At the Mass in suffrage for the soul of Bishop Álvaro del Portillo, St. Eugene's Basilica, Rome (March 23, 2007)
In the Mass for the repose of the soul of Bishop Álvaro del Portillo, St. Eugene's Basilica
My dear brothers and sisters:
1. To begin, I suggest that you raise your heart in thanksgiving to God because all over the world thousands and thousands of people are gathering today to thank heaven for the apostolic effectiveness of the life of our beloved Don Álvaro del Portillo, Bishop and Prelate of Opus Dei,.
Jesus’ words in the Gospel still resound in our ears: “I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will” (Mt 11:25-26).
Among the truths revealed by Christ, that of our divine filiation fills our souls with joy whenever we pause to meditate on it. For in the baptismal font our Lord Jesus Christ has made us true sons and daughters of God the Father through the grace of the Holy Spirit. From that moment on, made sharers in the divine nature, we began to form part of God’s family. St. Paul’s words to the Romans have recalled this truth to us: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God 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…and it makes us cry out, ‘Abba, Father!’” (Rom 8:14-15).
Being God’s children in Christ is distinctive of Christians, the fundamental condition of Christ’s followers. As you well know, St. Josemaría Escrivá received from God a very lively sense of his divine filiation, both in his personal life and in order to teach it to others. It formed a constant theme in his preaching. “All men,” he wrote, “are children of God. But a child can look upon his father in many ways. We must try to be children who realize that the Lord, by loving us as his children, has taken us into his house, in the middle of the world, to be members of his family, so that what is his is ours, and what is ours is his, and to develop that familiarity and confidence which prompts us to ask him, like children, for the moon!”
2. This message, which is perennially valid, is even more urgent during the weeks we spend preparing for Easter. For by his death and resurrection our Lord has gained for us adoptive sonship: an immense dignity that the human mind would never have been able to imagine. The Fathers of the Church, when explaining this truth, could not cease expressing their amazement. “What is more astonishing,” asked St. Peter Chrysologus, “that God gave himself to the world, or that he gives us heaven? That he united himself to our flesh, or that he introduces us into communion with his divinity? That he took death upon himself, or that he calls us out from death? That he was born in the form of a slave, or that he engenders in us the condition of his children? That he took on our poverty, or that he made us his heirs, co-heirs with his only Son? Yes, what causes more astonishment is to see the earth changed into heaven, man transformed by divinity, the servant with a right to his lord’s inheritance.”
Faith in our divine filiation in Christ should stir up in us, whenever we stop to meditate on it, great astonishment and joy. We should never let ourselves grow accustomed to this reality! This is how Bishop Álvaro del Portillo lived, especially after the beginning of his vocation to Opus Dei, when he learned and fully experienced the practical consequences of this truth. Our beloved Don Alvaro perfectly assimilated the teachings of St. Josemaría; he made them flesh of his flesh, life of his life. Those of us who knew him always recall his serenity and peace, the trusting abandonment in the hands of God that he transmitted to those around him—sometimes with just a look, with just his presence—that stemmed from knowing and feeling himself to be a son of God.
This feature that so marked his life takes on for us today the value of an example. From heaven he invites us to recall our divine filiation at every moment, and especially when life’s circumstances try to submerge us in sadness or discouragement. Let us listen to some words of his, taken from a pastoral letter. “The knowledge that we are dearly beloved children of God moves us powerfully. Frequent meditation on this truth brings with it very specific consequences for our interior struggle, our work and our apostolate: for all our conduct. Anchored in filial piety, faith becomes unshakeable, hope secure, charity ardent. No difficulty, whether from within or from without, can cause our optimism to waver, even though externally everything may be difficult for us. And as an inseparable contribution of this most precious gift, there comes to one’s soul the gaudium cum pace, the joy and peace that is so characteristic of the sons and daughters of God...so that we might sow it around us with great abundance.”
3. Many of those taking part in this Holy Mass have come to Rome on the occasion of the International Family Congress. You are here to once more give witness to the beauty of the family, which is based on marriage, and to contribute to the solution of some of the problems confronting civil society in our day and age. Aware of your divine filiation, and fully consistent with your Christian faith, you know very well that there are certain points we have to defend at all costs and promote with courage and perseverance for the good of all men and women. We are spurred on to do so by loyalty to the law of God and, as a result, by the desire to sow peace and joy in souls.
The Holy Father Benedict XVI frequently speaks about these topics, explaining untiringly that it is not licit to make concessions here because what is at play is the destiny of civil society. Recently he once again addressed these themes in his apostolic exhortation on the Eucharist. Speaking about “Eucharistic consistency,” the Pope writes: “Worship pleasing to God can never be a purely private matter, without consequences for our relationships with others: it demands a public witness to our faith.” Benedict XVI points out certain fundamental values that we have to defend and give witness to: “respect for human life, its defense from conception to natural death, the family built upon marriage between a man and a woman, the freedom to educate one’s children and the promotion of the common good in all its forms. These values are not negotiable.”
Life, the family, freedom: three important topics of interest to all men and women of good will, because they are deeply rooted in human nature. It is obvious that on some of these points it is especially up to married people to give a human and Christian response, with their words and deeds. I invite you, therefore, to redouble your efforts and to unite yourselves to so many others, including non-Catholics and non-Christians, who feel threatened in their deepest convictions, in order to overcome the challenge launched by a secularized and relativistic mindset.
4. This effort to defend the Christian roots of our society was very dear to Don Álvaro. I recall the promptness and determination with which he always seconded the Pope’s directives. For example, I remind you of his pastoral letter written in December 1985, to encourage the faithful and cooperators of the Prelature of Opus Dei to take an active part in the new evangelization of society. In those pages, after explaining the dangers menacing society when it fails to recognize God’s primary place, my beloved predecessor urged all of us to undertake specific and incisive action. And he stressed that the most effective remedy is interior life, each person’s union with God and, as a necessary consequence, personal apostolate, through one’s ordinary life of work and social relations.
On offering this Mass in suffrage for Don Álvaro on the thirteenth anniversary of his departure from this world, we ask that he intercede for these intentions. We entrust them especially to the one who bore in her womb Life with a capital letter, the Son of God made Man. May the Most Holy Virgin, Mother of God and our Mother, Queen of the Family, help us to carry forward this apostolate that is so important in the present moments of the world and the Church. Amen.