ROME, FEB. 13, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Bishop Javier Echevarría, the prelate of Opus Dei, has just published a book entitled “Itineraries of Christian Life” (Planeta+Testimonio), in which he addresses Christians´ being and action, and issues such as the crisis of the family and the concept of responsible parenthood.
Monsignor Echevarría is the second successor to Blessed Josemaría Escrivá as head of the Opus Dei (“Work of God” in Latin) personal prelature, which embraces 84,000 people.
In the following interview, Monsignor Echevarría presents the Christian ideal as it stands in a world “where what is important is a good image, success, power.”
–Q: How do you analyze the present?
–Bishop Echevarría: I think it is obvious that it is a complex time and, to a large extent, paradoxical: Together with undeniable shadows, there is no lack of lights. It would be easy to enumerate examples of progress, regress, victories and defeats in human affairs.
However, above all, we cannot forget that we are living in the fullness of time; it is the time, which has lasted for 2000 years, of the real and definitive news, the time in which God became man in Jesus Christ, giving us the possibility to be children of God.
We will never be sufficiently grateful for this treasure, which enables us to face the different circumstances [of our life] with human and supernatural optimism. Any other way of understanding the present time would necessarily be incomplete and would expose us to appreciate only the surface of what is happening in our personal and general history.
–Q: Don´t you think that the conduct of those who make an effort to live a Christian life clashes with elements of present-day society?
–Bishop Echevarría: Of course. And this happened a long time ago. No sooner Jesus was presented in the Temple, than Joseph and Mary received the news from the elderly Simeon that the Child would be a sign of contradiction.
When the apostles received the Holy Spirit, they overcame their fear to proclaim Christ, but immediately, those who were “objective” said they were drunkards; they were imprisoned and we know how they ended up, although they were always happy men.
And so it has been throughout the centuries. The Christian message will always clash, but this clash can and must be a revulsion that generates love, humanizes man, opens new perspectives, liberates him.
–Q: What do you think of the modern idea of love?
–Bishop Echevarría: I think that our society has given way to a concept of love detached from commitment, that is, from that essential component of love, which is the mutual fidelity of those who love one another. This [attitude] robs it of virtue and tends to transform it into egoism, in eagerness for simple self-satisfaction. Can one think of a mother who stops loving her son because her neighbor´s is better looking? This is also why the legal protection given to marital ruptures is a great tragedy; instead, Christ´s exigency, which reminds us — “what God has joined together, let no man put asunder — is the source and guarantee of freedom and real love.
–Q: In your opinion, what is the ultimate origin of the criticisms of the father figure, which you refer to in your book?
–Bishop Echevarría: In the end, it seems that many confuse the identity of the son with the slave. Then every father is regarded as an ogre. Jesus Christ has revealed the tenderness of God´s fatherhood to us, and the liberty we gain in the filial adoption that God the Father has made of us in Jesus Christ.
–Q: Many married couples say that today´s social structures do not allow them to have all the children they would like to have.
–Bishop Echevarría: One cannot ignore the effective weight of certain social, economic and political structures — poverty, unemployment, cost of housing, etc. — which may justify the use of natural methods of continence, according to morality. However, at the same time, unfortunately, there is also an attitude that cannot be justified by the reasons mentioned: It doubts the value of fatherhood or motherhood in themselves and, because of this, to generate a child is no longer considered something indisputably good and desirable, but an option among many other possibilities.
There is agreement that to give life to another is something incomparable, but it is judged that to generate and educate yet another child implies a complex and risky task, and an evaluation is made of the satisfaction it gives and the sacrifices it entails, concluding very often that it is not worthwhile. Deep down, the value of life has been lost sight of, [as well as] the meaning of love, and the greatness of maternity and paternity.
–Q: Your book ends with a chapter on “The Essence of Joy.” Some wonder how it is possible to be joyful in a world like ours, where suffering and injustice are so present.
–Bishop Echevarría: In its liturgy, the Church dares to sing with joy the mystery of Christ´s cross. Sorrow does not cancel joy, if one lives united to Christ´s sacrifice for our salvation. Joy is sapped by the egoism of sin, by forgetting to love God and one´s neighbor, along with lack of repentance. Whoever is dominated by an environment where what matters is the cult of a good image, success, power, gets depressed in face of failure, financial setbacks, and even wrinkles on the face.
Needless to say, a Christian´s joy is not linked to a presumed sinlessness, which doesn´t exist, but to the willingness to ask for forgiveness, to be repentful. It is the joy of the prodigal son. Increasingly, I understand why Blessed Josemaría Escrivá referred to the sacrament of penance as “the sacrament of joy.”