Feast of Blessed Alvaro del Portillo
12 May 2016 * Homily
How many of you have visited the famous Underground River of Puerto Princesa? Can you still recall the different images depicted in the marvelous rock formations of stalactites and stalagmites? The corn, mushrooms, eggplants, the human heart. Do you remember the “Cathedral”, a huge dome where you could see rock formations looking like images of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Nativity, and the Three Kings?
Then, the guide would explain to you how the stalactites and the stalagmites were formed. A stalagmite is “a type of rock formation that rises from the floor of a cave due to the accumulation of material deposited on the floor from ceiling drippings.” Its corresponding rock formation is a stalactite that hangs from the ceiling, formed from the dripping of liquid that carries minerals from the surface. The mnemonics have been developed for which word refers to which type of formation: stalactite has a letter “C” for “ceiling” and stalagmite has a “G” for “ground”.
When stalagmites and stalactites meet each other, they form solid pillars. There is one huge pillar that you can see inside the majestic Underground River of Puerto Princesa. A huge pillar of stone or a large fragment of rock that is very strong is called in Latin language “Saxum”.
St. Josemaría nicknamed Blessed Alvaro del Portillo “Saxum”. In a letter he wrote to Don Alvaro in March 1939, St. Josemaría said: “May Jesus watch over you for me, Saxum. That really is what you are. I can see that the Lord is giving you strength and making my word come true in you: saxum! Thank him for it and be faithful to him, in spite of… so many things. […] If you could only see how greatly I desire to be holy and to make you all holy! A hug and a blessing. Mariano.” (St. Josemaría, “Letter to Alvaro del Portillo”, Burgos, March 23, 1939).
If you notice, in his letter to Blessed Alvaro, St. Josemaría already pointed out why his first successor was like saxum, a rock to him. “I can see that the Lord is giving you strength and making my word come true in you: saxum!” If Don Alvaro was faithful and dependable like a huge pillar of stone, it was because God continuously showered him with numerous graces. It was also because Don Alvaro corresponded generously to God’s gifts. The more God’s grace drips from above like the stalactites, the more Don Alvaro grows from below like the stalagmites!
What a beautiful picture to behold for us as we celebrate his second feast today since his beatification last September 27, 2014! We, too, are like stalagmites that rise from the ground thanks to the continuous dripping of God’s stalactites of grace. God’s stalactite has a letter “C” in it but it does not stand for “ceiling”; rather, it stands for “Christ”. Slowly but surely, as God’s grace drips unto us, we are being formed into the likeness of Christ.
When the stalactite of God’s grace is met with the stalagmite of our generous correspondence and cooperation, we can also become a “saxum” to others. Let us, therefore, learn not to put hindrance for God’s grace to work in our lives. Like the Good Shepherd in today’s Gospel, Blessed Alvaro also taught us how to be generous collaborators of God’s grace, through his example of fidelity even in small things and a life full of sacrifices.
A little anecdote: “St. Josemaría established as a general rule that every priest of Opus Dei should have, prior to ordination, a doctorate in a secular field as well as a doctorate in an ecclesiastical discipline. But as it happened, the first three priests were all engineers, and at the time that they were ordained, even the highest-level technical schools in Spain did not grant doctorates. So Blessed Alvaro, because he could not get a doctorate in engineering, signed up for the Philosophy and Literature program at Universidad Central, in Madrid. He was however exempted from class attendance. And so having done the course work on his own, he obtained his licentiate on April 24, 1943 and his doctorate a year later, on May 12, 1944, (72 years ago today). His dissertation was titled “The First Spanish Expeditions to California”. Later it was published as a book, a quite lengthy one, under the title 'Discoveries and Explorations on the Coasts of California.'” (Facebook, Alvaro del Portillo Daily).
For Bishop Alvaro, our pains and sacrifices can actually be very meaningful. They are never senseless or futile. In April 19, 1990, when he visited a daughter of his, named Camino Sanciñena, who met a terrible accident at the end of January and was still in a very serious condition in an isolation ward of Miguel Servet Hospital in Zaragoza, Spain, -- practically her whole body was covered with burns – he told her “that even though this is hard to understand, pain is actually a caress from God”.
Pain and suffering can be a source of joy. The whole life of Blessed Alvaro is a testimony to this truth. The words of St. Paul addressed to the Colossians in the First Reading today attest to it: “It makes me happy to suffer for you, as I am suffering now, and in my own body to do what I can to make up all that has still to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body, the Church.” St. Paul could endure his sufferings because Christ is in him, “Christ in us, our hope of glory”. “It is for this I struggle wearily on,” he said, “helped only by his power driving me irresistibly.”
Our struggles and difficulties in life contribute a lot so that Christ may be formed in us. They can be channels of God’s grace dripping unto us so that we may grow and become stronger like the stalagmites. Conversely, it is only when we allow Christ to be formed in us can we really endure and find meaning in our sacrifices and pains. Hence, allow yourselves to be formed by God’s grace. Correspond generously to His grace so that you can become like huge rocks for others to depend on.
Through the intercession of Blessed Alvaro and St. Josemaría, may we grow in our fidelity to grace and perseverance in our struggles. May we become like saxum to others. Amen.