At the Thansgiving Mass for the canonization of the Founder of Opus Dei, at the parish of Saint Josemaría Escrivá, Rome (October 27, 2002)
My dear brothers and sisters
1. It is a great joy for me to be here after the canonization of Saint Josemaría Escrivá and to celebrate—for you and with you—the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar. Once more I want to express my profound gratitude to God, who has made use of the Holy Father John Paul II to elevate to the glory of the altars this exemplary priest, who from his youth felt himself very “Roman.” Let us try to show our gratitude by uniting ourselves to the Pope in this the twenty-fifth year of his pontificate (as the Cardinal Vicariate has asked all of the faithful in the diocese of Rome to do) through the daily recitation of the Rosary, following the recommendations in the recent apostolic letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariæ.
The scenes of Saint Josemaría’s canonization are still fresh in our memory. Once again I recall that vast crowd of people from many different countries that filled Rome in those days of celebration for the whole Church. They were not (you were not) an anonymous crowd, but rather persons the new Saint is closely accompanying and helping in many different ways. I would like to do the same in my prayer, with God’s help, which, I am sure, will not fail me.
Many of you have witnessed the deep devotion that men and women of all races and walks of life have for Saint Josemaría, and that has brought them to this far corner of Rome to honor the patron saint of your parish. I have prayed for and followed closely, right from the beginning, the pastoral activities that have sprung up here. I am well of the progress that has been made since 1993, when, even before the construction of the church, the first activities were begun. Let us give thanks to God for the blessings he has bestowed on you. But you on your part also have to correspond to these gifts, through your effort to give example as consistent Christians and through your personal apostolate. I am certain that Saint Josemaría’s canonization will result in a greater abundance of heavenly graces for you, for your families and for the entire neighborhood.
2. Among the texts from the liturgy in honor of Saint Josemaría, we find the passage from St. Luke’s gospel that recounts the story of the miraculous catch of fish on the Lake of Tiberias, at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Once more we have heard Christ’s words duc in altum!, “put out into the deep,” which surprised Simon the fisherman and so radically changed his life, making him into a “fisher of men”(Lk 5:4, 10). Christ’s command continues to be addressed to Christians of all centuries, exhorting them to undertake, with the daring of faith, the duty of witnessing to the Gospel.
This invitation is more timely than ever, as Pope John Paul II stressed in his apostolic letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, and which he later repeated to everyone on the day of Saint Josemaría’s canonization. The Holy Father told us on that day: “Ever since August 7, 1931, when, during the celebration of holy Mass, the words of Jesus echoed in his soul: ‘when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all to myself’ (Jn 12:32), Josemaría Escrivá understood more clearly that the mission of the baptized consists in raising the Cross of Christ above all human realities. And he felt burning within him the impassioned vocation to evangelize every human setting. Then without hesitation, he accepted Jesus invitation to the Apostle Peter: Duc in altum! He transmitted it to his entire spiritual family so that they might offer the Church a valid contribution of communion and apostolic service. Today this invitation,” concluded John Paul II, “is extended to all of us: ‘Put out into the deep,’ the divine Teacher says to us, ‘and let down your nets for a catch’ (Lk 5:4).”
For twenty-five years I was a witness to the profound echo that those words duc in altum! stirred up in the heart of Saint Josemaría. When I met him, he had already borne the burden of many years of generous and difficult pastoral work. Nevertheless, I saw him take up each day with renewed apostolic zeal the tasks of his ministry. Referring to the Gospel text that we have just read, he said in a homily: “Jesus wants us to remain wide awake, so that we are convinced of his power and can hear once more his promise: venite post me, et faciam vos fieri piscatores hominum. ‘Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men’; you will be effective and attract souls to God. We should therefore trust our Lord’s words: get into the boat, take the oars, hoist the sails and launch out into this sea of the world which Christ gives us as an inheritance. Duc in altum et laxate retia vestra in capturam. ‘Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.’ The apostolic zeal which Christ has put in our hearts must not be diminished or extinguished by a false humility.”
Faith is the decisive resource to be able to lead men to an encounter with Christ. It was faith in the words of Christ that persuaded the fisherman Simon to overlook all of the human reasons that were opposed to Jesus’ request. “We toiled all night and took nothing” (Lk 5:5). His years of experience led Pedro to see the situation realistically and to conclude that it would be a waste of time to make another attempt.
We too are confronting a cultural, social and religious situation that, after two thousand years of Christianity, could lead us to a certain skepticism regarding the possibility of success in any new attempt to announce the Gospel. More than a few environments in our society, particularly in Western society, show themselves to be out of step with, when not completely opposed to, the forceful demands of Christian faith and morality. Facing this panorama we could, like Peter did that day, hesitate to “put out into the deep” (Lk 5:4). We could try to shirk Christ’s command to announce the Gospel and the radical demands entailed by the universal vocation to holiness. Let us remember then Peter’s faith-filled response, by which he overcame a purely human logic: “at your word I will let down the nets” (Lk 5:5). And the fish came in great numbers into the net, which was now no longer the crude instrument of a poor fisherman, but the net of Christ.
We can allow no room for doubt. Today also men and women are waiting to hear Christ’s word. They are seeking someone who can show them his true face—not a face deformed by prejudice or ignorance, but the marvelous face that we come to know through prayer: Jesus Christ, perfect God and perfect Man. When the Gospel is proclaimed in all its strength and beauty, when one strives to truly put it into practice, it is not we, but Christ himself, who goes out to meet souls and brings them to the Father.
But witnesses are needed who are credible because of their consistent lives, men and women who in all circumstances rely on the “primacy of grace,” and therefore on the sacraments, and who are also well prepared doctrinally, able to explain to everyone the integral truth of the faith. Therefore, catechism and theology classes for adults are of vital importance, as well as the specific formation that is needed to carry out one’s own profession with a Christian spirit.
3. Jesus’ challenge duc in altum! usually doesn’t require exceptional undertakings of us. Our Lord, however, does ask us to fulfill our daily duties with generosity, without shirking our responsibility or complaining about the difficulties, or thinking that we have already done enough.
We have to vigorously combat the idea that Christianity is incompatible with a full commitment to temporal realities, or that it is far removed from the problems of ordinary life. Here also I would like to highlight Saint Josemaría’s teachings. As you know, at the start of this year an international congress took place here in Rome to commemorate the centennial of his birth. The congress had as its theme “The Greatness of Ordinary Life.” Experiences were exchanged from many different countries, and various aspects of this message were gone into more deeply. If you truly want to seek and find God in the ordinary circumstances of your life, frequent the school of Saint Josemaría. It is not for nothing that Pope John Paul II has held him up to the Church as “the saint of the ordinary.” Let us strive to serve the other members of our own family better, as well as our friends and co-workers. Let us remember that God comes to meet us in all the happenings of ordinary life, especially when we strive to help others by serving them.
What did Jesus asked Peter to do? He asked him to take up once more his ordinary work as a fisherman, which for so many reasons he might have considered as already ended that morning. How often the struggle for holiness involves a renewed generosity, refusing to say “enough,” and continuing in the fulfillment of one’s duties. That is when the rich fruit comes, the great catch of fish. Our life takes on supernatural value; the Kingdom of God becomes a reality in us and around us. We experiencing and spread the joy and peace of God’s children.
It was precisely his awareness of being a son of God that gave Saint Josemaría the spiritual strength needed to carry out the immense task that God had entrusted to him. The sense of one’s divine filiation is central to a Christian’s spiritual life, as we are reminded in one of the reading that we have just heard: “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear,” writes Saint Paul in his letter to the Romans, “but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom 8:15-16).
Let us renew, then, our resolution to allow ourselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit, who places on our lips, and even more, in our heart, the tender invocation: Abba, Daddy. As Saint Josemaría advises us, let us turn to God the Father with the holy daring of one who knows he is his child. And in order to respond with faith to the our Lord’s command duc in altum!, let us also entrust ourselves to our Lady. It was her unreserved dedication to God’s plans that brought us the Incarnate Word, who transforms us, by the work of the Holy Spirit, into God’s children. Amen.