Sunday, September 18, 2016

Leopards in the Temple: Opus Dei, Escriva, and John Paul's Rome

Leopards break into the temple and drink the sacrificial chalices dry. This happens again and again, repeatedly. Finally it can be counted on beforehand and becomes part of the ceremony.

--Franz Kafka, Parables

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.  (more...)


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