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ST ALPHONSUS LIGUORI – From lawyer to priest to saint

July 30, 2021

António dos Santos

On Sunday, 1st August, the Universal Church celebrates St Alphonsus Liguori.

In an audience in St Peter’s Square on March 30, 2011, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI spoke to us about St Alphonsus Liguori. When presenting the holy Doctor of the Church, Benedict XVI praised him saying that we owe him a lot, because he was an outstanding moral theologian and a teacher of spiritual life for all, especially simple people.

Belonging to a noble and wealthy Neapolitan family, St Alphonsus was born in 1696. Endowed with outstanding intellectual qualities, when he was only 16 years old he obtained a degree in civil and canon law. He was the most brilliant lawyer in the tribunal of Naples: for eight years he won all the cases he defended. “However, in his soul thirsting for God and desirous of perfection, the Lord led Alphonsus to understand that he was calling him to a different vocation,” Pope Benedict XVI said.

He was ordained a priest in 1726 and entered the diocesan Congregation of Apostolic Missions.

In addition to the call to the priesthood, St Alphonsus was called by the Lord to found a Congregation. In 1732 he founded the religious Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, which he put under the protection of Bishop Tommaso Falcoia, and of which he subsequently became the superior.

Esteemed for his goodness and for his pastoral zeal, in 1762 Alphonsus was appointed Bishop of Sant’Agata dei Goti, a ministry which he left, following the illness which debilitated him, in 1775, through a concession of Pope Pius VI. On learning of his death in 1787, which occurred after great suffering, the Pontiff exclaimed: “He was a saint!” And he was not mistaken: Alphonsus was canonized in 1839 and in 1871 he was declared a Doctor of the Church.

Alphonsus recommended to pastors of souls and confessors that they be faithful to the Catholic moral doctrine, assuming at the same time a charitable, understanding and gentle attitude so that penitents might feel accompanied, supported and encouraged on their journey of faith and of Christian life.

Among the forms of prayer fervently recommended by St Alphonsus, stands out the visit to the Blessed Sacrament. “Certainly,” St Alphonsus writes, “amongst all devotions, after that of receiving the sacraments, that of adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament takes the first place, is the most pleasing to God, and the most useful to ourselves…. Oh, what a beautiful delight to be before an altar with faith… to represent our wants to him, as a friend does to a friend in whom he places all his trust.”

Meditation on the mystery of the Incarnation and on the Lord’s Passion were often the subject of St Alphonsus’ preaching.

Deeply devoted to Mary, he illustrated her role in the history of salvation: an associate in the Redemption and Mediatrix of grace, Mother, Advocate and Queen.

While still small, Alfonso received from St Francis of Geronimo, of the Society of Jesus, the following prophecy: “This child will not die before the age of 90; he will be a bishop and will work wonders in the Church of God.”

St Alphonsus Liguori, pray for us!