Saint Alphonsus of Liguori


Lawyer, writer, musician, missionary, priest, founder, moralist, and Doctor of the Church: these are some of the qualities of this doctor of the Church.

Newsroom (Augut 2, 2021 10:40, Gaudium Press) Built on the solid rock of Our Lord’s words, Holy Church is immortal. He Himself guaranteed it when He affirmed that the gates of hell would not prevail against her (Mt. 16:18).

To this end, the Divine Redeemer always raises up, in every age, saints to help the boat of Peter to cross the stormy seas of the century.

We could review all the stages of history and see how God always opposes the infernal enemy with a saint to guide, protect and support the Mystical Spouse of Christ.

The Saint God sent to the 18th Century

September 27, 1696 was a day of great joy for the Liguori noble family, as their firstborn son was born.

And something peculiar happened at his birth: no sooner had he been cradled, than the mission that God would entrust to the little one was revealed: “This little son will reach extreme old age, he will not die before he is ninety, he will be a bishop and will do great things for Jesus Christ”“[1] – predicted the Jesuit Francis of St. Jerome, a religious blessed with supernatural gifts.

His father, Giuseppe de Liguori, captain-commander of the galleys of the King of Naples, and his mother Anna Cavalieri made every effort from the beginning to ensure that little Alphonse received a profoundly Catholic education and a very broad education in the sciences, the arts and rhetoric; and so the little boy grew up: at the age of twelve he entered the faculty of Civil and Canon Law in Naples, from which he emerged graduated four years later, forcing the faculty to lower the age for which it conferred the title of doctorate, thus obtaining the laurea in utroque iuri. [2]

After graduating, he acquired great fame in the Neapolitan courts; it was in this environment that the Redeemer would harvest him for His service.

One day the young lawyer was defending the cause of the Duke of Gravina against the Duke of Tuscany. However, for a small mistake, he saw his argument fall like a house of cards, and, seeing how fleeting were the glories of this world, he left the court saying: “Traitor world, I know you: nothing else counts for me!”[3] – he left, never to return. When he arrived at his house, he shut himself in his room, where he fasted for three days, meditating in front of a Crucifix. After this period of recollection, Alphonsus dismissed his clients and embraced a religious life at home, dedicating days on end to reading and prayer, going out only to care for the sick and to go to churches, where he spent at least three hours in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

One day, while visiting the patients in the hospital, Alphonsus noticed something different inside: the hospital seemed to be turning around, and in the midst of this confusion a voice whispered to him: “What are you still doing in the world? Leave it and give yourself unreservedly to me”. The saint didn’t pay much attention to this inner movement and continued in the service of the sick, but when he left the room where he was, not only the voice became more sensitive, but also an enormous clarity appeared to him. Alphonsus, like a new Saul of Tarsus, answered: “Lord, many times I have resisted your grace, here I am, do with me what you will”[4], and immediately went to the church of Our Lady of Mercy, where he made a total consecration to God and, as a sign of his resolution, took out his sword and placed it on the altar at the feet of the Immaculate Virgin.

The resolution to found a religious order

The Neapolitan saint joined, after the events narrated, the society of the diocesan missionaries of Naples, going to the suburbs and neighboring countryside to carry out missions, thus seeing what the situation of the people was: for lack of true and good pastors who could minister the sacraments and give them a true formation, they lived abandoned to the pleasures of the flesh and to the false doctrines that were rampant at that time, such as Jansenism and Quietism.

However, his entry into religion was not easy; as it usually happens with souls who decide to follow God’s Law, the world that once applauded, praised and exalted the learned lawyer did not delay in persecuting and slandering his decision to embrace the paths of virtue, even going so far as to say that “Alphonse has gone mad! However, he was no longer concerned with the opinions of the century, but solely with the glory of God and the good of souls, for which he chose to follow the path of the priesthood.[5]

And it was a choice truly inspired by Providence, for the kindness and gentleness with which Alphonsus, already a priest, attended to anyone who approached him did not delay in drawing crowds to the confessional; to his luminous charity was added a tender and moving way of showing his penitents what his state of soul was. The affluence of people was such that the saint often had to spend not only the day, but even part of the night in the confessional.

Deeply moved by seeing these “sheep without a shepherd”, after a stay in Scala, where the spiritual misery of souls was even greater than he had seen up to that point, Alphonsus decided to found an institution for the formation, instruction and salvation of the abandoned flock.

After consulting his spiritual director, he carried out this ardent desire, which, among many vicissitudes, struggles and difficulties, was realized in 1731 with the foundation of the order of contemplatives, and the following year, with the order of priest-missionaries, which received pontifical approval from Benedict XIV between 1749-50. Both societies would constitute a single spiritual family.

Extraordinary Graces and Miracles

In the midst of all the struggles and efforts that St. Alphonsus undertook for the cause of Our Lord Jesus Christ, supernatural assistance was not lacking. Many times, especially when preaching about the Blessed Virgin, Alphonsus was rapt in ecstasy in front of the whole crowd of assistants; on other occasions, while the saint was speaking from some image of Our Lady luminous rays came out and shone on his face.[6]

Besides these supernatural phenomena that confirmed his words, many miracles occurred while he was still alive.

Once he stayed in a house, and when he left his hosts took one of his pants – which was stained with blood because of the penances and macerations with which the saint mortified himself – as a relic. Now, in this town there was a dropsy (edema) who had no natural possibility of having his health restored, and when he was clothed with the saint’s garment, he was immediately cured.

It is also said that when Saint Alphonsus was dying, he went to the window of the house where he was staying and with a blessing stopped the eruption of Vesuvius, which was already spitting smoke and lava. [7]

Last Years

In 1762, a papal decree changed the life of Saint Alphonsus Mary. He was forced, against his will, to accept the episcopate, a ministry he used to reform seminaries, wage war against the laxity of priests, renew Christian morals, and, at times when his health failed, which was not unusual, he devoted himself to study and musical composition, remaining bishop until 1780, the year that began an even more painful ordeal for him.

One would think that God would reward someone who had served Him for so many years with an end of days of peace and rest, but to those whom He really loves, He does not allow an instant without the possibility of increasing His glory somewhat.

The last years of Saint Alphonsus were full of tasks: without the diocese to take care of, his spiritual sons had recourse to his light, advice and direction, for any problems, which they had not done so assiduously before. And he was tried, during this period, with even treasons, and was even expelled from the order that he had founded at the cost of so much blood.

Besides these earthly struggles, the prince of darkness spared no effort to lose him: he often appeared physically, in various forms, to instill in him vanity, pride, and even carnal desires. Once, among many, the devil presented himself in the form of a missionary claiming that the whole world knew and praised him, Alphonsus, not to give in to vanity made a simple sign of the cross and with this the tempter disappeared.[8]

However, “Deus qui ponit pondus, suponit manus,” (God who places the weight on us supports it with his hand) [9] so never in his life was Alphonsus graced with so many ecstasies as in his last moments. Often, while in front of the Blessed Sacrament, the saint would levitate and remain for long hours in this state.

Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori expired on August 1, 1787, leaving as a treasure to the Holy Church the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, an opera omnia with 110 works, but above all a great example of sanctity.

By Marco Antonio

[1] Joaquim Silvério de Souza. The Apostle of the 18th Century: St. Alphonsus Mary de Liguori, p.31.

[2] Cf. Th Rey-Mernet, Alphonsus de Liguori, an option for the abandoned, p.99-100.

[3] Joaquim Silvério de Souza. The Apostle of the 18th century: St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, p.29.

[4] Cf. Joaquim Silvério de Souza. O Apóstolo do Século XVIII: Sto. Affonso Maria de Ligório. p.33-34.

[5] Cf. Id. p.39-40.

[6] Cf. Raimundo Telleria, Sto. Alfonso Maria de Liguori, fundador, obispo e doctor. p. 163 and Joaquim Silvério de Souza. O Apóstolo do Século XVIII: Sto. Affonso Maria de Ligório. pp. 103-104.

[7] Cf. Joaquim Silvério de Souza, O Apóstolo do Século XVIII: Sto. Affonso Maria de Ligório, pp. 104-106.

[Joaquim Silvério de Souza, O Apóstolo do Século XVIII: Sto. Affonso Maira de Ligório, p. 243-245.

[9] From the Latin: “God who places the weight supports it with his hand”“.

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