45. Does Opus Dei pressure people to join?

I’ve always found it interesting that among the criticisms that are often levied against Opus Dei there are two which are diametrically opposed. The first is that Opus Dei is secretive and only invites the elite to join. The other is that Opus Dei is too aggressive in recruiting new members.

Sometimes, it’s true, someone steps over the line, one way or the other. But I think the members of Opus Dei generally strike an appropriate balance between encouraging people to consider a vocation and leaving them enough space to make a truly free decision. The criticism that Opus Dei is too aggressive in recruiting new members is particularly aimed at their work with younger people, including teenagers, who may not have the maturity to resist perceived pressure from an authority figure like a spiritual director, or may not have the life experience to make a fully informed decision. Fully grown adults are fairly immune from pressure of this sort, and are usually too busy or too settled in their ways to be pressured into making a commitment like this. While I can’t say no one in Opus Dei has never put undue pressure on a young person to join, I can say that it absolutely did not happen in my case, and it doesn’t happen in most cases.

I’ve seen sites on the web that point to several passages from The Way which they claim prove that St. Josemaría taught us to force people to join Opus Dei. Invariably, these accusations are based on taking the quote completely out of context. For example, St. Josemaría refers to the parable of the wedding feast, where Jesus says “Go out into the highways and hedgerows and compel—compelle intrare—people to come in.” I’m going to quote from St. Josemaría’s homily, Freedom, a gift from God:

In the parable of the wedding feast, when the master of the house finds out that some guests have declined his invitation with poor excuses, he tells his servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedgerows and compel—compelle intrare—people to come in.’ Surely this is coercion, an act of violence against the legitimate freedom of each individual conscience? If we meditate on the Gospel and reflect on the teachings of Jesus, we will not mistake these commands for coercion. See how gently Christ invites: ‘If you have a mind to be perfect… If any man would come after me…’ His compelle intrare implies no violence, either physical or moral. Rather, it reflects the power of attraction of Christian example, which shows in its way of acting the power of God: ‘See how the Father attracts. He delights in teaching, and not in imposing necessity on men. That is how he attracts men towards himself.’

In other words, we should “make them come in” not by force of coercion, but by force of attraction. If we are living our Christian vocation well, then others will want to invite the Lord to join them, too, on their journey in the same way the disciples wanted Him to join them on the road to Emmaus. This is how we all should carry out our apostolate! We must always respect a person’s freedom.

Remember that “text without context is pretext,” usually for making an accusation.

Unfortunately, in some cases, people have been unduly pressured to join Opus Dei. It has happened to people I know. They’ve felt that members of the Work manipulated their friendship to pressure them to do something they didn’t want to do. I know those who have confided to me that this occurred to be honest and well-adjusted, and I trust their perception. But it didn’t happen to me.

All I can do is to apologize for the times this has occurred, and to say that this should not happen! Being human, I’m sure that some people in the Work confuse “invitation” with “pressure,” and have not known where to draw the line. When any member of the Work is aware of such a situation, he is seriously bound in conscience to bring this to the attention of the directors. Anyone to whom this is done should also feel free to tell the person to back off, and if they don’t, to go to the directors.

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