At the Feast of St. Josemaría, St. Eugene's Basilica, (June 26, 2009)
On the Feast of
St. Eugene’s Basilica
My dear brothers and sisters:
1. Today we are offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on the liturgical memorial of St. Josemaría Escrivá, whom our Lord has raised up in the Church . . . to proclaim the universal call to holiness and apostolate.
We are doing so united to the thousands of people all over the world who are giving thanks to God for his gift to all mankind of this exemplary and holy priest. Countless men and women from all walks of life have learned to love and follow Jesus thanks to St. Josemaría’s teachings and example.
Thirty-four years have gone by since his death. During this time, the influence of his example has never ceased growing, and recourse to his intercession has spread continually. We see how timely is the message that God entrusted to him, to make it bear fruit through his generous and total response to God’s calls right from his adolescence. St. Josemaría sometimes spoke about those premonitions of God’s love and of a specific mission for his life. The response of that boy, who was then only 15 or 16 years old, was an act of generous acceptance of God’s will, which led him to become a priest so as to make himself available for a call of which he did not yet know the details. From that moment on, and throughout his whole life, he was a person in love with God, who also passionately loved the world and his fellow men and women. Today’s feast reminds us that a similar dialogue of love should take place between the Creator and every human being. Let us go to the intercession of this holy priest so that he can help us to respond with generosity and joy.
When he urged the faithful to pray for the sanctity of priests, he used to say that “a priest doesn’t go to heaven alone: he always goes surrounded by a cohort of souls”—the souls who have come closer to God through his administering of the sacraments, through his preaching, through his prayer, through his priestly zeal, through his pastoral charity. Therefore we need to pray every day that the Holy Spirit will raise up many holy priests in the Church, and that all of us will be ever more aware of our priestly soul. This is everyone’s duty: men and women, young and old, the sick and the healthy.… We all need to keep this intention constantly present: through our prayer, offering up daily annoyances and small mortifications, carrying out our professional work very well and in God’s presence. Thus we will respond to Jesus’ call: The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest (Mt 9:37-38).
This petition, which is always necessary, has special timeliness in regard to vocations for the priesthood. A week ago our Holy Father Benedict XVI inaugurated a Year for Priests, for the purpose of obtaining from God the gift of many holy priests throughout the world. How are we praying for this intention? Are we convinced that no one can take our place in this very personal duty?
2. A Christian’s life is always a priestly existence, as we learn from the holy apostles Peter and Paul, the patrons of Rome and of the universal Church. The Prince of the Apostles, in his first letter, expressed it as follows: “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9). And St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans: “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom 12:1).
All Christians share, through Baptism, in Christ’s priesthood. We have all received the common priesthood, essentially different from the ministerial priesthood proper to sacred ministers, but no less necessary. Both the priesthood of the faithful and that of priests, each in its own way, are indispensable for the fulfillment of the mission that Christ entrusted to the Church for the salvation of the world. This teaching of the magisterium, which was proclaimed in an especially solemn way at the Second Vatican Council, was preached and spread by St. Josemaría since October 2, 1928.
Priests and laity thus constitute in the Church a single family of sons and daughters of God. As St. Josemaría used to say, “a priest is no more a man or a Christian than any ordinary lay person.” Configured to Christ by virtue of Baptism, we are all members of the Mystical Body with the same dignity, and equally responsible for the Church’s mission, which each one carries out in a specific way. In addition, “in those who have been ordained, the ministerial priesthood is added to the common priesthood of all of the faithful. Therefore, although it would be a serious error to argue that a priest is more a member of the faithful than an unordained Christian is, it can, on the other hand, be said that he is more a priest: like all Christians he belongs to the priestly people redeemed by Christ, and in addition to this he is marked with a character of the priestly ministry.” Without the ministerial priesthood, without priests, the Church would not exist.
St. John Marie Vianney, the Holy Curé of Ars, said that “the priesthood is the love of Jesus’ Heart.” And Benedict XVI commented: “This touching expression makes us reflect, first of all, with heartfelt gratitude on the immense gift which priests represent, not only for the Church, but also for humanity itself. I think of all those priests who quietly present Christ's words and actions each day to the faithful and to the whole world, striving to be one with the Lord in their thoughts and their will, their sentiments and their style of life.”
3. Let us return to the texts proper to today’s Mass. The collect, after stressing that St. Josemaría has been called by God to proclaim the universal call to holiness and the apostolate, adds: grant that in faithfully carrying out our daily work in the spirit of Christ, we may be formed in the likeness of your Son and . . . serve the work of redemption with an ardent love.
Daily work and the ordinary circumstances of life are the specific field where lay people strive to attain holiness and carry out apostolate. In this context, a feature of the spirituality taught by St. Josemaría is very important: to do everything with a “priestly soul and a lay mentality.” This means that the lay faithful are asked to carry out their profession, and all of their family and social obligations, with the mentality proper to people who are called to work in the midst of the world and, at the same time, with the priestly spirit that is a characteristic of the Christian vocation.
Therefore I invite you to meditate on some other words of St. Josemaría that refer particularly to the lay faithful: “You all have a priestly soul, rooted in the sacramental characters of baptism and confirmation. A priestly soul that you exercise not only when you participate in liturgical worship—and above all in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the root and center of our interior life—but in all the activities of your life.”
In The Forge, he also offers specific advice: “Live and work for God, with a spirit of love and service, with a priestly soul, even though you may not be a priest. Then all your actions will take on a genuine supernatural meaning which will keep your whole life united to the source of all graces.”
On the morning of June 26, 1975, about an hour after having spoken about these topics in a gathering, our Lord called him to Himself. We too have an obligation to pass on this beautiful message to so many of our friends and colleagues: that we are all called to holiness, which is union with Jesus Christ and the fullness of love, and that this can be attained in any situation, age and place.
We will repeat this shortly in words from the liturgy: Accept, Father, these gifts we offer in memory of St. Josemaría, and through this sacramental renewal of the sacrifice of the Cross graciously sanctify all our works.
Let us entrust all these aspirations to the intercession of our Lady, closely united to the Roman Pontiff and his intentions. Our Mother, obtain for us from your Son an abundant harvest of holy priests, forged to the measure of Christ’s heart, and of lay people who are sincere Christians. Amen