At the Mass in suffrage for the soul of Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, Basilica of St. Eugene, Rome (March 23, 2006)
At the Mass in suffrage for the soul of Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, Basilica of St. Eugene, Rome
1. Dear brothers and sisters.
We are commemorating today the twelfth anniversary of the death of the Servant of God, Bishop Álvaro del Portillo. In offering Holy Mass in suffrage for his soul, we are fulfilling a debt of Christian charity, although we are convinced that he is already enjoying eternal bliss. Many people, indeed, throughout the world, go to his intercession in a private way, confident of being heard by our Lord through his intercession.
Today’s anniversary is for us an invitation to look towards the definitive goal of our life. The liturgy recalls this to us, asking us to listen to the cry of Job: For I know that my redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth. This is a cry of confidence and of victory. In the midst of his sufferings, Job has faith in the resurrection of the body and of eternal life; for this reason he adds: and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then from my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
This biblical passage reminds us of one of the fundamental truths of the faith: after death, if we have been faithful to the demands of our Christian vocation, there awaits us eternal happiness, which comes from the contemplation of God and participation in the divine life. And, at the end of time, when our Lord returns to earth in glory, we also await the resurrection of the flesh.
In the second reading, St. Paul shows us the basis for our hope: the fact that we have been redeemed by Christ and made children of God through the action of the Paraclete. For all who are led by the Spirit of God, he teaches us, are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship, by which we cry, “Abba, Father.”
United to Christ, we Christians need have no fear of anything: with him we are always victorious. Neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate s from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
2. The real evil, which we should absolutely flee, is sin. For this reason, as the Pope says, “The true believer, aware of being a sinner, aspires with his whole self—spirit, heart and body—to divine forgiveness, as to a new creation that can restore joy and hope to him.”
This is the fundamental message of Lent. As this liturgical period goes on, there should grow in us the desire for purification. Lent, in effect, recalls to us that our earthly life is a time of struggle. Militia est vita hominis super terram “It is a spiritual battle waged against sin and finally, against Satan. It is a struggle that involves the whole of the person and demands attentive and constant watchfulness.”
A basic weapon in this struggle is the Sacrament of Penance, instituted by Christ for the remission of sins. To help her children conquer Satan is the reason why the Church has issued the precept of going to sacramental confession and the Eucharist at least once a year at Easter time.
I recall the insistence of Bishop Álvaro del Portillo, who followed in the footsteps of St. Josemaría, in encouraging the practice of confession. To live in God’s grace is, in fact the indispensable presupposition for cultivating interior life. For this reason Don Álvaro urged us to help others to receive this sacrament. “Expend a lot of patience on the people you deal with,” he told us, “without being discouraged when they do not respond. Dedicate time to them, love them truly, and they will end up surrendering themselves to God’s love which they will discover in your conduct. And don’t forget that every step that remains requires us to help them more.”
I also want to encourage you to do the same. Always, but especially if it is a matter of people who find themselves far from the faith, this apostolate should be preceded, accompanied, and followed by prayer and mortification. And do not be afraid to insist. After the first time they go to confession, perhaps after a long time away from it, it will be necessary to encourage them again—always delicately, with a great respect for their conscience, but with daring—until they understand that, to be a good Catholic, it is necessary to have a solid and constant sacramental life. You can be sure that in this way you will be doing them the greatest of favors.
3. In addition to the invitation to flee from sin, Lent reminds us that we have to approach our Lord with a more continual prayer, a more intense penance, a more efficacious concern for the spiritual and material good of others.
A life of prayer, in the first place. To love God we have to know him. And the path that leads to God is Jesus Christ, as he himself taught us: ego sum via et veritas et vita, I am the way, the truth and the life. And also in today’s Gospel: no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. I feel a need to tell you about an incident: Shortly before giving his soul to God, our beloved Don Álvaro was able to go to Gethsemani, where he prayed with all mankind, united to the prayer of Christ. The moments that he spent there impressed many people who were able to see his recollection. We overcame human respect: although we did not want to attract attention, it’s good that others see that Catholics pray.
Let’s try, then, to grow in intimacy with God, frequenting Jesus lovingly in the Eucharist and in personal prayer. “Bread and the word!” wrote St. Josemaría. “The Host and prayer. If not, you will not live a supernatural life.” We will fulfill these resolutions more easily if we dedicate some time each day to converse personally with our Lord, if we frequent Holy Mass more often during the week—would that it were every day—if we had the custom of making a brief examination of conscience at night, before going to bed.
In second place a spirit of sacrifice. Today many people are scandalized by these words—mortification, penance—and make every possible effort to flee, uselessly, from every kind of pain. They don’t realize that suffering— aside from being inevitable as long as we live on earth—since it has been redeemed by Christ on the Cross, can become a means of purification, of spiritual growth. “The great Christian revolution has been to convert pain into fruitful suffering and to turn a bad thing into something good. We have deprived the devil of this weapon; and with it we can conquer eternity.”
Finally, Lent invites us to practice the spiritual and corporal works of charity with greater generosity. This theme was recently dealt with by Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est, which I invite you to reread. In those pages, among other things, the Holy Father emphasized the intimate relationship existing between love of God and love of neighbor. “It consists in the very fact that, in God and with God, I love even the person whom I do not like or even know. This can only take place on the basis of an intimate encounter with God. . . . Then I learn to look on this other person not simply with my eyes and my feelings, but from the perspective of Jesus Christ.” On the contrary, “if I have no contact whatsoever with God in my life, then I cannot see in the other anything more than the other, and I am incapable of seeing in him the image of God.”
In the light of these considerations, let us examine whether our relationship with those persons whom we meet most frequently—in our family, in the surroundings of work—are animated by a spirit of service, that is to say by a spirit that does not seek our own interest but the good of the others, thus imitating the Son of Man, who came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” I like to recall that since that far away 1948 our beloved Don Álvaro had occasion to travel all over Italy carrying out a fruitful apostolate in various cities. He was not able to count on any material resources, but he loved our Lord and souls; he left us a good example for our daily life.
Feeling the nearness of Mary, the Refuge of Sinners, Help of Christians, Mother of the Church, let us formulate a resolution to travel what remains of Lent with renewed effort. This would be a means of honoring the memory of Bishop Álvaro del Portillo on the anniversary of his dies natalis. Amen.