In the Basilica of Loreto (March 1, 2008)
At the Mass celebrated at the inauguration of the Walkway of St. Josemaría at the Shrine of Loreto
1. My dear brothers and sisters, I am deeply moved and filled with joy to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice at the Shrine of Our Lady of Loreto, next to the Holy House, so venerated by the faithful of this country and of the whole world.
Each time that I return to Loreto I feel in my heart a great need to give thanks to God for the infinite and tender goodness that he has shown us in decreeing the incarnation of his Son in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. That the Word became flesh, a man like us, that he walked alongside us on this beloved earth of ours, that he found refuge among the walls of this Holy House, and not only refuge, but also the affection of a holy and very normal Family, is a grace so great that no one would ever have been able to imagine it. Jesus is truly the Emmanuel, the God with us, who loves us with a human heart and asks us to correspond in the same way: loving him with our whole “heart of flesh,” as St. Josemaría liked to say.
We have heard, in the words of the first reading, the prophet’s advice: “Let us hasten to know the Lord!” (Os 6:3). He is listening to us at every moment and we should persevere in daily prayer without becoming discouraged.
2. Through the Eucharist that we are celebrating we want to give thanks to God also for the presence of Mary in the life of St. Josemaría Escrivá, the founder of Opus Dei, to whom Loreto—the city, the diocese, and its faithful—have just dedicated a street that leads to the Holy House. This is a very beautiful initiative, which over time will allow so many pilgrims and faithful from the diocese of Loreto to recall how important this shrine was in the life of St. Josemaría Escrivá, and therefore in the history of Opus Dei. He came to the Holy House to pray many times. But an especially important pilgrimage, which he himself defined as “penitential,” was the one undertaken on the vigil of the solemnity of the Assumption of Mary in the year 1951.
When he arrived on August 14, he went immediately to the Holy House to reserve a time to celebrate Holy Mass there the following day, at 9:00 a.m. Twelve years later, in a homily, he recalled that moving moment as follows: “I wanted to say it calmly and reverently, but I hadn’t counted on the crowd’s fervor. I had forgotten that the faith of the people of the region and their love for the Madonna meant there would be a huge crowd for the feast of the Assumption. Their piety was not always entirely correct in its expression, at least from the point of view of the Church’s liturgical regulations. When I would kiss the altar in accordance with the rubrics, three or four local women would accompany me. It was distracting, but certainly moving. I also noticed that above the altar in that holy house, which tradition says was the home of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, these words were written: Hic Verbum caro factum est. ‘Here the Word was made flesh.’ Here, on a bit of the earth on which we live, in a house built by men, God dwelt’” (Christ Is Passing By, no. 12).
On that trip, St. Josemaría bore a deep uneasiness in his heart, which spurred him to decide to consecrate the whole Work God had entrusted to him to the Most Sweet and Immaculate Heart of Mary. Our Lord had allowed, during those years, the spread of malicious reports and calumnies against Opus Dei, despite all the approvals of the Holy See.
St. Josemaría had a presentiment that some people were drawing up a malicious plot against him and against the Work that God had brought to birth in his hands in the bosom of the Church and with the sole desire of serving the Church. On that August 15, 1951, he didn’t know exactly the extent of the plot nor the identity of those involved. His holy disposition led him to the conviction that they were acting in good faith, and he excused and prayed for them. But he felt the obligation to defend the Work, out of love for God and souls. Without knowing who to have recourse to on earth, he decided to seek the protection of heaven, and he consecrated Opus Dei to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. He did this during the celebration of Mass and immediately afterwards, praying on his knees in the small passageway behind the altar. He was so absorbed in prayer, so calm in finding himself like a child in the arms of his mother, that he didn’t notice the many faithful walking by who were stepping on his cassock, which ended up completely covered with dust. Our Lady infused a great serenity into his soul, the certainty that the danger would be avoided thanks to her intercession.
3. As we heard in the responsorial psalm and the Gospel, God cannot refuse anyone who goes to him with humility. He is always read to receive our petitions. But we must not forget that prayer is sincere when it is humble, when we are ready to accept and fulfill all that God asks of us. This is what happened in that time of suffering for St. Josemaría. Divine mercy received him with Mary’s maternal solicitude, which was manifested to him through a warning and advice from the Cardinal of Milan, Blessed Ildefonso Schuster, and afterwards through the help of Cardinal Tedeschini, and above all through the paternal solicitude of Pope Pius XII. In this way an end was put to the danger.
Join me in giving thanks to the Blessed Virgin, our Mother, not only for that clear intervention of hers, but also for the countless graces she maternally granted to St. Josemaría. Among these I would like to mention the esteem and fraternal friendship that the ecclesiastics who knew St. Josemaría—priests, religious, bishops, cardinals—had for him, especially the Popes who came to know him. They certainly understood that Opus Dei was born in the Church and from the Church, that it is a small part of the Church, and that it has no other aim than that of serving the Church.
This saintly priest always showed an unconditional obedience to the hierarchy, the fruit of his filial love and priestly fraternity. The misunderstandings, such as those that brought him to Loreto in 1951 (a frequent reality in the lives of the saints), highlight even more the maternal embrace with which the Church always received him.
4. He returned to Loreto on a number of occasions. It is wonderful to see the list of saints who have had recourse to Mary in this shrine, among them St. Josemaría. I think that one could apply to all of them the way of praying that our Lord praised in the parable that we have just read at Mass: the prayer of the publican, who “would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’” (Lk 18:13). Our Lord grants a great humility to the saints. They feel themselves to be sinners while they are carrying out great endeavors in the service of the Church and of souls, as was the case with the founder of Opus Dei.
Many souls have learned from St. Josemaría to have an ardent love for the Church, in accord with each one’s personal situation. He wrote in Furrow: “Put your own interests to one side; you will serve others for God, and you will come to the aid of the Church in the field where the battles are being fought today: in the street, in the factory, in the workshop, in the university, in the office, in your own surroundings, amongst your family and friends” (Furrow, no. 14).
What a great need there is today for this service in all fields of human endeavor. Not an angry defense, but a daring evangelization, a personal apostolate in all spheres of civil society. St. Josemaría returned frequently in his thoughts to Loreto. From heaven he constantly accompanies all of you. This is what we ask today, here, of our Lady, the Mother of the Church. Bring it about, our Mother, that the men and women of our time turn their sight to your Son, to the Word, who became flesh and dwelt among us. So be it.