How to be a good Christian? St. Alphonsus offers ways and means to enable even the most “distant” to realize the baptismal vocation. As long as they take Jesus’ words seriously and live them, with fidelity and creativity, in the name of a true and profound love towards Him.
In the recent apostolic exhortation “Gaudete et Exultate”, Pope Francis speaks about holiness as a possible path for all. It is his popular vision of holiness that is reflected in the answer to the question “How do you become a good Christian?”.
Well, the path that Pope Francis indicates is that of the “saint next door” who is, in hiding and in anonymity, realizes his baptismal vocation in “living with love and giving witness to Jesus in the works of every day. Are you a consecrated woman or a consecrated man? Be a saint by living your gift with joy. Are you married? Be holy by loving and taking care of your husband or wife, as Christ did with the Church. Are you a worker? Be holy, fulfilling your work in the service of your brothers with honesty and competence. Are you a parent or grandmother or grandfather? Be a saint by patiently teaching children to follow Jesus. Do you have authority? Be a saint fighting for the common good and renouncing your personal interests.”
Therefore, the saint is not a superhero, but a man who takes seriously the words of Jesus and lives them with fidelity and creativity, even in its limits: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you dressed me, sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to see me.”
Therefore, there is a sanctity that is possible for everyone. St. Alphonsus was convinced of it in an era in which certain approaches to holiness were not considered for everyone. On the contrary, he turned to the distant ones, announcing a possibility for everyone to be saints and offering means and ways to get there. In the practice of loving Jesus Christ, he thus synthesizes the path to perfection: “He who loves Jesus Christ flees the tepidity and loves perfection. There are five means to get out of the tepidity and move towards perfection: 1. Desire. 2. The resolution. 3. Mental prayer. 4. Communion and 5. Prayer “.
Regarding the first of these “means”, St. Alphonsus explains “it is a great mistake, then as some say: God does not want all to be saints. No … God wants all to be saints, and everyone in his state from where he is called; the religious, the secular, the priest, the married, merchants, the soldier etc.” And, citing St. Therese of Lisieux, his great advocate, Alphonsus continues: “Our thoughts are great, that our good will come from here… God does not let us pay any good desire in this life, while he is a friend of generous souls.” Therefore, on this journey, everyone is welcomed, and everyone has the same chance to become saints! This theme was also espoused by the Second Vatican Council which, in the Constitution Lumen Gentium, was expressed as follows: “It is clear that all Christians, in any state or life commitment, are called to the holiness of the Christian life and to the perfection of love”.
Some might think that a sanctity can or should be verified by particular signs. Nothing could be more wrong: “Holiness,” says St. Alphonsus in Two Unpublished writings on quietism, “consists of three things: Faith without signs, Hope without pawns, Charity without prizes. Enlightenment lights, miracles for faith; the gifts and promises for hope; caresses and unions for charity. But such things should not be demanded of them but founded on the veracity and goodness of God.”
Even other forms, which for many are revealing of sanctity, are questioned by Alphonsus, in his work “Practice of the love of Jesus Christ” who warns, “Oh how much is deceived” says St. Francis de Sales, “who puts the sanctity in other than in loving God! The saint writes “others put perfection in austerity, others in wealth, others in prayer, others in the frequency of sacraments. For me I know no perfection other than to love God with all my heart; for all the other virtues without love are just a pile of stones. And if we do not fully enjoy this holy love, the defect comes from us, because we do not end up giving ourselves all to God.”
Let’s now take a step forward. Alphonsus introduces us to love for Jesus and always in the “Practice of the love of Jesus Christ” states that whoever loves Jesus Christ wants nothing but what Jesus Christ wants. Thus, we enter a theme very dear to the spirituality of Alphonsus: conforming to the Will of God. In his works, there are many references to this indispensable attitude. In the “Practice of the love of Jesus Christ”, Alphonsus writes: “… all the holiness and perfection of a soul consists in denying oneself and following the will of God … because the substance of all the divine precepts and counsels is reduced to making one suffer for what God wants and how God wants it … Here is therefore what should be the sole purpose of all our thoughts, actions, desires and our prayers, the taste of God… “.
And at this point, how can we forget the figure of Saint Gerard Majella, a worthy son of Alphonsus? Often in his letters, he speaks of the “beautiful Will of God” and just as often affirms: “I want, I want, I want, not what I want but what God wants.”
St. Alphonsus always warns those who live the Will of God: “Many say: Lord, I give you all my will, I want nothing but what you want; but when the contrary things happen to us, we do not know how to quiet ourselves with the divine will. And here arises that lamenting to have bad luck in this world, and l say that all misfortunes are ours, and to make a life unhappy “.
Now, perhaps, we can better grasp the meaning of the phrase that St. Gerard, certainly recalling the experience of Jesus at Gethsemane, wanted on the door of the room where he lived during the painful illness that led him to death at a young age: ” He is doing the Will of God, as it pleases God and as long as He wants God. “
Luciano Panella C.Ss.R.
(The article is from the magazine “In Cammino San Gerardo, September 2018”)