Homily at a Mass of Thanksgiving Cardinal Agostino Vallini, Vicar of the Pope for the Diocese of Rome Basilica of St. John Lateran, Rome, September 30, 2014
Beloved brothers and sisters,
We are celebrating this Holy Eucharist today to praise and bless God for the grace of the beatification, last Saturday in Madrid, of Bishop Álvaro del Portillo, Prelate of Opus Dei.
1. In today’s first reading the prophet Ezekiel, speaking in God’s name, reveals to us how urgently God loves us, continuously taking the initiative to save his flock: “I myself will search for 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, and the fat and the strong I will watch over” (Ezek 34:11, 15-16). God goes out in search of his sheep especially those that have “strayed”, brings them to green pastures and gives them rest. It is truly comforting and encouraging to know that God never abandons us, because he loves us. God always precedes us. He knows our needs, anticipates our petitions, and before we address him with our pleas for help and protection, he acts; he preserves us from evil and creates new opportunities for doing good. Aware of God the Father’s provident love, we can joyfully profess our gratitude with the words of the Psalm: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want (Ps 23 (22):1b).”
2. The Gospel has reminded us that God’s love for us has truly gone much further than Ezekiel’s words express. Jesus, the Son of God, in proclaiming himself the “good shepherd,” has transformed the very concept of shepherd, for he is the shepherd who not only guides and cares for his flock, but lays down his life for it: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (Jn 10:11). On the cross, Jesus has given himself entirely for us, and in the resurrection he has communicated divine life to us with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, who in Baptism has made us sons and daughters, sharers in the same destiny as the Son and members of his family, the Church. The risen Jesus is Life unending: in him we can address God, as children address their father and say with Saint Paul: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me (Gal 2:20).”
3. My brothers and sisters, Blessed Álvaro del Portillo’s life was imbued with this sure faith. Born in Madrid in 1914, at the age of 21, in 1935, he joined Opus Dei and very soon the holy founder found in him his most valued and faithful co-worker. Ordained a priest in 1944, he lived nearly fifty years in Rome, from 1946 on, where he died in 1994. Such was Saint Josemaría’s esteem for Don Álvaro that, on the very day of Don Álvaro’s priestly ordination, he chose him as his confessor. The dedication of this son and brother to the Church won him the trust of the Holy See, which called on him for multiple tasks, both during the Second Vatican Council and afterwards, in various dicasteries of the Roman Curia. Elected in 1975 as the first successor of Saint Josemaría to head the Work, he worked intensely to obtain from the Church the canonical form most suited to the foundational charism, made specific in the personal prelature, of which he was the first prelate. Saint John Paul II raised him to the episcopacy, ordaining him on January 6, 1991. On March 23, 1994, God called him to his presence just a few hours after returning from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
4. The new blessed believed deeply and intensely that God, in Jesus, loves us, gives his life for us, introduces us into his family, the Church, cares for us and guides us with fatherly affection so that we may attain our true good. Blessed Álvaro fell in love with Christ and let himself be loved by him. He opened his heart and abandoned himself totally in the Lord. That was how he lived and to this ideal he also consecrated his priestly life, teaching us that at every moment, both in the little things of each day and in the most difficult and painful situations, our intimate disposition should be to try to discover God’s will for us and to strive generously to second it. This is what the Christian vocation consists in, a vocation to the holiness to which we are all called; a holiness accessible to all men and women in the simplicity of daily life. Those who knew him testify that he “transmitted the urgency of God’s love. He gently reminded each person of their own responsibility to love God and souls.”
He shared fully the charism that God had given to Saint Josemaría and he worked tirelessly—with “apostolic daring,” as the holy founder often invited people to act—so that everyone might find God and respond to their own vocation. In marriage and the family, as in the priesthood or other possible forms of Christian life, God reveals to us what is his will for our true good and with his grace calls us to listen to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit and to put them generously into practice. Abandonment to God’s loving will is the source of the joy that should saturate the life of every Christian.
In one of his pastoral letters the new blessed wrote that, with this project of God for each one: “our existence has taken on this purpose, in a total and exclusive way: there are not – there cannot be – other aims in our will, other desires in our heart, other thoughts in our mind, which are not fully subject to the merciful plan which God has put to us.”
5. In the second reading Saint Paul, speaking of himself, says he is a minister of the Church “according to the divine office which was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations” (Col 1:25-26).
Jesus is the true shepherd, but he carries out his work in history making use of men as his instruments for doing good. Among the multiplicity of gifts and charisms, one that is certainly important is the ministry of those who, having received the grace of the priestly ministry, act in the person of Christ to be dispensers of the Word by means of the work of evangelization, dispensers of the grace of the sacraments and pastoral guides along the path to salvation.
Blessed Álvaro del Portillo exercised the priesthood, and afterwards the episcopate, with a deep “spiritual fatherhood.” With his gentle and attentive humility he sought always to understand the needs and hopes of men and women, approaching them all with a father’s love. For him, the ministry was an exercise of fatherly care, which in turn expressed itself in ministry. That is why he always encouraged people to give themselves generously in the apostolate. He said: “There are many people living around us who do not know Christ and are waiting for us to attend to them.” He also showed his pastoral charity by his tireless promotion of social activities all over the world: works of mercy, hospitals, schools, universities…
In view of the progressive spreading of secularization, he exhorted the members of the Work, and in particular the laity, to bring a Christian spirit with the light of the Gospel to all environments. “Let there be no sphere of civil society,” he used to say, “with its back turned to the light of Christ. Recover this world which is fleeing from God and bring it back to him.”
He was deeply convinced that Christ “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4). That is why all of us members of the Church are called to cooperate in its mission. As the Holy Father Pope Francis said forcefully in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium: “In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt 28:19). All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization.” “To take part sincerely in this great task entails, on the one hand, a very special responsibility for which all of us will have to give an account to God; and, on the other, it is a sign of the great honor which the Blessed Trinity bestows on us, an unmerited manifestation of God’s loving affection and trust in his children.”
In the particular case of the laity, “this mission is to be accomplished through the fulfillment of one’s professional work and in one’s ordinary duties, lived heroically, with supernatural outlook, to sanctify oneself and to sanctify the temporal realities each one meets in his or her daily contact.” It is an apostolate without limits, which begins with one’s own family – the domestic church which needs to be built day by day – and extends afterwards to one’s friends, work colleagues and to all the people we have occasion to meet, with a sense of responsibility for the common good of society. And always without discrimination, because God loves everyone and excludes no one from the apostolic zeal which should show forth in every instant of our life.
6. In the pastoral life of the new blessed I would like to recall, in particular, his Eucharistic and penitential ministry.
First, the Eucharist, the memorial of the death and resurrection of the Lord, which makes present here and now, by means of the sacramental signs, the reality of the sacrifice of the cross, placed once and for all at the summit of human history. The Second Vatican Council has exhorted Christians to do their utmost to convert the holy Mass, each day, into the “center and root of their whole life.” This was something Blessed Álvaro was fully convinced of, even at times making his thanksgiving after Mass out loud, with simplicity and devotion, to help the faithful to love Jesus in the Eucharist and to speak with God.
With this same zeal he celebrated the sacrament of confession: the “sacrament of joy,” as Saint Josemaría like to call it. Blessed Álvaro said that each time we receive it with sincere repentance for our sins we throw ourselves into the open arms of God, who welcomes us lovingly, forgives us and assures us of the grace to go ahead along our path united to him, or to start upon it anew if we had left it. Blessed Álvaro went to confession with great faith every week, giving example of humility and trust in God’s love, and likewise encouraged everyone to go frequently, so as to experience God’s tenderness.
7. Dear brothers and sisters, may the example of the saints encourage us to pursue with daring and faithfulness the path to holiness. Let us ask Blessed Álvaro and the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and our Mother, to accompany us on our path as sons and daughters of God, docile to his will, so that we may live to the full our vocation and be witnesses to it each and every day. Amen.