On the feast of Blessed Josemaria, Parish of Blessed Josemaria Escriva, Rome (June 26, 2001)
My dear brothers and sisters:
1. In a few months, on January 9, 2002, we will celebrate the hundredth anniversary of Blessed Josemaria Escriva’s birth. We are preparing spiritually for this date by renewing our desires for holiness. I hope that all of you will take advantage of the graces and favors, both spiritual and material, that I am certain the Blessed Trinity wants to grant to the world on the occasion of the first centennial of the birth of Opus Dei’s founder.
Now I would like to recall some central features of the message God entrusted to Blessed Josemaria, for men and women seeking sanctity in the ordinary circumstances of their lives. At the beginning of the new century, our Holy Father John Paul II reminded us that “all pastoral initiatives must be set in relation to holiness.” And, he added, the ideal of a fully Christian life “must not be misunderstood as if it involved some kind of extraordinary existence, possible only for a few “uncommon heroes” of holiness... The time has come to re-propose wholeheartedly to everyone this ‘high standard’ of ordinary Christian living: the whole life of the Christian community and of Christian families must lead in this direction.”
As we know, Blessed Josemaria’s mission in the Church was to re-awaken in Christians, with new force and in new ways, the awareness of the universal call to holiness and apostolate. I still recall how animated his answer was when someone asked him during his trip to Brazil why he had been accused, in Opus Dei’s early years, of being crazy: “Doesn’t it seem crazy to you to say that one can and should be a saint walking along the street? That the ice cream seller with his little wagon, the household employee spending her day in the kitchen, the bank manager, the university professor, the farmer, the bell hop... can and should be saints? All are called to sanctity!”
2. In the opening prayer of today’s liturgy, the Church draws our attention to what I just mentioned as the most appropriate starting point for any reflection on our holy Founder: God our Father, you chose Blessed Josemaria to proclaim the universal call to sanctity and apostolate in the Church... God created our Father precisely to fulfill this mission, and he responded with a faithful and unconditional dedication to the graces he received. Every man and woman who comes into the world is called to carry out a mission which only he or she can fulfill. No one’s life is without a purpose. Everyone is precious in the sight of God, who arranges circumstances in the best way and gives each person the graces needed to fulfil his will.
But, what is sanctity? What does it mean to aspire to be saints? Does it mean to be impeccable, to have no defects, to be outstanding in men’s eyes? Certainly not. To repeat a favorite teaching of Blessed Josemaria, there are no saints here on earth. Saints are found only in heaven. Here we are all sinners; but sinners who strive, and this is the important thing, to truly love Jesus, and therefore who get up each time they fall, going frequently to the sacrament of Penance, who seek to strengthen their own spiritual life, frequently receiving Communion, praying insistently, while trying to fulfill as perfectly as possible their family, professional and social duties, and, at the same time, striving for justice and peace in society. We should be convinced that becoming saints, with the decisive help of grace, is a goal within everyone’s reach.
The effort to attain Christian perfection does not imply uniformity. But the many paths towards sanctity necessarily converge in one point: in configuration with Christ, the fruit of grace and our personal response to the divine call. “You have to be different from one another, as the saints in heaven are different, each having his own personal and very special characteristics. But also, you have to be as identical as the saints, who would not be saints if each of them had not identified himself with Christ.”
In order to correspond to all the graces we receive at each moment in our life, we go to God, the fount of sanctity, invoking the help of Blessed Josemaria: By his example and prayers, grant that in faithfully carrying out our daily work in the spirit of Christ, we may be formed in the likeness of your Son, and together with the most Blessed Virgin Mary, serve the work of redemption with an ardent love. Let us remember that at every moment in our life, without exception, our Lord is helping us to sanctify that specific situation.
3. When we truly seek to identify ourselves with Christ, the consequences are clear. We have to collaborate with him in bringing the fruits of his redemption to all men and women. “You cannot separate the fact that Christ is God from his role as Redeemer. The Word became flesh and came into the world ‘to save all men’ (see 1 Tim 2:4) With all our personal defects and limitations, we are other Christs, Christ himself, and we too are called to serve all men.”
These words taken from a homily of the Founder of Opus Dei are recalled in the opening prayer of the Mass, which speaks of serving the work of redemption with ardent love. Christ, to save us, wanted to be raised on the Cross. The offertory prayer indicates the only way we can collaborate in spreading the salvation worked by Jesus: by seeking to offer all our actions in union with the Mass, the memorial which makes our Lord’s death and resurrection present in a sacramental way. Thanks to the Eucharist, we are able to say with the apostles: possumus! “We can!”
Accept, Father, these gifts we offer in memory of Blessed Josemaria, and through this sacramental renewal of the sacrifice of the Cross graciously sanctify all our works. In the bread and wine that constitute the material of the Eucharist, fruit of the earth and work of human hands, all of us are represented. We are invited to make a Eucharist of ourselves. Therefore, the Cross must be present in our life and in our actions. Only thus will we have a guarantee that we are traveling the path that leads to holiness and conforming ourselves ever more faithfully to the Savior.
Our conduct has to always be marked by the Cross, even if “there is a kind of fear around, a fear of the Cross, of our Lord’s Cross. What has happened is that people have begun to regard as crosses all the unpleasant things that crop up in life, and they don’t know how to take them as God’s children should, with supernatural outlook. So much so, that they are even removing the roadside crosses set up by our forefathers!” Blessed Josemaria was sad to see this undermining of the Christian spirit, which leads people to forget that salvation and true happiness are found only in the Cross. But never one to lose hope, he continued: “In the Passion, the Cross ceased to be a symbol of punishment and became instead a sign of victory. The Cross is the emblem of the Redeemer: in quo est salus, vita et resurrectio nostra: there lies our salvation, our life and our resurrection.”
Sharing in Jesus’ Cross (and not all the hardships that we complain about are Jesus’ cross; many are just the fruit of our imagination), sharing in our Lord’s Cross is a sign of God’s blessing, a proof of Jesus’ love and trust. Yes, his trust, because in those moments our Lord is asking us to carry with him the weight of the wood on which he is immolated. Even humanly speaking, true love shines forth in sacrifice for those we love. “Sometimes we speak of love as if it were an impulse to self-satisfaction or a mere means to selfish fulfillment of one’s own personality. But that’s not love. True love means going out of oneself, giving oneself. Love brings joy, but a joy whose roots are in the shape of a cross.”
4. When one grasps this truth, when one understands that meeting up with the Cross, far from being a negative experience, is a moment rich in fruit, pledge of a reward that exceeds all expectations, then our heart overflows spontaneously with a deep joy and peace stronger than any storm. This experience always accompanies those who strive to follow Jesus’ call. The Christian vocation has room for many paths, as we have already said, but these invariably converge on one point: knowing and sensing ourselves to be God’s beloved children. Children of God who, in Christ and under the impulse of the Holy Spirit, seek to advance rapidly towards the final goal: eternal life with the Trinity, of which the Holy Eucharist is a pledge hidden under the veil of the sacramental signs.
The happiest people on earth are true Christians. In the prayer after communion, we address the following plea to our heavenly Father: Father... may this sacrament we have received in memory of Blessed Josemaria, strengthen in us the spirit of adoption as children of God, and fulfilling your will, may we walk joyfully on the path of our vocation.
In conclusion, I would like to remind you of some words from the Pope’s Apostolic Letter for the new millennium: “On this journey we are accompanied by the Blessed Virgin Mary.” We entrust ourselves to Mary, Mother of Jesus and our Mother, “Star of the New Evangelization.” Today in particular, we beseech her to watch over the apostolic trip of John Paul II to the Ukraine. May our Lady “the radiant dawn and sure guide for our steps,” smooth the path to Christian unity and bring about a period rich in fruit for the Church. I invite you to invoke her with an aspiration that Blessed Josemaria’s heart poured out fifty years ago now: Cor Mariae dulcissimum, iter para tutum! Amen.