On the feast of Blessed Josemaría, Basilica of St. Eugene. Rome, June 26, 2002
My dear brothers and sisters:
June 26, the anniversary of the dies natalis of Blessed Josemaría Escrivá to the glory of heaven, is for all of us a day of celebration: a day in which our gratitude to God is shown by a new effort to convert, by the desire to follow more closely the example of fidelity to the Christian vocation given us by Opus Dei’s founder.
Today this anniversary takes on a special significance. It not only marks the centennial of his birth, but also stands at the threshold of his canonization. All of this spurs us to focus with special clarity on the message our Lord wanted to transmit through Blessed Josemaría and his teachings. We have the certitude that, in the life and work of this holy priest, we see reflected the face of God. For the Holy Spirit speaks to us through his saints, whose mission it is to lead men to God.
What is Blessed Josemaría saying to all of us? His personality, both humanly and supernaturally, is so rich that it is impossible to characterize it in a few words. But, thanks be to God, certain features stand out that enable us to formulate an answer. When my predecessor, Don Alvaro, immediately after the death of our beloved founder, had to sum up his life, the meaning of his mission, in one word (for the inscription to be placed on his tomb), he didn’t waver for a moment: The Father. This word, imbued with affection, summed up his life of love and of sacrifice. He had truly been, more than anything, a father for so many souls. He taught us to love Christ. He watched over our formation. He encouraged us to travel the path of holiness with humble acceptance of our personal weakness and, at the same time, with total trust in the power of grace. He inspired in us the determination to make of our life a generous service to the Church and all souls, transmitting the conviction that the Christian vocation is a call to apostolate.
History will remember him as one of the outstanding figures in the life of the Church in the twentieth century-one of the great teachers of Christian life who have left an indelible mark on the passage of time. For the faithful of the Prelature of Opus Dei, he will always and above all be: the Father. He taught us to raise all that is human to God. Therefore, among his most characteristic features we find the blending of the human and supernatural virtues, which gives such a natural and normal tone to Christian life. Faith is expressed in an attitude of unfailing trust, fleeing presumption just as much as discouragement. Hope is shown in daring and undertaking great ideals, refusing to be cowed by life’s reversals and lamenting in a corner. Charity is shown in affection, understanding, friendship, loyalty. For Blessed Josemaría, the highest expression of charity was precisely paternity, a gift that made him so deeply loved by those who had the good fortune of knowing him.
Spiritual paternity was certainly one of Blessed Josemaría’s defining features. Many of you recall a passage in which he expresses his own awareness of his mission in life: I cannot fail to raise my soul in gratitude to God, «from whom every family on heaven and on earth is named» (Eph 3:15), for having given me this spiritual paternity, which, through his grace, I have taken on with the full awareness of being on earth only to carry it out. For this reason, I love you with the heart of a father and a mother.
Thus one can understand Blessed Josemaría’s insistence that in Opus Dei we must foster the united family atmosphere that characterized the early Christian community. We are a family in which each should feel himself loved just as he is (with his defects), understood, esteemed, not judged, excused, appreciated, and, when necessary, corrected (yes, because that too is a way of showing that we truly love one another). A family that is not closed in on itself, but, as a part of the Church, that is open to loving all men and women, bringing to everyone God’s love. Blessed Josemaría gave us the example of such a love, without exceptions or conditions. A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. Charity is the clearest reflection of the love with which God loves us. This is why Blessed Josemaría so insisted on the importance of fraternity. As he wrote in The Way, it is in fraternal affection that each of us finds an indispensable support for our spiritual struggle. Relying only on our own strength we can do very little: frater qui adiuvatur a fratre quasi civitas firma «A brother who is helped by his brother is like a strong city.» With Christ, and like Christ, we have to give our lives for others.
He also wrote: The power of charity! If you live that blessed and brotherly spirit, your mutual weakness will also be a support to keep you upright in the fulfillment of duty-just as in a house of cards, one card supports the other.
Those who had the good fortune of knowing Blessed Josemaría personally can relate anecdotes, often moving and graphic ones, that bear witness to his immense affection, expressed in a thousand apparently small details. One need only page through the biographies that have already appeared to see so many examples of this. Now, in heaven, close to God, he is praying untiringly for us, looking after our needs, interceding for our intentions.
Every day letters arrive from all parts of the world telling of spiritual and material favors obtained through his intercession. In this devotion, which the pontifical decree on the heroicity of his virtues called a «part of popular piety,» one can see the fulfillment of God’s plan. God chose him as an instrument to reawaken in many souls the realization that all the ordinary activities of life can be turned into prayer, into a path and means of holiness, a source of peace and joy for so many hearts.
The meeting with Blessed Josemaría or with his writings has changed the lives of many of us here. It has led us to find Christ, to listen to him, to converse with him, to feel his call, to struggle to give witness to him with full Christian consistency. In one way or another, all of us have been led to a real conversion, to the discovery of prayer, to the practice of penance, to the joy of frequent participation in the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist. Thanks to his teachings there has opened out before us the horizons of an active commitment to the building up of the Kingdom of Christ on earth. Thus we can consider ourselves with every right to be his children, and we can be certain that, as the good Father that he is, he will not deny us his personal intercession to obtain the graces that we need.
In particular, today we entrust to his intercession our struggle for sanctity in the midst of the world. Blessed Josemaría taught us to cultivate this great ideal, the only truly necessary one, in everyday realities, in occupations that seem ordinary but that conceal something divine. Sanctity doesn’t consist in doing more difficult things each day, but in fulfilling them each time with greater love. Let us ask him to help us to assimilate this truth, the core of his spiritual message. Let us ask him to help us see the fatherly face of God, who looks for a little more love from us in each of our actions, teaching us to turn our whole day into prayer, into a dialogue with God.
In this context, I would like to read a rich text about a virtue that he considered so important for Christians: naturalness. Naturalness means that the supernatural, the life of God present in us, shows itself in what is most simple, in ordinary things, in everyday life. The conclusion of this reflection seems especially relevant to me: To act naturally is a virtue that requires effort, assiduous practice and determination. One who acts with the awareness that God is not only a spectator, but also the one to whom our acts are directed, realizes that he is called to heroism, to the plenitude of love, in the most ordinary situations.
May the intercession of Mary Most Holy, the Mother of Christ and our Mother, obtain for us from the Blessed Trinity the grace needed for a new and deeper conversion, a new beginning on the path towards sanctity in all the circumstances of our life. Amen.