Homily at the Mass of Thanksgiving Cardinal Santos Abril y Castello, Archpriest of the Liberian Basilica Basilica of St. Mary Major, Rome, September 30, 2014
We come together today with great joy in this Roman basilica dedicated to Holy Mary. Our Eucharist takes on a special coloring, for we are thanking the thrice holy God for the recent beatification, decreed by our beloved Pope Francis, of Bishop Álvaro del Portillo, prelate of Opus Dei. God’s holiness is reflected in his saints and, using an expression of the Holy Father, it has a face. In the light of the liturgy of the Word, I would like to contemplate with you the goodness of God which took flesh in Álvaro del Portillo: we want to “discover Jesus in the face” of the new Blessed. With a faithfulness full of love, following the example of Saint Josemaría, he proclaimed the Christian message in deeds and in truth, echoing the beauty of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, and his zeal for souls inspired him to bring the warmth of our faith to all the world.
1. “I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out” (Ezek 34:11). Great is the promise Yahweh makes, through the prophet Ezekiel, to the members of the chosen People who had undergone the deportation. Despite men’s infidelities, the Lord shows his closeness to them, and promises to protect them and guide them: “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down” (Ezek 34:15).
Israel goes forward in history sustained by the hope in those prophecies, which were to find fulfillment with the incarnation of the Word. Indeed, Jesus Christ takes this same moving image and presents himself as the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep he has received from the Father (cf. Jn 10:11.29). He thus expresses both his intimate – consubstantial – union with the Father and his mission before mankind. In this loving care by our good shepherd, we recognize the mercy of the eternal Father, who goes in search of his children to draw them to himself, gathering them into the same house, which is the Church.
Jesus’ mission is prolonged in a special way in the Apostles and their successors. He makes himself present in those he has designated as shepherds of his people: that is why Saint Paul considers himself the servant of the Church, and is conscious of having received a precise task, on behalf of the faithful (cf. Col 1:25). To communicate this boundless love of God for men and women is something beyond our capability and it would almost seem rash to attempt it; nevertheless, the Apostle exclaims that he is carrying out his mission, not with his own energy, but that of Christ: “I toil, striving with all the energy which he mightily inspires in me” (Col 1:29). Álvaro del Portillo was a faithful pastor, true to the announcement the prophet Jeremiah had made to the people, that God would give them shepherds after his own heart (cf. Jer 3:15). Such was Blessed Álvaro’s response to the merciful faithfulness of God, which Scripture designates as truth and love.
At the beginning of this Eucharistic celebration, we turned in the collect prayer to God, to the Father of mercies who filled Blessed Álvaro del Portillo with a spirit of truth and love. And indeed grace acted powerfully in this blessed bishop, whose life of service to the People of God was a manifestation of the Father’s mercy. He did so in an age in which men and women continue to need to experience the tenderness of the Father, who heals wounded hearts, strengthens the weak and brings back the stray to the good path (cf. Ezek 34:16). Blessed Álvaro invited people to draw close to the Lord, to persevere faithfully at this side and thus fill their lives with gladness: “Don’t leave ‘him’ and you will fall in love; be loyal and you will end up madly in love with God” he once wrote, commenting on the last point of Saint Josemaría’s book, The Way.
2. The spirit of truth was everywhere in the life of Blessed Álvaro. He was truly a worker in the truth (cf. 3 Jn 1, 8), of that truth which saves, which is faith in the Triune God. He delivered the gospel message to many people of the most diverse backgrounds. Following in the footsteps of Saint Josemaría Escrivá he undertook journeys to North and South America and to Australasia, where he had many catechetical meetings, giving Christian doctrine to the men and women of today, both in countries with deep Christian traditions and in those in which the announcement of Jesus Christ is still opening its way. In his work assisting the Apostolic See he was a faithful custodian of the Church’s Tradition, while at the same time he knew it had to be transmitted to his contemporaries with the same strength and liveliness as in the early Church. Thus he collaborated effectively in the work of the Second Vatican Council, whose teachings were constantly present in his preaching and pastoral work, especially the universal call to holiness, the irreplaceable role of the laity and their freedom, and the vocation and ministry of priests.
As a servant of the truth, Blessed Álvaro also worked to set up universities and educational centers, filled with the spirit of the Gospel. In a time which exalts the value of freedom, he reminded people that it is truth that sets man free (cf. Jn 8:32), and specifically the truth of our dignity as sons and daughters of God.
That is why, together with this tireless service of the truth (and as its necessary foundation), we contemplate in the life of Blessed Álvaro a spirit overflowing with love. His was an operative charity, which led him constantly to second the founder of Opus Dei in a quiet but very effective manner. His life was not exempt from sorrows and afflictions, which he bore with genuine peace, strengthened by God’s grace. Thus he was able to say what Saint Paul wrote to the Colossians: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church” (Col 1:24).
In his pastoral ministry, he was a sower of peace and joy. Many were struck by the peacefulness of Blessed Álvaro’s gaze, an expression of his deep filial relationship to God as Father and which spontaneously communicated the peace of one who knows he is a much loved son. In his pastoral journeys, he invited his listeners to let this Christian serenity govern their daily efforts, turning their work, family life and other daily realities into an occasion for meeting Jesus Christ.
This holy pastor also knew that peace can only come to society if human relations are filled with justice and love. Therefore, in his journeys and pastoral letters he made heartfelt appeals not to be indifferent to the lot of our brothers and sisters. For God calls all of us to be instruments of his mercy, by alleviating the material and spiritual needs of those who live alongside us. Many welfare and social improvement initiatives owe their beginning in some way or other to the life and preaching of Blessed Álvaro.
3. “And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd” (Jn 10:16). We can state that this concern was deep in the shepherd’s heart of the new blessed. His gaze took in the whole world. With his teaching, prayer and example he encouraged his sons and daughters to work in the most diverse environments, turning them into an opportunity to present the figure of Jesus to the people they were with. Indeed, as Pope Francis teaches, “every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he has met the love of God in Christ Jesus.” Blessed Álvaro encouraged many Christians to live up to their vocation to be the light of the world, letting themselves be enlightened by the Lord. At times he compared the Eucharist’s power to transform souls to the sun’s rays at sunset that seem to set the world on fire. So too Christians can shine and give light wherever they go, if they receive our Lord in the Sacrament of the Altar.
To bring Christ’s light and warmth to everyone was a yearning that characterized the life of the new blessed. He was quick to respond to Saint John Paul II’s call for a new evangelization in those countries where our Lord’s message of joy and mercy had become obscured. He also began the apostolate of the Prelature of Opus Dei in other places where the Gospel had not yet fully taken root.
As Pope Francis reminds us, “the new evangelization should bring out a new protagonism in each of the baptized.” This Mass of thanksgiving is also an invitation to all of us to rekindle our apostolic commitment. We celebrate it in this church which has the venerated image of Holy Mary, Salus Populi Romani, salvation of the Roman people. The Holy Father came to pray to her the day after his election as successor to Peter. Blessed Álvaro too was a frequent pilgrim to this Marian shrine. On January 1, 1978, he came to pray here to initiate a Marian year of thanksgiving for the 50th anniversary of the foundation of Opus Dei. He knew that to reach Jesus the best way is to have recourse to his most Holy Mother, according to these words of the founder of Opus Dei, who had lodged deep in his heart the truth that: “One always goes to Jesus and one ‘returns’ to him through Mary.”
Dear friends, today too we wish to entrust our Christian journey to the protection of Holy Mary. And we repeat our gratitude to the Lord who, through the mediation of his most Holy Mother, has shown us his mercy in the life of Blessed Álvaro del Portillo: may the new Blessed intercede so that we may be good sons and daughters of so good a Mother. Amen.