In Ages Past
St. Alphonsus Liguori and the Redemptorists
His success was due to an accessible style, for the "the person in the street." Writing was a form of ministry, a "means of diffusion of the gospel among the poor, just as music, painting, and poetry were."
In 1762, 66 years old, Alphonsus was named Bishop of Sant' Agata dei Goti in southern Italy. He initially refused, but the pope forced him to accept. A bishopric was no easy task: dealing with unruly clergy and religious, ministering to famine-stricken people, living in voluntary poverty himself. Its burden, he wrote, "leaves no room to breathe." But he kept his sense of humor, telling a friend:
Laugh over these little trials and all the rest . . . He who loves Jesus Christ fears nothing, and to please Jesus Christ he suffers everything joyfully.
Through the years, Alphonsus' health really had deteriorated. His eyesight, always poor, now got worse. He was going deaf and was bent from arthritis. Still, people recalled his "heavenly face . . . gentle, joyful, and kind." Others described him as "scholarly yet pastoral, prayerful and practical, strong-willed but tenderhearted."
In 1675, he was allowed to resign his diocese and return to the Redemptorists.
The last few years weren't easy, either for Alphonsus or the Redemptorists. Increasingly subject to interference from secular rulers, their own rule was refashioned in a way Alphonsus never intended. For all practical purposes, he was effectively shut out of the order until his death on August 1,1787. But his holiness was never questioned, and in 1839 he was canonized. For his pastoral and theological achievements, in 1871 Pope Blessed Pius IX named him a Doctor of the Church, an extremely rare honor.
Today some 5,000 Redemptorists serve in approximately seventy-eight countries worldwide. The common factor in their varied ministries is a preference for working wherever the most abandoned are to be found. This is no less important a task today than it was in those days past when a rising young Neapolitan lawyer gave up a comfortable life to serve God's poor and bring them the good news of Christ's redeeming love.
Dr. Pat McNamara is a published historian. He blogs about American Catholic History at McNamara's Blog.