Opus Dei members say their daily lives refute 'Da Vinci Code'
Julia Boles, 46, lives in Arcadia, Calif., with her lawyer husband and their nine children, ages 5 to 20. She also manages to attend Mass daily, set aside time for prayer twice a day and, with her children, pray the rosary.
"People say: 'Nine kids? How do you handle that and go to Mass?' I say, 'How could I do this without the Mass?' "
Boles is a member of one of the most talked about and least understood Catholic organizations in the world: Opus Dei, which means "work of God" in Latin.
Although the face of Opus Dei in "The Da Vinci Code" is a murderous masochistic monk -- a fiction, the group's members say -- Boles typifies the group's American demographic: She's a woman. Most of the 190 members in Los Angeles are women, as are slightly more than half of the 3,000 members in the United States.
There are no monks. And only 2 percent of nearly 90,000 members worldwide are priests, one of whom, Jose Gomez, is Cardinal Roger Mahony's newly named successor as archbishop of Los Angeles. Gomez is the only priest to come up through Opus Dei and be made a U.S. bishop.
Setting aside the distortions of "The Da Vinci Code," critics have pointed to the group's historic connection to right-leaning governments and its secretiveness. Brian Finnerty, spokesman for Opus Dei in the United States, said the group takes no political positions.
Seton Hall law professor John Coverdale said the organization's goal is to offer lay Christians a path toward a holier life without becoming a priest or a nun. "People would see their work as a professor or a journalist or mother or whatever they are as something to offer to God and something that they need to try to do well," said Coverdale, 69, a lay member of Opus Dei.
"The main idea is to help members come closer to God in their everyday activities," Finnerty said.
Boles agreed. "It's not a bunch of pious things," said Boles, whose husband and two eldest children -- UCLA students John and Ginny -- are members, too. "I'm chasing after kids. I'm trying to get meals on the table. . . . All of those things are precious in God's eyes if they are done with love. If you try to do it as well as you can, for God's glory, with concern for your neighbor and mine, it's wonderful."
Members go to daily Mass, set aside time to pray and sometimes fast or sacrifice a treat or pleasure as a way of honoring Jesus.
There is corporal mortification, though not as portrayed in "The Da Vinci Code," they say. "It's not a bloody whipping of oneself," Coverdale said. "It's more an annoyance." He wears a leg chain with dull spikes -- called a cilice -- around his upper thigh for a couple of hours a day while praying. It's designed to be uncomfortable but not to draw blood. And once or twice a week, during a prayer, he whips himself on his buttocks with a type of rope referred to as "the disciplines."
"It doesn't particularly hurt; maybe it stings a bit," Coverdale said.