass that Christ used to enter Jerusalem. A whiff of Atkinson's cologne, the favourite of Escriva, is also a giveaway.
The canonization ceremonies Oct. 6 no doubt will see Rome awash in asses and Atkinson's.