Monday, November 20, 2006

Book Review: "Ordinary Work, Extraordinary Grace" by Scott Hahn

I love it when someone sends me a free copy of a book I was planning to order. Several months back, Mark Shea mentioned on his blog that Scott Hahn had written a book on Opus Dei. Hahn has the credentials to write this subject as he is a member of Opus Dei. Now, I must confess, I find the structure of Opus Dei somewhat confusing so when I say, “Hahn is a member,” I mean that Hahn is involved with Opus Dei. This is a good example of how people are familiar with Opus Dei but don’t have a good grasp on the life and spirituality of Opus Dei. Therefore, when Ms. Davis at Doubleday forwarded me a copy of Hahn’s new work, Ordinary Work, Extraordinary Grace: My Spiritual Journey in Opus Dei, I was elated.

The book attempts to do two things. First, Hahn wants to describe the biblical spirituality and theology which grounds Opus Dei for the novice inquirer. Second, Hahn, while not claiming to speak for the Work (the most common euphemism for Opus Dei by those involved in its life) in a formal sense, wants to describe how the Work has affected him. This seems a very beneficial contribution to the literature about Opus Dei. An ecclesial movement can often seem impossible to approach if it is not described in a way which connects the theory and the practice. However, I wish Dr. Hahn would have gone into a little more detail about the personal side of this journey. He peppers the text with anecdotes but it is hard to call this a spiritual journey. This is a minor complaint on my part. I think when you deal with a personage like Scott Hahn, it is normal to fall into the tabloid temptation in which we want all the secrets.

The book is divided into 12 chapters which focus upon the hallmarks of Opus Dei. Most intriguing to me was the discovery of how subtle the ideal is while at the same time how far reaching that ideal is. For instance, in the chapter on secularity, Hahn makes a helpful distinction, drawn from Escriva, about the secular is not opposed to the sacred. Rather the secular is simply different from the sacred. Because of this lack of opposition, it becomes possible to allow the sacred to shape and transform the secular, thus bridging the perceptual gap between them. Hahn also makes the same connection which I and others have made that Opus Dei’s theology and spirituality anticipate many of the observations found in the documents of the Second Vatican Council.

Also, friendship plays a critical role in the Work. On page 82, Hahn writes “St. Josemaria often spoke eloquently about the effects of this apostolic approach: ‘May you sow peace and joy on all sides. May you not say a disturbing word to anyone. May you know how to walk arm-in-arm with those who do not think as you do. May you never mistreat anyone. May you be brothers to all and sowers of peace and joy.’ Yet, as his successor Bishop Javier Echevarria noted, the founder ‘never failed to point out that this Christian coexistence does not mean yielding to error, to false doctrine.’ In true friendship, we have the freedom to speak a word of correction or even reproof. In the wake of prayer, we have the ability to say it in a diplomatic way. Truth can move mountains without employing rhetorical explosives” (emphasis added). Notice how invigorating it is to have friendship renewed in a way commensurate with Blessed Aelred’s contribution many centuries earlier. Notice how the many shades of love for our neighbor can spring from this.

This book would be of interest to anyone who would like to understand the nuts and bolts of the work of Opus Dei. Also, I think that it is a good way to demystify an ecclesial movement which looks to have great influence in the years to come. Dr. Hahn deserves a note of congratulations for providing audiences with an excellent introduction to Opus Dei.

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