At the Mass in suffrage of Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, St. Eugene's Basilica, Rome (March 17, 2008)
At the Mass for the
Repose of the Soul of
Bishop Alvaro del Portillo
St. Eugene’s Basilica
1. Dear Brothers and Sisters:
Today we are offering the Eucharistic Sacrifice for the soul of the Servant of God Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, Prelate of Opus Dei, on the fourteenth anniversary of his dies natalis, his birth to a new life in heaven. We are doing so six days before the actual anniversary of his holy death, since March 23 falls on Easter Sunday this year. The fact that we are already in Holy Week should help us to prepare even better for the Sacred Triduum of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of our Lord.
The readings for Monday of Holy Week offer a starting point to consider some aspects of the life of my beloved predecessor, and can help us to improve our own Christian conduct. Through the words of the prophet Isaiah, God speaks in the first reading about the Servant of Yahweh. “I have put my Spirit upon him. He will not cry or lift up his voice. . . . a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not fail or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.”
The prophecy refers directly to Jesus of Nazareth, the Savior promised to the People of Israel for all mankind. But the Word of God, beyond its literal meaning, which is always fundamental, presents other spiritual meanings.
In this Mass for my beloved predecessor, the words of Isaiah seem especially suited to the person of Don Alvaro. He too, following our Lord’s example, as many people have testified, was outstanding for the gentleness of his heart and his goodness towards all; and at the same time, for his fortitude in carrying out the task our Lord had entrusted to him, without ever feeling himself overwhelmed by the difficulties. These features of his character are well reflected in his untiring work to fulfill the mandate that he received from St. Josemaría: to continue taking the necessary steps so that the Holy See would confer on Opus Dei the canonical figure appropriate to its nature; that is, its becoming a personal prelature, which the Founder of the Work had prepared for before being called to heaven.
This recollection is a very timely one. Indeed, this coming 19th of March is the 25th anniversary of the execution of the Pontifical Bull Ut Sit, which transformed Opus Dei into a personal prelature. The execution of the Bull, which took place in this Basilica of St. Eugene, was performed by the Holy Father’s Nuncio to Italy. With that solemn act, Opus Dei’s long canonical path, which St. Josemaría and his first successor had followed with great supernatural vision and a lot of tenacity, was concluded.
I invite everyone to give thanks to the Blessed Trinity, who wished Opus Dei to be born in the Church and from the Church, and who saw to it that this reality, at the right moment, would receive a full and adequate canonical configuration.
2. What lessons can we draw for our own life from what I have just mentioned? One very clear lesson is that of having, every single day, a great trust in God, who wants to make use of us to spread Christ’s kingdom on earth. In spite of our limitations, which are undeniable, with God’s grace we can be successful in our efforts to love Christ, and to make him known and loved by many other people.
The words we have just heard in the first reading are addressed to all Christians: “I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” It is our task, we who are Christ’s disciples, to make the good news shine forth, as did the Apostles, in the hearts and the behavior of many other people. With words of St. Josemaría I tell you, and I tell myself: “You have but little love if you are not zealous for the salvation of all souls. You have but poor love if you are not eager to inspire other apostles with your craziness.”
We can ask ourselves: am I aware that our Lord’s call to be apostolic is directed personally to me, and do I meditate on it frequently? How do I try to put it into practice? With which people—friends, relatives, colleagues at work or in school—can I speak about God, without human respect, in order to bring them closer to Jesus? During these days of Easter, perhaps I could invite them to make a good Confession, to assist with greater regularity at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, to begin or to strengthen a life of prayer, to take part in days of recollection and other formative activities. Remember our Father’s advice: “Among those around you—apostolic soul—you are the stone fallen into the lake. With your word and your example you produce a first circle... and it another... and another, and another... Wider each time. —Now do you understand the greatness of your mission?”
3. I now direct myself especially to the young people who have come to Rome in great numbers during holy Week, for the traditional UNIV gathering. Of course, the things that I am going to say to them are useful for everyone, but I would like to address specifically the young people.
Your stay in Rome, aside from introducing you to the Eternal City—so filled with Christian memories—should above all help you to discover anew, perhaps this time with greater depth, the greatness of God’s love. Meditate on the steps of Jesus’ passion and death, following him closely in the Way of the Cross; try to react with your mind and your heart. Let yourselves be drawn by him.
In the Gospel of today’s Mass, St. John has transmitted to us a truly moving scene: the anointing of the Master at Bethany. The evangelist tells us that a supper had been prepared for him there. “Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at table with him.”
At other times in the past, the family at Bethany had put their house at the Lord’s disposition. On this occasion, Mary carried out an act which has always been seen by the Church as a symbol of the complete dedication that Jesus expects of Christians. Mary of Bethany, without any fear of what others might think, “took a pound of costly ointment of pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment.”
What does this gesture of Mary tell us? Some, such as Judas Iscariot, criticized Mary’s daring, because his heart was devoid of love. To us, on the other hand, it speaks of not being afraid to give everything to God, if he asks it of us, knowing that our Lord has first given his life for us. To answer yes, to tell him that we are ready to follow him for our whole life, is simply to correspond to his love, which is so great that he not only has died and risen for us, but has even wanted to remain for us and with us in the Holy Eucharist.
I am sure that, during these days, God’s call will resound in the depths of many hearts. Don’t be afraid to tell him yes! Our Lord does not ask for more than what we are able to give him.
I remind you of some words of the Holy Father Benedict XVI. A few months ago, in a meeting with young people, the Pope said: “God also seeks young people today. He seeks young people with great hearts who can make room for him in their lives to be protagonists of the New Covenant. To accept a proposal as fascinating as the one Jesus offers us, to make the covenant with him, it is necessary to be youthful within, to be capable of letting oneself be challenged by his newness, to set out with him along new paths.
“Jesus has a fondness for young people, as the conversation with the rich young man clearly shows (cf. Mt 19: 16-22; Mk 10: 17-22); he respects their freedom but never tires of proposing loftier goals for life to them: the newness of the Gospel and the beauty of holy behavior.”
Yes, our Lord awaits a response from each of us. He wants us to give him, at least, a more intense love, which is shown in sacrifice; a renewed decision to be closer to him; an active desire to be an instrument to bring many other people to him. “Each one of you,” St. Josemaría wrote, “must try to be an apostle of apostles.”
Let us entrust these reflections to the intercession of Don Alvaro, who made such great efforts to bring souls to God. And let us ask the help of our Lady, Mother of the Church and Queen of Apostles, so that all of us may reach the end of Holy Week renewed by God’s grace and filled with desires for apostolate. Amen.