On the Feast of St. Josemaria, St. Eugene's Basilica, Rome (June 26, 2006)
On the feast of St. Josemaria, Basilica of St. Eugene, Rome
My dear brothers and sisters:
1. Ut in gratiarum semper actione maneamus, may we always be giving thanks. Deo omnis gloria, to God be all the glory. These are two aspirations that inspired St. Josemaría, whose feast, which we celebrate today, invites us to follow the example of his ordinary life. Let us also give thanks to God because—as we pray in the Preface of the Mass—the whole Church is strengthened by the example of the saints; she is guided by their teaching and protected by their intercession, which today we see in St. Josemaría.
As every year, I invite you to meditate on some aspects of his response to God that can help us to improve our own Christian behavior. Today I would like to speak about the love and veneration for the Church and the Roman Pontiff that was always evident in his life. This is a very suitable occasion to do so for two reasons: first, because we find ourselves at the beginning of a new pontificate, a moment always marked by great hopes and challenges. And second, because three days ago, on June 23rd, we celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of St. Josemaría’s arrival in the Eternal City, where he remained until his death, which occurred, as we know, on June 26, 1975.
His trip to Rome was not exempt from difficulties. The severe diabetes he was suffering from led the doctors to discourage him from even making the trip. In addition, communication between Spain and Italy was not easy during those years right after the end of the Second World War, and he was also confronted by an absolute lack of financial resources. Urged on by his apostolic zeal and his desire to fulfill God’s will, St. Josemaría undertook the trip, in spite of everything, at the suggestion of my beloved predecessor, Don Alvaro del Portillo, who had arrived in Rome several months earlier.
His biographers have described in detail the circumstances that led to his refusal to delay that trip. For us, as I said earlier, it is an occasion to meditate on an essential feature of Opus Dei’s founder, his passionate love for the Church and the Roman Pontiff, so evident during those days.
2. From the first years of his vocation, when still a young priest, St. Josemaría harbored an eager desire to visit Rome. He wrote in The Way: “Catholic, Apostolic, Roman! I want you to be very Roman, ever anxious to make your ‘pilgrimage’ to Rome, videre Petrum—to see Peter.” In one of the first documents on the spirit of Opus Dei, dated 1934, one can read these words: “We have to give all the glory to God. He wishes this: gloriam meam alteri non dabo, I will not give my glory to another (Is 42:8). And therefore we want Christ to reign, because per ipsum, et cum ipso, et in ipso, est tibi Deo Patri Omnipotenti in unitate Spiritus Sancti omnis honor et gloria; through Him, with Him, in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, almighty Father, for ever and ever. And a requirement of his glory and his reign is that all, with Peter, go to Jesus through Mary.”
At times, he mentioned to us some details regarding his veneration for the Holy Father, dating from the very first years of the Work. For example, whenever he prayed the rosary, while still living in Madrid, he would end it with a spiritual communion, imagining that he was receiving the Sacred Host from the hands of the Pope, in the Holy Father’s private chapel. These small human devices helped him to grow in love for the Church, founded by Christ on the Prince of the Apostles, and to foster a closer union, both in his sentiments and deeds, with Peter’s successor.
We can thus easily imagine St. Josemaría’s ardent emotion when he arrived in Rome in that now distant 1946. On entering the city by the Via Aurelia, a moment comes when one can see for the first time the cupola of St. Peter’s Basilica. The interior fervor of the Founder of Opus Dei led him to pray a Creed, savoring the words one by one, as a profession of the faith for which Simon Peter and so many other men and women had offered, in this city, the supreme witness of martyrdom in Christianity’s first centuries.
Upon reaching the Eternal City, St. Josemaría and those accompanying him went to the Piazza della Città Leonina, close to the Vatican walls, where the first center of Opus Dei in Rome was temporarily located. When the others retired for the evening, St. Josemaría stayed out on a small terrace that fronted on the pontifical apartment. Thanks to the lights visible in the apartment, he was able to follow the work of the successor to Peter, who at that time was Pope Pius XII. Those circumstances were for our Father another opportunity to intensify his close union with the Roman Pontiff. When all the lights were turned off, he remained recollected in prayer until sunrise. That’s how he spent his first night in Rome.
We should try to draw practical consequences from this. We have been living, perhaps for a long time, in this city that is the seat of the Pope. We have, therefore, greater facility to see Peter, perhaps taking part in an audience or ceremony, and to be closely united to him and his intentions each day. Therefore I ask myself and I ask you: do we remember to pray every day for Benedict XVI and to offer for him and his universal mission our work and some small mortification during the day? Do we strive to get to know his teachings and to put them into practice and pass them on to others?
Remember what Benedicts XVI asked of all Catholics in his first moments as Peter’s successor. In the Mass for the initiation of his pontificate, he asked us three times to accompany him with our prayer. I remind you of his words: “Pray for me, that I may learn to love the Lord more and more. Pray for me, that I may learn to love his flock more and more—in other words, you, the holy Church, each one of you and all of you together. Pray for me, that I may not flee for fear of the wolves. Let us pray for one another, that the Lord will carry us and that we will learn to carry one another.”
3. St. Josemaría loved the Church passionately. He saw the Church, in the words of St. Paul and following the teaching of the Magisterium, in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. He has left us a shining example of how to distinguish between the sanctity of the Church and the faults of her members on earth. He was not scandalized by the errors of Christians, which are always personal and which cannot be attributed—as such, in a generic way—to the Church, bishops, priests, or the people of God as a whole. On the contrary, if ever he witnessed, or heard anyone talking about, the reprehensible conduct of a member of the Church, this only led him to increase his faith in the Holy Spirit and in the Church. “It would be a sign of very little maturity,” he wrote, “if, in view of the defects and miseries in any of those who belong to the Church (no matter how high they may be placed by virtue of their function), anyone should feel his faith in the Church and in Christ lessened. The Church is not governed by Peter, nor by John, nor by Paul; she is governed by the Holy Spirit, and the Lord has promised that he will remain at her side always, to the close of the age (Mt 28:20).”
As the Servant of God Bishop Alvaro del Portillo told us, and as I also was a witness to, St. Josemaría would often go to pray at the Vatican Basilica. For many years he did so almost every day. In front of the Basilica and the Vatican palaces, he would recite the Apostles Creed, adding a few words to it. For example, when he came to the phrase “I believe in the Holy Spirit, in the Holy Catholic Church,” he would always repeat three times: “I believe in my mother the Roman Church, a pesar de los pesares, ‘in spite of everything.’” On one occasion he thought it useful to tell Cardinal Tardini, who was then Vatican Secretary of State, about this devotion of his. When the Cardinal asked what he meant by “a pesar de los pesares,” St. Josemaría replied with a smile, “Your personal mistakes, your Eminence, your personal mistakes and mine.”
My brothers and sisters! Let us ask God our Father to grant us the deep faith and love for the Church that St. Josemaría had. He assured us with striking words that he was ready to bite off his tongue and spit it out before speaking about others’ defects or faults. We too should avoid speaking badly of others. And even more so when it concerns the Church, her representatives or institutions. May our tongue never give voice to a single word of criticism or gossip! Never!
On the contrary, it is our task to defend our Mother from the attacks she receives, and not remain quiet out of human respects or fear. Let us learn to calmly explain the truth that may have been twisted without raising our voice, without any lack of respect for people. But to do so one needs to be well formed, to know the Catechism of the Catholic Church, or at least the Compendium that was published last year. And this knowledge should be well grounded in a life of prayer fed by personal meditation and by frequenting the sacraments. Only thus will we be in a position to carry out the heartfelt recommendation the Pope made a few days ago to the lay faithful especially: “I ask you to collaborate even more, very much more, in the Pope’s universal apostolic ministry, opening doors to Christ.”
As the venerable Servant of God John Paul II told us, untiringly opening the doors to Christ, those of our own heart and of the hearts of others, is a task that falls to all Catholics. Our apostolate should encompass people who are close to us and those who are further away, because everyone has the right to know Christ. Indeed, “the Church must never be satisfied with all those she has reached at a certain point and say that others are fine as they are: Muslims, Hindus and so forth. The Church can never retreat comfortably within the limits of her own environment. She is charged with a universal solicitude; she must be concerned with and for all mankind.”
These are the intentions that we place today in the hands of our Lady, Mother of the Church and our Mother, through the intercession of St. Josemaría. May she make them bear fruit in our lives and in our daily work. Amen.