At the Mass for the Anniversary of the Death of Venerable Alvaro del Portillo St. Eugene’s Basilica Rome (March 22, 2014)

My dear brothers and sisters:

Always, and today in a special way, I experience a great joy for the grace that God grants us at every moment. Tomorrow, March 23, is the third Sunday of Lent; for this reason we are commemorating a day early the twentieth anniversary of the transit to heaven of the Venerable Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, Prelate of Opus Dei. A few days ago we celebrated the centennial of his birth; and we are preparing for his beatification on the coming 27th of September. All these motives help us to live the celebration of the Eucharist keeping in mind the atmosphere of the Last Supper, where our Lord showed us how much he loves us and how much we should love one another.

In the collect of the Mass we direct ourselves to God the Father with the following words: “guide us, we pray, through this present life and bring us to that light in which you dwell.”[1] A petition fulfilled already in don Alvaro. Faithful to the call of the Lord, following the spirit of Opus Dei, he reached that heavenly dwelling place, giving witness that it is truly possible to attain holiness in ordinary life, as the founder of Opus Dei had taught without ceasing.

How beautiful is the parable of the prodigal son that we have just listened to, in part because it can be applied to the life of every person. In fact, wrote John Paul II, “that son, who received from his father the part of his patrimony that corresponded to him and abandoned his home to waste it in a distant land, “living dissolutely,” is in a certain sense the man of every era, beginning with the one who first of all lost the inheritance of grace and of original justice.”[2]

This Gospel passage offers us an occasion to recall some points of the teachings and the example of don Alvaro about divine mercy, and in particular, about the Sacrament of joy, as he used to repeat with respect to Confession, using words of St. Josemaría. During a homily given in this basilica, he encouraged those present thus: “Approach Confession whenever you need to purify yourself from your sins, to reacquire the grace of God, and thus be able to receive the Holy Eucharist.... Go frequently... even if you have no consciousness of grave sin, because in Confession your soul will acquire strength to combat with joy the battles of peace, for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.”[3]

John Paul II, for whose canonization we are preparing with fervent hope, wrote at one time: “It was above all in the confessional that God’s mercy manifested itself.”[4] Pope Francis, from the first moment of his pontificate, has not hesitated to recall the same truth and invite the faithful to personally ask themselves a few questions. “Dear brothers,” he said in one of his catechetical talks on the sacraments, “as members of the Church are we conscious of the beauty of this gift that God himself offers us? Do we feel the joy of this cure, of this motherly attention that the Church has for us? Do we know how to appreciate it with simplicity and diligence? Let us not forget that God never tires of forgiving us; through the ministry of priests he holds us close in a new embrace and regenerates us and allows us to rise again and resume the journey. For this is our life: to rise again continuously and to resume our journey.”[5]

In the mouth of don Alvaro this affirmation was also very frequent; he never tired of recommending that everyone approach this sacrament with repentance and joy. From his earliest days he had learned to love it, and spoke of his first confession filled with gratitude to God who comes to meet us with joy and with forgiveness. He said that he had felt very happy after having told his faults to the priest. And this happened until the end of his days. I remember the response that he gave when he was asked what was the happiest moment of his life. It was immediate, simple, and profound. “Each time that I go to confession, because God forgives my offenses.”

Let us think about this divine and human marvel: Confession well made is always a moment of peace, of joy—of happiness—that only God can give. We are all invited to experience this in a deeper way as Easter approaches.

The devotion of don Alvaro to the Sacrament of Penance increased even more since he met and lived with St. Josemaría. From that moment on, in his conversations with his friends, relatives, classmates, and simple acquaintances, he touched habitually on this subject, with refinement and delicacy, explaining it and encouraging everyone to appreciate the mystery of a God who forgives. And this disposition to help always led him to dedicate himself to the apostolate, to offer a service to souls.

Let us always try to follow his example and decide to speak like he did of the apostolate of confession: because when one does not seek to live in the environment of grace, it is not possible to follow Jesus closely. This is how he expressed it in writing: “The apostolate of Confession acquires a particular importance. Only when there is an habitual friendship with our Lord—a friendship based on the gift of sanctifying grace—are souls prepared to perceive the invitation that Jesus directs at everyone: “if anyone wishes to follow me…” (Mt 16:24).[6]

Our Holy Father John Paul II quickly perceived this passion of the priestly heart of don Alvaro, and often commented—even to people who did not belong to Opus Dei—that the faithful of the prelature have received from God the “charism of confession,” that is to say, a special grace to bring souls to this sacrament, to friendship with God. Let us too offer this beautiful legacy that Josemaría has transmitted to us, also by means of the words and example of don Alvaro.

I recall two anecdotes that illustrate well his devotion and his love for this sacrament. On the day after his own priestly ordination, in 1944, his first ministerial act was the administration of Penance to St. Josemaría. The founder of Opus Dei, in fact, wanted to be the first person to receive absolution from his hands.

The second episode goes back to the beginning of the eighties, and it is connected with this church. Among the reasons given to Cardinal Ugo Poletti, then vicar of the Pope for the diocese of Rome, in asking him to commend the pastoral attention of the parish to priests of the prelature, don Alvaro expressed his desire of being able to come once in a while to hear confessions, taking advantage of its closeness to the central headquarters of Opus Dei. His commitments as prelate did not permit this, but he always cultivated this aspiration in his heart.

I wanted to point out this path of forgiveness to remind you that we are called to eternal happiness, where the most Blessed Trinity wants us to live forever; the path of forgiveness leads to the triumph of Easter, that we will celebrate in a few weeks. Let us listen again to the acclamation: Lumen Christi! Deo gratias! Our Lord desires that, illuminated by his grace, and encouraged by his interest for souls, we show to the world the reality that Christus vincit, Christus regnat, for our good. In truth we should be women and men who love and know how to love, living by the Love of God.

Our Lady is the one who is full of grace, the only person never touched by sin. For this reason she shows herself full of compassion towards us her children, who are sinners, and obtains abundant gifts for us from Heaven. Let us go to her, Mater misericordiae, Mother of mercy, so that our Lenten path leads us to a true and deep conversion. With the intercession of St. Josemaría and of the venerable Alvaro del Portillo.


[1] Saturday of the second week of Lent, Collect.


Blessed John Paul II, Encyclical Dives in Misericordia, November 30, 1980, no. 5.


Msgr. Alvaro del Portillo, Homily in the International Year of Youth, March 30, 1985.

[4] Blessed John Paul II, Letter to priests for Holy Thursday, March 16, 1986.

[5] Pope Francis, General Audience, November 20, 2013.

[6] Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, Pastoral Letter, December 1, 1993.

Romana, n. 58, January-June 2014, p. 42-45.

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