"He instinctively can find the shining greatness of our American culture and does a good job of highlighting it (although he also does have those rare lapses when he writes about hockey, but that is something caused by impurities in the Eastern waters or something)." Erik Keilholtz
Under the patronage of St. Tammany
Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children. Email
In a packed St. Peter's Square on October 6, barring fire, flood, crocodiles in the Tiber, or the remake of Ben-Hur, the late Monsignor Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, the controversial founder and guiding spirit of Opus Dei, will be declared a saint – a certified, bona fide, and prayer-answering citizen of Heaven. While this swift and improbable canonization will no doubt exhilarate Escriva's followers, it will just as certainly exasperate his foes, set a vexing precedent, and raise fresh questions about papal infallibility. With apologies to Shakespeare, even if the graves don't stand tenantless while the sheeted dead squeak and gibber in the Roman streets, the shock waves will be felt from Michelangelo's dome to the crypt of Athanasius.
It's not simply that Escriva and Opus Dei have a legion of critics and a history of dubious practices, it's the startling pace John Paul II has followed in exalting this mysterious shepherd and his multinational flock through a series of breathtakingly honorific 10-year milestones -- granting Opus Dei personal prelature status (1982), beatifying Escriva (1992), and now (2002) declaring this dynamic but disturbing son of Spain worthy to rub elbows with such giants as John the Baptist, Peter and Paul, Joan of Arc, Thomas More, Therese of Lisieux, and Christina the Astonishing. And truly, if there's anything more astonishing than St. Christina, who climbed trees, hid in ovens, and even flew into the rafters of a church to avoid sinful human contamination, it's the record speed with which Escriva (1902-1975) will have won his heavenly spurs: a mere 27 years from coffin to choir. But there it is -- Roma locuta est and no angry letters, please. Advocates of the old-fashioned wait and see, devil's advocate school of saint-anointing may stage massive protests and submit petitions swarming with signatures, but nothing short of divine intervention is likely to head off what promises to be the most audacious canonization of modern times…
The present elevated status of Escriva and Opus Dei is of course only one of many astonishments in the brave new Rome of 2002 -- this increasingly vulnerable "temple" that a number of very human "leopards" have been breaking into ever since the Second Vatican Council opened the windows and let in the so-called fresh air of dialogue, collegiality, and ecumenism. If the leopards have not yet drunk the sacrificial chalices dry, they have at the very least left their paw prints all over the altar with their liturgical novelties and Bob Dylan Eucharistic Conferences, their Assisi brotherhood fests, their shell-game antics in the matter of Fatima, and their brazen disregard for the rights and rituals of classic Catholicism.
To be sure, Escriva and Opus Dei represent a leopard with a very different pattern of spots and manner of operating. Whereas the others have generally been diluters of the sacrificial chalices -- adding the pale water of liberalism to the good wine of orthodoxy -- Escriva and Opus Dei have brought an additive of unmistakable potency: Serviam, the spirit of true believers. Here are people who look, act, and sound like the solid old Catholics of yesteryear -- in fact, more so. And that's just the problem: in their scrupulous adherence to the fierce and narrow demands of their humorless and superorthodox prelature, Opus Dei members inevitably become more "Catholic" than Catholicism -- especially in the respective matters of self-discipline, spiritual direction, and reverence for authority. And nowhere is that reverence more evident than in the unthinking, uncritical, and virtually Maoist way they praise and quote the man variously called "the Father," "Our Father," and "the Founder."
Now, it seems, they'll also be calling him "the Saint." And whether they'll be calling him that in truth or misbelief is a matter of the gravest concern, notwithstanding the dictum of Thomas Aquinas that infallibility is not involved in a papal pronouncement based on noninfallible "fact." It remains that heresies are temporary and canonizations are permanent, and if Rome is wrong about Escriva, the error will forever taint the whole idea of sainthood, to say nothing of destroying trust in the keys of Peter…