Saint Alphonsus Liguori
Bishop and Doctor of the Church
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.
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).