When St. Alphonsus was bishop he had to deal with one of his priests who was leading an entirely too “worldly” lifestyle. He invited the priest to see him.
When he arrived, the priest found a large crucifix lying in the threshold of Alphonsus’ study. When the bishop saw the priest hesitate to enter, Alphonsus said, “Come along, and be sure to trample it underfoot. It would not be the first time you have placed Our Lord beneath your feet.”
We think the priest got Alphonsus’ not so subtle message.
Alphonsus Maria de Liguori was a child prodigy. In fact, he already received his doctorate in law from the University of Naples by the time he was 16 years old. By age 21, he had his own practice and became one of the leading lawyers of Naples. They say that he never attended court without first attending Mass.
His other interests included music. He played the harpsichord and frequently attended the opera. He found the elaborate staging of the works bothersome, however, and had the habit of closing his eyes to just absorb the sounds.
As he grew older and more experienced, Alphonso liked the world he lived in less and less. He declined an arranged marriage and instead studied theology and became a priest when he was 29 years old. He became renowned for his clear, simple and direct preaching style. His understanding and leniency in the confessional were interpreted as a laxity toward sinners, and by government officials who opposed anything religious.
Alphonsus founded the Redemptoristine women’s order in 1730, and the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer in 1732. In 1762, Pope Clement XII appointed him bishop of the diocese of Sant’Agata de’ Goti. He fought to reform the clergy and reenergize his flock. At the same time, however, he suffered with severe rheumatism, and could barely move or raise his chin from his chest. In 1775 he resigned his see due to ill health, and went into what he thought would be a prayerful retirement.
In 1777, the royal government threatened to disband his Redemptorists, claiming that they were covertly carrying on the work of the Jesuits, who had been suppressed in 1773. Calling on his knowledge of the Congregation, his background in theology and his skills as a lawyer, Alphonsus defended the Redemptorists so well that they obtained the king‘s approval.
By this point, however, Alphonsus was nearly blind and was tricked into giving his approval to a revised Rule for the Congregation, one that suited the king and the anti-clerical government. When Pope Pius VI saw the changes, he condemned it, and removed Alphonsus from his position as leader of the order. This caused Alphonsus a crisis in confidence and faith that took years to overcome. By the time of his death, however, he had returned to faith and peace.
Alphonsus vowed early to never waste a moment of his life, and he lived that way for more tha 90 years. He was venerated in 1796, beatified in 1816, and canonized in 1839. He was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius IX in 1871.
Adapted by A.J. Valentini