At the Mass for the repose of the soul of the Servant of God Alvaro del Portillo, Rome (March 23, 2004)
My dear brothers and sisters:
1. In the telegram John Paul II sent me ten years ago upon receiving news of the unexpected departure of Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, the Pope applied to my predecessor Jesus’ words in the Gospel: “a good and faithful servant.” With gratitude to God, the Holy Father recalled “the diligent life of Don Alvaro as priest and bishop, his constant example of courage and trust in divine providence, his fidelity to the See of Peter and his generous service to the Church.”
These words of the Roman Pontiff, which capture very well the most important features of my predecessor; have often come to mind during recent days. Besides the approach of today’s date, the opening of Don Alvaro’s cause of canonization has helped make his memory more constant. Now I would like to pause over one aspect of his life that the Pope’s words, just cited, especially emphasized: fidelity.
2. A few days before being called into God’s presence, Bishop del Portillo reflected on this virtue. He was undertaking days of prayer in the Holy Land, where he followed the footsteps of Jesus with great piety. Among the greetings he sent from there to various persons was one addressed to Msgr. Stanislaw Dziwisz, the secretary of John Paul II. Reading it today takes on a special meaning for us. I cite this episode with the explicit authorization of the recipient of the postcard.
Don Alvaro wrote: My esteemed friend: in these holy places, I have prayed—we have prayed—a great deal for you, vir fidelis, with the request that you present to the Holy Father our desire to be fideles usque ad mortem, faithful unto death, in the service of the Church and the Holy Father.
This memory is a fitting framework for the Holy Mass we are celebrating for the repose of the soul of a Pastor who, right to the end of his life, left us a testimony of great fidelity to God, to the Church and to the Roman Pontiff.
3. Fidelity to God in the first place. Born and educated within a deeply Christian family, Don Alvaro learned from his parents a conduct in full conformity with the faith he had received. With naturalness, without sanctimoniousness, he combined the normal activities of a young man—study, sport, friendship, etc.—with a sincere and deep piety. Thus God prepared him for his encounter with St. Josemaría Escrivá, which took place when Don Alvaro was twenty-one, and which was to give full meaning to his life.
From then on, with the help of grace, under the direct guidance of the Founder of Opus Dei, Don Alvaro strove with all his strength to carry out the mission providence had chosen for him: to learn the spirit of Opus Dei from St. Josemaría, to make it the marrow of his life, and then to transmit it with extraordinary faithfulness to many other people.
Don Alvaro’s earthly path could be defined as a constant progress in fidelity to God, which means a daily struggle for personal conversion. This invitation is addressed to us as well, especially during the liturgical period of Lent. With words from St. Josemaría, and taking as a backdrop the words of my predecessor cited above, we can ask ourselves: “Am I advancing in my faithfulness to Christ, in my desire for holiness, in a generous apostolate in my daily life, in my ordinary work among my colleagues? Each one of us, silently, should answer these questions, and he will see that he needs to change again if Christ is to live in him, if Jesus’ image is to be reflected clearly in his behavior.”
4. Inseparably joined to his fidelity to God was Bishop del Portillo’s fidelity to the Church and the Roman Pontiff. In this respect his many years of service to the Holy See, beginning with his arrival in Rome in 1946 and continuing right up to his death, speaks for itself. For almost fifty years, in so many ways, Don Alvaro poured his energy into serving efficaciously the Church, the Pope and all souls.
From his first assignments in the offices of the Holy See, to his intervention in the work of the Second Vatican Council and his participation in episcopal synods, the course of those long years in Rome was characterized by silent and fruitful service to the Church and the Pope. He never said no when his help was requested. He took on everything with a smiling peace that eased the burden of others.
His fidelity to the Church and the Roman Pontiff shone forth with renewed light at particular moments. This was especially so when the Holy Father expressed his wishes in regard to the new evangelization that had to be carried out in countries with an ancient Christian tradition. Or when the same Roman Pontiff manifested his concern for the cause of peace in various parts of the world.
We don’t have time to go into all this here. But we all remember specific deeds by Bishop del Portillo, gestures of support and solidarity with the Holy Father that showed his dedication and loyalty. As I mentioned a few days ago, in the opening session of the Tribunal of the Prelature set up for his cause of canonization, Don Alvaro’s conduct was always inspired by the motto he learned from St. Josemaría: to make the noise of three while doing the work of three thousand.
5. My dear brothers and sisters! We see here a shining example of faithfulness to one’s vocation in carrying out the tasks God entrusts to each person. Don Alvaro put all his human and supernatural qualities, and they were truly many, at the service of the mission he had received.
Today, as we recall at the altar this good and faithful servant of God, I invite you to go to his intercession. Our Lord wants the human and Christian virtue of fidelity to shine in our daily life as it did in Don Alvaro’s. This possibility is within the reach of all of us, with God’s help, if we truly decide to make a daily conversion in big things and in little ones, because everything is great when done for God’s love.
So let us follow what St. Josemaría teaches us in one of his homilies: “When you sincerely desire to live by faith, hope and love, the renewal of your commitment is not a matter of picking up again something neglected. When there really is faith, hope and love, renewal means staying in God’s hands, despite our personal faults, mistakes and defects. It is a confirmation of our faithfulness. Renewing our commitment means renewing our fidelity to what God wants of us: it means expressing our love in deeds.”
Let us entrust these resolutions to our Lady, Virgo Fidelis, and to her spouse, St. Joseph, whose feast we celebrated a few days ago. Through their intercession we too will be faithful to our Christian vocation. And we will be happy. For, as St. Josemaría assures us, faithfulness is synonymous with happiness: happiness in this world, within the limits of our present condition, and complete happiness in heaven. Amen.