August 1st is the feast of St. Alphonsus de Liguori who was born at Naples, September 27th, 1696, the first of seven children. His was a very pious family that gave the Church two priests and two nuns.
Alphonsus was a precocious and brilliant barrister who left the practice of law because, as he said, I wish to secure the salvation of my soul. With that, despite much opposition from his father, he studied for the priesthood and was ordained in 1726. His first assignment was as a chaplain to the homeless youth of Naples. Many of them were alienated from their faith and his loving care was effective in bringing them back to the Church.
In 1732, St. Alphonsus founded the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer with the mission to teach and preach in the slums. They also fought the heresy of Jansenism, which in part kept many Catholics from receiving the Eucharist.
In 1762, Alphonsus was consecrated the bishop of Sant’ Agata dei Goti, and remained there, despite his advanced age, until 1775.
Alphonsus was proficient in the arts as a musician, painter, poet and author. He wrote 111 works on spirituality and theology. There have been 21,500 editions and translations into seventy-two languages of his works. He is one of the most widely read Catholic authors. His best know works are The Great Means of Prayer, The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ and The Visits to the Most Holy Sacrament. Alphonsus was also devoted to Mary and wrote several books that contrasted sharply with the 18th century’s Age of Enlightenment and were an intellectual defense of Mary.
His greatest contribution to the Catholic Church was as a moral theologian, which came out of his own pastoral experience.
A Letter Signed by St. Alphonsus Liguori on June 14, 1773, with Translation:
June 14th, 1773
Long life to Jesus, Mary and Joseph. When I wrote to Msr. of Verali to thank him for the Just Don Foundation, I forgot to pray him to speak to the Pope about a new foundation to obtain his approval of his to give it more force to the work but please do not forget bringing him letter to pray him from my side for the new grace and please, if he didn’t already but maybe he did and if so, please thank him in my name. Please act in the way that you take in my name. Either or the other action with Msr di Verali. I wrote you another letter that you’ll probably receive with this. I recommend to you again what I wrote to you in that letter. I trust your prudence both don’t disappoint Mr. Arno and for the exact observance of the rules by all the Fathers and Brothers of this new house. I’m sending you by means of the Brothers Stephan and Anthony for the new house, one Umo Apostolico, one Dominic Halle and (untranslatable)
I’m sending you also another Domenic Halle. Please give it in my name to Dr. Arseneau. That is the Prior and Vice-Prior of Casa Maria, the man that held us so much in the foundation.
Please thank him for that from my side, from my heart. With blessings to you and everybody, many regards to Mr. Arno. The writer kisses your hand and salutes and embraces everyone in God. Msr. Alfonso ask me to open this letter after it was closed and the seal dried to add that please give everything you can to Mr. Arno. Please act in this way. He can’t complain for anything.
Brother Alphonsus Maria
On the other side of the letter, on March 4th, 1840, Giuseppe M. Mautone writes from Rome:
I, the Father Attorney of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer and Postulator of the cause of canonization for St. Alphonsus Maria Ligouri, hereby declare that this letter was dictated by the saint and was signed by his own hand.
He was capable of responding to the practical questions posed by the faithful. He taught that rigorism and legalism had never been taught or practiced by the Church. He was named one of thirty-three Doctors of the Church.
He died on August 1st, 1787, at the age of ninety.
St. Alphonsus was beatified in 1816 by Pope Pius VII and canonized in 1839 by Pope Gregory XVI. He is the patron saint (along with St. John Neumann) of confessors as well as the patron saint (along with St. Augustine) of theologians.
The following is an excerpt from a sermon of St. Alphonsus on the love of Christ. It is from the Office of Readings in the Liturgy of the Hours.
Since God knew that man is enticed by favors, he wished to bind him to his love by means of his gifts. “I want to catch men with the snares, those chains of love in which they allow themselves to be entrapped, so that they will love me.’ And all the gifts which he bestowed on man were given to this end. He gave him a soul, made in his likeness, and endowed him with memory, intellect and will; he gave him a body equipped with the senses; it was for him that he created heaven and earth and such an abundance of things. He made all these things out of love for man, so that all creation might serve man, and man in turn might love God out of gratitude for so many gifts.
Many beautiful prayers are attributed to St. Alphonsus and can be found in the Manual of Prayers from the Pontifical North American College in Rome as well as in many other Catholic prayer books.
A blessing in the life of the Church: St. Alphonsus Liguori.