Tuesday, August 2, 2011
On the Day I Die, I’ll Ask God to Forgive Me and I’ll Go To Heaven
This morning while I was doing my prayers and reading, I was not sure what I was going to write about. Today is the Feast of St. Alphonsus Ligouri but I didn't really want to write about him. There were several things I read in the news that I wanted to talk about but the words just would not come to me. I considered that it just might be distractions from some personal events of the last two days. I knew that I didn't want to write anything personal, not really. But when I couldn't find a voice this morning, I decided to read some of St. Alphonsus' writings. As I was reading them, I felt a little nudge from my Guardian Angel. I resisted his guidance at first, but still my Guardian Angel kept sending me back again and again to St. Alphonsus. So reluctantly, I share some of my personal life along with the incredible wisdom of St. Alphonsus Liguori.
Yesterday, I had some harsh words towards my mother. I was particularly ashamed of that because I didn't believe she deserved it or that Christians should respond to people that way. The words came after a comment she made regarding our way of life, our willingness to participate in God's Providence by blessing us with 7 children. I looked her right in the eyes and declared her a heathen. Her expression immediately changed from shock to disgust. At first I thought I might have hurt her feelings, but it occurred to me later that I had really angered her tremendously. She refused to accept that label I had given her, by declaring that she did indeed believe in God and that when she "met Jesus face to face", she would ask him to forgive her and take her seat in Heaven. With that pronouncement, every hair on the back of my Trad Catholic neck stood straight up. I let it go because it is useless. The whole experience rocked me to the core and my evening was spent in counsel with my amazingly patient husband. The Lord gave me my husband to calm and comfort me last night and then this morning He sent me the words of St. Alphonsus Ligouri to strengthen and encourage me.
Until today, I have never read anything about St. Alphonsus. I visit a traditional Catholic message board and St. Alphonsus repeatedly comes up as a must read spiritual writer. I've been meaning to get around to some of his works, and there are plenty, but I have a long list of other things I keep telling myself I should read. So this morning I sat back knowing I would probably have a lot to sort through to write a blog on St. Alphonsus. I was right.
St. Alphonsus Marie Liguouri was born in Naples, Italy in 1696. He was the oldest of 7 children who had parents of exceptional piety and moral character. Although his family at one time had been part of the fairly affluent nobility, by the time Alphonsus was a young boy that comfort was replaced with a certain amount of poverty. In spite of this, Alphonsus was a bright and talented young man. His father found a way to educate him at home and St. Alphonsus complete his studies at age 16. He became a lawyer that same year and by 19 was practicing law in the courts. He was also known to be a morally upright young man, in fact, because he parents demanded it. But as often happens in young adulthood, Alphonsus became attached to the lifestyle that his position and success attracted. He immensely enjoyed his life in society, eventually neglecting his pious and prayer life for the satisfactions of the secular world he came to appreciate. But as in all the stories of all the saints, God had bigger plans for the gifted lawyer.
Alphonsus was highly regarded in society as a completely honest lawyer. Because of his moral upbringing, he never wanted anyone to perceive that he was attempting to deceive them in any way. In 1723, he was hired to represent a very important client and was satisfied that he had presented his client's case fairly and accurately. But in the trial it was discovered that Alphonsus had overlooked a critical document and his case was lost. He concluded that all those involved would see him as an agent of deceit and he hid himself in despair. Once his humiliation had softened, St. Alphonsus recognized that God had used this moment to squelch his pride and weaken his dependence on the pleasures of this world. He abandoned his career, spent his days in prayer and penance, and became a priest in 1726 at the age of 30.
St. Alphonsus went on to found an order of priests, the Redemptorists, and spent the rest of his time in missions for teaching the poor and engaged in his writings. He wrote a great collection of spiritual works, of which many Catholics find encouraging in improving their spiritual life. In the later part of his life, St. Alphonsus suffered terribly. He developed within himself terrible scruples and eventually despair, which made his spiritual life agonizing. He also suffered great number of physical illnesses and received the Sacrament of Extreme Unction eight times. Before his death, he suffered attacks from the devil in the form of apparitions and illusions. He died peacefully on August 1, 1887.
St. Alphonsus Ligouri, though, had incredible insight and fortitude. He left for his Congregation of priests all sorts of instructions and devotions. He wrote on the conversion of sinners, God's Mercy and Justice, comtemplation, sanctity, and many other topics. He was absolutely dedicated to the Truth. He is the patron Saint against lying and also a Doctor of the Church for his great wisdom regarding theology and virtue.
As I was reading some of his writings, I became encouraged by what I found. I also became saddened because I know, as my mother's reaction and attitude exemplifies, that the Truth, particularly regarding God's Mercy and Justice is completely lost or twisted in the various Protestant denominations. It is increasingly becoming so among Catholics. In his work Preparation for Death: Eternal Truths, St. Alphonsus warns us to watch our attitude regarding sin and God's Mercy. He tells us God's Mercy is not a given. God does not just "give us a seat in Heaven" because we desire it. We must merit it. Sadly, this concept is totally foreign to all Protestants. For them, God's Mercy is unfaltering and His Justice is reserved for the un-believers. This is just not so. God's Mercy exists for those who fear Him, not for those who sin without worrying about it until later.
"St. Augustine says that the Devil seduces men in two ways: through despair and hope. After the sinner commits his fault, he drags him into despair through fear of divine justice; but, before sinning, he encourages him to fall into temptation through hope of divine mercy. For this reason the Saint warns us, saying: "After sinning, do not lose hope in divine mercy; before sinning, fear divine justice." This is because the one who takes advantage of divine mercy to offend God does not deserve it. Mercy exists for those who fear God, and not for those who sin without fearing Him. "One who offends justice can have recourse to mercy," says the Abulensis, "but to whom should the one who offends mercy have recourse?" It is difficult to find a sinner in such a state of despair that he actually wants to be condemned. Sinners want to sin, but without losing hope of salvation. They sin and say: "God is goodness itself. Even if I sin now, later I will confess." Thus think sinners, and, as St. Augustine says, "thus thought many who are now condemned." … "Be careful," says St. John Chrysostom, "when the Devil (and not God) promises you divine mercy with the purpose of making you sin." And St. Augustine adds, "Woe to he who trusts in mercy with the aim of sinning! How many this illusion had fooled and led into perdition! Woe to he who abuses the goodness of God to offend Him more!" Even though God waits patiently for the sinner, He does not wait forever. For if the Lord would always tolerate us, no one would be condemned, but wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to perdition, and there are many who choose it (Matt 7:13). The trap the Devil sets to seduce almost all Catholics who condemn themselves is this: "Sin freely, because, despite all your sins, you will be saved." The Lord, however, curses the one who sins hoping forgiveness."
St. Alphonsus Ligouri also wrote instructions to his missionary priests on the conversion of sinners that I believe might be quite necessary and desirable in our times. There is a huge crisis in the modern Catholic Church where priests and bishops have become lax in their office. Since Vatican II, the modern Catholic Church has attempted to "love" people to Jesus. Those in authority and teaching roles spend so much time telling people about God's abundant Mercy and not any time telling them that it is necessary to avoid sin if we expect to receive that Mercy. Modern Christians have become hard-hearted to the nature of sin and the necessity of confession. They are unabashedly shameless in their sinfulness. They are in real jeopardy of losing their souls. Because of this, St. Alphonsus Ligouri believed that sinners should be approached firmly and, well, frightened.
"Maledicti qui declinant a mandates tuis"
(Cursed be those who leave aside Thy Commandments.)
This "curse of sinners" is precisely to instill terror in the souls of those who do not fear anything, and are deliberately heading toward the eternal curses."
In our days of "God wants me to be happy" and "God is a merciful God", St. Alphonsus Ligouri's life and words are much needed. It is very easy to become prideful with our desires and worldly accomplishments. It is also much easier and peaceful to encourage people's sinful behavior than to admonish it. At lot of Christians no longer believe in the Commandments or think they are necessary to live a good Christian life. However, we do ourselves and our loves one a great injustice when we continue to remain inactive and silent. If we can use Scared Straight to keep children off drugs and out of jail, why can't we use Scared Sinless to keep our loved ones out of Hell?
St. Alphonsus Ligouri, pray for us, that we may not abandon You for our worldly aspirations.
St. Alponsus Ligouri, pray for us, that we may be comforted by your Divine Mercy and encouraged by Your Justice.