Fr Paul reads today’s Gospel from Matthew (14: 13-21) in which Jesus feeds a large crowd with just five loaves and two fish. Afterwards, he shares a little about the life of St Alphonsus Liguori whose memorial we celebrate today.
St Alphonsus Liguori was born in Marianella near Naples in 1696. He was the first-born of a rather large family belonging to the Neapolitan royalty. He received a broad education in the Humanities, Classical and Modern Languages, Painting and Music. He finished his university studies earning a doctorate in both civil and canon law (the law of the church) and began his practice in the legal profession. In 1723, after a long process of discernment, Alphonsus abandoned his legal career and, despite his father’s strong opposition, he began his seminary studies. He was ordained a priest in 1726 at the age of 30. He lived his first years as a priest with homeless and marginalised young people of Naples and founded what were called the ‘Evening chapels’. Run by the young people themselves these chapels were centres of prayer, community, the word of God, social activities, and education. At the time of his death there were 72 of these chapels with over 10,000 active participants. In 1729, Alphonsus left his family home and took up residence in Naples and it was there he began his missionary experience in the interior of the Kingdom of Naples where he found people who were much poorer and more abandoned than any of the street children in Naples. In 1732, Alphonsus founded the congregation of the most Holy Redeemer, more popularly known today as The Redemptorists. He founded them in order to follow the example of Jesus Christ, announcing the good news to the poor and most abandoned. Alphonsus was a lover of beauty, music, painting; he was a poet and author. He wrote 111 works on spirituality and theology and so he is one of the most widely read authors. Prayer, love, his relationship with Christ, and his first-hand pastoral experience of the faithful made Alphonsus one of the great masters of the interior life. Alphonsus’ greatest contribution to the Church was in the area of moral theological reflection with his work ‘Moral Theology’. This work was borne of Alphonsus’ pastoral experience and his ability to respond to the practical questions posed by the faithful and from his contact with their everyday problems. Alphonsus was consecrated bishop of ‘St Agatha of the Goths’ in 1762. He was 66 years old and tried to refuse the appointment because he felt too old and too sick to care for the diocese. In 1775, he was allowed to retire from his office and went to live in the Redemptorist Community in Pagani, where he died in 1787. Alphonsus was canonised in 1839, proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1871, and the patron of Confessors and Moralists in 1950. Fr Paul says today, as we remember his life, we pray Alphonsus Ligouri, Pray for us!