On the Solemnity of St. Josemaria, Basilica of St. Eugene, Rome (June 26, 2004)

On the solemnity of Saint Josemaria,

Basilica of St. Eugene

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. A few days ago, in the Liturgy of the Hours, we priests meditated once again on the choice God made of David as King of Israel.[1] The description of the scene is simple and clear. The sacred text says that David was a boy of pleasant aspect, and looked a very good person. When the prophet Samuel saw him he was somewhat perplexed, but the Lord told him to have no fear, for this was the chosen man.

This passage from sacred scripture brought to my mind the outstanding figure of Saint Josemaría Escrivá, who was called by God when he was fifteen or sixteen for a disproportionate mission. He was chosen, as the Collect of the Mass puts it, to “proclaim the universal call to sanctity and apostolate”. Think what a marvelous thing that is: all the men and women living in the middle of the world are called to make their lives into an epic of holiness.

In the years which have gone by since his dies natalis, the day of his departure for Heaven, our beloved Father’s stature has only increased. He is now known in very many countries and invoked by millions of people throughout the world, who see him not only as an intercessor to have recourse to in all sorts of different needs, but also as a teacher of the spiritual life and an example to follow.

It made us very happy to read some words about Opus Dei and its founder in Pope John Paul II’s recent book, which has the evocative title Alzatevi, andiamo! (“Get up, let us go!”). Among other things the Pope thanks God for having had the joy of adding Josemaría Escrivá, “a zealous priest, an apostle of the laity for these new times”[2] to the canon of the Saints. Let us too thank the Blessed Trinity for the gifts granted by God to the world through our Father, and let us make the resolution to have recourse to his intercession with ever greater trust, to learn from his teachings and put them into practise following his own shining example.

These are the basic points that today’s liturgy invites us to consider. In the Preface of the Mass the Church expresses her joy at celebrating the feast of a holy Pastor (today, the feast of Saint Josemaría), and sums up the reasons for rejoicing as follows: “You inspire us by his holy life, instruct us by his preaching, and give us your protection in answer to his prayers.” We can reflect briefly on these three aspects.

2. You inspire us by his holy life. How often Saint Josemaría stressed the fact that apostolate always begins with good example! He had learnt this in the Gospel, as he meditated on the life of our Lord, who, as the Acts of the Apostles tells us, before enlightening people with his teachings, taught them by his example: cœpit Iesus facere et docere, Jesus began to do and to teach” (Acts 1:1). That is what Saint Josemaría did too. He never taught anything which he himself had not first tried to reproduce, with the help of God’s grace and his personal efforts, in his own life. That is why people find him and his message so attractive. His proposal for “holiness through daily work and the ordinary duties of a Christian”, as we are reminded at the end of the Prayer of the Faithful, is not merely a theory but a very definite reality, verified by his spiritual struggle to identify himself with Christ, imitating the divine Teacher especially in his years in Nazareth.

If it is always important to set a good example, it is especially so in our times. As Pope John Paul II reminds us, “People today put more trust in witnesses than in teachers, in experience than in teaching, and in life and action than in theories. The witness of a Christian life is the first and irreplaceable form of mission: Christ, whose mission we continue, is the ‘witness’ par excellence (Rv 1:5; 3:14) and the model of all Christian witness.”[3]

Dear brothers and sisters, these words offer us a first opportunity for self-examination and meditation. I invite you to ask yourselves, in the silence of your hearts, “Am I a credible witness of Christ in the middle of the world? Do I really make the effort to live up to my faith in every circumstance? Can those who observe the way I behave in my family, social life or workplace, see in me a reflection of Christ?”

Only if our lives are modeled on the example of Jesus will we be in a position to bring others to our Lord. “How will we show him to souls?” asked Saint Josemaría. “By our example. Through our voluntary service of Jesus Christ, we should be witnesses to him in all our activities, for he is the Lord of our entire lives, the only and ultimate reason for our existence. Then, once we have given this witness of service, we will be able to give instruction by our word. That was how Christ acted. ‘He began to do and to teach’ (Acts 1:1) he first taught by his action, and then by his divine preaching.”[4]

3. And so we come to another characteristic feature of Saint Josemaría’s life. The Lord made use of him and will continue to make use of his teaching, preached untiringly in words too, to make Christians aware that we are all called to holiness. As the Preface of the Mass says, You instruct us by his preaching. Because it is not enough to behave in an exemplary way: we also need to speak about God, to make him known to others through our words. “Dumb witnesses are no use at all,” exclaimed the founder of Opus Dei.

Saint Josemaría preached extensively, with frequent journeys which took him to many different countries in Europe and Central and South America to speak about God, in a real apostolic marathon. Driven by his love for God and souls, he spoke about the rationale of the Christian faith to huge multitudes and small groups, exhorting them to be faithful.

His message was addressed to all Christians, and also to all men and women of good will. Everyone who approached him received a powerful spiritual stimulus. He had encouraging words for all, like those we read in one of his homilies: “The Christian apostolate […] is a great work of teaching. Through real, personal, loyal friendship, you create in others a hunger for God and you help them to discover new horizons — naturally, simply. With the example of your faith lived to the full, with a loving word which is full of the force of divine truth.”[5]

Now, in the twenty-first century, we can see how people hunger and thirst for God, like those crowds we read about in the Gospel, who pressed around Jesus to hear the word of God (cf. Lk 5:1). And how can they hear it today if we Christians do not proclaim it with our example and our words? Nobody can absolve themselves from this duty, no matter what their personal limitations may be. Because we don’t do it by virtue of our own eloquence or merits, which we don’t have, but by virtue of a definite command from our Lord. “‘Proclaim the Good News... I shall be with you...’ It is Jesus who has said this... and he has said it to you.”[6] Let us aim first and foremost to help many people to go to the Sacraments regularly: the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and Holy Communion. Let us teach them how to pray. The Bread and the Word, the Eucharist and prayer, are the essential food for every soul.

Let’s make a specific resolution as the fruit of today’s celebration, entrusting our petitions to Saint Josemaría. But let’s appeal to him with faith, persistently, in the conviction that — and I quote the Preface of the Mass again — in answer to his prayers, God protects us and the whole Church. Like a good son, Saint Josemaría will deposit our petitions in our Lady’s hands. And so, as Bishop Alvaro del Portillo liked to say, perfumed by our Lady’s hands, our prayers will unfailingly arrive in God’s presence, and he will hear them. Amen.

[1] Cf. 1 Sam 16:1-13

[2] John Paul II, Alzatevi, andiamo! (Mondadori, 2004), p.93

[3] John Paul II, Encyclical Redemptoris Missio, 7 December 1990, 42; cf. Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, 8 December 1975, 41

[4] Saint Josemaría, Christ is Passing By, 182

[5] Saint Josemaría, Christ is Passing By, 149

[6] Saint Josemaría, The Way, 904

Romana, n. 38, January-June 2004, p. 45-48.

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