October 31, 2012
Feast of St. Alphonsus Rodriguez, S.J. (1533-1617)
Luke 13: 22-30
Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then in reply he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you come from. ’
Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!’ There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved (http://www.usccb.org/bible/approved-translations)
Much to Teach Us
Some Jesuit saints attack the world head-on, like St. Peter Claver, the friend and disciple of St. Alphonsus Rodriguez. Others like Alphonsus himself fight personal battles against failure, loss, temptation, and disease. We tend to admire more activist champions such as Peter Claver, who worked among slaves for forty years. But why should we think any the less of saints such as Alphonsus who was more like us in his ordinariness and suffering? And who showed us how to be faithful in long lasting spiritual and personal struggles?
Alphonsus’s early years in Segovia, Spain, are a story of tragedies. When he was fourteen his father died and he left school to help his mother run the family business. At twenty-three he married, but his wife died in childbirth three years later. Within a few years his mother and son also died. On top of this, his business was failing, so he sold it. Recognizing a late vocation to religious life, he applied for admission to the Jesuits at Segovia, but was refused because he was not educated.
Undaunted, Alphonsus returned to Latin school, humbly bearing the ridicule of his adolescent classmates. Finally, in 1571, the Jesuit provincial accepted him as a lay brother. He was sent to Montesione College on Majorca, where he served as doorkeeper for forty-five years. His post allowed him to minister to many visitors. And he became the spiritual adviser to many students. He exerted wide-reaching influence, most notably in guiding St. Peter Claver into his mission to the slaves of the New World.
Alphonsus adhered to a few simple spiritual guidelines that navigated him through his troubles and trials. For example, a method for finding joy in hardship:
“Another exercise is very valuable for the imitation of Christ—for love of him, taking the sweet for the bitter and the bitter for sweet. So, I put myself in spirit before our crucified Lord, looking at him full of sorrow, shedding his blood and bearing great bodily hardships for me. As love is paid for in love, I must imitate him, sharing in spirit all his sufferings.
I must consider how much I owe him and what he has done for me. Putting these sufferings between God and my soul, I must say, “What does it matter, my God, that I should endure for your love these small hardships? For you, Lord, endured so many great hardships for me.”
—Excerpt from Bert Ghezzi, Voices of the Saints © 2000 Doubleday. Loyola Press, Chicago IL. For more Ignatian spiritual resources from Loyola Press, please visit www.loyolapress.com
Lord, as the nights lengthen and autumn begins its surrender to winter, so, too, the Scripture readings for the church year focus on the last things….this is truly a time to pause, reflect, and give thanks. You have brought us safe thus far. Above all, we thank you for the wisdom that has come from our suffering and for your grace that has protected us from bitterness. Little by little, you have grown us into the people we are now. And before I say farewell to this day, I embrace the insight of St. Alphonsus Rodriguez, S.J: “What does it matter, my God, that I should endure for your love these small hardships? For you, Lord, endured so many great hardships for me.”
—The Jesuit Prayer Team
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