Sunday, July 29, 2012

St. Alphonsus: Rising Above Adversity

Have you ever heard of a person starting an organization only to be kicked out of it? Well, this is what happened to St. Alphonsus Liguori whose memory is celebrated by the Catholic Church on August 1st. One of the testaments to his outstanding character is that adversity did not hold this man down!

In 1839 Alphonsus Liguori was canonized a Saint and in 1871 was declared to be a Doctor of the Church. Yet, he was a man who experienced many defeats in his life. One such defeat came in 1723 when, as a lawyer, he suffered a humiliating loss in the courtroom. It was said that he did not eat for three days. But that setback would prove to be quite useful in God’s plan.

It just so happened during that same year, as he was visiting the sick in the hospital, he experienced the presence of God in such a way that would change his life forever. According to one source, “He saw a mysterious light, felt the building shake, and heard the voice of God asking him to ‘leave the world’ and place himself totally in his service.” This transforming experience inspired his vocation to the priesthood. Later, in 1762, he would be ordained a bishop of Naples, Italy.

St. Alphonsus then went on found the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, better known as The Redemptorists. From its beginning in 1732, the Redemptorist order struggled with division from within. It even was met with hostility from the State. Indeed, the Prime Minister of Naples, Bernardo Tanucci, tried to strip the religious order of its privileges. And towards the end of the Saint’s life, ironically, at the very “hands of the Pope who would later declare him venerable, Alphonsus was cast out of the order he founded.”

Nevertheless, whatever confronted him- good or bad –St. Alphonsus took it in stride.
Oh! How many Saints encountered what seemed to be a hopeless situation?! Failures in the eyes of the world, these men and women were used by God to bring about great accomplishments. It also happens that the Lord uses circumstances- that which appears to be useless or a defeat in our eyes -to bring about a greater and lasting good. However, in order to carry this out, the Lord needs willing souls; those Christians who are not discouraged by the appearances of failure or the threat of danger.

This great man learned to accept the peace of God through the various trials of life; not to mention the many infirmities he had to endure. He believed that whatever situation or condition God allowed to transpire in his life- good or evil, health or sickness, honor or disgrace –was part of an intelligent design no less wonderful than the creation of the universe.

Although his prolific writing career did not begin until he was fifty years old, he would write one hundred and eleven books. According to R. J. Miller, “St. Alphonsus had published 7,000 more editions of his works than Shakespeare by 1961 even though Shakespeare had over a century and a half head start.”

Arguably one of his greatest writings was Uniformity with God’s Will. In it he wrote, “Those who love God are always happy, because their whole happiness is to fulfill, even in adversity, the will of God. Afflictions do not mar their serenity, because by accepting misfortune, they know they give pleasure to their beloved Lord.”

This is an important part of knowing God’s peace and his joy. God Almighty either positively wills something to happen (i.e. loving him above everything else and serving the poor) or He allows evil to take place so that some greater good may come of it; such is His passive will. The belief of St. Alphonsus- as well with every canonized Saint –is that whatever happens is either willed or permitted by God. As such, whatever circumstances unfold in our lives is part of a great design whose Author is none other than the Lord himself. To be sure, it is no exaggeration to say that the circumstances of each and every moment are none other than the content of God’s will for us. It may rightly be called the “Sacrament of the Moment.”

But as for those whose happiness depends on favorable circumstances, he writes the following: “Because his peace of mind depends on the prosperity or the adversity he meets; he changes with the changes in the things that happen to him.” “The just man,” on the other hand, “is like the sun, constant in his serenity, no matter what betides him. His calmness of soul is founded on his union with the will of God; hence he enjoys unruffled peace.” This is the key to St. Alphonsus "unruffled peace!" It is the secret to the happiness the Saints enjoyed while they were on earth.

In a nutshell, the secret to sanctity and peace of soul is none other than to will what God gives us in the circumstances of each day. Think about it: If we thank God for only those things that suit our pleasures- and for that which is agreeable to us -can we not also thank Him for all the deprivations and setbacks that run counter to our will as well? And are they not just as good for us in the long run? If we have the faith of St. Alphonsus we would answer in the affirmative.

This is no small feat…to will what God will’s…as it comes to us in the circumstances of each day. In fact, it can be quite grueling! It can wear us down! It can even feel like a kind of death to self! But it is the most mysterious and yet most liberating ambition anyone could have! Indeed, St. Alphonsus’ uniformity to God’s will gave him wings. Now, he is in heaven as one who peacefully resides above all adversity.