Alphonsus was the oldest son of Neapolitan nobility. He left a promising legal career to become a priest at the age of 30. He worked with the homeless and marginalised young people of Naples. He founded “evening chapels” for young people. These were run by the young themselves with the support of adults. By the time he died there were 10,000 active participants.
In November 1732, he founded the congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, now known as the Redemptorists. Their call was to announce the good news to the poor and to the most abandoned.
He had a love of beauty: was a musician, a painter, a poet and an author. He wrote 111 works of spirituality and theology. He said, “I have never preached a sermon which the poorest old woman in the congregation could not understand”.
He was able to help convert many back to the practice of their faith who had been alienated from their faith.
He suffered from a type of neurosis called scruples. A sufferer from this disorder feels guilty about the most minor issues relating to sin. They can even be convinced that they are doomed to go to hell. This experience in fact was turned to good by Alphonsus, because he became very compassionate to those troubled in conscience. He brought hope to many about the great compassion in the love of God.
He also fought against Jansenism. This movement preached an excessive moral rigorism. They were very harsh and condemnatory of people. They preached fear rather than love.
Alphonsus said, “Penitents should be treated as souls to be saved rather than criminals to be punished”. He also said that he never refused absolution to a penitent.
He became a bishop at the age of 66. As a bishop he was a great reformer. As a reformer he found opposition from some who were not ready to be reformed.
He suffered a lot towards the end of his life from a painful sickness. He was even dismissed from the congregation that he had founded!
As a teacher and a great moral theologian, he was greatly influenced by his practical experience of pastoral work. He strongly opposed sterile legalisms and strict rigorism. He was neither lax nor rigorist.
What are the some of the things we learn from St. Alphonsus?
Commitment to our vocation whatever it may be and to God’s call even when we experience opposition.
To never forget the great love, compassion and mercy of God.
To avoid both rigoristic and lax pastoral practice in the care of people.
To accept suffering as part of life and never to lose hope in the midst of it.
Not to settle half measures but to be true to our beliefs and commitment.
To see Mary as our mother in faith and model for us all.
To have a zeal for spreading the good news of Jesus to all especially the most neglected.