Saturday, November 19, 2005

Living the Work

The Catholic Key runs a lengthy interview with Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph on Opus Dei, its mission, and the enrichment it brings him. In John Allen's recent Opus Dei, Finn was listed as one of three American bishops who are associates of the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross, the Work's grouping of diocesan clergy. (The others are Archbishop John Myers of Newark and Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn. Archbishop Jose Gomez of San Antonio is a "numerary," or full member, of the prelature.)

No bishop has given an interview of this depth on his spiritual life in quite some time. Per usual, it's Finn at his best.

"My spiritual life is the most important thing in my life," Bishop Finn told The Catholic Key. "I cannot hope to be a priest or a bishop who is worth his salt unless I am growing spiritually."

Bishop Finn said he began attending monthly "days of recollection" that Opus Dei was conducting for archdiocesan priests in St. Louis, and began receiving spiritual direction from an Opus Dei priest not long after that.

He decided to become a "cooperator" with Opus Dei, then applied to be an "associate," or member of the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross in January 2004.

"I had made a decision at our January retreat that I was going to apply as an associate," Bishop Finn said. "On March 1, I got a call from the nuncio (Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo) appointing me as bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

"When I went on retreat before my consecration (as bishop), I revisited my decision to apply as an associate with my spiritual director," he said. "I asked him that if I moved to Kansas City and there wasn't an Opus Dei house here, will it work? He asked me, 'Do you want to continue?'

"I said that I needed spiritual direction now more than ever, so in April, I decided I would apply," Bishop Finn said....

Bishop Finn said the spiritual direction he has received from his association with Opus Dei has changed him in many ways. One of the ways, he said, is that he now goes to confession once a week instead of once a month.

"No one can be serious about growing in spiritual life without using the Sacrament of Reconciliation," Bishop Finn said. "Jesus Christ gave it to us to be a sacrament that is used frequently, not occasionally."

Discipline comes up as well.

Bishop Finn also said he practices acts of corporal mortification, though far from the bloody, self-inflicted spectacles that Brown wrote of in "The Da Vinci Code."

"And it is only done under the careful guidance of a spiritual director," Bishop Finn said.

He said the mortification that Opus Dei members practice is similar to the fasting practices all Catholics are called to do during Lent.

"Corporal mortification has long been a part of church ascetical practice," he said. "Pope Paul VI wore a hair shirt. Pope John Paul II once told a group of priests who asked him about mortification that when he sits down at his desk to work, he doesn't sit back in his chair for the first 30 minutes."

Bishop Finn said corporal mortification in Opus Dei is a self-discipline practice is not unlike an athlete pushing his own body to the limit in order to become physically stronger.

"If your goal is to make yourself as comfortable as possible at all times, you are going miss the needs of others around you," he said. "Your life is going to become nothing more than a means for self-gratification.

"Jesus Christ slept on the ground and fasted in the desert," Bishop Finn said. "He put up with a lot of ridicule and persecution silently to the point of being falsely accused and crucified. It's purgation, a purification of the spirit," Bishop Finn said. "You can either do purgation now and purify yourself of selfish desires, or you can do it later in purgatory."

With Finn, what you see is what you get.