Today in the traditional Roman calendar is the Feast of St. Alphonsus (1696–1787), Doctor “Zelantissimus” of the Church, founder of the Redemptorists, Bishop of Sant’Agata de’ Goti. In the Novus Ordo calendar, his feast is 1 August.
St. Alphonsus has accompanied me as a Catholic in important ways. From my first days of interest in the Catholic Church, on Tuesday nights I attended in the lower chapel of St. Agnes in St. Paul, the ongoing Novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help composed by St. Alphonsus. That was followed by Exposition, the Litany of the Sacred Heart, and confessions. During Lent at that parish, Alphonsus’ version, the best version, of the Stations of the Cross was used on Friday evenings. The one with “thees” and “thous”. Hence, I was being introduced to the great tradition of devotions – which we need to revive everywhere.
As a seminarian in Rome, I read his spiritual works and carefully absorbed his wisdom for confessors in his Istruzione, E Pratica Per Li Confessori. While in Rome, I would visit the little Redemptorist church near the Stazione Termini (I commuted a lot for a while) and Santa Maria Maggiore where you find the original icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. It happened that I once stayed at the Redemptorist HQ (that same place) for about a week and I got to know the archivist. He showed me the vault with their most precious things, putting into my hands a hand-written manuscript with dozens of closely scribbled strips glued into it. I still get goose-bumps, as then, when it dawned on me what I was holding: St. Alphonsus own working copy of a volume of his monumental Moral Theology, arguably a book that shaped Western civilization.
I’ve always harbored a sympathetic affection for St. Alphonsus. His brother priests in the Redemptorists – of whom he was the founder – eventually turned on him.
Here is a note about St. Alphonsus which you might not know.
In 1772 St. Alphonsus, terribly ill, wrote to Pope Clement XIV (Ganganelli, who suppressed the Jesuits) asking to be relieved of his duties as diocesan bishop. Clement responded that it was enough for him that Alphonsus govern from his bed: “His prayers do as much for his flock as all the activity in the world.”
When in 1773 Clement finally suppressed the Jesuits – did I mention that he suppressed the Jesuits? – Alphonsus wrote of how he prayed for the harassed Pontiff.
On 21 September 1774, after saying Mass Alphonsus had a prolonged ecstasy, lasting into the next day. When he came out of it, he said that he had been with Clement XIV as he lay dying.
Hence, Alphonsus bi-located and was with Papa Ganganelli at his dead bed.
St. Alphonsus, in these dark times when up is down, light is dark and 2+2=5, pray for us. Intercede to obtain many graces for your fellow bishops, so that they will be courageous in the face of pressure to cave to the world in matters of faith and morals.
Just so that you can’t say that you hadn’t been told, I’ve made available some Papa Ganganelli mugs. I am convinced that St. Alphonsus would have wanted one of these. He would want you to have one, too.
For all the selections click