Fishing for Vocations in Opus Dei

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by Tammy A. DiNicola

"La Pesca Submarina," Spanish for "Underwater Fishing," is one of many songs written by an Opus Dei member for all the Opus Dei members to sing at their get-togethers. During the time I was a numerary (celibate) member of Opus Dei, I sang this song many times. It was one of many songs collected in a small green booklet entitled "Canciones," or "Songs." Most songs were in Spanish, and almost all of them had something to do with "winning vocations." In this article, I will explain why I believe that the singing of these songs highlights how unhealthy the proselytism, or winning of vocations, really is within Opus Dei.

Numerary members of Opus Dei who live in Opus Dei centers are required to participate in daily "get-togethers." On a regular basis at these meetings, the director takes out the books of songs, and the numeraries sing with great enthusiasm, accompanied by guitars, tambourines and other percussion instruments if available. The mood at these singing get-togethers is generally quite festive; "La Pesca Submarina" is one of the more lively songs, and is well-liked by the numeraries. The behavior which these songs encourage is troubling, as are the lyrics themselves.

The purpose of singing these songs is primarily to generate enthusiasm in the numeraries to be persistent in their recruiting. In my own experience, the numeraries, including myself, often became excited and rowdy as they sang these songs. The level of enthusiasm encouraged by Opus Dei can be different depending on what type of member one is, as illustrated by the following example. One day I was asked by my director to attend a get-together of supernumeraries (non-celibate or married Opus Dei members). As a numerary, I was delighted that the director had decided to sing the Opus Dei songs at this gathering. With tambourine in hand, I gleefully began to sing the songs as I was accustomed to singing them with other numeraries, that is, with great enthusiasm. Apparently, the director was not pleased; after a short time, she corrected me, telling me to be more quiet and not so boisterous. At the time, I was puzzled as to why I was corrected, and why the supernumeraries seemed so much more reserved than the numeraries.

The above-mentioned example prompts a serious question: Why is a different behavior encouraged in the numeraries as compared with the supernumeraries? I believe that part of the answer is that Opus Dei has lower expectations of the supernumeraries. Numeraries are counted on to be successful recruiters, and through various means, including the singing of the Opus Dei songs, Opus Dei ensures that the numeraries are sufficiently "fired up" to do so; on the other hand, supernumeraries are primarily expected to provide a "seedbed" of potential future numeraries (mainly, by raising their children in the Opus Dei environment). Opus Dei deliberately keeps the supernumeraries in the dark regarding what numeraries really do; Opus Dei does not want to "scare" the supernumeraries, and thereby lose the chance to recruit their sons and daughters as numeraries. Time and again, one hears of supernumeraries who have no clue as to what is required of numerary members. In a BBC television documentary aired in England in 1983, a supernumerary was interviewed who did not know that numerary members flagellate themselves and almost daily use the cilice, a spiked chain worn around the thigh.[1]

When I was a member, each time a person joined Opus Dei as a numerary anywhere in the United States, the entire household was informed, with the news generating considerable excitement; when a person joined as a supernumerary, hardly any mention was made of it, and no one became excited. In Opus Dei's eyes, the numeraries are in fact "the elite." The Opus Dei songs serve to reinforce this belief. The brazen atmosphere at the numerary get-togethers contributes to the numeraries' conviction that they are the "elite," and have the right to barge into people's lives, "go out to the highways and byways," and push people into the Opus Dei household. The enthusiasm generated by these songs is unhealthy because it places the burden on the numeraries to "win vocations," rather than letting potential members prayerfully determine on their own whether or not God is calling them to a vocation to Opus Dei.

The influence that the messages in the Opus Dei songs can have on individuals is quite subtle (this is also true of many secular songs); when singing them, I do not believe that the numeraries fully reflect on what the lyrics mean. However, the lyrics to and the behavior encouraged by "La Pesca Submarina" are especially troubling, for they speak about potential Opus Dei members as if they were unthinking fish who need to be "caught" by Opus Dei members.

The singers of the song are encouraged to "submerge themselves in the water at the same level as the fish." Former Opus Dei members testify that when recruiting a "friend," "the friend's interests and other personal qualities are evaluated. Then an individual strategy is devised for each. If the recruit likes baseball or opera, the 'friend' (the Opus Dei member) will work the baseball or opera angle. ...All this is designed to lead to more talk of Opus Dei and eventually the question of vocation."[2] Friendship in Opus Dei is indeed seen more as a "means" to winning a vocation than as an end in itself. The numerary who recruited me summarily "dropped" me after I wrote the letter to the Prelate asking to become a numerary. Previously, we regularly ate lunch together, went on walks and spent time together. As soon as I joined, she suddenly had no time to be with me; the "friendship" we originally shared became unimportant, and in her eyes, unnecessary.

The virtues encouraged by "La Pesca Submarina" for undertaking the task of recruiting are "maneuverability or flexibility," as well as "cleverness, astuteness, promptness in thinking." Are all of these skills really needed by the recruiter, if indeed the call to Opus Dei is from God? The song continues with the recruiter aiming, then hurling the harpoon at the fish, and finally grabbing it. Is it the recruiter who is really grabbing the fish, or is it God? In fact, no mention of God is even made in this song, except indirectly when the songwriter states that "going after the fish is a divine thing." The singer of this song is subtly left with the impression that winning a vocation takes a lot of human effort; the role that God plays is not even mentioned. There is indeed a massive amount of human effort expended in Opus Dei to successfully recruit new members; statistics are kept on all potential recruits; for each recruit, a personal strategy is developed to draw him or her closer to an Opus Dei vocation; information given to recruits and even new members about what Opus Dei life entails is carefully monitored so as not to "scare them away."

The last line in the refrain of the song speaks of "not wanting to wait for the fish to bite," but going after the fish with the harpoon instead of using a hook and a fish line. This line, which happens to be repeated and sung the most emphatically of all the lines in the entire song, is especially disturbing. It implies that the fish, or recruits, ought not to be allowed to bite, or nibble at their own pace; rather, the burden is again placed on the Opus Dei members, the recruiters, to plunge into the waters and get the fish on their own strength. With this type of aggressive behavior encouraged, what role does the recruit's prayerful evaluation have in determining a vocation to Opus Dei?

"La Pesca Submarina" is only one of many Opus Dei songs which reflects the collective self-confidence possessed by Opus Dei members. When I was a member, I truly believed that the whole of Opus Dei was inspired by God, entirely perfect, and that I had the right to behave aggressively with potential recruits as the Opus Dei songs encouraged. Are Opus Dei members' recruiting efforts truly the quiet work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of individuals? Or are they merely human devices aimed at "manufacturing" vocations?

March 19, 1994

[1] Everyman Series VII: God's Work? An Investigation into Opus Dei, UK, transmitted on 5129183, BBC- TV, London, England.

[2] Michael J. Farrell, "What Escriva's beatification says about church", National Catholic Reporter, Vol. 28, No.24, April 17, 1992.

La Pesca Submarina (Underwater Fishing)

An Opus Dei song in Spanish with English translation beneath each line*

En el mar hay peces grandes a millares,
In the sea there are thousands of big fish,

Tú lo sabes, tú lo sabes,
You know it, you know it,

Basta hundirse suavemente y sin pesares,
It's enough (it's no big deal) to submerge yourself (amidst the fish) smoothly and without any hassle


Cuando ves un pez te pones a su altura,
When you see a fish, you position yourself at the same level,

Con soltura, con listura,
With maneuverability, with cleverness (astuteness),

Le disparas el harpón con puntería.
You hurl the harpoon with aim,

Lo agarras luego y se acabó!
Then you grab it (the fish), and that's it!


A mí, me gusta la pesca, Pero pesca submarina!
As for me, I like to fish, but I like underwater fishing the best!

Que perseguir a los peces, es una cosa divina!
To go after those fish is a divine thing!

A mí, me gusta la pesca, sin anzuelo y sin sedal;
As for me, I like to fish without a hook, and without a fish line;

Que eso de esperar que piquen, no me va, que no me va!(Repeat)
This waiting for the fish to bite, it's not for me, no it's not for me!

La la la la

(*) Specific words for this song are here recorded solely from the collective memories of several former numerary members of Opus Dei. Opus Dei songs are not commonly available for public perusal, and are generally kept under lock and key in Opus Dei directors' offices. Dashes indicate words from the song which were not remembered.

Originally Written: March 19, 1994