Friday, September 26, 2014

Saxum: The Life of Alvaro del Portillo

The process to attaining sainthood in the Catholic Church is a fairly lengthy process. For starters, the man/woman must have been dead five years. A bishop is then placed in charge of an initial investigation of this person's life to determine if the candidate is deemed worthy of further consideration. If so, a Nihil Obstat is granted and the deceased is called a Servant of God. After this, documents and testimonies are gathered and presented to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome to prove a life of heroic virtue. When approved, the deceased is called Venerable. After this one miracle is required to be called Blessed (unless the deceased was martyred). Finally, a second miracle is required after beatification to become a Saint (though a Pope may waive this requirement). September 27, 2014 Bishop Alvaro del Portillo will be beatified, due to his intercession for the miraculous cure of a Chilean boy. If the name Alvaro del Portillo is unfamiliar, then you might want to check out the book Saxum: The Life of Alvaro del Portillo, available from Scepter Publishers.

The organization Opus Dei received a lot of negative attention the past decade thanks to the likes of Dan Brown misinformation and flat out lies in The Da Vinci Code. Real Catholics know the truth about this organization and its great founder - St. Josemaria Escriva. Who many Catholics don't know is Alvaro del Portillo. He was the head of Opus Dei after Escriva passed away. Escriva referred to del Portillo as Saxum, which is the Latin for rock. That is where the book gets its title.

The book doesn't start like most biographies, which is to say at the beginning of his life, but instead gives us a glimpse of how Alvaro del Portillo met Josemaria Escriva. It is instead in the second chapter where we get a brief look at his early life. However, unlike most biographies, which spend at least one chapter devoted to a figure's birth and parents, this book only gives a few pages of details. In those few pages, we see that even at an early age, Alvaro is different than other boys. Much focus is then given to his teen years, where we see him discerning schooling and a career. He waffled between law (like his father) and engineering, but ultimately rejected the idea of law, because he didn't like to speak in front of people and thought he'd be better suited to a job he could perform alone. Despite eventually becoming an engineer, little did he know that his ultimate vocation would be quite the opposite.

Chapter Four proved to be one of the most interesting ones to me. It is here that we see del Portillo's beginnings in Opus Dei. We learn that he was a very vocal proponent and recruiter for Opus Dei. We also learn that he chose a life of celibacy as part of his mission with Opus Dei. Most fascinating to me was reading about the pillars of his "plan of life." These pillars included such devotions as daily Mass, mental prayer, and daily recitation of the Rosary. He learned from Josemaria Escriva that we are not to see these as separate activities from work and rest, but to turn every aspect of our lives into prayer. This is the heart of Opus Dei's message.

In addition to the aforementioned chapter, this book teaches us about the social climate and wars which shaped Alvaro del Portillo. We see him become a priest for Opus Dei and later a bishop. We see the members of Opus Dei seek and gain approval from the Vatican, because like present day, the organization was under attack by certain groups. Also covered in this book is del Portillo's work at the Second Vatican Council and what life was like after the council. The reader gets to see some of the inner workings of Opus Dei, what the core teachings are, and the impact Josemaria Escriva had not only on del Portillo's life but on the lives of all those around him.

This was a very interesting and easy to read biography about a Blessed man, so many people don't know about, including myself before this book. Alvaro del Portillo's life was inspiring and made me strive to live a better life. If you want to know more about him, Josemaria Escriva, and Opus Dei, I highly recommend this book. In fact, I would go so far as to say that if you pick up this book, you should also pick up Like Salt and Like Light, which contains a selection of del Portillo's writings and talks.

This book was provided to me for free by Scepter Publishers in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!