At the Mass for the 50th Anniversary of the Hospital of the University of Navarra (April 29, 2012)
1. My dear brothers and sisters:
Today, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, the Church’s liturgy is centered on Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd, who cares for his sheep, who goes out in search of the lost or injured one and brings it back to the fold. This had been announced by the prophet Ezekiel many centuries beforehand, putting these words on the Lord’s lips: I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the crippled, and I will strengthen the weak (Ezek 34:15-16).
The first reading echoes this solicitude of the Good Shepherd. Peter and John had just cured a paralytic at the Temple gate. When the leaders of the people questioned them about the cure, they responded: if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a cripple, by what means this man has been healed, be it known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that [it was] by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth (Acts 4:9-10).
Caring for the sick with Christian charity, offering them the available remedies, has always been a distinctive mark of Christ’s disciples. As Blessed John Paul II wrote: “Born of the mystery of Redemption in the Cross of Christ, the Church has to try to meet man in a special way on the path of his suffering. In this meeting man ‘becomes the way for the Church,’ and this way is one of the most important ones.”
We are celebrating this Holy Eucharist with the desire to give thanks to God for the fifty years of service provided to society by the University of Navarre Hospital, and to implore divine blessings on those who work there and on those who are seeking to recover their health. The place where we are holding our liturgical celebration is a bit unusual: the sports complex of the university. It is a structure intended for sports, for joyful and healthy recreation which, while strengthening the body, can also invigorate the soul, when it helps to create and develop bonds of friendship that bring one closer to God. It is one more university building within the campus, together with others that house the library, the classrooms, the laboratories, and the university hospital itself. Our Mass is taking place (as St. Josemaría Escrivá said in his unforgettable “campus” homily in 1967) amid the setting of daily life: one of study and research, of fraternity and healthy living.
The hospital was born at the urging of the Founder of this university, who was one of those holy priests whom the Holy Spirit brings forth in the Church to guide us by their example and teaching, to give witness in the world to Christ, the Good Shepherd of all men and women. Therefore the Founder of Opus Dei, right from the beginning of the Work, showed a special solicitude for the sick.
2. Let us pause now to consider the Gospel of this Mass. Let us contemplate Jesus and listen to what he is telling us. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep (Jn 10:11). And let us meditate on the reality that, on the Cross, he showed us the full extent of his love, since he voluntarily accepted suffering and death for us and for our salvation, to redeem us from the slavery of sin. Thanks to this self-surrender, to the Master’s holocaust, the last word no longer belongs to sin, suffering and death. What in the eyes of men seemed a failure, is now seen as the greatest triumph in history. As we prayed in the responsorial Psalm: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone (Ps 117:22).
In the Eucharistic celebration this unlimited generosity of the Good Shepherd is made clear to us. In each Mass the very Sacrifice of Calvary, with all of its redemptive strength, is made sacramentally present. This is what the Founder of the Work experienced one day in 1931, while celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar. In the depths of his soul, he heard our Lord telling him, without the noise of words: I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself (Jn 12:32). “And I understood,” he wrote afterwards, “that it will be the men and women of God who will raise up the Cross, with Christ’s teachings, to the pinnacle of all human activities . . . And I saw our Lord triumph, drawing all things to himself.”
The Christian life always brings with it the Cross. As a young, recently ordained priest, St. Josemaria spent many hours at the bedside of the sick, accompanying them and consoling them in their suffering, offering them his human warmth and the precious gift of the sacraments. He saw in them the lovable and suffering Christ, burdened with our sorrows and sufferings, and he felt impelled to console the Christ he saw in the sick.
A few years before, in 1928, our Lord had made him see Opus Dei, a path of sanctification in professional work and in the ordinary circumstances of a Christian; and since then he dedicated his days to carrying out the task God had entrusted to him. Faithful to that spirit, he urged forward—among many other apostolic activities— the beginning of the University of Navarra: a civil initiative imbued with a Catholic spirit, carried out by men and women whose passionate love for world spurs them to strive to contribute the best that they possess: their training in the sciences and humanities, their zeal to serve, and the joy of their faith, the happiness of having found Christ.
As I just reminded you, in St. Josemaría’s heart the sick always held a privileged place. When he saw himself forced to cut back on the frequency of his visits to the hospitals of Madrid, in order to dedicate himself to the work that God was asking of him, the consolidation of Opus Dei, he wrote down some words that express this quite forcefully: “My Jesus does not want me to leave him. He reminded me that he is nailed to a hospital bed....” Perhaps that is why he put special effort into seeing to it that one of the first schools at the University of Navarra would be medicine, and that a teaching hospital would be opened, although he knew very well how difficult it would be to make it a reality.
Today we want to thank our Founder for his faithfulness, and also the women and men who, with their generous and full availability, made possible the realization of those aspirations of St. Josemaria, as well as al those who today are continuing that task. Given the impossibility of naming all of them, I will limit myself to recalling a few persons, now deceased, who in some way will represent the others: Professors Jimenez Vargas and Ortiz de Landázuri, who put all of their effort into bringing forward the school of medicine and the University Hospital; Dr. Mari Carmen Adalid and Amelia Fontán, who helped to begin the school of nursing. All those involved in the beginnings were moved by the desire of attaining holiness, which St. Josemaría had taught them.
One event in the life of Dr. Ortiz de Landázuri illustrates very well that desire. One of his biographers says that when he moved from Granada to Pamplona with his whole family, the well-known professor Carlos Jimenez Diaz, his teacher and a leading light in Spanish medicine, asked him: “If you had to choose between being a saint and winning the Nobel prize, which would you choose?” Eduardo’s response was quick and clear: “Don Carlos, there is no contradiction; if I want to be holy, I have to work as if I were trying to win the Nobel prize.”
3. The Founder of our university saw in the ordinary activities of the hospital an excellent opportunity for each person to exercise the priestly soul proper to all Christians. Responding on one occasion to the question of a traumatologist about how to avoid routine in one’s professional activity, he suggested, “have presence of God. Invoke the Mother of God, as you are already doing. Yesterday I was with a sick person whom I love with my whole heart of a father, and I understood the great priestly work that you doctors are doing. You have to exercise that priesthood. When you wash your hands, when you put on your surgical gown, or your gloves, think about God and the royal priesthood St. Peter speaks of. Then there will be no routine: you will do good to bodies and to souls.”
St. Josemaria encouraged people to view reality in all its richness, without limiting themselves to the technical aspects, although he considered these indispensable. His gaze went deeper: to the people with whom one works, to those whom one serves, whom one has to understand, and console, and cure. Therefore he greatly valued the work of the nurses, always available to attend to the patients with an extraordinary professional preparation and a welcoming human warmth. This profession, while requiring great technical training, offers many opportunities to exercise one’s priestly soul. As Benedict XVI teaches, “The true measure of humanity is essentially determined in relationship to suffering and to the sufferer. This holds true both for the individual and for society. A society unable to accept its suffering members and incapable of helping to share their suffering and to bear it inwardly through ‘com-passion’ is a cruel and inhuman society.”
St. Josemaria once told a nurse at the hospital who had asked him how to do her work better: “Your work is a priesthood, as much and even more so than that of the doctors . . . because you are always close to the sick person. The doctor comes, and then goes away; doctors keep the sick people in mind but don’t always have them right there in front of them. So I think that to be a nurse is a special Christian vocation. But to fulfill that vocation as perfectly as possible, you nurses need a solid technical and scientific preparation, and also a very great refinement: the refinement that this school and the University of Navarra Hospital are well-known for.”
St. Josemaría was convinced that the sick had to be cared for with full respect for their dignity, both from the medical point of view as well as the spiritual and human ones. Therefore this hospital gives as much importance to the pleasant atmosphere, and the laundry and cooking services, as to the most sophisticated diagnostic or surgical techniques. I am sure that our Lord looks with special affection on those who, in these tasks, combine their technical training with a creative love that helps make the burden of sickness more bearable.
Both medical science and human warmth, combined in a family atmosphere, are important for alleviating suffering when it is possible to do so. Certainly suffering is one of mankind’s treasures on earth, and we should never despise it. But St. Josemaría also insisted, with common and supernatural sense, on a basic rule of prudence and charity: “Physical suffering should be alleviated, when possible. There is enough suffering in life already! And when it can’t be removed, then one offers it up.”
4. In its fifty years of existence, the University of Navarra Hospital has become an institution at the forefront of health services. At the same time, each day here, as a great “sanctuary,” as it were, a pure offering very pleasing to God is raised up to heaven, on the part of the men and women, the sick people and health professionals, who—each from their own place—give witness to the reality that a priestly soul and a lay professional mentality complement each other perfectly. I see the university hospital, if you will allow me to use this expression, as a great “factory” of science and holiness. Its contribution to the improvement of health assistance to many people is now significant; and its importance for the future is also very relevant, since we Catholics are called to rediscover the most adequate paths for the new evangelization of civil society, which needs to overcome old mechanistic models closed to the spirit, in order to open itself fully to the service of each person in all of his or her humanity.
We who realize we are children of God have much to contribute to the world in which we live. During Easter time, the liturgy helps us to be aware of who we are and what is expected of us. As we heard in the second reading, taken from the first letter of St. John: Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be (1 Jn 3:2). We are bearers of hope for this world darkened by discouragement as a result of the material and spiritual crisis society is undergoing. As children of God, we are, in words of St. Josemaría, “bearers of the only flame that can light up the paths of the earth for souls, of the only brightness which can never be darkened, dimmed, or overshadowed.”
Let us turn to our Lady, whom the Church invokes as Salus Infirmorum, Health of the Sick. We ask Mary to teach us, as she did John, the beloved disciple, whom she received as her son beside Jesus’ Cross, to discover the Christian meaning of suffering and of fairest Love. May we learn to place Christ at the summit of all our activities, with our work that is well done, so that its fruits will pour forth abundantly on the world, bringing health of body and salvation of soul. Amen.