At the Mass for the repose of the soul of Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, in the Basilica of St. Eugene, Rome (March 22, 2005)
At the Mass for the repose of the soul of the Servant of God, Bishop Álvaro del Portillo, Basilica of St. Eugene, Rome
1. This year, the anniversary of the death of Bishop Alvaro del Portillo falls within the celebration of Holy Week. Eleven years have gone by since St. Josemaría’s first successor left us to go to God. We have come here today, in close communion with thousands of people throughout the whole world who like ourselves are gathered close to the altar, to recall the dies natalis of this exemplary bishop, a faithful servant of God and of his Church. Our hearts overflow with deep gratitude to our Lord, convinced that the Blessed Trinity wanted to take Don Alvaro into the embrace of beatific joy. At the same time, we are aware of the power of his paternal intercession to obtain for us from heaven the gifts that we all need.
Knowing that we are pilgrims on this earth, it does us a lot of good to think of the beloved persons who have preceded us on the path to our heavenly dwelling. They have reached the goal, and their memory fills us with hope, as we see the providence of our Heavenly Father that accompanies us throughout our existence. Did not Jesus clearly say that “the very hairs of our head are counted” (cf. Mt 10:30), that each person is of immense value in God’s eyes?
The memory of men and women who have been faithful to God’s love, as was Don Alvaro, reveals to us paths of faith, hope and charity. They are men and women who have sanctified themselves in circumstances very similar to our own. They had difficulties as we do. They fought and they conquered, and, like us, they also lost an occasional battle. Nevertheless, they got back up once and again, trusting in God’s love, and responded generously to divine grace, without half-hearted measures. Above all, they knew how to take up the cross of each day, in physical and moral sufferings, in large and small things, with the joy of the children of God and with the certainty of the truth that St. Josemaría expressed in the Latin phrase: lux in Cruce, requies in Cruce, gaudium in Cruce! Only in the Cross does one encounter light, rest and happiness.
This is what we contemplate carried out to the fullest possible extent in these days of the Paschal Triduum, now imminent: the passion and death of Jesus, undertaken out of love for God and men, is the door to reach the glory of the resurrection.
In recalling the faithful persons who have preceded us to our heavenly dwelling, there come to my mind the significant words from the first years of the spread of the Gospel: in hoc signo vincis, in this sign you will conquer. According to an ancient tradition, these words were made known precisely here, in Rome. We are called to assist God’s victory in our souls and announce this inestimable gift to the persons around us, through the good news of the Cross. I am certain that the amazing supernatural effectiveness of Bishop Alvaro del Portillo’s life was due precisely to this reality: each day he loved and embraced the cross our Lord offered him, with full availability and sincere joy, without noise or ostentation, with the happiness of being close to Jesus.
The apostle Andrew, on seeing from afar the cross of his own martyrdom, is said to have directed these words of greeting to the wood on which he was to be crucified: O bona crux, diu desiderata, sollicite amata, sine intermissione quaesita! Hail, O Cross, so long desired, so greatly loved, sought without rest. We too can make the decision, during this Holy Week, to seek the Cross in the little things of each day, to love it when it appears in our life, to thank Jesus when he grants us this gift, which is a fount of effectiveness.
2. Perhaps you are asking yourselves what one must do to truly love the Cross. There is only one reply: to take part with faith and devotion in the Holy Mass. John Paul II, in the Apostolic Letter with which he began the Eucharistic Year, said: “Holy Mass needs to be set at the center of the Christian life and celebrated in a dignified manner by every community.”
Many of us recall the devotion with which Don Alvaro, out of his great love for Jesus, sacramentally renewed the divine Sacrifice of Calvary. Both in solemn celebrations with the participation of thousands of the faithful, and in daily Mass, my beloved predecessor identified himself with what he was carrying out, well-aware of being, like all priests at the altar, Christ himself.
My dear sisters and brothers, let me address two incisive questions to you, which I also direct to myself. How are we living the Holy Mass? Are we aware, in every circumstance, that it is not a matter of a simple commemoration of something that happened twenty centuries ago, but of making present, in a mysterious way, the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ? This great event, which physically took place only once in history, is made present on the altar in a manner that is both mysterious and real, beneath the veil of the sacramental species, each time that the minister ordained by the Church acts in persona Christi, taking the place of Christ.
Let us ask the Blessed Trinity for the grace of never becoming used to celebrating or taking part in the Mass, so that we may discover and receive, with an ever new astonishment, the incommensurable gift of the Body and Blood of Christ which God the Father grants us through the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus we too will experience in our lives the reality that St. Josemaría wrote down when his heart was overflowing with love for our Lord: “That is why I must love the Mass so! (‘Our’ Mass, Jesus).”
Spurred by his ardent faith, Don Alvaro gave heartfelt thanks to God after Mass, even when he was experiencing, as he confided to us, spiritual aridity. For love is not reduced to a feeling; rather it is above all a generous impulse of the will that, docile to the command of the intellect illumined by faith, seeks identification with the person loved.
In this regard, the following considerations of my predecessor seem very pertinent to me. “If a beautiful sunset is marvelous, what should receiving Communion be? For the Sun of the universe comes into our soul; he touches us and inflames us! If we think about this miracle more frequently, we will be filled with embarrassment and gratitude. Jesus comes in Communion to transform us, to increase our faith, our hope, our love. He infuses all the virtues into our soul and enlivens them, truly making the Holy Mass the center and root of our interior life.
3. We are in Holy Week. In two days the Paschal Triduum begins, in which we commemorate, first, Christ’s Last Supper with his apostles, when he institutes the Eucharist and the priesthood, and then his passion and death to free us from our sins, and his glorious resurrection. Let us formulate the firm resolution to live all of these events, which the liturgy presents to us in their perennial timeliness, very close to our Lady, whom Christ himself gave us as our Mother. As the Holy Father said in his encyclical on the Eucharist, let us remember that in the Holy Mass, which is the living memorial of Calvary, “all that Christ accomplished by his passion and his death is present. Consequently all that Christ did with regard to his Mother for our sake is also present....
“Experiencing the memorial of Christ’s death in the Eucharist” continued the Pope, “also means continually receiving this gift. It means accepting—like John—the one who is given to us anew as our Mother. It also means taking on a commitment to be conformed to Christ, putting ourselves at the school of his Mother and allowing her to accompany us. Mary is present, with the Church and as the Mother of the Church, at each of our celebrations of the Eucharist.”
This path is the one that Bishop del Portillo traveled, day after day, following in the footsteps of St. Josemaría, always seeking to increase his filial love for the Blessed Virgin. Let us go to his intercession asking that we too, during this Holy Week and later throughout our whole life, will learn how to walk in our Lady’s company. Thus we will stay very close to her Son, who each day gives us the gift of Himself, of his life, death and resurrection, at Holy Mass, and who awaits us continually in the Tabernacle.
Let us pray insistently for our beloved Pope John Paul II, for his health and his intentions, and for all those who work in the government of the Church. And let us also ask our Lord to provide many vocations of holy priests. Amen.