REFLECTION: Living with a holy man PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 23 September 2014 11:32



I AM referring to Bishop Alvaro del Portillo (March 11, 1914-March 23, 1994), first successor of St. Josemaria Escriva as head of Opus Dei. He will be beatified in Madrid on September 27.

I first met him in person in 1987 when he visited the Philippines, though I have known him ever since I got in touch with Opus Dei way back in 1970. He was like the shadow of St. Josemaria because I always saw him beside the Founder in the pictures.

But more than a physical shadow, he was a most faithful reflection and conductor of the spirit of Opus Dei that the Founder embodied with his original charism. St. Josemaria used to call him “Saxum,” meaning Rock, because the Founder could always rely on him for anything.

More or less I could claim that I lived with him for two years in Rome when I was sent there for my ecclesiastical studies. I have to say, “more or less,” because we actually did not share the same house, nor did we see each other everyday. But, yes, we met and had get-togethers with many others like me quite often.

I had many occasions of talking with him personally, and since one of my job assignments was to open the gate of the compound where we were staying, I frequently had a chance to open the gate for him, greet him and have some small talk.

Once, I was asked to accompany him while he had his haircut. I made sure I collected the cut hair—of course, in secret—knowing that one day it will be a relic. But I lost it since when his process of beatification started, we were asked to return all items related to him.

But that occasion was memorable to me because after the haircut, while I escorted him to his room, he asked me details of my birthday which I celebrated just a few days before. I was impressed that he would know about my birthday, considering there were hundreds of us, and that he was interested to know what happened during the celebration.

I had always found him as a very serene person, exuding pure goodness. I never saw in his face any sign that he was bothered, though I knew very well that he had to face and bear quite a burden of responsibilities and other concerns. Yes, I was truly edified by that, and hoped that I could be like him.

To me, his words, always gentle and delivered in a soft tone in meditations or in get-togethers, revealed nothing less than a deep spirituality that was most faithful to the gospel and to the spirit of Opus Dei as embodied by St. Josemaria. I was always moved to listen very carefully to each word he said.

My impression was that he spoke directly from his heart, but a heart in constant dialogue with God. There was a certain freshness in his ideas and words. I never had the feeling of listening to recycled spiritual clichés, prettified by some rhetorical if spiritual gloss and hype, or propped up simply by clever literary devices or witticisms.

I suppose that when one tries hard to be very spiritual in his outlook and lifestyle, nourishing his spiritual life with the living word of God, with the sacraments and many other spiritual exercises, he could distinguish between what is truly spiritual and what may just look or sound like one, between what is truly spiritual and what is merely literary, etc.

The biography of Bishop Alvaro is full of heroic instances of suffering, extreme fidelity, poverty, generosity, mercy... He forgave the person who nearly killed him during the Spanish civil war, the cocked gun pointed right to his head. He was always preaching about forgiveness, asking for it as well as giving it.

In spite of his deceptively serene and laid-back presence, he was actually a man burning with love and self-giving. He was very dynamic in the sense that he inspired the putting up of many projects for the spiritual and social health of many people in many countries. Opus Dei spread to many places during his term.

He was made bishop in January 1991, and on January 28 of that same year, I was among the first batch of those ordained by him as deacon. Obviously, I was very happy and very thankful for this unexpected privilege.

I always cherish the memory of this very holy man. I now have a great devotion to him, and I hope and pray many others will have it too.