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Foundational: Weekly Message for 07-28-2020
Dear Friends in Christ,
This week the Church commemorates not one but two founders of religious congregations: St. Ignatius Loyola and St. Alphonsus Marie Liguori. Founders remind us that there is something foundational to doing something truly worthwhile with our lives: putting our lives and talents at the service of Our Lord.
St. Ignatius (1491-1556) was a member of the aristocracy and dreamed of being a great leader. By eighteen he was a soldier and duelist and fought in several battles, eventually earning his own command. At thirty, while defending Pamplona against the French, he was struck by a cannonball in the legs, requiring the partial amputation of one leg and various surgeries. During his convalescence, the only reading at hand was the lives of the saints and spiritual books, and that inspired in him a desire to do something for Our Lord.
St. Alphonsus (1696-1787) received a doctorate from the University of Naples at sixteen years old and was practicing law by nineteen. He was successful and famous for his law career, but eventually saw the fleetingness of the secular world in which he moved. In 1723, while visiting a hospital for incurable cases, he had a vision in which he was told to consecrate his life to God, so he dedicated himself to religious life despite resistance by his family and was ordained a priest a few years later.
Both St. Ignatius and St. Alphonsus received the grace of an insight that there was something greater to life than how they’d lived it at that point, and tried to change their lives accordingly and pursue new goals. From this insight St. Ignatius started a process of learning to navigate his own spiritual landscape and discover what the Lord wanted him to do. The method and spiritual fruits of this self-exploration would eventually become known as the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises. He was especially interested in converting non-Christians, traveling at one point to the Holy Land but soon recalled due to the complications his presence brought to an already delicate situation. He then focused on educating himself better for his mission, since his preaching had attracted the attention of the Inquisition several times, and while studying made friends (St. Peter Faber and St. Francis Xavier) who also wanted to go to the Holy Land, but were again prevented by the situation there. They decided to go to Rome and present themselves to the Pope, who approved them officially in 1540. Despite his reservations St. Ignatius’ friends convinced him to be the first leader of the Company of Jesus, colloquially known as the Jesuits.
St. Alphonsus upon priestly ordination started preaching parish missions in and around Naples. He resided in a missionary college where he made some lifelong spiritual friendships and founded the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer on November 9, 1732, known colloquially as the Redemptorists. After one year all the members but one had left to found another religious congregation, so he started over and founded a congregation for men and another for women in 1743. Despite his reservations, he was named bishop of the diocese of St. Agatha of the Goths in 1762 and focused on attending to the needs of thirty thousand souls and four hundred indifferent priests. An attack of rheumatic fever left him paralyzed in 1769, but he continued as bishop until 1775. In 1781 he was tricked into basically “signing away” his authority in the Redemptorists and died peacefully six years later after overcoming depression, having visions, and performing miracles.
Both founders discovered that God’s will sometimes means bringing your will into alignment with what God wants you to do with the talents he has given you. It also implies sharing in the mystery of the Cross through that self-renunciation and suffering for the sake of who you love. St. Ignatius left a lasting legacy in spirituality, education, and missionary works. St. Alphonsus in moral theology, preaching, and writings such as The Glories of Mary.
What’s foundational for every believer is to take stock of your God-given talents and how those talents can be used in the service of God and others. It may not result in something as great as a religious congregation or being named a Doctor of the Church, but it will add a depth and fulfillment to your life that you never thought possible.
May the Lord help you discover your talents and how they can be used in his holy service.