St. Alphonsus Rodriguez
Lived: (c. 1533-1617) | Feast Day: Thursday, October 30, 2014
|Tragedy and challenge beset today’s saint early in life, but Alphonsus Rodriguez found happiness and contentment through simple service and prayer.Born in Spain in 1533, Alphonsus inherited the family textile business at 23. Within the space of three years, his wife, daughter and mother died; meanwhile, business was poor. Alphonsus stepped back and reassessed his life. He sold the business and, with his young son, moved into his sisters’ home. There he learned the discipline of prayer and meditation.
Years later, at the death of his son, Alphonsus, almost 40 by then, sought to join the Jesuits. He was not helped by his poor education. He applied twice before being admitted. For 45 years he served as doorkeeper at the Jesuits’ college in Majorca. When not at his post, he was almost always at prayer, though he often encountered difficulties and temptations.
His holiness and prayerfulness attracted many to him, including St. Peter Claver, then a Jesuit seminarian. Alphonsus’s life as doorkeeper may have been humdrum, but he caught the attention of poet and fellow-Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins, who made him the subject of one of his poems.
Alphonsus died in 1617. He is the patron saint of Majorca.
We like to think that God rewards the good even in this life. But Alphonsus knew business losses, painful bereavement and periods when God seemed very distant. None of his suffering made him withdraw into a shell of self-pity or bitterness. Rather, he reached out to others who lived with pain, including enslaved blacks. Among the many notables at his funeral were the sick and poor people whose lives he had touched. May they find such a friend in us!
The Church is a very human organization but also the garden of God’s grace. It is a place where great sanctity keeps blooming. Saints are people who make the living Christ visible to us in a special way. Some saints have given their lives in the service of Christ and his Church; others have spoken and written words that keep nurturing us; some have lived heroically in difficult situations; others have remained hidden in quiet lives of prayer and meditation; some were prophetic voices calling for renewal; others were spiritual strategists setting up large organizations or networks of people; some were healthy and strong; others were quite sick, and often anxious and insecure.
But all of them in their own ways lived in the Church as in a garden where they heard the voice calling them the Beloved and where they found the courage to make Jesus the center of their lives.’
“The dark night descends on a soul only when everything else has failed. When you are no longer the best meditator in the class because your meditation produces absolutely nothing. When prayer evaporates on your tongue and you have nothing left to say to God. When you are not even tempted to return to a life of worldly pleasures because the world has proven empty and yet taking another step through the void of the spiritual life feels futile because you are no good at it and it seems that God has given up on you, anyway.
“This, says John, is the beginning of blessedness! This is the choiceless choice when the soul can do nothing but surrender. Because even if you cannot sense a shred of the Beloved’s love for you, even if you can scarcely conjure up your old passion for him, it has become perfectly clear that you are incapable of doing anything on your own to remedy your spiritual brokenness. All efforts to purge your unspiritual inclinations have only honed the laser of attention on the false self. Unwilling to keep struggling, the soul finds itself surrendering to its deepest inner wound and breathing in the stillness there.
“The only action left to the soul, ultimately, is to put down its self-importance and cultivate a simple loving attention toward the Beloved. That’s when the Beloved takes over and all our holy intentions vaporize. That’s when the soul, says John, is infused passively with his love. Though his radiance is imperceptible to the faculty of the senses and invisible to the faculty of the intellect, the soul that has allowed itself to be empty can at last be filled and overflow with him.”
From Mirbai Starrs introduction to her translation of Dark Night of the Soul by John of the Cross
Superabundant Grace by Henri Nouwen
Over the centuries the Church has done enough to make any critical person want to leave it. Its history of violent crusades, pogroms, power struggles, oppression, excommunications, executions, manipulation of people and ideas, and constantly recurring divisions is there for everyone to see and be appalled by.
Can we believe that this is the same Church that carries in its center the Word of God and the sacraments of God’s healing love? Can we trust that in the midst of all its human brokenness the Church presents the broken body of Christ to the world as food for eternal life? Can we acknowledge that where sin is abundant grace is superabundant, and that where promises are broken over and again God’s promise stands unshaken? To believe is to answer yes to these questions.
Glimmer of Light
Always bear in mind as a safe general rule that while God tries us by His crosses and sufferings, He always leaves us a glimmer of light by which we continue to have great trust in him and to recognize His immense goodness.
You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God has lived toward you. — Two translations of Matthew 5:48
The oft-retranslated passage above is an excellent indicator of the two minds that have tried to understand the Bible. The first mind reads the passage in terms of Platonic idealism and ego-based moralism. It uses a mathematical or divine concept (“perfection”) and mandates it for the human person. This leads readers to impossible head-based abstractions that only result in denial, splitting, and pretending. Yet, it appeals to the binary (“yes/no”) system of the ordinary mind, wherein all lose since none of us is perfect and never will be. This was the Gospel read and preached on, when I as a fervent 19 year old took my first vows as a Franciscan in 1962. Most of my fellow novices left when they honestly realized such perfection was beyond them. Only pretenders and optimists stayed on! I was one of them.
The second translation still sets the ideal very high, but now the goal has become divine union instead of any kind of private perfection. This translation is believable to anyone who has already experienced divine union at some level—and they know they were chosen and loved precisely in their imperfection! As Ken Wilber so brilliantly teaches, “It is not what a person says, but the level from which they say it that determines the truth of a spiritual statement.” A spiritually mature person could use the word perfection and know they are talking about God’s perfect abiding in us. An immature and still egocentric person will think of it as a moral achievement that they can personally attain by trying harder. Thérèse of Lisieux and Francis of Assisi are my favorite saints precisely because they saw through this disguise.
The higher level approach is illustrated by a clear statement from Paul: “I no longer seek any perfection from my own efforts … but only the perfection that comes from faith and is from God…. We who are called perfect must all think in this way,” he says (Philippians 3:9, 15). Paul rightly redefines perfection as the gift of divine union rather than any kind of achievement or performance on our part. All we can do is agree and cooperate with what God is already doing.
from Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality
Baptism is more than a way to spiritual freedom. It also is the way to community. Baptising a person, whether child or adult, is receiving that person into the community of faith. Those who are reborn from above through baptism, and are called to live the life of sons and daughters of God, belong together as members of one spiritual family, the living body of Christ. When we baptise people, we welcome them into this family of God and offer them guidance, support, and formation, as they grow to the full maturity of the Christ-like life.
—for Tony Stewart
but Tony still plays the death scene
over and over in his mind.
He wants to tell what happened,
open up, dissect his own testimony
with friends, but he is silenced by
a lawyer and good sense.
Embarrassed by his own thought,
What kind of a driver am I?
What kind of a person? Was it
an accident I could have avoided?
The chip that rode
on his shoulder for years
has been ground into
thousands of tiny pieces.
His beard is no longer
an act of defiance,
the sexy twinkle in his eyes
and in his smile is gone.
Accident is a common word
that has to do with being human.
One part of his mind
but there is vengeance to consider
from those who also grieve.
Nowhere is tenderness more needed
than with the broken.
Sometimes the broken go
where angels fear to tread.
And he knows, he is not
the only one who has been broken.
The Incarnation Mystery is being repeated and represented in the Eucharist. Here we have material reality, in the form of these universal foods of bread and wine, as the hiding place and the revelation place for God. We are reminded that God is always perfectly hidden and perfectly revealed in the material world. This is the Cosmic Christ presence. If we deny that the spiritual can enter the material world, then we are in trouble, since we hope to be just that—spiritual and fully material human beings. We had best encounter Incarnation in one focused, dramatic moment, and then the particular truth has a chance of becoming a universal truth, and even my truth.
The 16th question in the Baltimore Catechism, “Where is God?” is answered straightforwardly: “God is everywhere.” The summit of Christian prayer is accomplished when you can trust that you are constantly in the presence of God. You cannot not be in the presence of God! Where would you go? As the psalmist says (Psalm 139:7-9), if you go up to the heavens or underneath the earth, you still can’t get away from God. God is either in all things, or God is in nothing.
In the Eucharist, we slowly learn how to surrender to the Presence in one place, in one thing, in one focused moment. The priest holds up the Host and says, “See it here, believe it here, get it here, trust it here.” Many people say they believe it here, but they don’t make the transference to everywhere—which is the whole point! They don’t seem to know how to recognize the Presence when they leave the church, when they meet people who are of a different religion or race or somehow strangers. They cannot also trust that this person—every person—is created in the image of God. Jesus spent a great deal of his ministry trying to break down the false distinctions between “God’s here” and “God’s not there.” He dared to see God everywhere, even in sin, in enemies, in failures, and in outsiders. Usually, early stage religion is not yet capable of that, but fortunately God is patient.
from Eucharist as Touchstone
Sacraments are very specific events in which God touches us through creation and transforms us into living Christs. The two main sacraments are baptism and the Eucharist. In baptism water is the way to transformation. In the Eucharist it is bread and wine. The most ordinary things in life – water, bread, and wine – become the sacred way by which God comes to us.
These sacraments are actual events. Water, bread, and wine are not simple reminders of God’s love; they bring God to us. In baptism we are set free from the slavery of sin and dressed with Christ. In the Eucharist, Christ himself becomes our food and drink.
The words of Jesus can keep us erect and confident in the midst of the turmoil of the end-time. They can support us, encourage us, and give us life even when everything around us speaks of death. Jesus’ words are food for eternal life. They do much more than give us ideas and inspiration. They lead us into the eternal life while we are still being clothed in mortal flesh.
When we keep close to the word of Jesus, reflecting on it, “chewing” on it, eating it as food for the soul, we will enter even more deeply into the everlasting love of God.