On the Feast of St. Josemaria, Basilica of St. Eugene (June 25, 2005)
On the Feast of St. Josemaría, Basilica of St. Eugene, Rome
Dear brothers and sisters:
1. Once more we are joyfully celebrating the liturgical feast of St. Josemaría Escrivá, moved forward this year to June 25 because tomorrow is Sunday. This permits us to commemorate the Founder of Opus Dei on the same day as the anniversary of the priestly ordination of my beloved predecessor, Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, and of two other sons of our Father, who back in 1944 were the first to receive the priesthood in Opus Dei. Thus began a long chain of “ministers of Christ and dispensers of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor 4:1), at the service of the Church and of souls. In reality the first link in that chain is precisely St. Josemaría, who is now firmly anchored to our Lord for all eternity, and who from heaven continues interceding for all of us. I invite you therefore to give thanks to the Blessed Trinity for the gift of the priesthood to the Church and to pray that there be many priestly vocations throughout the whole world.
Tomorrow is also the thirtieth anniversary of the dies natalis of St. Josemaría. To us, creatures immersed in time, thirty years might seem a long time, but they are nothing if compared with the eternity the saints are enjoying.
Today’s feast is highlighted by the fact that we are now in the midst of the Year of the Eucharist, the last great pastoral initiative of the servant of God John Paul II. The memory of his passage to his Father’s house, which so deeply moved the world two months ago, is still very fresh for us. The Pope viewed this Eucharistic Year, in a certain sense, as the culmination of his Pontificate, which began with the desire to place Christ at the center of the cosmos and history (we can recall here his first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis). His Pontificate ended in Easter week, precisely in the heart of the year dedicated to adoring with greater ardor Jesus Christ truly present in the Blessed Sacrament.
I remind you of his words in the apostolic letter Mane Nobiscum: “The Year of the Eucharist takes place against a background which has been enriched by the passage of the years, while remaining ever rooted in the theme of Christ and the contemplation of his face. In a certain sense,” John Paul II continued, “it is meant to be a year of synthesis, the high-point of a journey in progress” (Apostolic letter, Mane Nobiscum, October 7, 2004, no. 10). On rereading these words, it is clear that John Paul II wanted to leave us as a legacy the exhortation to love the Blessed Eucharist with greater generosity.
I would like to mention here that within a few weeks, God willing, in August, I will celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of my priestly ordination. Help me to prepare well for this anniversary. I give deep thanks to our Lord for granting me, nearly a half century ago, the opportunity to make him present every day on the altar. And I ask pardon for my faults. I will be very grateful to you, if you help me.
2. There are many reasons, then, for making the Eucharist the focal point for our prayer today. The liturgy of the Mass itself spurs us to do so. Echoing some of the teachings of the Founder of Opus Dei, it invites us to pray: “Accept, Father, these gifts we offer in memory of Saint Josemaría, and through this sacramental renewal of the sacrifice of the Cross graciously sanctify all our works” (Mass of St. Josemaría, Prayer over the gifts).
God called St. Josemaría to be the herald and teacher of the universal call to sanctity. The Founder of Opus Dei taught that in the family, in one’s profession, in the most diverse secular activities—nel bel mezzo della strada, as he used to say—each of us must strive to uncover the divine lights that shine in even the most ordinary activities when carried out with Christ and in Christ. This is the material of our sanctification, which is made possible thanks to the sacrifice of Christ. If we bring to Holy Mass our daily duties, together with the bread and wine that are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ, we will be able to respond to the call to seek Christian perfection in the ordinary situations of life, directing them to our heavenly Father (cf. Mt 5:48).
Unfortunately, for centuries this idea of sanctity was not held by many Catholics. Benedict XVI alluded to this while still Cardinal Ratzinger. Referring to the canonization of St. Josemaría, he wrote: “Knowing a little about the history of the saints, and realizing that in the canonization process one looks for ‘heroic’ virtue, we almost inevitably have a mistaken idea of holiness. We feel tempted to say: ‘It is not for me, because I don’t feel myself capable of carrying out heroic virtues: this is too high an ideal for me.’ Sanctity then becomes something reserved for a few ‘great figures,’ whose images we see on the altars, and who were very different from us ordinary sinners. But this is a mistaken notion of sanctity, a wrong perception which has been corrected—and this seems to me the central point—precisely by Josemaría Escrivá” (“Letting God Work,” in L’Osservatore Romano, October 6, 2002).
Today countless persons—pastors of the Church, spiritual writers, theologians, men of science, ordinary faithful—are giving thanks to God for having awakened in their souls, using St. Josemaría as his docile instrument, the desire to attain sanctity in their everyday life. We too give thanks today because St. Josemaría taught us to seek God with simplicity in the ordinary, normal situations of our daily life. I cite some other words of then Cardinal Ratzinger, where he points out that this is “a message of the greatest importance. It is a message that brings one to overcome what can be considered the great temptation of our times: the idea that after the ‘big bang’ God retired from history. The action of God did not ‘stop’ at the moment of the ‘big bang,’ but rather continues through time, both in the world of nature and in the world of man” (Ibid.).
3. The Eucharist is the “place” where God makes himself present with the greatest intensity in the course of history, from the very moment of its institution at the Last Supper. This is so because under the veil of the Eucharistic Species, the whole Jesus is present, with his Humanity and his Divinity.
The Eucharist is an admirable synthesis of our faith. Making truly present the mystery of our Lord’s death and resurrection, it contains under the appearances of bread and wine the same Jesus who was born of the Virgin Mary, who worked for thirty years in Nazareth, who preached and carried out miracles, who founded the Church, who suffered under Pontius Pilate, who died and rose on the third day, who ascended into heaven, who will come to judge the living and the dead in order to definitively establish his kingdom.
My dear sisters and brothers, how ardently we need to thank God for having entrusted this great mystery to his Church! In the words of St. Josemaría, “we have to especially thank our Lord for having instituted the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, by which he has remained among us. It is something marvelous. He had to leave but he wanted to remain with us. And since he is all-powerful, he carried out this great miracle of love. We can’t do everything we would like to; our power isn’t great enough, but our Lord is able to do so. He went to heaven and, at the same time, he has remained hidden under the species of bread and wine.
“There are three things we have to thank him for in a special way: the institution of this sacrament, its perpetuation through the words of consecration recited by the priest, and its administration. These are three marvelous manifestations of the goodness of God, who accommodates himself to the needs of our nature. I always think of the love of a good mother who cares for her little child; she washes it, perfumes it and afterwards smothers it with kisses and says: ‘I’m going to eat you up!’ Our Lord has said this to us also: ‘Take and eat me!’ He couldn’t be more human.
“But we don’t make God our Lord human when we receive him. It is he who divinizes us, exalts us, raises us” (Notes taken from a conversation, April 4, 1969).
St. Josemaría lived by the Eucharist and for the Eucharist. He dedicated all possible care to the Most Blessed Sacrament as a proof of love and a sign of gratitude. Let us listen once more to Benedict XVI, before he became the successor of Peter, referring still to St. Josemaría: “He loved and proclaimed the Eucharist in all its dimensions: as adoration of God present among us in a hidden but real way; as a gift, in which he communicates himself to us again and again; as a sacrifice, in accordance with those words of Scripture: ‘Sacrifices and offerings thou hast not desired, but a body hast thou prepared for me’ [Heb 10:5]” (homily during a Mass of Thanksgiving for the beatification of Josemaría Escrivá, May 19, 1992).
St. Josemaría was moved, for example, by the closeness of Jesus in the Sacred Host, who awaits us in our churches. “When you approach the Tabernacle remember that he has been awaiting you for twenty centuries” (The Way, no. 537). This is an ever-present truth that should move each of us. How has our personal contact with Jesus in the Eucharist grown during this year dedicated to the Eucharist? How do we love and frequent the sacrament of Penance, necessary to receive the Eucharist worthily when one has gravely offended God and to prepare a less unworthy dwelling place for him. I invite you to consider these questions personally, so that we can answer them with sincerity, with generosity. Let us take the opportune decisions to grow in intimacy with Jesus in those moments dedicated to prayer, when we assist at Holy Mass and when we receive him in Communion.
The Most Holy Virgin is our mother. The task of all mothers is to feed and educate their children. Let us ask her to help us always, like a good Mother, to receive this Bread of Heaven with greater care each day, with greater gratitude, with a love that never ceases to grow. Amen
Romana, No. 40, January-June 2005, p. 65-68.