Today we note an interesting juxtaposition of feast days in the Roman Catholic Church. While yesterday we celebrated St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order of priests (the Society of Jesus), today we note the founder of the Redemptorists (The Congregation of the Holy Redeemer), St. Alphonsus Ligouri. Taken together, these two religious orders have influenced the Church for over 5 and 3 centuries respectively in similar if not matching ways. The Jesuits are known, as we saw yesterday, for their leadership in education and the study of Scripture as the basis for theological research and deepening in the spiritual life. Today we hear of Alphonsus, himself a brilliant scholar who received a doctorate in both canon and civil law by acclamation at the age of 16 (!) who gave up the practice of law for apostolic activity. He was ordained a priest and concentrated his pastoral efforts on popular parish missions, hearing confessions, and forming Christian groups. (http://www.franciscanmedia.org)
Alphonsus lived from 1696 to 1787 (in itself an extraordinary achievement in his day!) and spent himself in the fight against the moral rigidity of Jansenism. Fr. Don Miller (Franciscan Media) begins the biographical sketch of this holy man’s life in a telling paragraph, saying: Moral theology, Vatican II said, should be more thoroughly nourished by Scripture, and show the nobility of the Christian vocation of the faithful and their obligation to bring forth fruit in charity for the life of the world. Alphonsus, declared patron of moral theologians by Pius XII in 1950, would rejoice in that statement.
The Redemptorists have always been dedicated to mission, working often in rural villages with the poor, preaching to them – by word and their lives – the imitation of Christ. Pastoral reforms were and are in the pulpit and the confessional, “replacing the pompous oratory of the time with simplicity, and the rigorism of Jansenism with kindness.”
That last statement leads me to a consideration of the word charism (charismata in the plural form of the Latin word) meaning gift. Each religious community is known for some special gift or gifts to the Church and the world. Yesterday we saw that the Jesuits did everything for “the greater glory of God.” How this charism is expressed is many-faceted but can be seen in the world by their efforts toward the imparting of the knowledge and love of God to others, especially in the ministry of education. The Redemptorists, on the other hand, are known for preaching retreats in parishes, speaking to “the common folk,” and for their kindness in hearing confessions of the faithful. I can attest to the efficacy of the Redemptorist charism from my personal experience of my uncle Walter Cavanaugh, CSsR, who served as a missionary to Brazil and started a parish with six congregants in the South of the USA in mid-20th century where there was little Catholic presence. Uncle Walter was best known, however, as were some of his “brothers,” for his kindness in the confessional where he provided solace to people for hours at a time.
That these two great religious communities, among others, to be sure, have endured for hundreds of years, is testament to the gifts of God to the collective but also to each of the members who have been called for a specific mission. Might we reflect today on the influence of God’s gifts in our own lives and consider that we, too, have a certain “charism” – a gift to share with the world?Is yours a personality that draws people to your faith? your joy? your hospitality? Are you noted for your generosity? your service? a certain skill? My mother used to show her love for all our extended family by making our birthday cakes – often unique and always delicious. Now my cousin Mary Jane is noted for spectacular creations for every special event.
What is it that makes your life a gift to the world – for the greater glory of God? (The only unacceptable answer here is “Nothing.”)