Alphonsus Liguori was the founder of the Redemptorists (Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer) and one of the greatest moral theologians in the history of the Church.
Born into a Neapolitan noble family in 1696, he studied and practiced law successfully until, after losing an important case through his own fault and seeing it as a sign of God’s will, he decided to enter the priesthood. He studied theology and was ordained in 1726. Soon thereafter he established a reputation as an effective preacher and understanding confessor in and near Naples. In 1732, Alphonsus founded the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer for priests dedicated to preaching the Gospel, especially to the rural poor in the kingdom of Naples. Alphonsus continued to preach and hear confessions with great success throughout the kingdom, especially in villages and hamlets, until 1752 when his health failed. He was especially gentle with the scrupulous, those with an unhealthy sense of anxiety and guilt, because he himself suffered from scrupulosity.
Alphonsus published the first of three dozen theological and devotional works in 1745, the most important of which was his Moral Theology, revised and reprinted nine times during his life. In this work he created new moral principles, and his pastoral approach was always one of simplicity and kindness. He also published devotional writings, especially about the Blessed Virgin Mary. His Glories of Mary (1750) influenced Marian piety well into the nineteenth century. After at first refusing the appointment, in 1762 Alphonsus was ordained bishop of Sant’Agatha dei Goti, a diocese located between Benevento and Capua, Italy. He organized parish missions and urged his priests to be simple in the pulpit and compassionate in the confessional. He was especially critical of priests who celebrated Mass too quickly. When a famine broke out in the winter of 1763, he sold everything he had, including his carriage and mules and his episcopal ring, to buy food for the starving. The Holy See gave him permission to dip into the assets of the diocese for relief work.
Alphonsus suffered an attack of rheumatic fever in 1767 that almost killed him and left him with an incurably bent neck. He eventually resigned his position in 1775 because of poor health. He lived another twelve years in poor mental and physical health. He died during the night of July 31/August 1, 1787, within two months of his ninety-first birthday. Alphonsus Liguori was beatified in 1816, and made patron saint of confessors and moral theologians in 1950. His feast day is August 1.
Just before Jesus’ final entry into Jerusalem, his close friends, Martha, her sister, Mary, and brother, Lazarus, entertained Jesus at their home in Bethany (John 12:1-8). Martha “served,” while Mary anointed his feet. It is in the simple statement, “Martha served,” that we recognize Martha for her witness to stewardship. She isn’t a prolific evangelist, she doesn’t work miracles. She simply serves Jesus. Jesus may have been a frequent visitor to Martha’s home and perhaps this is one of the reasons the Gospel of John reveals to us that “Jesus loved Martha, and her sister Mary, and Lazarus” (11:5). This unique statement in the gospel informs us of the special relationship Jesus had with Martha and her siblings. And, as another one of Jesus’ visits to Martha’s home affirms, Martha continues to be concerned that Jesus be served. Like any good steward, hospitality was very important to Martha (Luke 10:38-42). What is most revealing about Martha is on the occasion of the death of Lazarus (John 11:1-44). Martha takes an active role, going out to meet Jesus to let him know what happened to her brother while Mary stays at home. Jesus assures her that Lazarus will be raised from dead. With courage and conviction, Martha confesses her deep faith in Jesus Christ: “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.” And then Jesus said to her: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” When he asked Martha if she believed this, she replied: “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world” (John 11:24-27). The feast of St. Martha, a witness to service who confessed her faith in Jesus, is July 29. She is the patron saint of homemakers, cooks, domestic workers, waiters and waitresses, and hotel employees.
If you are looking for some consolation from the Bible during these disquieting times, you might try the Book of Psalms. Historically, the psalms are so closely linked to King David that many believe some of them were written by him. They provide prayers for every aspect of the life of the Israelites, and today they reveal a spiritual wisdom that can draw the Christian steward into a deeper intimacy with God, especially through the fundamental notion of gratitude. Psalm 50 provides an insightful look at gratitude. The psalmist felt so strongly about the call to thankfulness to the Lord that he even chose to speak with the Lord’s voice, assuring the people that God did not need their burnt offerings: “I shall take no young bull out of your house nor male goats out of your folds. For every beast of the forest is Mine. The cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird of the mountains, and everything that moves in the field is Mine.” No, God tells the people, everything is already God’s, so your cattle and birds and young bulls need not be offered to their Creator. So what does God want from us? The psalmist urges us to “offer to God a sacrifice of Thanksgiving.” Keeping in mind that all we have is from God, and remains God’s, Christian stewards awake each morning to say with humility, “Thank you.” The ancient psalmist’s words make sense to a modern Christian, because the God who gave us free will does not possess our thankfulness until we freely give it. And we’re asked for more than a perfunctory show of gratitude. The God who already possesses cattle on a thousand hills and every bird of the mountain is calling us to a deep sense of conversion, a sense that we stand before the God who has gifted us with everything we possess. Go to your Bible this month. Take some quiet time to pray some of the psalms. And remember to be thankful for what he has done for us.
By Mary Ann Otto, pastoral minister for missionary discipleship, St. Mary and St. Joseph Parishes, Appleton, Wisconsin
I was involved in a small group reflecting on one of Bishop Robert Barron’s books, The Seven Deadly Sins and the Seven Lively Virtues. The beauty of this process is that we are called to a change of heart. The challenge of this process is that we are called to a change of heart.
Bishop Barron begins by suggesting that the polar opposite of love is fear. He suggests we are unloving because we are afraid of losing control, of others having more prestige, more possessions and of not accomplishing personal goals. Bishop Barron describes love as: “Allowing ourselves to be conduits of God’s divine love.” We are called to delight in each other’s hopes, dreams, gifts and successes. Parallels can be made between love, fear and our ability to be Christian stewards. Each day we make decisions either grounded in love or fear in regards, for example, to matters such as the depth of our gratitude, the time we make for prayer, the extent to which we are willing to offer our talents in service, and the extent to which we share generously of our treasure. In light of this, I decided to do a self-check and reflect on where I fall between these two polar opposites of love and fear. The fear side of me suggests that I love and trust myself first, live independently and make self-actualization my goal.
As a person of fear, I am afraid I might be less and have less. On the love side of this lovefear balance, I have placed my trust in God. My commitment to prayer and the work of the Holy Spirit are key components. Love would be the measure of my success. I would live life in gratitude, in relationship with Jesus, serve wherever I’m called and give generously of the treasure. I truly want the best for others and I want to do something about it! So where am I between love and fear? Let’s say I am intentionally traveling on the highway toward authentic love and take less off ramps than when I was younger. I know my road will end in front of the Master one day where perfect love exists. I hope that my life as a steward will reflect that I was “leaning into” the love side of the love-fear continuum all along.
This time of uncertainty really has our personal “worlds” turned upside down. Schedules are no longer the same. Planning has gone awry. Calendars look like a mess. And the rhythm of our days has met a new “abnormal.” Many of us have neither the time nor the resources for a vacation, but all of us can resonate with the need to really “get away” from the stress of our daily grind.
Good stewardship of our bodies, minds and souls obliges us to get away on a regular basis (see Luke 5:16). As Christian stewards, we aren’t just encouraged but obligated to consider how we approach our stewardship of leisure time. Stewards are aware of their need to be busy doing God’s work, but often forget that down time is equally important to spiritual growth.
Leisure time, whether it’s our evenings, our weekends, or our vacation, provides spiritual, physical, mental and emotional recharging. Leisure is necessary for human wholeness. Leisure reconnects us to the wider mysteries of our world and our God. It helps us daydream, imagine, pray. It refreshes our spirit. Today, connectivity has become almost an obsession. People check their emails, their messages and calls with alarming repetitiveness. Accidents, both pedestrian and automobile, happen because people can’t put down their phones. Employers expect their workers to be available for evening emails. The lines between work and free time increasingly blur, as do the lines between solitude and always being present “online.” We can’t imagine putting aside screens for a two-week vacation.
But we must give ourselves time to renew and recharge, not just two weeks of the year, but each day and each week. July offers an opportunity to reconnect with the rhythms of God and nature. We need to take time off from screens and phones, and practice giving undivided attention to the things before us. When we pray, we commit time and silence. When we enjoy time with our friends and family, we practice being totally present. When we sit on the patio or at the beach, we give ourselves wholly to the wind or the waves.
Be a good steward of your body, mind and soul. Don’t over schedule your time off. Listen to the quiet whisper of God encouraging you to relax