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Book Review: Ordinary Work, Extraordinary Grace: My Spiritual Journey in Opus Dei by Scott Hahn

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During the reign of The Da Vinci Code, the Catholic Church and, in particular, Opus Dei took some pretty hard punches. Cable specials, TV commentaries, the movie, and every ad aired conjured up the ogre and called him Opus Dei. Portrayed as secretive and exclusive, the organization didn’t take it on the chin and forget about it. Instead, the members viewed the Da Vinci controversy as an astounding opportunity to get their own message out. They decided to “make lemonade.” While people went to the Internet in droves to research the book and the movie, many clicked further and found the official Opus Dei website. (A quick search of “Opus Dei” and “Da Vinci Code” revealed 582,000 links.)

How did they fare? In a paper titled "Three Years with the Da Vinci Code" presented on April 27, 2006 in the Fifth Professional Seminar for Church Communications, the New York Communications Office of Opus Dei reported this:

The official website, www.opusdei.org, has proved to be an amazing instrument in a period such as this. The site is of its nature global, like the Da Vinci phenomenon. There we have offered the most extensive and detailed answer to the Da Vinci Code in 22 languages. During the year 2005, the American section of the website received more than a million different visitors (that’s visitors, not visits); and the total more than three million. The day that these reflections were finalised in New York, there had arrived 156 messages by 9 in the morning. One curious effect is the scholar-novelist Umberto Eco’s recommendation of the official Opus Dei website. Exhausted by continuous questions about the veracity of the DVC, Eco tells his readers, “Besides, if you want up-to-date information on all the matters in question, go to the site of Opus Dei. Even if you are atheists, you can trust it.”

Now Scott Hahn comes with his 11th book, Ordinary Work, Extraordinary Grace: My Spiritual Journey in Opus Dei. Hahn, a former Protestant evangelical, a Presbyterian minister to be exact, relates how he eventually became a “wannabe Catholic.” But not until, as he says, he “arrived at Marquette University for graduate studies in theology with high hopes but low expectations.” There he met a couple of Catholics who — shock! — carried small Bibles in their pockets. Card-carrying Bible readers who depended on scripture in their everyday life were, in Hahn’s experience, not everyday Catholics. Thus begins Hahn’s introduction to Opus Dei and his first steps on a spiritual journey that would lead to his embrace of the Opus Dei spirituality and eventually end in his conversion to the Catholic faith.

Hahn’s book offers an insider’s view of what it’s like to do “the Work.” Opus Dei means “the Work of God” or “God’s Work.” When Hahn heard those two words, he understood their meaning and reacted instinctively. He knew “Opus Dei was someplace where I could begin to feel at home.” Why? He had discovered that the members have a sincere devotion to the Bible. They welcome non-Catholics. They live “ordinary” lives. “They were not theologians, instead they lived the theology." Hahn appreciated their devout work ethic, their willingness to answer questions, and, most importantly to Hahn, they prayed. He saw the Opus Dei members in daily “true conversation with God.”

Hahn had found his place and his way. Opus Dei gave him entrance into the full Catholic faith. Over the course of the book’s 122 pages and 12 chapters, Hahn expresses, often poetically, what it’s like to follow the way laid out by Josemaría Escrivá, the founder of Opus Dei and the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross. For a former evangelical, Opus Dei’s daily reliance on the Bible offered a firm foundation for his further studies. The call to a daily, imaginative five-minute Bible study of the New Testament made sense. Escrivá urged his followers to pick a scene in the Bible and to imagine it fully using all the senses. “Take part in it as one of the characters,” he said. It will “enable you to incarnate the Gospel, reflect it in your life and help others reflect it.”

In Ordinary Work, Extraordinary Grace, Hahn makes a lot of lemonade as he continues his successful work in apologetics for the Catholic faith. He relates his journey in an engaging, intimate, personal style. He tells a story, his story, about finding God in everyday life. In the process, he reveals the inner workings of Opus Dei, its way, and God's Work.

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