Familia de sangre

How do Numeraries and associates relate to their parents and brothers and sisters? (por el momento sólo está en inglés, pero en breve la traduciremos)

Numerary members are men and women who practise apostolic celibacy so as to be fully available to take care of the apostolic undertakings and the formation of other faithful of the Prelature. It is something to which they commit themselves specifically. In fact when required they are ready to change jobs to facilitate the needs of the Prelature's apostolates. At times they may give up their present job (normally only for a period) to devote themselves to the Prelature's functions of formation and government. They usually live in centres of Opus Dei.

Associate members also live apostolic celibacy. Each one lives with his or her family or wherever they decide. Their availability to help with formational and apostolic activities depends on their individual circumstances.

Numeraries continue to live at home or wherever else they were living before they joined Opus Dei until after a period of initial formation. It is worth noting that by the time most numeraries move to live in a centre of Opus Dei, they are at least 20 years of age.

In the case of a numerary, a vocation to Opus Dei brings with it a new set of relationships with other members, not unlike those family relationships in their parents' home. In establishing this new relationship they act in much the same way their parents did when they left their parents' home to form their own families. Numerary members respond to God's call to create an environment of family affection among the faithful of Opus Dei.

Numeraries lead very full lives. It is worth bearing in mind that they have a full-time job like any other citizen, practising their trade or profession. The tasks of formation and direction of the apostolates therefore (except for special cases when they are temporarily called to full-time internal governmental duties), are carried out after work hours, when another man or woman would be occupied with family duties.

Also, in order to look after other members of the Work, men and women numeraries undertake studies in theology and philosophy at a level comparable to that of a candidate for the priesthood. Clearly, fitting all that into their lives does not leave much time for other things. Numeraries love their parents very dearly, but, for example, they will not be able to spend annual holidays with them: because this is the main time they have for their theological studies and formation.

Naturally they visit their parents and other family members and spend time with them. But like young married people, they are sometimes unable to make it to some birthday parties, anniversaries, or the like. This does not mean that the bonds of affection with their families have been in some way lessened, but simply that they have taken on new responsibilities, as children invariably do when they grow up. It is true to say that numeraries do not spend as much time with their families as some parents, perhaps, might like them to, or as much as another unmarried son or daughter might do. It is a common misconception to treat a numerary as being equivalent to an unmarried son or daughter, free from duties to spouse and children. The amount of time a numerary spends with his parents will depend on the individual circumstances of all concerned, the health of the parents, whether they live in the same city or country, and so on. But in general it will compare favourably with, for example, the time a parent of a large family can afford to spend with his own parents while leaving the other spouse to look after the children. When parents of numeraries or associates are in financial need, they receive at least as much help from their son or daughter in Opus Dei as from their other children.

Blessed Josemaría Escrivá often referred to the Fourth Commandment as the "most sweet precept of the Decalogue" and insisted that members of Opus Dei should respect, honour and love their parents even more intensely after joining Opus Dei. Indeed he often said that members owe ninety per cent of their vocation to their parents. Experience shows that most parents of numeraries are very happy to see their son or daughter in Opus Dei. Indeed many remark that these are their happiest children and are those who often show them most love and affection. Also, over time, a member's parents find that they have not only retained the love and affection of their son or daughter but also have acquired the affection of their child's many new brothers and sisters in Opus Dei. Often parents discover their own vocation to Opus Dei through the vocation of one of their own children. Indeed the Prelature is perhaps unique among Catholic Church institutions in that mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, are all capable of receiving the same vocation to Opus Dei. One of the regular features of activities in Opus Dei centres are spiritual and other activities for parents and family members, especially at times like Christmas and Easter.

Someone wanting to join Opus Dei, at whatever age, will naturally tell those closest to him, as he would if he were to become engaged. He won't always rush to do so, just as a boy won't rush to introduce his girlfriend to his parents after his second date, or tell them he is thinking of entering a seminary when the idea first comes to his mind. Ideas and plans have a natural gestation process in the mind and heart, a time when things are part of the deepest intimacy of the person, not to be untimely revealed, and this should be respected. The reality is that most people do, in fact discuss the matter with their parents before asking to join Opus Dei. Both they and their parents have the right to consult whomever they want at any time, just as they are free to leave if they decide not to continue in their vocation.

The time at which parents are consulted in the prospective vocation of their children varies according to the desires and circumstances of the persons involved. Obviously parents are aware when their sons or daughters are frequenting centres of Opus Dei, and of the nature of the formational activities that take place there. They have ample opportunity to get to know Opus Dei, something which is encouraged by the Prelature. Likewise, they can consult and advise their children at any time, and most do so.

It is possible that some parents may for a while feel distanced from their daughters and sons because, understandably, they would like to have them around the house more. Sometimes, the sons or daughter may not have properly explained to their parents their vocation and its demands. Sometimes also, parents may have unduly projected their own plans onto their son or daughter, and may feel disappointed because they have not followed the life-plan they envisaged for them. It's also possible, though not excusable, that a daughter or son might be careless about visiting them or about writing regularly, even if they were not very far from where they live, perhaps on the mistaken excuse that they are too busy. It can also happen that a domineering parent may resent no longer being able to impose his or her will on their now adult son or daughter. Another factor is the universal experience that a person's character can change as he or she goes from teens to adulthood, and parents may be quick to attribute changes in mood or behaviour, for example, to involvement with Opus Dei when, in reality, they may result from many other causes.

In 1981 Cardinal Hume issued some recommendations for the Archdiocese of Westminster. The second of his points stated that: "It is essential that young people who wish to join Opus Dei should first discuss the matter with their parents or legal guardians. If there are, by exception, good reasons for not approaching their families, these reasons should, in every case, be discussed with the local bishop or his delegate". In the context of the topic being studied here, it is interesting to note that the Cardinal's recommendations acknowledge that a young person may in fact find it difficult or impossible to discuss this matter with his parents, or that such discussions may be inappropriate. This echoes common opinion among ecclesiastical authors and theologians: that in choosing and following their vocation as a priest or religious – the only vocations they used to consider until very recently – not only is the individual not obliged to consult his parents, in certain cases it would be imprudent to do so. Two Doctors of the Church, St. Alphonsus Liguori and St. Thomas Aquinas, are the standard authorities on this matter. The former – after mentioning that children should consult their parents when they are thinking of getting married – says that children would do better not to consult their parents about their plans to enter religious life or to live a celibate life. At first, this may sound surprising. But the reasons given are that parents have no experience of this type of life and that on certain occasions, parents, for different reasons, turn into avowed enemies of their children's desires, and try to prevent their carrying them out. Parental opposition – in one form or another – to a son's or daughter's vocation is not something exclusive to the Middle Ages. Recent documents from the Bishops Conference of England and Wales, and from the Bishops of Ireland, speak of parental opposition to the vocation of their children.

Some of the reasons for this parental opposition are given in the Bishops of England and Wales' document referred to: ignorance of what it entails; parents' desire for children to do well in life; insecurity (many parents regard the priesthood as a risk); celibacy (misunderstood and criticised), etc. There may also be a difficulty due to a weak or missing faith in those most involved. The problem is a real one, and the de-Christianisation of society has not brought a solution any closer. It is also an ancient problem: St. Patrick, writing of early Irish vocations, also mentioned it.

In summary, nothing could be farther from the truth than to suggest that the parents of numeraries and associates constitute some kind of problem for Opus Dei. On the contrary, these families are the greatest help to Opus Dei in its work of apostolate.

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