St Alphonsus Liguori

Doctor of the Church and Founder of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (entered heaven this day in 1787)

Dear Fonzee,

Law School is the funniest thing.  You finish three years of hard labor (at least, I hope you did hard labor; what a shameful waste of time and opportunity if you just dilly-dallied around), and then you have to go into hibernation to study for the Bar Exam.  I have never understood why you don’t learn what’s on the Bar Exam when you’re in Law School. I much prefer the system that today’s saint followed. His parents got him decent tutors when he was a boy, and when he was 13, he began college.  In three years he completed the seven-year program of studies in jurisprudence and took the examinations for doctorates in Civil and Canon Law, and passed them both with honors. At 16, the future saint was already a successful and well-respected lawyer hobnobbing with high society in the Kingdom of Naples.  In eight years he never lost a case. I guess it is safe to say that he was a pretty talented fellow. When he finally did lose a case, it was under such enormously odd circumstances (somehow he had failed to read the most relevant passage on the first page of a key document that he had studied over and over again) that he took it as a sign from God (he had been asking for a sign from God) and retired from the Bar.  He began tending the sick in the Neapolitan hospitals for the incurably ill, and there he heard an inner voice saying, “Leave the world, and give yourself to me.” Soon afterward, he braved the vehement opposition of his father and began studying for the priesthood. At the age of 30 he was ordained, and thus began a career of exceptional spiritual fruitfulness, coupled with immense suffering (isn’t it funny how those two things so often go together?).  

The fruitfulness, during his lifetime, came especially through the results of his many parish missions, during which he preached repentance with gargantuan effect in country parishes throughout the Kingdom.  When he got older and was named bishop of St Agata dei Goti, he traveled less, but channeled his pastoral charity into reforming his corrupt diocese and writing prolifically on theological and spiritual topics.  

The suffering came especially in the form of continuing opposition to his foundation of a religious order to extend his missionary zeal throughout the world (this opposition often showed itself as deception, calumny, and underhanded political posturing).  He also suffered from such an acute physical deterioration that he sometimes was unable to hold himself erect long enough to celebrate Mass. In the last two years before his death, he was assailed by violent temptations against every dogma of faith and every virtue, accompanied by hideous diabolical manifestations (he was 87-88 years old at the time).  A few months of respite, filled with deep spiritual consolation, preceded his passing away, when he was just about to turn 91. Soon afterward, his much-maligned Congregation (the Redemptorists) flourished, and he was named a Doctor of the Church after being canonized in 1839 – only 52 years after his death.

What lesson can you learn from such a life?  Well, perhaps that great lawyers can make great saints, provided they give priority to the law of the gospel and heed the voice of God – even when it stirs up trouble.  Good luck at the Bar.

With love, Uncle Eddy

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One Comment
  1. There is a very nice book written by Saint Alphonsus of Liguori entitled How to Converse Continually and Familiarly with God. (I am an Episcopalian, but anyone can benefit from reading this book I think, regardless of your religion.)

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