St. Alphonsus Liguori
St. Alphonsus Liguori was patron saint of moral theologians because of his brilliance; he is also patron saint of the work of lay people because of his productivity.
He born in 1696 in Naples, Italy, the oldest of seven children. He was soon known as a child prodigy—he earned a doctorate in law by the age of 16. At 21 he had his own legal practice and soon became a leading lawyer in Naples.
His law practice immersed him in the world, and he found escape in music and in visiting the sick. While visiting people suffering from terminal illnesses, he felt a distinct call to leave the world and to give himself to God. He began to study theology, even though his family protested, and was ordained a priest when he was 29.
He became known for his clear, direct, and simple preaching, and he would travel to parishes around Naples giving missions. He became a sought-after theologian and writer and founded the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, known as the Redemptorists, in 1750.
He was appointed bishop of an area near Naples, which was marked by uneducated parishioners and apathetic priests. He worked tirelessly to educate the laity and reform seminaries.
As he aged, he suffered from severe rheumatism. Often, he could barely move or even raise his chin off his chest. He spent several years only drinking from tubes because his head was so bent forward.
He endured turmoil within the government and even his own religious order, but persevered. He vowed to never waste a moment of his life and lived that way for more than 90 years. He died in 1787 and nearly 100 years later, he was declared a doctor of the Church, a title given to more than 35 saints who are known for elucidating the faith by their words or example. His relics rest in the reliquary chapel in the Basilica.
Much of what marks St. Alphonsus’ holiness has to do with his use of time. On the one hand, he vowed to never waste a moment of his life, and was profoundly productive. On the other hand, it was in performing a profoundly non-productive work of mercy that he heard God’s call to deepen his life of faith. As a leading lawyer, he must have had many claims on his time, yet he made time in his day to visit those suffering from terminal illnesses. Those visits opened a different horizon to his life.
As the patron of the work of lay people, we can call upon St. Alphonsus’ example and prayer to assist us in using our time well. May we find the balance he achieved between productivity and the “unproductive” works of mercy where we hear the voice of God.
St. Alphonsus Liguori, patron saint of the work of laypeople, pray for us!