Reflections & Study – Feast of St. Alphonsus

01 August 2017 Feast of St. Alphonsus (1696-1787)

For the Redemptorist Congregation the feast of its founder is clearly a very special occasion. To celebrate this feast is to gratefully recall the life and mission of an outstanding follower of Jesus, of one who made an extraordinary contribution to the life and mission of the church.

He was born in the environs of Naples to a rather wealthy family. He qualified in law at a relatively early age and exercised that profession for a number of years. However, he became disillusioned with the workings of ´justice´ and much to the disappointment of his father he became a priest in 1726. He devoted a lot of time to the poor and the suffering. He was a regular visitor, for example, to the Hospital for Incurables. A few years later he worked amongst the abandoned on the hills around Scala and formed the conviction that it was necessary to have a missionary presence amongst them.

This led him to found a religious congregation in 1732. The beginnings were not very auspicious, many of his companions left him but he persevered. The Congregation was officially recognized by the Church in 1749.

As of 2017 the Congregation has a total membership of about 5000 and carries out its mission in over 70 countries. It has been in Ireland since 1853 – the first foundation was in Limerick and the foundation in Dundalk followed in 1876.

St. Alphonsus, as well as being the founder of the Redemptorists, was also a very accomplished theologian, especially in the area of moral theology. One of his most important contributions was to insist that each person´s conscience was the starting point for discerning what was right and wrong. He also defended the opinion that a person´s circumstances were important in the context of discerning the way forward as a Christian. He would ask ´what step can this person take now to be a better Christian?, rather than simply state the ideal to be attained. St. Alphonsus is patron of Moral Theologians and of Confessors.

St. Alphonsus also championed the importance of prayer. He formulated the expression – ´he who prays will be saved, he who does not pray will not be saved´ He gave great attention to three devotions: the crib (Jesus, the Son of God took human form and this is a very definite proof of God´s love for humanity), the cross (Jesus died on the cross because of his love for humanity and his fidelity to the mission entrusted to him by the Father) and the Eucharist (Jesus is present to us in a very unique way and this is another proof of God´s love for us; Alphonsus´ booklet of visits to the Blessed Sacrament has been translated into several languages).

A Redemptorist writing about St. Alphonsus might be suspect of unwarranted filial devotion, but this one pleads that St. Alphonsus was indeed an extraordinary man and an inspiring missionary.