At the Mass in suffrage for Bishop Álvaro del Portillo, Gymnasium of the University of Navarra, Spain (March 23, 2009)
At the Mass for Bishop
Álvaro del Portillo,
University of Navarra
My dear brothers and sisters,
my dear sons and daughters:
I am very grateful to our Lord for having allowed me to celebrate this Eucharistic Sacrifice on the 15th anniversary of the holy death of my beloved predecessor Bishop Álvaro del Portillo. Perfectly engraved on my memory is the last earthly dialogue of Don Álvaro with the Blessed Trinity, fulfilling the verse of a Psalm he had so often recited and savored: Ego autem in te speravi, Domine; dixi: Deus meus es tu, in manibus tuis sortes meae. “I trust in thee, O Lord, I say, ‘Thou art my God.’ My times are in thy hand.” With his characteristic peace and serenity, he surrendered his soul to our Lord, putting his whole life in God’s hands, filled with joy because the moment had come to receive the eternal embrace promised to those who follow Him.
Don Álvaro greatly loved this land of Navarra; he loved the people of this land and, as is only logical, he loved the University of Navarra in a special way. We know that, through the communion of saints, good friendships, noble loves, are not undone when someone departs for heaven. The affection and concern, both supernatural and human, that Don Álvaro had for this land and for this university has not ceased. From heaven he is urging us to live our Christian lives with greater effort, and he is commending us forcefully to God, who received while he was alive his humble but powerful prayer, grounded on his great trust in God. It is only natural that we go to his intercession now so that he will help us to be good daughters and sons of God.
We are in the fourth week of Lent, named after the first word from Sunday’s liturgy: laetare. This week is not a pause in this time of conversion. It is a reminder that we should be joyful amid this change, this encounter with God that comes from striving to offer him more fully our conduct as Christians. The Church wants us to prepare for the Easter Triduum, for the central mysteries of our Lord’s passion, death and resurrection, which open up for us the path, as we heard in the second reading, for coming to realize that we are truly God’s children and for behaving as such. God has willed Christ’s passion, death and resurrection for each one of us, so that we would come to know the extent of his love.
The liturgy for this Tuesday of the Fourth week of Lent and the liturgical readings help us to focus on the three fundamental points that the Church recommends to us in order to prepare to meet Christ on the Cross.
Specifically the Church asks us to put special care into prayer, fasting and alms-giving. In other words, to strive to be detached from ourselves in order to let Christ reign in our life, in our soul. The Pope has also asked us for this. I want to take advantage of this occasion to make this request: that from this Eucharist a forceful clamor may rise up to heaven for the Pope’s intentions, who is giving himself so willingly for all humanity. Let us accompany him as good sons and daughters. We will not be good children of the Church if we are not personally and intimately united to the successor of Peter, to the Vicar of Christ. Let us truly be able to offer him, as St. Josemaría wished, the joy of our affection and the support of our prayer and expiation.
We have read marvelous texts in this Eucharist, and also in the Eucharist celebrated this morning. This morning we heard how the prophet Isaiah could not restrain his joy in announcing to us that the Saviour is going to prepare a new heaven and a new earth for us. How close our Lord wants to be to us! The Gospel narrates how Christ followed the centurion to cure his sick servant. How closely Christ follows us, my children, how closely he follows us! He is constantly protecting us with his shadow, helping us with his grace, urging us forward with his joy.
In the Mass that we are now celebrating we have heard the words of Job, who assures us that each of us can write our own life in the book of heaven. With characters of gold; more than of gold, with divine characters, because God gives us his grace so that our life can have all the supernatural importance it should have. God is always interested in you and in me. He never abandons us or leaves us unprotected.
The three points that the Church reminds us of for Lent refer to the life of the soul, the principal life, which rules the life of the body, the physical life. Prayer, fasting and alms-giving are not merely external acts that we need. Prayer, expiation and fasting have a much deeper meaning: the decision to rise above our own ego, as I said earlier, in order to identify ourselves more fully with Christ, the only model for every man and woman.
We can reject Christ, we can ignore Christ, but that would mean rejecting ourselves, ignoring ourselves, forgetting the reality that we are God’s children, which St. Paul’s words recalled to us. So let us follow Christ, let us be close to Christ, let us turn constantly to Christ.
The Church counsels us not to preach a eulogy for the person remembered in the Mass for the dead until that person has been beatified. Today we ask the Blessed Trinity to increase the glory of our beloved Don Alvaro, so that he may contemplate the Trinity from very close up. Therefore we want to consider how he strove to practice prayer, fasting and alms-giving in his own life.
Some words from Scripture that refer specifically to alms-giving deeply moved St. Josemaría: hilarem enim datorem diligit Deus. “God loves a cheerful giver.” God does not need my contribution, but at the same thing he wants to need our correspondence, our self-giving as Christians, so that we may enter into his friendship and share it with many other people, with everyone we can.
Don Álvaro was always a “hilarem datorem,” a giver filled with joy and generosity. He was never calculating. He gave all that he had to God, and through God, to everyone he met. St. Josemaría often used to say that “those who spend their years on earth with the joy of knowing they are God’s children will also be happy in heaven.” I think that the smile and the peace that this good servant of God Don Álvaro transmitted, and that can also be seen in his photographs, shows that the joy of his divine filiation ruled all his actions. It was not just a feature of his character; he cultivated that joy, which became so strong because he sought God each day, and because he transmitted to others the reality that we are very close to God.
How did Don Álvaro strive to stay close to God?
Restricting ourselves to the three points which the Church invites us to put special care into during Lent, I repeat that he was very diligent in prayer. He nourished his prayer with a deep Eucharistic life and also by going frequently to the sacrament of Confession. He put great love into his encounters with the Blessed Sacrament, and went to the sacrament of pardon punctually. He endeavored with his life to open up these fundamental paths, the Eucharist and Confession, to souls, insisting that we had to get closer to our Lord. Thanks to his conduct and his words, many men and women returned to or grew in the joy of living their faith.
He was very diligent in fasting, in expiation, which is an essential source of authentic love. Don Alvaro knew how to love and to make himself loved in order to draw souls to God, going out to meet them from a very young age. Right from his youth God flooded him with a zeal for souls that he could barely contain. This way of acting stemmed from his recognition that true friendship entails generous and self-sacrificing service, always striving to do more. So many people recall Don Alvaro’s love for them. We ourselves have to learn from him, to remember each day that charity, supernatural and human affection, flows from the cross and passes through the cross, in both its great and small manifestations. Don Alvaro was a good friend, an exemplary friend, who never left his neighbor unassisted.
And finally he was generous in alms-giving, following in the footsteps of Christ. Christ himself assisted those around him quickly and cheerfully, with self-detachment. And he taught us that concern for the poor, for the needy, also in the spiritual sense, was not satisfied by some coins, whether few or many, of base metal or gold. We have to give our time, our human and intellectual abilities, our availability. And always without seeking recompense, without expecting to be paid back.
Don Alvaro welcomed this message of Christ, an evangelical message, which makes each man or woman more like God. This servant of God incorporated into his life the attitude of always trying to learn, in order to give himself more fully to God and others, without allowing the slightest fissure to open up between God and himself, or between others and himself. I think that his life can be summed up by an aspiration he himself used, as a fruit of his prayer: “Thank you Lord, forgive me, help me more.” By praying it, he was giving thanks to God, and thanks to other men and women; he was asking God for forgiveness, and for forgiveness from other men and women; and he was asking for more help from God, and for more help from other men and women.
To attain these goals he was always very Marian. In addressing Mary he recalled a prayer that his mother taught him when he was quite young. I won’t repeat it word for word since I don’t remember it exactly, but it said more or less: “My sweet mother, don’t leave me / don’t take your eyes off me; / come with me everywhere,/ and since we love each other so much, / have the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit bless us.”
With Don Álvaro’s help let us put ourselves in the hands of Mary, and tell her to accompany us always so that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit may bless us. May God bless you.
Romana, No. 48, January-June 2009, p. 67-70.