Friday, August 01, 2008

Feast of St. Alphonsus de Liguori

St. Alphonsus: Preacher of the Good News of God's Love and Redemption in Jesus Christ

* Founder
* Missionary
* Author
* Moral Theologian
* Doctor of the Church
* Lover of the Poor

Today Redemptoristines and Redemptorists and many other congregations which trace their roots to him celebrate the feast day of St. Alphonsus de Liguori (1696-1787). He is the patron saint of moral theologians and those suffering from arthritis. In the history of the Italian language he is given large credit for helping to standardize the language by publishing over one hundred books in the 18th century, many of which have never been out of print like "The Glories of Mary" or "The True Spouse of Christ." He lived well into his ninetieth year but claimed to be dying from about the age of sixty because he suffered from many aliments, mainly due to a severely arthritic spine. In the end he was so bent that his chin created a wound in his chest and he was practically blind and deaf. Perhaps one of his greatest sufferings was to out live all his friends and associates. But, undoubtedly, it was a very great sorrow to find himself technically expelled from his own congregation due to the machinations between the Church and political forces at work as the Redemptorists sought approbation of their Rule. In his failing state he was deceived, tricked into signing a document, and later found that he was not a member of the congregation which had received approval from Rome. All because of what might be called political geography.

For many years, Redemptoristine Nuns considered St. Alphonsus their founder. Our Sister Maria Celeste was inspired by Jesus to create the Order and did so one year before Alphonsus began the Redemptorists (1731). He had been sent by a Bishop to examine Maria Celeste's inspiration. He was totally impressed, supported her and they became friends. She, in turn, encouraged a then very uncertain Alphonsus to follow his inspiration to begin a congregation dedicated to preaching the redeeming love of God to the poorest of the poor and the most abandoned. This effort began in 1732 in the guest house of Maria Celeste's monastery. However, when the Bishop began to edit the rule she had received from Jesus, Celeste protested, the sisters took sides, and she was given an ultimatum: accept the edited rule and accept the Bishop as your spiritual director for life. She agreed to the first provision but could not accept to the second. She and her blood sisters were expelled from the monastery. She served in a couple of other religious institutions at their behest to renew their practice while looking for a place she could begin a new monastic community. Finally she settled in Foggia, a long way from her original home in Naples. The Foggia monastery was not reunited with the Order until the 1930s.

St. Alphonsus was instrumental in getting the edited Rule approved by Rome. When he became bishop of St. Agata di Gotti, he requested that the original monastery in Scala, outside of Naples, make their first new foundation in his diocese. This is the history which dubbed him "founder" in Redemptoristine history.

The Redemptorists were long thought of as missionaries preaching a "hell fire and brimstone" version of salvation. This was probably a great exaggeration and it is not the reputation they enjoy today. But it seems odd that they should have been so labeled becasue their founder Alphonsus was noted and reviled in his time for a skillful theogical balance between two extremes of his time: the elitest, exclusionary and guilt-ridden Jansenist strand (alive in some circles to this day) then known a rigorists and, at the other end of the spectrum, the minimalists who preferred to think of salvation as assured by a minimum of religious effort. I am not capable of explaining his positions as a moral theologian. These position were expressed pastorally in his demand for simple but precise preaching, emphasis on the redeeming salvation of a God so in love with people that Alphonsus called God, "Iddio pazzo" the crazy God, crazy in love with creation. His preaching emphasized the Crib, the Cross and the Eucharist; the mystery of the Incarnation, the Redeeming Passion of Jesus Christ, and the gifts of the Eucharistic meal and presence.

Alphonsus de Liguori was a very brilliant and accomplished man. He suffered the interior trials of scrupulosity and vacillation all his life. But he persevered, using every God-given gift at his command and clinging to the image of a loving God who made it all possible.

Those interested in learning more could consult an excellent biography of the saint by Fr. Jones, a Redemptorist.

1 comment:

Macrina said...

A somewhat belated happy feast day! I worked with the Redemptorists (and knew the Redemptoristines as well) some years ago in South Africa, and so was thinking of all the sons and daughters of St Alphonsus on 1 August.

And I do enjoy looking at your blog occasionally!