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St Alphonsus - Sant'Alfonso Maria de' Liguori

Bishop & Doctor of the Church; Founder of the Redemptorists
(27 September 1696 – 1 August 1787) - from Campania, Italy
Beatified in 1816 by Pope Pius VII; canonized in 1839 by Pope Gregory XVI
Named Patron of confessors and moralists by Pope Pius XII in 1950
Feast Day - 1st August

Brice, from the USA chose Alphonsus as his Incredible Saint       

"He is the Church Doctor of morality and the reason he’s my favourite saint is he brings profound clarity on the position of both free will, decision making, and the teachings of the Catholic Church, and particularly how the Church and its guidance and directions actually open up who we are as individuals and he sheds light on the beauty of both Church teaching and how we become great people through being Catholic."

Catechesis by Papa Benedict XVI
General Audience, Wednesday 30 March 2011- in Croatian, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish + video

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today I would like to present to you the figure of a holy Doctor of the Church to whom we are deeply indebted because he was an outstanding moral theologian and a teacher of spiritual life for all, especially simple people. He is the author of the words and music of one of the most popular Christmas carols in Italy and not only Italy: Tu scendi dalle stelle [You come down from the stars].

Belonging to a rich noble family of Naples, Alfonso Maria de’ Liguori was born in 1696. Endowed with outstanding intellectual qualities, when he was only 16 years old he obtained a degree in civil and canon law. He was the most brilliant lawyer in the tribunal of Naples: for eight years he won all the cases he defended. However, in his soul thirsting for God and desirous of perfection, the Lord led Alphonsus to understand that he was calling him to a different vocation. In fact, in 1723, indignant at the corruption and injustice that was ruining the legal milieu, he abandoned his profession — and with it riches and success — and decided to become a priest despite the opposition of his father. He had excellent teachers who introduced him to the study of Sacred Scripture, of the Church history and of mysticism. He acquired a vast theological culture which he put to good use when, after a few years, he embarked on his work as a writer. He was ordained a priest in 1726 and, for the exercise of his ministry entered the diocesan Congregation of Apostolic Missions. Alphonsus began an activity of evangelization and catechesis among the humblest classes of Neapolitan society, to whom he liked preaching, and whom he instructed in the basic truths of the faith. Many of these people, poor and modest, to whom he addressed himself, were very often prone to vice and involved in crime. He patiently taught them to pray, encouraging them to improve their way of life. Alphonsus obtained excellent results: in the most wretched districts of the city there were an increasing number of groups that would meet in the evenings in private houses and workshops to pray and meditate on the word of God, under the guidance of several catechists trained by Alphonsus and by other priests, who regularly visited these groups of the faithful. When at the wish of the Archbishop of Naples, these meetings were held in the chapels of the city, they came to be known as “evening chapels”. They were a true and proper source of moral education, of social improvement and of reciprocal help among the poor: thefts, duels, prostitution ended by almost disappearing.

Even though the social and religious context of the time of St Alphonsus was very different from our own, the “evening chapels” appear as a model of missionary action from which we may draw inspiration today too, for a “new evangelization”, particularly of the poorest people, and for building a more just, fraternal and supportive coexistence. Priests were entrusted with a task of spiritual ministry, while well-trained lay people could be effective Christian animators, an authentic Gospel leaven in the midst of society.

After having considered leaving to evangelize the pagan peoples, when Alphonsus was 35 years old, he came into contact with the peasants and shepherds of the hinterland of the Kingdom of Naples. Struck by their ignorance of religion and the state of neglect in which they were living, he decided to leave the capital and to dedicate himself to these people, poor both spiritually and materially. In 1732 he founded the religious Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, which he put under the protection of Bishop Tommaso Falcoia, and of which he subsequently became the superior. These religious, guided by Alphonsus, were authentic itinerant missionaries, who also reached the most remote villages, exhorting people to convert and to persevere in the Christian life, especially through prayer. Still today the Redemptorists, scattered in so many of the world’s countries, with new forms of apostolate continue this mission of evangelization. I think of them with gratitude, urging them to be ever faithful to the example of their holy Founder.

Esteemed for his goodness and for his pastoral zeal, in 1762 Alphonsus was appointed Bishop of Sant’Agata dei Goti, a ministry which he left, following the illness which debilitated him, in 1775, through a concession of Pope Pius VI. On learning of his death in 1787, which occurred after great suffering, the Pontiff exclaimed: “he was a saint!”. And he was not mistaken: Alphonsus was canonized in 1839 and in 1871 he was declared a Doctor of the Church. This title suited him for many reason. First of all, because he offered a rich teaching of moral theology, which expressed adequately the Catholic doctrine, to the point that Pope Pius XII proclaimed him “Patron of all confessors and moral theologians”. In his day, there was a very strict and widespread interpretation of moral life because of the Jansenist mentality which, instead of fostering trust and hope in God’s mercy, fomented fear and presented a grim and severe face of God, very remote from the face revealed to us by Jesus. Especially in his main work entitled Moral Theology, St Alphonsus proposed a balanced and convincing synthesis of the requirements of God’s law, engraved on our hearts, fully revealed by Christ and interpreted authoritatively by the Church, and of the dynamics of the conscience and of human freedom, which precisely in adherence to truth and goodness permit the person’s development and fulfilment. Alphonsus recommended to pastors of souls and confessors that they be faithful to the Catholic moral doctrine, assuming at the same time a charitable, understanding and gentle attitude so that penitents might feel accompanied, supported and encouraged on their journey of faith and of Christian life. St Alphonsus never tired of repeating that priests are a visible sign of the infinite mercy of God who forgives and enlightens the mind and heart of the sinner so that he may convert and change his life. In our epoch, in which there are clear signs of the loss of the moral conscience and — it must be recognized — of a certain lack of esteem for the sacrament of Confession, St Alphonsus’ teaching is still very timely.

Together with theological works, St Alphonsus wrote many other works, destined for the religious formation of the people. His style is simple and pleasing. Read and translated into many languages, the works of St Alphonsus have contributed to molding the popular spirituality of the last 2 centuries. Some of the texts can be read with profit today too, such as The Eternal Maxims, the Glories of Mary, The Practice of Loving Jesus Christ, which latter work is the synthesis of his thought and his masterpiece. He stressed the need for prayer, which enables one to open oneself to divine Grace in order to do God’s will every day and to obtain one’s own sanctification. With regard to prayer he writes: “God does not deny anyone the grace of prayer, with which one obtains help to overcome every form of concupiscence and every temptation. And I say, and I will always repeat as long as I live, that the whole of our salvation lies in prayer”. Hence his famous axiom: “He who prays is saved.” In this regard, an exhortation of my Predecessor, John Paul II comes to mind. “Our Christian communities must become genuine ‘schools’ of prayer… It is therefore essential that education in prayer should become in some way a key-point of all pastoral planning” ( Novo Millennio Ineunte, n 33, 34).

Among the forms of prayer fervently recommended by St Alphonsus, stands out the visit to the Blessed Sacrament, or as we would call it today, “adoration”, brief or extended, personal or as a community, before the Eucharist. “Certainly”, St Alphonsus writes, “amongst all devotions, after that of receiving the sacraments, that of adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament takes the first place, is the most pleasing to God, and the most useful to ourselves… Oh, what a beautiful delight to be before an altar with faith… to represent our wants to him, as a friend does to a friend in whom he places all his trust.” Alphonsian spirituality is in fact eminently Christological, centred on Christ and on his Gospel. Meditation on the mystery of the Incarnation and on the Lord’s Passion were often the subject of St Alphonsus’ preaching. In these events, in fact, Redemption is offered to all human beings “in abundance”. And precisely because it is Christological, Alphonsian piety is also exquisitely Marian. Deeply devoted to Mary he illustrates her role in the history of salvation: an associate in the Redemption and Mediatrix of grace, Mother, Advocate and Queen. In addition, St Alphonsus states that devotion to Mary will be of great comfort to us at the moment of our death. He was convinced that meditation on our eternal destiny, on our call to participate for ever in the beatitude of God, as well as on the tragic possibility of damnation, contributes to living with serenity and dedication and to facing the reality of death, ever preserving full trust in God’s goodness.

St Alphonsus Maria Liguori is an example of a zealous Pastor who conquered souls by preaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments combined with behaviour impressed with gentle and merciful goodness that was born from his intense relationship with God, who is infinite Goodness. He had a realistically optimistic vision of the resources of good that the Lord gives to every person and gave importance to the affections and sentiments of the heart, as well as to the mind, to be able to love God and neighbour.

To conclude, I would like to recall that our saint, like St Francis de Sales, insists that holiness is accessible to every Christian: “the religious as a religious; the secular as a secular; the priest as a priest; the married as married; the man of business as a man of business; the soldier as a soldier; and so of every other state of life.” Let us thank the Lord who, with his Providence inspired saints and doctors in different times and places, who speak the same language to invite us to grow in faith and to live with love and with joy our being Christians in the simple everyday actions, to walk on the path of holiness, on the path towards God and towards true joy."

© Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori is buried in the Basilica of Sant' Alfonso in Pagina, Italy.

St Alphonsus, 1st meditation for the Octave of Christmas

“I have gone astray like a lost sheep : seek your servant” (Ps 119[118],176). Lord, it is I who am the poor sheep who became lost running after the satisfaction of its appetites and whims. But you, who are both Shepherd and Lamb, came down from heaven to save me, sacrificing yourself on the cross as a victim for the expiation of my sins: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Therefore, if I want to amend myself, what can I fear?... “God indeed is my Savior; I am confident and unafraid” (Is 12,2). You have given yourself to me: could you have given me a greater proof of your mercy to inspire confidence in me?

Dear Child! How much I regret having offended against you! I have caused you to weep in the stable at Bethlehem. Yet I know you have come to seek me out. Therefore I cast myself at your feet and, in spite of the distress and humiliation in which I see you in that crib and on that straw, I recognise you to be my King an my sovereign Lord. Yes, I understand the meaning of such tender tears: they are inviting me to love you, they are taking possession of my heart. Here it is, O my Jesus. I come to your feet today to offer it to you. Change it; set it alight, since you have come down from heaven to set hearts on fire with your holy love. From the crib I hear you say to me: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart” (Mt 23,37; Dt 6,5). And I reply: “O my Jesus, if I were not to love you, my Lord and my God, who am I to love?”

6th Discourse for the Octave of Christmas

The great ones of the earth glorify themselves in possessing kingdoms and wealth. Jesus Christ finds all his happiness in ruling over our hearts. This is the sovereignty he desires and that he decided to conquer with his death on the cross: «Upon his shoulder dominion rests» (Is 9,5). Many interpreters understand by these words... the cross our divine Redeemer bore on his shoulders. "This heavenly king," Cornelius à Lapide remarks, "is a completely different master to the devil. The latter loads heavy burdens onto his slaves' shoulders. Jesus, to the contrary, takes the full weight of his lordship on himself; he embraces the cross and wants to die on it so as to reign over our hearts." And Tertullian says that, whereas earthly monarchs "carry a sceptre in their hand and wear a crown on their head as emblems of their power, Jesus Christ bore the cross on his shoulders. And the cross was the throne to which he ascended to establish his kingdom of love"...

Let us then hasten to dedicate all our heart's love to this God who, to win it, has sacrificed his blood, his life, his whole self. "If you knew the gift of God," said Jesus to the Samaritan woman, "and who it is who says to you: 'Give me to drink'" (Jn 4,10). That is to say: if you only knew how great is the grace you receive from God... Oh, if the soul only understood what an extraordinary grace God bestows on it when he begs for its love in the words: "You shall love the Lord your God." Would not a subject who heard his lord say : "Love me" not be entranced? And could God not succeed in winning our hearts when he asks us for it with such great sweetness: "My son, give me your heart?" (Prv 23,26). However, God does not want this heart by halves; he wants the whole of it, without reserve. His commandment is: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart."

8th conference for the Octave of Christmas

"If we are to love God fully in heaven we must first of all love him fully on earth. The degree of love we have for God at the end of our life will be the measure of our love for God during eternity. Would we like to gain the certainty of never being separated from this sovereign Good in the present life? Let us compel Him ever more with the bonds of our love, saying with the Bride in the Song of Songs: 'I found him whom my soul loves: I took hold of him and will not let him go' (3,4). How has the consecrated Bride taken hold of her Beloved? 'With the arms of charity,' William answers...; 'It is with the arms of charity that we take hold of God', St Ambrose repeats. Happy, then, is the one who can exclaim together with St Paulinus: 'Let the rich possess their riches, let kings possess their kingdoms: our glory, our wealth and the kingdom that is ours is Christ!' And with St Ignatius: 'Only grant me your love and your grace and I shall be rich enough.' Make me love you and may I be loved by you; I neither wish for, nor need wish for anything besides."

St Alphonsus on 'The love of Christ':

The soul's entire holiness and perfection lies in love for Jesus Christ, our God, our highest good, our Redeemer. Charity is the bond and safeguard of all the virtues which perfect man.

Does not God deserve all our love? He has loved us from eternity: 'Consider well', he says to us, 'that in loving I was first. You had not yet come forth into the light, not even the world itself had come into existence, when already I was loving you. Throughout my eternal existence I have loved you.'

Since God knew that man is attracted by favours, he willed by his gifts to bind man to love of himself. 'I wish', he said, 'to draw men to love me with those very cords by which they allow themselves to be ensnared - that is, with the ties of love.' And all the gifts he bestowed on man have this aim: having given him a soul made in his own image, endowed with memory, intellect and will, and a body equipped with senses, he also created for him heaven and earth with its plenty: through love for man he created all these things, so that all those creatures should serve man, and that man in gratitude for so many gifts should return love for love to his Creator. 

But he was not satisfied with giving us all these beautiful things. He went to such lengths to win our love that he gave himself wholly to us. The Eternal Father gave us even his only Son. When he saw all of us dead in sin and deprived of grace, what did he do? Compelled by his great love, or rather, as the apostle says, by the excess of his love for us, he sent his beloved Son that hie might make satisfaction for us, and recall us to the life which sin had taken away.

By giving us his Son whom, in order to spare us he did not spare, he gave us everything: grace, love heaven; for all these indeed are less that his Son.

'He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?'