Dear Parishioners of Our Beloved St. Paul:
Praised be Jesus Christ, and Mary, His Most Holy Mother! For our meditation of today I would like to consider the life and mission of one of the great Saints and Doctors of the Church, St. Alfonso Maria de Liguori. It is said of St. Alphonsus that he was the most saintly of Neapolitans, and the most Neapolitan of the saints! Sometimes I will use his Italian name, Alfonso, and sometimes render it in the English usage (which is actually Latin) Alphonsus.
Alphonsus Mary Antony John Cosmas Damian Michael Gaspard de' Liguori (yes, that is his full name!) was born in his father's country house at Marianella near Naples, on Tuesday, 27 September, 1696. He was baptized two days later in the church of Our Lady of the Virgins, in Naples. The family was an old and noble one, though the branch to which the Saint belonged had become somewhat impoverished. Alphonsus, like so many saints, had an excellent father and a saintly mother. Don Joseph de' Liguori was a naval officer and Captain of the Royal Galleys. Though essentially a good man, he did have his faults. He was ambitious and a bit worldly, and could be difficult when opposed, especially in the plans he had for his first-born son. Regardless of these faults, he had a genuine piety and impressed upon his son that he should always put God first in his life. Don Joseph and Alphonsus would make an annual retreat together in the house of some religious community.
Alphonsus was the eldest of seven children and the hope of his house. The boy was bright and quick beyond his years, and made great progress in all kinds of learning. His love for music was well known (he was accomplished on the harpsichord). Though exposed to many of the trappings and experiences of aristocratic society of the 18th century (some of which he obstinately opposed), his pure and modest boyhood passed into manhood without reproach. He was given the grace of great purity and self-control, never wanting to, nor committing a mortal sin in his 90+ years of life. One such example of his modesty was that in early manhood he became very fond of the opera, but only that he might listen to the music, for when the curtain went up he took off his glasses, so as not to see the players distinctly, as some of the costumes were a bit risqué, and therefore, an occasion of sin.
His intellectual gifts and academic prowess were displayed at an early age. Alphonsus was not sent to school but was educated by tutors under his father's eye. At the age of sixteen, on 21 January, 1713, he took his degree as Doctor of Laws, even though twenty was the age fixed by the statutes. He said of himself that he was so small at the time as to be almost buried in his doctor's gown and that all the spectators laughed. Soon after this the boy began his studies for the Bar, and at about the age of nineteen practiced his profession in the courts. In the eight years of his career as advocate, years crowded with work, he is said never to have lost a
case. Even if there be some exaggeration in this, for it is not in an advocate's power always to be on the winning side, the tradition shows that he was extraordinarily able and successful. In fact, despite his youth, he seems at the age of twenty-seven to have been one of the leaders of the Neapolitan Bar. He was a Doctor of Canon (Church) Law, as well.
While he was a faithful Catholic and never had a taste for nor enjoyed the life of high society and nobility – parties, balls, banquets, and the like to which he was exposed – he was neither on the fast track of sanctity. That would shortly come. To make a long story short, in 1723, there was a lawsuit of considerable weight with a large sum of money involved. Alphonsus made a brilliant opening speech, and was confident of victory. A document of evidence which the future saint had examined many times and used, believing it was of great benefit to his client, actually was used to the benefit of the opposition. He had made a huge blunder and lost the case, and was totally and completely crushed to his core. He felt as if his career was ruined, and left the court almost beside himself, saying: "World, I know you now. Courts, you shall never see me more." For three days he refused all food. Then the storm subsided, and he began to see that his humiliation had been sent to him by God to break down his pride and wean him from the world. He plunged himself into the font of prayer. From this point he was converted – “born again” so to say – to a radical living for the Kingdom of God, and the real work that would satisfy the deepest longings of his soul. He left the world behind, and after a period of formation was ordained a priest at the age of 30. He and his companions labored in and around Naples for the salvation of souls and brought many sinners back to God’s grace through preaching and the sacraments; especially confession. Yet the Lord was calling him to go more deeply into his life’s work.
A vision of Sister Maria Celeste seemed to show what was the will of God. On 3 October, 1731, the eve of the feast of St. Francis, she saw Our Lord with St. Francis on His right hand and a priest on His left. A voice said "This is he whom I have chosen to be head of My Institute, the Prefect General of a new Congregation of men who shall work for My glory." The priest was Alphonsus. Soon after, his dear friend, Fr. Thomas Falcoia made known to Alphonsus his vocation to leave Naples and establish an order of missionaries at Scala, who should work above all for the neglected goatherds of the mountains. A year of trouble and anxiety followed, yet on 9 November 1732, the "Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer", or as it was called for seventeen years, "of the Most Holy Saviour", was begun in a little hospice belonging to the nuns of Scala. To this day, the order is commonly referred to as “The Redemptorists.” The many persecutions and suspicions that were beset upon the order and its members, both from without and from within; and most particularly Alphonsus, were obviously the work of the evil one, who did not want to see the un-catechized and lost sheep of Christ return to the grace of their Divine Shepherd.
In the year 1747, King Charles of Naples wished to make Alphonsus Archbishop of Palermo, and it was only by the most earnest entreaties that he was able to escape. In 1762, there was no escape and he was constrained by formal obedience to the Pope to accept the Bishopric of St. Agatha of the Goths, a very small Neapolitan diocese lying a few miles off the road from Naples to Capua. Here with 30,000 uninstructed people, 400 mostly indifferent and sometimes scandalous secular clergy, and seventeen more or less relaxed religious houses to look after, in a field so overgrown with weeds that they seemed the only crop, he wept and prayed and spent days and nights in unremitting labour for thirteen years. More than once he faced assassination unmoved. In a riot which took place during the terrible famine that fell upon Southern Italy in 1764, he saved the life of the syndic (magistrate) of St. Agatha by offering his own to the mob. He fed the poor, instructed the ignorant, reorganized his seminary, reformed his convents, created a new spirit in his clergy, banished scandalous noblemen and women of evil life with equal impartiality, brought the study of theology and especially of moral theology into honour, and all the time was begging pope after pope to let him resign his office because he believed that he was doing nothing for his diocese! To all his administrative work we must add his continual literary labours, his many hours of daily prayer, his terrible austerities, and the stress of illnesses which made his life a living martyrdom.
Eight times during his long life, without counting his last sickness, the Saint received the sacraments of the dying, but the worst of all his illnesses was a terrible attack of rheumatic fever during his episcopate, an attack which lasted from May, 1768, to June, 1769, and left him paralyzed to the end of his days. It was this which gave St. Alphonsus the bent head which we notice in the later portraits of him. So bent was it in the beginning, that the pressure of his chin produced a dangerous wound in the chest. Although the doctors succeeded in straightening the neck a little, the Saint for the rest of his life had to drink at meals through a tube. He could never have said Mass again had not an Augustinian prior shown him how to support himself on a chair so that with the assistance of an acolyte he could raise the chalice to his lips. But in spite of his infirmities both Clement XIII (1758-69) and Clement XIV (1769-74) obliged Alphonsus to remain at his post. In February, 1775, however, Pius VI was elected Pope, and the following May he permitted the Saint to resign his see.
Alphonsus returned to his little cell at Nocera in July, 1775, to prepare, as he thought, for a speedy and happy death. Twelve years, however, still separated him from his reward, years for the most part not of peace but of greater afflictions than any which had yet befallen him. Through a very complicated turn of events, both religious and political; dealing with sometimes hostile civil powers, the saint was unwittingly induced to sign a document that so “reformed” the rules of the Redemptorist Order, so as to make it unrecognizable. "You have founded the Congregation and you have destroyed it", said one Father to him. The Saint only wept in silence and tried in vain to devise some means by which his Order might be saved. So the Saint was cut off from his own Order by the Pope who was to later declare him "Venerable". It was only after his death, as he had prophesied, that the Neapolitan Government at last recognized the original Rule, and that the Redemptorist Congregation was reunited under one head (1793).
Alphonsus had still one final storm to meet, and then the end. About three years before his death he went through a veritable "Night of the Soul". Fearful temptations against every virtue crowded upon him, together with diabolical apparitions and illusions, and terrible scruples and impulses to despair which made life a hell. At last came peace, and on 1 August, 1787, as the midday Angelus was ringing, the Saint passed peacefully to his reward. He had nearly completed his ninety-first year. He was declared "Venerable", 4 May, 1796; was beatified in 1816, and canonized in 1839. In 1871, he was declared a Doctor (Teacher) of the Church. His devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and to Our Lady was extraordinary. He had a tender charity towards all who were in trouble; he would go to any length to try to save a vocation; he would expose himself to death to prevent sin. (With many excerpts from the Catholic Encyclopedia) He is the patron saint of moral theologians, confessors, and arthritis sufferers… St. Alphonsus, pray for us!
Parish Picnic: Please see the bulletin for information concerning our parish picnic. It will be on September 12, 2015. I am grateful to Jesse Cromer and his committee for all their hard work in this effort. Please consider assisting in this great parish enterprise. Price of admission will be one item for our food pantry on the part of each attending family.
St. Paul Centerstage: Also our parish Centerstage Production of Annie, Get your Gun will be performed this week. Many parishioners have been working very hard to provide this musical play for us. Please see the bulletin for the dates of performance and be sure to attend.
Gala: We are now in the midst of planning for our annual parish Gala Dinner Dance. As always, I am most grateful to Mrs. Paula Maturo and her dedicated committee who plan this wonderful event. This event is the major fundraiser for our parish. Please see the bulletin for details. The parish gala will be on Friday October 30th. It will be a Dinner Dance at the Milleridge Inn Cottage and its theme will be Casino Night. Our friends the M&M Twins (Marco and Michael Posillico, whom I have known for 25 years) will present a wonderful evening of entertainment. St. Paul’s depends on this fundraiser. It is my fond hope that many parishioners will come together for this fundraiser so that we may continue to exist as a viable and vibrant parish.
Tickets for Papal Events: At present we have no information about the tickets for events during the Apostolic Visit of the Pope to the United States of America in September. These tickets will naturally be limited and they will be free of cost (The Governor has been announcing this to the media as though he were hosting the Pope). As soon as we have information about this, it will be made known. The Archdiocese of New York is hosting the papal visit and therefore the majority of tickets (only 20,000) for the Papal Mass at MSG will be for their use. I personally do not expect that tickets will be available. If and when they are available, this will be made known. Please do not inquire at the Parish Office about these events. We have no information at present and may never have any.
Financial matters: Readers of this column have undoubtedly noticed my speaking of financial matters that affect our dear parish. I have tried to explain why there are two collections each week. Ours is a small parish, but nonetheless we depend on the support of our parishioners to be a viable and vibrant parish. That is a difficult thing to do when the offertory collections are so variable. Please consider contributing to the parish even while you are away during the summer by placing the weekly envelopes in the basket when you return from vacations. One example of our needs is simply to recall that for our fuel collection during the winter months our parishioners contributed $3,455. Our oil expenses were $25,858 and gas was $2,330. As I wrote several weeks ago we completed a complete gas conversion which will be of tremendous savings to our parish. The oil tanks have been removed and we will no longer be paying oil bills. Nonetheless, we depend on your goodness to help defray the expenses lost on the fuel collection.
The Pardon Of Assisi: My last topic is something very dear to my heart and of great spiritual benefit to us all. When I became a priest I had not realized how much financial anxieties would consume my days and (sad to say) nights. But let us end on a note of mercy. Today, August 2nd, is the day when the Pardon of Assisi is extended to the whole Church. Many may know that St. Francis of Assisi was called by God to rebuild my church. That is quite literally what he did. He personally with his own labor repaired the small Church of Santa Marai degli Angeli. That small Church is now in a great basilica of the same name in Assisi. On any day of the year the faithful may receive full remission of temporal punishment due to sin (a plenary indulgence) simply by walking through the door of that Church. It is called the Portiuncula Indulgence. I have walked through that door many times while I was a student in Rome. However, the Church in her mercy extends this privilege on just one day a year, (today August 2nd) to the faithful wherever they may be by simply visiting any Church like our own, and walking through the door. One must pray for the Pope and confess either within eight days before or after the 2nd. I will confessed my many sins last Wednesday! (Some people think that the priests do not go to confession also). Please avail yourselves of this great grace.
Now is that not a more uplifting note to end on rather than our large deficit?
Nos cum prole pia,
Benedicat Virgo Maria!
In Jesus and Mary,
Monsignor James F. Pereda