October 7. Audience with the Holy Father and Mass of Thanksgiving
On the 7th St. Peter’s Square was once more the scene of an overflowing crowd of faithful. The traditional triduum of thanksgiving which follows every canonization was to begin with a Mass celebrated by the Prelate of Opus Dei, attended by almost everyone who had come for the canonization.
Concelebrating with Bishop Echevarria were Msgr. Fernando Ocáriz, the Prelature’s Vicar General, Msgr. Francisco Vives, the Central Vicar Secretary, and all the Regional Vicars.
In his homily Opus Dei’s Prelate encouraged the faithful to express their natural feeling of gratitude for the canonization in deeds of fidelity to God and of service to souls. This is the full text:
Homily of Bishop Echevarría
1. Laudate Dominum omnes gentes (Ps 116/117:1). Praise the Lord, all you nations. The invitation of the Responsorial Psalm, which resounded a few moments ago, constitutes an excellent summary of the sentiments that overflow from our hearts today: Deo omnis gloria! To God be all the glory! We want to adore the Thrice-Holy God and give Him thanks for the gift with which He has enriched the Church and the world: the canonization of Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer, priest, and Founder of Opus Dei, carried out yesterday by our beloved Pope John Paul II.
Our gratitude is addressed also to the Holy Father himself, who has fulfilled the plans of the Blessed Trinity: while preparing ourselves to raise our prayers to heaven, we pray to the Lord for his person and intentions. We know that this prayer pleases Saint Josemaría, who loved the Vicar of Christ on earth with all his soul, to the point of never separating this love for the pope from the love he professed for Jesus Christ and his Blessed Mother. From the very moment that our Lord burst into his soul with the first intimations of Opus Dei, of which, at the time, he had no notion, he began to pray and to work in order to make a reality the prayer that sprang forth from his heart: Omnes cum Petro ad Iesum per Mariam! All with Peter to Jesus through Mary.
All the participants in this Holy Mass, and the countless souls united with us in spirit throughout the world, recognize joyfully our debt to this new saint whom God has granted the Church. Many of us have obtained graces and favors of all sorts through his intercession. Not a few of us strive to follow in his footsteps of fidelity to the Lord, trying to reproduce in our souls the spirit that he incarnated. Saint Josemaría has shown all of us—by his example and his teachings—a clear way of traveling the road of the Christian vocation, which has sanctity as its destination. For this reason, the canonization of the Founder of Opus Dei has the character of a feast—a feast of this great family of God, which is the Church. For all of this, we wish to give thanks to the Lord in this Eucharistic celebration.
2. Nearly forty years have passed since the Second Vatican Council proclaimed the universal call to holiness and apostolate (cf. Lumen Gentium, Ch. V), but there is still a long road to travel before this truth can be said to illuminate and guide the steps of the men and women of this world. The Roman Pontiff has recalled this explicitly in his Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, in which he proposed this doctrine as “the foundation of the pastoral program that concerns us at the beginning of the new millennium” (NMI 31).
Everyone in the Church, every shepherd and all of the faithful, are called to commit themselves personally to the daily struggle for personal holiness and to participate, personally as well, in the fulfillment of the mission which Christ has given us. If the 20th century has been the witness of the “rediscovery” of this universal call to holiness—it was contained in the Gospel from the beginning, and Saint Josemaría was constituted its herald by the personal, divine vocation he received (cf. Mass of Saint Josemaría Escrivá, Collect)—the century in which we are now living should be characterized by a more effective and extensive practice of this teaching. This is one of the great challenges that the Holy Spirit has placed before the men and women of our time.
Saint Josemaría endeavored to awaken this zeal for holiness in all souls. The fact that his canonization has taken place at the dawn of a new century is charged with meaning. His message resounds with special force in today’s world: “We have come to say, with the humility of those who know themselves to be sinners and of little worth—homo peccator sum (Luke 5:8), we say with Peter—but with the faith of those who allow themselves to be guided by the hand of God, that sanctity is not something for a privileged few. The Lord calls all of us. He expects Love from all of us—from everyone, wherever they are; from everyone, whatever their state in life, their profession or job. For the daily life we live, apparently so ordinary, can be a path to sanctity: it is not necessary to abandon one’s place in the world in order to search for God, if the Lord hasn’t given a soul a vocation to the religious life, because all the paths of the earth can be the occasion for an encounter with Christ” (Letter, March 24, 1930, no. 2).
3. In every moment—as the new saint was already saying in the 1930s (cf. The Way, no. 382)—one must look for Christ, find Him and love Him. Only if we strive daily to take these three steps will we arrive at full identification with Christ, becoming alter Christus, ipse Christus. “Perhaps you will say”—I address these words of Saint Josemaría to you now—“that you are still at the first step. Look for him, then, with hunger. If you make this effort, I can guarantee that you have already found him, and that you have begun to deal with him and love him, to hold your conversation in heaven” (cf. Phil 3:20) (Friends of God, no. 300).
We meet Jesus in prayer, in the Eucharist and in the other sacraments of the Church; but also in the faithful fulfillment of our family, professional and social duties. This is an arduous goal, which we only fully achieve when our earthly pilgrimage has finished. “But don’t lose sight of the fact that saints aren’t born: they are forged from the interplay of divine grace and human correspondence,” wrote Saint Josemaría in one of his homilies, adding: “That’s why I tell you that, if you want to be a coherent Christian, you have to take great care of the little details, because the sanctity that our Lord demands of you is reached by carrying out your work with love for God, fullfilling your everyday obligations, which are almost always made up of little things” (Ibid. , no. 7).
Sanctify your work. Sanctify yourself in your work. Sanctify others through your work. With these pithy phrases, the Founder of Opus Dei summed up the nucleus of the message that God had entrusted to him, in order to remind Christians of it. The effort to reach sanctity is inseparably united to the sanctification of one’s own work—carried out with human perfection and rectitude of intention, with a spirit of service—and to the sanctification of others. If one wants to follow the Lord, it is not possible to neglect one’s brothers and sisters, with their spiritual and material needs. “Our vocation as children of God, in the middle of the world, demands that we not seek our own personal sanctity alone, but rather that we travel along the pathways of the world, converting them into roads which, while passing through obstacles, lead other souls to the Lord; that we take part as ordinary citizens in all temporal activities, in order to be leaven (cf. Mt 13:33) which must cause the whole mass to rise (cf. 1 Cor 5:6)” (Christ Is Passing By, no. 120).
4. Divine providence arranged that the earthly life of Saint Josemaría should take place in the 20th century, a time that has seen enormous developments in science and technology, which have not always, unfortunately, been used for mankind’s benefit. It is necessary to recognize that, alongside admirable achievements of the human spirit, there abound in our times torrents of bitter water, which attempt in vain to quench the thirst for happiness in human hearts. Nevertheless, it is certain—as Bishop Alvaro del Portillo wrote—that, with the message of the new Saint, “all the professions, all the classes, all honest social settings have been moved by the Angels of God, like those waters in the Probatic pool that the Gospel speaks of (cf. Jn 5:2 ff), and have acquired healing strength” (Pastoral letter, September 30, 1975, no. 20).
Recalling Don Alvaro, the first successor of our Father, we feel his spiritual presence very keenly in these moments. With him, we can affirm, full of gratitude to God, that thanks to the teaching and spirit of the Founder of Opus Dei, “even from the driest and most unlikely stones have gushed torrents of medicinal water. Human work well done has become a cleansing liquid for the eyes, allowing one to discover God in all the circumstances of life, in all things. And this has occurred precisely in our times, when materialism strives to transform work into a mud that blinds men, and prevents them from looking at God” (Ibid. ).
I would like to greet all those who have come to Rome from English-speaking countries to attend the canonization of Saint Josemaría Escrivá. When you return home, bring back with you the teachings of the new saint and try to put them into practice. Ask Saint Josemaría to teach you to convert the prose of each day—your most ordinary occupations—into poetry, into heroic verse: into desires and deeds of holiness and apostolate.
I would remind those of you who come from French-speaking countries of the importance of collaborating in the apostolic mission of the Church, which is a duty of every Christian, endeavoring to impregnate arts and letters, science and technology, with the spirit of the Gospels. Seek the intercession of Saint Josemaría, putting into practice that ideal which God Himself engraved in his soul: placing Christ—through our work, whatever it may be—at the summit of all human activities.
Today the Church venerates the Blessed Virgin with the title of Our Lady of the Rosary. It gives me great joy to think that the canonization of our Father should have taken place on the eve of a feast of Holy Mary; this coincidence is one more sign of her affectionate motherly care. Let us have recourse to her maternal mediation, full of confidence, as we renew our thanksgiving to the Lord for this canonization. Deo omnis gloria! I say once again, as we ask that this desire for personal holiness and apostolate spread with ever greater force among all Christians.
As soon as Mass was over, the Pope arrived in the square by car and the audience with him began.
When the applause died down, the Prelate of Opus Dei, in the name of all present, extended to the Holy Father an affectionate greeting:
Ten years ago, in this very Square, my predecessor as Prelate of Opus Dei, Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, addressed to Your Holiness heartfelt words of gratitude after the beatification of Josemaría Escrivá. Today, it is my turn and my unmerited honor to express the joy and gratitude of the thousands of faithful and cooperators of the Prelature, and of the countless souls devoted to St. Josemaría Escrivá who, both in Rome and outside of Rome, have participated with jubilation in the canonization ceremony. Thank you, Holy Father.
The solemn recognition of the sanctity of this good and faithful servant, whom God Our Lord chose as a herald of the universal call to holiness and apostolate in the ordinary circumstances of life, is an invitation to all Catholics to meet God in the fulfillment of their own family, professional and social duties.
The canonization of Josemaría Escrivá is, without doubt, a gift for the whole world, because we will always be in need of intercessors before the throne of God. It also provides a new reason for confidence among the lay faithful, who see reaffirmed once more their high calling as God’s children in Jesus Christ, called to be perfect as their heavenly Father is perfect (cf. Mt 5:48), in the ordinary circumstances of life. As Your Holiness wrote in the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte: “Now is the time to propose once again to all, with conviction, this ‘high standard’ of the ordinary Christian life” (NMI 31). St. Josemaría Escrivá was ahead of his time, reminding us of the universal call to holiness and apostolate which the Second Vatican Council was to proclaim with such force. He not only spread this teaching throughout the world, reinforced by the example of his cheerful and persevering ascetical struggle, but also opened up within the Church, by God’s will, a way of sanctification “as old and as new as the Gospels,” another eloquent sign of God’s mercy toward men and an efficacious instrument in the service of the Church’s salvific mission.
Millions of people, Holy Father, are rejoicing today all over the world, both within and without the visible walls of the Church. Indeed, many non-Catholics and non-Christians admire Josemaría Escrivá and have recourse to his teachings as a source of inspiration for their own conduct and for their professional and social activity. These people too have received encouragement in their efforts to improve our world, beset by injustice and, at the same time, hungry for understanding and peace.
In the ten years that have passed since the beatification of Josemaría Escrivá, the apostolic activity of the faithful and cooperators of the Prelature of Opus Dei has grown in intensity and extension in many countries. Sustained by the grace of God, their activities on behalf of all souls, especially the neediest, have multiplied. On the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of the birth of St. Josemaría Escrivá, dozens of initiatives for personal and professional formation have begun in developing countries and in the poorer parts of large cities. These activities bear witness that the search for personal holiness— the union of the soul with God—is inseparable from the concern—shown with deeds—for the material and spiritual welfare of our brothers and sisters.
Before ending, I want to assure Your Holiness of the fervent prayers for the Holy Father and his intentions which the faithful and cooperators of Opus Dei throughout the world are continually raising to heaven. I entrust these prayers to the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom we honor especially today with the title of Our Lady of the Rosary. Enriched by her maternal intercession before Jesus, these prayers will assist Your Holiness in the joyous fulfillment of the mission of Supreme Pastor.
Holy Father, permit me to thank you once again, with all my heart. As we prepare to receive and meditate upon your words, and to congratulate you, in the name of all, on the upcoming anniversary of your election as Peter’s Successor, I ask of you—on behalf of the faithful and cooperators of the Prelature of Opus Dei, and the countless souls devoted to St. Josemaría, and for myself—the strengthening grace of your Apostolic Blessing
The Pope responded with the following words:
My dear brothers and sisters:
1. I am happy to greet you cordially, the day after the canonization of the Bl. Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer. I thank Archbishop Javier Echevarría, Prelate of Opus Dei, for his expression of gratitude on your behalf. With affection I greet the many Cardinals, Bishops and priests who have wanted to take part in this celebration.
This festive gathering brings together a great variety of faithful from many countries belonging to very different social and cultural backgrounds: priests and lay people, men and women, young and old, intellectuals and blue collar workers. This is a sign of the apostolic zeal that burned in the soul of St. Josemaría.
2. In the Founder of Opus Dei, there is an extraordinary love for the will of God. There exists a sure criterion of holiness: fidelity in accomplishing the divine will down to the last consequences. For each of us the Lord has a plan, to each he entrusts a mission on earth. The saint could not even conceive of himself outside of God’s plan. He lived only to achieve it.
St. Josemaría was chosen by the Lord to announce the universal call to holiness and to point out that daily life and ordinary activities are a path to holiness. One could say that he was the saint of ordinary life. In fact, he was convinced that for those who live with a perspective of faith, everything is an opportunity to meet God, everything can be an incentive for prayer. Seen in this light, daily life reveals an unexpected greatness. Holiness is truly within everyone’s reach.
3. St. Escrivá was a very human saint. All those who met him, whatever their culture or social status, felt he was a father, totally devoted to serving others, for he was convinced that every soul is a marvellous treasure; indeed, every person is worth all of Christ’s Blood. This attitude of service is obvious in his dedication to his priestly ministry and in the magnanimity with which he launched so many works of evangelization and human advancement for the poorest persons.
The Lord gave him a profound understanding of the gift of our divine sonship. He taught him to contemplate the tender face of a Father in the God who speaks to us through the most varied events of life. A Father who loves us, who follows us step by step, who protects us, understands us and awaits from each of us a response of love. The consideration of this fatherly presence which accompanies the Christian everywhere gives him steadfast confidence; he must trust in the heavenly Father at every moment. He should never feel lonely or frightened. When the Cross appears, he should not see it as a punishment, but a mission entrusted by the Lord himself. The Christian is necessarily optimistic, because he knows he is a son of God in Christ.
4. St. Josemaría was profoundly convinced that the Christian life entails a mission and an apostolate: we are in the world to save it with Christ. He loved the world passionately, with a “redemptive love” (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 604). Precisely for this reason his teachings have helped so many ordinary members of the faithful to discover the redemptive power of faith, its capacity to transform the earth.
This is a message that has abundant and fruitful implications for the evangelizing mission of the Church. It fosters the Christianization of the world “from within,” showing there can be no conflict between divine law and the demands of genuine human progress. This saintly priest taught that Christ must be the apex of all human activity (cf. Jn 12:32).
His message impels the Christian to act in places where the future of society is being shaped. From the laity’s active presence in all the professions and at the most advanced frontiers of development, there can only come a positive contribution to the strengthening of that harmony between faith and culture which is one of the greatest needs of our time.
5. St. Josemaría Escrivá spent his life for the service of the Church. In his writings, priests and lay people, men and women religious who follow the most varied paths, find a stimulating source of inspiration. Dear brothers and sisters, in imitating him with openness of spirit and heart, with a readiness to serve the local Churches, you contribute to strengthening the “spirituality of communion” which my Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte points out as one of the most important goals of our time (cf. nos. 42-45).
I welcome the chance to mention today’s liturgical feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. St. Josemaría wrote a beautiful small book called Holy Rosary, which presents spiritual childhood, a real disposition of spirit of those who wish to attain total abandonment to the divine will. I heartily entrust all of you, with your families and your apostolate, to the motherly protection of Mary and I thank you for your presence.
6 I once again thank everyone present, especially those who have come from afar. Dear brothers and sisters, I invite you to take a visible witness of faith everywhere, in accord with the example and teaching of your holy Founder. I accompany you with my prayer and I warmly bless you, your families and your activities.
Some of the faithful then had the opportunity to approach the altar to greet the Pope. Among them was Doctor Manuel Nevado Rey, whose miraculous cure from chronic radiodermititis through the new saint’s intercession had opened the way to his canonization.
That same day, His Beatitude Patriarch Teoctist of the Rumanian Orthodox Church was beginning a visit to Rome. The Pope received him in St. Peter’s square at the end of the audience. The hundreds of thousands of faithful present in the square responded to the address by Patriarch Teoctist with frequent applause, thus expressing their desire that the day might soon come for achieving full unity among all Christians.
In the afternoon, many people went to the Basilica of St. Eugene to pray before the sacred remains of Saint Josemaria. A photographic exposition on his life and message had been set up in the church patio.
Romana, No. 35, July-December 2002, p. 208-217.