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.
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