The priority of grace: the theologian Karl-Heinz Menke, on Opus Dei

The tedesco theologian Karl-Heinz Menke has underlined the precedence that the founder of Opus Dei, St. Josemaria Escriva, attributes in his teachings to the action of divine grace, also in the ordinary life of fedeli communities.

Emilio Mur-September 8, 2022-Reading time: 7 minutes
Karl-Heinz Menke

Testo originale del articolo in inglese qui

Karl-Heinz Menke is Professor Emeritus of Dogmatic Theology at the University of Bonn, from 2014 to 2019, has been a member of the International Theological Commission, and in 2017 received the "Joseph Ratzinger" Prize for Theology.
The prestigious professor has also confuted the criticisms that another illustrious theologian, Cardinal Hans Urs von Balthasar of Switzerland, has made of "Cammino", the most famous work of Josemaria Escriva.

Karl-Heinz Menke acknowledges having shared him for some time, but now he sees that von Balthasar has missed the crucial point: "only if I have tried as a grace my parents, my education, my destiny and my incapacities, the limits and talents of my life; only if I have understood with all my existence that I can move the mountains and be light and salt of the earth, that I can and must allow them to say to me, perhaps every day: 'You can do a lot of things, you can do a lot of things. - posso muovere le montagne ed essere luce e sale della terra, posso e devo devo permettere che mi dicano, forse ogni giorno: "Tu puoi fare molto di più. Abandon the sediments! Non sei un sacco di sabbia; reagisci! Tempra la tua volontà!""

Karl-Heinz Menke said this in Cologne (Germany) on 25 June, during the opening of a Mass held on the occasion of the memorial of the founder of Opus Dei. In addition, he emphasized the importance that St. Josemaria attributes to freedom, and the social and charitable importance of the people of Opus Dei.
For your interest, we reproduce the complete text, in a Spanish translation.

Omelia on the occasion of the commemoration of St. Josemaria Escrivà, in Sant'Orsola a Colonia

It has been a success for a long time, but there are things that cannot be forgotten. I remember an encounter to which I had invited the parents of the young people who were there to receive their first confession and first communion. As it happens only in this kind of meetings, at the beginning everything was about sterile things: order, distribution of food, clothing and so on.

Ma poi una madre, una che conoscevo bene, si alzacò e, tutta emozionata e con il volto arrossato, si sfogò dicendo quello che evidentemente aveva represso per molto tempo. More or less she said: she knows us, me and my husband. We go to Messa every Sunday and often also during the week. We also go to confession. I go from house to house to collect funds for Caritas. And my husband is on the board of directors of the International Kolping Opera. If there is something to help in the parish feast, for the Corpus Domini or for any other feast, we are there. Only that people come from us, especially our own relatives, our neighbors should not argue with their children to convince them to go to Mass on Sunday. They give the pillola to their teenage daughters and do not make scruples when compiling their statements of their debts. And much less should they explain what sin is to a child of eight years old - as I have already done four times - and that Jesus awaits us every Sunday.

This woman has said - decades have now passed! - what many thought or felt. If I have well understood St. Josemaria Escrivà, he himself is a response to this

What has most fascinated me reading Peter Berglar's biography of Josemaria Escriva, is the saint's gift of discovering in every human being - even in those who are deeply wounded by the devastations and the ingratitude of sin - the grace [!!!] which, once discovered and dispelled consistently, can become something luminous (light of the world and comes out of the earth).

St. Josemaria was deeply convinced: every human being is touched by grace insofar as his life may seem little apparent to the eyes of this world, and insofar as his life is obscured by every obstacle of adversity and limitations, it is only necessary to recognize and rediscover this grace, to constantly incorporate it and make it bear fruit.

The sense of grace is identified in the same way. Someone who has become a dentist would also have been able to become a good teacher. Practically no one is naturally suited to a single profession. Of course, you need to know about nature; he who cannot speak should not become an orator, and he who does not have manual skills should not become an orologist. But it is always true that when you have discovered what you are destined to be, when you finally know what is the grace of your own life, then the rest comes forward.

St. Josemaria recommends to receive the Eucharist every day and to reserve two half hours a day to converse with the Lord, but not to add anything religious to the many commitments of daily life. In this case, the relationship with God or with Christ would be something like putting a second piano above the ground floor of the working day. No! It is a matter of giving primacy to the search for grace, which must determine all that of which we speak, that we plan, that we think and that we do.

Grace does not supplant nature. A good doctor does not feel good walking to Messa every day. On the contrary, those who cloak pigrisy, incompetence or incapacity with the mantle of piety, are like one of those comical figures that Friedrich Nietzsche and Heinrich Heine have fiercely ridiculed. Piety does not replace the lack of competence.

In contrast, for example, a doctor who sells his work as a gift of Christ to his patients, will at the same time do his best. This is sanctity: the sanctification of work.

Without grace, everything is nothing. But with grace, I can climb the mountains. St. Paul said it with a simplicity difficult to beat: "Even if we speak all the languages of men and angels, even if we have the gift of prophecy and know all the mysteries and all the science, even if we have all the faith, a faith capable of moving mountains, if we do not have charity [Josemaria Escriva said: "grazia"], sarei come come una campana che risuona o un cembalo che tintinna, non sarei niente" (1 Cor. 13:1 ff.)
Only he who has understood that his life - be it that of the mother mentioned at the beginning, or that of the medical doctor, or that of a mourner or an undertaker - is grace (containing charity), understands the imperatives that St. Josemaria raccoglieva in Cammino": "Mediocrity? "You... of the group... You can do much more! Leave the sediments! Non sei un sacco di sabbia; reagisci! Tempra la tua volontà!"

I must admit that for a long time, unfortunately, I have accepted the criticisms of Hans Urs von Balthasar. He has described these imperatives as simple instructions, as if they were pedantic in the didactic; but in doing so - and even though he is one of the greatest theologians - he has missed the crucial point: se solo se ho capito i miei genitori, la mia educazione, i colpi del destino e le incapacità, i limiti e i talenti della mia vita di Grazia; Solo se ho capito con tutta la mia esistenza che io - proprio io! - posso muovere le montagne ed essere luce e sale della terra, posso e devo permettere che mi dicano, forse ogni giorno:
"Tu puoi fare molto di più. Butta via i sedimenti! Non sei un sacco di sabbia; reagisci! Tempra la tua volontà!"

The Vangelo della pesca miracolosa, the Vangelo planned for the feast of St. Josemaria, reminds us of the fundamental requirement of every missionary success: "Get the catch to fish! Do not invade the retreats of others! Sappi, where you have been placed, love, the grace of Christ". The missionary success, for many contemporaries, is a term that knows of manipulation and appropriation. But charity does not take possession of anyone; on the contrary, it frees.

Sono ancora oggi in corrispondenza con un uomo che - era un addetto alla raccolta dei rifiuti - dopo il divorzio del suo matrimonio è diventato un ubriacone, senzatetto, ecc.; tutti possono immaginare di quale precipitosa caduta sto parlando.

A young student, now a member of Opus Dei with his entire family, picked him up from the road and accompanied him for two years with friendly loyalty, step by step and despite all the obstacles.

Today this man, liberated from his hell, attends the Holy Mass almost every day; he collects from the spazzatura the sacked toys, he repairs them during his many free hours and gives them to various nests and children's houses. He has also developed two brevetti and in May of last year he received the Tedesca Cross of Merit.

Cardinal Schönborn in 'The joy of being a priest' speaks of one of his priests: "For decades he has been going to confession every day at half past four in the morning.
People from all over the region know that they can find the "prete" there. When they go to work in Vienna or in the countryside, many of them make a small devotion to walk in that city and go to confession.

He is always there. He has also enlarged his confessional a little bit to be able to do his morning gymnastics. He reads, prays and asks; he is simply there. He is one of the best priests, also for the young people, from whom he is very much loved. A priest who is himself gracious, because he lives in gratitude".

Everything through grace can be seen in a way to possess, and everything in a way to love. For example, there are scientists who work day and night to find a vaccine that saves the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, without even thinking about the amount of money they save.

And there are many people who live evangelical poverty with the motto: "You see, I have the power; you don't have it!" St. Josemaría called his priesthood "of the Holy Cross" because he lived the Eucharist. Whoever lives of the Eucharist knows that grace as a perfection of nature is also a cross. One cannot receive the Christ who literally gives himself (sacrifices himself) without the will to be involved in this gift (the sacrifice) of oneself: the more the sacrifice is concrete, the better it is. Certainly: what is decisive is the indicative, not the imperative. What is decisive is given to each of us in a unique way. But it is also true that we are not simply objects of grace; we are also subjects of grace.

I suppose that St. Josemaria would have replied to the mother who was sfogata in that meeting of the parents on the eve of the first confession and communion of her children, that being a Christian is never comfortable. But, when you live in grace, you no longer want to do less.

Because he who gives himself becomes free. Almost none of the many critics of Opus Dei knows that there is no argument of which St. Josemaria spoke as much as that of freedom. In a 1963 omelet he confessed: "I am a great lover of freedom, and for this very reason I love that Christian virtue [obedience] so much. We must feel we are God's children and live with the illusion of competing with the will of our Father. We do things according to God's will, because we want to and it suits us, which is the most natural reason. When I decide to will what the Lord wants, then I am free from all the chains that have tied me to things and worries [...]. The spirit of Opus Dei, which I have been practicing and teaching for more than thirty-five years, has made me understand and love personal freedom.

This is what the choice of the second reading of the Mass in his memory (Rom 8:14-17) shows: "I know that I am guided by the Spirit of God, I am a child of God. You have not received a spirit of schiavity [...], but a spirit of adoring children" (8:15).

The authorEmilio Mur

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