At the Mass in suffrage for Bishop Álvaro del Portillo, basilica of St. Eugene, Rome (March 23, 2010)
Dear brothers and sisters!
I keep very much alive the memory of the night between March 22nd and 23rd, sixteen years ago. We had just arrived from the Holy Land, and the Servant of God, Bishop Álvaro del Portillo, was filled with supernatural and human happiness after having spent a week in the land where Jesus walked. None of us who accompanied him, nor those who received him in the Holy Land, could have imagined that this trip was going to be the last opportunity to converse with this bishop whose life was so exemplary. Much less did he, the beloved Prelate of Opus Dei and first successor of St. Josemaría, realize that within a few hours he would receive the eternal embrace of the Blessed Trinity. I dare to say that he passed from the supernatural and human happiness that engulfed him in visiting the Holy Places, to the eternal happiness of contemplating God face to face.
This Mass offers us the possibility to reflect on the truth that all of us should live with the realization that God’s lovingly Providence always accompanies us. The current Year for Priests convoked by the Holy Father can spur us to look closely at Don Álvaro’s life, especially from the viewpoint of fidelity. St. Paul, when listing the qualities sacred ministers need to have, put this virtue in first place: This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required of stewards that they be found trust- worthy (1 Cor 4:1-2).
Fidelity is a human and Christian virtue of great importance. The solemnity of St. Joseph, guardian of Jesus and Mary, is still quite recent, and we don’t want to forget that the holy patriarch “was an ordinary sort of man on whom God relied to do great things. He did exactly what the Lord wanted him to do, in each and every event that went to make up his life. That is why Scripture praises Joseph as ‘a just man’ (cf. Mt 1:19). And in Hebrew a just man means a good and faithful servant of God, someone who fulfills the divine will.”
Those of us that had the good fortune to have frequent personal contact with Don Álvaro can testify that his whole life was deeply marked by fidelity: loyalty to God and to the Church, loyalty to the call he had received from God to Opus Dei, and loyalty to St. Josemaría, with whom he worked very closely.
In the prayer for private devotion, my predecessor is described as an exemplary pastor in the service of the Church and a most faithful son and successor of St. Josemaría. This time of Lent, a time for conversion, is also a time for fidelity. For divine Mercy comes in search of us, sinners that we are. And since God is always faithful, he continually offers us the possibility of responding with super- natural and human loyalty, and he invites all men and women to form part of his people.
2. Bishop del Portillo understood from the first moment of his path in Opus Dei that God, the font of all graces, calls us to be faithful to his requests, in order to attain sanctity and serve souls. Precisely because of his daily effort to be faithful, Don Álvaro was able to become a firm support for the Founder. The circumstances of those times, when the Work was taking its first steps that entailed difficulties of every kind, enabled St. Josemaría to find in him a man of firm character. And he realized that Providence had placed him at his side to help him govern Opus Dei more effectively.
Already from the year 1939, St. Josemaría began to call Don Álvaro saxum, rock, thanks to his human and supernatural strength, and thanks also to his availability. I would dare to say that this word, saxum, was truly prophetic. For Don Álvaro’s deeds always showed him to be a person who was faithful, strong as a rock, capable of withstanding any storm.
With gratitude to God for having placed him by his side for so many years, St. Josemaría always told the other faithful of Opus Dei that Don Álvaro was an example of fidelity. On one occasion, taking ad- vantage of the fact that he wasn’t present, he spoke about Msgr. del Portillo in these terms: “His fidelity is what yours should be at all times; he has sacrificed his personal concerns with a smile, as do you. He doesn’t consider himself an exception, and I don’t think he is either, nor will he ever be: you should all follow his example, with God’s grace. And if you ask me ‘Has he ever been heroic?’—I would answer ‘Yes,’ he has been heroic many times, with a heroism that seems ordinary.” I was a witness to Don Álvaro’s struggle. He fostered in his own heart and in the hearts of the others a strong love for the Church, for the Holy Father, for priests and all mankind. Imitating Jesus, the Master, he tried to be a friend to everyone.
3. All of us, as Catholics who have been marked by the character of Baptism, and later by that of Confirmation, have been configured to Christ, who, through the Holy Spirit, has made us children of God and sharers in his priesthood. There- fore, ours is the joyful responsibility to be faithful to our Christian vocation and thus offer others a testimony of loyalty. In spite of the fact that many people refuse to keep the commitments they have freely taken on, we are called to give, by our words and deeds, an example of faithfulness in all areas of our life: in our relationship with God, and in our social, professional and family relationships.
Remaining loyal always and in everything isn’t easy and requires sacrifice. We see this in the life of St. Joseph: “St. Joseph’s life was simple, but it was not easy.” As Benedict XVI said: “Life is truly al- ways a choice: between honesty and dishonesty, between fidelity and in- fidelity, between selfishness and al- truism, between good and evil.” We shouldn’t be surprised, there- fore, that Christian life can also re- quire a struggle to be faithful, con- fronting difficulties that can and should be overcome with the help of divine grace; and if we have been defeated, we can begin again with a new fidelity, by having recourse to the sacrament of Confession.
In today’s society, there is a great need to be faithful to one’s Christian vocation, in its various manifestations, both lay and priestly; without forgetting those who have been called to the consecrated life. In all these situations we need to remember that “the school of faith is not a triumphal march but a journey marked daily by suffering and love, trials and faithfulness.” And I would add that it is a path of joy and of peace because our Lord wants us to be happy. We are helped in our efforts by the liturgical time of Lent, which is a new call to be faithful as God’s children, to convert our heart, accompanied by a firm resolution to fulfill all our baptismal commitments. Thus we will share, in all circumstances, in the happiness of heaven.
Let us listen once again to St. Josemaría’s invitation: “Lent should suggest to us these basic questions: Am I advancing in my faithfulness to Christ, in my desire for holiness, in a generous apostolate in my daily life, in my ordinary work among my colleagues?” And he adds: “Each one of us, silently, should answer these questions, and we will see that we need to change again if Christ is to live in us, if Jesus’ image is to be reflected clearly in our behavior.”
Let us pray, then, that all Christians may understand the importance of being loyal to the demands of the Church’s doctrine and morality, so as to witness to Jesus Christ and of Jesus Christ. The liturgy of the Easter Vigil, by inviting us to renew our baptismal promises, seeks to awaken in us the awareness that “the baptism that justifies us is also a call to seek the justice that is a fruit of faith. The path of an authentically Christian life is summed up by being faithful to the promises of holy Baptism.”
Before finishing, there come to my memory the words from a post- card written by Don Álvaro during his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, in Lent of 1994. It was addressed to a Prelate of the Roman Curia very close to the Pope, asking that he make John Paul II aware of his union with his August Person. “From these holy places I have prayed—we have prayed—a great deal for you, vir fidelis, and with the petition that you present to the Holy Father our desire to be fideles usque ad mortem, in serving the Holy Church and the Holy Father.”
In this ardent desire to be faithful until death, expressed in a simple and direct way a few days before his pious passage to heaven, I think we can find a summary of the life of this Servant of God and my beloved predecessor. Through our Lady’s intercession, may it be said of each of us that we have been fideles usque ad mortem, faithful to our Christian vocation, with a cheerful and unquestioning fidelity that is shown in deeds, and that is renewed each day in the big and little things of ordinary life.
We can also find in these words, I think, an invitation, addressed to each one of us, to help the Holy Father, the Church, and all mankind each day. This is precisely the petition with which the prayer for private devotion to the Servant of God concludes: grant that I too may respond faithfully to the demands of the Christian vocation, turning all the circumstances and events of my life into opportunities to love you and serve the kingdom of Jesus Christ.
And now, turning once more to Mary, we can ask her: help all of us to be people who are truly Christian, as you were. Amen.