At the Mass for the eternal repose of Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, Basilica of St. Eugene, Rome (March 23, 2001)
My dear brothers and sisters:
1. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. In the language of the Gospel, the verb “to know” is very rich in meaning; it encompasses much more than a conceptual knowledge of God, no matter how profound. “To know” God implies, above all, the complete adhesion of the human person—intellect, will and heart; soul and body; spiritual faculties and senses—to our heavenly Father, the beginning and end of our existence. And since we cannot attain this participation in God’s life by ourselves alone, the Father has sent his eternal Word into the world. This is what we confess in the Creed: for us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven... and became man. Jesus became incarnate in the virginal womb of Mary through the action of the Holy Spirit. He lived among us, died, rose and ascended into heaven, in order to send us the Paraclete so that we might live in communion with the Blessed Trinity.
This is eternal life, Jesus also taught, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent. Today, as we offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in suffrage for Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, on the seventh anniversary of his dies natalis, these words of our Lord reinforce in us the intimate and sure hope that Don Alvaro, through the mercy of God who has rewarded his holy life, enjoys the vision of God’s face. Let us make our own, then, the words of the entrance hymn: Beatus quem elegisti et assumpsisti: inhabitat in atriis tuis. Blessed is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts!
2. In his Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, Pope John Paul II sketches out the great pastoral task of the Church at the beginning of the new century. After pointing out the positive and negative aspects of contemporary society, he concludes, with the light of faith, that only by following Christ, the Savior of the world, can we gain the intimate and definitive union with God that we call “eternal life,” to which every human being aspires. “We shall not be saved by a formula but by a Person, and the assurance that he gives us: I am with you!” From here, the Pope continues, stems our absolute need, today and always, to begin again from Christ.
Fifteen years have passed since the Holy Father pointed out the characteristics of the evangelizers the modern world is waiting for. “There is a need for heralds of the Gospel who are experts in humanity, who have a profound knowledge of the heart of present-day man, sharing his joys and hopes, his anguish and sadness, and who are also contemplative souls, in love with God. Thus what we need are new saints. The saints were the great evangelizers of Europe. Let us beseech our Lord to increase the spirit of holiness in his Church and send us new saints to evangelize today’s world.”
These words could serve as a portrait of the first successor of Blessed Josemaria Escriva at the head of Opus Dei. This shouldn’t surprise us, since it is in the forge of saints that other saints are formed. Without anticipating the judgment of the Church, whose task it is to verify the heroic Christian virtues of the Servant of God, those familiar with Bishop Alvaro del Portillo’s life will readily recognize in the figure of this exemplary priest and bishop, an example of the holiness the Pope sees as so essential for our day and age.
In the course of his long and fruitful life, my unforgettable predecessor was indeed an expert in humanity. Those who came into contact with him, even if only briefly, were drawn by his goodness. Everyone who approached him felt immediately understood, encouraged, and loved. Bishop del Portillo shared fully in the joys and hopes of the men and women of his time. First, as a lay person in Opus Dei, later as a priest, at the Founder’s side for many years, and finally as Prelate and Bishop, he had a deep concern for all the problems of humanity. He followed very closely present-day concerns, which led him to pray and mortify himself, and to give impetus to apostolic initiatives aimed at bettering the spiritual and material well-being of people all over the world. I cannot fail to recall, for example, how he encouraged the faithful and cooperators of Opus Dei during his pastoral trips to seek out ways and means to promote apostolic works for technical and professional formation, closely linked to spiritual formation (which was the principal aim of Don Alvaro in all his projects), especially among those with fewer material resources. Thus thousands of people from all walks of life have benefited from the apostolic impetus of this generous priest.
All of this was made possible by Bishop del Portillo’s eager search, right from his youth, for the sanctity to which the Divine Master calls everyone. It was precisely his passion for God and the concerns of God that nourished his hunger to serve mankind. Deeply aware of being a son of God, Don Alvaro let himself be guided by the Holy Spirit (as we have just read in the letter to the Romans), becoming truly a person in love, a contemplative in the midst of the world.
3. This is the teaching I would like to stress as we commemorate this exemplary priest and bishop, beloved by all of us. We too, in the specific circumstances of our life, can and must seriously aspire to be saints. Pope John Paul II, in the apostolic letter cited above, lists the Church’s pastoral priorities for the new century: prayer, assiduous participation in the Eucharist and the sacrament of penance, complete trust in divine grace, meditating on and preaching the Word of God.... All of this, the Pope states, stems from the fact that “all pastoral initiatives must be set in relation to holiness.” And he continues: “To place pastoral planning under the heading of holiness is a choice filled with consequences. It implies the conviction that, since Baptism is a true entry into the holiness of God through incorporation into Christ and the indwelling of his Spirit, it would be a contradiction to settle for a life of mediocrity, marked by a minimalist ethic and a shallow religiosity....
“As the Council itself explained, this ideal of perfection must not be misunderstood as if it involved some kind of extraordinary existence, possible only for a few ‘uncommon heroes’ of holiness. The paths of holiness are many, according to the vocation of each individual....The time has come to re-propose wholeheartedly to everyone this high standard of ordinary Christian living: the whole life of the Christian community and of Christian families must lead in this direction.”
I would like to end by reading from a pastoral letter Bishop del Portillo wrote in 1985, to second the Roman Pontiff’s initiatives for a new evangelization: “Increase then, my daughters and sons, your union with our Lord, which is the only guarantee of success in apostolic work. He has overcome the world (see Jn 16:33), and we will share in his triumph if we truly cultivate a strong piety, nourished by the study of doctrine; if our prayer is practical, leading to generous sacrifice and the example of our integral behavior, with a unity of life; if we keep striving each day to live in God’s presence. Don’t forget,” he concluded, citing Blessed Josemaria: “that ‘the further away your surroundings may be from Christ’s truth, the more immersed you must be in God, with our inner fire and our apostolic fervor. Thus we will be light, a shining lantern, enkindled on the crossroads of this earth.’”
I advise you to meditate attentively on these ideals, which are within our grasp because Bishop Del Portillo is praying for us. Have trusting recourse to his protection.
We beseech our Lady to intercede for us before her divine Son, so that our sincere desire to be saints may lead us to a deeper conversion in these weeks of Lent that still remain before Easter: the first Easter of the new millennium. Amen.
Romana, n. 32, January-June 2001, p. 50-52.