JOHN PAUL II
Speech to the Participants of the Canonization of Josemaria Escriva. October 7, 2002
(At the end of the Thanksgiving Mass for the canonization of the Founder of Opus Dei, the Holy Father John Paul II granted an audience with the participants of the canonization. The following is the speech given by the Holy Father at the audience.)
Dear brothers and sisters!
With joy I extend to you my cordial greetings, on the day after blessed Josemaría Escriva de Balaguer's canonization. I thank Bishop Javier Echevarría, Prelate of Opus Dei, for what he said on behalf of all of you here. I greet affectionately the many cardinals, bishops and priests who have decided to take part in this celebration.
This festive encounter brings together a wide variety of the faithful, proceeding from many countries and belonging to the most diverse social and cultural environments: priests and laity, men and women, young and old, intellectuals and manual workers. This is a sign of the apostolic zeal that burned in Saint Josemaria's soul.
In the Founder of Opus Dei, love for the will of God was an outstanding characteristic. Here is a sure criterion of holiness: faithfulness to the fulfillment of the divine will, even to the last consequences. For each one of us the Lord has a plan, to each one he entrusts a mission on earth. The saint cannot even conceive of himself outside God's plan: he lives only to carry it out.
Saint Josemaria was chosen by the Lord to proclaim the universal call to holiness and to indicate that everyday life, its customary activities, are a path towards holiness. It could be said that he was the saint of the ordinary. He was really convinced that, for whoever lives with an outlook of faith, everything offers an opportunity for a meeting with God, everything becomes a stimulus for prayer. Seen in that way, daily life reveals an unsuspected greatness. Holiness is really put on everyone's doorstep.
Escriva de Balaguer was a saint of great humanity. All those who dealt with him, of whatever level of education or social condition, felt him to be a father, totally dedicated to the service of the others, because he was convinced that each soul is a marvelous treasure; in fact, each person is worth all the Blood of Christ. This attitude of service is plain to see in his dedication to priestly ministry and in the magnanimity with which he pushed ahead so many works of evangelization and of human development to help the poorest.
The Lord made him understand deeply the gift of our divine filiation. Blessed Josemaria taught how to contemplate the tender face of a Father in God, who speaks to us through the most varied vicissitudes of life. A Father who loves us, who follows us step by step and protects us, understands us and waits for a response of love from each one of us. The consideration of this paternal presence, which accompanies him everywhere, gives the Christian an unshakable confidence; at every moment he should confide in the heavenly Father. He never feels alone, nor is he afraid. In the Cross, when it appears, he does not see a punishment but rather a mission entrusted by the Lord himself. The Christian is necessarily optimistic, because he knows that he is a son of God in Christ.
Saint Josemaria was profoundly convinced that Christian life entails a mission and an apostolate: we are in the world to save it with Christ. He loved the world passionately, with a "redemptive love" (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 604). It is precisely for this reason that his teachings have helped so many ordinary members of the faithful discover the redemptive power of faith, its capacity to transform the earth.
This is a message that has abundant and fruitful implications for the evangelizing mission of the Church. It fosters the Christianization of the world "from within," showing that there can be no conflict between the divine law and the demands of genuine human progress. This saintly priest taught that Christ must be the apex of all human activity (cf. Jn12:32). His message impels the Christian to act in places where the future of society is being shaped. From the laity's active presence in all the professions and at the most advanced frontiers of development, there can only come a positive contribution to the strengthening of that harmony between faith and culture which is one of the great needs of our time.
Saint Josemaria Escriva spent his life in the service of the Church. In his writings, priests, laypersons who follow the most diverse ways, and men and women religious find a stimulating source of inspiration. Dear brothers and sisters, in imitating him with an openness of spirit and of heart, with availability to serve the local Churches, you contribute to giving force to the "spirituality of communion" which the Apostolic Letter Novo millennio ineunte identifies as one of the most important aims of our times (cf. nos. 42-45).
It is a joy for me to conclude with an appeal to the liturgical feast of this day, Our Lady of the Rosary. Saint Josemaria wrote a fine short work entitled Holy Rosary, which is inspired in spiritual childhood, a disposition of spirit proper to those who want to reach total abandonment to the divine will. I wholeheartedly entrust all of you to the maternal protection of Mary, along with your families and your apostolate, thanking you for your presence.
I thank once again all those present, especially those who have come from far away. I invite you, dear brothers and sisters, to give clear witness of faith everywhere, following your holy founder's example and teaching. I accompany you with my prayer and give you, your families and your activities my heartfelt blessing.
Cardinal Ratzinger. Rome, May 19, 1992
St John’s Apocalypse, which tells us of so many terrible events both past and future, also opens up Heaven upon the earth and shows us that God still holds the world in his hands. However great the power of evil, God’s victory is assured in the end. From the depths of the world’s misery there rises a song of praise. God’s throne is surrounded by an ever-growing choir of souls who have achieved salvation, who, forgetful of self, have made their lives into a movement of joy and glory. This choir does not sing only in the next world, but is being prepared in the midst of the history of this world, and is already present among us, though hidden. This is clearly shown by the voice that comes from the throne of God himself: “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great” (Apoc 19:5). This is a call to our world, a call to commit ourselves to the one thing that matters and so form part of the eternal liturgy here and now. The beatification of Josemaría Escrivá tells us that this priest of our times now forms part of the choir that is praising God in Heaven, and that in him too the words of today’s reading are fulfilled: “Those whom he predestined (…) he also glorified” (Rm 8:30). This glorifying does not belong to the future but has already taken place, as beatifications remind us. “Praise our God (…) small and great”: Josemaría Escrivá heard this voice, and understood it as the vocation of his life, but he did not only apply it to himself and his own life. He considered it his mission to pass on the “voice which comes from the throne”, and make it heard in our times. He invited great and small to praise God, and by that very fact he glorified God.
Josemaría Escrivá realised very early on that God had a plan for him, that God wanted something of him. But he did not know what it was. How could he find the answer, where should he look for it? He started his search primarily by listening to the Word of God, Holy Scripture. He read the Bible not as a book of the past, nor as a book of problems to be argued about, but as a word for the present, that talks to us today: a word in which we are each the protagonist, and need to look for our place in it, so that we can find our way. In this search, he was especially moved by the story of the blind man Bartimaeus, who, sitting at the roadside on the way to Jericho, heard that Jesus was passing by and shouted out his appeal for mercy (cf. Mk 10:46-52). While the disciples tried to make the blind beggar keep quiet, Jesus turned towards him and asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus replied, “Lord, that I may see!” Josemaría recognised himself in Bartimaeus. “Lord, that I may see!” was his constant cry: “Lord, make me see your will!” People only begin to see truly when they learn to see God. And they begin to see God when they see his will and are ready to make it their own. The desire to see God’s will and to identify his will with God’s was always the basic motivation of Escrivá’s life. “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This desire, this unceasing plea, prepared him to answer, in the moment of illumination, like Peter: “Lord, at your word I will let down the nets” (Lk 5:5). His “yes” was no less audacious than the Apostle’s, on Lake Genesareth, after a long and unproductive night. Spain was convulsed with hatred for the Church, for Christ, and for God. People were trying to rip the Church out of the country at the time when Escrivá received the call to let down his nets for God. From that moment on, and throughout his life, as a fisher of God, he kept throwing out the divine nets tirelessly in the seas of our history, to bring great and small to the light, to return their sight to them.
The will of God. Saint Paul says of it to the Thessalonians: “This is the will of God: your sanctification” (I Thess 4:3). The will of God is, ultimately, very simple, and at its core it is always the same: holiness. And holiness means, as today’s reading tells us, becoming like Christ (cf. Rom 8:29). Josemaría Escrivá considered this call as addressed not to himself alone, but above all as a message to pass on to others: to encourage them to seek for holiness, and to gather a community of brothers and sisters for Christ.
The meaning of the word “holy” has undergone a dangerous narrowing in the course of time, and this certainly still influences it today. It makes us think of the saints whose statues and paintings we see at the altars, of miracles and heroic virtues, and it suggests that holiness is for a few chosen ones, among whom we cannot be included. Then we leave holiness to the few, the unknown number, and content ourselves with being just the way we are.
Amidst this spiritual apathy, Josemaría Escrivá issued a wake-up call, shouting: “No! Holiness is not something extra, it is what is normal for every baptised person. Holiness does not consist of the sort of heroism that is impossible to imitate, but has a thousand forms and can become a reality anywhere, in any job. It is normal, and it consists of directing one’s ordinary life towards God and filling it through with the spirit of faith.”
Conscious of this message, our new Blessed journeyed untiringly through different continents, speaking to everyone to encourage them to be saints, to live the adventure of being Christians wherever their lives took them. In that way he became a great man of action, who lived by God’s will and called others to it, without ever becoming a “moralizer”. He knew that we cannot make ourselves holy. Just as love presupposes the passive – being loved –, so too holiness always goes together with the passive: accepting the fact of being loved by God.
The Work he founded was called Opus Dei, not Opus nostrum: the Work of God, not a work of ours. He did not want to create his work, the work of Josemaría Escrivá: he wasn’t aiming to build a monument to himself. “My work is not mine,” he could and did say, in line with Christ’s words and in identification with Christ (cf. Jn 7:16): he did not want anything of his own, but to make room for God to do his Work. He was certainly also aware of what Jesus tells us in St John’s Gospel: “This is the work of God, that you believe” (Jn 6:29); in other words, to surrender ourselves to God so that he can act through us.
Thus we come to another point of identification with the word of Sacred Scripture. The words of St Peter in today’s Gospel were something Josemaría Escrivá also made his own: Homo peccator sum: I am a sinful man. When our new Blessed saw the abundant catch he had achieved with his life, he was appalled, like St Peter, on seeing his own wretchedness in comparison with what God wanted to do in and through him. He used to call himself a “founder without foundation” and “a clumsy instrument”. He knew and saw clearly that all of this was not done by himself, that he could not do it, but that it was God acting through an instrument which seemed totally disproportionate. And that is what “heroic virtue” ultimately means: making a reality of what God alone can do.
Josemaría Escrivá recognised his own wretchedness, but surrendered himself to God without worrying about himself, holding himself ready, instead, for whatever God wanted. He got rid of self, and of all self-interest. Again and again he would speak of his “madnesses”: the madness of beginning without any means, beginning in impossible circumstances. They seemed to be madnesses that he had to stake everything on, and he ran the risk. In this context, the words of his great compatriot Miguel de Unamuno come to mind: “Only madmen do what is reasonable: the wise can only do foolishness.” He dared to be something like a Don Quixote of God. After all, does it not seem quixotic to teach, in the middle of today’s world, about humility, obedience, chastity, detachment from material possessions, and forgetfulness of self? God’s will was what was really reasonable to him, and that showed that the most seemingly irrational things were really reasonable.
The will of God. God’s will has a specific place and a specific shape in this world: it has a body. The Body of Christ has remained in the Church. Hence, obedience to God’s will cannot be separated from obedience to the Church. Only if I include my mission in my obedience to the Church do I have the guarantee that my own ideals can be considered God’s will, the guarantee that I am really following his call. So for Josemaría Escrivá the basic measure of his mission was always obedience to and union with the hierarchical Church. This does not imply any kind of positivism or dictatorship. The Church is not a power-structure, nor is she an association for religious, social or moral purposes that has to work out methods of achieving her aims better, updating and replacing those methods as necessary. The Church is a Sacrament. That means that she does not belong to herself. She does not do her own work, but has to be ever available to do God’s. She is bound up with God’s will. The Sacraments structure her life, and the centre of the Sacraments is the Eucharist, in which we touch the real presence of Jesus Christ in the most direct way. And so, for our new Blessed, ecclesiality meant first and foremost living in the centre of the Church, which is the Eucharist. He loved and proclaimed the Eucharist in all its dimensions: as adoration of our Lord present among us in a hidden but real way; as a gift in which Jesus gives himself to us again and again; as a sacrifice, in accordance with the words of Scripture, “Sacrifices and offerings thou hast not desired, but a body hast thou prepared for me” (Heb 10:5; cf. Ps 40:6-8). Only Christ can share himself out, because he has offered himself up in sacrifice, because he has surpassed himself out of love, because he has surrendered himself, and surrenders himself still. We will only manage to become like the Image of the Son if we enter into this movement of self-giving love, if we become sacrifice. Love is not possible without the passive aspect of the passio which transforms us, opening us up.
When Josemaría Escriva fell seriously ill at the age of two and was despaired of by the doctors, his mother decided to dedicate him to Mary. Despite huge difficulties, she took her son up the steep, rough path to the shrine of Our Lady of Torreciudad, and there she offered him to the Mother of the Lord, asking her to be his mother. So all his life Josemaria knew that he was under the protection of our Lady, who was his Mother. In the room where he worked, opposite the door, there was a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe; whenever he went in, his first glance was for her. And his last glance of all was also for her. At the moment he died, he had just gone into that room and looked at the picture of his Mother, when he collapsed on the floor. As he died, the Angelus bells were ringing, announcing Mary’s “fiat” and the grace of the Incarnation of her Son, our Saviour. Under that sign, which had been there at the beginning of his life and had shown him his road, he returned to God.
Let us thank God our Lord for this witness of faith in our times, for this untiring herald of his will, and let us ask, “Lord, may I also see! May I recognise your will and do it!” Amen.
ST JOSEMARÍA: GOD IS VERY MUCH AT WORK IN OUR WORLD TODAY
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
7 October 2002
I have always been impressed by Josemaría Escrivá's explanation of the name "Opus Dei": an explanation which we might call biographical and which gives us an idea of the founder's spiritual profile. Escrivá knew he had to found something, but he was also conscious that what he was founding was not his own work, that he himself did not invent anything and that the Lord was merely making use of him. So it was not his work, but Opus Dei (God's Work). He was only the instrument for God's action.
In thinking about this, I remember the Lord's words in John's Gospel: "My Father is working still" (5,17). These are words that Jesus spoke in a discussion with a few experts in religion who did not want to recognize that God can work even on the Sabbath. This is still an ongoing debate, in a certain way, among the men and women—also Christians—of our time. There are those who think that after creation, God "withdrew" and took no further interest in our daily affairs. To this way of thinking, God can no longer enter the fabric of our daily lives. But we have a denial of this in Jesus' words. A man open to God's presence realizes that God is always working and is still working today: we must therefore let him in and let him work. That is how things which give humanity a future and renew it are born.
All this helps us understand why Josemaría Escrivá did not claim to be the "founder" of anything, but only someone who wanted to do God's will and second his action, his work, precisely, God's. In this regard, Escrivá de Balaguer's theocentrism, consistent with Jesus' words, means being confident that God did not withdraw from the world, that God is working today, and that all we have to do is put ourselves at his disposal, make ourselves available to him, and responsive to his call, is an extremely important message. It is a message that helps to overcome what can be considered the great temptation of our time: the claim, that after the "big bang" God withdrew from history, God's action did not stop with the "big bang" but continues in time, both in the world of nature and in the human world.
Thus the founder of the Opus said: "I did not invent anything; another is acting and I am merely ready to serve him as an instrument". This is how the name and the whole reality that we call Opus Dei is profoundly linked with the interior life of the founder who, while remaining very discreet on this point, gives us to understand that he was in a permanent dialogue, a real contact with the One who created us and works for us and with us. The Book of Exodus says of Moses (33,11) "thus the Lord used to speak to Moses as to a friend". It seems to me that even if the veil of discretion may hide many of the details from us, nonetheless from those small references one realizes that the words "speaking as to a friend" can very aptly be applied to Josemaría Escrivá, who opens the doors of the world to let God come in, work and transform all things.
In this light it is also easier to understand what "holiness" and the "universal vocation to holiness" mean. Knowing a little about the history of saints, knowing that in canonization processes their "heroic" virtues are investigated, we almost inevitably slip into an erroneous concept of holiness: "It is not for me", we are inclined to think, "because I do not feel able to achieve heroic virtues: it's too exalted an ideal for me". Holiness then becomes something reserved for the "important" [people], whose images we see above the altars, worlds apart indeed from us normal sinners. However, this is an erroneous concept of holiness, a wrong perception which has been corrected—and this seems to me to be the main point—by Josemaría Escrivá.
Heroic virtue does not mean that the saint works out a "gymnastics" of holiness that ordinary people could not tackle. It means, instead, that God's presence is revealed in the life of a person; it is revealed when the person could do nothing by himself or for himself. Perhaps basically, it is a question of terminology because the adjective "heroic" was badly explained. Heroic virtue does not actually mean that someone has done great things by himself, but that situations arise in his life independently of anything he has done: he was simply transparent and available for God's work. Or, in other words, being holy is nothing other than speaking with God as a friend speaks to a friend. That is holiness.
Being holy does not mean being superior to others; indeed, a saint can be very weak and make many blunders in his life. Holiness is profound contact with God, being a friend of God; it is letting the Other act, the One who really can guarantee that the world is good and happy. If therefore St Josemaría speaks of the common vocation to holiness, it seems to me that he is basically drawing on his own personal experience, not of having done incredible things himself, but of having let God work. Therefore a renewal, a force for good was born in the world even if human weaknesses will always remain. Truly we are all able, we are all called to open ourselves to this friendship with God, not to let go of God's hands, not to give up, turning and returning to the Lord, speaking to him as to a friend, knowing well that the Lord really is the true friend of everyone, even of those who cannot do great things on their own.
All this has enabled me to discern more clearly the profile of Opus Dei, this surprising link between absolute fidelity to the great tradition of the Church and to her faith, with a disarming simplicity and unconditional openness to all the challenges of this world, in the academic world, in the world of work, in the world of economics, etc. Those who have this link with God, those who have this uninterrupted conversation with him, can dare to respond to these challenges and are no longer afraid because those who are in God's hands always fall into God's hands. This is how fear disappears and, instead, the courage is born to respond to the contemporary world.
Weekly Edition in English
9 October 2002, page 3