He lived side by side with two saints for forty years. That was his preparation for what came next: serving the Church as the Bishop-Prelate of Opus Dei from 1994 to 2016.
On the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Bishop Javier Echevarría, 84, died from pneumonia in Rome, just like his two predecessors: squeezed out like a lemon to the last drop, working for the Lord, without causing much of a fuss for anyone. We in Opus Dei greeted the news with a degree of understandable sadness — because he was so good and so greatly loved by all of us, and by many others in the Church and beyond. But we also received the news with a sense of supernatural joy, and even applause when his mortal remains were transferred to the Church of Our Lady of Peace for his funeral — applause because he gave us an extraordinary example of selfless and generous dedication. We were thinking, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master.”
When I joined Opus Dei forty years ago, I was inspired and excited with an ideal that this man embodied: to give your whole life to the Lord, holding nothing back, working like a donkey. In Bishop Javier, I will always have before me that extraordinary example.
We called him “Father” because that’s just what he was: a father to his many spiritual children of Opus Dei spread throughout the world — men and women, young and old, rich and poor, of almost every nationality you could think of. He learned how to be a “Father” from St. Josemaría Escrivá, and later from Blessed Álvaro del Portillo, the two saints he lived with. His fatherliness was apparent in his constant concern for us, particularly if anyone was ill, or out of work or suffering in any way. I found it amazing that he could pick you out of a crowd and call you by your first name, even if he had not seen you in years. That is quite an achievement for a shepherd of a multitude of the faithful.
Born in 1932 in pre-civil war Spain, Javier Echevarría joined Opus Dei at age 16 in 1948 and never looked back. Opus Dei was more of a dream than a reality at that point. But he agreed to give his whole life to the service of the “Church and all souls with joy and simplicity.” That prospect excited him. Well, he never lost his youthful enthusiasm, and his enthusiasm has been contagious.
When he joined Opus Dei, everyone knew everyone by name. We were active in only a couple of countries, and there were just a handful of priests. But he lived to see it all: the expansion of Opus Dei to seventy countries, reaching millions of ordinary souls one by one, served by thousands of ordinary priests. He also experienced the great joy of witnessing the canonization of our founder, St. Josemaría, in 2002, and the 2014 beatification of his successor, Madrid’s own hometown hero Blessed Álvaro del Portillo. The words and vision of St. Josemaría had come true: “Dream, and your dreams will fall short.”
In those forty years of preparation to serve as the Prelate of Opus Dei, the Father had learned his lessons well, and never doubted or hesitated about the priority of prayer and sacrifice in the life of an apostle. That was his constant message, because that was the clarion and constant teaching of St. Josemaría, a teaching that many who are thirsting for an authentic and generous way of responding to the Christian vocation have embraced. And that life of constant prayer and generous sacrifice, without making a big deal of it, leads souls inexorably to live in the presence of God as children of God wherever they are: in the classroom, the board room, the factories or the fields.
What is the fruit of that life of prayer, sacrifice and apostolate? Joy. Joy and Peace. In our corporate prayers, our preces, we ask for “gaudium cum pace,” the joy and peace of a Saint Joseph, of the Blessed Mother, the result of living as friends of God.
St. Josemaría died as he wished, looking at a painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe as she is handing a rose to St. Juan Diego. I think Bishop Javier died as he wished as well, on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, looking forward to the coming of the Christ Child on Christmas day.
And where do we go from here, after God has mercifully blessed us with three good and faithful “Fathers” in a row — St. Josemaría, Blessed Álvaro, and Bishop Javier Echevarría? We carry on just as we have been taught, with the confidence that comes from knowing that we are children of God, “not afraid to live, and not afraid to die,” always up to date because we are rooted in the teachings of Jesus Christ and seek to be faithful sons and daughters of the Church.
Opus Dei Father Francis J. Hoffman is Executive Director of Relevant Radio.