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From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

YESTERDAY we admired, in Peter and the Machabees, the substructure of the palace built by Wisdom in time to endure for eternity. To-day, in conformity with the divine ways of that Wisdom, who in her playing reaches from end to end, we are suffered to contemplate the progress of the glorious building, to behold the summit of the work, the last row of stones actually laid. Now, summit and foundation, the work is all one; the materials are all priceless: witness the diamond of fine water which displays its lustre to-day.

To this great saint, great both in works and in doctrine, are directly applied these words of the Holy Ghost: They that instruct many to justice shall shine as stars for all eternity.[1] At the time he appeared an odious sect was denying the mercy and the sweetness of our heavenly Father; it triumphed in the practical conduct of even those who were shocked by its Calvinistic theories. Under pretext of a reaction against an imaginary school of laxity, and denouncing with much ado some erroneous propositions made by obscure persons, the new Pharisees had set themselves up as zealous for the law. Stretching the commandments, and exaggerating the sanction, they loaded the conscience with the same unbearable burdens which the Man-God reproached the ancient Pharisees with laying on the shoulders of men; but the cry of alarm they had raised in the name of endangered morals had

none the less deceived the simple, and ended by misleading even the best. Thanks to the show of austerity displayed by its adherents, Jansenism, so clever in veiling its teachings, had too well succeeded in its designs of forcing itself upon the Church in spite of the Church. Unsuspecting allies within the Holy City gave up to its mercy the sources of salvation. Soon in too many places the sacred keys were used but to open hell; the Holy Table, spread for the preservation and increase of life in all. became accessible only to the perfect; and these latter were esteemed such, according as, by a strange reversion of the apostle's words, they subjected the spirit of adoption of sons to the spirit of servitude and fear. As to the faithful, who did not rise to the height of this new asceticism, 'finding in the tribunal of penance, instead of fathers and physicians, only exactors and executioners,’[2] they had but to choose between despair and indifference. Everywhere legislatures and parliaments lent a hand to the so-called reformers, without heeding the flood of odious unbelief that was rising around them, without seeing the gathering stormclouds.

Wo to you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites: because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men, for you yourselves do not enter in; and those that are going in, you suffer not to enter. ... Wo to you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites: because you go round about the sea and the land to make one proselyte; and when he is made, you make him the child of hell twofold more than yourselves.[3] Not of your conventicles was it said that the sons of Wisdom are the Church of the just, for it was added: Their generation is obedience and love.[4] Not of the fear which you preached did the psalmist sing: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom;[5] for even under the law of Sinai the Holy Spirit said: Ye that fear the Lord, believe Him: and your reward shall not be made void. Ye that fear the Lord, hope in Him: and mercy shall come to you for your delight. Ye that fear the Lord, love Him: and your hearts shall be enlightened.[6] Every deviation, whether towards rigour or weakness, offends the rectitude of justice; but, especially since Bethlehem and Calvary, no sin so wounds the divine Heart as distrust; no fault is unpardonable except in the despair of a Judas, saying, like Cain: My iniquity is greater than that I may deserve pardon.[7]

Who, then, in the sombre quietism into which the teachers then in vogue had led even the strongest minds, could find once more the key of knowledge? But Wisdom, says the Holy Ghost, kept in her treasures the signification of discipline.[8] Just as in other times she had raised up new avengers for every dogma that had been attacked, so now, against a heresy which, in spite of the speculative pretensions of its beginning, had only in its moral bearing any sort of duration, she brought forth Alphonsus Liguori as the avenger of the violated law and the doctor par excellence of Christian morality. A stranger alike to fatal rigorism and baneful indulgence, he knew how to restore to the justices of the Lord their rectitude, and at the same time their power of rejoicing hearts;to His commandments their luminous brightness, whereby they are justified in themselves; to His testimonies the purity which attracts souls and faithfully guides the simple and the little ones from the beginnings of Wisdom to its summits.[9] It was not only in the sphere of casuistry that Alphonsus succeeded, in his moral theology, in counteracting the poison which threatened to infect the whole Christian life. Whilst on the one hand he never left unanswered any attack made at the time against revealed truth, his ascetic and mystical works brought back piety to its traditional sources, the frequentation of the sacraments, and the love of our Lord and His blessed Mother. The Sacred Congregation of Rites, after examining in the name of the Holy See the works of our saint and declaring that nothing deserving of censure was to be found therein,[10] arranged his innumerable writings under forty separate titles. Alphonsus, however, resolved only late in life to give to the public, through the press, the lights which flooded his soul; his first work, the golden book of Visits to the Most Holy Sacrament and to the Blessed Virgin, did not appear till the author was nearly fifty years of age. Though God prolonged his life beyond the usual limits, He spared him neither the double burden of the episcopate and the government of the Congregation he had founded, nor the most painful infirmities, nor still more grievous moral sufferings.

Let us listen to the Church's account of his life:

Alphonsus Maria de Ligorio, Neapoli nobilibus parentibus natus, ab ineunte ætate non obscura præbuit sanctitatis indicia. Eum adhuc infantem quum parentes obtulissent sancto Francisco de Hieronymo e Societate Jesu, is bene precatus edixit eumdem ad nonagesimum usque annum perventurum, ad episcopalem dignitatem evectum iri, maximoque Ecclesiæ bono futurum. Jam tum a pueritia a ludis abhorrens, nobiles ephebos ad christianam modestiamverbo et exemplo componebat. Adolescens, dato piis sodalitatibus nomine, in publicis nosocomiis ægrotis inservire, jugi in templis orationi vacare, ac sacra mysteria frequenter obire in deliciis habebat. Pietatem litterarum studiis adeo conjunxit, ut sexdecim vix annos natus utriusque juris lauream in patria universitate fuerit assecutus. Patri obtemperans causarum patrocinia suscepit, in quo munere obeundo, etsi magnam sibi laudem comparasset, fori tamen pericula expertus, ejusmodi vitæ institutum ultro dimisit. Spreto igitur preclaro conjugio sibi a patre proposito, avia primogenitura abdicata, et ad aram Virginis de Mercede ense suspenso, divinis ministeriis se mancipavit. Sacerdos factus, tanto zelo irruit in vitia, ut apostolico munere fungens, huc illuc pervolans, ingentes perditorum hominum conversionesperageret. Pauperum præsertim et ruricolarum miseratus, congregationem presbyterorum instituit sanctissimi Redemptoris, qui ipsum Redemptorem secuti per agros, pagos et castella, pauperibus evangelizarent.

Ne autem a proposito umquam diverteret, perpetuo se voto obstrinxit, nullam temporis jacturam faciendi. Hinc animaruin zelo succensus, tum divini verbi prædicatione, tum scriptis sacra eruditione et pietate refertis, animas Christo lucrifacere, et ad perfectiorem vitam ad ducere studuit. Mirum sane quot odia exstinxerit, quot devios ad rectum salutis iter revocaverit. Dei Genitricis cultor eximius de illius laudibus librum edidit, ac de iis dum ferventius concionando disserit, a Virginis imagine in eum immisso miro splendore totus facie coruscare, et in exstasim rapi coram universo populo non semel visus est. Dominicæ passionis, et sacræ Eucharistiæ contemplator assiduus, ejus cultum mirifice propagavit. Dum vero ad ejus aram oraret, vel sacrum faceret, quod numquam omisit, præ amoris vehementia, vel seraphicis liquescebat ardoribus, vel insolitis quatiebatur motibus, vel abstrahebatur a sensibus. Miram vitæ innocentiam, quam nulla umquam lethali labe fœdavit, pari cum pœnitentia socians, corpus suum inedia, ferreis catenulis, ciliciis, cruentaque flagellatione castigabat. Inter hæc prophetiæ, scrutationis cordium, bilocationis, et miraculorum donis inclaruit.

Ab ecclesiasticis dignitatibus sibi oblatis constantissime abhorruit. At Clementis decimitertii pontificis auctoritate coactus, sanctæ Agathæ Gothorum Ecclesiam gubernandam suscepit. Episcopus externum dumtaxat habitum non autem severam vivendi rationem immutavit. Eadem frugalitas, summus christianæ disciplinæ zelus, impensum in vitiis coercendis arcendisque erroribus, et in reliquis pastoralibus muneribus obeundis studium. Liberalis in pauperes, omnes ecclesiæ proventus iisdem distribuebat, ac, urgente annonæ cantate, ipsam domesticanm supellectilem in alendis famelicis erogavit. Omnibus omnia factus, sanctimoniales ad perfectiorem vivendi formam redegit, suæque congregationis monialium monasterium constituendum curavit. Episcopatu ob graves habitualesque morbos dimisso, ad alumnos suos, a quibus pauper discesserat, revertitur pauper. Demum quamvis senio, laboribusque, diuturna arthritide, aliisque gravissimis morbis fractus corpore, spiritu tamen alacrior, de cœlestibus rebus disserendi, aut scribendi finem numquam adhibuit, donec nonagenarius, Kalendis Augusti, anno millesimo septingentesimo octogesimo septimo, Nuceriæ Paganorum inter suorum alumnorum lacrymas placidissime exspiravit. Eum inde virtutibus et miraculis clarum Pius septimus pontifex maximus anno millesimo octingentesimo decimo sexto beatorum fastis, novisque fulgentem signis, Gregorius Decimussextus in festo sanctissimæ Trinitatis, anno millesimo octingentesimo trigesimo nono solemni ritu sanctorum catalogo accensuit; tandem Pius nonus, pontifex maximus, ex Sacrorum Rituum Congregationis consulto, universalis Ecclesiæ Doctorem declaravit.

 

Alphonsus Mary de Liguori was born of a noble family at Naples, and from his early youth gave clear proofs of sanctity. While he was still a child, his parents once presented him to St. Francis Jerome, of the Society of Jesus. The saint blessed him, and prophesied that he would reach his ninetieth year, that he would be raised to the episcopal dignity, and would do much good for the Church. Even as a boy he shrank from games, and both by his words and example incited noble youth to Christian modesty. When he reached early manhood he enrolled himself in pious associations, and made it his delight to serve the sick in the public hospital, to spend much time in prayer and in the church, and frequently to receive the sacred mysteries. He joined study to piety with such success that, when scarcely sixteen years of age, he took the degree of Doctor in both Canon and Civil Law, in the University of his native city. In obedience to his father’s wishes, he pleaded at the bar; but, while winning himself a name in the discharge of this office, he learnt by experience what dangers beset a lawyer’s life, and, of his own accord, abandoned the profession. Then he refused a brilliant marriage proposed to him by his father, renounced his right of inheritance as eldest son, and, hanging up his sword at the altar of the Virgin of Mercy, he devoted himself to the divine service. Having been made priest, he attacked vice with such great zeal that, in the exercise of his apostolic ministry, he hastened from place to place, working wonderful conversions. He had a special compassion for the poor, and particularly for country people, and founded a congregation for priests, called ‘ of the Holy Redeemer,' who were to follow the Redeemer through the fields, and hamlets, and villages, preaching to the poor.

In order that nothing might turn him from his purpose, he bound himself by a perpetual vow never to waste any time. On fire with love of souls, he strove, both by preaching the divine word and by writings full of sacred learning and piety, to win them to Christ and to make them lead more perfect lives. Marvellous was the number of quarrels he stilled and of wanderers he brought back to the path of salvation. He had the greatest devotion to the Mother of God, and published a book on the 'Glories of Mary,' More than once, while he was speaking of her with great earnestness during his sermons, a wonderful brightness came upon him from our Lady’s image, and he was seen by all the people to be rapt in ecstasy. The Passion of our Lord and the Holy Eucharist were the objects of his unceasing contemplation, and he spread devotion to them in a wonderful degree. When he was praying before the altar of the Blessed Sacrament, or celebrating Holy Mass, which he never failed to do, through the violence of his love he shed burning tears, was agitated in an extraordinary manner, and at times was carried out of his senses. He joined a wonderful innocence, which he had never stained by deadly sin, with an equally wonderful spirit of penance, and chastised his body by fasting, iron chains, hair-shirts, and scourgings even to blood. At the same time he was remarkable for the gifts of prophecy, reading of hearts, bilocation, and many miracles

He firmly refused the ecclesiastical dignities which were offered him, but he was compelled by the authority of Pope Clement XIII to accept the government of the Church of St. Agatha of the Goths. As bishop, though he changed his outward dress, yet he made no alteration in the severity of his life. He observed the same moderation; his zeal for Christian discipline was most ardent, and he displayed the greatest devotedness in rooting out vice, in guarding against false doctrine, and in discharging the other duties of the pastoral charge. He was most generous towards the poor, distributing to them all the revenues of his see, and in a time of scarcity of corn he sold even the furniture of his house to feed his starving people. He was all things to all men. He brought religious women to lead a more perfect life, and took care to erect a monastery for nuns of his Congregation. Severe and continual sickness forced him to resign his bishopric, and he returned to his children as poor as when he had left them. Though worn out in body by old age, labours, chronic gout, and other painful maladies, his mind was fresh and clear, and he never ceased speaking or writing of heavenly things till at length, on the Kalends of August, he most peacefully expired, at Nocera dei Pagani, amidst his weeping children. It was in the year 1787, the ninetieth year of his age. His virtues and miracles made him famous, and on this account, in 1816, Pope Pius VII enrolled him amongst the Blessed. God still glorified him with new signs and wonders, and, on the feast of the Most Blessed Trinity, in the year 1839, Gregory XVI solemnly inscribed his name on the list of the saints; finally. Pope Pius IX, after consulting the Congregation of Sacred Rites, declared him a doctor of the universal Church.

‘I have not hid Thy justice within my heart: I have declared Thy truth and Thy salvation.’[11] Thus sings the Church in thy name to-day, in gratitude for the great service thou didst render her in the days of sinners, when godliness seemed to be lost. Exposed to the attacks of an extravagant pharisaism, and watched by a sceptical and mocking philosophy, even the good wavered as to which was the way of the Lord. While the moralists of the day could but forge fetters for consciences, the enemy had a good chance of crying: Let us break their bonds asunder: and let us cast away their yoke from us. The ancient wisdom revered by their fathers, now that it was compromised by these foolish teachers, seemed but a ruined edifice to people eager for emancipation. In this unprecedented extremity, thou, O Alphonsus, wast the prudent man whom the Church needed, whose mouth uttered words to strengthen men's hearts.

Long before thy birth, a great Pope had said that it belongs to doctors to enlighten the Church, to adorn her with virtues, to form her manners; by them, he added, she shines in the midst of darkness as a morning star; their word, made fruitful from on high, solves the enigmas of the Scriptures, unravels difficulties, clears obscurities, interprets what is doubtful; their profound works, beautified by eloquence of speech, are so many priceless pearls which ennoble no less than adorn the House of God. Thus did Boniface VIII speak in the thirteenth century, when he was raising to the rank of doubles the feasts of the apostles and evangelists, and of the four then recognized doctors, St. Gregory, St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, and St. Jerome. But is it not a description, striking as a prophecy, faithful as a portrait, of all that thou wert?

Glory, then, be to thee, who in our days of decadence renewest the youth of the Church, and through whom justice and peace once more embrace one another at the meeting of mercy and truth. For this object thou didst literally give unreservedly thy time and thy strength. ‘The love of God,’ says St. Gregory, ‘is never idle: where it exists it does great things: if it refuses to act, it is not love.’[12] What fidelity was thine in accomplishing that awful vow, whereby thou didst deny thyself the possibility of even a moment's relaxation. When suffering intolerable pain, which would appear to anyone else to justify, if not to command, some rest, thou wouldst hold to thy forehead with one hand a piece of marble, which seemed to give some slight relief, and with the other wouldst continue thy precious writings.

But still greater was the example God set before the world, when, in thine old age, He suffered thee, through the treason of one of thine own sons, to be disgraced by that Apostolic See, for which thou hadst worn away thy life, and which in return withdrew thee, as unworthy, from the very institute thou hadst founded! Then hell was permitted to join its stripes with those of heaven; and thou, the doctor of peace, didst endure terrible temptations against faith and holy hope. Thus was thy work made perfect in that weakness which is stronger than strength; and thus didst thou merit for troubled souls the support of the virtue of Christ. Nevertheless, having become a child once more in the blind obedience required under such painful trials, thou wast near at once to the kingdom of heaven and to the Crib, which thou didst celebrate in such sweet accents. And the virtue which the ManGod felt going out from Him during His mortal life escaped from thee, too, in such abundance that the little sick children presented by their mothers for thy blessing were all healed.

Now that thy tears and thy toils are over, watch over us evermore. Preserve in the Church the fruits of thy labours. The religious family begotten by thee has not degenerated; more than once, in the persecutions of last century, the enemy has honoured it with special tokens of his hatred; already, too, has the aureole of the blessed passed from the father to his sons; may they ever cherish these noble traditions! May the eternal Father, who in baptism made us all worthy to he partakers of the lot of the saints in light, lead us all happily by thy example and teachings[13] in the footsteps of our most holy Redeemer into the kingdom of this Son of His love.[14]

The commemoration of the illustrious Pope and Martyr, Stephen I, adds a perfume of antiquity to the holiness of this day dedicated to the honour of a comparatively modem saint. Stephen’s special glory in the Church is to have been the guardian of the dignity of holy baptism. Baptism once given can never be repeated; for the character of child of God, which it imprints upon the Christian, is everlasting; and this unspeakable dignity of the first sacrament in no wise depends upon the disposition or state of the minister conferring it. According to the teaching of St. Austin, whether Peter, or Paul, or Judas, baptize, it is He upon whom the divine Dove descended in the Jordan, it is He alone and always that baptizes by them in the Holy Ghost. Such is the adorable munificence of our Lord, with regard to this indispensable means of salvation, that the very pagan who belongs not to the Church and the schismatic or heretic separated from her can administer it with full validity, on the one condition of fulfilling the exterior rite in its essence, and of wishing to do thereby what the Church does.

In the time of Stephen I this truth was not so universally known as now. Great bishops, whose learning and holiness had justly won them the admiration of their age, wished to make the converts from various sects pass again through the laver of salvation. But the assistance promised to Peter was not wanting to his successor; and by maintaining the traditional discipline, Rome, through Stephen, saved the faith of the churches. Let us testify our gratitude to the holy pontiff for his fidelity in guarding the sacred deposit, which is the treasure of all men; and let us beg him to preserve no less effectually in us also the nobility and the rights of our holy baptism.

Prayer

Deus, qui nos beati Stephani martyris tui atque pontificis annua solemnitate lætificas: concede propitius; ut cujus natalitia colimus, de ejusdem etiam protectione gaudeamus. Per Dominum.
O God, who givest us joy by the annual solemnity of blessed Stephen, Thy martyr and bishop, mercifully grant that we may rejoice in the protection of him whose festival we celebrate. Through our Lord, etc.

[1] Dan. xii. 3.
[2] Supplices litteræ Episcopatus pro concessione tituli Doctoris S. Alphonso Mariæ.
[3] St. Matt. xxiii. 13, 15.
[4] Eccli. iii. 1.
[5] Ps. cx. 10.
[6] Eccli. ii. 8-10.
[7] Gen. iv. 13.
[8] Eccli. i. 31.
[9] Cf. Ps. xviii, 8-10.
[10] Decretum, 14 and 18 Maii, 1803.
[11] Gradual of the Mass, Ps. xxxix. 11.
[12] Greg, in Ev., hom. xxx.
[13] Collect of the Feast.
[14] Col. i. 12, 13.