Redemptorists of Australia and New Zealand

Australia, New Zealand and Samoa

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Happy St Alphonsus’ Day!

We are lucky that there are few myths around the life of St Alphonsus Liguori. There is not much to peel back in order to find the man; the complexity of his person, life and teachings do invite lifelong, determined interpretation. Alphonsus can never be taken cheaply or simplistically. Even as one of the greatest promoters of popular spirituality he cannot be closeted in religion or domesticated in vacuous piety. He transcended all of that. He was too grounded for it. The Incarnation remained his anchor throughout his ninety-one years. He didn’t have the language of a Pierre Teilhard de Chardin to speak of the risen Christ filling creation, but his contemplation on the Eucharist amounted to the same thing. 

St Alphonsus Liguori’s closeness to his times and the people of those times can tempt us to see Alphonsus as yesterday’s man. However, the truth is that he understood his times so well that he is often referred to as the first modern saint – the one who, with great imagination, courage and intelligence reaches into humanity’s future. His intelligence and his dedication to studying life from every perspective took him into spheres of mission and theology that must have sometimes felt lonely for they were so little understood by his peers. There would have been times he felt wearied and even broken, but he remained steadfast. He knew the meaning of perseverance and he understood how important it would be in the Redemptorist way of life.

There are so many angles from which to view this great man; any of them would be enriching. The angle which may need special consideration in our modern world is the importance he put on listening. One can explore his listening positively through the many examples of it in his life and teaching but also negatively when noting the manifold stories of his frustration and impatience with, and his non-comprehension of those who did not, or who would not listen. Alphonsus was consumed by listening in his prayer, absorbed by it in his study and moved by it when on mission. Listening defines his life. It reveals to him, as Kevin O’Shea put it, a courteous God – a God deferring to human brokenness without any hint of exclusion, counting also among God’s own those of befuddled or wobbly conscience. It revealed to him that a new language was demanded in an ‘Enlightenment’ world if the Gospel were to ever be heard. It revealed to him that mission is implicitly person-centred.   

Today we are blessed to live a spirituality where we find God and mission in the people we meet. Click HERE to learn more about Alphonsus.

Cardinal Joseph Tobin - St Alphonsus Liguori