Although the Jesuits (Society of Jesus – see yesterday’s post) are most likely the best known religious order of men in the USA because of their presence in excellent institutions of higher learning, my familiarity as a young person was with the Redemptorists. The reason is simple; my uncle was a member of that order (the Congregation of the Holy Redeemer), a community dedicated to missionary work and devoted especially to Mary as “Our Mother of Perpetual Help.” While my uncle, Walter Cavanaugh, spent most of his priestly life in the United States, he was missioned to Brazil for a time and his stories of that mission and of his parish in Georgia in mid-20th century, that was described as having only six parishioners, left the cousins wide-eyed in our very young days.
Reflecting on what “missionary work” can mean, I read a quote this morning of St. Alphonsus Liguori, founder of the Redemptorists, that broadened the definition and seemed to fit my uncle’s personality quite well. Alphonsus said: Acquire the habit of speaking to God as if you were alone with Him, familiarly and with confidence and love, as to the dearest and most loving of friends. As a priest he was known to be “good in the box”—shorthand for his capacity in helping penitents whom he encountered in the confessional and provided with the assurance of God’s abundant love regardless of what they confessed in the encounter.
I don’t know how my uncle chose the Redemptorists rather than the Jesuits, or the Franciscans or the diocesan priesthood and it’s too late now to ask anyone who might have known his motivation. I trust, however, that he was led by God’s Spirit to where he belonged and where he flourished, knowing with confidence, as did St. Alphonsus, that “Your God is beside you —indeed He is even within you.” Whether early in life or late, may all people come to live in that assurance and find themselves in the great love of God.