Then I Will Love You Even More: On the Anniversary of the Canonization of St. Josemaría
“For the honor of the Blessed Trinity, the exaltation of the Catholic faith and the fostering of Christian life, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, and our own, after due deliberation and frequent prayers for divine assistance, and having sought the counsel of many of our brethren in the Episcopate, we declare and define that Blessed Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer is a Saint and we enroll him among the Saints, decreeing that he is to be venerated in the whole Church as one of the Saints.”
St. John Paul II
Declaration of the Canonization of Blessed Josemaría
The Vatican, October 6, 2002
It was a radiant October morning, and I found myself sitting on the banks of the Tiber River, at the level of Via della Conciliazione. The view of St. Peter’s Basilica from there is always spectacular, but I didn’t sit in that spot for its marvelous sights. On that October dawn in 2002, very early and with barely any sleep, a group of college students and I had approached St. Peter’s Square to partake in the ceremony in the open air.
Despite the early hour, there was no way to get closer to the altar, located next to the façade. The whole place was filled with people who had come to participate in the Canonization of St. Josemaría. We watched everything on the giant screens arranged along the wide avenue, spanning more than 1,600 feet in length. We were so far away that we could see people clapping on the screen, but we didn’t hear the actual applause until a few seconds later.
But the important thing was to be there, near or far. The Canonization of Josemaría Escrivá was something awe-inspiring for my friends and me. I had decided to join Opus Dei a few years earlier, and on October 6, 2002, I was not even 18 years old. My vocation was very clear for me, but the canonization of the founder of the Work was a definitive seal from John Paul II himself on the path I had undertaken. “If he is a saint of the Church, his path is valid for me,” I thought.
The night before, we had arrived in the Eternal City by bus after more than 36 hours of road travel. We stayed in a giant parking hangar (belonging to the Rome Bus Company: ATAC), which had been designated to host visitors during those days. In that makeshift accommodation, I met people from all over the world. I hadn’t seen the world that much by then, and I was surprised to see so diverse and varied people, gathered in such an unromantic place, but with the same aspiration. I had already heard about the universality of the Work, which St. Josemaría had understood since October 2, 1928. But seeing it in action is always more exciting. Thus, his words from the 1930s, in The Way, were fulfilled:
“Get rid of that ‘small-town’ outlook. Enlarge your heart till it becomes universal, ‘catholic’. Don’t flutter about like a hen, when you can soar to the heights of an eagle” (The Way, no. 7).
On the day of the Canonization, that view of hundreds of thousands of people of all colors, races, and origins filling St. Peter’s Square and the adjacent avenues was a tangible confirmation of what St. John Paul II declared in the homily of the ceremony:
“To elevate the world to God and transform it from within: this is the ideal the holy founder points out to you, dear brothers and sisters, who rejoice today to see him raised to the glory of the altars. He continues to remind you of the need not to let yourselves be frightened by a materialist culture that threatens to dissolve the genuine identity of Christ’s disciples.”
Indeed, the Holy Father, now in the altars, was always convinced of the role of the laity in the sanctification of temporal structures of the world around us. He, personally, took the opportunity to do his apostolate, even on those days of ceremonies and events. I remember how the next day, October 7, 2002, we gathered again in St. Peter’s (this time I managed to be closer to the altar) to celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving. The Mass was celebrated by the second successor of St. Josemaría, Msgr. Javier Echevarria, and at the end, we were fortunate to have an unexpected visit from the Holy Father, who appeared to greet the multitude of people gathered in the Piazza.
But he did not come alone; he brought with him the Orthodox Patriarch of Romania, His Beatitude Teoctist. In other words, he did his personal apostolate, seizing opportunities in his daily work. How much St. Josemaría must have enjoyed in heaven seeing what was happening. That personal dedication to each friend, not passing by the opportunity to approach anyone to God’s love, is an unmistakable mark of all Christians, especially of the layman. A responsibility that comes from Baptism, without the need for further “ministries” or “missions”:
“What amazes you seems natural to me— that God has sought you out in the practice of your profession! That is how he sought the first, Peter and Andrew, James and John, beside their nets, and Matthew, sitting in the custom-house. And — wonder of wonders! — Paul, in his eagerness to destroy the seed of the Christians” (St. Josemaría; The Way, no. 799).
After a welcome to the Orthodox Patriarch of Romania, to which we all responded with great enthusiasm, Pope St. John Paul II added, addressing his guest:
“We want to offer Your Beatitude great hospitality among us. The people participating in this first encounter are members of Opus Dei. They have come to give thanks for the canonization of their founder, Escrivá de Balaguer. I believe they are very happy” (General Audience; October 7, 2002).
The last words he said were not scripted, but they were accurate, seeing the great support of those of us in the square. It’s true. We were very happy. But to some extent, it wasn’t something occasional. Msgr. Echevarría, then at the head of Opus Dei, with great enthusiasm insisted: “Every day is October 6th.”
I never met St. Josemaría on this earth. When I was born, he was in Heaven, and when I met the Work, his successor, Blessed Álvaro del Portillo, was also in the House of the Father. But I consider myself a child of his prayer, as he himself wanted:
“When the Lord has called me to his presence, almost all of you — it’s the law of life — will continue on earth. Remember then what the Father told you: I love you very much, very much, madly, but I want you to be faithful. Do not forget: be faithful to go, by the infinite mercy of the Lord, to enjoy God. Be assured that then I will love you even more” (Source: The Founder of Opus Dei, vol. III).
And I return to my ordinary life, which is constantly an “October 6th” of divine grace, to strive to fulfill what St. Josemaría recommended:
“The ‘miracle’ which God asks of you is to persevere in your Christian and divine vocation, sanctifying each day’s work: the miracle of turning the prose of each day into heroic verse by the love which you put into your ordinary work. God waits for you there” (Christ is Passing By, no. 50).
Image Canonization of St. Josemaria; St. Peter’s Square, Vatican, October 6, 2002