02 August 2011

Saint Alphonsus Liguori and Redemption


SAINT Alphonsus Liguori, well-known as the founder of the Redemptorists, and also as a Bishop, Confessor, and Doctor of the Church, is a shining example to all in the clergy. A nobleman, Saint Alphonsus had a successful secular career as lawyer before dedicating himself completely to the service of God through the Church. He turned down two advantageous arrangements of marriage made by his father to remain celibate for the Roman Rite priesthood. His family was a bit put out at his decision to be a priest. Yet, he followed the calling of God anyway. It reminds me of a Roman Catholic bishop I know who told me once that the only time he ever saw his father cry was when he announced he was going to become a priest.

As a priest, Saint Alphonsus, of course, founded the Redemptorists. He also was made, against his wishes, a Bishop. His order and his own work were dedicated to the poor and ignorant. For his work he was much maligned by those within and without the Church. Yet, he labored on doing his duty to God and to the Church, helping the poor and working for the redemption of those he encountered and, through his writings, of those of future generations. If he had allowed himself to be bullied into giving up or modifying his work, think of those who would likely not have found redemption through Christ.

If a priest is doing his job, we know that he will be maligned. Perhaps it will not happen as much as to Saint Alphonsus or to Saint Ignatius, whose feast we celebrated two days earlier, but it will happen. People will try to claim a priest is teaching falsehoods when he is professing the truth of the Catholic Faith. People will try to badger a priest into giving up his vocation, his obligations, his duties, and his work all in the name of "getting along," or "getting ahead," or other worldly platitudes. The world rejects that which is not of the world. The degree to which this happens to a priest depends on the environment he is in and what he is doing. Even within a purely religious setting, human nature leads to jealousy, politics, and other problems that cause internal turmoil within the Church. The specific problems a priest faces are ultimately individual, but the point is that a priest doing his job necessarily will face opposition.

It is so very important for priests to understand this and take solace in the life and work of Saint Alphonsus and others like him. Priests, and especially Bishops must not abdicate even a modicum of their responsibility simply for personal comfort, worldly security, to "get long," or even to keep people in the pews. The latter sounds perhaps counter-intuitive, but it is true all the same. Priests cannot water down the Faith simply to keep the stubborn in the pews. If the will of the parishioner is so great as to refuse to accept the Catholic Faith, then they will effectively excommunicate themselves. A priest cannot give in to such intimidation and must maintain the Faith for the spiritual good of both the entirety of their parishioners and for the redemption of the stubborn parishioners who choose to leave. You do no one any good by watering down the doctrine simply to keep more people in the pews.

The world, furthermore, will try to tempt priests into giving up their solemn pledge to God and joining the ways of the world. Yet, priests, as servants of the Kingdom of God, are in this world, but not of this world. Especially in the secular society we live in today, this becomes all the more difficult. Yet, we must persevere. If we do not, then how many souls might be lost? Even the mere sight of a priest in his clerical collar or cassock out in public might turn people to God or cause people to examine their own conscience more than they otherwise would. The more the Church is allowed to be suppressed and allows itself to be suppressed in society in general, the more difficult it will become for people to attain to everlasting life. Christianity is a constant struggle, not a panacea to soothe and affirm with weekly emotional highs. Christianity is a process of true conversion of heart, of warfare against darkness, and of self-sacrifice as we deny ourselves and take up our own cross and give ourselves completely and entirely to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.