St Alphonsus Liguori

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

Dear Al,

I am glad to hear that your internship is going well.  I am surprised, however, that you have already decided that you want to go to law school and then work for this firm for the rest of your life.  Don’t you think such a conclusion is a bit too weighty to come after merely six weeks on internship, it being your very first internship?  Don’t be rash, my impetuous young nephew, be shrewd.  Keep a lot of doors open until you find the one God wants you to go through, not just the one with honey on the handle and candy on the jamb.  To make a truly prudent decision, you need to judge by criteria that include this world’s values, but that focus on Christ’s values.  That’s what today’s saint did, and the Church has never been the same.

His parents got him decent tutors when he was a boy, and at age 13 he began college.  In three years he completed the seven-year program of studies in jurisprudence, 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.  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 afterwards, 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 in and 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 conceived to extend his missionary zeal throughout the world (this opposition often came in the form of 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 afterwards, his much-maligned Congregation (the Redemporists) flourished, and he was named a Doctor of the Church after being canonized in 1839 – only 52 years after his death.

I don’t mean that you have to forgo a career in law or politics or business or whatever in order to join a religious order.  That’s not what I’m getting at (though it may be what God’s getting at).  Such activities are healthy in themselves and can be sanctifying (Alphonsus used the skills he learned in studying law to write one of the most brilliant moral treatises the Church has ever produced). Rather, St Alphonsus’s example simply shows that what matters most is winning souls, not winning prizes and basking in perks.  So keep enjoying your internship (what’s left of it), and take full advantage of it, but don’t get so attracted by the beach that you get drowned by the tide.

Your devoted uncle,


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