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Reflections on the Administration in Opus Dei: Richness and Perspectives


Ana Marta González, Professor of Moral Philosophy, University of Navarra, Spain.

Cristina Abecia, Graduate in Audiovisual Communication and MA in Communication Research, Consultant to the Central Advisory

Susana López, PhD in Philosophy of Knowledge, Prefect of Studies of the Central Advisory Office


INTRODUCTION

This document is the result of work sessions held in 2020, involving an interdisciplinary and international group of women of the Prelature.[1] During those days they studied in depth the identifying features and the apostolic potential of the reality of the Administration[2] in Opus Dei, starting from what Saint Josemaría saw and wrote, and taking into account the experiences gained over the years.

The methodology applied in this work is based on three elements: the study and understanding of a selection of texts from the founder of Opus Dei referring to the Administration in order, to understand his conception and perspective of this reality; reflection on the historical evolution of the Administration; and the articulation of a dialogue integrating the perspective of different disciplines and professional profiles to reach the most complete view possible of its nature. The aim of the resulting document is to offer reflections that help to penetrate the identity and apostolic projection of the Administration, throwing light on its essential features, which profile it as “a professional work, an apostolic method and means of sanctification”.[3]

We realize that, as years have passed, the Administration might have come to be understood in a reductive manner, as the combination of services offered by women of the Work, in the centres where numerary men and women live, in order to make the family spirit and fidelity to one’s vocation possible and enkindle the sense of mission. Furthermore, these tasks are expected to be carried out with professional excellence. These considerations taken together could lead to understanding the expression “apostolate of apostolates”, as the founder of Opus Dei referred to the Administration[4],mainly in an instrumental sense: as a reality that enhances the dedication of the people of the Work to other apostolic fields. However, we think that this merely functional approach impoverishes the reality of the Administration as understood by St. Josemaría, providing alternative ways of perceiving their work, eventually more functional, but distanced from its original meaning.

In fact, one result of understanding the Administration only in its functional or instrumental sense, as a much appreciated provider of services, could be, given social, cultural and economic situations of different countries, that alternative ways of organizing these services arise. This might in some cases alter the nature proper to the Administration.[5]

This could happen where for various reasons people do not see the Administration in its role as creating the atmosphere of home and family but rather from the point of view of the cost incurred.

Nevertheless, this kind of evaluation, however understandable given a markedly utilitarian social context, differs from the conception of the Administration as backbone[6],as the founder of Opus Dei defined it. Such a discrepancy is not a minor matter, because it could easily lead to thinking that this apostolate and the formation that upholds it, would not be able to adapt to contemporary times, nor lead the way in social and cultural changes, as the very spirit of the Work requires. In short, it would seem that the spinal column had lost something of its flexibility and its strength, slowing down the agile movement of the whole Work.

The foregoing considerations contrast, nevertheless, with the conviction that, by its own charisma, the Work and its apostolates are always up to date as shown by the living witness of many numeraries and assistant numeraries who not only deeply understand their mission but have penetrated through experience the grandeur of the vision St. Josemaría had of the Administration. As shown in his writings it always appears as an attractive, modern and fruitful reality. The question can then arise: when and how has the brilliance of this vital and dynamic reality that the Administration is, and is called to be, been blurred? How best can its intrinsic potential be freed, so that it energizes the progress of all the apostolates of the Work?

This study proposes to seek new perspectives from which to penetrate the supernatural and human dimension of what St. Josemaría did not hesitate to call “apostolate of apostolates”.

1. THE ADMINISTRATION AS “APOSTOLATE OF APOSTOLATES”

On many occasions, St. Josemaría defined the Administration as apostolate of apostolates. Among many possible texts, we select as an example this passage from Letter no. 36, of 1965, known as Verba Domini, about the sanctification of the work of the women of Opus Dei, and particularly the care of the centres of the Work:“Yours is the task of looking after the Administration of all our Centres, of both Sections: apostolate of apostolates, I write again, with the firm conviction of not exaggerating; a task which is a service to the whole Work and true professional work”.[7] We could ask ourselves what exactly St. Josemaría meant with this expression and what scope he gave to these words.

We think that, to fully appreciate what the Administration is, it would help to penetrate deeper into his concept of specific apostolate; that is, an apostolic sap, that vivifies the three branches of apostolate in the Work.[8]

But where do we start for a deep understanding of the mission proper to the Administration?

THE EVANGELICAL ROOT OF THIS APOSTOLATE

St. Josemaría found in the Gospel the hermeneutic key and the source that vivified the whole apostolate of the Work: “as I have always written to you, our spirit is (…) old as the Gospel and, as the Gospel, new (…). Then let us gather up the treasure of the Gospel with youthful spirit to make it reach all the corners of the earth[9]. And elsewhere: “We are new wine and our spirit is the doctrine of the Gospel, and our way of acting, the way of acting of the first Christians”.[10]

Applying these words to the reality of the Administration, we can begin from the fact that God, on becoming incarnate, wished to be born, to grow up and be cared for in a family, first that of Nazareth, later that of the apostles and now in the Church. Mark’s Gospel relates the vocation of the first apostles “Jesus called the Apostles to be with him and to send them out to preach” (cf. Mk 3, 14). The good news that Jesus taught reveals something novel: our filiation in the Son; that is, the message that God is our father, that he is with us and cares for us like a father cares for his children. Part of the vocation of the first disciples was to be with our Lord and be transformed by Him, and then be launched out for the mission. Joseph Ratzinger explains it in a suggestive way in his book Jesus of Nazareth: “In all the stages of Jesus’ activity that we have considered so far, it has become evident that Jesus is closely connected with the “we” of the new family that he gathers by his proclamation and his action. It has become evident that this “we” is in principle intended to be universal: It no longer rests on birth, but on communion with Jesus, who is himself God’s living Torah. This “we” of the new family is not amorphous. Jesus calls an inner core of people specially chosen by him, who are to carry out his mission and give this family order and shape”.[11]

At the same time, the Gospel also shows us some women who accompanied Jesus and served him with their goods (cf. Lk 8, 3). The women who accompany him look after both our Lord and his disciples (cf. Lk 8, 1-3; Mt 27, 55; Lk 23, 49) and they follow him to the Cross.[12] This is how the sisters in Bethany also behaved in the same way (Lk 10, 38-42) and before that the Blessed Virgin in Nazareth.

There were certain women who enjoyed a special intimacy with the Master (Lk 10, 39). Beside our Lady they experienced the great privilege and joy of looking after Christ himself and his apostles. And Jesus showed his gratitude with special attentions: he calls them by their name (Lk 10, 41), he lets them interact with him with great simplicity and confidence; he demands great faith of them and makes them share in his mission. The evangelists have transmitted to us the important role they have at the time of the Resurrection of Jesus, an indication of their responsibility regarding the life of the Christian community and the propagation of the faith (Mt 28, 8 and Lk 24, 9). The presence of the Blessed Virgin among them sets a high spiritual and human tone. (Jn 19, 25). The role of these women is lived in a context that is clearly biblical: the community of disciples that Jesus gathers together is his “true family”.[13] This community constitutes the seed and beginning of the Church as family of God on earth and mystery of communion.

Our Lady gave human life to God, helped him to grow and cared for the Son of God as man in his human and spiritual needs. Jesus Christ entrusted mankind to the Virgin as her children (cf. Jn 19, 26) and the specific mission of Mary is precisely that of being Mother of Christ and of men. Those holy women shared a particular mission with our Lady: that of caring for Christ and his intimate circle.

HISTORICAL FACTS OF THE WORK: THE ORIGIN OF THIS APOSTOLATE

The founding message that St. Josemaría received leads to the transformation of the world through work and with a family dimension in the Church, which is the family and people of God. Work ordains the world to God when it is well done and centres on the needs of persons, that is, when the one working focuses on the personal dimension, that of service, which every work entails.

St. Josemaría soon wanted to count on a house from which to carry out his apostolic work and to reserve our Lord in the Eucharist, a home from which to radiate an atmosphere of Christian family. This also required looking into the material aspects. For the first residence therefore, he employed people who could run the services of cleaning, cooking, etc., giving professional importance to these tasks. However, even though the services were done, they did not manage to create a real family atmosphere, a home where everyone could feel cared for and loved and at the same time protagonists responsible for the home.[14]

For this reason, he opened his mother’s home to his sons and, meditating on that experience, he realized how decisive this care had been –a family atmosphere– for the assimilating of the formation and for the fidelity of his sons. Gradually his mother, Dolores Albás, familiarly called the Grandmother, and his sister Carmen –Aunt Carmen for all–, took over the Administration, providing a warm and attractive family atmosphere, where each one’s personality could unfold in a harmonious and dignified way.

It was clear how the feminine element, epitomized in the persons of his mother and sister, contributed to the development of the apostolate. With their own life and professional work, they were not simply the solution to a practical problem, but part of the apostolic and family project of Opus Dei. From 1942 onwards, the women of the Work took over this specific apostolate, which does not consist of a series of jobs –that could be equally well done by men, as had been the case before–, but in caring for their brothers or sisters, from a profession which especially highlights service to the person.

THE ADMINISTRATION AS INSPIRATION FOR ALL WORK

The mission of the Administration, as a specific apostolate, can be understood as a professional dedication to the care of people, capable of inspiring and empowering the work of all the faithful of the Prelature in their respective spheres of society. The Administration is called to show with very specific deeds what it means to work to serve and to serve with work, sanctify work and sanctify oneself with that work: to make life pleasant, look after little things, convert one’s tasks into prayer, live without seeking to shine, giving God all the glory. The presence of the Administration rebounds in this on the physiognomy and the spiritual tone of the entire Work, and each and every one of its members, because it is a constant reminder in a vivid way that the dimension of service is proper to every Christian existence. This richness is not accidental, but backbone, as St. Josemaría defined it. Without it the Work is not sustained, it is not sustainable.

In addition to this subjective and person-centred dimension, the apostolate of apostolates is done through sanctified work, and therefore it has to be a work with the perspective of the current time, that is to say: a creative, innovative, and sustainable work. Working in this way contributes to strengthening the Christian way of being in the world that is proper to a person of Opus Dei. In the case of the Administration, this also entails enriching the educational task itself, being open to the positive values that, as part of the Providence with which God governs the course of history, society emphasises more at each historical moment. In our precise historical moment, for example, it makes sense that values such as cooperation, equality, justice, acceptance, inclusion, or ecological responsibility find an echo in the ordinary task of the Administration. Thus, through its work, the Administration can facilitate more or less the contemporary situation of those it serves. When the Administration places the highest professional competence directly at the service of people and shows how the same spirit can materialise in different historical circumstances, it becomes a vanguard factor of humanisation of culture, and therefore, of inspiration for the professional work of all.

These two aspects, recognizable in the work of the Administration, strengthen the sense of belonging and the adhesion of the people of the Work.

THE ADMINISTRATION CONTRIBUTES TO THE SUSTAINABILITY OF ALL APOSTOLATE

Another matter of interest, regarding this being a support for all work, is to consider that the Administration contributes to the sustainability of all apostolate in three areas: the care of the individual person in his or her environment, the care of the centres of Opus Dei –where financial sustainability is needed– and stimulating, from its special formative position, the care of society on the part of all.

Regarding the person, the Administration contributes to the bodily and spiritual health of the faithful of the Work by making the house where they live an authentic family home; one to which each faithful contributes in a decisive way, offering support and relying on the support of others, so that everyone goes on fulfilling their mission with renewed energies. From this domestic sphere, the Administration ensures that Opus Dei is assured as a communion of persons, more than an organization.

Maintaining the centre of Opus Dei requires good financial management of properties, which guarantees the apostolic work over time. Etymologically, “economy” (from οἶκος (oikos), “house” and νέμειν (némein), “administer”) refers mainly to the care, the administration, of the house in its more material aspect.

Finally, for the development of Opus Dei over time, it is indispensable to guarantee its anchorage in reality in all its facets: material (financial resources, buildings, maintenance, etc.), social (relation to surroundings, labour laws, environment) and cultural. A correct understanding of the foundational spirit requires a steady and lively dialogue with the society around one, because from this dialogue, rooted in one’s own work, the Christian transformation of society will emerge, always in an original form. All these facets are present in a more or less immediate way in the work of the Administration.

SOME FEATURES OF THE NATURE AND MISSION OF THIS APOSTOLATE

The Administration, as St. Josemaría saw it, is an apostolate of the women: this is a foundational issue[15], the ultimate meaning of which we can only guess at. Somehow, St. Josemaría foresaw that the Administration would reproduce the mission of caring for the apostles that our Lady and the holy women put into practice: to take care of the other members of the Work, to strengthen their communion with Christ and contribute thus to the apostolic dynamism of a Church “which goes forth”[16]. The following text, for example, illustrates this: Those holy and courageous women –about whom the Gospel speaks- loved our Lord, they bought spices, emerunt aromata (Mc 16, 1), to anoint his Body. My imagination goes again to Bethany, to that house of Martha and Mary and Lazarus, where our Lord would come, tired out, and let himself be cared for: how well I understand it! He was perfect God, but also perfect man; he needed to recover strength, to find the peace and affection of a home (…). This is what you do, too, when, out of love for Jesus Christ, you give to the atmosphere of our houses the fragrance of a bright and cheerful home: I tell you truly that as often as you behave like this with the least of your brethren –says the Lord- you have done it to me”.[17]

The Administration is also responsible for the care of our Lord in the Eucharist, because the Eucharist is the heart of the Church and the source from which spring her life and mission.[18] If the Work is in the Church[19], the Eucharist must necessarily have a central place in her life and mission. Starting from the strength conferred by that love, the Administration takes on the crucial role of caring for people, providing the environment in which formation and apostolate can flourish. Still more, on caring for our Lord, hidden sacramentally in the Tabernacle of each centre of Opus Dei, they highlight his Presence: the “invisible God is made visible” and that is the most apostolic action that exists. On numerous occasions St. Josemaría referred to the Administration as “light lit before the Tabernacle”.[20]

The Administration is also entrusted with watching over unity of vocation, of spirit and of mission.[21] And this at least in two ways: on the one hand, materializing a family spirit, which makes it possible to unite people coming from very different backgrounds and whose previous family experiences are different; on the other, watching over separation, a foundational feature of the apostolates of Opus Dei.[22]

The Administration safeguards the Christian family spirit that God wanted for Opus Dei, helping the faithful –numeraries, associates, supernumeraries– to spread it outwards to the professional and social environments in which they live their lives.[23] If the home is “the place one returns to”[24], the Administration creates a home, where the members of the Work renew themselves spiritually and then go back to their responsibilities and ordinary tasks with renewed strength.

As we have seen, the Administration contributes to the sustainability of every apostolate in this triple dimension: personal, of the centres and of society.

We conclude that an integral, not merely functional or instrumental, understanding of the expression apostolate of apostolates is key to arriving at the identity of the Administration and why it is to the women of the Work that it is entrusted. As with all apostolic work, some numeraries assume its direction and impetus.[25] Later on we will go deeper into this issue which, we believe, originates here.


2. THE CENTRAL IMPORTANCE OF WORK AND PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

As can be seen from the previous considerations, reflecting on the nature of the work of the Administration is crucial for properly expressing the humandimension of the divine vocation of the numeraries and the assistant numeraries, and for situating it on the horizon St. Josemaría indicated: as theapostolate of apostolates, as the spinal column of the Work. In fact, part of the difficulty found in appreciating the Administration from this perspective in some places comes from holding on to old habits (structures, organization, jobs, etc.) which belittle rather than show up the true nature of the Administration; and limit the human and professional development of those who carry it out.

Some of these difficulties derive from the legislation applicable in some countries, which only recognize the figure of “domestic employee” to refer to the work carried out by those working in the Administration –both numeraries and assistant numeraries–, a generic term that does not correspond to the perception that they themselves have of the human and professional projection of their task. A consequence of this discord between legislation and personal lived experience is the difficulty these people have in explaining their professional and life project in a way that can be understood by their contemporaries. The little legal and social recognition given to these tasks represents an obstacle to show more effectively the value and beauty that the care of persons has in an intrinsic manner. In order to overcome this obstacle, we need to reflect on the very nature of professional work.

A PROFESSIONAL WORK WITH ALL ITS CONSEQUENCES

It is important to start from a realistic view of both work itself, and the contemporary world of work. To speak of professional work means –as implied in the word “profession”– a dedication that affects and shapes one’s whole life, as distinct from a job, that is received and taken on for a time, even if it is carried out with a “professional mentality”.

The panorama of work today is very heterogeneous and changing: there are few predetermined professional careers, apart from the professions regulated by their particular social mission (health, education, social work, etc.). Now people enter and leave the work force with great facility –or difficulty-, and work is often organized like a “projects file”; the highly hierarchical pyramid organizations of work, very slow in negotiating change due their structural rigidity, are giving way to smaller, more flexible organizations.

In this context of volatile and changing work, what is most valued is innovation and creativity to generate ready and appropriate solutions for different social needs. Therefore, it is especially important for everyone entering the work force to have vision so as to pick up the needs and opportunities, and be able to justify the position freely occupied in the world.[26]

In the case of the numeraries and assistant numeraries working in the Administration this personal reflection, which is particularly necessary, cannot be taken for granted. The fact that they have a vocation to Opus Dei does not automatically produce —as self-evident— a deep understanding of their work that shows their secular condition. Indeed, St. Josemaría left in writing that on coming to the Work one continues to do the same work one would have done without being in the Work, and this continues being the case for supernumeraries, associates and some numeraries and assistant numeraries. Nevertheless, this expression of St. Josemaría has to be contextualized on applying it to the field we are studying, since there is a growing majority of women all over the world for whom discovering the path of assistant numeraries, that is, their vocation to care for the Work, means to change their original professional plan. They are no different in this from any person in the world who may change profession due to changing circumstances of life. However, though the discovery of their vocation leads them to shape a specific, personal, professional dedication, which does not necessarily coincide with the work they would have done had they not met the Work, nevertheless it propels them to a real personal and professional development. From here it can be seen in a special way that work is the hinge of our search for sanctity and of our place in the world.[27]

From their specific mission to take care of the Work as their own family, the people of Opus Dei dedicated to the Administration, like any person today, forge their professional development with personal initiative and creativity. Therefore, a standardized, narrow, and limiting view of what the work of the Administration is called to be, would seriously jeopardize the personal and vocational development of the numeraries and assistant numeraries involved in it. Besides, given the centrality of this work in Opus Dei, it would have a negative impact in the apostolate of the whole Work. Safeguarding and empowering a deep, rich and appropriate vision of the Administration in its professional dimension is key, both in the formation given to all the people of the Work –men and women–, as well as in making the relevant decisions that correspond to the government of the Prelature.

Overcoming a standardized view of the work of Administration, while at the same time keeping faithfully to what is essential according to the spirit of the Work, opens up a wide spectrum of specific professional itineraries. In short, there can be as many profiles in the work of the Administration as facets required by people’s different needs, kinds of centre and their own talents.

A TASK THAT REQUIRES SOME SPECIFIC TALENTS

The work of the Administrations in general terms consists of “making tangible an intangible reality”: care and centrality of the person in the family. As one can appreciate, such an important mission requires, more than any other professional tasks, personal talents and a specific training which enables them:

- to assimilate and materialize this spirit, which is a family spirit;

- to grasp the depth and impact of their work on the people for whom it is done and for society in general;

- to facilitate the development and projection of the human personality of the men and women of the Work who benefit directly from this work, as well as of those who come into contact with its apostolates; and

- to be trained in the skills and abilities required to materialize the care of people, maintenance of buildings, control of finances, etc.

    In view of what has been previously said, those who work in the Administration are aware of making ambitious plans with a broad view of their own formation and dialogue with other professionals with whom to exchange knowledge and experience.

    In this work, as in any other, professional ambition is not incompatible with the expression “hide and disappear that only Jesus may shine”[28] which St. Josemaría used often: professional prestige does not compromise humility.[29]

    EDUCATIONAL (OR EXEMPLARY) DIMENSION OF THE WORK OF THE ADMINISTRATION

    Finally, the professional work of the Administration has an educational dimension, because by materializing a spirit, it most effectively communicates that spirit: through constant, concrete actions. Neither the spirit nor the values communicated through the work of the Administration are limited to the virtues of punctuality, order, temperance or care of details. Sensibility towards the needs of contemporary men and women leads the Administration to incorporate –embody– and promote in its turn the positive values to be found in present-day society such as, nowadays, sustainability, equality, responsibility for the environment, austerity, etc. In so far as every authentically human value is also Christian, it is logical that the care of people and houses in the centres of Opus Dei includes and facilitates this kind of timeliness, led by the Administration.

    From this point of view, the potential for transforming the world contained in the work of the Administration is enormous. We could say, from a certain perspective, that by the projection of their work, the Administration introduces the feminine factor beyond the walls of our centres of Opus Dei to the whole of social life. Indeed, beyond any stereotypes that vary by culture, the way of acting historically denoted as “feminine” can be recognized today in a style of work that fosters collaboration over competitiveness, care over efficiency, attention to people over negotiating things, the concrete over speculation, tenacity over brilliance… The well-known list of “feminine qualities” that St. Josemaría put together in Conversations, no. 87, sheds light on that key factor, without obviously preventing these qualities being present among men, or the opposite ones among women.


    3. ASSISTANT NUMERARIES AND NUMERARIES IN THE ADMINISTRATION

    After delving into the meaning of the expression apostolate of apostolates and explaining the importance of professional work, we now centre on the identity and mission of the assistant numeraries and numeraries dedicated to the Administration.

    It is established that the shared life of numeraries and assistant numeraries develops harmoniously when there is mutual admiration and appreciation, shared work and a deep and simple understanding of what corresponds to each one.[30] However, should this not be the case, situations could arise that make relations difficult. These difficulties may sometimes spring from a hierarchic view of the Administration, which is rigid and formalistic, or, on the contrary, from a superficial view which underestimates the human and supernatural depth of this work, which constitutes the value and the strength of the Administration.

    It seems advisable to look deeper into this matter so as to be able to answer in what way the mission of the assistant numeraries and the numeraries who work in the Administration is the same, and in what matters their respective differences are manifested.

    IDENTITY OF THE ASSISTANT NUMERARIES

    When an assistant numerary discovers her vocation, she understands that God is calling her to sanctify her ordinary work and that at the same time she is called to care for the people of the Work and to make of each centre a family home: in the words of the current Prelate: With your work you care for and serve life in the Work, setting each person as focus and priority of your task.[31] Certainly this mission corresponds to all the faithful of the Work, but in the case of the assistant numeraries it shapes, determines and embodies their professional dedication, at the same time as it serves as stimulus and inspiration for everyone.

    This is how the current Central Secretary expressed it in an interview: “In the case of Opus Dei, men as well as women are called to care for the things of the Work. All are responsible for the cleanliness, order, and different tasks necessary to ensure that this place can be recognized as a home. But God has wanted to commit himself to never lacking someone with the self-giving of a mother and excellent professional competence, who promotes and watches over the family atmosphere, seeing to it that no one is like an anonymous number, but someone loved, known in their tastes and looked after in their needs. This is the specific mission that God has left in the hands of women who choose this as their profession”.[32]

    The Statutes state that “the Assistant Numeraries with the same availability as the other women Numeraries, dedicate their lives principally to manual work or domestic tasks, which they take on voluntarily as their professional work, in the Centres of the Work”.[33] Despite the fact that everything in the spirit of the Work underlines the equal dignity of all work, certain cultural prejudices regarding manual work make the very expression of this idea seem to be a manifestation of classism. Naturally, this was not St. Josemaría’s view. In his teaching and practical indications, he instilled in the Work, the Father always spoke out energetically to the contrary.[34]

    In a similar way, it may be useful to explain the professional projection that the Founder wanted for the work of the Administration, and specifically for the assistant numeraries, seen in many of his texts. One example is the professional horizon that St. Josemaría presents in the letter, Carta no. 36, speaking of the work of the Administration. He indicates, among other things, financial responsibility, control of expenses, adjustment of budgets, the perfection of a laboratory, motherly affection, knowledge of dietetics, constant learning, avoidance of improvisation and monotony, care of the sick, qualifications, specialization, dedication of time to formation…

    The current Prelate in no. 14 of the Pastoral letter of 28 October 2020, also reflects on the reach of this work: “As you know, it is not just a question of carrying out a series of material tasks which between us we can do and must do in one way or another, but of planning, organizing and coordinating them in such a way that the result is precisely a home where everyone feels at home, welcomed, affirmed, cared for, and at the same time responsible. This task, which is of great importance for every human person, has repercussions on the physiognomy and spirituality of the whole Work, of each and every one of its members”.

    As the vocation of the assistant numeraries is directed from its origin to the care of their family through the work of the Administration, the professional training they have or acquire is oriented towards carrying out this mission better. Their work, like all work, is the place of their meeting with God, of personal development, of meeting with others and contributing to the common good.

    To evaluate the reach of the mission of this specific vocation, we can bring to mind words of the Father in his letter 28 October 2020. Referring to the mission of his assistant numerary daughters –which he calls awe-inspiring–, he points out that it has to “transform this world –so full of individualism and indifference today– into a real home. Your task, when it is carried out with love, can reach all environments. You are building a more human and a more divine world, because you are dignifying it with your work turned into prayer, with your love, and with the professionalism you put into looking after people in their entirety”.

    If an assistant numerary had another profession before discovering her vocation to the Work, she will obviously retain the mentality of the first, which will enrich the way she carries out her work in the Administration and the different aspects of her life. Like anyone who changes profession, she will try to learn and to improve the way she carries out her new occupation. On the other hand, she will try to keep up to date with her first occupation and cultivate other talents and hobbies, in so far as the care of the family and the apostolate allow. Of course this also applies to the numeraries who work in the Administration.

    As the Prelate says in the letter of 28th October 2020, “it is a wonderful reality that you, the assistant numeraries, come from all walks of life. In fact, people are sometimes unsure whether God is asking them to be a numerary or an assistant numerary”.[35] St. Josemaría foresaw what happened years after his death: assistant numeraries with higher studies and culture and training similar to that of the numeraries would ask for admission to the Opus Dei.[36] This has already been a reality in many countries for some years.[37]

    In fact, it happens more and more frequently that assistant numeraries have a sound professional preparation that equips them to take over tasks that for years were done by numeraries. This might lead to asking whether numerary administrators are still needed. To answer these questions, within the framework of the foundational spirit, we need to take a good look at the mission and identity of women numeraries.

    THE MISSION OF THE NUMERARY IN THE ADMINISTRATION

    The numeraries are called to an exciting and special mission of service. It is a point very clear in the mind of St. Josemaría, as reflected in Statuta nos. 8 &1: the numeraries “look after the specific initiatives of the Prelature with all their energy and with total personal availability to work (…) and care for those apostolic initiatives and to dedicate themselves to the formation of the other faithful of the Prelature”. In a letter of 1957, St. Josemaría elaborated on this matter:

    “In the heart of the Work, the Numeraries –called to a special mission of service - know how to put themselves at the feet of all their brothers and sisters, to make the way of sanctity pleasant for them; to look after them in all their needs of soul and body; to help them in their difficulties, and make possible, with their dedicated sacrifice, the fruitful apostolate of all, keeping in mind those words of our Lord: the greatest among you will be as the least, and the one commands as the one who serves. Because who is greater, the man who sits at table, or the man who serves him? Yet I am here among you as your servant (Lk 22)”.[38]

    This setting can help to understand the context and the meaning of St. Josemaría’s expression about the role of the numeraries in the Administration, when he says they have to be assistants of the Assistants.[39] This includes facilitating the formation and spiritual accompaniment of the assistant numeraries so that they can carry out their mission. On the other hand, the totally free availability with which the numeraries dedicate themselves professionally to the Administration highlights the dignity of this work and eliminates any appearance of classes in Opus Dei.

    As with all work, a specific professional development is required that needs time and training. Moreover, in the case of the numeraries who are responsible for directing, it is indispensable that they develop specific professional skills that enable them to have an overall view in directing the work, fostering teamwork, empowering the formation and professional development of those working in the Administration, etc. In fact, it can be said that this is one of the aspects of their mission as “assistants of the Assistants”.[40]

    The words “don’t leave them alone”[41] are also directly related to this. In this point it is especially important not to interpret this in a paternalistic way; in the mind of St. Josemaría ‘not to leave them alone’ does not mean to take over decisions from the assistant numeraries, or prevent them from assuming responsibilities. All that would be tantamount to belittling people, when the formation –all formation- is oriented precisely to fostering growth. To appreciate the meaning of these words it is necessary to keep in mind the full quote: St. Josemaría emphasized on the need –calling it a duty of justice – that the numeraries should work with the assistant numeraries in manual tasks as well as directing the same work.[42] This is understood in the sense of “do not leave them alone in the mission of care, which is shown especially in work”.

    St. Josemaría points out that those numeraries dedicate themselves professionally to the Administration, “who are inclined that way, those who have this professional vocation, and want to sanctify this work and, with it, sanctify themselves and help the others to become saints”.[43] It follows from all this that not every numerary is capable of being an administrator. These words are complemented by other words in which he also underlines the formative value of the Administration for all numeraries, even though it may not be their profession. “All my numerary daughters should work for a time at these tasks. Afterwards those who have special aptitude will dedicate themselves specifically to this activity, but everyone should learn because you all need this formation”.[44]

    It seems important, then, to emphasize that the numeraries –especially as directors or if they are more directly in charge of the formation of assistant numeraries– should have a deep understanding of the specific vocation of the assistant numeraries and the formative aspect of the administration. Only in this way can they encourage and empower their identity and their mission.

    From all the above, in relation to the work of the Administration, it follows that:

    - The Administration, being an apostolic task, requires the presence, direction and formative leadership of the numeraries. These numeraries should have conditions for formation and government and, moreover, professional competence in the work of the Administration.

    - This is compatible with other numeraries being there who may not take on responsibilities for directing the Administration. This could be because they are at the start of their professional formation which requires a period of training, because they do not have special aptitude for directing this work, because they need a break from those responsibilities, etc.

    - There would be no problem, therefore, in an Administration with several departments, for a numerary or assistant numerary to direct a team made up of assistant numeraries, numeraries or other people, as in fact, is already happening in some cases. In short, the direction of each department corresponds to the person best able to do it.

      After deepening and widening horizons, perhaps it may be understood in a wider way that the specific mission of the numeraries are tasks of formation and government, and that the assistant numeraries collaborate with the numeraries in all the apostolates of the Work.


      4. CONCLUSIONS

      Up to this point, we have tried to present a conceptual frame making possible a better understanding of the reality of the Administration in its essence and topicality seen from the foundational inspiration. This conceptual development leads to highlighting several issues, which mark the frame of reference in which this reflection has taken place:

      1. On coming to study the Administration, we have found that at times there can be a self-awareness within the Work that diminishes this reality and makes it difficult to face the questions and challenges that arise. In any case, it is necessary to foster a wide and deep understanding that permits giving the right answers.

      2. St. Josemaría’s view of the Administration shows us a reality wanted by God and called to manifest itself in a way that fits its times. For this it is necessary to distinguish in his texts what refers to the spirit, and the examples that respond to the historical context. It is key to recognize that being up to date means above all this: fidelity[45], and that as we change “the substance remains”[46], so as to face up to the challenges of a world in continuous evolution, where God awaits us: “Because just as the identity of a person remains the same throughout the different stages of growth: childhood, adolescence, maturity…; so there is evolution in our development: otherwise we would be something dead. The core, the essence, remains unchanged, but the ways of speaking and acting evolve, always old and new, always holy. And it is your mission to make sure that there is no wagon parked on dead tracks”.[47]

      3. The driving force of the Work is not us, but God himself, who also speaks to us in and through the world.[48]

      4. The Administration is called to enlighten the realities of its time from the spirit transmitted by St. Josemaría. It will do so insofar as we deepen in the human implications of something as powerful as the sanctification of work.

      5. The people working in the Administration owe their position in society, no more nor less than anyone else, to their professional work carried out with passion, on-going specific training, initiative and creativity.

      6. In order to fulfil its specific mission with the projection that St. Josemaría saw (to be apostolate of apostolates), the Administration has to be in touch with the world through work. It cannot become a self-referential reality, isolated from its context. In so far as work situates us in the world, it brings with it a lively dialogue with the realities of our time and roots us in the present age. An up-to-date Administration (aggiornata, as St. Josemaría liked to say, using the Italian word), permits the persons of the Work who live in the centres, to be “up to date” (aggiornate).

      7. From this perspective, the work of the Administration has an enormous potential for transforming the world: in the supernatural order, through its constant flow of prayer, and in the human order, by introducing feminine talents into social life as a humanizing force, against the logic of dominion, confrontation, productivity as supreme norm, individualism, success at all costs or asphyxiating materialism.

      8. A right understanding of the expression apostolate of apostolates as apostolic hub of the whole Work is the key to understanding the identity of the assistant numeraries and the mission of the numeraries in the Administration.

      9. The Administration is indispensable for the sustainability of the Work, understood as the virtue of maintaining the spirit –especially family, unity and separation–, such that it contributes to the members of the Work being faithful to the call and to the mission, and for the good material administration of resources without compromising the future.

      10. Certain behaviours (structures, leadership styles, etc.), understandable at the time, and maintained with inertia beyond what was reasonable, may have been the cause later on, in some cases, of a poor understanding of the proper identity of the Administration. These inertias are only shaken off by going back to the foundational spirit. Therefore, it is the responsibility of each generation of members of the Work to give shape, with words and deeds, to a style of work and a narrative that brings out the reality of the Administration exactly as St. Josemaría saw it.


        5. PROPOSED DEFINITION OF ADMINISTRATION

        The foregoing reflections allow us to return to the starting point: draw up a definition of the Administration, in contemporary terms, that reflects its identity just as St. Josemaría saw it, throw light on the challenges presented, point out ways to solve the existing problems, and free the formative and apostolic potential that it contains. We propose the following as a possible definition:

        The Administration is an apostolate of Opus Dei, headed by women in a professional and financially viable way, necessary for communicating to the faithful of the Work and those who come into contact with its apostolates, a spirit of family and of sanctification of ordinary realities deeply rooted in the Gospel, which makes the centres of the Work into real homes and energizes the entire work which its faithful carry out in the middle of the world.

        This expression is a synthesis that requires the conceptual frame we have presented in order to be correctly understood.

        In conclusion, when the Administration reflects its nature and mission, and these different aspects are harmonized, this is reflected in the apostolic development of the Prelature.


        [1] The result of the document incorporates contributions from different disciplinary perspectives: history, philosophy, sociology, theology and communication; as well as from professionals of the Administration and government of the Prelature.

        [2] As in every home, the people living in the centres of the Work need a care that contributes to the family atmosphere, proper to the formative and apostolic task carried out by the Prelature. With the term Administration, in a general sense and with capital letter, reference is made to this task and the people who carry it out. When referring to particular instances, and specific administrations, a small letter is used. For a brief description of the birth and evolution of this reality, cfr. “Administration of the Moncloa Residence”, in Dictionary of Saint Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer. Burgos, Mount Carmel Publications 2013.

        [3] ALVA, INMACULADA y MONTERO, MERCEDES, El hecho inesperado. Madrid, Rialp, 2021, p.47.

        [4] Cfr. St. JOSEMARÍA, Letter no. 36, known as Verba Domini, of 29 July 1965.

        [5] Looking at the Administration from a merely instrumental point of view, it would be reasonable to not only propose alternative solutions for the ordinary running of the centres, but also to consider a more direct involvement in these tasks by the residents, both men and women, as part of their formation for life, to the point of questioning the very need of the Administration itself. Due to of the scarcity of numeraries and assistant numeraries in some places, the same instrumental approach could motivate the thought of completely outsourcing these services, leaving them in the hands of third parties, so that the numeraries and assistant numeraries can dedicate themselves to other jobs. Or as well, to see in the development of technologies that lighten and facilitate the organization and realization of these care taking tasks, mainly as a chance for all of them, like many fathers and mothers in families, to make their dedication to the home compatible with other professional tasks. Similarly, this same instrumental approach would explain why, seeing the good professional preparation of the assistant numeraries and in some cases the lack of numeraries prepared to direct and carry out this work, a question could arise about the need or role of numerary administrators. We shall deal with all this in the last part of this article.

        [6] “We must make the work of the Administration loved, because it is like the backbone of all the apostolic action of the Work”, in SAINT JOSEMARÍA, Letter no. 36, 29 July1965, no. 11.

        [7] ST. JOSEMARÍA, Letter no. 36, 29th July 1965, no. 9

        [8] We refer to the works of Saint Michael, Saint Gabriel, Saint Raphael and also the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross, because the Administration affects all of them and also reverberates in the apostolate of public opinion. There is a significant reference in the introduction to the critical edition of the book “In dialogue with the Lord” on explaining the origin of the magazines Crónica and Noticias. It says:

        In 1949 Saint Josemaría had written a long list –seven handwritten pages- of initiatives he proposed to initiate. Negotiations were underway and moving for obtaining the final approval of Opus Dei by the Holy See –it would come in the middle of 1950-, and the founder was already thinking about promoting further initiatives and activities. Among them, under the title “Publications”, were the following:

        • One general internal magazine,
        • One for each work, in duplicate: Saint Michael, Saint Gabriel, Saint Raphael, with news, outlines for study circles, doctrinal and practical topics. A special page for the administrations
        • Family letters: termly newsletter (…)”

        The list goes on, but it is interesting to note that the page for the administrations is situated beside the other apostolic branches; not on a separate section, or as “family news”.

        [9] St. JOSEMARÍA, Letter no. 6, 11th March 1940, no. 31

        [10] St. JOSEMARÍA, Instruction, 8-XII-1941, no. 80 (Ref. “Instrucciones (unpublished work)”, pp. 650-655 in Diccionario de San Josemaría).

        [11] RATZINGER, JOSEPH – BENEDICT XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, II, New York, Doubleday, 2007, chapter 6, “The Disciples”, pg. 169

        [12] “In the opening verses of chapter 8, he (Saint Luke) recounts to us that Jesus, as he was making his way with the Twelve and preaching, was also accompanied by women. He mentions three names and then adds: ‘and many others, who provided for them out of their means’ (Lk 8:3). The difference between the discipleship of the Twelve and the discipleship of the women is obvious; the tasks assigned to each group are quite different. Yet Luke makes clear –and the other Gospels also show this in all sorts of ways- that ‘many’ women belonged to the more intimate community of believers and that their faith-filled following of Jesus was an essential element of that community, as would be vividly illustrated at the foot of the Cross and at the Resurrection”, in idem, pgs. 180-181.

        [13] Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 764.

        [14] ALVA, INMACULADA y MONTERO, MERCEDES, El hecho inesperado. Madrid, Rialp, 2021, pgs. 44-47 (“Nacimiento y desarrollo de la Administración de los centros”).

        [15] Statuta, no. 8 § 2: “Numeraries besides take care of the family administration or domestic care of all the Centres of the Prelature”.

        [16] FRANCIS, Evangelii gaudium, no. 24: “The Church which “goes forth” is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice”

        [17] St. JOSEMARÍA, Letter no. 36, 29th July 1965, no. 16.

        [18] St. JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia, no. 1.

        [19] St. JOHN PAUL II, Bull Ut sit: “With very great hope, the Church directs its attention and maternal care to Opus Dei, which – by divine inspiration – the Servant of God Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer founded in Madrid on October 2, 1928, so that it may always be an apt and effective instrument of the salvific mission which the Church carries out for the life of the world”.

        [20] St. JOSEMARÍA, Letter no. 36, 29th July 1965, no. 18.

        [21] Cf. for example, OCARIZ, FERNANDO, Pastoral letter, 28th October 2020, nos. 2-7.

        [22] Cf. Statuta, no. 4, § 3. In both Branches of Opus Dei equally, i.e. that of men and that of women, there is the same unity of vocation, of spirit, of aim and of governance, though each Branch has its own apostolates.

        [23] It is interesting to see that among the group of holy women there is a permanent nucleus of mothers: that of Jesus, Salome (mother of James and John), Mary of Cleophas (mother of the other James). By analogy, through the Administration, God displays and offers us a “motherhood” in the Work which serves as a stimulus for the centres and for other homes of people of the Work.

        [24] Cf. ALVIRA, RAFAEL. El lugar al que se vuelve. Reflexiones sobre la familia. Pamplona. Eunsa. 2014.

        [25] OCARIZ, FERNANDO, Pastoral letter 28th October 2020, no. 11

        [26] Your human vocation is a part –and an important part- of your divine vocation. That is the reason why you must strive for holiness, giving a particular character to your human personality, a style to your life; contributing at the same time to the sanctification of others, your fellow men; sanctifying your work and your environment: the profession or job that fills your day, your home and family and the country where you were born and which you love.” (Christ is Passing By, no. 46).

        [27] In fact, the divine vocation does not of itself confer our position in the world: only the professional vocation does that. The vocation gives us light, strength to focus our position in society and develop a professional dedication in which to carry out our apostolic mission.

        [28] St. JOSEMARÍA, Letter with occasion of the golden jubilee of his priesthood, 28th January, 1975. This sentence was often used by St. Josemaría in his preaching and writings.

        [29] One example among many is that of Gloria Gandiaga, the first assistant numerary of Bilbao, who in 1970 won the National Award of Cooking. She wrote a cookery book prefaced by Pedro Subijana (chef awarded with the three stars Michelin), who recognized the professional prestige and human category of Gloria.

        [30] On using the term ‘shared life’, we refer indiscriminately to the administrations in which the numeraries and assistant numeraries coincide only at work and to those in which they also share family life because they are also centres where they live.

        [31] OCÁRIZ, FERNANDO, Pastoral Letter, 28 October 2020, no.15

        [32] Words of Isabel Sánchez, in SÁNCHEZ LEON, ALVARO, En la tierra como en el cielo, p. 136.

        [33] Statuta,no. 9

        [34] Otherwise, for many years now, certain manual tasks are being revalued. See, for example, CRAWFORD, MICHAEL, The Case for working with Your Hands, New York, Viking, 2009; SENNET, RICHARD, The Craftsman. New Haven. Yale University Press, 2008.

        [35] OCÁRIZ, FERNANDO, Pastoral Letter, 28th October 2020, no. 16

        [36] In 1982 Blessed Álvaro del Portillo wanted to recall some of the Founder’s ideas close to the date of his death: St. Josemaría had declared (the words are not textual) that ‘if, because of the development of a country it becomes common for almost all the girls to obtain a professional qualification or university degree , there will obviously be university graduates and doctors who will be assistant Numeraries in the Opus Dei: and they will find in this divine vocation the happiness and honour of their life’ (not (17/82, AGP, Q.1.3, file 08, folder 53).

        [37] GONZÁLEZ GULLÓN, JOSÉ LUIS; COVERDALE, JOHN F. Historia del Opus Dei, Madrid, Rialp, 2021, pg. 560-561

        [38] St. JOSEMARÍA, Letter no. 27, 29th September 1957, no. 8

        [39] Which means that the other Numeraries are also in fact assistants of the Assistants (St. JOSEMARÍA, Letter no. 36, 29th July 1965, no. 25).

        [40] “It has been my constant teaching that the other Numeraries must know how to serve the Assistants. (….) In this way they are splendid instruments: they can see themselves reflected in the mirror of your behaviour and reflect the light that you can and should give (…). As our Lord served his disciples, so should you serve the Assistant Numeraries”. (St. JOSEMARÍA, Letter no. 36, 29 July 1965, no 30)

        [41] Ibid.

        [42] “Don’t ever leave them alone: it would be contrary to our spirit. And this is not a manifestation of lack of trust, but a proof of affection and a duty of justice, because they have the right to constantly feel the warmth of your manual work; the right to be helped by you, guided by you” (ibidem).

        [43] St. JOSEMARÍA, Letter no. 36, 29th July 1965, no. 18.

        [44] Ibid.

        [45] Cf. Conversations with Monsignor Escrivá de Balaguer, no. 1.

        [46] Cf. INICARTE, FERNANCO, Cultura y verdad, Pamplona: Eunsa, 2015, pp. 250-251.

          [47] St. JOSEMARÍA, Letter no. 27, 29th September 1957, no. 27.

          [48] Cf. Paula Hermida Romero - Fernando Ocáriz, Cristianos en la sociedad del siglo XXI: conversación con Monseñor Fernando Ocáriz, Prelado del Opus Dei, Ediciones Cristiandad, Madrid, 2020, p. 25: “We cannot forget that, without ignoring the problems proper to each era, God is the Lord of History; He is the one who has given us this world to look after and direct to his glory, he gave it to us as inheritance and counts on our effort to make it better each day”.St. Josemaría explain it in this way: “Charity is not something abstract. It entails a real, complete, self-giving to the service of that God and all men; to the service of God who speaks to us in the silence of prayer and in the hubbub of the world and of those men whose existence is interwoven with our own”.(Conversations with Monsignor Escriva de Balaguer, no. 62. Cf also Dar al mundo su modernidad [https:opusdei.org/es/article/dar-al-mundo-su-modernidad]

          Romana, n. 69, July-December 2019, p. 150-180.

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