Sunday, May 31, 2020

God wants saints, not “brutes!”

Excerpts from the essay The Science of the Saints, by St. Alphonsus.

“Hence it is that if a brute were ever to act according to reason, we should say that such a brute acted like a man; so we say that a man who acts upon sensual appetites and contrary to reason acts like a brute.”

There are two kinds of sciences upon earth – one heavenly, the other worldly. The heavenly is that which leads us to please God, and makes us great in heaven. The worldly is that which moves us to please ourselves, and to become great in the world. But this worldly science is folly and madness in the sight of God. The wisdom of the world is foolishness with God, [1 Cor. 3:19]. It is folly, for it makes fools of those who cultivate it; it makes them fools, and like the brutes, for it teaches them to satisfy their carnal appetites like the beasts.

St. John Chrysostom wrote, “We call him a man who preserves complete the image of a man; and what is the image of a man? - to be rational.” Hence it is that if a brute were ever to act according to reason, we should say that such a brute acted like a man; so we say that a man who acts upon sensual appetites and contrary to reason acts like a brute.

Blessed is he who has received from God the science of the saints. The science of the saints is to know the love of God. How many in the world are well versed in literature, in mathematics, in foreign and ancient languages! But what will this profit them if they know not the love of God? Blessed is he, said St. Augustine, who knows God, even if he knows nothing else. He that knows God and loves him, though he be ignorant of what others know, is more learned than the learned who know not how to love God. Let us not, then, envy those who know many things; let us only envy those who know how to love Jesus Christ; and let us imitate St. Paul, who said that he desired to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified.

But the evil is that the knowledge of the world puffs us up, and makes us proud and prone to despise others – a pernicious fault, for, as St. James says, God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble, [Ja. 4:6.] Oh, that they would be wise and understand, and know the latter end, [Deut. 32:29]. Oh, if men would act by reason and the divine law, and thus would learn to provide, not so much for temporal existence, which speedily ends, as for eternity, they would assuredly not occupy themselves in the attainment of any knowledge, except such as aids them in obtaining eternal happiness and avoiding eternal pains.

St. John Chrysostom advises us to walk among the tombs of the dead, in order to learn the knowledge of salvation. Oh, what a school of truth are the sepulchers for learning the vanity of the world! “Let us go to the tombs; there,” said the saint, “there I see nothing but corruption, bones and worms.” From all these skeletons, I cannot tell which belonged to the ignorant and which to the learned; I only see that with death all the glories of the world were finished for them. What remained to a Cicero, a Demosthenes, an Ulpian? They have slept their sleep, and have found nothing in their hands, [Ps. 75;6].

“Let the unlearned arise and seize upon heaven!” cried out St. Augustine. How learned were St. Francis of Assisi, St. Paschal, St. John of God? - ignorant in worldly knowledge, but well-skilled in that which is divine. Thou hast hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to babes, [Matt. 11:25]. By the wise, we are here to understand the worldly-wise, who labor for the possessions and glories of the world, and think little of eternal joys. And by babes, we are to understand simple souls (like those of children), who know little of worldly wisdom, and devote all their care to pleasing God.

Happy are we if we attain to the knowledge of the love which Jesus crucified had for us, and from this book of love attain to the love of him. O thou, who art my true and perfect lover, where shall I find one who has so loved me as Thou hast? I perceive that Thou callest me to Thy holy love. I give myself wholly to Thee; accept me; give me help to be faithful to Thee; I desire to be no longer my own, but all, all Thine. O mother of God! Do thou also help me with thy prayers.

Edited excerpts from “The Science of the Saints” in The Way of Salvation and of Perfection, by St. Alphonsus de Liguori, pp. 187-190.

See my Catholic books Here.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Penance and Reparation Appease the Almighty

When St. Alphonsus brought about an end to a severe drought by exhorting the people to do penance and make reparation to God for their sins, and even prophesied the exact day the rains would return; and how he tamed a Vesuvius eruption.

From the Life of St. Alphonsus by Fr. Austin Berthe.

For almost six months the town of Nocera had been in great distress, for during all that time the sky had been as bronze as in the days of Elias, and not a drop of rain had fallen on the parched earth. Were the drought to continue a little longer it meant the ruin of the crops with consequent famine for many. The people wept at the thought of the future, and Alphonsus wept over the sins of the people, which are the cause of such scourges.

Weak though he was [he was 83 and infirm], he organized one Sunday, the fifteenth of May, a penitential procession to appease the anger of God. Robed in purple, sprinkled with ashes, and with a cord around his neck, he set out with his religious for the parish church, preceded by the cross. The distance being considerable he was obliged to make part of the journey in a carriage, but no entreaties could prevent him from doing the second half, supported by two attendants, on foot.

The whole town was present at the touching ceremony, and the church, with the square in front of it, was thronged. The holy old man determined to profit by the occasion to exhort sinners to repentance. The pulpit was moved down to the door of the church, so that those outside might be able to hear his words, and as he was unable to ascend it by himself, he was borne into it on the shoulders of a number of the people. For an hour he raised his voice against mortal sin, which, he said, not only offends God but often draws down the most terrible chastisements. “God has reason to chastise us,” he exclaimed, “for we have deserved it; I have deserved it more than all; but spare the innocent, O my God, have pity on these poor little ones.” Men and women wept and asked forgiveness for their sins, and soon all the confessionals were thronged.

But heaven seemed deaf to the appeals of the afflicted people. Eight days passed, and no change took place in the sky, while Alphonsus continued to pray and to ask for the prayers of others also. On the Monday after Pentecost, May 24, he was returning from his drive when just as he reached the monastery he suddenly ordered the coachman to turn back and take him to the church of Our Lady of Grace. The people, seeing him leave the carriage, gathered in the church to pray with him. The saint asked to have the statue of Mary unveiled, and exhorted those present to appeal confidently to her all-powerful protection. Then he turned to them, and said with confidence, “Continue to recommend yourselves to the Madonna, go to confession and communion this week – on Sunday you will have rain.

All through the week the sky maintained its pitiless blue. Sunday brought no change, and people began to whisper that this time the saint was no prophet, when suddenly, towards evening, a complete change took place. The heavens became covered with clouds, and rain fell in such abundance that all the fields were flooded. As for the servant of God, on seeing the rain fall, he was covered with confusion and said to those around him, “People will take the promise I made for a prophecy; but the words only escaped me – I am anything but a prophet.”

Picture: Credit: De Agostini – Getty

Three months later, on August 10, 1779, the community of Pagani witnessed another wonderful phenomenon, which seems more than a coincidence. For some time past Vesuvius, which dominates all that area, had been pouring fiery lava over the district of Ottaiano. The entire neighborhood was in consternation. One evening especially the flames rose to such a height as to excite apprehensions of some terrible catastrophe. The fathers contemplated the splendid but fearful spectacle from the windows of one of the corridors. “Filled with terror,” related Fr. Dominic Corsano, “I ran to the cell of the servant of God, and begged him to come out and see what was going on. He came, drew near the window and then started back in fear, repeating three times: 'Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!' Then, in my presence, he made a great sign of the Cross in the direction of the mountain, and that very moment the immense whirlwind of fire and flames disappeared into the crater.”

Brother Leonard Cicchetti makes a similar deposition: “Brother Francis Romito, Alexis Pollio, and I,” he says, “led the holy old man to one of the windows so that he might see the flame which rose to a prodigious height from Vesuvius. He made the sign of the Cross and the flame instantly disappeared. All we saw afterwards was the smoke.”

Thus did God exalt His servant before King and people alike, and even before his own spiritual children. But alas! These months of favor were to be followed by the most terrible trials. It was the calm before the storm, the oasis wherein Divine Providence permits the traveler to enjoy a moment of repose before he plunges into the sands of the desert – or rather it was as the Palm Sunday of his Master which preceded the Passion. When we think of the events which are to follow, we would like to close the story of our saint here, did we not know that the life of Our Divine Redeemer want on the the Crucifixion. Alphonsus, an imitator of Jesus in His hidden and active life, was destined to go through a dolorous passion and climb the hill of Calvary like his Lord; thus by a mystical crucifixion to die to the last remnants of human attachment and self-love, and make perfect forever his union with Jesus in heaven.

Life of St. Alphonsus de Liguori, Bishop and Doctor of the Church, by Fr. Austin Berthe, Volume Two, pp. 471-473.

You can view all my books Here.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

St. Alphonsus – Bi-location, Levitation, and Prophecy

During a Redemptorist mission to Amalfi in 1756, St. Alphonsus felt that penance would have more effect than eloquence on the people of a town hardened by self-indulgence. He and his companions therefore began to do penance from the very day of their arrival. They practiced great mortification so that they might preach by example rather than by words. An eye-witness reported that one day a charitable person sent them a dish of excellent macaroni – that dish so dear to the Neapolitan. They could not send back the present without offending the donor, yet they considered it too much of a luxury to be eaten by them. So it was passed around morning and evening without anyone touching it. On the fourth day when the food had become sour and displeasing to the taste, Alphonsus presented the dish once more with the remark: “We can eat it now without fear.” On another occasion some fine fish sent by a pious lady met with the same fate.

One of the canons of the cathedral, Canon Casanova, related that Alphonsus had so covered his body with hair-shirts as to be scarcely able to walk. “I have seen him with my own eyes,” he said, “scourging his shoulders with a thick cord in the pulpit before all the people.” One may well imagine the impression which must have been made by these true followers of Jesus Christ on that effeminate populace. “To see Alphonsus at the altar in the morning,” one person said, “was enough to move one to tears. What one saw was not a man, but an angel absorbed in contemplation of God.”

The influence exerted by the power of his virtues was enhanced by the presence of supernatural gifts, prophecies and miracles. At the process of his canonization, it was related that during the mission to Amalfi the saint made three predictions, and all were fulfilled. He told a certain Maria Anastasio, who was seriously ill, that she must be resigned, for God did not mean her to recover from her sickness, that God would before long also call her to son to Himself, and that her daughter would become a religious – all of which came to pass. During the same mission Alphonsus told a lady who went to confession to him, “You will have a son who will be a priest and a canon.” This son became the canon of the metropolitan church. One witness testified, “I had a brother younger than myself by three years who had frequent epileptic fits. My mother carried him to the servant of God, who made the sign of the cross on his forehead saying: “Have no fear, your son will get better; he will become a priest and will win many souls to God.” The witness continued, “From that day forth my brother never had an attack of his malady; he is at present dean of the church of San Pancras in the diocese of Amalfi.”

Canon Casanova recounted another strange fact. “A fellow townsman of mine named Matthew went to confession to the servant of God in the place where Alphonsus was staying. After making his confession he set out for the church where the evening sermon was about to begin, taking leave of the saintly confessor, who was surrounded by a number of penitents. On reaching the church he beheld a man in the pulpit addressing the people. It was Alphonsus. He was utterly dumbfounded at the sight, for the servant of God could not have reached the church by any other road or through any door but those which he himself has passed. He began to cry out at the top of his voice: “The father is hearing confessions in his house and preaching in the church at the same time!” The incident created a great commotion among the whole congregation. This is attested by two other witnesses, the parish priest of St. Stephens, and Canon di Luca.”

Canon Casanova continued: “On the day set apart for the sermon on the Blessed Virgin, Alphonsus was trying to excite his hearers to recommend themselves to her in all their wants, spiritual and temporal, when suddenly, as if inspired, he exclaimed: 'You have not sufficient confidence in your Mother. You do not know how to pray to her with all your heart; but I am going to pray for you.' Then while he was putting his whole soul into ardent supplications a ray of light from the picture of Mary on the right of the pulpit darted upon the preacher's face. We beheld him then with his countenance aflame, his eyes fixed in ecstasy, and his body raised almost two feet above where he stood, as if about to wing his flight for the skies! The rapture lasted more than five minutes, during which an indescribable emotion seized on the congregation, whose sobs were mingled with the exclamation, 'miracle!' 'miracle!' from all parts of the church”

He worked moral miracles that were almost equally surprising. Every day the tambourine and the guitar used to be heard in the streets, inviting the inhabitants of Amalfi to immoral dances. Alphonsus inveighed against these disorders with such effect that the young men and women made a great pile of their musical instruments in front of the cathedral, and set fire to it before all the people. The saint's voice was also raised against the conduct of the women, among whom ladies of the better class were to be found, who were not ashamed to appear in church with uncovered head and improperly low dresses. His words had their effect, and henceforth reformation in this respect was complete.

On the last day of the mission to Amalfi, St. Alphonsus warned them against their unbridled love of games and amusement, and addressed them with a prophetic warning. “To save you we have spared neither labor nor pain. Well, tomorrow a spectacle will come to the town to destroy the fruits of this mission. Take care not to assist at it; if you do I predict for you that you will be chastised by an earthquake. The next afternoon, a bull was set loose in the square for the amusement of the people. They had always been passionate lovers of bull-baiting, and crowds flocked from all sides for the sport. But the game had scarcely begun when the violent shock of an earthquake struck panic into the populace. In their terror they fled to the cathedral. Then another shock, more powerful than the first, overturned the candlesticks on the altar. All fell on their knees, asking pardon for their sins, and priests were disbursed among the multitude to give absolution to all around them. The earthquake ended without further harm, but the fear of the chastisements of God was the beginning of wisdom for the inhabitants of Amalfi.

Source: Edited excerpts from Life of Alphonsus de Liguori, Volume One, by Austin Berthe, pp. 520-523.

View my Catholic writings Here.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

For Animal Lovers: St. Alphonsus and God's Creatures.

In a passage on the love of God, the saint writes: “I see almost all men applying themselves to the love—some of their parents, some of their friends, some of wealth, honors, or pleasures, and some even of dumb animals; but how many are they that love Thee, O infinite loveliness?” [Passion and Death of Jesus Christ, p. 156.]

I was taken aback by his phrase “even of dumb animals.” Yes, we should love God first and foremost, but by his wording it seemed to me that St. Alphonsus was certainly no St. Francis, and that he probably never had a pet. Well, I was wrong on both counts.

The following is from Life of St. Alphonsus de Liguori, Vol 1, by Austin Berthe, pp. 671-673.

“This sympathetic charity, grafted on his natural kindness, was extended to all God's creatures, even the animals. Alphonsus could not see them suffer without suffering himself. On Jan. 16, 1761, says an eye-witness, having found a little bird dying of cold he took it in his hands, tried to warm it, and then carried it to the kitchen, which he hardly ever entered, to see if he could revive it. But it was too late; a few hours later a brother showed him the little creature in a dying state. “No, no,” he said, turning away his face and going away quite sad, “I do not wish to see it!” On another occasion one of the fathers picked up a bird which had been wounded by a gun and brought it to our saint. Tears came into his eyes at the sight of the poor little creature mangled and bleeding. He told Brother Matthew to feed it and staunch its wounds with great care, and when after several days the wounded bird was healed, and able to use its wings, he set it at liberty.

“He delighted to gather the crumbs left on the table and give them after his meal to the chickens, which never failed to run towards him when they caught sight of him, however far off they might be. “The whole gallinaceous tribe used to flee at our approach,” says one father naively, “but our father had only to appear when all of them, big and little, came running towards him at full speed.”

“He was especially attached to those of God's creatures which symbolize innocence and purity, such as little birds and lambs. Father Corsano one day took to his cell a snow-white new-born lamb. Tears filled the saint's eyes, seeing as he did in the innocent creature the Lamb of God immolated for the salvation of the world. He gazed at it for some time, and then after caressing it gently and pressing it to his heart, gave it back to the fathers with the words: “I do not wish him to be killed.”

“Domestic animals found in him a friend and defender. One brother who had thrown a cat which had annoyed him out of the window was deprived of his fruit for eight days in punishment of his cruel action. During the famine of 1764, of which we will have to speak shortly, Alphonsus, then a bishop, while at table saw a poor, famished dog enter the room and painfully drag itself towards him. “Give him something to eat,” he said compassionately to the servant, “and look after him well while he lives.” The dog regained his strength, and the saint kept him out of pity. One day the servant beat the poor animal for some larceny of which he had been guilty in the kitchen. The dog's pitiful howling attracted the attention of Alphonsus. He came down-stairs and found the poor beast covered with blood. Not content with a stern rebuke to the servant the saint told him that if he wished to remain in his service he must never dare to mistreat an animal again.

“Two little incidents may be related which remind us of the Apostle St. John and of St. Francis of Assisi. The students made a present of two turtle doves to their good father, knowing that he would be pleased by the gift. The doves soon came to know him and followed him about wherever he went. When he was at his meals they would come towards him, pass to and fro before him and eat from his hand. When he had given them enough he used to say: “Now go off to your cage,” and away they went at once.

“Another day Alphonsus had given a bird its liberty. Nothing afforded him greater pleasure than to see the little captives spread their wings and fly away. This time the released prisoner instead of flying off into the distance perched on a bow almost within reach of its benefactor, and trilled forth its most joyous lays for quite a long time. Neither the nearness nor the laughter of its auditors intimidated it in the least; it sang its canticle of thanksgiving a hundred times over before it spread its wings and flew away. The servants of God, stripped of selfishness and self-love, seem in regaining innocence to regain the dominion which the first Adam before his fall exercised over all creatures, and the lives of the saints often make one think of the earthly paradise.

You can view my Catholic writings Here.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Let us have a great desire to become saints!

Tell me, do you desire to become a saint? If you do not, it is sure that you will never become one.

An exhortation by St. Alphonsus:
No saint has ever attained to sanctity without a great desire. As wings are necessary to birds in order to fly, holy desires are necessary to the soul in order to advance in the road of perfection. To become a saint, we must detach ourselves from creatures, conquer our passions, overcome ourselves, and love crosses. But to do all this, much strength is required, and we must suffer much. But what is the effect of holy desire? St. Laurence Justinian answers us: “It supplies strength, and makes the pain easier to be borne.” Hence the same saint adds, that he has already vanquished who has a great desire of vanquishing. “A great part of the victory is the desire of vanquishing.” He who wishes to reach the top of a high mountain will never reach it if he has not a great desire to do so. This will give him courage and strength to undergo the fatigue of ascending, otherwise he will stop at the foot, wearied and discouraged.

St. Bernard asserts that we acquire perfection in proportion to the desire for it which we preserve in our heart. St. Teresa said that God loves generous souls that have great desires; for which reason the saint exhorted all in this way, “Let our thoughts be high, . . . for thence will come our good. We must not have low and little desires, but have that confidence in God that, if we make the proper efforts, we shall by little and little attain to that perfection which, with his grace, the saints have reached.” In this way, the saints attained, in a short time, a great degree of perfection, and were able to do great things for God. Being made perfect in a short time, he fulfilled a long time. [Wis. 4:13.] Thus St. Aloysius Gonzaga attained in a few years (he lived not over twenty-three years) such a degree of sanctity that St. Mary Magdalene of Pazzi, in an ecstasy seeing him in heaven, said it seemed to her, in a certain way, that there was no saint in heaven who enjoyed a greater glory than Aloysius. She understood at the same time that he had arrived at so high a degree by the great desire he had cherished of being able to love God as much as he deserved, and that, seeing this beyond his reach, the holy youth had suffered on earth a martyrdom of love.

St. Bernard, being in religion, in order to excite his fervor, used to say to himself, “Bernard, for what did you come here?” I say the same to you: What have you come to do in the house of God? To become a saint? And what are you doing? Why do you lose the time? Tell me, do you desire to become a saint? If you do not, it is sure that you will never become one. If, then, you have not this desire, ask Jesus Christ for it; ask Mary for it; and if you have it, take courage, says St. Bernard, for many do not become saints, because they do not take courage. And so I repeat, let us take courage, and great courage. What do we fear? What inspires this diffidence in us? That Lord, who has given us strength to leave the world, will also give us the grace to embrace the life of a saint. 

Everything comes to an end. Our life, be it a contented or a discontented one, will also come to an end, but eternity will never terminate. Only that little we have done for God will console us in death and throughout eternity. The fatigue will be short, eternal shall be the crown, which is already, so to speak, before our eyes. How satisfied are the saints now with all they have suffered for God! If a sorrow could enter paradise, the Blessed would be sorry only for this, that they have neglected to do for God what they might have done more, but which now they are unable to do. Take courage, then, and be prompt, for there is no time to lose; what can be done to-day we may not be able to do tomorrow. St. Bernardine of Sienna said that one moment of time is of as great a value as God himself, for at every moment we may gain God, his divine grace, and higher degrees of merits.

PRAYER:   Behold, O my God! here I am. My heart is ready, O my God! my heart is ready. [Ps. 56:8.] See, I am prepared to do all that Thou shalt require from me. 0 Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do? [Acts 9:6.] Tell me, O Lord, what Thou desirest of me. I will obey Thee in all. I am sorry for having lost so much time in which I might have pleased Thee, and yet have not done so. I thank Thee that still Thou givest me time to do it. Oh, no, I will not lose any more time. I will and desire to become a saint, not to obtain from Thee a greater glory and more delights. I will become a saint, that I may love Thee more, and to please Thee in this life and in the next. Make me, O Lord! to love and please Thee as much as Thou desirest. Behold, This is all I ask from Thee, O my God! I will love Thee, I will love Thee; and, in order to love Thee, I offer myself to undergo every fatigue, and to suffer every pain. O my Lord! increase in me always this desire, and give me the grace to execute it. Of myself I can do nothing, but assisted by Thee I can do all. Eternal Father, for the love of Jesus Christ, graciously hear me. My Jesus, though the merits of Thy Passion, come to my succor. O Mary, my hope! for the love of Jesus Christ, protect me.
From The Great Means of Salvation and Perfection. “How Necessary it is, in order to become a saint, to have a great desire for such a thing.” Pp. 441-444.

See my Catholic books Here.