He had just come from an argument with his father, who wished his son to appear with him at a function of the Neopolitan Court. It was to be a reception attended by the high nobility of Naples, of which the esteemed de Liguori family was a part. His father begged his son to accompany him, and after repeated requests, the young Alphonsus replied, “What would you have me to do at the Court? All that is only vanity.” Finally his father left in indignation. He had been in vain trying to persuade this, his oldest son, to resume his successful career as a lawyer. The events of the remainder of that day, August 28, 1723, are chronicled in the words of the saint's most eminent biographer, Austin Berthe:
After this incident Alphonsus became a prey to the most distressing perplexity. With grace on the one hand drawing him from the world, and his father on the other endeavoring with might and main to lead him back to it, how was he to act without doing violence to his conscience? “If I resist my father's authority, I am doing wrong,” he argued. “But if I follow my father against the will of God, shall I not be doing worse? Who will show me the road I ought to take.” In great agitation he set out for the Hospital of the Incurables, where he was to hear God's answer.
He had begun his usual visit to the patients when suddenly he found himself surrounded by a mysterious light. At the same time the house seemed to him to rock as if under the shock of an earthquake. Then he heard an interior voice distinctly pronounce these words: “Leave the world and give thyself to Me.” Though he was moved to the very depths of his soul, Alphonsus still preserved sufficient calmness to go on with his work of charity. The visit ended, he was going down the hospital stairs when the dazzling light suddenly reappeared; again the house seemed to rock, and the same voice repeated with even greater force: “Leave the world and give thyself to Me.” He stood still in amazement and cried out: “Lord, too long have I resisted Thy grace; do with me what Thou wilt.”
With the impression of this strange occurrence still upon him he wended his way, not to the Liguori palace, but towards a building he had much frequented during those last fifteen days. This was the church of the Redemption of Captives, dedicated to Our Lady of Ransom. A novena had lately been celebrated there in preparation for the feast of the Assumption, and Alphonsus had attended the devotions with great fervor. The celebrated statue of the Madonna was still adorned for the feast.
|Maria de Mercede, fresco by Ghirlandaio
Instinctively he went and threw himself at his Mother's feet to ask, through her, for grace to know and do the will of God. That same moment he found himself, for the third time, filled with a heavenly light, and rapt as it were out of himself. The hour had come for the great holocaust. Drawn by divine grace Alphonsus consecrated himself to the service of God, and bound himself irrevocably to enter the ecclesiastical state. Furthermore he took the resolution to join the Congregation of the Oratory as soon as possible, and as a pledge of his promise he ungirded his sword, and laid it on Our Lady's altar.
Thus did God complete in this church of the Redemption of Captives the conquest of him who was himself to help to redeem so many souls from the slavery of Satan. Alphonsus never forgot that memorable day, nor this sanctuary of Mary, nor did he ever in later days return to Naples without visiting his heavenly benefactress. “She it was,” he said one day, pointing to the picture of Our Lady of Ransom, “who drew me from the world and made me enter the service of the Church.”
Within two months, on October 23 in the year 1723, at the age of twenty-seven, Alphonsus laid aside his secular dress to put on the livery of his heavenly Master. It was a Saturday. Our Lady of Ransom, who had called him, wished herself on her own day to offer him to her Divine Son.
|Chiesa di Santa Maria della Mercede e Sant'Alfonso Maria de' Liguori, Naples
We have this history of the Saint's call to leave the world from his own lips. Being one day, in after years, in recreation with his students at Ciorani, on a certain 27th of August, he said to them: “To-morrow is the anniversary of my conversion.” Then at their earnest request, and by the wish of Father Villani his director, he told them the story of what happened in the Hospital of the Incurables, as related above.
Life of Alphonsus De Liguori, Austin Berthe, J. Duffy & Co. Dublin, 1905, from Chapter IV.
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