August 1, 2019 – Thursday: Solemnity of St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori
From the Book of Prophet Isaiah (61:1-3)
The spirit of the Lord is upon me; because the Lord has anointed me; He has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion – To give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, The mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
Responsorial Psalm : Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.
From the Gospel of Matthew (9:35-10:1)
Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When se saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but he laborers are few; Therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.
Who among us here who is not seeking one’s happiness? I am sure each of us desires it. However, we may be prevented by many things especially when expectations from our families and friends are different from what we truly desire. People around us may have something in mind for us, believing that what they think is better for us. Yet, this is not always the case. That is why, there would be individuals whose lives become miserable because they have to follow the desires from others for them.
This reminds me of the life of Alphonsus whose feast we celebrate today. That is why, as a Redemptorist priest myself, I also wonder of the kind of life Alphonsus had when he was young and what led him to affirm his vocation by giving his life for the poor and the most abandoned.
Alphonsus came from an aristocratic family in Naples, Italy. As the eldest in the family, his father had so much expectations from him. At an early age he had many books on his hands instead of toys. He must have been deprived of playing with other children because as an aristocrat, he needed to receive instructions from various teachers. He was indeed an exceptional boy who even finished his studies in both civil and ecclesiastical laws at the age of 16. In his twenties, he was already a known lawyer in Naples. Not just that, he also excelled in arts and music and authored many books.
With all these things on him, Alphonsus had felt so much pressure from the family and particularly from his father. His father expected him to succeed and follow him as what had been practiced in their family. His relatives and the whole clan had surely expected him also to follow the footsteps of his father as an aristocrat. This was the reason why that at an early age he was expected to follow whatever was told to him. Alphonsus was very careful to follow everything and not to commit any mistake.
At that time, any mistake will go unpunished. We could imagine how Alphonsus had to endure the corporal punishments and the shame, every time he would commit a mistake or a failure. This kind of upbringing had actually a deep influence on the spiritual life of Alphonsus. He was a very scrupulous man. Alphonsus was very afraid of hell and of eternal damnation. He was indeed very careful not to sin and not to commit any mistake because he believed that God would not be able to forgive him.
Being scrupulous prevented him actually to be free from shame. He was always haunted by guilt too. Now, we understand how family pressures and his severe upbringing affected his relationship with God. At his lifetime, he struggled to believe that God could forgive him. No matter how small was the mistake or the sin he committed, he would go anxious and worried.
However, there was something in Alphonsus that really desired freedom, to be free from pressures, from shame and guilt, and from that severe childhood upbringing. Deep within, Alphonsus desired to express what he really wanted. He searched ways were he could truly express his true self without any pressure or expectation from others. Alphonsus was searching to what would really give meaning and true happiness in his life. This was the reason why he excelled in many things but most importantly with his encounter with the common people.
It was with the patients at the House of Incurables, the prostitutes in Naples, the men and women in the marketplace and later on with the people in a remote area of Scala, that he found himself, and found God more alive.
This was the beginning of the continual conversion of Alphonsus. By becoming more in touched with his struggles and questions, he too became more aware of God’s desire for him more than the pressure of the people’s desire around him. Hence, Alphonsus gave up his profession and his status as an aristocrat by becoming a poor priest. With this decision, it greatly upset and broke the heart of his father to the point of disowning Alphonsus as his son.
However, God’s desire for Alphonsus cannot be prevented by anybody. God has so much plan for Alphonsus. And for Alphonsus, he willingly sought God’s desire and he found it among the people. This was where Alphonsus also found how good God is to him. He realized how God loved him so much despite his imperfections and weaknesses.
Our Psalm today proclaims to us, “Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.” Alphonsus was indeed singing the Lord’s goodness not just expressed in his paintings, music and writings but also in his person, in the way he related with people. And this happiness in Alphonsus touched many men and women including his father. Later on, his father discovered too how God worked in the life of his son and that God has a bigger and better plan for Alphonsus than him.
Despite the deprivation he had and the strict upbringing in his childhood, he did not become a bitter person but rather, his negative experience allowed him to become understanding and generous to those who were deprived with many things in their life. Consequently, Alphonsus affirmed that the spirit of the Lord is upon him because the Lord anointed him and chose him.
Today, on this feast day of Alphonsus, the Lord is also inviting each of us to continually seek our own happiness, and in seeking it, we will surely be able to seek God with all our heart because seeking one’s happiness is seeking God.
Let us allow the Lord then, to unfold before us his desire for us by being open and welcoming to his invitations to change and to be converted in his ways and thinking. And may our encounter with people will allow us to affirm God’s desire for us whatever that may be, in bringing happiness, joy and peace not just to ourselves but also to people around us. Hinaut pa.
Jom Baring, CSsR