In this fourth installment of the Spiritual Surgeons series, I will discuss the medicinal teachings of St. Alphonsus Liguori. The moral decay occurring with the fracturing of the family unit, vicious abortion bills signed into legislation, the promotion of euthanasia, and the devaluing of others different from ourselves makes the Italian saint as relevant as ever!
I have been blessed with the opportunity to learn about his wondrous and healing works. In reading his works I have grown closer to God. We will be examining Alphosus’ Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ and Uniformity with God’s Will in this article. The patron saint of confessor possesses an unparalleled ability to synthesize the wisdom of the Doctors of the Church, strong adherence to the will of God, and devotion to Mary.
Following the Will of God
According to Alphonsus in Uniformity with God’s will, “The greatest glory we can give to God is to do his will in everything.” Uniting our will to the Divine Will not only shows great love to God, but only satisfied our internal unrest. We are to follow God’s will in everything—not only in the good times. The Italian saint reminds us that complaining is purposeless—save for increasing bitterness. Suffering, even if God did not actively will it, affords an opportunity for us to grow in union and closeness to Him.
Following God’s will definitely is easier when we receive spiritual consolations. However, our character is tested during periods of spiritual desolation. Alphonsus spends his sixth chapter to reflection on spiritual desolation in Uniformity with God’s Will. “When a soul begins to cultivate the spiritual life, God usually showers his consolations upon her to wean her away from the world; but when he sees her making solid progress, he withdraws his hand to test her and to see if she will love and serve him without the reward of sensible consolations,” the Doctored saint tells us. He also makes sure to remind to not think that God has abandoned you in these situations. Alphonsus declares, “When God sends spiritual darkness and desolation, his true friends are known.” Saints endure these dark nights and in the end their faith is rewarded in Heaven.
Along with Alphonsus’ strong commitment in following God’s will, his expertise in the faith is second to none. In The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ, the moral Doctor demonstrates his theological acumen via his articulate exposition on 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 and vast references to other Doctors of the Church. No other spiritual work that I have read contains such a concentration of spiritual quotes as Alphonsus’ work.
Check out this powerhouse list of saintly references: St. Teresa of Avila (61 times); St. Francis de Sales (44 times), St. Thomas Aquinas (21 times); St. Bernard of Clairvoux (20 times); St. Augustine (20 times); St. John Chryostom (11 times); and St. John of the Cross (10 times)!
Learning about Love
Alphonsus outlines and expands on St. Paul’s theological definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. Every chapter in The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ focuses on an aspect love. These include love being: patience, kindness, humility, slow to anger, and enduring. In his first chapter Love is Patient, the Italian saint writes, “nothing is more pleasing to God than to see a soul suffering with patience all the crosses sent her by him.” This statement definitely hits home for me.
Those that have followed my story over the years know that my wife and I lost children due to miscarriage. This sunk us into despair. God removed his consolations. We patiently endured, not always without complaint, these crosses. Love is also kind. Alphonsus cites St. Vincent de Paul on this aspect, “Affability, love, and humility have a wonderful efficacy in winning the hearts of men, and in prevailing on them to undertake things most repugnant to nature” (The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ, chapter 2).
Later in the book, Alphonsus spends a chapter to provide a detailed and clear guide to avoid tepidity in the faith. His basic blueprint includes these five steps—desire, resolution, mental prayer, communion, and prayer.
According to St. Louise de Montfort, “[Mary] is the safest, easiest, shortest and most perfect way of approaching Jesus and will surrender themselves to her, body and soul, without reserve in order to belong entirely to Jesus.” This path towards holiness is definitely evident in the writings of St. Alphonsus Liguori. In The Glories of Mary, the Italian saint states, “A true servant of Mary cannot be lost.”
To conclude every chapter of The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ Alphonsus petitions the Blessed Virgin Mary for help. He uses the following Marian titles: Mother, dispenser of graces, refuge of sinners, Holy Virgin, my hope, Queen, advocate, and spouse of the Holy Spirit. This panoply of appellations demonstrates the saint’s comprehensive understanding of Mariology and his strong devotion to Mary. “As long as temptation lasts, let us never cease calling on Jesus and Mary,” he proclaims (The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ, chapter 8).
Individualism dominates our world today. We are constantly being told that seek out your will—that will lead to happiness. Experience proves us otherwise. Selfishness works in the short-term. But it is fleeting. St. Alphonsus reminds of the remedy to these ailments—follow the will of God always! His comprehensive knowledge of the Catholic spirituality and strong devotion to Mary make the Doctor of the Church a great role model for all Christians today.