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St Alphonsus - Sant'Alfonso Maria de' Liguori

Bishop & Doctor of the Church; Founder of the Redemptorists (Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer); from Italy
Born in Marianella near Naples on 27th September 1696; died in Pagani on 1st August 1787
Beatified in 1816 by Pope Pius VII; canonized in 1839 by Gregory XVI. Proclaimed Doctor of the Church by Pius IX in 1871; named Patron Saint of confessors and moralists by Pius XII in 1950
Feast Day - 1st August
Major Shrine - Basilica di Sant'Alfonso di Liguori, Pagani, Salerno, where he is buried.

Benedict XVI gave 2 catecheses on St Alphonsus - one (below) during his series on the Saints & one (here) during his series on prayer.

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 Pope Benedict XVI      
General Audience, Wednesday 30 March 2011 - also in Croatian, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear brothers and sisters,
Today I would like to present to you the figure of a holy Doctor of the Church to whom we owe a great deal, because he was an outstanding moral theologian and a teacher of spiritual life for everyone, above all for 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 noble and wealthy Neopolitan family, Alfonso Maria de’ Liguori was born in 1696. Endowed with remarkable intellectual qualities, at only 16 years old he obtained a degree in civil and canon law. He was the most brilliant lawyer at the Naples Bar: 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 it was to another vocation that he was being called. In fact, in 1723, indignant at the corruption and injustice that vitiated the legal milieu, he abandoned his profession — and with it riches and success — and decided, despite his father's opposition, to become a priest. He had excellent teachers, who introduced him to the study of Sacred Scripture, Church history and 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 joined the diocesan Congregation of Apostolic Missions for the exercise of his ministry. Alphonsus began an activity of evangelization and catechesis among the humblest strata of Neapolitan society, to whom he loved to preach, and whom he instructed in the basic truths of the faith. Many of these poor and modest people he spoke to were very often addicted to vice and committed criminal acts. With patience he taught them to pray, encouraging them to improve their way of life. Alphonsus obtained excellent results: in the most wretched districts of the city groups of people multiplied that, in the evening, gathered in private houses and shops, so as to pray and meditate on the Word of God, under the guidance of several catechists trained by Alphonsus and other priests, who regularly visited these groups of the faithful. When, tat the wish of the Archbishop of Naples, these meetings were held in the chapels of the city, they took the name “evening chapels”. They were a true and proper source of moral education, of social restoration, of mutual help among the poor: thefts, duels, prostitution almost disappeared.

Athough the social and religious context of the epoch of St Alphonsus was very different from ours, the “evening chapels” appear as a model of missionary action from which we can also draw inspiration today for a “new evangelization”, particularly of the poorest people, and for building a more just, fraternal and supportive human coexistence. Priests are entrusted with a task of spiritual ministry, while well-formed lay people can be effective Christian animators, authentic Gospel leaven within society.

After having thought of leaving to evangelize the pagan peoples, Alphonsus, at the age of 35, came into contact with the peasants and shepherds of the interior regions of the Kingdom of Naples and, struck by their religious ignorance and by the state of abandonment in which they were living, he decided to leave the capital and to dedicate himself to these people, who were poor spiritually and materially. In 1732 he founded the religious Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, which he placed under the tutelage of the bishop Tommaso Falcoia, and of which he subsequently became the superior. These religious, guided by Alphonsus, were authentic itinerant missionaries, who reached even the most remote villages, exhorting conversion and perseverance in the Christian life, above all through prayer. Still today the Redemptorists, spread out in many of the countries of the world, with new forms of apostolate continue this mission of evangelization. I think of them with gratitude, exhorting them to be always faithful to the example of their holy Founder.

Esteemed for his goodness and pastoral zeal, in 1762 Alphonsus was nominated Bishop of Sant’Agata dei Goti, a ministry which, after being afflicted by illness, he left in 1775, through a concession of Pope Pius VI. The same Pontiff, in 1787, on learning the news of his death, which occurred after much suffering, exclaimed: “He was a saint!” And he was not mistaken: Alphonsus was canonized in 1839, and in 1871 was declared a Doctor of the Church. This title suits him for multiple reasons. First of all, because he proposed a rich teaching of moral theology, which appropriately expresses Catholic doctrine, to the point that he was proclaimed by Pope Pius XII “Patron of all confessors and moral theologians”. In his epoch, a very rigorous interpretation of moral life had spread, also because of the Jansenist mentality which, instead of nurturing trust and hope in God’s mercy, fomented fear and presented a grim and severe face of God, far removed from the one revealed to us by Jesus. St Alphonsus, above all in his main work entitled Moral Theology, proposes a balanced and convincing synthesis between the demands of God’s law, engraved on our hearts, fully revealed by Christ and authoritatively interpreted by the Church, and the dynamics of man's conscience and freedom, which precisely in adherence to truth and goodness allow the maturation and realization of the person. Alphonsus recommended to pastors of souls and to confessors that they be faithful to Catholic moral doctrine, while at the same time assuming a charitable, understanding, sweet attitude so that penitents could feel accompanied, supported, encouraged on their pathway of faith and Christian life. St Alphonsus never tired of repeating that priests are a visible sign of the infinite mercy of God, who forgives and illuminates the mind and heart of the sinner so that he may be converted and change his life. In our epoch, in which there are clear signs of the loss of moral conscience and — it must be recognized — of a certain lack of esteem for the Sacrament of Confession, St Alphonsus’ teaching is still of great actuality.

Together with his theological works, St Alphonsus wrote many other writings, destined for the religious formation of the people. The style is simple and pleasing. Read and translated into numerous languages, St Alphonsus' works have contributed to shaping the popular spirituality of the last two centuries. Some of them are texts to be read with great profit still today, such as The Eternal Maxims, The Glories of Mary, The Practice of Loving Jesus Christ, the latter being a work which represents the synthesis of his thought and his masterpiece. He insists a lot on the necessity of prayer, which allows one to open up to divine Grace so as to accomplish daily the will of God and to attain one’s own sanctification. Regarding prayer he writes: “God does not deny to anyone the grace of prayer, with which one obtains the help to overcome every concupiscence and every temptation. And I say, and repeat and will always repeat, as long as I live, that all our salvation lies in praying." From which comes his famous axiom: “The one who prays is saved.” In this regard, the exhortation of my predecessor John Paul II comes to mind. “Our Christian communities must become "schools of prayer" ... It is therefore necessary that education in prayer becomes a qualifying point of every pastoral programme” (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 33,34).

Among the forms of prayer fervently recommended by St Alphonsus stands out the visit to the Most Holy Sacrament or, as we would say today, adoration, brief or prolonged, personal or as a community, before the Eucharist. “Certainly” - writes Alphonsus - “amongst all devotions that of adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the first after the sacraments, the dearest to God and the most useful to us… Oh, what beautiful delight to stay before an altar with faith… and to present ones needs to him, as a friend does to another friend in whom one has full confidence!” (Visits to the Blessed Sacrament and to the Blessed Virgin Mary for each day of the month. Introduction). Alphonsian spirituality is in fact eminently Christological, centred on Christ and His Gospel. Meditation on the mystery of the Incarnation and the Passion of the Lord are frequently the subject of his preaching. In these events, in fact, the Redemption is offered “copiously” to all men and women. 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: associate in the Redemption and Mediatrix of grace, Mother, Advocate and Queen. Furthermore, St Alphonsus affirms 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 commitment, and to facing the reality of death, always retaining all trust in the goodness of God.

St Alphonsus Maria de' Liguori is an example of a zealous pastor, who conquered souls by preaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments, combined with a way of acting marked by a sweet and mild goodness, which was born from his intense relationship with God, who is infinite Goodness. He had a realistically optimistic vision of the resources of good which the Lord gives to each man and woman and he gave importance to the affections and sentiments of the heart, as well as to the mind, so as to be able to love God and one's neighbour.

In conclusion, I would like to recall that our Saint, like St Francis de Sales - of whom I spoke a few weeks ago - insists on saying that holiness is accessible to every Christian: “The religious as religious, the secular as secular, the priest as priest, the married as married, the merchant as merchant, the soldier as soldier, and so on for every other state of life” (Practice of loving Jesus Christ. Ascetic Works I). Let us thank the Lord who, with his Providence, raises up saints and doctors in different times and places, who speak the same language so as to invite us to grow in faith and to live with love and joy our being Christians in the simple actions of each day, to walk on the road of holiness, on the road towards God and towards true joy. Thank you."

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?'