On the sixth anniversary of the death of Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, preached in the Basilica of St. Eugene, Rome (March 23, 2000)
“I know that my Redeemer lives.” The book of Job transmits to us these words, which provide a firm basis for a Christian’s faith and hope: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth; and...I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” Our Christian faith gives us the certainty that the souls of the just, as soon as they leave the body, if they are completely purified from all punishment due to sins that have been forgiven, immediately enjoy the vision of God. And after the final judgment, with all the men and women of all times, they will be reunited with their own body, resurrected by God’s almighty power.
In the light of this consoling truth, we commemorate today the sixth anniversary of the death of Bishop Alvaro del Portillo. We are offering the Holy Sacrifice for the eternal rest of the chosen soul who for nineteen years was for us in Opus Dei both Father and Shepherd. Those who had the good fortune of knowing him and being alongside him, and many other people, are convinced of the sanctity of his generous life. Therefore, many of those here present—without trying to anticipate the Church’s judgment—are convinced that he already enjoys the beatific vision and intercedes effectively for us before the Blessed Trinity.
Therefore, I am not surprised at how the reputation of sanctity of this “exemplary pastor in the service of the Church and most faithful son and successor to Blessed Josemaria, the Founder of Opus Dei,” as the prayer for private devotion calls him, has extended during these years throughout the whole world. Today I would like to emphasize that Don Alvaro’s exemplary life in the service of the Church and of souls grew daily as a direct consequence of his being Blessed Josemaria’s “most faithful son.”
One of the aspects of Don Alvaro’s life that was noticed most frequently by those who dealt with him was his faithfulness in serving. This virtue saturated every corner of his life: his piety towards God, his work, his relations with other men and women. It showed itself to us as a complete faithfulness, without any blemishes, to a single Christian vocation, the call to personal sanctity and apostolate: first as a layman, later as a priest and, finally, as the Prelate of Opus Dei and as bishop. In the prayer for private devotion we are invited to pray: “Help me to respond faithfully to the demands of my Christian vocation and teach me to turn every moment and circumstance of my life into an occasion of loving You and serving the kingdom of Jesus Christ.”
What was the deepest source of Don Alvaro’s constant loyalty? Undoubtedly it stemmed from his sense of divine filiation in Christ, witness to which is also given by St. Paul’s words in his epistle to the Romans that we have just read: “You did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship [in which] we cry: Abba, Father!”
All of us, my sisters and brothers, can and should live this spirit of divine filiation at every moment: “it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” I know that many people in a great variety of circumstances are asking the Blessed Trinity for this gift through to the intercession of this good and faithful servant. As Don Alvaro taught us, above all by his example, the best path for obtaining this grace is devout and loving participation in the Holy Mass, where we strengthen and renew the priestly soul that every Christian receives at baptism. “A priestly soul,” wrote Don Alvaro in one of his pastoral letters, “consists in having the same sentiments as Christ the Priest. It means seeking to fulfill God’s will at every moment and thus offer our whole life to God the Father, in union with Christ, in order to co-redeem with Him thanks to the action of the Holy Spirit.”
“No Christian community is built up,” the Second Vatican Council says succinctly, “which does not grow from and hinge on the celebration of the most holy Eucharist.” From this ever-flowing font there wells forth all the spiritual and apostolic fruitfulness of the Christian. The Eucharistic sacrifice “is therefore the center and root of the whole life” not only of priests, but of all of the members of the People of God, as Blessed Josemaria taught. He liked to say that the Holy Mass puts us “in the presence of the primordial mysteries of the faith, because it is the very gift of the Trinity to the Church. Thus we understand that the Mass is the center and the root of the spiritual life of the Christian. It is the goal of all the sacraments.”
I suggest to you, and to myself in the first place, that we examine our personal dispositions every time that we prepare to celebrate or to assist at Holy Mass. Let us not forget to prepare ourselves, if necessary, with a good confession, to receive Jesus in the Sacred Host. And let us dedicate some minutes after communion to recollection and to giving thanks to our Lord. I personally witnessed how Don Alvaro strove to prepare himself very well each day for Holy Mass and communion; thus his union with God increased daily throughout the years.
Before ending, I ask you, although I am sure that you are already joyfully doing so, that you pray a lot for the apostolic fruit of the pilgrimage that our Holy Father John Paul II is carrying out in Jesus’ homeland, the Holy Land. The Pope himself has been asking us for our prayers for some time; we cannot fail in this true filial duty. Divine providence has willed that precisely today, according to his schedule, he will be celebrating Holy Mass in the Cenacle in Jerusalem. In the nearby church, Don Alvaro six years ago renewed the Holy Sacrifice of Calvary sacramentally for the last time. When I told this to the Holy Father he was very moved by this final caress that our Lord deigned to give his servant, letting him celebrate his last Mass in the place where Jesus instituted the Eucharist.
This providential coincidence moves me to suggest that you commend all of John Paul II’s intentions to the intercession of Blessed Josemaria and of Bishop del Portillo, so that the desire he expressed in the prayer composed for the Holy Year may become a reality: “By your grace, O Father, may the Jubilee Year be a time of deep conversion and of joyful return to you. May it be a time of reconciliation between people, and of peace restored among nations, a time when swords are beaten into ploughshares and the clash of arms gives way to songs of peace. Father, grant that we may live this Jubilee Year docile to the voice of the Spirit, faithful to the way of Christ, diligent in listening to your word and in approaching the well-springs of grace.”
Within a few days, on March 28th, we will celebrate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the priestly ordination of Blessed Josemaria. On this day I will have the joy of administering the order of the priesthood to a number of deacons of the Prelature of Opus Dei in the Basilica of St. Eugene. I entrust them from this moment to your prayers, so that they be holy, learned and joyful priests, as was Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, following faithfully in the footsteps of Blessed Josemaria.
Let us entrust all our petitions to our Lady’s hands, so that holy Mary, the all-powerful supplicant, may present them before the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.