Two great men. One great message.
Two great men. One great message.
This past week began with the celebration of the feasts of two outstanding men in the Church’s history. The first was St. Ignatius of Loyola on Monday and the other was St. Alphonsus Ligouri the following day, Tuesday.
Ignatius was born in 1491 in northern Spain. As a young man he dreamed of becoming a great military figure. However, having been very severely wounded he was forced to spend a long period in convalescing. The only reading material available to him was the Bible and the lives of the saints. He noticed that daydreaming about military triumphs was exciting but left him feeling down and sad, whereas reading the lives of the saints also gave him pleasure but left him feeling that he wanted more, that this was something that he needed to do. From this he went on to develop a whole ‘method’ of what he called “discernment of spirits” - trying to figure out which option of many God may be calling us to follow in any given situation. He went on to found one of the best known religious orders - the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits. I don’t know if they still do, but when I was a boy, those who went to Jesuit schools always wrote the letters AMDG at the top of every page of their workbooks. AMDG are the first letters of the Latin phrase Ad Majoram Dei Gloria which translates as “to the greater glory of God.
This was Ignatius’ guiding principle. Everything he did was to bring greater glory to God by proclaiming in word and deed the wonders of the love of God shown to us in Christ Jesus. He died in 1556. His influence on Church history was immense due partly to his teaching on how to follow God’s will in this life, and on the great part that his followers played in what was called the “Counter-Reformation” which was the Church’s response to Luther’s challenge.
St. Alphonsus was born a hundred and forty years later in 1696 and he lived to the ripe old age of 91, dying in 1987. Alphonsus was from a wealthy family from the south of Italy and his first career was as a lawyer, but he eventually gave up civil law and was ordained as a priest. His interest in law however continued and he wrote and taught about Moral Theology - how we must respond to God’s call. Contrary to what you might expect, He opposed sterile legalism and strict rigorism. According to him, those were paths closed to the Gospel because "such rigor has never been taught nor practiced by the Church". His system of moral theology is noted for its prudence, avoiding both laxism and excessive rigor. I think he would have been a kindred spirit of Pope Francis.
Alphonsus was a breath of fresh air in the Church at that time when many were emphasizing hell fire and brimstone for the slightest infraction of the rules. His response was to stress the infinite mercy of God toward all those who will turn to Him and seek forgiveness. It is said that Alphonsus never refused absolution to anyone.
Alphonsus, like Ignatius also founded a religious order - The Order of the Most Holy Redeemer, or Redemptorists, who continue his work of proclaiming God’s merciful love for all His children.
The Church is constantly in need of wonderful men and women who will interpret the ‘signs of the time’ and enable her to find ways to preach the Good News to the people of today. Ignatius and Alphonsus both responded to the needs of the Church of their day with the same message, put in different ways: God is a God of mercy who longs to be part of His children’s lives. May we listen to their message and ask the Lord to show us ways to imitate them.