Catholic News Service
As an audio coordinator for “Sesame Street,” Katie Robinson knew she had a job others might envy.
She liked her work, enjoyed the people she worked with and, as a bonus, she could say she knew Big Bird personally (She does, actually).
But she wanted her work to mean something more, so, in 2014, she became a supernumerary member of Opus Dei, (www.opusdei.org) the personal prelature founded in Spain in 1928 by St. Josemaria Escriva, who was canonized in 2002 as “the saint of ordinary life.” The group has more than 90,000 members worldwide — slightly more women than men — and about 3,000 in the United States.
Supernumeraries, most of whom are married, form the greatest number. Numeraries are celibate and usually live in Opus Dei centers, and associates also practice celibacy but live in their own homes. Less than 2 percent of the membership are priests.
Controversies and myths about Opus Dei, usually contained in fictional works, abound, but the daily experience of members is considerably different and drama-free.
A central goal is work as a means of sanctification. “That sounds like a big fancy word,” Robinson acknowledges. “What it means is, instead of work being an end in itself, it’s a means to an end. It’s a big change from just being successful. You can use your work as a way to get to heaven.”
And it’s fairly simple: “Just changing the intention of what I’m doing, integrating my work life and prayer life. I wasn’t as strong in my faith as I thought I should be. I wanted to become more serious in my faith, and I knew I couldn’t do it on my own.”
Membership in the prelature is renewed annually. There are no vows. The stated goal, Robinson says, is “spiritual formation” to help people “carry out their mission in the world. It also offers this formation to anyone else wanting to engage their faith at a deeper level.” There are classes, retreats, days of recollection and field trips among the activities.
Opus Dei stresses the message that laypeople — not just priests — can live holy lives.
A deeper relationship with faith sometimes also requires commuting trials. Robinson, who lives in Brooklyn, had to be at the TV studios in Queens at 7 a.m. So she wanted to find a 6 a.m. Mass to start her day, but found that the only one of those was in Manhattan. Attending required on-time subway connections, “but it really did provide a foundation. It was easier to overcome the challenges of the day.”
Elizabeth Bergin, a homemaker in Bethesda, Maryland, had been going on Opus Dei service projects and retreats since elementary school and joined during her senior year of college. “I knew it was going to be part of my life forever.”
Projects included a stay in a Mexican village to provide food and hygiene classes where sanitation was poor. “I remember there were nine children and their mother in one room with a dirt floor. And they were super joyful. I came back changed, and I think that was very formative — and very wise of my mother, I might add.”
She’s stopped working full time as an arts administrator, including at the Vatican Museum, to raise her three children. But she found that membership applied wonderfully to domestic life.
“It gives me a lot of support. When you have small children (hers are 5, 3 and 8 months), it’s harder to get out and make friends and meet new people. But my work is different now. It’s weekly meal plans and shopping. Virtue forms in the home, just like any work outside the home.”
She says Opus Dei provides “the virtue of the well-ordered life.”
Sanctification of work has three parts to it, Bergin says. “First, it means whatever you’re doing, you’re doing it to the best of your abilities — which is hard. It’s easy to get distracted.
“Second, you’re sanctifying yourself through your work. You become a saint through whatever work you are doing.
“Third, you are sanctifying others — getting others close to God through your work.”
Jensen is a freelance writer.
Catholic News Service