At the closing Mass of the centennial of Saint Josemaría Escrivá, Basílica of Saint Eugene, Rome (January 9, 2003)
My dear brothers and sisters:
We are united once again in this splendid basilica to give thanks to the Blessed Trinity.
Each of us has received so many gifts from God over the course of our lives. Let us stop now to consider only those we have received during the centennial year of St. Josemaría’s birth, among which his canonization stands out. I invite you to let your imagination run free, embracing the entire world. Every day I receive letters that testify to the spread of devotion to this saint. A saint who for so many is within easy reach, the saint of the ordinary, of joy.
To celebrate this Mass, I wanted to use the chalice that St. Josemaría used during almost his whole life. It is an elegant chalice, despite the fact that it is made out of brass. St. Josemaría often said that he saw this chalice as an image of himself: poor metal containing the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. We too are the same. As St. Paul says, we are frail vessels that contain the divine nature (cf. 2 Cor 4:7). And the same is true of everyone who seeks holiness, and of all who attain it.
During these days of the Christmas season following on the feast of the Epiphany, we have listened to beautiful Scripture readings that apply to our Savior, and that in a figurative sense can also be applied to his saints, because God’s life is found in the lives of his saints. I myself have drawn much profit from these readings. We have read a passage from the prophet Isaiah that refers to Jesus’ birth: “Populus qui ambulabat in tenebris, vidit lucem magnam.” The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those who dwelled in a dark land, a light has shined forth. These words can be applied to the life of St. Josemaria, who always lived with Christ and through Christ. By his own life he has truly given light to many souls. He has dissipated the shadows their lives may have contained, radiating to them the light of Christ. This was not a question of his personal qualities but of God’s strength, reflected in the life of this faithful man.
St. Josemaría’s life overflowed with joy. But if one considers his earthly journey with merely human eyes, it is difficult to see the reasons for this joy. God truly treated him as a sculptor does good quality marble, in order to bring out, with the blows of the chisel, a wonderful sculpture. St. Josemaría saw God’s hand also in the daily setbacks that our Lord used to prepare him for the mission He was to entrust to him.
When, as a youth, he saw the divine light that was to illumine his entire life, he fell to his knees as a sign of docility to God’s grace. We too should respond docilely to God’s will, struggling against our selfishness and pride, in order to let God’s grace act in our souls, which is the best medicine to make us strong. It was precisely by allowing God to act that St. Josemaría became, from his early adolescence on, a man of continuous and intense prayer. He often reminded us that, when he founded Opus Dei, he was only 26, and lacked any human or financial means. Nevertheless, the grace of God, together with abundant good humor, made possible what then seemed unattainable, which we now see extended throughout the whole world. How was this possible? Through intense prayer. St. Josemaría told us many times that people, in those early times, considered him crazy, saying he was trying to do something impossible. But he always acted with the conviction of someone who never felt himself to be alone.
We want to learn from his example: we are never alone because our Lord is always nearby. When setbacks and trials come, when we have to rectify our conduct because we have made mistakes, God’s merciful hand is always close to each of us. Therefore we have to be truly men and women of prayer, who maintain a loving conversation with our Lord.
On another occasion in his life, when confronting grave difficulties, there came to his lips those words from Sacred Scripture: “Et fui tecum in omnibus, ubicumque ambulasti” (2 Sam 7:9). I have been with you always; wherever you went, I was at your side. For God is our Father, our Friend, a loyal Friend who never abandons us. Here was the foundation of St. Josemaría’s certainty that he was never alone, that he could always count on God’s help. And thus it was possible for him to open up this path, this divine road that all men and women can travel in their ordinary life.
St. Josemaría was also a man of penance, of mortification, because a person who loves knows that love, also human love, is based on the renunciation of oneself, on mortification. A person who is unable to renounce his own ego, his selfishness, in order to serve others, knows little of love. That is why St. Josemaría loved penance: he wanted to disappear, to uproot his own ego, so that God could act in every corner of his life. He lived an intense mortification, which at times was very harsh, always with the permission of his confessor. But his mortification was primarily in the little things of each day: knowing how to listen, smiling when he didn’t want to, joyfully offering up a headache or any other small suffering that came his way. It was there that his penance was nourished, which later, at specific times, rose to an heroic, extraordinary level. In truth, in all the circumstances of his daily life, he strove to discover the marvel of the Cross.
I said earlier that St. Josemaría was a man of prayer. I was a witness to many episodes in his life that revealed his friendship with God, by whom he felt himself loved and whom he loved with all his strength. In 1972 we visited together a church in Logroño known as La Redonda. Many years had passed since his studies in the Logroño seminary. I remember how the pace of his steps slowed down considerably. When we reached the chapel with the tabernacle under an image of our Lady, with great spontaneity he said: “How many hours I spent here, trying to listen to and speak to our Lord! For,” he continued, “the theme of our prayer, the prayer proper to any Christian, is our life itself.” Try to get close to our Lord, speak with him about your life, and you will see how he will tell us to be more mortified, more cheerful, to finish our work well, to smile even when we are tired. By spending time with our Lord in prayer, we will learn to live with supernatural outlook on all occasions.
St. Josemaría was a tireless worker. I recall that when I arrived in Rome, I heard people in the Holy See express their surprise at the depth of the studies Msgr. Escrivá had carried out in order to bring forward the canonical solution for Opus Dei. They were also impressed by the care for details shown in the documents presented, which facilitated their study. Strive to carry out your work very well, to follow a schedule, to serve others in your work. Thus you will know how to finish your work well, offering it to God, with the accomplishment of a person who loves his work as the place where he finds God.
One final point that is very important. St. Josemaría was a man who deeply loved doing apostolate. Yesterday evening while preparing for this day that concludes the centennial, I had the opportunity to see a movie that brought together some of his catechetical gatherings in various parts of the world. At one moment he was asked to what extent Catholics should do apostolate. His immediate response obliges all of us: we mustn’t deceive ourselves; we are not Catholics if we don’t know how to give an apostolic tone to our whole life. St. Josemaría explained that it was not enough to pray a bit, to go to Mass on Sundays. We must strive to give others the treasure that we have.
I will tell you a final story that shows how to do apostolate in any circumstance. We were in Florence, in a wholesale store where we had to buy something. We asked the proprietor if he would oblige us by selling an item separately and he agreed to do so. St. Josemaría began to ask about the person’s life; after the conversation was finished, while we were leaving, he said to us: “You have a companion who does not waste any time!” Try not to waste time! Be friends of the truth. Bring others to an encounter with God.
In all our efforts we can count on our Lady’s intercession, who will help us to always look towards Jesus. Let us ask her help, so that we don’t let ourselves be held back by a false human respects and so that we have the spontaneity needed to speak about who we are: Christians, consistent Christians. We should never feel ashamed to speak about what we are trying to live. Be apostolic. The world needs people who tell others to live the faith and who live it themselves. If we behave in this way, we will be following the steps of St. Josemaría, who based his apostolate on intense prayer, generous mortification, work well done, and who then spoke spontaneously of the Christ whom he found throughout his whole day.
May Jesus be praised.