Monday, March 23, 2009

15 Anniversary of Death: Alvaro del Portillo - Marian Humility

What characterized D. Alvaro was his humility. St. Josemaria had the inscription placed over his door: “vir fidelis multum laudabitur.” His fidelity consisted in being completely transparent to the charism St. Josemaria received on 2 October 1928. So much was this so that after his election as successor to Escriva at the head of Opus Dei, he commented that the Electors “have voted unanimously, not for Alvaro del Portillo, but once again for the Father.”

The significance of this remark comes to light in Joseph Ratzinger’s Christology where the Being of the Person of Jesus Christ is pure relation to the Father, and therefore nothing in Himself. “My doctrine is not mine but his Who sent me” (Jn. 7, 16). Ratzinger remarked: “Word never stands on its own; it comes from someone, is there to be heard, and is therefore meant for others. It can only subsist in this totality of ‘from’ and ‘for.’”

This Christological dimension of D. Alvaro – that everyone is called to achieve as “another Christ” – comes from his assiduous devotion to our Lady. Constrained by time, I can only refer you to Salvador Bernal’s book: “Alvaro del Portillo” (Little Hills Press, Scepter Publishers 1999), Chapter 24, pp. 276-288, which gives a rich mine of remarks that disclose the Marian source of his spirit that became the common doctrine of the Church in the Second Vatican Council. He himself remarked that the Second Vatican Council “had assimilated and promulgated as common doctrine for all Christians the substantial lines of the charism of Opus Dei.” And it was he who was the conduit of this charism into the Council. Consider his involvement:

· May 2, 1959: named Consultor of the congregation of the Council;
· August 10, 1959: named President of the VII internal Commission De laicatu catholico;
· Named member of the pre-preparatory Commission on the states of perfection;
· August 12 elected member of the III Commission of the Congregation of the Council encharged to study the so-called peculiaria nostrae aetatis apostolatus media.
· October 4, 1962: named conciliar “Peritus.”
· November 4, 1962: named “Peritus” of the Commission for the Discipline of the Clergy and Christian People;

· November 8, 1962: named Secretary of this organism
· Named Consultor of the Commissions for the Bishops and the regime of the dioceses, the Religious and the Discipline of the Faith.
· September 29 – December of 1963: during the Second Session of the Council, the Commission for the Discipline of the Clergy and the Christian People, of which D. Alvaro was Secretary, was encharged to synthesize into a single conciliar decree (to become “Presbyterorum Ordinis). He had to coordinate the work of the members of the Commission which became a conciliar text of a single chapter subdivided into 10 parts.

“To some extent, it as Don Alvaro’s decision that a text be drafted. He argued persuasively that the priesthood was so important in the Church that it well deserved a decree of its own, rather than just a handful of propositions with a concluding message (a suggestion made at some point in the proceedings).

“The drafting of the decree was very hard work, especially because of all the tension there was at that time over the issue of priestly celibacy. That conflict, in fact, got so bad that Pope Paul himself had to intervene. Also, the commission had to reach conclusions regarding the spirituality of priests. One of its decisions was to defend centuries-old traditions against those who regarded them as mere pietism. It discussed the presence of the priest in the world, and why he needed a good formation in the basic human virtues in order to serve the men and women of his time. But it also warned that priests should not adopt lay lifestyles, much less take on commitments of a partisan political nature. Finally, it asserted the freedom to join associations which in one way or another could help them achieve personal sanctification in the carrying out of their priestly ministry.”

“Not a week had gone by after the close of the Council when Cardinal Ciriaci, president of the commission of which Don Alvaro had been secretary, sent him a note expressing heartfelt gratitude and congratulations for the happy conclusion of a great achievement.” The note said: “You steered to a safe harbor your decree, which is by no means the least important of the decrees and constitutions of the Council.” The vote on the document was 2390 to 4, a nearly unanimous approval after thorough debate, on December 7, 1965. Ciriaci said: (History would regard this decree as) “a fresh, and practically unanimous, confirmation by the Second Vatican Council of ecclesiastical celibacy and the exalted mission of the priesthood.” Pope Paul VI said: “I am well aware of the extent to which this is a result of your prudent, tenacious, and courteous efforts. Without failing to respect the freedom of others to have and to express their own opinions, you never swerved from the track of fidelity to the great principles of priestly spirituality.”

[1] J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (1990) 155.
[2] Salvador Bernal, “Alvaro del Portillo,” Scepter (1996) 130-131.
[3] Ibid. 126-128.

1 comment:

David Young said...

I think I've met three saints in my life, to date. I'm sure there are others. But my criteria is a gaze, a presence as if my soul was being assessed and loved. Those saints: John Paul II during his visit to New Orleans, Mother Theresa in the Bronx at her order's soup kitchen, and Dom Alvaro Portillo during his visit to the Opus Dei center in Milwaukee, WI. What a mystery these three encounters are to me.

I must mention I met Cardinal Ratzinger in Rome a number of years ago. Does it make sense to say that that encounter was academic/intellectual and not emotional so the eyes weren't what I was drawn to. He was interested to hear that I'd been reading everything by Von Balthasar I could get my hands on. "What have you learned?" he asked. A teacher.

What a blessing these four encounters have been.