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Joining Opus Dei

by Tammy A. DiNicola

 

December 1, 1998

 

There has been much controversy over when a person actually "joins" Opus Dei. When asked the

simple question, "When did you join Opus Dei?" a numerary (celibate Opus Dei member) could

possibly give five different answers. How the numerary answers depends on who the recipient of the

information is and how much the numerary wants the person to know. By practicing this type of

deception, Opus Dei members can effectively distort the truth without feeling that they have blatantly

lied. Opus Dei members are often unaware of the utter frustration this deception can cause for

parents and others who merely seek honest, forthright answers to their questions. For the two and a

half years that I was a numerary member of Opus Dei, my own parents and family experienced the

frustration of never receiving straight-forward answers to questions not only about when I joined, but

about many aspects of Opus Dei life.

 

On February 17, 1988, I decided to commit my life to Opus Dei. I wrote a letter to the Prelate of

Opus Dei at the time, Don Alvaro del Portillo, asking to join as a numerary member. I knew very

little about Opus Dei life, but vaguely committed to live "the spirit of Opus Dei" as it was explained

by my Opus Dei superiors. The writing of the letter is commonly called "whistling" by Opus Dei

members and is cause for great celebration in Opus Dei centers. I was greeted with exuberant hugs

after I "whistled," and was approached excitedly by numeraries from all over the United States who

knew that I was the one who had recently ''whistled.''

 

For the next six months I received one-on-one classes on the "spirit of Opus Dei" and what numerary

life entails. On August 17, 1988, six months after I "whistled," I made what is called "the

admission." It consisted of a short ceremony with an Opus Dei priest and an Opus Dei lay director. I

verbally agreed, at the spiritual director's request, to follow the directives ofthe Opus Dei priests and

my spiritual directors in living "the spirit of Opus Dei."

 

For the next year, I received more classes on Opus Dei life. These classes dealt with the same topics

covered before "the admission," but in more depth. A year and a half after "whistling," a numerary

then makes "the oblation." I did this on August 17, 1989; I made an oral contract with Opus Dei to

commit my life to "the spirit of Opus Dei" until the following March 19 (1990). Numeraries are

often told that to leave Opus Dei after "the oblation" would be a "grave matter," which according to

Catholic teaching makes it a mortal sin if done with full knowledge and full consent.

 

After the oblation, numeraries are eligible to attend the "center of studies," an intense two years

devoted to studying Opus Dei life, Latin, church history, Spanish, and the history of the Founder,

Josemaria Escriva. In the United States, there are two Opus Dei "centers of study"; Riverside, for

male numeraries, located in New York City, and Brimfield, for female numeraries, located in

Newton, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. In addition to their studies, women numeraries learn

how to meticulously do laundry, dress, clean houses, and other domestic duties. Students at the

center of studies generally are full-time students or work full-time; the schedule can be quite

demanding. I entered the Brimfield center of studies in August 1989 while attending my last year at

Boston College.

 

On March 19, 1990, I verbally "renewed" my contract to live "the spirit of Opus Dei." March 19 is

the feast of St. Joseph, a big feast day for Opus Dei members. On March 19, each numerary

announces two or three names of recruits who might join Opus Dei in one year's time. On the night

before, March 18, the directors at each of the Opus Dei centers read the names from the previous

year's "St. Joseph list." The numeraries cheer upon hearing the names of "new" numeraries, and

often make comments or updates on the recruits who have not yet joined. The recruits do not know

that they are targeted and talked about in this way. On the first March 19 that I was an Opus Dei

member, I remember feeling strange that so many people had been talking about me as a potential

member before I had even made the decision.

 

I left Opus Dei on June to, 1990. If! had stayed, I would have verbally renewed my contract every

March 19 until I was eligible to make "the fidelity," five years after "the oblation." At that point, I

would have been a "permanent" member of Opus Dei and would not have to renew my contract

again. At the time of ' 'the fidelity," members are strongly "encouraged" under pain of disobedience

to sign their wills over to Opus Dei. (See time line of Opus Dei membership attached to this article.)

 

Opus Dei allows children as young as 14 years old to make an initial commitment to Opus Dei. At

14-112, a child can become a "candidate" and begins to live according to ''the spirit of Opus Dei." At

16-112, the minor can "whistle," committing his or her life to Opus Dei. By 18 years old, the

numerary makes "the oblation," and at 23 years old, ''the fidelity." When a minor joins in this

fashion, Opus Dei spokespersons often state that the minor is not a member until age 23, when he or

she makes "the fidelity." Yet at other times, Opus Dei numeraries will say that they joined at any of

the following times: when they become "candidates"; when they "whistled"; when they made ''the

admission"; at ''the oblation." So when do people join? Opus Dei spokespersons and individual

members rarely coincide in their answers. Candidates and those who have just ''whistled'' are treated

as full members of Opus Dei by other numeraries. Before reaching 18 years, a child who has

"whistled" has very likely heard that to leave Opus Dei after the oblation would be "grave matter":

how can a child of such a tender age make a life-altering decision with this kind of subtle pressure

hanging in the balance?

 

Even at the oblation, Opus Dei members do not know all aspects of Opus Dei life. Shortly before I

left Opus Dei, I learned that if a sibling were to marry, I would not be able to attend the reception. I

also learned that I could not accept the role of godmother if asked, and should not stay overnight at

my family's house if possible. I "discovered" other aspects of Opus Dei life as well. When I moved

into an Opus Dei center and sat on the bed, I realized that I would be sleeping on a board; when I

looked through the mail and took out my letters, I was told that they had to be given to the director

first for her perusal.

 

In my heart, I believed that I had joined Opus Dei for life when I ''whistled''; yet when asked by my

family, I denied that I was a real member, even after I made ''the oblation." I did not want my family

to know the truth because it reflected badly on Opus Dei and me; Opus Dei places its members in a

position where they feel obligated to breach the eighth commandment. When pressed by their

families, Opus Dei members will often lie or practice mental reservation not only about when they

joined OpusDei, but about other aspects of Opus Dei life such as corporal mortification (use of the

cilice and the discipline which inflict pain), censorship, and financial obligations. Despite this, Opus

Dei asserts that there is no secrecy, and that indeed Opus Dei is "an open book." Those of us who

have been wounded and deceived by Opus Dei wish only that they would reform their deceptive

practices and allow members to join freely without subtle pressures.

 

December 1, 1998


 



Revised December 19, 2011