On this first day of August, let’s not fail to reconsecrate and rededicate ourselves to the honor and glory of God in all that we are and do this month.
They tell a story of Saint Teresa of Avila, the Carmelite nun in 16th century Spain. One day she and one or two other nuns were traveling to open a new convent with all their possessions loaded in a cart. While they were crossing a river at a ford, the cart overturned, spilled all its contents into the water, which promptly washed them all away. Crawling up on the river bank, Saint Teresa said to Our Lord, “Lord, why do you allow these things to happen to us? Don’t you know that we are trying to do your will?” The Lord answered, “Teresa, I always treat my friends like this.” To which she retorted, “Well, then, no wonder you have so few of them!”
That is certainly borne out in the life of Saint Alphonsus Liguori whom we celebrate today. He was a member of a noble family in Naples, Italy, back in the early 1700s—before Italy was a single country as it is today. The Kingdom of Naples was one country, and to the north of it lay the Papal States, ruled over by the Pope.
Saint Alphonsus was a very fine priest who founded the religious order of the Most Holy Redeemer. We call them the Redemptorists and the Redemptoristines today. He worked for years to establish and solidify his religious family. But just about the time it was sinking its roots and beginning to spread, a political problem came up between the Redemptorists of the Kingdom of Naples and those of the Papal States. The conflict reached the attention of the Pope, who was Pius VI at the time. And much to the sorrow of Saint Alphonsus, the Pope ruled that the Redemptorists of the Papal States were juridically members of the order; all others were not. And Saint Alphonsus, the founder of the congregation, was still in Naples. Thus by church legislation, he was excluded from the very order which he had labored so long to found. It nearly broke his heart. Eventually the conflict was resolved and the order was reunited, but not until after Saint Alphonsus died. Thus, technically, he died outside his own order, nearly ninety-one years old, blind, and totally unable to walk. Yet today, he is a canonized saint, a doctor of the church, and the patron saint of all those who teach or write on moral theology and who hear confessions as part of their ministry.
Like the half-drowned Teresa lying on her riverbank in Spain, Alphonsus might well have asked God: “Why?” And the answer would have been the same: in the spiritual life, great accomplishments are usually accompanied by suffering. The greatest illustration of this, of course, is the death of our Divine Lord on the cross. Thank you for seeking God’s truth, God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.