At the Mass for the repose of the soul of Bishop Álvaro del Portillo, Basilica of Saint Eugene, Rome (March 22, 2003)
Dear brothers and sisters:
1. If at all times we should raise our heart in prayer to God, it is even more necessary, if one may say so, during Lent, the time for greater intensity in prayer, in penance and in works of mercy. Besides, the Holy Father Pope John Paul II has asked us for a special commitment to peace in the world. “Indeed,” he said a few days before the beginning of this liturgical period, “peace is a gift from God that we have to ask for with humility and trusting insistence.”
Now that two weeks have already gone by we can draw up a personal balance sheet. How have we responded to the Pope’s request? Has the spirit of prayer and penance truly penetrated more deeply into our hearts? Can we say that we have contributed personally to peace in the world? As the Holy Father said, “We must ask God above all for conversion of hearts, in which all forms of evil and every impulse toward sin has its roots. We must pray and fast for peaceful coexistence among the people and nations of the whole world.”
Conversion of heart: this is the great means that all of us must employ for the good of the world. But conversion begins with the specific recognition of our own faults. Let us meditate on a passage from a homily by St. Josemaría on this theme: “Since our first conscious decision really to follow the teaching of Christ, we have no doubt made good progress along the way of faithfulness to his word. And yet isn’t it true that there is still much to be done? Isn’t it true, particularly, that there is still so much pride in us? We need, most probably, to change again, to be more loyal and humble, so that we become less selfish and let Christ grow in us.”
If, during these days, we have gained some small or great victories over ourselves—over our pride, our sensuality, our laziness—if we have separated ourselves from something that could distance us from God, then we truly have made a new conversion and have cooperated to bringing harmony among people and nations in the whole world.
2. The previous considerations are not out of place in circumstances like those of today: the celebration of Holy Mass on the ninth anniversary of the death of Bishop Alvaro del Portillo. I was a witness to his edifying death and was impressed by the peace with which he went to his encounter with God, as well as the serenity which, in the midst of the natural pain of his leaving us, we all felt during those days. As in life, also in death Don Alvaro was a sower of peace among all who surrounded him.
Peace, a gift from God, is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit in souls that do not raise obstacles to his action. St. Paul’s teaching is clear. “The fruit of the Spirit is: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Doesn’t this enumeration seem to you a living portrait of our beloved Don Alvaro?
Many witnesses agree in recognizing his ability to transmit serenity to anyone who visited him for whatever reason. This is a characteristic of my predecessor that I would like to emphasize today. The peace that emanated from his words and gestures, fruit of his habitual union with God, was so intense that it immediately spread to those he was speaking with.
For Don Alvaro had learned very well from St. Josemaría how to put into practice one of the greatest truths of our Christian life: the fact that we are, in Christ, beloved children of God the Father. The awareness of being a son of a merciful and omnipotent Father was the basis of Don Alvaro’s profound interior peace.
Why then do we sometimes allow ourselves to be overcome by anxiety, even while knowing we are sons and daughters of God? Perhaps the reason is that we are not docile to the Holy Spirit, that we do not fully love God’s will. This is the teaching of St. Paul to the Romans, which we have just heard: “all who are led by the Spirit of God, are sons of God.” In this docility to the Paraclete, in this union with the most loving will of God, we find the source of the true interior peace that Christians should transmit to those around them.
3. “Take my yoke upon you,” Jesus tells us, “and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” This is how St. Josemaría and Don Alvaro, his most faithful son, acted. Both of them loved God’s will, fully convinced that all things work together for the good of those who love God.
We have many written testimonies about St. Josemaría’s life. A few weeks ago, the second volume of his biography, which covers the years from 1936 to 1946, was published in Italy. Those years, from the beginning of the Spanish civil war up to his move to Rome, were years rich in both physical and moral trials, which did not dim for a moment his joy and peace, deeply rooted in the awareness of his divine filiation. They were years in which, little by little, that aspiration from the beginning of his priesthood, spelled out in The Forge, became a reality: “You might have thought occasionally, with holy envy, about the adolescent Apostle, John, quem diligebat Iesu—whom Jesus loved.
“Wouldn't you like to deserve to be called ‘the one who loves the Will of God?’ Then take the necessary steps, day after day.”
With reference to Don Alvaro, there comes to mind an episode that I personally experienced. We had prayed and worked a great deal in order to bring about a specific step forward in the apostolic work of Opus Dei. Then the day came when a decision was to be announced. All of us close to Don Alvaro were praying that the proposal had been accepted. Don Alvaro, in contrast, with great simplicity said: “I am praying that God’s will be done.”
Fulfilling God’s will: this was Bishop Alvaro del Portillo’s only wish. He dedicated his life to this objective, following the footsteps of the founder of the Work. Therefore he always had peace in his heart and a smile on his lips. And that is why he always was a man of peace and transmitted peace to others.
Let us try to imitate him, with God’s help. Before any circumstance, joyful or sorrowful, let us put ourselves in the presence of God and ask ourselves with St. Josemaría, before making any decision: “Do you want this Lord? Then it’s what I want also.” And a deep and lasting peace, truly supernatural, will fill our soul.
We entrust our prayers for Don Alvaro, a good and faithful servant who was gentle and humble of heart, to our Lady, Queen of Peace, and also our desires for peace for the whole world. Amen.