Saint of the Day
Summary: St Alphonsus Liguori Many of us, especially as we get older, suffer from arthritis, rheumatism, sciatica, and back and joint pains. Some cannot get any relief. Peter Ward CSsR proposes St Alphonsus Liguori as patron for all those suffering from arthritis, sciatica, muscular pains, and the like.
Last February, on the feast of St. Blaise, after giving the blessing for sore throats, a man said to me, ‘It is a pity we don’t have a patron for sore backs and arthritis.’ Then, I realised we do indeed have such a patron – St. Alphonsus de Liguori. For the last 30 years of his life, he was crippled with these pains. I decided to find out more about this aspect of his life.
St. Alphonsus was born in Naples in 1696. He was a brilliant lawyer but became a priest and founded the Redemptorists. When he was 66 years old, he was made a bishop. His health had always been poor, but just after he became bishop, he got a sudden severe attack of arthritis and sciatica. He had high fever and unbearable pain. The remedies at that time were also painful: poultices and blistering.
His right leg became paralysed. For some time, he could not visit the people of his diocese and could not preach. He recovered on that occasion, and got back to his hectic pace of work. But the arthritis never left him. The worst was not the pain but the fact that he couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t find any position in which he was at ease. Yet his mind was as clear as ever. He dictated letters to a secretary. He wrote to all his penitents, as well as letters about diocesan and Redemptorist affairs. He continued writing books and getting them published. He never stopped working.
Gradually, he was able to walk again, first with a crutch and then with assistance. He started travelling by carriage. Of course, he had to be lifted in and out. That went on until he fell and could no longer get into the carriage. But still his work in the diocese and his writing continued.
Condition gets worse
However, Alphonsus’ arthritis became progressively worse. It spread from his hips and the pelvic region to his spine. It eventually affected the whole length of his spine, and developed into curvature of the spine. His whole body became deformed and bent to one side. It forced his head downward and forward until his chin was pressed into his chest. The pain was intense. He prayed ceaselessly, resigning himself to the will of God.
When the doctor came to him, he noticed an unpleasant odour. Alphonsus’ chin and beard had eaten into his chest, and the raw, gaping wound was infected. He had a high fever and the infection spread through his whole system. The slightest movement caused him agony, like the suffering of Job.
With medicine, the wound in his chest cleared up. But he would never stand erect again. His head remained bent and his spine twisted. Looked at from behind, he seemed to have no head. Indeed, he joked about his condition, calling himself “a headless man” and “a bag of twisted bones.” He must have been a pitiful sight. And still he could not sleep.
Difficulty celebrating Mass
What he wanted most of all was to say Mass. But because his head was down on his chest, he could not receive the Precious Blood from the chalice. For over a year, he did not say Mass. They experimented with all kinds of straws, even a tube made of precious metal. But Alphonsus would not use them for Mass. Eventually, a local Augustinian made a suggestion.
At communion time, Alphonsus would recline in a chair and lean back as far as he could so that he could drink from the chalice. Even then it was only with considerable difficulty that he could say Mass. On many occasions he tried to resign from his bishopric, but the pope would not let him. Eventually, his resignation was accepted.
Return of scruples
In 1775, Alphonsus returned to Pagani, the mother house of the Redemptorists, where he spent the remaining 12 years of his life. Soon the terrible scruples he had overcome years earlier returned. He would constantly send for his confessor. Added to this mental suffering was his physical pain. He had to be lifted in and out of bed. He was put in a wheelchair, which he hated. Yet at least they could wheel him along the corridors and to the chapel. He spoke often of his approaching death.
However, before he died, he became peaceful and calm, and his terrible scruples disappeared. Finally, in 1787, the God whom he served so well called him home.
I am sure that many people with pains and aches can understand exactly the agony Alphonsus went through. And Alphonsus can understand their suffering too. Could you imagine a better patron for arthritics and for all who have trouble with their back or spine than this saint and doctor of the church? I suggest this blessing below.
Through the intercession of St Alphonsus Liguori, who suffered from curvature of the spine and from severe bone, muscular and joint pains, may God alleviate the pains of those who suffer from arthritis, back and spine trouble, rheumatism, sciatica, lumbago, and like problems.
May the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit descend on you. Amen.
This article first appeared in Reality (November, 2002), a publication of the Irish Redemptorists.
Summary: St Alphonsus Ligouri, Bishop, Doctor of the Church. Born at Naples (Italy) in 1696; died at Nocera on this day in 1787. After founding the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Redemptorists), he was for thirteen years bishop of Sant’ Agata dei Goti, but resigned due to ill health. He coped with much internal conflict within the congregation and external opposition. Honoured as a popular preacher and devotional writer and as an influential master of moral theology.
Patrick Duffy tells his story.
Alphonsus can be a patron for many different kinds of people. Because of a resolution he made and lived up to never to waste time, procrastinators can pray to him. He often suffered from scruples. His preaching and his writings caused dissension among the people and there were difficulties and divisions in his order that weren’t sorted out till after his death. In his later years he suffered badly from arthritis. And still he was a really holy man.
Failure led him to a change
A high profile legal case led to him give up his practice as a lawyer. Alphonsus was born at Marianella near Naples. His father was a captain in the navy of the King of Naples and his mother was of Spanish descent. They ensured that Alphonsus had a good education at home in languages, the humanities, philosophy and the arts. He loved to play the harpsichord. By seventeen, he earned a double doctorate in canon and civil law from the University of Naples and began practising as a lawyer. However, an oversight and consequent failure in a high profile case on behalf of the Orsini against the Grand Duke of Tuscany led him to giving up his legal practice.
Ordained a priest 1726
Alphonsus decided to become a priest and his father though opposed at first reluctantly agreed, provided he didn’t join the Oratorians. Alphonsus was ordained a secular priest in 1726 and three years later he became a chaplain in a college for training missionaries. There he met Thomas Falcoia, who sent him to investigate a nun who had a vision and who wanted to found a new congregation – the Redemptoristines. Alphonsus declared the vision authentic and the order was founded.
Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer
Two years later, Falcoia, who by now had become a bishop, asked Alphonsus to start a congregation of missionaries to work among the people in the rural districts around Naples. This congregation had some difficulties in having its rule approved as Alphonsus sought permission from the King of Naples and not from Church authorities. Eventually in 1749 the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer was approved by Pope Benedict XIV (Prospero Lambertini 1740-58). But the difficulties and divisions within the order were not resolved until after Alphonsus had died.
From almost forty years Alphonsus preached in the area around Naples and became much sought after as a confessor and spiritual director. He was both strict and compassionate.
His aim in his preaching, spiritual direction and moral was to be as gentle, simple, and intelligible as he could. But he could also use the rhetorical power of persuasion he had developed as a lawyer. One Sunday with a black stole and a flaming torch he is said to have delivered a hair-raising sermon on the day of judgement and the fires of hell.
Built a monastery and a seminary
Alphonsus built a monastery to serve as a retreat centre and a seminary to meet the growing demand for his missionaries.
Theological and devotional writings
In 1745 he published the first of his many theological and devotional works. His Moral Theology counteracted both rigorism and laxism insisting it was lawful to follow the milder of two equally probable opinions. His views on the primacy of conscience led to a renewal of moral theology in the post Vatican II era.
Bishop of Sant’Agatha dei Goti
In 1762 – he was already sixty-six years of age – Alphonsus was named as bishop the diocese of Sant’Agatha dei Goti (between Naples and Capua). Here he campaigned tirelessly to reform the clergy, get them to observe the rule of celibacy, celebrate the Mass reverently, and preach in simple language to the people. During this time he suffered bouts of arthritis, sciatica and a curvature of his spine.
In 1775 when Alphonsus was able to have his resignation accepted, he went to live at Nocera dei Pagani, his favourite Redemptorist house. Here he spent most of his time writing. He lived till he was ninety-one, but during his last months he suffered periods of dementia and towards the end suffered from dysentery, gangrene and uremia.
Death and influence
As he lay dying his confreres brought him a picture of his friend and lay brother in the Redemptorists St Gerard Majella, but Alphonsus muttered: “Even he cannot save me now”. He died in 1787 and was canonised in 1839. In March 1871, Pius IX declared him a Doctor of the Church, and in 1950, Pius XII declared him the official patron of moralists and of confessors.