Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787)

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Wednesday 22, August 2007 | Category:   Consecrated Life

About me: Saint Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787) was an intellectual prodigy, earning his law degree while still a teenager. But a brilliant eight-year legal career came to a sudden end when he failed to read a few words of an important piece of evidence. His lapse meant the collapse of his case—the only case he ever lost. He admitted his mistake, apologized to his client, and left the courtroom for good.

In the aftermath of this professional disaster, Alphonsus turned in quite another direction: visiting the sick in a hospital for terminally ill people. Here he experienced a call to priesthood and began doing missionary work in and around Naples, Italy. This call would lead him to founding a religious order of women and later men, the Redemptorists.

Not long after bringing together his first followers, however, conflicts began between members of the community and the local nobility that would plague the young order for decades. On top of that, as he aged he suffered from asthma and migraines, his sight and hearing began to fail, he limped, and, later, severe rheumatism caused his head to become permanently bowed. All these ailments, however, did not stop Pope Clement XIII from appointing Alphonsus a bishop.

Liguori also managed to write more than 100 books, practically invent modern moral theology, preach, hear confessions, compose music and poetry, and paint. Early in his life he had promised himself never to waste a moment, and he lived up to that vow.

In his retirement Liguori returned to lead the Redemptorists. He gave the task of updating the community’s rule to another priest. This the latter did—in a way that made the order unrecognizable. When this would-be reformer brought the new rule to the nearly blind Alphonsus, he told him all was in order; all he had to do was sign. In the conflict which followed the new rule, Alphonsus found himself on the losing side of a divided order—at odds with half the community he had founded.

If that were not bad enough, in Alphonsus’ final years he experienced a dark night of the soul, a period of profound doubt and spiritual struggle. Only in the last days of his life did he regain a sense of consolation and peace.

After his death things changed again. The Redemptorists were reunited and put on a solid footing; today they number 7,000. Pope Pius VI, the man who had forced Liguori out of his own community, opened the cause for his canonization. Alphonsus was beatified in 1816 and canonized in 1839. In 1871 he received the rare honor of being named a doctor of the church, an eminent teacher of the faith.

I belong to: The Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer.

My vision: The path to Liguori's achievements was not an easy one. He was willing to give up his ambition and a prestigious career to serve others. He faced things we like to push away—mistakes, illness, conflict, setbacks—and he was unable to reap many of the benefits of his hard work. Yet he flourished anyway and developed many sides of his talents. In not letting struggle derail him, he shows us that responding to our life vocation is a lifelong process that requires patience, resilience, honesty, hard work, and faith even amid our doubts.

Feast day: August 1

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