October 8 and 9. Thanksgiving Masses

October 8 and 9. Thanksgiving Masses

On the 8th and 9th, there were 27 Masses of thanksgiving in basilicas and churches throughout Rome, celebrated in 18 different languages: Arabic, Chinese, Czech, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Latin, Lithuanian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, and Swedish. In many cases the celebrants were cardinals and bishops. In their homilies they expressed their joy at the elevation of Saint Josemaría Escrivá to the altars and stressed the universality of his message.

The Church of Trinità dei Monti was the scene of a thanksgiving Mass in the Maronite rite concelebrated by Archbishop Paul Youssef Matar of Beirut and Archbishop Bechara Rai of Byblos. At the end of the Mass, Cardinal Ignace Moussa I Daoud, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, delivered some words to the faithful. He made reference to an incident in Saint Josemaría’s life that gave him joy when he learned of it and which is now a special honor for him: “I was surprised to learn that Josemaría’s first Roman domicile was the top floor of an apartment building situated on the Piazza del Città Leonina, precisely the apartment where I am now living. This is a happy coincidence which imposes a serious obligation on me.” Then he went on to explain in broad terms the development of the work of the Opus Dei Prelature in Lebanon. “May Opus Dei be an element of hope in Lebanon!” he exclaimed at one point.

Some two hundred faithful who had come to Rome from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan participated in the Mass celebrated by Archbishop Joseph Ti-Kang of Taipei, in the church of San Girolamo della Carità. Archbishop Ti-Kang gave a brief summary of the life of the new saint. He emphasized that “the Far East had been in his heart since his youth,” and also pointed out that “in the spirit of Saint Josemaría there are two aspects which are closely related to the culture of China, sanctification of family life and sanctification of work.”

The Eucharistic thanksgiving for the Japanese-speaking faithful took place in the same church, presided over by Bishop Takaaki Hirayama of Oita, who noted in his homily that the message preached by Saint Josemaría on the need to sanctify ordinary life can help the Japanese to give meaning to their work, which is such an important reality in their scale of values. “Saint Josemaría, whom so many call Father,” said Bishop Hirayama, “used to stress that the parents’ job begins before their children are born and continues throughout their entire life, and even when they reach heaven. We have to ask Saint Josemaría that, like a good father, he intercede for us.”

A Mass of thanksgiving in Dutch was held in the Basilica of St. Apollinare. The celebrant was Msgr. Willem Schnell, Regional Vicar of Opus Dei in the Netherlands. Archbishop François Bacqué, the Papal Nuncio, gave a few words of exhortation at the beginning of the ceremony.

More than nine thousand people took part in the concelebration presided over by Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco, Archbishop of Madrid, in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. It was held for people who had come from Spain for the canonization. Concelebrating were a number of archbishops and bishops, among them the Archbishop of Toledo and primate of Spain, Cardinal Francisco Alvarez Martinez, and almost one hundred priests. In his homily Cardinal Rouco noted that Saint Josemaría was a Spanish priest with a universal outlook.

Another Mass in Spanish was held in the Basilica of St. Mary Major on the morning of the 9th for faithful from Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Bolivia. More than sixty bishops and priests concelebrated with Cardinal Jorge Maria Mejia. In his homily Cardinal Mejia stressed Saint Josemaría’s love for the Church and the work of evangelizing culture that the faithful of the Prelature were endeavoring to accomplish through their apostolic initiatives.

The group from Venezuela held their thanksgiving Mass in the parish of Saint Josemaría. Archbishop Baltazar Enrique Porras Cardoso of Mérida urged those present to take a decidedly active part in the mission of the Church, each on his or her own responsibility, from the place that they occupied in the world: “The canonization on Sunday and yesterday’s Mass in St. Peter’s Square, attended by thousands of pilgrims from all corners of the world, have been a very special experience of faith. We could characterize it as a collective and personal Mt. Tabor, since it is an injection of Catholicity, of spiritual life and hope, which can give us new impetus in our vocation as sowers of the Gospel in the midst of the world.”

Some two thousand five hundred Americans took part in a Mass in St. Mary Major on October 8th presided over by Archbishop John Myers of Newark. In his homily, Archbishop Myers encouraged those present to flee a “minimalist” Catholicism, and stressed that sanctity is an invitation that God directs to all Christians. Archbishop Myers added that Opus Dei “is not for elite Catholics, but for ordinary Catholics. The only thing required is availability and a spirit of service.”

In the Church of Sant’Andrea della Valle, Cardinal Saraiva Martins celebrated a thanksgiving Mass in Portuguese at ten in the morning. This is the text of his homily:

Cardinal Saraiva Martins Homily

The three passages from Sacred Scripture that we have just read in this solemn Eucharistic concelebration provide a deep Biblical foundation for the vocation and mission of Saint Josemaría Escrivá. They present us with the great originality of the charism that the Holy Spirit brought forth in him for the benefit of the whole Church.

The first reading, from the book of Genesis, reflects on the origin of the world and humanity. The sacred author tells us that God, after creating heaven and earth, and then man as the crown of his work, planted a garden and entrusted it to man to till it and care for it. This is an allusion to human work as a collaboration with the Creator. To till the garden is to bring about progress in the created world. To care for it, one might say, is to respect the purposes for which the world was created. It is the opus hominis which is, at the same time, opus Dei. In these times when so much importance is given to work and to the environment, Saint Josemaría Escrivá, led by God, has come to remind us of the dignity of both of these realities. Human work is a noble reality and so is the environment, because the first is a collaboration with the Creator and the second is the work of the Creator himself.

The second reading, from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, recalls another demand of human work. It should be done with the spirit of God’s children and not of slaves. Man lives and works in this world in intimate union with God. In working, one becomes an heir of God’s riches, in union with Christ. In this spiritual intimacy, even human limitations, which are the cause of suffering, become fertile sources of happiness and future glory. Human work thus becomes a true work of God. Action is transformed into contemplation, a union that marked the life and work of Saint Josemaría Escrivá.

Finally, in the Gospel we read about the calling of the apostles and their immediate response to that call. The passage tells us that anyone who works in this world with the perspective we just described, who understands his activity as a collaboration in the work of God and as a defense of man, and does it with a spirit of faith and in union with God, not only sanctifies himself but also gives fruitful witness. That is, my brethren, one becomes an apostle simply by working: true salt and light for the world, leaven in the mass.

Saint Josemaría Escrivá was not content with seeking sanctity for himself. He founded an eminently apostolic Work, a work so necessary and desired by God that has had an extraordinary development, as we all know. He was an apostle and a generator of apostles.

My dear brothers and sisters: you have come to Rome, with great enthusiasm and energy, for the canonization of Saint Josemaría Escrivá. You participated on Sunday in the solemn ceremony in St. Peter’s Square and today we are assembled once more to praise God, to give thanks for the marvels he has worked in the new saint, who is, undoubtedly, one of the most extraordinary of contemporary saints.

The Church canonizes people not so much to augment their glory and celebrity as to make them our intercessors before God and, above all, models for our own life. It is the inspiration found in the saint’s specific message that is of most interest to the Church when she elevates to the glory of the altars those whom the Spirit has chosen to remind men and women of the importance of specific Gospel values, which we call charisms. The canonized saints belong to the Church and are for the Church. They are not lamps to be hidden under a bushel, but rather lamps that the Church raises on high to give light to all.

The Church, through the voice of her visible head, our Holy Father John Paul II, has highlighted the figure and charism of one of her illustrious sons not only for all her members, but also for the whole world, so that the faithful and all mankind might find in him an inspiration in carrying out their own vocation, their own mission.

I will now comment briefly on points in the Liturgy of the Word to which I referred earlier. They offer us a useful framework for considering the life of the saint and the work he left us as an inheritance.

1) According to the spirit of Opus Dei, work, the professional activity each person carries out in the world, can and should be sanctified, and in so doing become a path of sanctification. This is the reason why Saint Josemaría Escrivá addressed all sectors of society and was heard and followed by all. This is the reason why Opus Dei has spread and grown in such a remarkable way, with people from the most varied branches of human activity.

Saint Josemaría Escrivá and his Work remind all men and women that any honest work, whether humanly important or not, is always an opportunity to give glory to God and to serve others.

The dignity and the sanctification of work—this is the first intuition, the key idea that I would like to emphasize. To work with a perspective of faith, to carry out one’s activities, whether important or humble, in collaboration with the Creator and as a service to one’s brethren. Anyone who works with his eyes fixed on God, necessarily opens himself to his brothers and sisters and does everything with a spirit of service, for their benefit.

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, the occupations and preoccupations of our daily life should never be seen as isolating us from God or from others, as though falling outside the search for Christian perfection. Rather these are the very matter of our sanctification, if we do everything with a spirit of charity, with a spirit of service, and with the priestly character common to all of the baptized.

Humanity can’t be divided into two categories: the perfect and the imperfect, those called to sanctity and those called only to be saved from condemnation. That would imply our Lord was not speaking to everyone when he said: “You therefore must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).

2) The second aspect that I would like to emphasis is one’s contact with God; in other words, the need for a life of prayer and contemplation which completes and makes fruitful our daily work. Saint Josemaría Escrivá was a man of God, and he was such because God was a very real and all-encompassing part of his life. He was passionately in love with God, and he filled his life not only with action but also with prayer. If this were not the case, all of his projects would have dissolved in dreams.

The saints are above all men and women with an intense interior life, who know they are God’s adopted children, as St. Paul reminds us. They find in God their all, their strength and their inheritance. This is also the message of the second reading.

Saint Josemaría Escrivá gave his work the expressive name Opus Dei—opus, work. But it is God’s work, and therefore it should be carried out with one’s eyes and heart set on God, in prayer, adoration, contemplation.

The Church’s holy founders have been those who best united the active life and the contemplative life, those who best integrated the models of Martha and of Mary.

One of the secrets of the great expansion of the Work founded by Escrivá was undoubtedly the spirituality that he strove to foster in its members. The place and value which the Prelature gives to sacramental life and asceticism in its centers and in its members is well known. The spiritual life, the interior life, the life of prayer, are a demand lived very seriously in Opus Dei.

3) Finally, and once again with reference to the Liturgy of the Word in the Mass, I would like to make an appeal for apostolate. In Eden, God asked for man’s collaboration. He who had made everything from nothing, wanted man to act. It would be man who would continue creation and defend it. This is a great mystery. God the Almighty chose to need men, to need you and me as his collaborators. In the Gospel passage that we read, we see Jesus evangelizing the multitude; and as he finished his preaching, he asked for the collaboration of a few fishermen present there: Peter, Andrew, James and John. He made them fishers of men, fellow evangelizers. Even more, in the divine plan, it was they who were to gather the fruit of the Good News that he had announced. The great conversions began on the day of Pentecost, through the work of these fishermen who, in addition to being rough fishermen, were also sinners. “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord,” said Peter in his first meeting with Jesus. And we know what Jesus’ answer was: he made him a fisher of men, an apostle, and what an apostle!

God needs us in his work of salvation. That is why the Church is a sacrament of salvation, and why there is a universal vocation to sanctity, which is both a vocation and a mission at the same time. Sanctity is not only something personal; it radiates light and draws others to holiness.

Every baptized person, my dear sisters and brothers, has the right, the duty to be an apostle. This is each person’s deepest dignity. This is their vocation, their mission in life and in this world.

Saint Josemaría Escrivá strove to draw his brethren to holiness, regardless of their social position, so that they, by becoming holy, would in turn draw others. Thus by sanctifying their work they would become for everyone, as we said earlier, salt, light and leaven.

The canonization of Josemaría Escrivá is a privileged occasion to recall and renew his charism, which is so important and so timely today.

May the new saint, who is so close to us and so beloved by all of us, help us to sanctify our lives and our daily work, making us an inspiring example of sanctity for our brothers and sisters, for the Church and for the world. Amen.

A half hour later, Archbishop Edward Nowak, Secretary of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, officiated at a Mass for Polish-speaking faithful in the church of Saint Josemaría Escrivá. The German speakers, for their part, gathered in the Basilica of the Twelve Apostles with Archbishop Fernand Franck of Luxembourg presiding.

Cardinal Paul Poupard, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, told the French-speaking faithful gathered in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere that the universal call to holiness preached by Saint Josemaría invited us to harmonize our interior and exterior life, our life of prayer and the many duties of daily life.

This Mass, which took place on the 8th, was attended by over two thousand people. Two African choirs, one from the Ivory Coast and the other from Cameroon, contributed liturgical songs. On the next day, Cardinal Bernard Agré of Abidjan celebrated another thanksgiving Mass in French in the same church.

There were also two concelebrations in Italian: one on the 8th in the Basilica of the Twelve Apostles, presided over by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, Prefect of the Congregation for the Bishops. Here is his homily:

Cardinal Re's Homily

After the wonderful celebration in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday and yesterday’s audience with the Holy Father, we are here to give thanks to our Lord for having given Saint Josemaría Escrivá to the Church and to all mankind. He was a great teacher, who taught us how to live a deep Christian life in today’s society, marked by ever-increasing progress and well-being and so many possibilities for doing good, but also by so much secularism, permissiveness and materialism. He showed us by his words and by his whole life how to never lose, in the midst of the vicissitudes of daily life, the safe path that the north star of faith marks out for us.

Saint Josemaría’s life gave marvelous testimony to all that he taught, becoming an example of the truth of his message. He sought out and served his brothers and sisters with the strength of evangelical sanctity.

He taught a spirituality accessible to all Christians, whatever their profession or state in life, without separating them from any noble earthly concerns. He understood that the Gospel is not a book only to be read and meditated on, but that it must be lived in the specific circumstances of daily life.

Josemaría Escrivá has left a deep furrow in the Church and in society. In the Church, a shining furrow of sanctity; and in society, a furrow aglow with dedication and faithfulness to one’s own duties and with love for one’s neighbor.

In Novo Millennio Ineunte the Pope pointed out forcefully that, at the beginning of this third millennium, the focus that must guide all pastoral work is that of holiness (no. 30).

Josemaría Escrivá’s canonization has much to tell the world about the topic of holiness, for the great yearning that inspired and sustained his whole life was precisely that of working to make the universal call to holiness an operative conviction in every Christian’s life. An original and attractive feature of his message was his insistence that all men and women should strive for sanctity in their own work, carrying out one’s duties with effort and competence and for the glory of God.

He has illumined the path of the Church in today’s world. “Your Christian vocation requires you to be in God and, at the same time, to be concerned with the things of earth, using them objectively, just as they are: to give them back to Him” (Furrow, 295). Those who knew Saint Josemaría Escrivá well saw how firmly he was convinced that every man and woman, so loved by God that He sent his Only-Begotten Son into the world for them, can and should live for this love. Thus they should give priority each day to their interior life and to a renewed relationship with others, through their professional work and the fulfillment of their family and social duties. This is the life of God’s children. Saint Paul has told us “You did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry ‘Abba! Father!’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Rom 8:15-16).” This need to “cry out” when the Spirit grants us the experience of divine filiation was revealed in a special way to the young Father Josemaría back in 1931. From that day on, he strove to live as a son of God, making divine filiation the foundation of what he sought to transmit to others, always seeing them as sons and daughters of God.

In the past, the image projected by the word “holiness” was generally one of outstanding conduct and courage, proper to an exceptional individual. Although it is true that in each person holiness is always something original, with the originality of love, it is also true that Josemaría Escrivá has led Catholics to vividly grasp that holiness is not something unusual. Holiness is found wherever Christian life is lived integrally, no matter where one encounters it. What makes his faith and his path particularly timely is his conviction that lay people, committed to their family, professional and social responsibilities, can have a deep interior life and union with God.

Many saints in the past insisted that holiness is the only goal of our existence, but the idea of living out the Gospel message in the midst of work and ordinary life was not prominent. The entire life and work of Saint Josemaría since October 2, 1928, the date of the foundation of Opus Dei, was motivated by this mission for the salvation of the world. His charism was based on the certainty that God sent his Son into the world for each and every person. “God,” he said, “also sent his Son to you and to me,” right where we are, where we work, where we interact with our brothers and sisters.

Naturally, we always have to keep in contact with the font of grace, in the sacraments and the liturgy. Our personal encounter with Christ becomes a reality above all in the Holy Eucharist and in the Mass. Saint Josemaría strove with all his strength to make the Eucharistic the center of his life. And he taught by his example and constant preaching that everyone can unite themselves to Christ through prayer and the Eucharist, through “the word and the Bread,” as he liked to say.

For him, Jesus was not an example to imitate from afar, an abstract moral ideal, but his Jesus, a person we should live alongside continuously. One can find a great treasure for all Christians in his vivid way of living the presence of God throughout the day, offering up one’s work, praying an aspiration when using an instrument, immediately uniting oneself to Christ’s sufferings in the setbacks of the day, giving thanks for everything. He found a spiritual element in every piece of news; every person’s suffering stirred his compassion, while every sin led him to ask for forgiveness and mercy.”

“It’s necessary to be convinced,” he wrote in The Way (no. 267), “that God is always near us. Too often we live as though our Lord were somewhere far off—where the stars shine. We fail to realize that he is also by our side—always.”

And he lived with this conviction at every moment. “Never make a decision without stopping to consider the matter in the presence of God” (no. 266). “Make use of those holy human devices I’ve recommended to keep you from losing the presence of God: ejaculations, acts of love and reparation, spiritual communions, glances at a picture of our Lady” (no. 272). “Make it a habit,” he says, also in The Way (no. 268), “to raise your heart to God, in acts of thanksgiving, many times a day. Because he gives you this and that.... Because someone has despised you.... Because you don’t have what you need, or because you do have it.” He sought to contemplate our Lord in every event and circumstance (cf. The Forge, 96).

It is precisely this living faith in the presence of the risen Christ beside us at every moment that constitutes the core of the mission God entrusted to him in Opus Dei: putting love into one’s work. Only thus will the Christian who lives in the world beset by so many distractions, but also by so many serious responsibilities that weigh on his heart, be able to attain unity and plenitude in his own life.

Saint Josemaría used to say that we have to be in heaven and on earth at the same time. That is, a Christian has to keep his feet well planted on the ground in order to collaborate in the construction of the earthly city, but his eyes should be raised on high, not to escape from the realities of this world but to seek light and strength from heaven to confront the problems of each day.

The Work that God entrusted to Saint Josemaría has been erected by the Roman Pontiff as a Prelature. Thus he has shown how important it is to make the gifts Jesus entrusted to his Church ever more efficacious in the lives of the faithful who are confronting the problems in the world. Specifically, it helps them to acquire an ever deeper interior life and to maintain the presence of God at every moment of the day, yielding deeds of charity in one’s relationships with others.

The presence of so many cardinals and bishops on the day of the canonization gives testimony to how the formational activity of the Prelature of Opus Dei harmonizes with the pastoral work of the local churches, in a spirit of loyal collaboration.

Saint Josemaría Escrivá often exhorted people to aspire to sanctity in family life, seeking sanctify in the heart of their own families. He always saw the family of Nazareth as a necessary step to reach contemplation of the Trinity. He even called it “the Trinity on earth.”

The example of Mary and of Joseph, living an absolutely normal life in the eyes of everyone, fully reveals the divine richness of daily life. They always lived in Jesus’ presence; they worked for him, while loving one another humanly and supernaturally. Let us go to Mary and Joseph, asking them to help us express our gratitude to God for this canonization and to formulate resolutions to improve in our own lives. Amen.

The celebration on the 9th in the Basilica of St. John Lateran was presided over by the Pope’s vicar for the city of Rome, Cardinal Camillo Ruini. In his homily, Cardinal Ruini described Saint Josemaría as “a contemplative of Christ’s face.” It was his profound union with Christ, the Cardinal stressed, that “explains the irresistible apostolic dynamism in his life.” He ended by commending “to the intercession of Saint Josemaría, who so much loved this Italian land and its Christian roots,” the hopes of the bishops and of all Italian Catholics that the Pope’s words, duc in altum! not fall on deaf ears.

Romana, n. 35, July-December 2002, p. 217-226.

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