Blessing of a Statue of St. Josemaría, Saragossa, Spain (July 1, 2013)
1. We have just blessed the statues of St. Josemaría and Blessed John Paul II that will be placed in this parish church. The decision of the Archbishop of Saragossa, my dear friend and brother Manuel Ureña, has given me great joy. He was responding to the interest shown by the pastor and a group of parishioners, who wanted to commemorate the occasion on which St. Josemaría celebrated Holy Mass in a side chapel of this church. This happened on June 20, 1946. He was on his way to Barcelona, where he was to embark for Italy to make his first trip to the Eternal City, to continue the canonical path of Opus Dei, following our Lord’s guidance.
On accepting the request of the pastor and parishioners, the Archbishop thought it would be good to also install a statue of Blessed John Paul II, whose rapid canonization we all desire. This would commemorate his stay in Saragossa on two occasions: the first, in November of 1982, to prostrate himself as a devout son of Mary before our Lady of Pilar; the second, a stop on his trip to Santo Domingo and Puerto Rico, in 1984, for ceremonies in preparation of the five hundredth anniversary of the discovery and evangelization of America.
The ceremony we have celebrated seems to me an act of gratitude and justice, since both St. Josemaría and Blessed John Paul II, each in his own way, showed great affection for this Caesar-Augustan seat and its people.
2. St. Josemaría always had great affection for his Aragonese native land. In Saragossa, he prepared for the priesthood in the San Carlos seminary, where he would spend nights in vigil in one of the choir galleries. It isn’t easy to describe his joy when recalling those times of prayer, alone with God. Years later, in the Holy Chapel of Pilar, he celebrated his first Mass. And in this archdiocese he carried out his first pastoral tasks. How many moments from that time came to his memory from “the Saragossa years,” as he used to say, filled with so many joys and sufferings! They were years of human and supernatural growth, by which our Lord was preparing him to found Opus Dei and to bring forward that work of service to the Church, in the midst of great difficulties. He was always grateful to God for being born in this land of men and women known for their tenacity and perseverance, for their refusal to back down before obstacles. These are human and supernatural virtues that, among so many others, he needed to carry out the mission God had entrusted to him in the bosom of our Mother, the Church.
I had the joy, a true grace from God, of living very close to St. Josemaría for twenty-five years. I frequently heard him refer to those years when our Lord in his soul gave him “inklings” of his call to follow him: first in Logroño, where he lived for some time with his family, and later in this beloved city. Already in Logroño he had begun to sense that God wanted him for something very specific, although without knowing what it was. His response, resting on faith in God and on the protection of our Lady, can be summed up in the persevering prayer that, for more than ten years, he raised to heaven: Domine, ut videam! (Lord, that I may see!) and Domina, ut sit! (Lady, may what God wants come to be!). How often we heard him say that, during the years from 1918 to 1927, his visits to the Basilica of Pilar were a daily reality!
He decided to become a priest in order to be more available for whatever our Lord wanted. This was the core of his self-giving and the root of his apostolic effectiveness throughout the whole world. His ardent desire to fulfill the divine will was fused with a sincere love for the Pope and the Apostles’ successors. It shouldn’t surprise us that Cardinal Soldevila, then Archbishop of Saragossa, on seeing his human and spiritual maturity, conferred on him—while still a seminarian—the position of inspector or superior of the Seminary of San Carlos, in order to help in the formation of his companions; and that the auxiliary Bishop, Miguel de los Santos Díaz Gómara, also showed great trust in him. I am pleased to recall the affection and gratitude that was shown to him by the prelates of this archdiocese who knew him and dealt with him.
3. “I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes” (Lk 10:21). These words of Jesus, which we have just heard in the Gospel, were fulfilled in St. Josemaría and in Blessed John Paul II. Both of their lives had that marvelous conjunction of authentic Christian wisdom with simplicity and humility, as the first reading reminds us. There St. Paul exhorts his readers to guard “the riches of his grace, which has superabounded in us in all wisdom and prudence” (Eph 1:7-8). This is one of the manifestations of true holiness: the capacity to combine the greatest with the smallest, the particular with the universal; and we see this with total clarity in the two great figures we commemorate today.
We all know that Blessed John Paul II had a great affection for his homeland, for the city of his birth, for the parish where he was baptized, for the local Church in which he was incardinated as a priest. This love for particular places, affection for one’s native land, is a characteristic of the Christian life and has nothing to do with nationalism or a narrow outlook. The lengthy pontificate of Juan Paul II was marked by the numerous pastoral trips that he made to every continent, bringing the light of the Gospel to every corner of the earth. From the first day of his supreme ministry, he saw the Church in its universal dimension, open to all men and women and to all cultures.
The same was true of St. Josemaría. He always considered himself a diocesan priest and (while it was possible for him to do so) he dedicated many hours to ardently serving his brother priests. In the 40s, before his definitive move to Rome, a number of Ordinaries from various places asked him to direct retreats for the priests and seminarians in their dioceses. He assisted several thousand of those brothers of his with the desire to serve them and to learn from each one of them. It is no exaggeration to say that among the glories of the dioceses and archdioceses of Barbastro, Logroño, Saragossa, and Madrid, the presence of St. Josemaria, his deep pastoral action among the clergy and the people, occupies a principal place.
But St. Josemaría is a glory for the universal Church, as was made manifest in the ceremony of his canonization, followed by millions of women and men all over the world, also through the means of communication. The message of the universal call to holiness in ordinary life, which our Lord entrusted to him in 1928, has resounded effectively in persons and countries all over the world. His apostolic zeal led him to write as early as the 1930s: “To be ‘Catholic’ means to love your country and to be second to no one in that love. And at the same time, to hold as your own the noble aspirations of other lands . . . Catholic: big heart, broad mind.”
Impelled by this divine zeal, the founder of Opus Dei launched out again, in the final years of his life, in an incessant catechesis through Europe and America, seeking only the glory of God, the good of the Church, and the salvation of souls. Thanks be to God we have filmed documentaries that testify to the intensity of St. Josemaría’s preaching, also in those last years of his earthly life.
4. His zeal for souls, his eagerness to make Christ known in all places, is an echo of those words duc in altum!—put out into the deep and lower your nets for the catch—that we have listened to in the rite of the blessing of the statues (Lk 5:10). Our Lord addressed these words to Simon Peter, to his companions, and to all who were to walk along the same path throughout history: to all Christians. Both St. Josemaría and Blessed John Paul II frequently meditated on this scene and listened to Jesus’ invitation. At the end of one of those times of contemplation, St. Josemaría helped us to put ourselves into the Gospel, to let Jesus’ invitation take hold in our heart: “Let us accompany our Lord as he goes about his divine task of fishing. We find Jesus by the Lake of Genesareth, with the crowds pressing upon him, eager to hear the word of God. Just as they do today! Can’t you see? They want to hear God’s message, even though outwardly they may not show it.”
Blessed John Paul II, in connection with the Jubilee of the year 2000, urged the whole Church to feel the timeliness of those words of Christ and the fruitfulness of the docile response of Peter and his companions, who hauled in that abundant catch. “These words ring out for us today, and they invite us to remember the past with gratitude, to live the present with enthusiasm and to look forward to the future with confidence: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever.”
Benedict XVI’s fruitful magisterium followed the same path. Also Pope Francis, from the beginning of his pontificate, has been spreading the same apostolic impulse—ever new!—in the Church. In his audiences and homilies he frequently repeats the idea of “getting out” of ourselves, so that each of us may encounter the others and bring them to Christ. In one address, he encouraged everyone to enter into the logic of God, which is the logic of the Cross, because to remain with Christ demands that we get out of our tired and routine way of living the faith. We have to get “out of ourselves,” he concluded, “just as Jesus, just as God came out of himself in Jesus and Jesus came out of himself for all of us.”
5. Love for our Lady also unites those we are venerating today in the statues we have just blessed. I have already mentioned the daily visits of St. Josemaría to our Lady of Pilar, with the filial spirit that led him to seek the protection of our Lady in many shrines throughout the world. Frequently on his lips was the aspiration: “Omnes cum Petro ad Iesum per Mariam!” That we may all go united, with Peter, to Jesus through Mary.
And turning our eyes to John Paul II, we remember very well the motto that he took for his episcopal coat of arms as a summary of his love for our Lady: Totus tuus. Moved by that same love, he wanted a mosaic of Mary, Mater Ecclesiae, placed at the top of St. Peter’s Square, as a constant invocation to our Lady to always watch over the holy people of God.
It fills me with joy to realize that now, in the presence of the Most Holy Trinity, St. Josemaría and Blessed John Paul II are praying for the universal Church, for this archdiocese, for the pastors who have guided and are guiding it, for the priests, religious and lay faithful who make it up, so that at every moment they may walk—that we may walk—along the paths of Christian life, following the luminous star they have left us by their example and words.
May the Most Holy Virgin, in her advocation of Pilar, make us strong in the faith, secure in hope, ardent in charity, enkindled by a zeal for the salvation of souls that knows no frontiers. Amen.