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Mike's Theology Corner: The Da Vinci Code and Opus Dei
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The Da Vinci Code and Opus Dei

This mini commentary is not finished, there is still more to come.

What authority do I have to write this commentary for someone who has neither read the book nor seen the movie? We all have a hierarchy of people we trust in our lives. If a police officer warns me about an area where my car could be vandalized, am I going to drive there and park my car there for a week? If he recommends that I don't speed through a yellow light, will I have to try it, "for the experience?"

Within the hierarchy of people I trust, I've listened to people with degrees in Church history and Catholic theology. My opinions are based on these people.

We recommend you neither buy the book or see the movie. It attacks the Divinity of Jesus, Our Lord and the Roman Catholic Church he founded by fabricating history. No practicing Catholic should support either Dan Brown, Ron Howard, the director, or Tom Hanks. Instead we should pray for their conversion to the true Catholic Faith that is always loyal to the Church's Magisterium and Holy Father. Nevertheless, if you do choose to read the book or see the movie, we recommend you ALSO read an appropriate critique of the book and/or the movie. We would recommend this book or this DVD.

That said:

His novel is fiction but has the effect of planting seeds of doubt about Christian Catholicism into all faith-fulled Christians. The book does not have one shred of truth and distorts Catholic Christian history and theology. He is telling the reader and movie goer:

  • it is OK not to believe your Catholic Faith
  • it is OK to doubt your Catholic Faith

That is wrong! Your faith is a gift from God and historicity of the Christian Catholic Faith is something that can't be changed. They want you to believe that the Church has been keeping information from you and has not told you the whole truth about its own history. That historians down through the ages for over 2000 years some how got it wrong.

This is a form of an earlier Church heresy called Gnosticism. Gnosticism stated that only a chosen few knew the REALLY truth about the Catholic Church. A truth the other poor people didn't know. Gnosticism has its roots in pride. Unlike the secrets of Gnosticism, the mysteries of the Church, require a humility to understand what we can, but have faith when we can't totally grasp some teaching.

It also slanders Opus Dei. What is Opus Dei?

The goal of this lay Catholic organization is to encourage the ordinary parishioner / the lay Catholic to grow in holiness in the world for Our Lord Jesus. The Church has given official approval to the existence of Opus Dei by erecting it as a personal prelature. {Personal prelatures are ecclesiastical jurisdictions provided for by the Second Vatican Council and the Code of Canon Law that are created to meet specific pastoral needs with greater flexibility. Opus Dei combines in a single worldwide institution priests and laity, women and men, sharing the same vocation of spreading the ideal of holiness in the world and the sanctification of work.} What follows has been taken from the official Opus Dei web site:

“Opus Dei’s main activity consists in offering its members, and other people, the spiritual means they need to live as good Christians in the midst of the world,” explained its founder.

Spiritual formation

The faithful of the Prelature attend weekly classes called “circles”, dealing with doctrinal and ascetical topics, and a monthly day of recollection, a time for personal prayer and reflection on topics to do with Christian life. In addition, they attend an annual retreat lasting three to five days. Similar activities are also offered to the cooperators, to young people, and to anyone else who wishes to attend.

This formation is given in the centers of the Prelature and in other appropriate places. For example, a circle may be given at the home of one of the people who attend, and a day of recollection may be held in a church whose parish priest permits it to be used for that purpose.

Personal apostolate

Personal testimony is always the most important apostolate in Opus Dei. It is an apostolate of witness, of specific and effective help given to others, at work and in the other circumstances of daily life: a personal apostolate carried out through word and example. As a result, members’ apostolic work is not limited to specific fields such as education, or care for the sick or disabled. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, all Christians, whatever their secular occupation may be, ought to help to find Christian solutions to the problems of society and give constant witness to their faith.

Corporate apostolate

The faithful of the Prelature, with the assistance of the cooperators of Opus Dei and many others, sometimes undertake charitable or educational initiatives that entrust their spiritual and doctrinal orientation to the Prelature. These initiatives are called "corporate" apostolates to distinguish them from the personal apostolate of members, which is Opus Dei's primary apostolate.

Among these corporate apostolic works are secondary schools, universities, women’s centers, medical clinics in underdeveloped areas, schools for farm workers, institutes for professional education, student residences and cultural centers. The Prelature does not involve itself in any profit-making, commercial or political ventures.

Corporate apostolic works are owned and managed by those who initiated them and not by the Prelature of Opus Dei, which assumes responsibility only for their spiritual and doctrinal orientation. Each undertaking is financed in the same way as any other similar institution: e.g., by residential fees, grants, donations, etc. Corporate works regularly run at a loss, given the type of work they undertake and the fact that they are not intended to be profit-making. For this reason, in addition to donations from the faithful of Opus Dei and from the cooperators and others, they may receive official subsidies from government

A critique of Opus Dei, pro and con

In my area, I have friends and family members who have both very positive and very negative experiences with Opus Dei. Critics have charged it with controlling the lives of some of its members, and with manipulative recruiting practices.

Some have experienced an environment where:

  • rash judgments are made
  • mind control is involved.
  • people are pulled away from their families and
  • people are used for their money.

On the other side I've had some friends that have nothing but admiration for the goals and way of life Opus Dei has to offer those who choose to get involved.

One of our colleagues, Terry, has stated:

I have nothing but admiration for Opus Dei (or more properly entitled the Holy Cross Prelature) However, their methods of living are too much for me to embrace in my life, but I admire those that do so.

When I reflect on the family and friends who have had bad experiences with those that have had a MUCH more positive experiences, the only difference I see is a greater commitment to practicing the faith by those with a positive experience.

No one, not even Opus Dei members, are denying that the organization, like any other lay or religious organization, has its set of problems. The Church has established statutes for the governance of Opus Dei, putting an end to the somewhat secretive treatment of its internal rules. The question is: Are they dealing with it. I believe they are.

One book recommended by the head of Opus Dei in America as well as a good friend of mine:

Opus Dei : An Objective Look Behind the Myths and Reality of the Most Controversial Force in the Catholic Church by John L. Allen

One of my favorite authors and brother apologists in the faith, Scott Hahn is coming out with a book in September called:

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

I'm sure it will be a GREAT read!

No matter what the ups and downs of Opus Dei are, there's obviously something positive here that the Church wants to foster.

But where does someone who has had a bad experience with Opus Dei go to grow in holiness?

I would recommend one of two options:

  • as a lay Catholic, live a sacramental life by striving to get to daily Mass and trying to say the rosary daily if possible
  • if you feel that you are called to a vowed religious order, check out the various orders named after the Saints:

    • Benedictine, (my favorite),
    • Dominican,
    • Jesuit,
    • Franciscans, etc.

    Some of these religious orders also have third orders for the lay Catholics like the Benedictines and Franciscans. This allows the lay Catholic to be associated with a Catholic religious order while still living in the world. It usually involves some minimum requirements like making a regular visit to the order, saying some prayers, etc,. The KEY: Make sure they are loyal to the Church's Magisterium, the official Teachings of the Church and the Holy Father. Many are but many ARE NOT.

While on the issue of people who have had a bad experience with Opus Dei, I'd like to express one major concern.

Throughout Church history there have been times where religious people in authority have scandalized the Faith by either their actions or inactions. The problems in Opus Dei, like any other religious organization are not anything new. There is a tendency though for people who have had a bad experience, with what is otherwise a virtuous organization, to have their experience re-affirmed in a movie like the Da Vinci Code. For those Catholics who have had a bad experience with Opus Dei there is a concern that they'll go see the movie and not only re-affirm their personal scandalous experiences with Opus Dei, but affirm the other heretical, anti-Catholic, anti-Church material Dan Brown has put forward.

If we make generalities on people or organizations based on bad experiences, we don't allow God to work in the hearts and minds for that change that is needed. We ultimately end up stereotyping an organization or person solely based on previous sins. I should know this because I've done that to certain friends : )

My question is:

Why has Dan Brown chosen a lay Catholic organization to slander?

Why not the Benedictines, Dominicans, Franciscans or some other Catholic religious order? Surely "some" of them have their set of "problems and sins", which over time they are able to rectify.

I think part of the reason is because of the world-wide effect a compelling lay Catholic organization in the workplace dedicated to holiness and the Holy Father would have on the world if the goals of Opus Dei were to succeed. Just my opinion.

Is it a sin to go see this movie? Based on what you now know, Probably Yes.

It depends on the foreknowledge and intent of the person before buying the book or going to the movie. As Catholic Christians we are obliged to stay away from occasions of sin including ones that would make us doubt the faith we publicly proclaim to believe. The Church has warned the faithful about this movie just as it would warn us about buying a copy of Penthouse or Playboy. Why? We are opening ourselves up to an occasion of sin via temptation. If a person knows about what the book and/or movie is about, yet goes to see it, YES, in my opinion, it is a sin.

Coming soon: subtle errors in the movie itself.

But you may say:

Lighten up Mike, it's only fiction!

Bingo! That's my point. Because it is fiction, it has the tendency to plant seeds of doubt and statements like "I wonder if..." in the readers mind. It is because it is fiction AND completely distorts Catholic Christian history that ALL Christians, weather Catholic or not, should not go.

How does the Christian publicly say NO to Dan Brown and his anti-Catholic material? Purposely plan to go to the movies the week the da Vinci Code movie opens but instead of protesting the movie, which will just bring attention to it, go to another movie that weekend several times.

I plan to see "United 93" and another caricature movie by Dreamworks.

I can only see four groups of people that would approve of Dan Brown's book or movie:

  • uncatechized Catholics
  • uncatechized Christians
  • people that claim to be Christian but are really anti-Catholic
  • atheist and agnostics

The response to this book and movie will be an assessment of how well the Catholic Church in America has catechized the faithful. I'm concerned that many people who claim to be strong Catholics will find nothing wrong with either the book or movie. As Catholics in America we have to study our faith more.

I certainly didn't understand the faith after I finished CCD the way I do now! That gape of knowledge over time can be fatal to our salvation.

Mike Humphrey

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