Saint Alphonsus Ligouri
His father had him trained to become a lawyer.
By the time he was sixteen years old, he was so proficient in his studies, he received a degree of Doctor of Laws.
And this came about in spite of the fact that the required age to receive such a degree was no younger than twenty years of age.
When he received his degree, his stature was so small, the robes of his new profession dragged on the floor, dwarfing him, to the delight of all in attendance.
His next step – he studied for the Bar, and by the age of nineteen he was able to practice law in the courts, again far ahead of all who had preceded him. The world and its snares were weaving gossamer fibers (not unlike those of a spider’s web), threatening to entrap the young man in its web.
There was an ongoing battle for Saint Alphonsus Ligouri’s future.
Although his father’s focus was to groom him for the world, his mother, who was highly spiritual, was the loving instrument who would prepare him for a future life as Jesus and Mary’s troubadour.
But it would not be a battle easily won. Now, don’t get me wrong. Saint Alphonsus Ligouri’s father, even when trying to arrange a suitable marriage for him, always prompted him to place God first. Father and son even made retreats together.
Alphonsus begins his walk toward Sainthood
His walk was not to be an easy one. His father was not too happy with his two ill-attempted tries at marrying Alphonsus to a suitable wife of a prestigious family, nor was he pleased with his son’s decision to leave his profession as a lawyer. His worst fears were realized! His father was furious with his decision to leave the world and enter Religious Life, especially as an Oratorian. After enduring two months of trials, finally triumph! – resignation on his father’s side and compromise on that of Alphonsus. His father gave his consent to his son pursuing a Religious Life as a priest, as long as it was not as an Oratorian; and Alphonsus agreed! The other hook was that Alphonsus agree to remain at home; and Alphonsus agreed!
Without fidelity to an Order already established, it freed Alphonsus to found an Order of his own, one day. On October 23rd., in the year 1723, Alphonsus was vested in the clothes of a cleric; and in September of the following year, he received the tonsure, soon after gaining admittance to a missionary secular priests organization, called the “Neopolitan Propaganda” where priests were not required to live a communal life in community. He was to receive minor orders in December of the year 1724, and joined the Subdiaconate in September of the following year, 1725. April the 6th, 1726, he was enrolled in the Diaconate, as a Deacon. On December 21st of that same year, Alphonsus was ordained a priest – he was now thirty years old.
For the next two years, he was involved in missionary work throughout the Kingdom of Naples. (Unlike today, it encompassed many areas of Italy, which at that time was not a unified country). As we aforementioned, the Church was under attack and suffering, what with the liberal, humanistic effects of Renaissance completely out of control and in contrast the unrelenting, uncompromising rigidity toward the Sacrament of Penance – a product of Jansenism, threatening to destroy her from within. St. Alphonsus came against both these extremes. He was able to win the hearts of all who listened, with his simplicity, speaking to the souls of men as well as to their minds, at their level – never talking down to them or over their heads. The simplest baker was able to absorb the Word of God alongside those of the intelligentsia. A common comment was: “It is a pleasure to listen to your sermons; you forget yourself and preach Jesus.” He passed on this wisdom to all he instructed for missionary work: “Your style must be simple, but the sermon must be well constructed. If skill be lacking, it is unconnected and tasteless; if it be bombastic, the simple cannot understand it. I have never preached a sermon the poorest old woman in the congregation cannot understand.”
Again in contrast to the rigors of Jansenism to which he was most opposed, he treated souls seeking forgiveness in the confessional as precious souls desiring to be saved, instead of as criminals deserving punishment. He brought the gentle, forgiving love of the Savior to all who reached out to him, seeking pardon in the confessional. He did not treat penitents harshly. More like his Lord, who gently told Mary Magdalene to go and sin no more, St. Alphonsus did not try to frighten them into leading a more holy life, free of sin. It has been said, he never refused anyone seeking absolution. Now this did not sit well with some, causing them to look upon him and his teaching with distrust.