Feast of St. Alphonsus de Liguori. August 1st. The Spirituality of St. Alphonsus.
(See below for ‘Alphonsus, a Man on Fire‘,- poem reflection.
The Spirituality of St. Alphonsus de Liguori’:
In the General Introduction to the volume ‘Alphonsus de Liguori-Selected Writings’, in the Classics of Western Spirituality (Paulist Press, 1999), Fr. Frederick Jones, (author of ‘Alphonsus de Liguori, The Saint of Bourbon Naples 1696-1787) writes:
‘There is wide agreement in regard to the main outlines of a synthesis of Alphonsus’ spiritual doctrine. He began with the insistence that holiness and the highest degree of holiness are within the grasp of every human being: ‘God wishes that all should become saints, the priest as priest, those who are married in their married state, those engaged in commerce in the exercise of their business, soldiers as soldiers and so on for everyone else.’ Sanctity is not incompatible with any state of life. Alphonsus preached this doctrine along the streets of Naples, in the country villages, in the piazze of innumerable centres of population. (Note: ‘The Universal Call to Holiness’ is found in Vatican 11 ‘Lumen Gentium Chapter 2. Ed)
The holiness he inculcated is not some vague feeling or aspiration; it consists simply in the love of God. It was to be the constant effort of every confessor, even in the remotest regions with the most uneducated of persons, as well as of every spiritual director, to awaken this love of God in souls. God as been infinitely good to us. We see his goodness manifested above all in the person of Jesus Christ, our Redeemer. ‘What more could God do for us”’ is a recurring question as Alphonsus dialogues with souls to bring them to ‘show love for love’. ‘So many preachers and confessors neglect to speak of love for Jesus Christ which should be the principle, if not the only devotion of a Christian,’ he complains in his Novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. There is nothing complicated about his exhortations to love God in Jesus Christ, as he outlines, with unashamed emphasis on the imagination and the emotions, all aspects of the mystery of the Incarnation from the birth of Jesus to his death on the Cross.’ (op. cit. p.47)
A favourite phrase of Alphonsus was to speak of God as ‘pazzo per amore’, -crazy with
love for us, or ‘impazzito per amore’, made crazy with love for humans. (The word ‘pazzo’ occurs 175 times in his writings). It was at the heart of his preaching, and it was manifested most clearly in the humanity of Jesus Christ, from his birth in Bethlehem to his death on Calvary: manifested in the Eucharist among us: manifested in the motherhood of Mary for us all. ‘Return love for love’ is what Alphonsus asks, again and again.
In the Office of Readings for the feast of St. Alphonsus (August 1st), and in the Office of Readings for the feast of St. Teresa of Avila (October 15th), we find this very same phrase occurring: August 1st: ‘in gratitude for so many gifts (we) should return love for love to (our) Creator’. October 15th: ‘Let us bear in mind too how great is the love God has shown us, since he has given us in Christ such a pledge of that love which he has for us; for love calls for a return of love.’
Among Redemptorists, Teresa of Avila is known as ‘our holy Grandmother’, such was the influence her writings had on Alphonsus. Both give great emphasis to going to God continually through the humanity of Jesus Christ. Teresa, in the same reading for October 15th, says: ‘I made further careful investigations and learned that holy contemplatives like Francis, Anthony of Padua, Bernard and Catherine of Siena advanced by no other way that this one.’
The four ‘pillars’ of Alphonsus’ preaching and call to holiness were: Crib, Cross, Eucharist, Mary.
‘Return love for love’ was at the heart of Alphonsus’ preaching.
S. Devitt, C.Ss.R.
Click here to read about Pope Emeritus Benedict VI, New Evangelisation and St. Alphonsus Liguori, from The Sunday Visitor. Click here to read full text of Pope Benedict’s talk, at a General Audience on March 30, 2011, on St. Alphonsus.
ALPHONSUS, A MAN ON FIRE:
“Return Love for Love”
is what he said to do.
When all was said and done, this was his heart’s deep cry,-
‘return love, for love’.
Live in the Birth of Bethlehem,
walk in its stables,
smell its smells,
be filled with speechless wonder
at the One Who Is,
and who is lying in the food-trough of
Live in the Call of Calvary,
Come back again to stand
upon that hill,
don’t run away from the awe-filled
horror as you stand
and gaze at our Messiah,-
Sent by the One who so greatly
loved the World.
Live in the shadow of its radiance.
Live in the ever-lasting gift of Eucharist,
Behold the Man! Behold the Lamb!
Behold your God, given in a wafer:
Drink in the meaning of the Cup.
‘Can you drink the cup that I must drink?’ (Mark 10:38-39)
‘We can…’ said those
two Thunder Brothers to their Lord. (Mark 3:17)
And so can we,- drink of the
overflowing cup of given life.
Return love for love.
‘Live in my love’, said He.
‘As He (my Father) has loved me, (John 15:9)
that is the very how
my love is now
Come, live in it, and drink of it,-
Come, laugh and dance in it
with Mary, -who ‘rejoices in God my Saviour’ (Luke 1),-
‘so that your joy may be full’. (John 15:11)
If he has so loved us,-
might live our lives,
returning love for love.
(Seamus Devitt C.Ss.R.)
( Memories of visit to Naples-Scala, and of page 47 of Frederick Jones’ book on the writings of Alphonsus Liguori, in Classics of Western Spirituality Series..)