Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Bishop and Doctor of the Church (1696-1787)

Spiritual Bouquet: As the Father has loved Me, I also have loved you. St. John 15:9

Saint Alphonsus was born of noble parents near Naples, in 1696. His spiritual formation was entrusted to the Oratorian Fathers of that city, and from his boyhood Alphonsus was known as a very devout little Brother of the Minor Oratory. At the early age of sixteen he became a doctor in civil law; and entering this career with ardor, he met great success and renown. A mistake, however, by which he lost an important case, showed him the vanity of human fame and glory. He decided to abandon the legal profession at the age of twenty-seven, to labor for the glory of God alone. Alphonsus’ father long opposed his decision, but as a man of virtue consented at last.

Saint Alphonsus was ordained a priest in 1726, and he soon became as renowned a preacher as he had been a lawyer. His father stopped in a church to pray one day, and amazed, heard his son preaching; he suddenly saw clearly how God had marvelously elevated his son, and was filled with joy, saying: “My son has made God known to me!” As for Alphonsus, he loved and devoted himself to the most neglected souls in the region of Naples. He was a very perfect confessor, and wrote a manual which has been used ever since for the instruction of those who administer the sacrament of Penance. A musician of the first rank, Saint Alphonsus gave up his instruments to devote himself more perfectly to his apostolic labors; he nonetheless composed joyous religious hymns for the poor folk he heard singing in the streets, that they might glorify God and not waste their voices and efforts in vain and worldly songs.

To extend and continue his work, he later founded the missionary Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, for the evangelization of the poor. At the age of sixty-six he became Bishop of Saint Agatha, a suffragan diocese of Naples, and undertook the reform of his diocese with the zeal of a Saint. He made a vow never to waste a moment of time, and, though his life was spent in prayer and work, he also composed a vast number of books. These volumes were filled with such great science, unction, and wisdom that in 1871 he was declared by Pius IX a Doctor of the Church. Saint Alphonsus wrote his first book at the age of forty-nine, and in his eighty-third year had published about sixty volumes; at that time his director forbade him to continue writing. The best known of his books is his volume entitled “The Glories of Mary”, by which he exalts the graces and narrates the wondrous deeds of mercy of the Mother of God for those who invoke Her.

Very many of these books were written in the half hours snatched from his labors as a missionary, as a religious Superior, and finally as a Bishop, often in the midst of unrelenting bodily and mental sufferings. With his left hand he would hold a piece of marble against his aching head, while his right hand wrote. Yet he counted no time lost which was spent in charity. He did not refuse to maintain a long correspondence with a simple soldier who asked for his advice, or to play the harpsichord in his declining years, while he taught his novices to sing spiritual canticles. He lived in times of religious laxity, and met with many persecutions and disappointments. During his last seven years he was prevented by constant sickness from offering the adorable Sacrifice, but he received Holy Communion daily, and his love for Jesus Christ and his trust in Mary’s prayers sustained him to the end. He died in 1787, in his ninety-first year.

Reflection: Let us do with all our heart and attention the duty of each day, leaving to God the result as well as the care of the future.

Source: Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894).


Chapter from the work of St Alphonsus "Uniformity to God's will"

2. Uniformity in all Things.

The essence of perfection is to embrace the will of God in all things,prosperous or adverse. In prosperity, even sinners find it easy to unite themselves to the divine will; but it takes saints to unite themselves to God's will when things go wrong and are painful to self-love. Our conduct in such instances is the measure of our love of God. St. John of Avila used to say: One Blessed be God in times of adversity, is worth more than a thousand acts of gratitude in times of prosperity [20].Furthermore, we must unite ourselves to God's will not only in things that come to us directly from his hands, such as sickness, desolation, poverty, death of relatives, but likewise in those we suffer from man for example, contempt, injustice, loss of reputation, loss of temporal goods and all kinds of persecution. On these occasions we must remember that whilst God does not will the sin, he does will our humiliation, our poverty, or our mortification, as the case may be. It is certain and of faith, that whatever happens, happens by the will of God: I am the Lord forming the light and creating the darkness, making peace and creating evil [21].From God come all things, good as well as evil. We call adversities evil; actually they are good and meritorious, when we receive them as coming from God's hands: Shall there be evil in a city which the Lord hath not done [22]? Good things and evil, life and death, poverty and riches are from God [23]. It is true, when one offends us unjustly, God does not will his sin, nor does he concur in the sinners bad will; but God does, in a general way, concur in the material action by which such a one strikes us, robs us or does us an injury, so that God certainly wills the offense we suffer and it comes to us from his hands. Thus the Lord told David he would be the author of those things he would suffer at the hands of Absalom: I will raise up evils against thee out of thy own house, and I will take thy wives before thy face and give them to thy neighbor [24] . Hence too God told the Jews that in punishment for their sins, he would send the Assyrians to plunder them and spread destruction among them: The Assyrian is the rod and staff of my anger. I will send him to take away the spoils [25] . Assyrian wickedness served as God's scourge for the Hebrews [26] is St. Augustine's comment on this text. And our Lord himself told St. Peter that his sacred passion came not so much from man as from his Father: The chalice which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it [27]? When the messenger came to announce to Job that the Sabeans had plundered his goods and slain his children, he said: The Lord gave and the Lord taketh away [28]. He did not say: The Lord hath given me my children and my possessions, and the Sabeans have taken them away. He realized that adversity had come upon him by the will of God. Therefore he added: As it hath pleased the Lord, so is it done. Blessed be the name of the Lord [29]. We must not therefore consider the afflictions that come upon us as happening by chance or solely from the malice of men; we should be convinced that what happens, happens by the will of God. Apropos of this it is related that two martyrs, Epictetus and Atho, being put to the torture by having their bodies raked with iron hooks and burnt with flaming torches, kept repeating: Work thy will upon us, O Lord. Arrived at the place of execution, they exclaimed: Eternal God, be thou blessed in that thy will has been entirely accomplished in us [30]. Cesarius points up what we have been saying by offering this incident in the life of a certain monk: Externally his religious observance was the same as that of the other monks, but he had attained such sanctity that the mere touch of his garments healed the sick. Marveling at these deeds, since his life was no more exemplary than the lives of the other monks, the superior asked him one day what was the cause of these miracles. He replied that he too was mystified and was at a loss how to account for such happenings. What devotions do you practice? asked the abbot. He answered that there was little or nothing special that he did beyond making a great deal of willing only what God willed, and that God had given him the grace of abandoning his will totally to the will of God. Prosperity does not lift me up, nor adversity cast me down, added the monk. I direct all my prayers to the end that God's will may be done fully in me and by me.That raid that our enemies made against the monastery the other day, in which our stores were plundered, our granaries put to the torch and our cattle driven off did not this misfortune cause you any resentment? queried the abbot. No, Father, came the reply. On the contrary, I returned thanks to God's is my custom in such circumstances fully persuaded that God does all things, or permits all that happens, for his glory and for our greater good; thus I am always at peace, no matter what happens. Seeing such uniformity with the will of God, the abbot no longer wondered why the monk worked so many miracles [31] .


[20] St. John Avil. Letters 41.

[21] Isaias 45:6, 7.

[22] Amos, 3:6.

[23] Eccli. 11:14.

[24] 2 Kings, 12:11.

[25] Isaias, 10:5, 6.

[26] St. Aug. in Ps. 73.

[27] St. John, 18:11.

[28] Job. 1:21.

[29] Ibid.

[30] ML (Vitae Patrum) 73-402, etc.

[31] Caesarius: Dial. distin. 10: cap. 9.