To Amadeo: I read your notes on Supernumeraries. They don’t seem audacious enough to me as regards their obligations. I’ll give your notes back to you next week with some specific comments. Anyway, I’ll say now that we cannot lose sight of the fact that we are not talking about the inscription of some gentlemen in a particular association, but rather a supernatural vocation to the life of perfection and apostolate. To be a Supernumerary is a great grace from God!
Let us pause briefly to consider this paragraph. The key word that the founder underlines here is vocation. The Supernumeraries are called to the life of perfection (today we would say, using current terminology, to holiness) and to apostolate like other lay people and priests. This clarification by St Josemaría was important. Since the majority of Supernumeraries came from Catholic Action or other pious associations, the danger existed that they would think joining Opus Dei was like joining one of these groups. As we have seen, this is exactly what St Josemaría wished to avoid when he emphasised that to belong to Opus Dei was a “supernatural vocation,” not “the inscription of some gentlemen in a particular association.”
The canonical teaching and theology of the time tended to identify complete self-giving with the religious life or something equivalent, open only to celibate people. However, for St Josemaría it was clear that in Opus Dei there was “one and only one vocation.” Without getting into comparisons, Opus Dei offered a novel reality in this sense, although during those years there was no shortage of initiatives in the Church that sought to re-energise the Catholic laity and even to offer them a specific spirituality for marriage. For example, we can mention the Cursillosmovement(Short Courses in Christianity), which took shape between the end of August 1948 and the beginning of 1949; or the Focolari movement (founded by Chiara Lubich and approved on a diocesan level in 1947), which the member of Parliament Igino Giordani joined. He was the father of four children, the first married member of the Focolari and considered the cofounder of the movement. Also the Equipes Notre-Dame (Teams of Our Lady), which began towards the end of the thirties under the impulse of Father Henri Caffarel, and which published in 1947 their Letter setting out their conjugal spirituality.
Returning to our story, on Christmas Day 1947 St Josemaría wrote again to Madrid: “Amadeo, go back over the project – the draft project – on Supernumeraries. Stress the importance of obedience (one cannot belong to an association without explicit oral permission, noted down in writing in that person’s file), etc…”
As we can see, the founder wanted to emphasise that the vocation to Opus Dei was one of complete self-giving and entailed a real act of obedience. He doesn’t explain the reason behind the rule he mentions here, but we can guess he wanted to prevent people from spreading themselves too thinly or perhaps getting caught up in silly comparisons and envies, or perhaps too the confusion that Opus Dei was just one more association, to which one could dedicate only part of one’s time in between other pious activities, and not a true calling from God that requires a total dedication. So it would be prudent to seek the permission St Josemaría talks about.
On January 1, 1948 he wrote to the three people who had asked to join Opus Dei as Supernumeraries:
To Tomás, Víctor and Mariano. May Jesus look after my children!
My dear three: it is impossible now to write to you individually, but my first letter of 1948 is for you. I am praying hard for you. You are the seed of thousands and thousands of brothers of yours, who will come sooner than we think. How hard and how well we will have to work for the Kingdom of Jesus Christ!
A few days later, the founder would glimpse at last a solution for the problem we are considering here. It happened on a trip to Milan, from January 11 to 16, accompanied by Alvaro del Portillo and Ignacio Sallent. On the return leg to Rome, he exclaimed “They fit!” It was a kind of eureka moment because he suddenly saw how to present to the Holy See the way in which the Supernumeraries would “fit” into Opus Dei as fully incorporated members. As soon as he got back to Rome he wrote to Madrid: “I am working on the whole issue of the Supernumeraries: there will be many great and beautiful surprises! How good Our Lord is! Amadeo, tell those three to entrust my work to Our Lady. I promise them a great joy.”